What are We Doing? The Endowment Funds!
- THE MARIAM SCHOLARSHIP ENDOWMENT FUND AND
- THE LEVI AWARD ENDOWMENT FUND
The Mariam Scholarship Endowment Fund will be dedicated to growing and sustaining Catholic Women Priests in their ministries around the globe.
Why did we name the scholarship fund after Mary Magdalen?
The custom in the ancient near east was to identify women with a given name plus the name of their principal male family member. Women named Mariam (in English Mary), of whom there are a number in the New Testament, are distinguished by their relationships—“Mary the mother of…”, “Mary the wife of…”. By contrast, Mary of Magdala is never designated by those around her as the wife or mother of anyone, showing that she was not married or a mother. In all four gospels, she is called by the name of the town she came from (as are, for example, Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph of Arimathea). Her town, Magdala, was a significant commercial fishing town on the Sea of Galilee. Excavation has shown that it flourished in the first century AD/CE. Her surname is composed of the Aramaic town name magdala meaning “the tower” plus the ending ne, Magdale-ne.
In the non-canonical Greek Gospel of Philip her first name is Mariam-ne. (In the early church Philip was thought to have been her brother.) She appears in the gospels as a devoted follower of Jesus, more courageous than most of the disciples. Because she announced to them the resurrection, early church writers named her “the apostle to the apostles.”
There is also a non-canonical book, the Gospel of Mary surviving in fragments in Syriac, Greek , and Coptic. The largest fragment, almost half of the small Coptic book, has a curious history. It seems to have been purchased by a German scholar from an antiquities dealer in Cairo shortly before 1900. The dealer said it had been found near the city of Akmin, carefully wrapped, bricked up in the mud-brick wall of a family mausoleum; it had remained there for centuries until the wall was torn down. Thus it appears to have been hidden intentionally, at a time when, if it were found in a house or monastery, it would have been burned. This would probably have been after Constantine legalized Christianity and worked to standardize belief. Then it remained more or less hidden in a Berlin museum until the discovery and publication of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts in the early 1970’s motivated scholars to examine other Coptic documents. They were surprised to find a gospel composed early in the second century, with a woman’s name.
For a while most early Coptic manuscripts were described as Gnostic, and thus quite different from Christian belief. But more careful reading discerned that this book did not show the most important identifying marks of Gnostic thought. For example it did not have a high god distinct from a demi-urge creator, it did not denigrate the body or the created universe (dualism), and it was not arcane, or secret. Instead it focused on having the courage to go out and preach the gospel widely, in spite of the risks. It relied heavily on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible for its ideas and language. So it should not be classified as “Gnostic.” It includes hitherto-unsuspected material presented as Mary Magdalen’s conversations with Jesus. The first half of this small book, which may have contained material about Jesus during his life time, had been torn away and there are no known copies of it. The remaining half of the book tells of a time when the disciples were huddled together, afraid to preach in public. “If they killed him, they could kill us too.” they say.
Looking for help, Peter asks Mary to tell them anything they might have missed, anything the Savior might have told her that he did not tell them. Mary then reports on some long and deep teaching sessions she experienced in visions of the Savior.
But here is the stunning part. Andrew and Peter reject the information Peter had asked Mary to give, about teachings that had not been given to the male disciples. Instead they become angry that Jesus taught her things that he presumably judged were beyond their understanding. “I do not think the Savior could have told her that…” Peter discounts the information he had asked her for, and thinks she is lying. But Levi speaks up in her defense, pointing out the flaw underlying Peter’s thinking—Peter’s assumption that Jesus held men to be were superior to women. In his wish to be superior, Peter projects his own thoughts onto the Savior. His own human, egotistical, desire to be more knowledgeable, over against a woman, is so strong in him that it must be divine teaching. He has not objected to the content of what Mary reported, but to the fact that it was told by a woman.
The Levi Award Endowment Fund will be used to support women and men who have lost their jobs and/or suffered penalties for their support of Catholic women’s equality in all areas of church life.
Why did we name the award fund after Levi?
“ Peter,” says Levi, “you have always been antagonistic toward women… and now you are rejecting a woman just as our adversaries do. If the Savior held her worthy, who are you to reject her?” (And who, we wonder, were these adversaries who rejected women?)
“If the Savior held her worthy, who are you to reject her? “ The same disagreement is alive in the Church today, when women’s gifts and abilities in ordained and un-ordained ministries continue to be discounted, rejected, and suppressed by the church hierarchy.
When Levi speaks in support of Mary, the other disciples are able to accept what she has said. Reunited in the service of the Savior, they follow Levi’s urgings that they all go out and preach what the Savior told them, without adding any new laws to what the Savior taught.
Levi’s voice, when he “withstood Peter to his face,”( as the apostle Paul did on a comparable occasion, Galatians 2:11) was effective in keeping women in the circle of apostles, carrying out, in the following centuries, the Savior’s sending command to preach the gospel without adding their own “stuff” to what he had told them.
Lydia’s Gathering wants to acknowledge Levi’s voice today, whether raised by a man or by a woman to withstand the hierarchy when conscience requires it. Every few months, or even weeks, it seems, more Catholics are incurring penalties for what they say or do in favor of women’s equality in the Church. It may be women’s ordination, or inclusive language in the liturgy, or their work in religious education, or university theology, or social services, their art work, their publications, or other areas. In addition to their great personal grief, their courage often costs them their jobs and their means of support. Perhaps some day the Levi Award Endowment Fund will be able to help them substantially. Right now we will be giving these heroic Catholics only a paper certificate of award.