Today is the feast day of the greatest of transformed criminal saints, and here is part of what I wrote about her in my book, Women in the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, & Criminal Reformation
St. Mary Magdalene
One of the cornerstones of the argument that only men can be priests comes from the documentation of the facts on the ground during Christ’s ministry on earth, where the Church has consistently maintained that the leader of the apostles was Peter and it was upon him that the Church was built by Christ and because only men were chosen as apostles, only men can be ordained as priests.
Yet, Brock (2003) makes a good case that Mary Magdalene was the first apostle:
“Apostolic authority, without question, was a key issue in the early Christian churches. It insured that the one carrying the gospel message was a bona fide messenger. The criteria by which various early Christian authors attributed apostolic authority to certain followers of Jesus and not to others in early Christian documents provide insights into the politics of various factions of the early church. For example, Mary Magdalene was so esteemed among some early Christians that they bestowed on her the honorific title, “apostle to the apostles,” and yet for others she holds no apostolic status at all and is instead known as a reformed prostitute, a concept for which there is no biblical basis.”
What did it take to be an apostle and were women included in that group? Hippolytus, an early Christian bishop and martyr of Rome (ca. 170-ca. 236), wrote:
“Lest the female apostles doubt the angels, Christ himself came to them so that the women would be apostles of Christ and by their obedience rectify the sin of the ancient Eve….Christ showed himself to the (male) apostles and said to them…“It is I who appeared to these women and I who wanted to send them to you as apostles.” (pp. 1-2)
If this is true, and I believe it is, because I cannot see how God approves the unequal status of women which the world has proclaimed since time immemorial.
And though it is generally agreed that the conflating of the three Marys is what led to the tradition that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, theologians today separate them, as noted by Hinsdale (2011):
“Today all three major branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy) do distinguish between Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the sinner/penitent woman in Luke 7: 36-50.” (p. 80)
I still believe the tradition of the Magdalene as a prostitute, as it resonates with me and more fully resonates with the scriptures as now canonized; and even the long attempt to separate her from prostitution seems an attempt to take away the power of penance in flowering the power of apostleship or Church leadership and the model of penance Christ conferred upon Magdalene seems unearned if she was merely a sinner, as all are, rather than a great sinner, a criminal sinner, a predatory sinner, a whore.
Many women theologians want her to have not been a prostitute as they see that as disempowering her, but Magdalene, having been a prostitute, or more accurately, according to Anne Catherine Emmerich (2005), a grand courtesan whose lovers were men of power and privilege who deeply captured by her exotic appearance and erotic potency; possessed dual powers from her sinful life which gave her, in her penitential life, apostolic authority:
“When the patrimony was divided, the castle of Magdalum fell by lot to Magdalen. It was a very beautiful building. Magdalen had often gone there with her family when she was a very young child, and she had always entertained a special preference for it. She was only about eleven years old when, with a large household of servants, men and maids, she retired thither and set up a splendid establishment for herself.
“Magdalum was a fortified place, consisting of several castles, public buildings and large squares of groves and gardens. It was eight hours east of Nazareth, about three from Capharnaum, one and a half from Bethsaida toward the south, and about a mile from the Lake of Genesareth. It was built on a slope of the mountain and extended down into the valley which stretches off toward the lake and around its shores. One of those castles belonged to Herod. He possessed a still larger one in the fertile region of Genesareth. Some of his soldiers were stationed in Magdalum, and they contributed there share to the general demoralization. The officers were on intimate terms with Magdalen. There were, besides the troops, about two hundred people in Magdalum, chiefly officials, master builders, and servants.
“The castle of Magdalum was the highest and most magnificent of all; from its roof one could see across the Sea of Galilee to the opposite shore. Five roads led to Magdalum, and on every one at one half-hours distance from the well-fortified place, stood a tower built over an arch. It was like a watchtower whence could be seen far into the distance. These towers had no connection with one another; they rose out of a country covered with gardens, fields, and meadows. Magdalen had men servants and maids, fields and herds, but a very disorderly household; all went to rack and ruin.” (pp. 3-4)
Mary Magdalene was the magnificently penitential woman who was the apostle to the apostles, called so by Christ, so clearly endorsed by his appearing to her first after his resurrection and by commissioning her to go tell the apostles that he had arisen; assuming the status of first among the apostles.
However, as Kienzle (1998) notes, quoting the Dominican Moneta of Cremona writing about the heretical Waldensians who allowed women preachers, this may not necessarily be a qualifier:
“Christ sent Mary Magdalene to preach when he said in John 20:17: ‘Go to my brethren and say to them: I am ascending to our Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” Moneta explains that the interpretation that Jesus sent her to preach should be ascribed to the distorted understanding of a heretic, because the Gospel author says only that she announced to the disciples, not that she preached. The Dominican author asks, “Now, whenever a woman is sent to announce something good to a church, should it be said that she preaches to that church?” His answer of course is “Non.” (pp. 105-106)
Lukenbill, David H. (pp.29-33)