Prostitute, apostle, evangelist—the conversion of Mary Magdalene from sinner to saint is one of the Christian tradition’s most compelling stories, and one of the most controversial. The identity of the woman—or, more likely, women—represented by this iconic figure has been the subject of dispute since the Church’s earliest days. Much less appreciated is the critical role the Magdalene played in remaking modern Christianity.
In a vivid recreation of the Catholic and Protestant cultures that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, The Magdalene in the Reformation reveals that the Magdalene inspired a devoted following among those eager to find new ways to relate to God and the Church. In popular piety, liturgy, and preaching, as well as in education and the arts, the Magdalene tradition provided both Catholics and Protestants with the flexibility to address the growing need for reform. Margaret Arnold shows that as the medieval separation between clergy and laity weakened, the Magdalene represented a new kind of discipleship for men and women and offered alternative paths for practicing a Christian life.
Where many have seen two separate religious groups with conflicting preoccupations, Arnold sees Christians who were often engaged in a common dialogue about vocation, framed by the life of Mary Magdalene. Arnold disproves the idea that Protestants removed saints from their theology and teaching under reform. Rather, devotion to Mary Magdalene laid the foundation within Protestantism for the public ministry of women.
Arnold presents a meticulously researched account of the figure of the Magdalene as late-medieval piety gave way to the age of reform.
Arnold poses important questions about the roles of women in the Reformation and the ways in which Mary Magdalene was appropriated as a model. Indeed, the diverse ways in which Mary was a source of spiritual authority, enabling female writers to explore a range of crucial issues, is one of the book’s most significant contributions. The analysis is crisp and insightful, and Arnold has a sharp eye for continuities and change.
The Magdalene in the Reformation considers all aspects of this formidable New Testament figure across both Protestant and Catholic Reformations. As she traces women writers and religious activists who used Mary Magdalene to explore their own relationship to Christianity, Arnold convincingly demonstrates the important role Mary played for women regardless of their confessional persuasion.
Promises to change our understanding of Reformation history and women’s place in it. Rather than a simple loss or win for women, the Reformation depicted here is filled with ambivalence, conflict, and negotiation when it comes to women’s roles. Arnold shows the Magdalene was a powerful figure for debating contemporary issues for women in the church, state, and family.
Scholars interested in the evolving character of the Biblical Mary will relish Arnold’s lucid text.
- 312 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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