Posthumous publication

« Marie ou l’utopie faite femme »

Translation by Marie Evans Bouclin

Editor’s note : More than thirty years have passed since the writing of this text by Marie Gratton (first publication in L’autre Parole, no 153, 2020, p. 16–37). Here is the story by Marie-Andrée Roy.

In 1988, Monique Dumais and I published a collection of essays in Souffles de femmes, Lectures féministes de la religion at Éditions Paulines. The original manuscript contained a chapter written by Marie Gratton, entitled Marie ou l’utopie faite femme. In her essay, Marie Gratton proceeded to systematically deconstruct Marian mythology by unravelling each of the dogmas that are the building blocks of the Marian myth : Mary, Mother of God (Council of Ephesus, 431) ; the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (Lateran Council, 649) ; the Immaculate Conception (1854) ; and the Assumption of Mary (1950). Her position is quite radical. She maintains that “Marian theology is the finely chiselled masterpiece of a triumphalist and triumphant patriarchal system carved out of a dualist and profoundly sexist anthropology. (…) By presenting Mary as the antithesis of Eve (…) the patriarchal system has paradoxically succeeded in ‘demonizing’ all other women. (…) The system that proclaims these dogmas has become the “tool and privileged locus of ecclesiastical triumphalism”. (…) [In her conclusion, the author admits how] sad it is that the figure who exemplifies autonomy and freedom in Luke’s Gospel has been so outrageously mischaracterized, and has turned against women all the glory lavished upon the mother of Jesus, a woman who would have only wanted to be remembered for what she was : a righteous heart.”

Before it was published, the entire manuscript had to be vetted by the publishing house. This is nothing unusual. The manuscript had already been rejected by another publisher because it was so blatantly feminist. The publishing house decided it would accept our manuscript if we removed Marie Gratton’s chapter. We were caught in a bind. There were eight other texts and authors waiting to be published. Disheartened and deeply embarrassed, Monique Dumais and I accepted to have the book published without Marie’s text. In her great kindness, Marie never held it against us, for which I am truly grateful.

As far as we were concerned, this was a case of Roman Catholic censorship. The Marian issue is a sensitive one in which much dogmatic energy has been invested. It plays a decisive role in the construction of how women are represented, especially in relationships between men and women and the norms which govern them in the Church. In 1988, John Paul II, who was fervently devoted to the Virgin Mary, had occupied the See of Rome for 10 years, and had published his encyclical Redemptoris Mater just the year before. This provided the context in which a Catholic editor would refuse to raise hackles in Rome. He was well aware of the Church’s teaching on Mary and also knew full well what questioning it would cost him. He did not want the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith intervening after the fact. Women, feminist thought and freedom of expression were the losers.

About four years ago, I asked Marie Gratton for permission to include her text in the suggested readings for my course on women and religion at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). It was so well received by the students that it confirmed my sense of its relevance and timeliness. So I suggested we publish it on our L’autre Parole website. Marie agreed. When I visited her in May, 2018 at Maison Aube-Lumière, just a few days before she died, I told her it would soon be published. Thirty years later, it is high time amends are made and the words of Marie Gratton are truly set free. Enjoy !



Since very early in the history of Christianity, Mary of Nazareth has fired imaginations, inspired art and poetry, touched hardened hearts, brought comfort to the suffering, and stimulated the zeal of souls in search of sainthood.

Legends quickly took over. Stories about her were laced with magic in an attempt to satisfy the curiosity of those who wanted more from the Gospels that are so discreet about her. She appears only in a dozen passages and the sacred writers give her a voice only four times. (1)

The brief sketch of her personality and righteousness has been generously fleshed out by the imagination of theologians and supported by popular devotion. So generously, in fact, that the doctrinal developments around her are markedly extravagant considering the scant scriptural information available. Consequently, Mary may have become both the most famous and most misunderstood of women.

It is virtually impossible to replace this Palestinian peasant woman into her real historical context because her whole person was forever transfigured by the unique destiny of her son. Perhaps it is time to make a bold effort to rescue Mary from a patriarchal discourse that is replete with enthusiastic and masterful fantasies and biases, a discourse that has carved a utopian character so far removed from the sober and furtive figure of the Gospels and drawn the portrait of a woman in whom are invested all the dreams of humanity in search of Paradise both lost and found.

In order to express what from times immemorial has been called “the eternal feminine”, I know of no clearer, deeper or more incisive expression than the one playwright Paul Claudel puts in the mouth of his heroine Lâla. Her husband has just refused her a place among the men leaving to build the city : “I am the promise that cannot be kept, and therein lies my grace”. (2)

Where else but in the minds of men can women possibly live up to the challenge of being unalterable passion of the hero and rest for the warrior, secret garden and fertile soil, impregnable fortress and conquered city ? Lovers and poets know full well that the “eternal feminine” will never be more than a promise that is impossible to keep. So [male] theologians gave us Mary. Promise kept. Eve was lost and now is found and magnified as humankind itself would dream her to be as she emerged from the hands of God… full of grace.

To follow the devout artisans who developed Marian doctrinal teaching, be it in the humble faith of ordinary people or the pronouncements of learned thinkers, we must first leave behind the Palestinian peasant with the sunburned face, wrinkled by desert winds, sadness and hard work. We also have to forget the homemaker with the calloused hands, chapped and raw from pulling the rope out of a well and washing clothes, carding and weaving rough wool, and cooking over an open flame. And then we must resolutely turn to the archetype of the “eternal feminine”. In Scripture, Mary was a woman, betrothed and then married to Joseph, and mother of Jesus. In Marian dogma, she becomes the Woman that theologians like to see being offered to humanity by God in order to repair the sinister consequences of the first failure, meaning the deadly inheritance of Eve, the fallen one.

From Scripture to Dogma 

One of the strangest paradoxes in the development of Marian dogma is that it jeopardizes precisely what the New Testament tried to avoid by being so discreet about Mary, and that is to propel the mother of Jesus to the doorstep, or worse, the very centre of the divine. God forbid that in the minds of simple people she should enjoy the prerogatives attributed to the goddesses the ancients were used to and liked, and who were spared the vicissitudes of our mortal condition. In any case, our dogmas will appear to literally snatch the mother of Jesus the Nazarene away from the common fate of humanity. One by one, dogmas will solemnly be defined as articles of faith : the divine motherhood of Mary, her perpetual virginity, her preservation from original sin and finally her assumption into heaven, thus avoiding the corruption of death while she is being carried away into eternal glory.

What does this mother of God, perpetual virgin, immaculate at conception, and woman spared the indignities of death have in common with the woman Mary of the New Testament ? Let’s begin with a brief look at what is recorded in the most ancient texts, the Letters of Paul.

In the entire Pauline corpus, Mary is mentioned only once, in the Letter to the Galatians (3). Speaking of Jesus, the Apostle to the Gentiles writes : “born of a woman, born under the law.” If we keep in mind that this affirmation follows the proclamation that God sent his son (4), we can discern Paul’s intent. He wants to make the point at all costs that if Jesus is the son of God, it does not follow that his mother is of divine essence. This idea would have been attractive to the Greeks, women and men, but women especially, who might have hoped to add Mary to their pantheon but without losing the good graces that the goddesses reputedly showered upon humanity, should they switch from their traditional religion to Christianity.

Similarly, the Synoptic Gospels never miss an opportunity to underscore that Jesus himself, far from exalting the dignity of his mother, does just the opposite, and with surprising harshness. Three times, in Luke, his replies are terse. First, to Mary herself who, after three days of frantic searching, finds her son among the Doctors of the Law : when she gently chides him for having “treated” her and Joseph (5) in this way, he replies without guile, “Why were you looking for me ? Didn’t you know that I had to be about my Father’s interests ?” (6)

To the woman, perhaps a mother herself, who shows glowing admiration for the woman who carried and nursed Jesus, He retorts : “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (7)

“Blessed rather” and not blessed as well. As if Mary had not been one of those who had heard and obeyed. A hint that could give credibility to another episode in Luke, already present in Mark and picked up in Matthew : someone tells Jesus that his mother and his brothers are there and want to see him, “But he answered them : my mother and my brothers are those who listen to the word of God and put it into practice.” (8)

Mark and Matthew add to the harshness of the response by prefacing it with : “Who is my mother ? And who are my brothers ?” (9)

Surely, we can appreciate here the difference between the minuscule role played by Mary in the public life of Jesus according to the Synoptics (we will come back later to the infancy narratives) and the role assigned to her in John’s Gospel. In John, she is an important figure even if she appears only twice—at the wedding in Cana and at the foot of the cross. In the fourth gospel, she does not have a name. For the author, she seems identified with her role, she is “the mother of Jesus”. (10) And when her son speaks to her, he says, “Woman”. (11) So many commentaries have been written about that singular address. Its singularity may be more readily understood when one considers the theological intent of the author. One must look beyond the anecdote for the symbolic meaning of these episodes. The first marks the beginning and the other the end of Jesus’ mission. The need to be historically accurate is superseded by the catechetical objective : Mary is there to announce the new covenant ; she is the one who will get the wine flowing at Cana as the precursor to the blood poured out on the cross.

The Acts of the Apostles record the presence of Mary only once. (12) She is in the Upper Room after the Ascension of the Lord. Christian tradition recognizes her as “the Woman” in chapter 12 of Revelations who was a figure of the Church under persecution at the end of the first century CE. It is on this shaky scriptural foundation that Marian theology and dogma are built. Let us take a brief look at the stormy debates in which Marian dogma evolved and what the consequences have been for Christian tradition and for women.

Mary, Mother of God

It was in 431, at the Council of Ephesus that Marian dogma took off, carried not so much by the discreet breeze of the Gospels as by the furious windstorms of Christological debates. Up to this point, the woman John soberly calls the mother of Jesus, the woman who gave birth to him (to borrow the even more impersonal wording used by Paul) had been recognized and celebrated as the mother of Christ. A title that seemed appropriate for the woman who had brought into the world the one that the Christian community identified with the eagerly awaited saviour of Israel, the Messiah, the one sent by and anointed by Yahweh.

One need not be a seasoned cleric to grasp the importance of the theological leap made by the Council Fathers when, gathered at Ephesus (13), they solemnly proclaimed Mary Theotokos , literally “God-bearer” or if one prefers, mother of God “in a real and proper sense” (14). Actually, the term Theotokos was not unknown because it had been used more than one hundred years earlier, in 320, by bishop Alexander in a letter from the synod of Alexandria condemning the Arian heresy that denied the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father (15). But this title of mother of God had never yet been dogmatically defined. If we remember that the devotion to Mary only dates back to the beginning of the fourth century, about the time of the Council of Nicaea (325), we can better appreciate how quickly this Marian theological issue evolved, historically speaking. However, its acceleration and growth are not really centred on Mary. The entire exercise revolves around the person of Christ. In fact, had wrenched doctrinal debates about the real identity of Jesus of Nazareth not been taking place at that time, we may well wonder if the discreet gospel figure of Mary would have been the subject of so much philosophical and theological speculation and might not simply be invoked today as Mother of Jesus, the Christ, and not as Mother of God. Indeed, had the Fathers not been swept up in the logic of their doctrinal quarrels more attuned to Greek speculation than the Synoptic Gospels, they might not have been pushed to the most paradoxical of conclusions that a human being was the mother of God !

It is possible that the women of Ephesus, although they were not theologians could nonetheless appreciate the meaning of the words, and so they gratefully rejoiced and acclaimed the Council Fathers. They celebrated that there was, finally, a mother of God. They had once had their own, the great Artemis, virgin goddess and mother. Try as they may, clerics were unable to turn women away from her and condemned the cult dedicated to her in the temple of Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It would therefore not be easy to convince the followers of Artemis that the mother of God they were proposing to the women’s devotion was not herself a goddess. They would also have difficulty discerning between what once was being condemned as a ridiculous myth with what was being proposed as a Christian truth that had to be believed absolutely. That difficulty cannot be minimized, and even though we are familiar with the polemical context of the definition that led to its ultimate consequences, the affirmation of two natures in the one person of the Word of God. This implies that all properties, activities, passions of each of these two natures must be assigned to the Divine Word. Following that logic, Mary, according to human nature is the mother of the second person of the Trinity. This thesis appeared so convincing to ancient Eastern theology that it will even abandon the expression “Christokos”, mother of Christ, as the sign of a weakening Christology in which the divinity of Jesus was not sufficiently stressed (17). These subtleties might have easily escaped the ancient worshippers of Artemis, and probably many other believers, especially women and men who liked to think they had an almighty protector in the heavens. And as the image of a judging God took hold, it was all the more comforting to have a maternal figure in the picture. Leo XIII expresses this with refreshing candour : “(Mary) is the mighty Mother of the Almighty ; but—what is still sweeter—she is gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness.” (18)

No doubt to avoid despair about its eternal destiny, humanity needed such a divine figure to smooth the rough edges of the patriarchal system. What better way to incite women to imitate this “gentle, extreme in tenderness, of a limitless loving-kindness” maternal figure from whom they had everything to learn. Not only did her raison d’être rest in her motherhood, but her very identity came through her son. However, the advantages do not stop there. Mary must also protect women from despair, affirm their sex in their own eyes and make it less odious to men who were still haunted by the memory of Eve. Augustine understood this perfectly :

If he, of the male sex, as he had to be, had not chosen a mother for himself, women would fall into despair remembering their first sin, for it was a woman who seduced the first man ; women would believe they have absolutely no reason to hope in Christ. (19)

For those women who didn’t have the opportunity to be reassured by this homily, they could read the encouraging exhortation in De agone christiano : “Do not despise yourselves women, the son of God was born of a woman.” (20)

Mary Ever Virgin

If the proclamation of the divine motherhood of Mary was the opportunity to develop the anthropology and theology where woman is clearly second, whose only value depended on her relationship to a man, in this case her son, it is without a doubt through the dogmatic definition of the perpetual virginity of Mary that the patriarchal system finds its ideal forum. Defining woman according to her virginity or motherhood is looking at her through a typically male lens which identifies her solely according to her relationship to man. Saying Mary is both virgin and mother is certainly going a step further since it “fulfills” the impossible dream, which is to maintain all the fascinating traits of womanhood such as the veiled mystery of virginity and the enviable mystery of motherhood, but to let everything threatening and frightening to the unconscious mind get lost in a euphoria-inducing utopia. As Maria Kassel (21) has so well demonstrated, the Great Mother of pagan mythologies did not only have a reassuring and nurturing side, but one that engulfs and destroys. Just as the earth sends forth food for her children, she one day comes to reclaim them to herself. She who once fed them eventually feeds on them. Now the dark, worrisome and death-dealing aspect of the Great Mother comes down from Eve. It is she who, in the Judeo-Christian patriarchal system, is the dark, frightening and dangerous side of the eternal feminine whereas Mary is its luminous, reassuring, life-giving side. Generation after generation, the descendants of Eve fall into death, whereas the Son of Mary is the Living One forever.

In ancient mythologies, the virginity of goddesses was a sign of their autonomy. The virgin-mother goddesses ensured alone and by their own power the fruitfulness of the earth and its flocks. Initially, the affirmation of the virginity of Mary was meant to emphasize her complete openness to the transcendent and arouse wonderment in the face of the fertility which resulted from abandonment in faith to the transforming power of a God who offers but does not impose his presence and respects human freedom. However, with the end of the age of persecutions which had provided Christian women with so many opportunities to manifest their virtue and win the admiration of both their executioners and coreligionists, women were encouraged to restore the honour of their sex through virginal consecration, a form of martyrdom according to Jerome. At the same time as monastic life was developing and the theology surrounding the compared values of the three states of life—marriage, bottom of the ladder ; widowhood, the perfect chance to regain one’s virtue ; and consecrated virginity, presented as the way of perfection and anticipation of eternal bliss—Stoicism and Platonism and their ascetic tendencies were endorsed by the Fathers who were usually extremely suspicious of sex and even often held it in great contempt. Augustine sets the tone when he writes :

A good Christian loves in one and the same woman the creature of God whom he desires to be transformed and renewed, but hates in her the corruptible and mortal conjugal connection, that is, he loves what is human in his wife but detests what pertains to her sex. (22)

By attaching a moral and ascetic connotation to the affirmation of the virginity of Mary, Christian tradition has not only consecrated the distinction between the ancient goddesses and Mary, but it has inserted her into the patriarchal system where virginity and motherhood are no longer the combined symbols of autonomy, independence and creative power free of male intervention, but the signs of a world where males could impose upon the world around them their power to define womanhood, and where sexual intercourse is synonymous with sin.

The Christian archetype of virgin mother paints an image of the eternal feminine where men reconcile the irreconcilable, take ownership of the inaccessible, fulfill the impossible fantasy and dispense themselves from making choices. They want it all, so they concoct a virgin mother, secret garden and fertile soil at the same time. Never mind that no woman in real life can conform to that model ! Or rather, woe to women because they can never replicate it ! Woe to every woman who must choose, failing at the impossible task assigned to her. Mary, the ideal woman, is put on a very high pedestal from which real women are inevitably condemned to fall.

Mary’s Virginity Ante Partum

It was in 649, at the Lateran Council (23), that the perpetual virginity of Mary was solemnly defined, although the belief in the virginal conception is much older, of course, because it is proclaimed in many creeds (24) supported by the New Testament.

Twice the Gospels state that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, without the intervention of Joseph, her husband (25). It is interesting to compare Matthew’s version, addressed to a Judeo-Christian audience and placing Joseph at the centre of the narrative, with that of Luke who is writing for converts from the Greek world. In Luke, Mary is the important character with whom heaven interacts. She commits without consulting, shall we say, father, fiancé or husband. Perhaps it’s the writers’ personalities and cultural influences that explain the different in importance assigned by Matthew and Luke to Mary. Both agree, however, to proclaim her virginity in conceiving Jesus. Virginity that tradition understands as physical integrity, which is, of course, only one meaning among others of the word “virgin”, both in the language of the time and in the biblical tradition where it is often used as an analogy. The faithful people of God are virginal because it does not take part in the worship of idols, which the prophets also denounce as adultery or prostitution. (26) Covenant theology often uses wedding symbolism to explain the relationship between God and Israel and gives unique meanings to certain words which still carry a great deal of weight in our own perception of the relationship between man and woman in marriage. One need only recall the typology rooted in the writings of the prophets and adapted by Paul in the New Testament. In Christian marriage, the husband is identified with Christ and the wife with the Church. Nothing more is needed to conclude that a woman must submit to her husband as to the Lord. (27) Symbols are never neutral and those who manipulate them are not usually naïve. But let’s come back to Mary.

By telling us that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit, the Annunciation narrative is not intent on giving us a clinical description of the physical integrity of Joseph’s fiancée, but rather convince us that the child she is carrying is the son of the promise, born solely of God’s will. Just like other heroes in the history of Israel, he emerges because it pleases Yahweh to bring forth a saviour for his people. Isaac (28), Samuel (29), Samson (30), and John the Baptist (31) are so many sons born against all hope to fathers already old and to their sterile mothers. “Nothing is impossible to God.” (32) That is the recurring theme of all the miraculous conception narratives found all along salvation history. However, to manifest his saving power, God needs men… and women, perhaps especially women who believe in the fruits of the Covenant and who allow it to ripen within them. God needs people who hope against all hope, who never give in to fascination with the cult of idols and rites practised in pagan shrines. In a word, God needs faithful hearts.

When they say Mary was a virgin, Luke and Matthew wanted to indicate that the child born of her was the son of God. By that, they meant that Jesus from the first moment of his conception, was the Most High’s chosen one, the saviour of Israel. Through these narratives, the New Testament authors proclaim their own faith in the radical newness of the world inaugurated by Jesus. Today, encouraged by a more positive understanding of human sexuality based on contemporary anthropology, theologians are exploring other ways of expressing the mystery of God’s presence among us. They sense a strange paradox in proclaiming an Incarnation that not only seems to defy the laws of nature but also provides the opportunity for many tortured minds to judge that sexual intercourse is usually sinful and degrading. (33)

Virginity In Partu

Nothing in the Gospels allows us to affirm that Mary gave birth to her child in some kind of marvellous way that would have miraculously left her physically unchanged. “She gave birth to her first-born son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and lay him in a manger (34)”, writes Luke, soberly. His intention is clearly theological. The clinical aspect of giving birth is the furthest thing from his mind. However, the discretion of the canonical Gospels did not really satisfy the curiosity of those who were always looking for all the gory details, be they factual or fictitious, on the personal life of their idols and heroes.

Mark, the oldest of our Gospels, written around 65 CE, doesn’t breathe a word of Jesus’ origins or early life. Nothing about his birth or childhood in John either, but there is the prologue which, shall we say, begins from higher up : “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (35)” and goes on, sparing any anecdotal evidence, to affirm that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (36).”

Most scholars agree that the Gospel attributed to John was put in final form around 90 CE, though it contains source material from much earlier. It is Luke and Matthew, whose writings are believed to date back to 80–85, who try to retrace the beginnings of the life of Jesus using the Hebrew tradition of the midrash and feature characters who already have a sense of the child’s destiny and prefigure his messianic mission. Through various episodes which vary from gospel to another, without any real inner coherence (37), even though their literary constructs seem well researched, especially Luke’s, they try to answer questions for the generation of people that knew Jesus only through his message. They may have been familiar with the narrative surrounding his death, but knew basically nothing of the circumstances surrounding his birth. Like the rest of their gospels, however, the first two chapters of both Luke and Matthew — and we know they were the last chapters written — are not trying to give us any historically verifiable biographical data. Their intent is theological and catechetical, and that is the perspective, with both its power and its limitations, that we should keep in mind when we read these narratives.

The Gospels therefore do not meet the expectations of the curious who are looking for spicy details. Fair enough, the Apocryphal Gospels would fill the gap. From the second half of the second century up until the fifth century, a plethora of writings claims to reveal a whole host of miraculous events, riddled with bizarre, intimate and sometimes completely inappropriate details about Jesus, Mary and their forebears, supposedly kept secret and hidden until that point (38). That is why they are called apocryphal. And that is how the belief gained credibility in the Christian community that Mary had brought Jesus into the world without her hymen being broken.

For instance, in the Protoevangelium [Gospel] of James, written in the second century, a midwife, called by Joseph to help Mary has nothing to do but note the coming and going of a luminous cloud and then the appearance of a child in his mother’s arms and gentling beginning to nurse. Totally amazed, the midwife leaves the cave and meets a woman called Salome and tells her about the unusual birth. (39) As might be expected, Salome does not believe her and wants proof. So, the midwife tells Mary to get ready for an examination because people are asking embarrassing questions. (40) Salome then declares that Mary is still a virgin, but regrets her indiscretion. Even though she is immediately full of remorse for her lack of faith, she nonetheless finds herself with a shrivelled hand. She repents and begs God for mercy. An angel comes to her rescue and suggests she takes the Child Jesus in her arms. He takes the opportunity to perform his first miracle : Salome walks away “healed” and “justified”. (41)

This peculiar episode that has all the earmarks of a legend would not have fared so well had it not been planted in the sadly fertile ground of sexual taboos where suspicions and fears proliferate, all the more harmful because they are irrational when it comes to women’s sexuality and its fascinating role in the transmission of life. We do know that Israel considered both menstruation (42) and childbirth (43) as unclean, so that women needed to be purified afterwards. Moreover, the birth of the boy child entailed a shorter time of “impurity” for his mother than the birth of a daughter : forty days in the case of boys, sixty-six in the case of girls. (44)

It is understandably difficult to justify theologically, in any convincing manner, that it was necessary for Jesus to be born any other way than the one nature has so wisely devised. Actually, the virgin birth story seems to me to have more negatives than positives theologically speaking. Conceived without the contribution of a man, and miraculously emerging from his mother’s womb like a cloud, a light, as the Apocrypha claim (45), apparently already blessed with the subtleness attributed to the resurrected body of the Lord. “When the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” (46)

The Saviour managed to come into the world ignoring some of the most essential limitations of human nature. Leo the Great, in his letter to Flavian against Eutyches, points to the difficulty but considers it resolved. To anyone who worries about compromising the real humanity of Jesus because of the extraordinary circumstances of his conception and birth, he answers that “one must not understand this singularly admirable and admirably singular generation as if the newness of this creation had made the specific condition of our race disappear.” (47)

As “admirable” and “singular” as it is, this process was not really necessary. It will be justified on grounds of appropriateness. If Mary remained a virgin while conceiving her child, then it is only appropriate that she remains so in giving birth. If a woman’s physical integrity was considered her most precious “treasure”, it is understandable that Mary could not have been robbed of it. But in order to accept this explanation of the doctrine of the virgin birth, we must first expose the deepest and highly embarrassing motives an unhealthy fear of sex and an admitted disgust for a woman’s private parts. In a desperate attempt to make chastity more desirable and less burdensome, it was believed advisable particularly during the patristic period, although the practice would flourish even more during the Middle Ages, to depreciate sexual intercourse and stress in every way possible the problems with marriage. Oddly enough, such an attitude owes much more to a few Greek philosophers than to Jesus and is a more accurate indicator of unresolved personal problems than sound mental health in its promoters.

The Fathers of the Church who so badly wanted to spare Jesus a “natural” birth had perhaps irreparably associated in their minds a woman’s body with sin. Some had had stormy youths and so their conversion fits right in with professing in their quest for holiness a distaste for sex which would henceforth be forbidden and banished. Here we think, of course, of Jerome and Augustine. A fair assessment of Jerome’s disdain for sex can be found in the letter he wrote to persuade a man not to remarry. Here we find this horrible sentence intended to inspire revulsion for marriage : “Does a dog come back to its vomit and a pig returns to his mire ?” (48) Need we say more to convince anyone that these men found literally repugnant the idea that Jesus had been born through regular bodily channels, which in their minds are associated with sin and shame ?

Virginity Post Partum

Once firmly on the path of reasons of appropriateness, theologians of the patristic era did not stop there. They could hope for nothing less in a woman who conceived and gave birth to a child while keeping her virginity than that she continues to jealously guard her “treasure”. Any sexual activity after such beginnings can only be seen as disgustingly immoral. That is how pope Siricius saw it when he wrote to Anysius, bishop of Thessalonica, in 392 :

Never would the Lord have chosen to be born of a virgin if he thought she would be so incontinent as to sully with the seed of another human being, the place from which the body of the Saviour would be born, the palace of the eternal King. (49)

Consequently, sex makes women impure but it also sullies their partners. This is cultic impurity as it was understood in the Old Testament (50), and moral impurity when its specific end wasn’t procreation, even within marriage. Augustine had no hesitation in writing that if intercourse between spouses produces a good thing and one only, a child, when it is undertaken to satisfy “concupiscence” or as a pledge of marital fidelity, it is a venial sin. (51)

It was therefore appropriate that Mary remain a virgin forever. It was all the more so that her perfect holiness would have been difficult to fulfill in a less perfect state of life. This radical suspicion of sex within the Christian tradition somehow questions creation and its method of propagation. It throws a dark shadow on the work of creation that the author of the first chapter of Genesis has God judges very good. (52) The polemical climate that has often surrounded the redaction of treatises on the compared value of the three states of life, it must be said, has done precious little to promote a healthy and serene approach to these issues. If virginity is superior to marriage, Mary could not and should not have had other children, and so ways had to be devised to deny the testimony of the Gospels that speak of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. (53)

The Immaculate Conception

All the other privileges devolved to Mary are justified because of her divine motherhood. The history behind the dogma of the Immaculate Conception offers the example of the late and flimsily grounded though flourishing development of Marian doctrine. The Catholic hierarchy waited until 1854 to add this dogmatic jewel to the crown of the mother of God. In fact, this piece of doctrinal gymnastics had several objectives : honour Mary, of course, but also consolidate papal authority by firmly implanting ultramontanism, or unrestricted papal power. In fact, it was not in the context of a Council but alone as the Ultramontanists had hoped that Pius IX in his Apostolic bull Ineffabilis Deus, decreed that

…for the honour of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own : “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid ! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment ; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith ; that he has separated from the unity of the Church ; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart. (54)

While it is true that a written consultation was carried out with the bishops of the world (55), the fact that the method of solemn proclamation of a doctrine was chosen by a Roman Pontiff alone should, in the opinion of Vatican political observers prepare the way for the definition of papal infallibility and deal a sharp blow to Gallicanism (which wanted to restrict papal power by giving it to civic authorities). One could surmise that the doctrinal developments between 1854 and 1870 (56) did nothing, and that is an understatement, to foster dialogue between Rome and the Churches born of the Reformation. But this, of course, is another story. Let’s put the squabbles between religious leaders aside and come back to the subject at hand.

The holiness of Mary has been constantly affirmed in Christian tradition when it was deemed appropriate to emphasize the great care God had taken in choosing the woman who would give birth to the Saviour. Notice that the concern of Christian theologians to ascribe to Mary all the virtues in view of her unique mission within salvation history has no real parallel in the Hebrew Testament. God seems to have been less demanding of women associated with saving the Jewish people. One example will suffice. In his genealogy of Jesus, Matthew (57), contrary to the custom of the patriarchal tradition, inserts four names of women besides Mary. Of these four—Ruth, Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba (Uriah’s wife)—the last three are guilty of misconduct : prostitution (58) ; breach of trust (59) ; and adultery (60). These disturbing detours on the rocky road of the Old Testament history of salvation nonetheless opened on to the royal highway where would walk Mary, full of grace. Belief in her holiness is one thing ; her immaculate conception is quite another. Just as a hermeneutic leap was required to get from the affirmation of Mary mother of Christ to Mary mother of God, so too it is not so obvious that the holiness of Mary implies and demands that she be preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception. And this, it could be said, is generally understood in Christian theology. Furthermore, a doctrine that exempts Mary from the common condition of all humanity seems to propel her, so to speak, into the realm of the divine—if it is true that only God is holy. This has been problematic for many of the most prestigious Christian thinkers, notably during the scholastic period when the issue was hotly debated. The path to credibility for the Immaculate Conception has been long and convoluted.

A first remark is in order. The idea that Mary was preserved from sin from the first instant of her existence in her mother’s womb has no basis in Scripture. A great deal of imagination is required to find one in the book of Job, where it is written : “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean ? No one can.” (61), and conclude from that verse that Jesus, the perfect one, could not have been born of a woman corrupted by sin. One dares not ask how far back one would have to go to make the line of argument conclusive. It boggles the mind because in the end we have to go back to Adam and Eve, the source of all our woes ! One has to be a bold exegete indeed to find encapsulated in Genesis 3:15 the entire basis of Mariology and more specifically the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her offspring and yours ; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” (62) As for those who see the figure of Mary in chapter 12 of the book of Revelations (63), they may be gifted in poetry but their rigour or lack of it in matters of exegesis warrant a word of caution. Granted, the holiness of Mary is affirmed in the Annunciation narrative found in Luke. Heaven itself seems to exalt her when the evangelist has the angel Gabriel says to her, “Greetings, favoured one ! The Lord is with you (64).”  This tells us nothing, however, about the moment in which she was filled with grace. The heady debates of theologians in the Middle Ages, trying to answer this question using all the tools of their anthropological presuppositions and their very rudimentary knowledge of biology, demonstrate full well that Luke’s proclamation raises more questions than it provides clear and satisfying answers.

It is crucial to note that exalting the holiness of Mary often goes hand in hand from the second century onward with the denunciation of Eve, prototype of the fallen woman, perverse waster of divine gifts. Justin is the first to establish a parallel between Mary and Eve. (65) His process would prove itself highly successful and also extremely damaging to women for the rest of Christian tradition.

According to the Genesis narratives that try to explain the presence of evil in the world, Eve was in the beginning the object of all divine favours, along with her male companion. But it seems she was the one who took the initiative, as suggested to her by the serpent, to squander them with a cruel and stupid disregard for the disastrous consequence which would befall her and her descendants. Mary, then, the only creature to be spared the deadly inheritance of the first couple, would then have been called to open the door to salvation so unfortunately closed by Eve and her poor accomplice. With Mary, however, God wants all to put luck on his side : His desire to allow for the full blossoming of grace means protecting her from concupiscence. Obviously, this precaution had not been taken with Eve. We know the rest of the story : first step, first misstep. We almost wish God had made the mother of humanity just a bit more virtuous !

The belief that Mary was filled with grace with a view to her eventual divine motherhood was never questioned in Christian theology at any time in its history. However, theories conflicted and debates got more intense when it came to determining whether she was created in her full-of-grace state or if she was subsequently purified, in preparation for her role in the Incarnation of the Word (66). If it is the latter, when did this sanctification take place ? At the moment of conception or a little while afterwards in her mother’s womb when her spiritual soul would have been infused into her fleshly body ? Maybe at the moment of her birth ? Here we must take into account the philosophical perspectives and medical opinions of the scholastic period, since this whole issue was passionately debated during the Middle Ages. Then we can appreciate the impressive imaginations put to work by the dedicated and learned doctors concerning the enigma of grace that Mary presents to theologians and perhaps even to most of the faithful who were looking for a female prototype that would possess every virtue while at the same time remain reassuring. “Ivory Tower”, unsullied by sin, impervious to lust, she was therefore the guardian of the virtue of all those men and women who called upon her for protection and dedicated themselves to her service. For some thinkers, the purification of Mary only took place when it became necessary, meaning at the moment when she conceived Jesus. Others maintain a theory of stages, though their logic is not convincing. The first sanctification of Mary happened when she was still in the womb, then a further infusion of grace was given at the time of the Annunciation. It is a bit perplexing, this divine strategy that immunizes her against evil but still needs what would be called in immunology a booster shot.

While the theologians of the scholastic era were passionately interested in the thesis of an immaculate conception, the early Fathers came at the issue of Mary’s holiness from a different angle. Except perhaps for Augustine, whose opinion on the subject would also be riddled with ambiguity. To give the Immaculate Conception a basis otherwise not found in the Fathers of the Church, the Middle Ages simply relied on a passage of Augustine’s De natura et gratia. Considering that the burden of original sin was imposed on all humanity, Augustine writes that,

We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord ; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and give birth to innocence itself, the Incarnate Word, who undoubtedly had no sin. Could she not receive all the graces by which she would be victorious over all sin, whatever it was ? (67)

The problem here is that in his polemic against Julian of Eclanum, who accuses him of delivering Mary to the devil in person by affirming that original sin is transmitted in the very act of conceiving any child, he replies that,

We are not delivering Mary to the devil by virtue of the condition of her birth, but that is because this condition itself is suppressed by the grace of rebirth. (68)

So, she had to be reborn into grace. This ambiguity is ignored by those who cling at all cost to an Augustinian basis for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The reference is all the more valuable because it is without parallel in any other of the Church Fathers.

Bernard of Clairvaux, a great Marian devotee, nonetheless speaks out in 1136 against the introduction of a liturgical feast honouring the conception of Mary. Its celebration already existed in England before the Normand Conquest but had been suppressed in 1129 as agreed upon at the Council of London. In 1136, the church of Lyon introduced it into its calendar, but Bernard contested the relevance of introducing such a practice on the continent. (69)

If everyone agreed during the scholastic period to proclaim the holiness of Mary, which was far from unanimous, as I mentioned earlier, what was the moment at which God undertook to fill her with grace ? At the time of Mary’s bodily conception ? At the Annunciation ? And what were exactly the effects of this grace ? Were they preventive or curative ? In other words, was Mary preserved from original sin and its consequences or was she healed of them ? Does the sanctification of Mary take place in one fell swoop or does it happen in stages, depending on the needs of the moment ? A first step designates Mary as a candidate for the Annunciation and a second reinforces the chosen one so that she remains worthy of God’s choice.

Of course, it is impossible here to go into all the finer points of scholastic thought on the conception of Mary and her sanctification in utero. That would be the subject of an entire book (70). Let’s just note that Alexander of Hales, Albert the Great, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas all treated the sanctification of Mary within a Christocentric perspective. It is because Mary is to become the mother of Christ that God sanctifies her in her mother’s womb and again when she conceives Jesus. This sanctification is therefore curative and progressive. Aquinas in particular finds the idea of preventive grace profoundly repugnant. If Christ, he argues, is the universal redeemer, Mary also needed to be saved. But how could she have experienced this necessity if she had not been affected by sin ? The proponents of the preventive effect of grace so that Mary could avoid the stain of original sin and its consequence have their most famous spokesperson in Duns Scotus. The Franciscan monk’s theological optimism was legendary. He opted for the thesis that Mary was conceived without sin, as put forward by two lesser-known predecessors, William of Ware and Eadmer. Dons Scotus objects to Aquinas’ theory of Christ as sole universal redeemer by countering that being preserved from an evil constitutes a greater privilege than having been healed of it. Accordingly, Mary was saved in a more radical manner and had therefore contracted an even greater debt toward the Redeemer, while at the same time being singularly closer to the one with whom she shared, by grace, perfect innocence. Duns Scotus finally won out in this debate and imposed his opinion on the Catholic faith. (71)

So, as women, should we not rightly rejoice in this doctrine that so radically singles out one of our own ? Or on the contrary, should we not be suspicious that the ideal figure of Mary that has been engraved on the shiny side of a coin that has Eve on the dark side could contribute to aggravate the mistrust, disdain and fear that we inspire in men within a tradition which in its collective unconscious associates us with the biblical woman who embodies weakness, temptations, sin and death ? The sanctification of Mary does nothing to restore us. Eve has harmed us forever, or as Augustine puts it to one of his female correspondents : “Whether she’s a wife or a mother, Eve is always frightening in any woman” (72).

So will Immaculate Mary be spared the death that Eve transmitted by her sin or will she at least avoid its consequences ? Catholic dogma has an answer to that question.

The Assumption of Mary

There was only one dogma proclaimed in the 20th century, that of the Assumption of Mary. On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined

[…] it to be a divinely revealed dogma ; that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory (73).

While it is true that this doctrine can claim to be firmly established in the hearts of the faithful and “has been approved in ecclesiastical worship from the remotest times” (74), it still does not have any solid biblical foundation. According to Pius XII, it is “contained in the written Word of God” (75). Let’s see how. As was the case with the Immaculate Conception, chapter 12 of the book of Revelations is called to the rescue. The woman described there represents the fledgling Christian church keeping the faith in the midst of great persecution. Later, the relevance of this image was suppressed when Christianity achieved the status of official religion of the Empire and no longer subjected to this kind of tribulation. And so the figure of Mary was substituted for that of the Church.

So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so she could fly into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, two-times, and half a time, far from the serpent (76).

This is the biblical reference. One can see that this is a weak basis for a dogma that is meant to so totally compel the faithful ; to whit

if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith (77).

It should be noted in passing that the dogma does not answer the question as to whether Mary is dead or not before being taken into heaven—a point on which the Apocrypha did not agree. Some maximizing mariologists still maintained into the middle of the twentieth century when the dogma was being defined that not only had Mary been spared the corruption of the grave, but also death. They were unable to impose their radical view on more moderate theologians who could not convince themselves that a reality so intrinsically linked to the human condition, that Christ himself had submitted to it, could be avoided by his mother, no matter how pure and holy she was.

But some Apocrypha, as I said above, were not bothered by these minutiae. Nothing was too marvellous or too beautiful to end the earthly journey of a virgin mother. Apocryphal narratives about the Assumption gathered under the general title of Transitus Mariae seem to date back in written form no earlier than the fifth century. (78) They concur in presenting Mary being taken up to heaven still alive or immediately upon her death without having experienced the corruption of the tomb. Very powerful psychological elements blend in with theological ones, for the sake of convenience, to explain the emergence of this doctrine, the success of its spread among the people, its accreditation through liturgy, and its solemn proclamation as a dogma, however, late it came.

There is in the doctrine of the Assumption not only the projection of an old human dream—to never die, or at least to keep one’s personal identity intact for all eternity. However, the Assumption also expresses another acquired belief : that death is an unfortunate accident and we know who is to blame. Death is the inheritance we get from Eve. But her daughters, and here is the awkward paradox, are the ones who give life. Fear and fascination ! How are we supposed to handle the hatred and envy that women inspire ? Christian theology has resolved this irresolvable dilemma. Exalt Mary, antithesis and antidote to Eve, and keep mistrusting all other women. Avoid them whenever possible, deprive them of any power, and keep them under male authority always and everywhere. As if that can pave the way to immortality !


Theological reflection always takes place within the cultural context in which it is developed and consequently bears the trademark of its artisans. In their quest for a supposedly unchanging and eternal truth, they lead us through the meanders of their personal mindsets, the values and judgments of the society they live in as well as the philosophical biases and their selective readings of biblical texts. This creates a doctrinal and dogmatic universe that is more telling of who they are than who are God, the Virgin and all the saints.

This is how Marian theology reveals itself as the finely chiselled masterpiece of a triumphalist and triumphant patriarchal system that is carved out of a dualist and deeply sexist anthropology. Influenced by Platonism which stresses the tension between flesh and spirit, reinforced by the ascetic tendencies of Stoicism, Mariology has pieced together a figure of Mary that is a far cry from her mere sketch found in the Gospels. By presenting her as the antithesis of Eve (a figure, by the way, that Jesus does not even honour with a mention) and by making her the sworn and triumphant enemy of Satan, the patriarchal system has paradoxically succeeded in “demonizing” all other women. The more churchmen shower praise on Mary, the more closely they associate her with Christ, to the point of having her share many of his privileges, the more all other women seem lost. They have a model in heaven, but they cannot emulate her. The historical mother of Jesus has become the symbol of the Church as the bride of Christ in the eschatological reign where she is presented to him without wrinkle or blemish. (79) Thus, the person of Mary, as shaped by the dogmatic system, becomes the tool and privileged locus of ecclesiastical triumphalism. (80)

This is not the place to trumpet the Magnificat that has Mary herself proclaim that the triumph of the powerful will be short-lived and that victims of oppression will one day be delivered. I have too much difficulty believing it. I can only express how sad I am that the image of this person who shows such exemplary autonomy and freedom in the Gospel of Luke has been so outrageously mischaracterized and turned against women all the glory that has been attributed to the mother of Jesus, she who undoubtedly would have wanted nothing more than to survive in our memories as what she was : a righteous heart.



AUBERT, Jean-Marie. La femme, antiféminisme et christianisme, Cerf-Desclée, Paris, 1975.

BØRRESEN, Kari Elisabeth. Mediaeval Anthropology and Marian Theology, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1971.

BROWN, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday & Co., New York, 1977.

COLLECTION. Bien plus de prix que le corail. Servantes du Saint-Cœur-de-Marie, Éditions Le Renouveau, Charlesbourg, 1978.

COLLECTION. Études sur l’Immaculée Conception, Sources et sens de la doctrine, Éditions J. Duculot, Gembloux, Bruges, 1955.

COPPENS, J. « La définibilité de l’Assomption », Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses, T. XXIII, Louvain, 1947, p. 5-35.

DALY, Mary. The Church and the Second Sex, Harper and Row, New York, 1975.

DANIEL-ROPS. Les Évangiles de la Vierge, Éd. Robert Laffont, Paris, 1949.

DUMEIGE, Gervais. La foi catholique, Éd. de l’Orante, Paris, 1961.

DUPRIEZ, Flore. La condition féminine et les Pères de l’Église latine, Éd. Paulines, Montréal, 1982.

KÜNG, Hans, On Being a Christian, Collins, London, 1974.

KÜNG, Hans and Jürgen MOLTMANN, eds., Mary in the Churches, T. and T. Clark/The Seabury Press, 1983.

NAPIORKOWSKI, S.  The Present Position on Mariology, in Concilium 29, 1967,

QUÉRÉ, France. Les femmes de l’Évangile, Éd. du Seuil, Paris, 1982.

RADFORD RUETHER, Rosemary. Mary, the Feminine Face of the Church, Philadelphia Westminster Press, 1977.

RADFORD RUETHER, Rosemary. Sexism and God Talk, Toward a Feminist Theology, Beacon Press, Boston, 1983.

RAHNER, Karl. Theological Investigations Vol 1 : God, Christ, Mary and Grace, « The Immaculate Conception », trans. Cornelius Ernst, O.P., (Helicon Press, Baltimore : 1965), p. 201–207.

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1 Lk:26–38 ; 1,46–55 ; 2,48 ; Jn 2:1-12.
2. CLAUDEL, Paul. « La Ville », 2e version, acte III dans Théâtre, tome I, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1948.
3. Ga 4,4.
4. Idem.
5. Lk 2 : 48.
6. Lk 2 : 49.
7. Lk 11:28.
8. Lk 8:21.
9. Lk 3:33.
10. Jn 2:1.
11. Jn 19:26.
12. Ac 1:14.
13. The Council of Ephesus took place in 431.
14. This is the wording used by John II in 534 in a letter to the Senate of Constantinople. Cf. DUMEIGE, Gervais. La foi catholique, Éd. de l’Orante, Paris, 1961, art. 314, p. 198.
15. Cf. NISSIOTIS, Nikos. « Mary in Orthodox Theology » in KÜNG, Hans and Jürgen MOLTMANN, eds., Mary in the Churches, T. and T. Clark/The Seabury Press, 1983 16. Jesus himself does not seem to encourage people to exalt his mother. Cf. Lk 11:28 ; 8:19 ; Mk 3:33 ; Mt 12:48-49.
17. Cf. NISSIOTIS, Nikos. op. cit.
18. LEO XIII.Encyclical Octobri Mense (1891), #4.
19. AUGUSTINE, The Complete Works of Saint Augustine, Philip Schaff, ed., Online Library of Liberty De diversis quaestionibus, 11.
20. AUGUSTINE, op. cit., De agone christiano XI, 12.
21. KASSEL, Maria. “Mary and the Human Psyche Considered in the light of Depth Psychology,” in KÜNG, Hans and Jürgen MOLTMANN, eds., Mary in the Churches, T. and T. Clark/The Seabury Press, 1983.
22. SAINT AUGUSTIN, op.cit., De sermone Domini in monte I, XV, 41.
23. Cf. DUMEIGE, Gervais. La foi catholique, art. 388, p. 232.
24. Cf. DUMEIGE, Gervais. La foi catholique, art. I, p. 25–41. Dumeige discusses the Apostles’ Creed ; the Creed of Saint Epiphanes (c.374), the Profession of Faith of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Lateran (1215) among others.
25. Mt 1:18 and Lk 1:27 ss.
26. For metaphorical uses of the word « virgin » see Jr 31:4 ; 31:21 ; Am 5:2. Idolatry is considered adultery in Is 57:3 ; Jr 3:8–9, and prostitution in Is 57:8, for example.
27. Eph 5:22-24.
28. Gen 21.
29. Is 19 ss.
30. Jg 13:1-7.
31. Lk 1:5-25.
32. Lk 1:37 referring to Gn 18:14.
33. Augustine, op. cit., De bono conjugali I, 1 Epistolae 188, 6 to Juliana (418) and 150 to Proba et Juliana (414).
34. Lk 2:7.
35. Jn 1:1.
36. Jn 1:14.
37. Though Mary is supposed to be aware of Jesus’s divine origin (Lk 1:31) she does not understand his mission in Lk 2:50.
38. Les Évangiles de la Vierge by Daniel-Rops can be a useful source of information.
39. Evangelium of James, XIX:2 And they stood in the place of the cave : and behold a bright cloud overshadowing the cave. And the midwife said : My soul is magnified this day, because mine eyes have seen marvellous things : for salvation is born unto Israel. And immediately the cloud withdrew itself out of the cave, and a great light appeared in the cave so that our eyes could not endure it. And by little and little that light withdrew itself until the young child appeared : and it went and took the breast of its mother Mary. References to the Gospel of James (GJ) are taken from M.R. James, Translation and Notes on the Protoevangelium of James, Oxford, Clarendon Press 1924 (
40. GJ, idem. XX : 1 And the midwife went in and said unto Mary : Order thyself, for there is no small contention arisen concerning thee. Arid Salome made trial and cried out and said : Woe unto mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God, and lo, my hand falleth away from me in fire. And she bowed her knees unto the Lord, saying : O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob : make me not a public example unto the children of Israel, but restore me unto the poor, for thou knowest, Lord, that in thy name did I perform my cures, and did receive my hire of thee. 3 And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared, saying unto her : Salome, Salome, the Lord hath hearkened to thee : bring thine hand near unto the young child and take him up, and there shall be unto thee salvation and joy. 4 And Salome came near and took him up, saying : I will do him worship, for a great king is born unto Israel.
41. Idem XX:2 And behold immediately Salome was healed : and she went forth of the cave justified. And lo, a voice saying : Salome, Salome, tell none of the marvels which thou hast seen, until the child enter into Jerusalem.
42. Lev 15:19 ss.
43. Lev 12:1 ss.
44. Lev 12:2–3.
45. Protoevangelium of James, see notes above.
46. Jn 20:19.
47. Letter from St. Leo the Great to Flavian against Eutyches cited in La foi catholique, p. 194.
48. Saint Jerome, Letters 54, See Flore Dupriez in La condition féminine et les Pères de l’Église latine, Éd. Paulines, Montréal, 1982.
49. See La foi catholique, art. 387, p. 231.
50. Lev 15.
51. Saint Augustine, De bono conjugaliVI, 6.
52. Gen 1:31.
53. Mk 3:32-35 ; Lk 8:19 ; Mt 12,46-50.
54. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854),
55. Thils, Gustave. « Préliminaires à la définition du dogme de l’Immaculée Conception », in Études sur l’Immaculée Conception, sources et sens de la doctrine,  Éd. J. Duculot, Gembloux, Louvain, 1955, p. 24-45.
56. Piux IX defined the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854 and papal infallibility July 18, 1870.
57. Mt 1:1–16.
58. Jos 2:1.
59. Gen 38.
60. 2 S 1.
61. Cf. COPPENS, J. « La Vierge dans l’Ancien Testament » dans Collectif, Études sur l’Immaculée Conception, p. 7-20.
62. Cf. CERFAUX, « La Vierge dans l’Apocalypse », dans Collectif, Études sur l’Immaculée Conception, p. 21-33.
63. Idem.
64. Lk 1:28.
65. CUNNINGHAM, Agnès. « Dévotion à Marie dans l’Église primitive » dans Collectif, Bien plus de prix que le corail, Servantes du Saint-Cœur-de-Marie, Éd. du Renouveau, Charlesbourg, 1978, p. 48.
66. For a more detailed description of these fascinating debates, see Kari Elisabeth Borrensen, Anthropology of Medieval and Marian Theology, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1977, ch. I and II.
67. Saint Augustine, op. cit. De natura et gratia, XXXVI, 42.
68. Saint Augustine, op. cit. Contra Julianum, (not completed) IV, 122. [Author’s emphasis.]
69. Bernard of Clairvaux, Ep. 174, 7 See Anthropologie médiévale et Théologie mariale, op. cit., p. 30.
70. Kari Elisabeth Børresen has dealt with subject in Mediaeval Anthropology and Marian Theology, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1971.
71. See Kari Elisabeth Børresen,op. cit. p. 61–67.
72. Saint Augustine,op. cit. Epistolae, CCXLIII, 10 to Letus.
73. Pie XII, Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus #44
74. Idem. #41.
75. Idem #12.
76. Rev 12:13-14.
77. Pie XII, Munificentissimus Deus, op. cit. #45.
78. Cf. DANIEL-ROPS,op. cit. p. 63.
79. Cf. Eph 5:27.
80. RADFORD RUETHER, Rosemary.Sexism and God Talk, Toward a Feminist Theology, Beacon Press, Boston, 1983, p. 144.