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The Virgin Mary and the Birth of Chivalry » Sex Trafficking and Prostitution

The Virgin Mary and the Birth of Chivalry

May 20th, 2010 by aliciaj1 Leave a reply »

While the last few blogs that I have written have focused on some of the ways in which religion has oppressed and marginalized women, this week I would like to focus on one of the most famous female figures in religion, the Virgin Mary. There are a few different views surrounding the role of the Virgin Mary, with the Roman Catholic Church places her the in perhaps the most central role. According to Roman Catholic Theology, Mary is referred to as the Immaculata, or the Immaculate, and the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church states that she is:

“In the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

In the view of the Roman Catholic Church Mary entered the world different from any other human being conceived by another up to that point, she entered as a human free of sin, and, as a woman. This is a sharp contrast to the Eve, who is often as the cause for the fall of humanity and sin through giving into the temptation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. As St. Ireneus stated:

“Eve, the first woman, was a virgin at the time that she was tempted by the serpent in the garden. Thus, Eve, a virgin, conceived disobedience and death, whereas, Mary, a virgin, conceived the Word in obedience and brought forth Life.”

Two themes that St. Ireneus touches upon that we have discussed throughout the quarter are the value and worth of virginity, as well as women being the conceivers. It is interesting how Mary and Eve are not only thought of as conceiving human beings, but also moving beyond that to that of the conception of humanity as Eve has done, and then later, the Annunciation and Mary’s conception of the Son of God, Jesus, who remove sin from the world for all of humanity. While there are many male characters in the Bible that play very significant roles, it is noteworthy to see the central position that women play in the Christian religion, especially Mary in Roman Catholic Theology. Moving forward beyond the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the story of the Annunciation is told in each one of the Gospel readings. Below is the story as it appears in the first chapter of Luke –

“26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34″How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[c] the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”

It is hard for me to read this with fresh eyes after having heard it so many times growing up, and I am sure that I am missing out on many of the contextual factors that are so essential to understanding texts. However in reading through it, I have to say that throughout all of the years of reading this, the verses in themselves do not contain particular words that are extremely striking to me, and yet, the Annunciation story is one of the most celebrated events in Roman Catholic Tradition. The significance of them was really brought to light for me when I was in Florence this last quarter taking an Art History Class focusing on Italian Renaissance Art. Throughout the course of the class, we visited many museums and churches looking at artwork, and I would say about 95% of them were a depiction of Mary, either showing the Annunciation story, or the Maddona and Child. If unconvinced by my own observations, I encourage you to do a google image search of the phrase, “Madonna and Child,” you will come up with about 3 million results. Clearly, this is a significant focus of Art, and the church. After pondering this for a little bit I decided to do a little bit of research on Mary and the Annunciation, and it turns out that the Virgin Mary was instrumental in bringing about a respect for women in the Middle Ages and the rise of chivalry. Prior to the middle ages, women were often considered to be evil and the cause for the fall of man, and it was not until then, that it was thought that Mary was the connection from humans to God. While there are many instances in which women are oppressed in religion, blamed for sin, or thought not to be worthy, it is both remarkable the critical role that Mary plays in Christianity, a role that no man could ever play, and one that is essential to the birth of Jesus.

It is an interesting thought for me to ponder why God chose Mary to bear a child through a virgin conception. Why did you not simply place Jesus on earth in adulthood? Why did he need to be conceived of a virgin and then live a childhood under her care? I wonder the intentions of this, and the implications of it. It is a hard thought to wrap my head around, and I don’t pretend to fully understand it, although I am very glad and happy to know that Mary has played a vital role in brining about respect for women that she has. This is a subject that I am curious to explore more, and in doing so I hope to discover more about the movement that Mary was central in brining about throughout middle age and renaissance society.





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