Mary Through the Centuries

Her Place in the History of Culture

Jaroslav Pelikan

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The Virgin Mary has been an inspiration to more people than any other woman who ever lived. For Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, for artists, musicians, and writers, and for women and men everywhere she has shown many faces and personified a variety of virtues. In this important book, a world-renowned scholar who is the author of numerous books—including the best-selling Jesus Through the Centuries—tells how Mary has been depicted and venerated through the ages.

Jaroslav Pelikan examines the biblical portrait of Mary, analyzing both the New and Old Testaments to see how the bits of information provided about her were expanded into a full-blown doctrine. He explores the view of Mary in late antiquity, where the differences between Mary, the mother of Christ, and Eve, the "mother of all living," provided positive and negative symbols of women. He discusses how the Eastern church commemorated Mary and how she was portrayed in the Holy Qur'an of Islam. He explains how the paradox of Mary as Virgin Mother shaped the paradoxical Catholic view of sexuality and how Reformation rejection of the worship of Mary allowed her to be a model of faith for Protestants. He considers also her role in political and social history. He analyzes the place of Mary in literature—from Dante, Spenser, and Milton to Wordsworth, George Eliot, and Goethe—as well as in music and art, and he describes the miraculous apparitions of Mary that have been experienced by the common people.

Was Mary human or divine? Should she be revered for her humility or her strength? What is her place in heaven? Whatever our answers to these questions, Mary remains a symbol of hope and solace, a woman, says Pelikan, for all seasons and all reasons.

Jaroslav Pelikan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. He has received honorary degrees from universities all over the world, as well as medals and awards from many scholarly societies and institutions, including the Jefferson Award of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the highest honor conferred by the U.S. government on a scholar in the humanities. He is currently president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A selection of the Conservative Book Club, the History Book Club, and Book-of-the-Month Club

Author Co-Winner of the 2004 John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences

“After finishing Pelikan’s book, one must surely conclude that the Virgin is as fortunate in the ‘subtlety and discrimination’ of her 20th-century chronicler as she has been in her composers.”—John B. Breslin, Washington Post Book World

"This inclusive work covers it all, and in doing so helps explain the importance and attraction Mary has had over the centuries for various cultures and religions."—Publishers Weekly

"An excellent overview of the Marian literature, ancient and modern."—Booklist

"There can be no doubt that the Queen of Heaven would be pleased with this accolade, and no reader will come away from the work without profit."—Jo Ann Kay McNamara, New York Times Book Review

"Devotees and critics of Marian spirituality are both likely to find Jaroslav Pelikan's accessible, authoritative, and dispassionate history illuminating. . . . Pelikan's learned study should dispel many misconceptions."—Karen Armstrong, Boston Book Review

"Pelikan has made a valuable contribution for scholars and others interested in the development of doctrine, in Mary and in the ways in which all generations have called Mary 'blessed," through art, music and literature."—Margaret Nutting Ralph, Lexington Herald-Leader

"A fascinating account of the intense popularity of, and the phenomenally varied devotion to, the woman whom her cousin Elizabeth called 'the Mother of my Redeemer.' . . . To judge by [the book's] gentle tone, the suavity of its style, and the grace of the writing it seems also to have called forth [Pelikan's] love as well. . . . Its glory is that it itself is the work of art Nietzsche so praised in all honest history: history written in love."—Edward T. Oakes, First Things

"Pelikan's scholarship is wide and deep. . . . His presentation of the visual, literary and musical treatment of Mary is well-grounded and richly detailed. . . . Enlightening and fulfilling."—Judith Bromberg, National Catholic Reporter

"Pelikan provides us with a valuable resource and a guide for healthy theological discussion with an emphasis on Mary's place in faith enculturation. . . . As meditations or inspirational reading, this book maps out a spiritual love affair which has engaged humanity with Mary for centuries."—Barbara Beckwith, St. Anthony Messenger

"Illustrated with beautiful color plates that capture the extraordinary artistic focus on Mary, Pelikan demonstrates how Marian theology and piety interacted with the cultural and social context of each age. This is an informative and respectful study by a first-rate Protestant scholar-and that itself is a hopeful sign of the times."—Bible Today

"Anyone interested in lucid writing, in perceptive historic, artistic, and theological musings, and in the development of doctrine and spirituality will certainly enjoy reading Mary Through the Centuries."—Robert Brusic, Word & World

"Even the general reader with an interest in the subject will be mesmerized by [Pelikan's] lucidity and analysis. As a writer, Pelikan has an enviable way with words."—Dorothy A. Boyd-Rush, History

"Pelikan's history unfolds with great grace, and the illustrations show its cultural impact in paintings, sculptures, and icons from a variety of nations and periods. Those looking for a theological quarrel about the Virgin will have to turn to sectarians and feminists. Those who wish to appreciate why the Marian tradition lies close to the heart of nearly two thousand years of Christian culture now have no better or wise guide than Jaroslav Pelikan."—Robert Royal, University Bookman

"The strengths of this volume include its ecumenical scope, its use of diverse sources, its wealth of erudite detail, its interesting connections, and its readability—which make key moments of the marian tradition accessible to an educated reading public."—Elizabeth A. Johnson, Theological Studies

"It is rare to find a scholarly work that is easily accessible to the general, educated reader. Pelikan has given us a brilliant and very well written history of Marian devotion."—Choice

“There is no better place to start an in-depth study of Mary’s place in the historic church than Jaroslav Pelikan’s magisterial Mary Through the Centuries.  Every chapter brims with insights.”—Steven Gertz and Chris Armstrong, Christian History

"[Pelikan's] purpose is achieved through the rich contents of the book, its clarity of style, and the insightful manner in which Pelikan addresses the role played 'for the past twenty centuries' by the Virgin Mary. . . . Pelikan's understanding of culture is deep, diverse, and global."—Agnes Cunningham, Canadian Catholic Review

"A fascinating and indeed provocative book. It becomes more interesting as one reads."—Anne Carr, Worship

"From the first page, it will be evident to the grateful reader that this excellent book is the work of a modern 'renaissance man,' completely at home in a vast range of material, and with a personal involvement in his mature tribute to the Mother of God, daughter of Zion, faithful Virgin, joyful New Eve."—Eamon Richard Carroll, Librorium Aestimationes

"This meticulously written and lavishly illustrated volume is the unusual tribute of an eminent Lutheran church historian to the Mother of Christ."—Michael J. Miller, Homiletic & Pastoral Review

"The book is beautifully written; Pelikan's command of the niceties of the English language and his skill as a stylist often make the book a sheer pleasure to read. The volume is lavishly illustrated with many of the innumerable depictions of the Virgin Mary produced throughout the centuries. . . . This book is the grand tour of Mariology, and excellent introduction but not a monographic synthesis."—V. Louise Katainen, Phi Kappa Phi Journal

"Pelikan brings a long life of study, teaching, and writing to Mary through the Centuries. He eschews the love-to-hate-her attitude and the need to provide a psychoanalytical rationalization for Marion devotion, both of which characterize much recent work on Mary. Instead, he remains true to his objective, to provide a balanced examination of this potent cultural icon in a learned yet lively and readable text."—Laurel Broughton, Princeton Seminary Bulletin

"It is the sort of small book only large learning can produce: easy to read, hard to forget, and illuminating remarkably many aspects of history, and not only Christian history, during the Common Era."—James Gaffney, Religious Studies Review

"This handsome book . . . is the product of the immense learning of our foremost living historian of Christian doctrine and belief, presented, as we have come to expect, in a readable and thought-provoking style. . . . The book . . . richly deserves all the praise it has received."—James M. O'Toole, Cross Currents

"A fascinating account of arguably the most important woman and female symbol in the history of Western civilization. . . . This is a book that examines Mary's history and the traditions growing around her in a dispassionate way. The book's content is vital to anyone who enters the ecumenical conversation that often focuses on Mary as the confluence of numerous Christian traditions."—The Clergy Journal

"This book represents not so much a critical history of devotion to Mary as a remarkable example of such devotion at the end of the twentieth century."—David Brakke, Biography

"Most historians—most writers—would have been intimidated by so awesome a subject. Pelikan seems to exult in awe. He looks at Mary from every angle, from handmaid to Queen of Heaven, but he protects her too. Her singular crown is never tarnished."—Randall Curb, Southern Humanities Review

"Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, offers an educated but non-specialist audience an engaging and informative account of the multi-faceted impact of the Blessed Virgin Mary on devotion, theology, and culture."—John P. Galvin, Catholic Historical Review

"As he has so often done before, Jaroslav Pelikan has again provided and informative, dependable historical survey, focusing this time on the development of ideas about Mary. . . . A refreshing read."—Sharon Elkins, Religion and the Arts

"Mary through the Centuries is replete with an astonishing variety of artistic representations of Mary."—Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“A lively and visually beautiful volume that any thoughtful reader can enjoy. . . . For anyone seeking an introduction to the cultural history of the figure of Mary, . . . this book is indispensable, delightful in its intelligence, learning, and remarkable beauty.”—David Myers, Chicago Tribune
ISBN: 9780300076615
Publication Date: September 10, 1998
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
19 b/w + 18 color illus.
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