Mary Magdalene in the era of Reformation
Arnold, Margaret Lois
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Scholarly surveys of the medieval Magdalene tend to conclude at the opening of the sixteenth century, dismissing any role she may have had in the teaching of Protestant reformers. Protestant and Catholic attitudes towards sanctity and sainthood have been the object of scholarly work, but my dissertation is the first comparative examination of the different confessions' uses of the Magdalene tradition through the early modern period. Mary Magdalene was of one of several scriptural women to whom Protestants in Germany, France, Switzerland, and England referred in debating the legitimacy of female and lay preaching. Lutheran and Reformed pastors, Anabaptists, and Quakers all adapted the medieval Magdalene tradition to advance Evangelical theologies of the forgiveness of sins, the sacraments, and the priesthood of all believers. Early modern women also seized on these possibilities, claiming for themselves the Magdalene's title as preacher and devoted disciple of the Word. The Catholic cult of the Magdalene shifted as well, serving the needs of the Catholic Reformation. In reaction to the Protestant specter of lay and female preaching, male authors in their sermons and devotional work set aside earlier descriptions of the Magdalene as "apostle to the apostles" and emphasized instead her identity as a penitent prostitute. Catholic women investigated the Magdalene's relation to her sister Martha to develop new images of female sanctity. As the medieval separation between clergy and laity was questioned, reform-minded Christians both Protestant and Catholic explored new understandings of the shape of Christian life. The Magdalene's call to confess the Gospel was a missionary imperative that transcended the boundaries of the ordained clergy. Similarly, the contemplation of Mary's contemplation and the worldly work of her sister Martha could no longer be divided among different groups, but had to be integrated by each individual. Early modern Christians from Luther to Teresa of Avila discussed the terms of this reconciliation, attempting to understand secular work as a vocation, the fruit and expression of contemplation. What have often been taken to be distinct preoccupations of opponents in reform are revealed to have shared a common dialogue, framed by the life of Mary Magdalene.