The essence of the Virgin Mary as the ideal woman is her virginity. This concept, according to Warner, controls the structure of the Virgin’s myth and therefore provides a justification for the association of sex with sinfulness and for making women, with their reproductive processes, a continual reminder of this state of sin.
Accordingly, the first section examines how the Church and popular belief conspired to inculcate and reinforce the belief in Mary’s virginity. Warner’s discussion of this issue provides a good example of how she argues her thesis. She thoroughly analyzes the basic textual sources about Mary in biblical Scripture and in Apocrypha. In both cases, she demonstrates that there is little evidence for Mary’s virginity in general or for a virgin birth in particular. Only strained interpretations and mistranslations by early Christian theologians or popular literary invention in the Apocrypha provide textual basis for Mary as virgin. The heritage of antiquity added support for virgin birth through mythology and Aristotelian philosophy, which accorded the female only a subordinate physical place in conception and birth. Finally, the early Church Fathers added the crucial moral dimension by emphasizing sexuality as the Original Sin which led to death and by advocating virginity and asceticism as the ideal state in which a Christian should live. Thus while Mary’s virginity became essential to the idea of Christ’s divinity through...
(The entire section is 1083 words.)
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