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Woman's Place In The Life Of The Church?

By REV. CANON C. W. CHANDLER TTHERE is a great deal of *■ uncertainty in many people's minds with regard to the identity of Mary Magdalene, whom on the morrow a very large section of the Church will remember. Whenever she is referred to in the Gospels the words "out of whom were cast seven devils" are usually appended to her name. Doubtless this is because Mary is such a common name, and particularly was it so in those days. Hence the reason for associating the name of each Mary with something or someone-—Mary the wife of Cleophas, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the one who came from Magdala and "out of whom were cast seven devils."

It is commonly thought that Mary Magdalene was she who anointed Our Lord's feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee and that it was she who was about to be stoned because she had been caught in the act or adultery. Dr. Hastings says "it is an unfortunate-tradition that identifies Her with the unnamed sinful woman" above referred to.

Again, she is sometimes identified with Mary and Lazarus as their sister, but neither is there any foundation for this belief.

She was from the city or town of .Vlagdala, which was about three jiiies north-west of Tiberias, and the 'seven devils" which were driven from her clearly indicates that she was suffering from some deep-seated malignity. After having been healed by Jesus it appears that she became His most devoted follower. At His Crucifixion we picture her clinging to the Cross, and John records that she was the first at the sepulchre on that first Easter morning.

A Liover of Jesus A recent writer refers to her as a "lover" of Jesus, that is, as one who in a very human sense adored Him. It is an audacious contention, but nevertheless it's one that I dare to accept as being well within the b.ounds of possibility. Milk and water plaster saints, bloodless, passionless and lily-white in their inhumanity, have never appealed to me, I must confess. Nor could Perfect Man have been bereft of those manly qualities which could awaken in women that passive acceptance and tender responsiveness which is so essentially feminine, in the very best sense of the word.

So, while denying that Mary Magdalene was the arch sinner before her conversion that a false tradition helps us to believe she was, we can accept the statement of Joseph Klausner that she was "'hysterical to the point of madness" before Jesus met her, and that, as Ecnest Renan says, "next to Jesus, hers was the most essential part In the founding of Christianity. The Image created by her vivid susceptibility still hovers before the world. She, as chief and princess among visionaries has, better than any other, made the vision of her Impassioned soul a real thing to the world's conviction. That grand cry from her woman's heart, 'He is risen!' has become the mainspring of faith to mankind. Hence, feeble Reason! Test not by cold analysis this masterpiece of ideality and love! . . . Where is the wise man who has bestowed upon the world so exalted a joy as this visionary Mary Magdalene?"

The Ministry of Women

It seems strange to many of us that the Church so steadfastly refuses to admit women to her full ministry., The Bishop of Hongkong, preaching in St. Margaret's. Westminster, said he knew of women in China who had obvious gifts for the priesthood, some of whom on the Burma Road were doing everything but "breaking bread" and whose ministry would be complete if once they were allowed so to do. "We may be called to sacrifice many old principles," he concluded. "The Word was made Flesh—yes, but the Word was not ' male ' Flesh. Surely women of such gifts as those to whom I have referred may alrt-idy have been prepared of God for tin? ministry."

When we come to consider what a vital part they played in thf life of Jesus, and in the early Church the wonder is that for so long the doors of the Church's inner sanctuary have been bolted and barred against them. "And I entreat thee also, true yoke-fellow," said St. Paul, "help those women which laboured with me in the Gospel." Nor must we forget that Paul's first Gentile convert was a woman, a seller of purple named Lydia, and where would the Church be to-day without their tireless aid? In many respects, . however, Paul was exceedingly biased. He decreed that women should be silent in churches and that their heads should be covered, and in the last respect at least we slavishly obey his decree. Our Lord covered His head when He went into the synagogue, and if heads must be covered in the case of women then let men do likewise. Of course It is pretty clear that Paul had no doubt whatever about the Inferiority of women, and he would heartily disapprove of those who leave the word "obey" out of the marriage service to-day. Small wonder indeed that many consider that the influence of Paul on the Church has been greater than that of Its Founder. It has been irritatingly so in these minor matters. Great man that he was. he had the severest limitations, and in no direction are these limitations manifested more clearly than in his "pneral attitude to women as the "inferior" sex.

Women in the Pulpit The probability is that women themselves feel that their true province is in the home, in the office, in Parliament, but not in the Church. It is a' difficult question to decide, although more than one church in New Zealand has recently tackled the question. If the tables were turned and women did occupy our pulpits, I fancy that our congregations would then be predominantly male.

As one who has strongly protested that it is man's singular right to sit on church vestries, I yet think that women have the laugh on us for all £hat, and that from the time when Mary.Magdalene stood by the empty tomb and spoke to One whom she supposed to be the gardener right up to to-day it is women and not men who have done most to keep alive the simple love of God in human hearts. Outside those special days which the Church has set aside for the commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene is among the very few other women who have earned such an honoured place on the Church's calendar for pur continued remembrance.

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Bibliographic details

Woman's Place In The Life Of The Church?, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 171, 21 July 1945

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Woman's Place In The Life Of The Church? Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 171, 21 July 1945

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