I once wrote a column titled “I Believe in Seeking, Not Believing,” in which I expressed my frustration with the incoherent beliefs (though rarely expressed as “beliefs”) of people I…
I once wrote a column titled “I Believe in Seeking, Not Believing,” in which I expressed my frustration with the incoherent beliefs (though rarely expressed as “beliefs”) of people I termed “SNBers” — “seekers, not believers.”
One such SNBer had e-mailed me and explained, rather confidently and with obvious satisfaction, that he was not a narrow-minded believer (like me!), but an open-minded “seeker.” The journey and the seeking, he explained, is what life is really all about — not knowing, believing or finding. Just seeking. Seeking is open-minded, believing is close-minded. Seeking is intelligent, believing is silliness. Seeking is enlightened, believing is superstitious.
Ditto for those who say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” A common variation is, “I’m into spirituality, not organized religion.” Twenty years ago, a book was published with the title “Religion in Britain Since 1945: Believing Without Belonging.” Increasingly, however, there is neither belonging nor believing. A 2001 census in Britain found that 14.8 percent of the population said they adhered to no religion. By 2011, that number was higher than 25 percent.
What to make of those who claim to be spiritual but eschew what they label “religious”? First, I’d like to point out that Christianity agrees with the term “spiritual,” for the simple reason that man was created in the image and likeness of God so that he could have communion and fellowship with God. “A spiritual creature,” explains the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “man can live this friendship only in free submission to God” (No. 396). It is that latter part — the bit about free submission to God — that is the problem for many, for it brings into sharp relief three closely related issues: authority, truth and freedom.
The authority in question is not just any authority, but is almost always the authority of either the Church or the Bible. Everyone must eventually appeal to some source of authority. Yet some “spiritual” seekers want it both ways, such as when they appeal to reason — apparently a universally accessible and objective source of truth — while insisting that no one can really know or apprehend truth itself. Shortly before being elected to the papacy in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a brilliant book, “Truth and Tolerance” (Ignatius Press), in which he observed: “To lay claim to truth for one religion’s particular expressions of faith appears today, not merely presumptuous, but an indication of insufficient enlightenment.” He described this prevailing disregard for truth as “the dogma of relativism,” a term that aptly captures the contradictory nature of relativism, which says there is not truth — and that’s the truth! Likewise, the spiritual but not religious person will eventually, if push comes to shove, express his spiritual views in doctrinal terms and with dogmatic certitude, even if he continues to deny the existence of any absolute, objective truth.
A related irony is that the spiritual seeker says, “It is too narrow and confining to follow a single religion.” And so, instead, he assuredly follows none — as if having nothing is somehow better than really having something! This, it seems, is a profound expression of his tremendous freedom. He is so free he need not choose anything at all. And freedom, it must be emphasized, is the essential point. The very concept of freedom, even poorly considered, hints at a deeper purpose and goal: the freedom to do this or to be that. But why? That’s a good question. The spiritual but not religious man denies authority through the exercise of his personal authority; he rejects truth in name of his personal “truth,” and he insists on freedom, but without a basis or a goal. This, Cardinal Ratzinger warned, will not suffice: “If there is no truth about man, then he has no freedom. Only the truth can make us free.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Ignatius Insight (www.ignatiusinsight.com). He and his family live in Eugene, Ore.
In 1995, Pope St. John Paul II issued an apostolic letter titled Orientale Lumen, on the Eastern Churches. He wrote that the “light of the East” — that is, the…
In 1995, Pope St. John Paul II issued an apostolic letter titled Orientale Lumen, on the Eastern Churches.
He wrote that the “light of the East” — that is, the Eastern Catholic Churches — had “inspired my predecessor Pope Leo XIII to write the apostolic letter Orientalium Dignitas, in which he sought to safeguard the significance of the Eastern traditions for the whole Church.” He then stated, “Since, in fact, we believe that the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church, the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition, so as to be nourished by it” (No. 1).
Reading that paragraph, I recall a conversation I once had with a devout Catholic lady about the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at her parish. “Does your parish have Eucharistic Adoration?” she asked. “No,” I replied, “but that is because Eastern Catholic parishes do not have perpetual adoration.” She was stunned; in fact, I think she was scandalized! I pointed out that perpetual adoration — like the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross — is a Western devotion, and not part of the Eastern Catholic (or Orthodox) tradition. While the origins of perpetual adoration can be traced back to St. Francis of Assisi in the 1200s, it became widespread after the Reformation and the Council of Trent as a means of promoting piety and addressing the rejection, by Protestant sects, of belief in the Real Presence (see Pages 12-15). But why not in the East? As my pastor has wryly noted, “The East has witnessed plenty of heresies, but never a rejection of the Eucharist.”
There are three basic points to consider in relation to teaching and defending the Catholic faith. First, learning more about the Eastern Churches will increase your knowledge about Catholicism and deepen your love for the Church. St. John Paul II put this in rather striking terms, saying that “conversion is . . . required of the Latin Church, that she may respect and fully appreciate the dignity of Eastern Christians, and accept gratefully the spiritual treasures of which the Eastern Catholic Churches are the bearers, to the benefit of the entire catholic communion” (No. 21).
Second, knowledge of the Eastern Churches highlights unity and diversity that is truly, authentically Catholic. Eastern Catholicism demonstrates that the Catholic Church is not a monolithic and homogenous Western institution, but is an ancient, catholic and worldwide communion of the faithful united by dogma, doctrine and the See of Peter.
Third, these distinctions, and the history behind them, are helpful to the Catholic catechist and apologist. Knowledge of some basic facts about Eastern Catholicism can clear away misconceptions and misrepresentations of Catholicism. For example, the fact that married men are commonly allowed to become priests in the Eastern Churches helps to do away with the notion that the Catholic Church has dogmatically declared that all priests must be celibate; it can help to demonstrate the difference between doctrine accepted by all Catholics — only men can be ordained priests — and disciplines unique to the East and West. The two matters are not equivalent.
Another good example is belief in the Real Presence. In the West, this marvelous truth was eventually described and defined in scholastic language, and often referred to as “transubstantiation.” Some fundamentalists and others will point to transubstantiation, which came out of the medieval era, as the creation and promotion of a sort of “magical” belief regarding the nature of the Eucharist. (All of Christianity, it should be noted, believed in the Real Presence until the Reformation.) Yet Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, as well as the ancient Oriental Churches — who split from the Church in the fifth century — all believe that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, even if they use differing terminologies.
The light of the East is for the whole Church, and it helps illuminate the Faith in ways big and small.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Ignatius Insight (www.ignatiusinsight.com). He and his family live in Eugene, Ore.
“He is the one Englishman of that era who upheld the ancient creed with a knowledge that only theologians possess, a Shakespearean force of style, and a fervor worthy of…
“He is the one Englishman of that era who upheld the ancient creed with a knowledge that only theologians possess, a Shakespearean force of style, and a fervor worthy of the saints.” This description of Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), from the 1913 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia, captures well three of the many impressive qualities of the man: his theological knowledge, his masterful literary abilities and his holiness.
Given Cardinal Newman’s reputation during his lifetime, both for his prodigious intellect and for his personal sanctity, support for his canonization not surprisingly began at his death. His formal cause for sainthood has been underway for some time now, making headlines, at times, even in secular publications.
An article in America magazine in 1941, along with Pope Pius XII’s support of the 1945 “Centenary of Newman’s Conversion,” played essential roles in moving the process along.
In an address to the Cardinal Newman Academic Symposium in 1975, Pope Paul VI acknowledged the powerful and ongoing witness of Cardinal Newman:
“He who was convinced of being faithful throughout his life, with all his heart devoted to the light of truth, today becomes an ever brighter beacon for all who are seeking an informed orientation and sure guidance amid the uncertainties of the modern world — a world which he himself prophetically foresaw.”
In fact, the Pope had hoped that he might celebrate the Holy Year of 1975 with the beatification of the English cardinal. But more research was needed before that event could take place.
Finally, in January 1991, Pope John Paul II declared Cardinal Newman to be “Venerable.” He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, and was approved for canonization by Pope Francis in 2019.
Cardinal Newman captured even bigger headlines when, in October 2008, his bones were exhumed and nothing was found save a few red tassels from his cardinal’s hat. Damp conditions had led to the decomposition of the body, thus frustrating the intended move of his remains from a cemetery in Rednal, Worcestershire, to a sarcophagus at Birmingham Oratory.
Cardinal Newman had founded the oratory in the 1840s after he left the Anglican denomination to enter the Catholic Church.
A Dramatic Conversion
It was Cardinal Newman’s dramatic conversion that captured, and still captures, the attention and imagination of so many.
Born into a family of bankers, the eldest of six children, the shy and studious Newman had a fondness for reading the Bible and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. The religion of his youth was Anglican and evangelical in nature; he described it in his biographical “Apologia Pro Vita Sua” (1864)as “Bible religion.” (It was also quite anti-Catholic.)
The future cardinal once wrote that he “had no formed religious convictions” until he was 15. “Of course,” he added, “I had a perfect knowledge of my catechism.”
The teenager experienced a profound crisis of faith in 1816, but emerged from it with a newfound fervor, evidenced by his frequent reception of communion in the Anglican Church and taking a private vow of celibacy. At 21 he was a professor at Oriel College, Oxford, and was ordained in June 1824 as a priest in the Anglican Communion.
Newman was a curate of St. Clement’s, Oxford, for two years, and then served as vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, the university church, where he overcame his shyness. Several years of impressive scholarly work followed, including his first major publication, “The Arians of the Fourth Century” (1833).
Much of that work had to do with early Church history and the Church Fathers. Such study would eventually lead him to communion with Rome.
During the 1830s Newman became a leader in the Oxford Movement, which consisted of several Oxford theologians who addressed key issues relating to the authority, nature and history of the Anglican Communion. They also sought to reinvigorate what they considered to be a spiritually lethargic institution.
Because of the many theological tracts published by Newman and others, the movement became known as Tractarianism. In Tract 90, published in 1841, Newman argued that the Thirty-Nine Articles — the defining creedal statements of Anglicanism established in 1563 — were essentially Catholic teachings.
This led to controversy and to Newman’s forced resignation from Oxford.
“From the end of 1841,” he wrote in the “Apologia,” “I was on my deathbed, as regards my membership with the Anglican Church.”
Newman retired to the village of Littlemore with a small group of followers and lived a semi-monastic life as he worked on his now-famous “Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.” It was during his years there that he worked through his various concerns and questions about Catholic doctrine.
He preached his last sermon at St. Mary’s in September 1843, and shortly thereafter he published a retraction of his previous attacks on the Catholic Church.
On Oct. 8, 1845, with his “Essay” still not completed (he never did finish it), Newman wrote: “I am this night expecting Father Dominic, the Passionist. … I mean to ask of him admission into the One Fold of Christ.”
Blessed Dominic Barberi, an Italian, received Newman into the Catholic Church the next day.
Service in the Church
The following October the new convert traveled to Rome, where he was ordained a Catholic priest and given a doctorate in divinity by Pope Pius IX himself. Father Newman joined the Congregation of the Oratory and, having been given a papal brief, set up an oratory in Birmingham, England.
The years of Cardinal Newman’s life were nearly equally divided between those when he was non-Catholic and those when he was Catholic, and the second half of his life, like the first, did not lack for controversy.
“Apologia Pro Vita Sua” was published in response to personal attacks against him by novelist Charles Kingsley. In it, he defended the civic loyalty of English Catholics against the accusations of William Gladstone.
At the same time, many Catholics remained wary of the new priest, not only because he was a convert, but also because some considered him to be a liberal. This accusation stemmed in part from his concerns about the First Vatican Council’s formal definition of the dogma of papal infallibility. In his “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk” (1875), however, he affirmed that he had always believed in the doctrine.
Whatever may have been the qualms of some Catholics about his thinking, in 1879 the convert priest was named a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.
Cardinal Newman has sometimes been called the “Father of Vatican II” because of the influence of his writings on several key areas of theology and practice. Pope Paul VI, in his 1975 address, highlighted this influence:
“Many of the problems which [Newman] treated with wisdom — although he himself was frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted in his own time — were the subjects of the discussion and study of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, as for example the question of ecumenism, the relationship between Christianity and the world, the emphasis on the role of the laity in the Church and the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.”
In a 1990 address given on the first centenary of Cardinal Newman’s death, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote:
“The characteristic of the great Doctor of the Church, it seems to me, is that he teaches not only through his thought and speech but also by his life, because within him, thought and life is interpenetrated and defined. If this is so, then Newman belongs to the great teachers of the Church, because he both touches our hearts and enlightens our thinking.”
Shortly before his death, Cardinal Newman asked Bishop William Bernard Ullathorne of Birmingham to bless him. Bishop Ullathorne, deeply moved by the request, later wrote: “I felt annihilated in his presence. There is a saint in that man.”
Carl Olson is editor of IgnatiusInsight.com and writes from Eugene, Ore.
Have you ever tried to sit on a two-legged stool? Of course not. But a good number of Christians, including some Catholics, often try to employ two-legged stools when it…
Have you ever tried to sit on a two-legged stool? Of course not. But a good number of Christians, including some Catholics, often try to employ two-legged stools when it comes to learning, knowing, sharing and defending the Faith.
I have two stools in mind. The first is described in Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, when it summarizes the vital relationship between tradition, Scripture and the magisterium. Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, explained the council fathers, form “one sacred deposit of the word of God.” Combined with the Church — “the entire holy people united with their shepherds” — they are united in “holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the Faith.” The magisterium, the “living teaching office of the Church,” serves tradition and Scripture by “teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit.” These three — tradition, Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church — are “so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others … together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (see No. 10).
Remove any one (or two!) of the three legs and problems arise. Without the magisterium, people become popes and councils unto themselves; without tradition, people become captives of the present age; without Scripture, people become cut off from the life-giving light of God’s Word. There is no conflict between the three, as each is a gift from God and oriented toward the final end, which is, by God’s grace, eternal communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The second leg consists of evangelization, catechesis and apologetics. Evangelization comes in various forms, but preaching is an essential form, as evidenced in the Acts of the Apostles; it has the same Greek root word as “gospel” since evangelization consists in proclaiming the “good news” of Christ. In addition, the preaching of the apostles, “handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thes 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3)” ( Dei Verbum, No. 8).
The Greek word katekhizein means to teach or instruct by word of mouth, and so it is in many ways a continuation and deepening of the original message of the Gospel. An apologia is a defense of a belief, made by speaking. In the early Church, communication was mostly through speaking face to face.
“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you,” wrote St. Peter, “yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15). The words “defense” and “account” have the same root word — logos, or word; it indicates how closely aligned are the defending and sharing of truth. Evangelization and apologetics, when pursued with charity and humility, are complementary. To evangelize is to offer an invitation. Apologetics helps open the door; it clears away misconceptions, questions and false notions. And every Catholic who has been confirmed is called to proclaim and explain, since the Sacrament of Confirmation “gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1303).
It is commonplace (because it is true) to hear that catechesis, evangelization and apologetics have all suffered in recent decades. One reason is that when one is ignored, or even pushed aside, the other two suffer; the stool falls over. Without catechesis and a resulting depth of faith, Catholics aren’t able or willing to evangelize. Without evangelization, Catholics won’t grow in their mission to share the love of Christ and the joy of the Gospel. Without apologetics, Catholics are often prey to attacks and falsehoods. The three support one another; they never compete with one another. They are always meant for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. As the great apologist Peter Kreeft says: “Apologetics is not a job, it is the courtship of souls.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Ignatius Insight (www.ignatiusinsight.com). He and his family live in Eugene, Ore.
In October 2015, a young man opened fire on faculty and students at Umpqua Community College, just an hour south of my home in western Oregon. After shooting and killing…
In October 2015, a young man opened fire on faculty and students at Umpqua Community College, just an hour south of my home in western Oregon.
After shooting and killing nine people and injuring several more, the assailant took his own life. How can or should we think about such acts of evil? I use the word “think” deliberately, because while the emotions of anger and anguish are natural and understandable, it is not easy to reflect on such horrific acts. Following the shootings, I had a discussion with some Catholics who expressed how difficult it was to talk to young people about what had happened in Roseburg, Ore. “They want to know why a good God would allow this to happen,” said one of them. “They are upset that God didn’t stop it from happening.” We can begin by acknowledging, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the difficulty of the question, “Why does evil exist?”, and agreeing that “no quick answer will suffice” (No. 309).
But we must also insist that the mystery of evil cannot ever be explained through merely mechanistic analysis or by invoking medicinal formulas. In fact, such supposedly “scientific” approaches provide little insight and even less hope. Even in the case of mental illness — a sometimes hazy and unsatisfying term — there is the reality of the Fall and the damage done to one’s heart, mind and soul. There is also the distorted, twisted paths man can choose, if he so desires.
Each of us has a natural desire to be known, acknowledged and loved. This, too, can lead down dark paths, warped into the desire to be feared, powerful and in control of life and death. The latter is key, for anyone who freely takes an innocent life is also spurning God, the author and giver of life. We must ask: “What is free will? Is it a good thing?” Having free will means that we, as rational and moral creatures, can make decisions and act upon them. We instinctively know this is a good thing. But why? Well, if we cannot think or act freely, we are not truly human; we would be lacking in an essential way. Even in a culture increasingly detached from a Christian anthropology people believe personal freedom is a great good. As Christians we believe, “Endowed with a spiritual soul, with intellect and with free will, the human person is from his very conception ordered to God and destined for eternal beatitude” (Catechism, No. 1711).
Related questions follow: “What are good and evil? And how do we know?” Some atheists argue God cannot exist because God would not allow evil things to happen to good people. But why do they assume there are things such as “good” or “evil” when they believe the world and everything in it is the result of a mechanistic accident and humans are simply accidents, without a Creator or a transcendent end? Evil is the privation of a good. “A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together,” states the Catechism. “An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself” (No. 1755). “A thing essentially evil cannot exist,” argued St. Thomas Aquinas. “The foundation of evil is always a good subject.”
We recognize that evil results from man seeking a good through disordered, selfish and unjust means. We have a desire to be accepted, but hurting others because they haven’t accepted us is wrong. The statement by Aquinas might startle us, but only because we fail to comprehend that evil is the warping of the good.
If God forced us to do only good, would He be God? Would we truly be “good”? No, of course not. Since God is love — free and total gift of self — He does not coerce. We really are free to reject both Him and authentic love. Which means we are free to pursue goods in a way that is unjust and unloving. When man rejects God, man also rejects man. That is what we saw in the horrible actions in Roseburg.
The mystery of evil is daunting, but “there is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil” (Catechism, No. 309).
Drawing from exotic speculations based on heretical texts that were written long after the Gospels, many have falsely claimed throughout the ages that Mary Magdalene was a “goddess,” was married…
Drawing from exotic speculations based on heretical texts that were written long after the Gospels, many have falsely claimed throughout the ages that Mary Magdalene was a “goddess,” was married to Jesus, and was intended by Him to be the leader of the Church. But that is not the real Mary Magdalene depicted in the Gospels and celebrated by the Church.
For a true portrait of this famous but misunderstood woman, let’s start with the biblical accounts.
Seeking the Real Mary Magdalene
The four Gospels contain at least a dozen references to Mary from Magdala, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. She is described as a woman who had suffered from demonic possession and from whom Jesus had expelled seven demons (see Mk 16:9; Lk 8:2).
She is also prominently mentioned as one of the women who accompanied Jesus in His ministry (Lk 8:2). She was a witness of the Crucifixion (Mt 27:56; Jn 19:25), of Jesus’ burial (Mt 27:61; Mk 15:47), and of the empty tomb (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:10). After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to her alone at the tomb (Mk 16:9; Jn 20:1-18).
In the Western tradition, Mary Magdalene eventually became identified with the sinful woman of Luke 7:37-50 as well as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (see Lk 10:38-42; Jn 11). However, in the Eastern tradition, the three women were identified separately, with feast days on March 21 (the unnamed sinner), March 18 (Mary of Bethany) and July 22 (Mary Magdalene).
Many feminists and critics claim that the Catholic Church, alarmed by Mary’s supposed position as Jesus’ chief apostle, slandered and “defamed” her by labeling her a prostitute. They say this was due to “the Vatican’s” desire to silence the “truth” about Mary Magdalene, including her marriage to Jesus and her position of authority in the early Church. Such a tale of conspiracy and misogyny is attractive to those questioning the role of women in the Catholic Church and the Church’s teachings about sexual mores. But is it accurate?
The Church, the Pope and the Magdalene
If the early Christians were intent upon destroying the memory of Mary Magdalene, they did a poor job of it. In Christian Scripture and Tradition she is given a prominent role as witness to the Resurrection, a remarkable fact considering that the testimony of women had little value in first-century Jewish society.
Even so, these references aren’t enough for those who are convinced that the Magdalene was deliberately denied her rightful place at the right hand of Jesus as His head apostle. And although she is mentioned more times than some of the apostles, some feminist writers speak of her being “marginalized” by a piece of “propaganda” known as the New Testament, written by “the anti-Magdalene party.”
Feminist critics often portray the early Church Fathers as villains in this matter. The prime suspect in the alleged crime against women is Pope St. Gregory the Great (c. 540-604). The Pope once said in a homily: “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark.”
Why did St. Gregory make this identification?
First, the passage about the “sinful woman” in Luke 7:37-50 immediately precedes the description of “Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” in Luke 8:2. He apparently harmonized the two descriptions, perhaps because the woman who anointed Jesus (see Lk 7:38) is described as a “sinner,” and Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons — an indication to some that she was that sinner.
A second reason for Pope Gregory’s identification of the two women is the Magdalene’s birthplace. By the sixth century, the biblical city of Magdala had acquired a reputation of depravity and godlessness.
Third, John 11:1-2 identifies the woman who anointed Christ and dried His feet with her hair as Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. St. Gregory may have assumed that the two accounts of a woman anointing Our Lord referred to the same event and the same woman.
Probably the most important reason, however, that Pope Gregory identified Magdalene with the “sinful woman” is that his preferred way of interpreting the biblical text was to focus on its moral implications. He believed that the seven demons that had once possessed Mary Magdalene, though literal demons, also represented the seven deadly sins.
At the time of this homily, Rome was undergoing famine and the turmoil of war. So the Pope was taking this opportunity to encourage Christians to repent of their sins.
Vicious Slander or Papal Candor?
St. Gregory’s creation of a single Mary out of three different women is arguably not supported by the text. Most Catholic Scripture scholars agree with the Eastern tradition that the three women are separate individuals. The revised 1969 Roman calendar no longer classifies Mary Magdalene as a penitent, indicating that Rome no longer considers her a reformed harlot. Never-theless, even if St. Gregory’s act was factually flawed, it wasn’t outrageous and it certainly wasn’t malicious. As a pastor and a man of holiness, the great Pope held up Mary Magdalene as an exemplar of repentance, humility and devotion. She was a symbol of hope for sinners.
Though his facts may not have been accurate, he was not attempting to destroy Mary Magdalene, but to praise her. In the meantime, we should note that however great the authority of Pope Gregory, his teaching about Mary Magdalene was not infallible, nor was it issued in an encyclical or a papal bull. It was never defined as Catholic dogma nor upheld as sacred doctrine by an ecumenical council.
Contrary to feminist criticisms and the unfounded assertions to the contrary, Mary Magdalene has been openly celebrated by Catholics for many centuries. Described by some Church Fathers as the “apostle to the apostles,” she was a brave disciple of Jesus who stood at His cross; she was also a witness to the resurrected Christ.
Far from being pilloried or slandered, Mary of Magdala is rightly recognized by the Church as a model of faithfulness, devotion and loyalty to the truth of the Gospel of her Master and Lord.