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In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol Paperback – August 20, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Cunneen's search for Mary is in the spirit of the best of the various historical Jesus quests. She is concerned with a contemporary, living symbol; a history of interpretation that reaches beyond the boundaries of Christianity; and a particular woman whose particular life in Roman-occupied Palestine is poorly documented. The paradox of intense memory and meager documentation fuels Cunneen's careful sifting of historical evidence. Maintaining a lively, conversational tone, the narrative is chronological, moving from Miriam of Nazareth--the Mary of the New Testament--through her transformation in the Greco-Roman church; her emergence as theotokos ("god bearer" ); her enshrinement in an extended, then broken, family; and finally to "icon of human possibility." This engaging study, accessible to general as well as scholarly audiences, provides a much-needed context for the growing body of material on Mary. Steve Schroeder

From Kirkus Reviews

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) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (August 20, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345382463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345382467
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,418,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Robert Devereaux on October 28, 1997
Format: Paperback
I found Cunneen's In Search of Mary to be a well-written introduction to Marian theology. In a scholarly manner it traces the significance of Mary in the Church and larger society since biblical times. It seems to reflect the author's search for the meaning of Mary in her own Catholic faith, a faith where changing church doctrine in the last several years has obscured her role.
Cunneen, a Catholic feminist theologian writes objectively. There is no attempt to overtly promote a renewel of Marian piety. However, she does a good job at refuting the Reformation's attempt to completely eliminate Mary from the Reformed church. She writes particularily well about Protestant women who tried to integrate Mary into their faith in the late 19th century.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get their feet wet in this fascinating and controversial area.
Bob Devereaux, M.D.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By invictus on July 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
I see some very negative reviews on here from people criticizing the book for not emphasizing Mary's historical Jewishness. Well, that is not the purpose of this excellent introduction to Mary's role in Western Christian theology. It is more about how the culture as a whole sees Mary --- from traditional views to modern liberation ideas. I must add that the book is very balanced as well and only the most jaded of conservatives and liberals will take offense at it.

I was seeking a book about the history of Mary in Western culture after having a particularly meaningful Jungian-type dream about her. I found In Search Of Mary to be exactly what I was looking for after examining many books in my local bookstore.

I can't believe this book doesn't have an average rating of 4 stars. Some more reviews by fairer critics will hopefully rectify the situation soon.
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Format: Paperback
Well, at least Sally Cunneen, a lifelong critic of the Catholic Church and its teachings--who nevertheless remained a parishioner--admits she is not writing a devotional work. Her search for Mary is reflected by the book's art. A beautiful Mother of Mercy painting done in about 1442 graces the cover and shows Mary sheltering religious, clergy, and laypeople under her mantle. The final illustration is of the faceless Crow Mother, who has become Benedictine painter Meinrad Craighead's "Southwest Madonna," according to Cuneen. Meinrad is a woman and her meditations on Mary led to this "imaginative [vision] of God the Mother."

Cunneen assumes that women are victims, and that "conservative Catholics" are prudish, in contrast to liberal types such as herself. She approvingly presents the opinions of women who have problems with Mary's perpetual virginity and other facets of Catholic belief. For example, she mentions that the "irregularity" of Jesus's conception and birth could have led enemies to call him illegitimate (pp. 35-36). She seems unaware that a Hebrew betrothed couple were married, even though they would not live together until a year later. This is why Joseph, her husband, considered divorcing Mary until an angel of the Lord reassured him. (The Association of Hebrew Catholics is a useful resource for such information; their website is

Believing Catholics and other Christians may be surprised to learn from Cunneen, who was a professor of English at Rockland Community College, that the evangelist Luke "contrived" the census in the reign of Caesar Augusus "to get Joseph and Mary [to Bethlehem] from Nazareth" (p. 42; cf. Paul L.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pamela H. Long on December 26, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Culleen's search is indeed personal, but it's buttressed with thoughtful historical and theological insights. I appreciated the author's personal narrative in the first chapter, which foregrounded her own inquest into the role Mary had played in her own life and revealed what were her own prejudices and preconceptions. As a Protestant searching for my own relationship with Mary, this book was very helpful in decoding the mystique of Mary, and the roots of some of the cultural accretions. I was particularly interested in the Scriptural basis of Mariology, and was surprised at how MUCH there is--leading to my own repentance regarding judging other Christians as superstitious and non-Biblical. My respect for the reverence of Mary has increased because of this book. Culleen's attempt to view Mary from a more historical, analytic perspective is laudable--and her own coming-to-term with the mythology she inherited as a child is moving. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of Mary's role in the Church and society. Whether you are already devoted to Mary, or whether you're curious regarding other people's devotion, this is an excellent source. Those who are Marian devotees will find themselves challenged--skeptics will be enlightened.
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