IN SEARCH OF MARY by Sally Cunneen

IN SEARCH OF MARY

The Woman and the Symbol
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A Catholic feminist reviews how the Virgin Mary has been understood down through the centuries, and argues that Mary retains a powerful symbolic meaning for today. For Cunneen (Sex: Female; Religion: Catholic, 1968) Mary has to be rediscovered because she has been obscured by ideas and images that no longer speak to us and that reflect problematic views of women. Beginning with a discussion of the laconic New Testament material, Cunneen takes us through the early centuries, when Mary was viewed as the New Eve, and later as ``God-Bearer.'' Cunneen notes the emergence of the cult of Mary in 12th-century western Europe, exemplified in extraordinary cathedral art and in the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. She devotes a chapter to Reformation controversies, with a discussion of how Luther's and Calvin's pessimistic views of humanity dominated their basic views of Mary. Cunneen is at her best in her treatment of versions of Mary common in the 19th century, describing the discovery of Mary as a liberating figure by Protestant women writers such as Christina Rossetti and Margaret Fuller, and in her descriptions of the work of some modern artists fascinated by the figure of Mary. Their work, she argues, allows us to look at Mary in fresh and nurturing ways. But in covering so much ground, the author frequently ends up saying too little, as in her scanty treatment of the figure of Mary in Byzantine Christianity. Cunneen makes highly contentious use of Cardinal Newman's theory of doctrinal development, and she avoids the crucial issue for feminists: In orthodox Christianity the cult of Mary ultimately derives from a belief in Jesus as God. While providing a wealth of information, Cunneen's search is more a reflection of her own ongoing personal journey than a definitive statement. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-345-38246-3
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996




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