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Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture [Paperback]

Jaroslav Pelikan

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Book Description

16 Oct 1998
The Virgin Mary has been an inspiration to more people than any other woman who ever lived. For Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, for artists, musicians, and writers, and for women and men everywhere she has shown many faces and personified a variety of virtues. In this important book, a world-renowned scholar who is the author of numerous books - including the best-selling Jesus Through the Centuries - tells how Mary has been depicted and venerated through the ages. Jaroslav Pelikan examines the biblical portrait of Mary, analyzing both the New and Old Testaments to see how the bits of information provided about her were expanded into a full-blown doctrine. He explores the view of Mary in late antiquity, where the differences between Mary, the mother of Christ, and Eve, the "mother of all living, " provided positive and negative symbols of women. He discusses how the Eastern church commemorated Mary and how she was portrayed in the Holy Qur'an of Islam. He explains how the paradox of Mary as Virgin Mother shaped the paradoxical Catholic view of sexuality and how Reformation rejection of the worship of Mary allowed her to be a model of faith for Protestants. He considers also her role in political and social history. He analyzes the place of Mary in literature - from Dante, Spenser, and Milton to Wordsworth, George Eliot, and Goethe - as well as in music and art, and he describes the miraculous apparitions of Mary that have been experienced by the common people.

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Because this book is not an inquiry into who Mary was in the first century but into what " through the centuries" she has been experienced and understood to be, biblical materials dealing with her have an essentially retrospective function here. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
64 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short history of Mariology 9 May 2003
By Seth Aaron Lowry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Jaroslav Pelikan is one of the foremost scholars and authors who has written on the topics of early church history, development of tradition, and the history of Jesus. This book is actually a companion to his other book, "Jesus Through the Centuries", and attempts to understand why Mary has played such a prominent role in church theology, devotion, and tradition.
This question becomes even more perplexing when one realizes that Mary's role in the gospels is very limited, and she is only mentioned once by name outside of the gospels. Yet, this did not prove a hindrance to the early church fathers who went about scouring the pages of the Old Testament to find references to the mother of our Lord. The one technique that proved most useful to the fathers was reading the Old Testament allegorically instead of literally. By employing this method the fathers were able to find typologial similarities between Eve and Mary. Therefore, by the end of the 2nd century Irenaeus was able to develop the comparison between Eve and Mary, so that just as the apostle Paul saw Christ as a second Adam, Irenaeus viewed Mary as a second Eve. Pelikan argues that since Paul began the process of applying such an allegory from the Old Testament to Jesus that it was not a stretch for the fathers to make the connection between Mary and Eve.
The next step in the developing Mariological process was the application of the title, Theotokos, or the Mother of God. The need for such a title stemmed from the many Christological heresies that were appearing during this time. By calling Mary Theotokos the fathers were able to guarantee that Jesus' humanity was safeguarded, and also that his divinity was upheld. Nevertheless, Mary's new title as Theotokos only strengthened the growing devotion toward her. Pelikan shows that Athanasius, the great orthodox theologian, makes reference to a Marian celebration in his writings. In addition, in his writings against the Arians Athanasius argues against the position that Jesus was God's most perfect and best creation, but instead reserves that honor for Mary.
When Pelikan arrives at the period of medeval history, he shows how Marian devotion blossomed into a full blown phenomena. During this time Mary was showered with such titles as Mediatrix, Queen of Heaven, Mother of the faithful and many other such titles. In Bernard of Clairvaux, Mary had a great advocate who spoke very highly of the Mother of God. Yet when it came to one of the most pivotal doctrines of Catholic theology, that of the immaculate conception, Bernard and Aquinas denied that the doctrine was a reality. They believed that such a doctrine made Mary immune from needing a savior and made her wonderful qualities seem less special. It wasn't until Duns Scotus argued that the immaculate conception saved Mary more perfectly by preventing her fall rather than rescuing her from a fall, that the doctrine became common in the West.
Finally, Pelikan dives into the period of the Reformation and illustrates that although the Reformers eschewed much of Marian doctrine that developed in the middle ages, they did not in fact abandon everything. The Reformers maintained that Mary was indeed the Theotokos, defended her perpetual virginity, and some even held to her immaculate status. What the Reformers disagreed with were the practices of praying to Mary and the saints, and the view of Mary as a Mediatrix. The Reformers believed that the role of Mediator belonged to Jesus alone, and that all prayer addressed to Mary and the Saints was superfluous and useless.
In the last chapters of the book Pelikan examines the Marian dogmas that have been promulgated by the Catholic Church: the immaculate conception and the Assumption. Pelikan traces the developments of these doctrines all the way from the fathers of the early church to the present day theologians and church officials who have expressed these views. Lastly, Pelikan shows how the person of Mary is an important person to all Christians and that she is an example of faith that everyone should strive to emulate.
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Presentation by a Great Scholar 18 Mar 2000
By M. Ramos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the best works about Mary in recent years. Jaroslav Pelikan, an excellent scholar, gives an outstanding presentation about the place of the Virgin Mary in the history of culture. As he did with Jesus Through the Centuries, he uses his vast knowledge of history, theology and art to illustrate, in a fascinating and engaging way, the development of Marian theology and devotion. Pelikan goes in a chronological way, from the biblical tradition and the dogmatic and devotional definitions of the first centuries of the Church to the latest dogmatic definitions in Roman Catholic theology. The author also explores the view of Mary in the Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The book is both scholarly and readable, making it accessible to the scholar and the general reader.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remembering your Mother 26 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Professor Pelikan adapts the successful format which he developed for Jesus through the Centuries: . . . over a decade ago to explore various presentations of Mary and her role as expressed not only in popular piety and theological development but also in other cultural expressions particularly literature, painting, and, to some extent, music. He has designed 16 chapters, each with a distinctive title, painting, and theme all organized somewhat chronologically. In his introduction, Pelikan explains the timeliness of this study, citing diverse contemporary issues such as feminist scholarship, Marian apparitions and ecumenism. He devotes chapter 12 to Goethe's treatment of "the Eternal Feminine" in his Faust; and chapter 13 to the popularity of Marian apparitions since 1830. Pelikan's interest in ecumenism not only informs his treatment of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant views but motivates this whole collection. Moreover, he broadens ecumenism to look at Christian relations with Judaism particularly in the first two chapters and then in chapter 5 to include an extended treatment of the treatment of Mary in the Qur'an.
Throughout Pelikan describes various presentations of Mary lucidly, perceptively, and, occasionally, provocatively. Although several of the chapters were written for other contexts, most chapters do reflect a common method. Both the professional scholar and the informed university student will recognize Pelikan's reliance on documented primary texts. He usually refers the reader to one pertinent scholarly treatment of the issue at stake. After two chapters dealing with the relative lack of detailed information in the New Testament, Pelikan goes on to describe the appropriation of themes and allusions in the Hebrew Scriptures by a process of "creative amplification." To describe his own position on the development of doctrine, he appeals twice to the effective metaphor about a legend emerging like a pearl from a small irritant. One sign of this process is the exploitation of actual misreadings of the original language and in the manuscript traditions of the Latin Vulgate. He cites the issue of "parthenos" in Isaiah 7.14, the implications of the conjunction in Song of Songs 1.5 "I am black and beautiful" and the confusion at Genesis 3.15 over the gender of the pronoun. Unfortunately Pelikan does not apply his descriptive and textual skills to the apocryphal Protoevangelion of James which became a rich source of the legends and themes about Mary.
Pelikan demonstrates his knowledge of primary evidence in subsequent chapters. In chapters 10 and 12 he deals with Dante's Divine Comedy and Goethe's Faust. In chapter 5 he describes the Islamic treatment of Mary in the Qur'an with its respect for her simple obedience, perpetual virginity, and motherhood of Jesus as human.
Pelikan does relate specific themes of theological development to his approach. In Chapter 4 he deals briefly with the Theotokos mentioning the dispute at the Council of Ephesus in 431 but concentrating more on the antecedents of Cyril rather than on the crisis itself. This is surprising in view of the important difference with the Qur'an and the care he takes in chapter 11 to demonstrate the respect in Luther and in other reformers for Mary as Mother of God. Moreover the lack of a stronger focus on the Theotokos contributes to the omission of the significant Renaissance composition of the Madonna and Child. Instead most colored plates deal with the Annunciation and they should be incorporated within the discussion more effectively.
He does deal with a number of doctrinal issues such as his presentation of her status as second Eve, with a particularly appropriate illustration, in chapter 3. He treats Jerome's contribution to perpetual virginity and Ambrose's effort to accommodate a respect for the state of marriage in chapter 8, unfortunately without acknowledging some of the current scholarship in this sensitive area. In chapter 14, entitled "the Great Exception" he sketches the long history of the immaculate conception beginning with Carolingian monasticism, noting the reluctance of Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas, and culminating with the Papal declaration of 1854. He sums up the theological issue lucidly but some of the texts in this chapter remain unidentified.
This book demonstrates scholarship in the service of understanding diverse religious and cultural traditions. It will stimulate and at times provoke his peers; it will inform and always challenge the intelligent student.
Paul C. Burns
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theotokos - Mary and Her Life in Chrsitian History 30 Aug 2004
By K.H. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Scholar Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University once again writes a powerful historical and theological book, this time devoted to Mary, the Theotokos. He reveals the controversies between the Latin West (Roman Catholicism), the Eastern Church (Eastern Orthodoxy) and the Protestant movements and their many divergent views. He takes great care to present the facts, but also reveals the rumors and mystery of history, as well as history's strengths and weaknesses.

Regardless of one's theological perspective on Mary and her place in the Christian life, this is must reading for anyone interested in doctrinal development throughout Christian history. His chapter on the "second Eve" is clear, concise, yet thorough and accessible to both those who are lay people and academics. This chapter naturally follows into the doctrine of the Theotokos and its importance in Marian doctrine; but more importantly, though not always stated, its importance in the doctrine of Christ. Pelikan shows its development, again, concisely and clearly.

Also, very interestingly, Pelikan takes the reader to a not very well known area by many Western Christians and that is the early place Mary held in Islamic cultures and how the Quran pictures her in extremely warming language that it rivals most material elsewhere found in that text.

He does not shy away from the controversial aspects of Mariology as well, to include the bodily assumption, the apparitions, and the Immaculate Conception. He shows how the doctrines developed and the problems each one caused between Protestants and Orthodox Christians. Agreements and differences are discussed without making this book into an apologetic for one view or the other (not that apologetic material is wrong, but would have greatly side tracked this text).

This is just another outstanding work of which I have had the pleasure to read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough history of Mary 5 Nov 2006
By Audiophile - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a Protestant convert to Orthodox Christianity I had the usual misgivings regarding the elevated role of Mary in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. This book gives a thorough and scholarly approach to how marionology developed over the centuries in both the eastern and western traditions of the church. It was very helpful in enabling me to better appreciate why there is such a veneration of Mary even though there is not much biblical revelation about her. The most surprising thing to me was the Muslim connection to Mary. This book will certainly fill in your knowledge and appreciation for Mary and how she developed into such an icon of the church.
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