The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.

[Chalice] Religiosity as Creative Imagination, [Chalice]
the good news of Mary of Magdala

Listen to a recording of "Religiosity as Creative Imagination, the good news of Mary of Magdala "
34:28 minutes - 13.8 MB - Religiosity as Creative Imagination .mp3 file.

Presented March 16, 2008, by Carol W. Nichols, M.S., M.A.

Opening Words:

After [the Savior] had said these things, he departed from them.

But they were distressed and wept greatly. "How are we going to go out to the rest of the world to announce the good news about the Realm of the Child of True Humanity?" they said. "If they did not spare him, how will they spare us?"

Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all, addressing her brothers and sisters, "Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us true Human Beings."

When Mary had said these things, she turned their heart [to]ward the Good, and they began to deba[t]e about the wor[d]s of [the Savior].(1)

Meditation

Mary of Magdala said: "I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, 'Lord, I saw you today in a vision.' He answered me, 'How wonderful you are for not wavering at seeing me! For where the mind is, there is the treasure.' I said to him, 'So now, Lord, does a person who sees a vision see it [with] the soul [or] with the spirit?'

The Savior answered, 'A person does not see with the soul or with the spirit. 'Rather the mind, which exists between these two, sees the vision(2)

Reading I
From: The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Mary Magdalen was so called either from Magdala near Tiberias, on the west shore of Galilee, or possibly from a Talmudic expression meaning "curling women's hair," which the Talmud explains as of an adulteress.

In the New Testament she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2-3), where it is also said that seven devils had been cast out of her (Mark 16:9). She is next named as standing at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49). She saw Christ laid in the tomb, and she was the first recorded witness of the Resurrection.

The Greek Fathers, as a whole, distinguish the three persons:

On the other hand most of the Latins hold that these three were one and the same. Protestant critics, however, believe there were two, if not three, distinct persons. It is impossible to demonstrate the identity of the three; but those commentators undoubtedly go too far who assert, as does Westcott (on John 11:1), "that the identity of Mary with Mary Magdalene is a mere conjecture supported by no direct evidence, and opposed to the general tenour of the gospels." It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the "sinner" of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the "sinner" with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin. The harmonizing tendencies of so many modern critics, too, are responsible for much of the existing confusion.(3)

Reading II
Excerpts from Karen King's The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle:

The earliest Christian literature, including the gospels that came to reside in the New Testament, portrays Mary of Magdala as a prominent Jewish disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Her epithet Magdalene probably indicates that she came from the town of Magdala (Migdal), located on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee just north of the city of Tiberias.(4)

Further findings by Dr. King indicate that Mary of Magdala was present during the ministry of Jesus, his crucifixion and burial and she was a first witness to the empty tomb on Easter morning. In the canonical Gospel of John, Mary receives special teaching from Jesus and is directed or commissioned to announce the good news of the resurrection to the other disciples. King adds that the Gospel of Luke says that Mary is the woman from whom seven devils had gone out, and that she was a woman of some means, who was Jesus' faithful patron. The non-canonical gospels and works of Thomas, James, the Dialogue of the Savior, the Sophia of Jesus Christ and the Pistis Sophia all identify Mary as a gifted and insightful follower of Jesus. The Gospel of Philip reads as follows: There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary his mother and her sister and the Magdalene, the one who is called his companion. Philip even goes as far as to blend these three roles into one. He later states:

As for the Wisdom who is called "the barren," she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of [the] Mary Magdalene. [The Savior...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples They said to him "Why do you love her more than all of us?" The Savior answered and said to them, "Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness." (GPhil63:33-64-9)(5)

Welcome to a discovery of the life, discipleship and good news or Gospel of Mary of Magdala. It was thought (or rather hoped) that the dilemma of exactly who Mary was had been settled once and for all by Pope Gregory the Great in the last part of the sixth century. She is, stated Gregory, the penitent sinner, saved by Jesus: the prostitute turned devoted follower, who illustrates the redeeming quality of Jesus' sacrifice on Good Friday to save all humankind from the corruption of the flesh. The body (even a prostitute's body) would enter heaven body and soul in the Final Judgment by virtue of the iconographic role of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice. This accepted Gospel Truth would become synoptic, with the Gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew being versions that see with the same eye. Traditionally, these versions would blend with Gregory's intrepretation of Mary, the redeemed sinner. Further, a seamless lineage from St. Peter to the present leader of the Catholic Church would come down straight from the first anointed pope (Peter the Rock) to today, preserving the orthodoxy of revealed doctrine in a perfect male march through history. All would have gone well had it not been for a dusty, deteriorating codex brought to Berlin from Cairo in 1896 by Dr. Carl Reinhardt. It was an old, fifth century Coptic manuscript, from a Gospel copied many times over. It was found in the graveyards of Akhmim, Egypt. Furthermore, it had duplicate parts, written in Greek, and obtained from a city dump on the outskirts of Oxyrhynchus in Northern Egypt. It was titled the Gospel of Mary. Missing its first six pages and then pages 11 to 14, the Gospel nevertheless contained enough information to paint an entirely different version of Mary of Magdala and of Early Christian life.

Following the ministry of Jesus, who was in all likelihood illiterate, followers dispersed into groups. Each group began an oral tradition of repeating, passing on, and yes, embellishing what they remembered and what they developed on their own, or in close proximity to others to meet the needs of each unique community. The author of the Gospel of Mary knew about the Gospel of John and that of the others: Mark, Matthew and Luke. She was also familiar with the writings of Paul, who died in 67 CE. Like their gospels and letters and like the dozens of other gospels found in the 19th and 20th centuries (especially those found near Nag Hammadi in 1945), this Gospel of Mary has the standard elements contained in most of the other gospels. Dr. King enumerates these: There is instruction from Jesus, often in the form of the Risen Christ. It is teaching which involved dialogue and questioning an evolutionary process meant to bring the disciples into a mind set of greater understanding. Early on, especially in the non-narrative gospels, there is an emphasis on the attributes of insight, profound wisdom, and the ability to speak prophetically. Vision, as the manifestation of insight, was a very strong and necessary component. As Dr. King points out, to have a vision is well in keeping with the emphasis on oral transmission of the truth. One should be able to hear and to see, not to be moved by words, which might never change from the day they are committed to paper. Vision, prophesy, discipleship -- change, evolve and grow with the forward progress of human condition and human need. One's worthiness to fill this role of disciple came from one's character a sense of compassion and a growth of the soul toward the Image in which it was made. In these earlier renditions, Jesus becomes fully man and fully divine to show others how they too can become a Son of Man, or as Dr. King argues is a more fitting translation, a True Child of Humanity. It was not enough to simply be a witness to Jesus' time. These other attributes - understanding, courage, insight, vision, prophecy, character and compassion - made one a true disciple. The culmination of becoming a true disciple is understood by Mary, when she states in the "Dialogue of the Savior" that the disciple resembles the teacher. For this insight of what Jesus message actually meant, she is praised by the Lord as one who truly surpasses the understanding of others. When all of these attributes are realized, at the end of many gospels, worthy disciples are then commissioned to go out and spread the good news.

In the Gospel of Mary, after the initial teaching Jesus has left them, the disciples are frightened and confused. Mary offers them comfort and reassurance, and she is asked by Peter to relate teachings to them, which hither to fore, had only been discussed between herself and Jesus. She does so willingly and with a vision.

Many scholars have stated that Mary's teachings (like those of Thomas, Philip and other discarded writers) offer a different version of Jesus' teachings. Here are some of the findings from those in the field of early Christian studies. First, Mary, like others of her time, was strongly influenced by Greek culture, its philosophy and cosmology. This not a learned knowledge, but a pervasive understanding throughout the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world: a common knowledge. Plato's version of ideal forms, of a soul which contained the images of perfection, where matter and creation are mere reflections of that perfection - this concept helped to foster an idea of body, mind and soul in each human. The body is merely the container - this body we are in - where one can think of the body as simply matter separate from the soul. Some scholars believe the above is more a form of a Neo-Platonism.(6) The soul should also practice the austerity of the Stoics (another group of Greek thinkers who really did not believe in the soul, as a separate entity). The soul should shed the sorrow, trappings and diversions of the body. Even the good pleasures of the body are temporary and not the true focus and nature of our being. The soul, in its path to perfection, goes past several powers which try to pull it down. The first three powers are darkness, desire and ignorance (ignorance - which seeks to judge and dominate the soul). The last, remaining power has several facets in addition to darkness, desire and ignorance: these are a zeal for death, a realm of the flesh, foolish wisdom of the flesh, and the wrath or righteous anger of a so-called wise person. When Mary is identified as she whom seven devils inhabited and who were cast out by Jesus (in the Gospel of Luke), Karen King reads this as the first human being truly open and ready to ascend or transcend to the spiritual source of all creation. Mary has rid herself of what holds most of us back. Mary states that Jesus tells us to "Make no laws." We do not need them because they limit and judge what we do. Rather, we should work toward greater understanding and compassion, putting us in concord with our higher selves, ourselves as the True Child of Humanity. This process begins with love of ourselves and of others, or as we often repeat to one another, "We seek the truth in love."

Jean Yves Leloup draws a four-corned box with the self at the center. In the two lower corners are act and desire, which are generated by sensation for act, and by feeling or emotion, for desire. These represent our mortal nature. The two higher corners are the word and being; these are generated by intellect for the making of the word and intuition for the experience of being. When one is a true antropos, a true Child of Humanity there is a bridge made by the mind or the self in the center of the box, which brings the soul upwards from sensation and feeling to intellect and intuition, and finally, towards purity and perfection. We begin in the body, but move up and away from basic sensation, desire, and thoughtless acts toward spirituality.(7) "I said to him, 'So now, Lord, does a person who sees a vision (a vision to inspire, to bring one into insight and fulfillment), does that person see the vision [with] the soul (within us) [or] with the spirit (toward which we aspire)?' The Savior answered, 'A person does not see with the soul or with the spirit. Rather the mind (the self), which exists between these two, sees the vision.'" (8) This version of Christianity is hard work. It demands that we make a tireless effort to rise above our smallness, our selfishness, our limited awareness and desires. Like Jesus, the template, we must use our minds fully, moving from sensation to intellect, from feeling to intuition. And the mind helps the soul (the life energy within us) to recognize and to come into union with the greater spiritual force, from which all life emanates. The Hindus say that our Atman (small individual soul) fuses with Brahman (the universal soul), which is beyond and yet, still part of us. In such a moment of fusion, of recognition, all is quiet, which is exactly how Mary concludes. She is meditative, peaceful, fulfilled.

At this point, Mary has completed her teachings to the others. But, it is here, in her Gospel, where all hell breaks loose. Andrew and Peter, his brother, who had originally asked Mary to teach them, reply to her in this way: Andrew responded, addressing the brothers and sisters, "Say what you will about the things she has said, but I do not believe that the S[a]vior said these things, f[or] indeed these teachings are strange ideas." Peter responded, bringing up similar concerns. He questioned them about the Savior: "Did he, then, speak with a woman in private without our knowing about it? Are we to turn around and listen to her? Did he choose her over us?"(9)

There is so much here that is controversial. As the institutional powers began to solidify and consolidate into the early Church, ideas like Mary's, spoken by a woman, were objected to. Start with her concept from the Savior of body, mind and spirit: the increasingly dominant Church, endorsed by the Roman empire, did not feel that body would fall away. Mary writes that the body is preliminary and superseded by the soul. But the Church felt that the body is to be seen as mere mortal flesh, a source of sin, and only saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the Last Day, the Church saw the body as something to rise, to be judged, and to join the soul in everlasting life. A corpse, left over from torture and death by Rome as it persecuted countless martyrs, would triumph in the end, completely rejuvenated. So said the new orthodox writers and doctors of the Church. Mary and the early disciples also knew the fear of persecution and death, but the Gospel of Mary sees the body's destruction and demise as irrelevant to the true energy of the soul, and as a burden that caused fear and pulled one away from higher, more eternal things, like the realm of the soul. In the same manner, she saw gender and sex of the body as accidental and irrelevant.

Her version of Christianity did not hold sway. It became heresy. The journey facilitated by the mind moving the soul toward transcendence: this path of Christianity was not taken. A woman disciple became a woman only, to be seen as a mother, a virgin, a healer, a handmaiden or a whore, but no longer as a teacher or even a visionary, unless her visions were studied, interpreted and sanctioned by the early doctors of the church. The names of women leaders and their images on murals and in paintings were eliminated and defaced, literally. By the 6th century, Junia, Priscilla, Prisca, Lydia, Phoebe, Philips daughters, Ammia of Philadelphia and Philumene (names listed by todays scholars) were unheard of or vaguely referred to in the long history of Christianity.(10) Creeds would be put in place, faith in intuition or the use of inspiration would be replaced by doctrine to be believed, and words would be written down one way, once and for all.

What have we lost? The diverse, multi-cultural and broadest expression of human potential in its effort to embrace the unknown, the spiritual, the inspirational, was diminished within organized religion for almost totally for over 1,500 years. The admonition to "Make no laws" or "Judge not" was forgotten and replaced by Canon Law. The dominance of one sex over the other, the balance of what it fully means to be human, both male and female, was sequestered and still is today. But, Karen King, Elaine Pagels, Leloup, Patterson, Meyer and other scholars offer us some timely hope. In this age of extremism, in this age of the last bastions of fundamentalism, and in this age of a strong multi-cultural music we cannot keep from singing, Dr. King concludes with this hope about Mary's Gospel: "The historical importance of the Gospel of Mary lies in letting us see the contours of some crucial debates over the authority of apostolic tradition, prophetic experience, and womens leadership. We are in a better position to judge what was at stake in the road Christianity followed by (now) walking a way down one of the paths, that has been little trodden."(11)

The path did not go away. The process of the mind moving creatively through a vision, and reaching with intellect and intuition up from the body's perceptions is a process done by thinking being, who uses both reason and inspirational creativity to intuit a greater presence, a deeper sense of spirituality and belonging. It is the path of the soul as navigated by the human mind and the human heart. It is the path taken with love and compassion. Here is the unified experience of what it means to be fully human and fully divine. The Gospel of Mary is a clear and inspiring interpretation of teachings of Jesus. By all of the best standards of what it means to be a Son of Man, or a True Child of Humanity, it is a very satisfying expression of fulfillment, and a very valid form of renewal and of Resurrection.

Closing Words

Then [M]ary wept and said to Peter, "My brother Peter, what are you imagining? Do you think that I have thought up these things by myself in my heart or that I am telling lies about the Savior?" Levi answered, speaking to Peter, "Peter, you have always been a wrathful person. Now I see you contending against the woman like the Adversaries. For if the Savior made her worthy, who are you then for your part to reject her? Assuredly the Savior's knowledge of her is completely reliable. That is why he loved her more than us.

"Rather we should be ashamed. We should clothe ourselves with the perfect Human, acquire it for ourselves as he commanded us, and announce the good news, not laying down any other rule or law that differs from what the Savior said."

After [Levi said these] things, they started going out [to] teach and to preach.(12)

Notes:
  1. The Gospel of Mary Magdala Karen King, translator. Copyright 2003 Polebridge Press , Inc. Accessed 14 March 2008. http://www.maryofmagdala.com/GMary_Text/gmary_text.html
  2. The Gospel of Mary Magdala. Karen King, translator. Copyright 2003 Polebridge Press , Inc. Accessed 14 March 2008. http://www.maryofmagdala.com/GMary_Text/gmary_text.html
  3. Huge T. Pope. Mary of Magdalen. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Copyright 2007 by Kevin Knight. Accessed 14 March 2008. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm
  4. Karen King. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala : Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003. p. 141.
  5. Karen King. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala : Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003. p. 142-145.
  6. Such is the conclusion of Dr. Stephen Patterson, as related in a conversation with me in Fall, 2006 at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO.
  7. Jean Yvesw Leloup. Trans. Joseph Rowe. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002. p. 146.
  8. Words within parentheses, written in italic, are my own. These are added for emphasis and further explanation.
  9. Karen King. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala : Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003. p. 17.
  10. Karen King. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala : Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003. p. 186.
  11. The Gospel of Mary Magdala. Karen King, translator. Copyright 2003 Polebridge Press , Inc. Accessed 14 March 2008. http://www.maryofmagdala.com/GMary_Text/gmary_text.html

©2008 Carol W. Nichols, M.S., M.A.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Nichols, Carol W. 2008. Religiosity as Creative Imagination, the good news of Mary of Magdala , http://www.uuquincy.org /talks/20080316.shtml (accessed December 17, 2018).

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.