Elizabeth A. Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University, and this is a companion volume to her 1999 work Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints. She states her goal and raises the major questions that will animate her quest:
"The first-century Jewish woman named Miriam of Nazareth, mother of Jesus, also proclaimed in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is the most celebrated female religious figure in the Christian tradition. What would be a theologically sound, ecumenically fruitful, spiritually empowering, ethically challenging, and socially liberating interpretation of Mary for the twenty-first century? What is her significance in the light of Christian faith in the gracious mystery of God? What difference does remembering her, along with all the friends of God and prophets, make in the life of church and society? How in particular can her image be construed so as to be a source of blessing rather than blight for women's lives in both religious and political terms?"
As is her pattern and style, Johnson does a thorough job of mapping out these high and ambitious objectives. Her global chorus of women's voices offering a smorgasbord of interpretations of the Marian tradition is awesome.
After assessing the limitations of Mary as the perfect embodiment of the feminine principle and as bodying forth the feminine dimension of the divine (the maternal face of God), Johnson lands with her feet squarely on the ground with "a liberating feminist theology of Mary" locating her "in the communion of saints and there to remember her, dangerously and consolingly, as a woman with her own particular history among her contemporaries and before God." With great confidence, the author offers sophisticated and inspiring interpretations of 13 scriptural readings in which Mary appears, including refugees from slaughter; annunciation (call of the prophet); visitation (joy in the revolution of God); wine at the wedding; near the cross; and all filled with the Holy Spirit. In these activities, Mary demonstrates that she is a friend of God and a prophet speaking out against injustice. Johnson makes the all-important point about the annunciation by stressing that this young peasant girl was able to discern the voice of God in her life without the mediation of her father, betrothed spouse, or priest. Sadly, many who hold power within Christendom still haven't gotten this poignant message!
Elizabeth A. Johnson has written an erudite and radical tribute to Mary the poor, politically oppressed, first-century peasant who fulfilled her mission and entered into the communion of saints as one offering encouragement and hope to all of her gender.