• Barry Spurr


The Blessed Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus Christ, believed by the world’s two billion Christians today (and millions more over the past two millennia) to be the savior and redeemer of humanity. Thus, a high place—preeminent among the saints—has been accorded to Mary in the history of Christianity, especially in Catholic, Orthodox, and High Anglican theology and liturgy, and in the personal devotional lives of the faithful. No other human being, including the prophets, apostles, and saints, has been the subject of even a fraction of the theological reflection that has been devoted to the person of the Virgin:1 “No biblical figure other than Christ is more often portrayed in art than she.”2 In the early church, apologists for Christian asceticism interpreted her as a model of the exalted life of virginity and self-denial. And, for two thousand years, she has been by far the most potent influence on “the definition of the feminine,”3 whether in acceptance or repudiation of the model she provides. “In every century,” Lutheran scholar Jaroslav Pelikan writes, “she served as the model of patience, indeed of quietistic passivity and unquestioning obedience”:

Therefore she could be held up to women as a model of how they ought to behave, in submissive obedience to God, to their husbands, and to the clergy and hierarchy of the church.4


Thirteenth Century Eleventh Century Theological Reflection Holy Ghost Riot Police 
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  1. 5.
    In Mary’s time, the Hebrew form of the name, “Miriam,” with “Salome,” were the names of 50 percent of women—see Deirdre Good, “The Miriamic Secret,” in Mariam, the Magdalen, and the Mother (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2005), p. 10.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    Jean-Pierre Prevost, “Cana,” in Anthony Buono, ed., Dictionary of Mary (Catholic Book Publishing Co., New Jersey, 1997), p. 55.Google Scholar
  3. 30.
    For a characteristically forthright contemporary liberal critique of the doctrinal development of the Virgin Birth, see John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture (Harper Collins, New York, 2005), pp. 83ff.Google Scholar
  4. 50.
    Charlene Spretnak, Missing Mary (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2004), p. 206.Google Scholar
  5. 54.
    Archdale A. King, Liturgy of the Roman Church (Bruce Publishing, Milwaukee, 1957), pp. 318, 199–203.Google Scholar
  6. 69.
    John Martin, Roses, Fountains, and Gold: The Virgin Mary in History, Art and Apparition (Ignatius, San Francisco, 1998), p. 130.Google Scholar
  7. 88.
    “Marian piety,” Eamon Duffy has written, “was at the heart of late medieval religion” (Voices of Morebath, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2001, p. 69). The Salve Regina is said to be the first Christian prayer recited in the New World—by Columbus and his men on San Salvador in 1492 (Dictionary, p. 546).Google Scholar
  8. 105.
    Walter Oakeshott, The Queen and the Poet (Faber and Faber, London, 1960, p. 173.Google Scholar
  9. 108.
    Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare: The Biography (Chatto & Windus, London, 2005), p. [2].Google Scholar
  10. 109.
    Nearly three centuries on, the Queen-Empress Victoria assumed iconic familial and maternal credentials, especially toward the end of her long reign over the vast British Empire, thus filling the void of a female object of devotion created by centuries of Protestant antipathy to the veneration of Mary. An Anglo-Catholic priest, in Brighton, who had labored hard to promote veneration of the Virgin in the face of Protestant bigotry, was consoled in his old age, when, somewhat senile, he came upon a newly erected statue of Victoria, at the time of her Diamond Jubilee, in the town center and, mistaking it for the Queen of Heaven, imagined his zeal had had its reward (Colin Stephenson, Merrily on High, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1972, p. 27).Google Scholar
  11. 121.
    “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” December 1527, in Martmann Griser, S. J., Luther, ed. Luigi Cappadelta (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner: London, 1915), IV, p. 238.Google Scholar
  12. 126.
    Evelyn Simpson, ed., John Donne’s Sermons on the Psalms and Gospels (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1963), pp. 191–3.Google Scholar

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© Barry Spurr 2007

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  • Barry Spurr

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