"Mary Through the Centuries" by Jaroslav Pelikan

Mary Through the Centuries Her Place in the History of Culture Jaroslav Pelikan

Publication date:
10 Sep 1998
Yale University Press
288 pages: 235 x 156mm
19 b-w + 18 color illus.

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.

“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

"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

“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

"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

"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

"A remarkable tapestry enriched by superb illustrations. Its author's constructive approach should do much towards a better understanding and appreciation of one whom he describes in the final chapter as 'a woman for all seasons.'"—Gordon Huelin, Expository Times

"This is a fascinating and stimulating book for teachers and others who wish to refresh and broaden their ideas about he history of Christian belief and devotion."—Leslie Houlden, Theological Book Review

"This is a book of outstanding interest and outstanding quality, beautifully produced and beautifully illustrated."—A.M. Allchin, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"His scholarly acumen gives academic substance to Mary through the Centuries, although it is a book which is likely to appeal to general readers as well as to academics. . . . For those willing to entertain the notion that Mary might still have some significance in the modern world, I would recommend it as a most enjoyable and informative read."—Tina Beattie, Religion

"It is rare for a non-expert audience to be allowed to participate in this type of etymological deconstruction, and it is a pleasure to see it done so deftly."—Michael Michael, Apollo