… as is the rose that bare Jesu.
Hold the phone, am I genuinely singing this song about Mary’s virtuous vagina on the steps of Alice Millar Chapel in front of a crowd of pious congregants? It is these moments, when you listen to the words or look up at the broken, bony body of Christ on his cross that you come to see the Christian faith’s obsession with the Body. Let’s unpack this.
Mary’s Infancy narratives, as discussed in the previous post, tell us of how Mary’s upbringing prepared her to be both physically and mentally pristine, without the anatomical or cultural corruptions of a ‘normal’ childhood. A virgin in both body and mind, Mary is presented at the temple as a sacrifice by her parents: her mind is sacrificed from all worldly thought and is thus devoted solely to God and the teachings of the Temple. Her body expresses this mental sacrifice, as she denies worldly occupations of the body, such as eating (“she was fed like a dove and received food form the hand of an angel.” – P. James 8:2) and sex. Joseph is subsequently selected as Mary’s guardian-husband as Mary comes to the age where she is medically considered on her descent toward womanhood through menarche and menstruation. Traditionally, therefore, a teenage girl would be paired with an older men that was able to counterbalance her emerging femininity with his established masculinity; however, the Infancy Gospels tend to characterize Joseph at the beginning of his relationship with Mary, as an old, frail, and thus feminine character. Such characterizations are accentuated by depictions of Joseph’s rod as “the shortest rod” out of all the men in the town, which suggests he diminished phallic character (GPM). Perhaps Joseph’s feminine characterizations function to reduce the potential threat to the masculine nature of the Holy Spirit that will later impregnate his “wife,” or to foreshadow a reciprocal masculine characterization of Mary in order to construct a stable gender balance within the couple.
Adopting the philosophy that the body expresses the mind and spirit, God so sees a promise in Mary’s devout thought towards the Temple’s teachings and thereby informs her that she will undergo an immaculate conception of the word of the Lord. Moreover, the Infancy Gospels suggest that Mary’s incessant praise of God and incorruptible knowledge of the temple’s teachings led her to produce a physical fruit of thought: Jesus Christ. While many readings do emphasize the Holy Spirits’ primary role in this messianic conception, I do believe that the Infancy Gospels’ detailing of Mary’s role in the understanding of the word of God does empower her character. Although her lifestyle may not have been consented, her resilient work ethic, ascetic behavior, and (male-level) comprehension of God’s word seem to be at least somewhat responsible for the creation of the messiah. This explains Jesus’ nature as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, as every atom of Jesus’ being is gestated out of Mary’s understanding of the word of God. Mary’s immaculate conception, therefore, empowers Christian audiences by serving as a role model for spiritual devotion; it suggests that we all can produce our own soteriological fulfillment of the Old Testament – be it symbolic or physical in Mary’s extreme case.
While these Infancy Gospels do inspire their readers, especially their female audiences, to reach greater depths of spiritual devotion, there arises some problematic implications as the role of gender is considered. New Testament commentary of Mediterranean antiquity is obsessed with the fact that the mother of the Messiah is a “virgin.” In fact, the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew both indicate a Marian dogma, called the “perpetual virginity of Mary:” the Messianic Mother was a virgin in her youth, remained a virgin through Jesus’s birth, and persisted to be a virgin beyond giving birth to Christ. Considering the ancient constructions of virginity (See Purity Test) and commentaries on purity discussed in A Highway for our God, the virginal female was the most socially accepted form of the female body, as her body would be physically closest to a masculine body: dry, unpenetrated, and unpolluted. Because New Testament writers and commentators never allowed Mary to develop out of her virginity, she therefore remains in her most masculine, and therefore, perfect state. The detailing of the virginal birth in PJ conveys Mary’s masculine characterization, as she experiences this lowly and uniquely feminine moment of labor without its hallmark feminine attributes, such as blood and pain. Not exhibiting the outpouring of inner liquids that prevails in feminine medical imagery of the time or sickness and decay that was so often connoted with womanhood, Mary essentially becomes a man by the medical standards from which she emerges.
Using Mary’s process of masculinization as a role model, we can ascertain that the road to creating our own symbolic saviors not only involves the sacrificial devotion of the self, but the masculinization of our bodies. Spiritual fruit and the fulfillment of the word of God can only, therefore, be cultivated by men, which reaffirms the idea that salvation will only come through masculinization (See The Big “D” of Divinity). Mary is only deserving of her high veneration because she is a woman that circumvented all negative development towards femininity, and rather was given the gift of masculinization through her perpetual virginity and bloodless/painless birth. Just as Greek goddesses, Athena and Artemis, can only remain among the “divine” by having masculine characterizations of war and hunting, Mary becomes “blessed among women” for her implied destruction of femininity and embracing of masculinity, despite her innate feminine sex. With the “one-sex” model in mind, Mary functions as a mirror the medical understanding of gender at the time, in that she encourages her female and effeminate audiences to strive to be more physically masculine in order to overcome the feminine forces of death and disorder that were brought about by Eve.
VIRTUE: derived from the Latin virtus meaning “moral perfection,” which itself is derived from the Latin vir meaning “man.”
It is nonetheless hauntingly truthful to sing the words “There is no rose of such virtue, as is the rose that bare Jesu,” as Mary’s rose, Mary’s feminine genitalia are suggested to be superior because of their masculine nature. Again, this is not to say that Mary developed a phallus in her masculinization, but rather her ability to demonstrate phallic attributes while keeping a yonic physicality is what makes her so venerable and miraculous. Mary was able to work within the structure of the sexual spectrum constructed by the “one-sex” model, and God rewards her for being the seemingly only woman to have successfully avoided the dangerous fall to femininity. Perhaps it’s time we started to think before we sing.