The Magdalene in the Reformation

Margaret Arnold. Harvard Univ, $29.95 (290p) ISBN 978-0-674-97999-4
Arnold, associate rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Medford, Mass., presents a detailed study of the various uses (and abuses) of Mary Magdalene during the Protestant Reformation. Arnold argues that, prior to the Lutheran Reformation, Mary Magdalene—whether as a single woman or as a composite figure encompassing at least three distinct female Biblical characters—was a well-known religious character, often drawn upon to tell stories about the early Church and debate a woman’s role within it. After Luther, however, the Magdalene became a more contested figure, in Arnold’s estimation, with divines such as John Calvin retelling her story to build misogyny into the foundation of Protestantism. Outside of Calvin, Arnold describes a wide range of early and late Reformation uses of the Magdalene, from the Catholic to the Quaker, and ably discusses the differences and similarities among them. The Magdalene was used to bolster arguments for women’s silence in public, the need for them to teach, the irredeemable sinfulness of woman, and the universal grace of Christ’s forgiveness of humans. Arnold’s focus is on written productions—pamphlets, plays, poems, letters—although she does make brief mention of some of the more famous artworks involving the Magdalene. Scholars interested in the evolving character of the Biblical Mary will relish Arnold’s lucid text. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/27/2018
Release date: 10/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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