Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary

Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary

by Marina Warner

Alone Of All Her Sex: The Myth And The Cult Of The Virgin Mary, by Warner, Marina

  • Language: English
  • Category: Religion
  • Rating: 4.03
  • Pages: 400
  • Publish Date: March 12th 1983 by Vintage
  • Isbn10: 0394711556
  • Isbn13: 9780394711553

What People Think about "Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary"

And in the districts where the Christians are mainly Catholics like the town of Thrissur, where I reside the Virgin Mary is as important an icon as Jesus Christ. It was only later that I came to know that the Virgin Mary is not part of Christianity as a whole, but particular to Catholicism that in fact, Protestants actually frown upon her worship! ------------ Ms. Warner, in this book, gives an exhaustive historical analysis of the cult of the Virgin Mary how it started, spread, was opposed, fought the opposition and triumphed. For Marina, Mary is the conscious creation of the Church to sublimate the feminine into the fold of patriarchal religion. It is this book which sets forth the story of the mother of Jesus in romantic detail, adding flesh to all the bare bones of suggestion in the principal gospels: it is also the one which gave rise to the enduring myth of Marys intact virginity. While the pre-Christian faiths were happy with the metaphorical nature of this belief, Christianity had to concretise it, to contend that Mary was a virgin both before and after childbirth. As childbirth was womans function, and the pangs of the same Gods special punishment after the fall, the womb was evil and any child born of it was tainted with original sin. Therefore, to prevent the Son of God from being tainted by it, the Church hit upon the brilliant solution of removing the taint of sex from his mother. Through her virginity and Assumption, she expresses the particular interpretation of wholeness of the Catholic Church, and reflects two of its most characteristic aspects: its historical fear of contamination by outside influence, and its repugnance to change. This royalty was conferred on Mary due to strictly utilitarian needs of the Catholic Church, according to the author. Secular imagery was used to depict the Virgin Mary in Rome by the popes in order to advance the hegemony of the Holy See; and her cult was encouraged because she was in a profound manner identified with the figure of the Church itself. But this triumphalism fostered by the Church was turned on its head in the later middle ages, when temporal kings and queens took back the borrowed symbolism of earthly power to enhance their own prestige and give themselves a sacred character. It would be difficult to concoct a greater perversion of the Sermon on the Mount than the sovereignty of Mary and its cult, which has been used over the centuries by different princes to stake out their spheres of influence in the temporal realm, to fly a flag for their ambitions like any Maoist poster or party political broadcast; and equally difficult to imagine a greater distortion of Christs idealism than this identification of the rich and powerful with the good. By the Middle Ages, the Virgin was also transformed into the Bride of God. However, the church cleverly inverted this metaphor, following the methodology followed by the Jews. However, according to Ms. Warner, this transforming of earthly love into heavenly adoration was just another deception of the church, like the transformation of the virgin into the queen. The icon of Mary and Christ side by side is one of the Christian Churchs most polished deceptions: it is the very image and hope of earthly consummated love used to give that kind of love the lie. The Immaculate Conception One of the biggest pillars of the cult of Mary, along with her virginity and the assumption, is the Immaculate Conception that is, the virgin too was born without the taint of sex like Jesus Christ. From the viewpoint of a literal believer in the Bible, a woman born with the taint of sex can hardly give birth to an untainted son of God, so this transformation is reasonable. The authors comparison of the virgin with the whore, Mary Magdalene, is extremely intriguing: Together, the Virgin and the Magdalene form a diptych of Christian patriarchys idea of woman. ------------ Marina Warner is not a fan of the cult of the Virgin. --- The Virgin Mary is not the innate archetype of female nature, the dream incarnate; she is the instrument of a dynamic argument from the Catholic Church about the structure of society, presented as a God-given code. The Catholic Church, and Christianity, has come a lot of way since then.

Marina Warner's argument is a compelling summary of and commentary on the Catholic Church's deployment of the Virgin Mother to its own ever-changing and self-serving ends. Among other points, Warner highlights how the Church has held up Mary as an ideal for women to aspire to -- fully aware that it's a wholly unattainable ideal. Catholicism alternately idealizes or demonizes women -- virgins, mothers, saints, sinners, whores, temptresses.

Wagner begins with a textual analysis of what little is written about Mary in the New Testament - and then, using her impressive knowledge of ecclesiastical and cultural history, tells the story of the two thousand year evolution of Marian thought and devotional practices, tracing the exuberant growth of this tradition as it was influenced by the demands of popular piety, theological controversy, or cultural change.

My only real quibble with the book is that Warner clearly has feminist Opinions about how the Church and society as a whole has used Mary to oppress women.

The matter of the book is sorted by widely defined cultural motifs, and in each chapter the reader is taken on a road that jumps madly across countries and through centuries, linked only by loosely connected themes.

My copy of Marina Warners ALONE OF ALL HER SEX was a loan from a writer friend, the understanding being that Id return the book upon completion.

I am from an American protestant background so I was previously unaware of how thoroughly the Virgin was entrenched in European Catholic (especially Roman Catholic) theology and culture. Warner discusses the different ways that the Virgin's story has moved from history to myth, and eventually will become legend. She also discusses the many different interpretations of Mary's power. Warner makes the point that by putting Mary on this pedestal of virginity and virtue, all other women are condemned as guilty somehow. Warner also talks about the different personalities that Mary has had. She points out absurdities and hypocrisies, but fully realizes the comfort that different Mary beliefs give to millions of people. Warner makes clear that the Vatican is adamant that her role as co-savior is not a divine role, Jesus is God, Mary is blessed because of being his mother and He can't say no to her. This role gives the most comfort to people. "For she can be good without being right." This statement of Warner's sums up the fanatic love that people have for Mary.

Almost all aspects of, as the title goes, the myth and cult of the Virgin Mary are non-Biblical accretions, Church traditions, that have been accumulating over two thousand years of history. This book is effectively the story of those accretions, how bit by bit, layer by layer, the position of the Virgin Mary within the Church has been established and solidified. What I found most fascinating in this book was Warner's exploration of how the very act of elevating a human woman almost to the position of a goddess, which you might assume would indicate a respect and veneration for women, has actually served to degrade and oppress the rest of womankind. After all, if you believe in the Catholic dogmas and tenets of faith, then I don't really see how religious truth can change, adapt or alter over the centuries - and yet Warner quite clearly demonstrates how it has, at least in relation to the Virgin Mary.

So Christ the God-Man and Mary the Virgin-Mother blot out antinomy, absolve contradiction, and manifest that the impossible is possible with God." (Epilogue)