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"Madonna & Jesus as Divine Maternal Nurturers in Medieval/Renaissance Art" by Rebecca Soriano

God the Mother and the Feminine Christ: Representations of the Madonna and Jesus as Divine Maternal Nurturers in Medieval and Renaissance Art

Rebecca Soriano, Monroe Community College


Abstract: Visual depictions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods frequently highlight and celebrate key characteristics commonly associated with femininity: compassion, nurture, and sacrifice. Although canonical scriptural language employs the usage of “father” and “son” to denote the gender of God and Jesus, subsequent archetypal artistic interpretations produced during these periods expressed the divine feminine energy of God manifested within the earthly bodies of the Madonna and Christ. Their intrinsic maternal natures serve as a counterbalance to God’s authoritative masculine qualities. This presentation examines a selection of works which portray Christ as anatomically male but spiritually female and elevates the Madonna from humble bearer of the savior into the feminine God incarnate. While modern Catholicism remains institutionally patriarchal, early Christological iconography shows a consistent pattern of glorifying the feminine qualities present within the Madonna and Christ. These depictions exist as visual reminders of spiritual unification between masculine and feminine energies, which reflect a more complete image of God’s divine nature. Iconographic paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus venerate and sanctify the relationship between mother and child and stand in contrast to the androcentric gendering of the holy trinity that permeates Christian theology.


 

Visual depictions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ throughout the Medieval and Renaissance periods frequently highlight and celebrate key characteristics commonly associated with femininity: compassion, nurture, and sacrifice. Although canonical scriptural language employs the usage of “father” and “son” to denote the gender of God and Jesus, subsequent archetypal artistic interpretations produced during these periods expressed the divine feminine energy of God manifested within the earthly bodies of the Madonna and Christ. The all-powerful, dominant, and authoritative qualities of God have become the standard dogma to which modern Catholic leaders adhere. However, these masculine ideals run counter to the core tenets of Christ’s teachings of love, charity, sacrifice, submission, and nurture which are commonly classified as “feminine,” as seen in early Medieval theological texts. Caroline Bynum notes that Medieval spiritual writers characterized maternal imagery with consistent gendered sexual stereotypes (Jesus as Mother 148). Across these texts writers labeled traits like gentleness, love, compassion, and nurturing as “female” or “maternal” while authority, judgement, and strictness are gendered as “male” or “paternal” (Jesus as Mother 148). Bynum argues that male Medieval writers, leaders, and theologians originated the use of feminine maternal imagery and allegory to reference both God and Jesus, citing figures like Anselm, Bonaventure, Aquinas, and Julian of Norwich as examples of male spiritual leaders feminizing religious language (140). In Scripture, Jesus refers to himself as a mother hen who shelters her chicks (1) and the good shepherd who gathers lost sheep (2), traits which writers in this period characterized as feminine. The interpretation of these passages indicate that Jesus Christ’s maternal nature exists within an exterior of the physical masculine form. These more fluid expressions of gender within early Medieval scripture and theological writings differ dramatically from how the modern Catholic church interprets and transmits aspects of God and Christ’s nature, often overemphasizing the masculine, authoritative aspects of both figures.


The patriarchal nature of the institution of Christianity creates a hierarchal division between male and female congregants, with Catholicism having a deep-rooted history of excluding women from holding positions of power within the clergy by creating sanctions against any possibility for ordination. On the history of gender bias and the Catholic Church, Cheryl Haskins argues that while Christianity promotes concern for female congregants it remains unwilling to allow these members to serve the Church in equal or higher stations over men (100). Under Pope Paul V, the Sacred Congregation for the Vatican (3) issued an official declaration barring women from priesthood, maintaining that the act of conferring priestly ordination exclusively to men remains an unbroken tradition of the Church, and cites the absence of female apostles selected to minister as scriptural validation for their argument (Seper). Cardinal Franjo Seper, who authored the declaration on behalf of the Sacred Congregation asserts, “Although the Blessed Virgin Mary surpassed in dignity and in excellence all the Apostles, nevertheless it was not to her but to them that the Lord entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Seper). The official and unwavering position of the Vatican dictates that their normative character of exclusively ordaining men into priesthood can be traced to Christ’s denial of women into apostleship roles in scripture. Preventing the ordination of female priests creates a limitation for a woman’s ability to be regarded on equal footing as their male counterparts within the institutional practices of Catholicism.


The Church maintains a cognitive dissonance in its view of the role of women within the structural framework of ministry, recognizing the importance of feminine figures like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene within the Bible while relegating female congregants to a lesser station compared to their male counterparts. In fact, it was Mary Magdalene who was chosen by Christ to deliver the news of the resurrection to the apostles (4). These gendered divisions create an environment where the male-dominated leadership of the Church projects females as lesser and therefore subservient to males, contrary to the Biblical assertions that women were equally created in God’s image (5). Scripturally, the androcentric gendering of both God and Jesus Christ has impacted and limited the station of women within the Church, creating a divisive hierarchy which places women subservient to men. In the Old Testament, humankind was created devoid of these socio-cultural concepts. Genesis indicates, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Using allegory and poetic language, scripture depicts God with both masculine and feminine aspects reflected in the body of each person, and different biblical texts emphasize and glorify the feminine spirit (6). The book of Proverbs portrays Divine Wisdom— the first of God’s creations before humankind—as feminine, and she refers to believers as her children. She calls out, “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 8:35). This passage, ascribed to Wisdom, is reminiscent of the teachings of Christ on Earth, who preaches that salvation comes from knowing him (7). Often referred to as “Sophia,” the Greek word for wisdom (8), Divine Wisdom represents the Word of God which is made flesh (9). In his 4th century work Orations Against the Arians, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria continually connects the Wisdom (Sophia) with the Word (Logos), which was delivered unto the world in the body of Christ (Athanasius 1). These theological interpretations of scripture suggest that the immaculate conception transforms the feminine Sophia—who existed alongside God in Heaven—into the masculine body of Christ on Earth birthed through the Virgin.


Despite normative traditional roles upheld by the Vatican and disseminated by exclusively male Catholic leaders, Christological iconography from the Medieval through Early Renaissance period frequently portray the Virgin Mary as the Divine Mother, equal to God, and Jesus Christ as feminine nurturer, physical embodiment of Sophia. Both figures become representations of God’s feminine energy incarnate through thematic symbolism across culture and over centuries. These allegorical feminine representations of God’s image and word incarnate serve as a counterbalance to God’s authoritative masculine qualities and offer a more rounded and robust reflection of the scripturally androcentric Holy Trinity.


The veneration of Mary began in the early Medieval period (10), when St. Proclus delivered a homily during the Council of Ephesus (11) proclaiming, “The reason we have gathered here today is the holy Theotokos (12) Virgin Mary, immaculate treasure of virginity, spiritual paradise of the second Adam, workshop of the union of [Christ's two] natures, [...] bridal chamber in which the Word was wedded to the flesh, living bush that was not burned by the fire of the Divine birth" (Alessio). St. Proclus’ homily both defined the hypostatic union (13) of Christ’s dual nature and confirmed Mary as the mother of God and intercessor between humankind and the divine. Marian theology developed and grew from this council and by the late Medieval (14) period Christian art deified and celebrated her as a figure of absolute purity, born outside of original sin (15). From this point forward she was recast from the humble bearer of the Christ child to the nurturing and merciful Divine Mother.


Mary’s significance within Christian ideology can be seen in the artistic portrayals throughout these periods. Italian artist Olivuccio di Ciccarello’s Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve, painted circa 1400 CE., uses proportion, color, and scale to emphasize the importance of the Virgin Mary (Fig. 1). Depictions of the “Madonna of Humility” were common in Italian art during the 14th century, and show Mary seated on a low cushion or directly on the ground holding the Christ child (“Madonna of Humility”). Ciccarello’s painting presents the Madonna in this traditional pose surrounded by twelve golden circular inlays, each containing one of Christ’s apostles. Contrary to the Church’s patriarchal practice of exclusively male leadership, the sheer dominance and scale of Mary compared to the surrounding Apostles creates a visual hierarchy signifying her as the pinnacle of virtue, purity, and worthiness above all others. Below the Virgin and Child in a panel segregated by darkness lies Eve whose consumption of the forbidden fruit cursed humanity to hardship and temporal life (16). The artist, like the Church, uses the constant comparison between Eve and Mary to emphasize the necessity for salvation.


The Virgin Mary, full of God’s grace, bears the savior of humankind and breaks the curse of Eve, allowing Christian souls the opportunity for redemption and eternal life. Ciccarello uses rare blue pigments and inlaid gold paint throughout the Virgin’s robe and mantle which further accentuates her divine nature and distinguishes her apart from the naked and shamed Eve. Artists working within these periods used color as a visual indicator of status and significance, with ultramarine blue—a rare pigment made from the lapis lazuli stone (17)—frequently employed when painting the Madonna, Christ, or God. Paintings portraying the Virgin Mary and God within the same panel routinely depict both figures in similar dress, drawing a visual parallel between the two beings. Giovanni del Biondo’s Crucifixion with God the Father (Fig. 2) and Albrecht Durer’s Adoration of the Trinity (Fig. 3) are two examples, across period and location which feature this divine mirroring of garments between the Virgin Mary and God. The use of rare ultramarine blue pigment to depict these figures communicates a sense of equality and similarity between the two, with Mary being elevated to a station beyond mother of Christ but also the mother of humankind, counterpart to God.


Along with the use of color to present the Virgin Mary as divine, the late Medieval period (18) marked the prevalence of the Madonna Lactans—or the “Nursing Madonna”—a series of specific Marian imagery depicting the Christ child nursing at his mother's breast. Examples of these Madonna Lactans motifs can be seen in Barnaba de Modena’s Madonna and Child (Fig. 4), Jan Van Eyck’s Lucca Madonna (Fig. 5), and Gerard David’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Fig. 6). These depictions, although distinct in both style and technique, maintain a thematic resonance. Mary sits with the child nursing in her lap, often with her hand cupped over her breast and her head bowed, signifying a reverence for the child savior. She maintains a soft and knowing expression, sharing an intimate moment between mother and child. The Virgin Mary, divine intercessor and mother, must raise and nurture a child for the salvation of humanity. These works show a gradual shift away from the Byzantine period’s distinct, highly embellished, and stylized representations of Madonna and Child iconography. Unlike Modena and Van Eyck, David’s figures are firmly rooted in the realm of realism, with the Virgin Mary seated not on a throne surrounded by halos and gold, but humbly set on the ground with her infant child. In David’s work the signifier of status comes not from a golden halo but her defining blue robes, emphasizing the sacred relationship between the mother and child without the gilding. Clothed in the traditional red and blue robes which denote her sanctity, the Madonna Lactans iconography depicts the hypostasis of Mary as both physical and divine mother: God’s wisdom and will enfleshed. This union of the human and divine parallels the dual nature of Christ—the living word of God within the body of a man—and elevates Mary to the status of a co-redeemer of humanity through the physical acts of birth and nurture.


St. Augustine reflects on the act of nursing in his Confessions, writing, “The comforts of human milk were waiting for me, but my mother and my nurses did not fill their own breasts; rather you [God] gave me an infant’s nourishment through them [...]” (Augustine Confessions 1:6). St. Augustine regards the milk of a mother as a spiritual fluid which God provides within the breast to nourish a child. The act of nursing then becomes both a physical and divine act, creating a sacred bond between the mother, child, and God. The Madonna embodies the same characteristics of Christ and his teachings: divine love, charity, and obedience to God’s will. The iconography of the nursing Madonna connects the virginal milk which nourished the Christ child to the salvific sacrificial blood Jesus would later shed on the cross. In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter details how the “new birth”—also referred to as being “born again”—is achieved not through empty things like silver and gold, but “with the precious blood of Christ” and directs followers to crave the “pure spiritual milk” provided by the Lord which leads to salvation (1 Peter 1:18-19, 2:2). The scripture specifies that Christ’s sacrificial blood acts as the essential fluid which is required for a spiritual rebirth and ultimate salvation. The conceptual rebirth of the spirit alongside the iconography of the Madonna Lactans create a visual parallel between the Passion of the Christ and the Passion of the Virgin, co-redeemers and idealized maternal nurturers.


Catherine Bynum discusses the Medieval biological theory of bodily fluids in her essay The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages. She notes, “Ancient biologists thought that the mother's blood fed the child in the womb and then, transmuted into breast milk, fed the baby outside the womb as well” (420). Early scientific understandings of biological functions created analogous descriptions of body fluids in both visual iconography and theology, drawing direct correlations between blood and breastmilk as methods of both physical and spiritual nourishment. The Medieval conceptions of bodily fluid and transmutation furthered the ideology that Christ’s body and blood could then become the sacrament for the salvation of the Ecclesia (19). Transitioning from infancy to resurrection, Christological iconographic painters create a visual equivalency between Mary’s breastmilk and Christ’s blood by depicting Jesus cupping his wound—located just below his right breast—with head slightly bowed. This positioning mirrors the Madonna Lactans depictions, highlighting the ultimate maternal virtues associated with the act of nurture: infinite love and charity (20). Examples of the specific imagery of Christ displaying his sacrificial blood, commonly referred to as the Man of Sorrows iconography, can be seen in Meister Francke’s Man of Sorrows (Fig. 7) and Hans Memling’s The Virgin Showing the Man of Sorrows (Fig. 8). Memling depicts the agony and suffering of the co-redeemers, recalling images of the Virgin and Child in his infancy. In Medieval theology, St. Catherine of Siena refers to the blood of Christ as “essential milk” which flows from the breast, echoing the Man of Sorrows iconography and the transubstantiation from blood to sacrament (Catherine 38). These images, paired with earlier depictions of Mary, show the mutual suffering of the mother in the form of the Madonna and the adult Christ. In Memling’s painting, Mary presents her child for the nurturing of the Church instead of her breast for the nourishment of the infant savior as seen in earlier Madonna Lactan images, directly connecting the breastmilk of the Madonna to Christ’s blood, creating a visual equivalence signifying physical and spiritual nurturing. As the Virgin nursed the Christ child, Christ will then nurture the ecclesia through his breast wound and blood.


Depictions of the Man of Sorrows throughout the Renaissance period often include a chalice which captures the sacrificial blood of Christ, sometimes held by angels as seen in Giovanni Bellini’s Blood of the Redeemer (Fig. 9), or freestanding as in Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen’s Man of Sorrows (Fig. 10). These examples, along with many other Crucifixion icons, use the chalice to collect the sacred blood which, through the act of transubstantiation conducted by a Priest, becomes the salvific Eucharist (21). The holy milk-blood of the savior demands an honorable and pure golden vessel for the eventual salvation of humankind. Representations of Christ as the Man of Sorrows are consistently delicate in their rendering, contrasted with the graphic imagery of sacrificial blood flowing—or often spurting—from the wound. Christ gently holds open the wound in a manner that seems presentational, a visual offering of nourishment and charity. His maternal act translates visually into the divine love for humanity, depicted in graphic detail paired with tears of compassionate understanding.


Medieval and Renaissance artists frequently depicted Jesus as a maternal figure for the Church, whose physical act of submission and bodily sacrifice ushered in the birth of Christianity. Artistic expressions of this maternal nature are explored in the interpretation and depiction of the wound of Christ. Medieval illustrated manuscripts and prayer books present Jesus’ wound as a disembodied vertical gash, making a direct comparison to the vagina (Fig. 11.1, 11.2, 11.3). These illustrations break from the traditional normative gendering of Christ to portray a fully realized feminine wound which gives birth to Christianity. The French Psalter and Prayer Book of Bonne de Luxembourg and English Book of Hours feature these eschatological vaginal wounds, often surrounded by the implements of Christ’s crucifixion, which would remind the reader of the Passion. The Bible Moraliseé (Fig. 12) juxtaposes two images to illustrate Christ as the divine mother of the Church. The top image depicts Eve being birthed from Adam’s side while the lower shows the Ecclesia emerging from Christ’s wound before the deposition. In both illustrations God acts as midwife for the delivery, witnessed first by the animals in the Garden of Eden and then by a small collection of Church leaders. These artistic interpretations express less rigid and dichotomous conceptions of gender which contradict the strictly androcentric scriptural language of Christ as both physically and conceptually male.


Images of the vertical wound of Christ not only tie his blood and sacrifice to breastmilk and birth, but also reference the assumption (22) of Mary and Christ into Heaven. The shape of the wound transitions from vaginal to divine through artistic renderings of the assumption of Mary. Although only alluded to in scripture, Pope Pius XII confirmed the dogma of the assumption of Mary in the Apostolic Constitution (23) encyclical Munificentissimus Deus, outlining the unique assumption of Mary as the will of God (24). The mandorla, an almond-like shape, became an important symbol for visually indicating the high status of divinity, tied to the mathematical perception of the circle as a perfect form. This shape was derived from the Pythagorean geometric lens called a “vesica picis” or “fish bladder,” formed by the intersection of two circles with the same radius (Sparavigna 1). This shape was transformed into the Christian “mandorla” in art, becoming a symbol of God’s Divine Glory in the same manner other neo-Platonic ideas were adopted into Christian concepts (5). Not only does this shape perfectly mirror the vaginal wound of Christ, but also the universally recognized "ichthus” fish which became a secret symbol for Christ during the age of persecution (25). Unlike the more commonly used halo to denote holy figures, artistic interpretations of the assumptions use the mandorla to encapsulate the entirety of the bodies of both the Virgin Mary and Christ in a way that visually links the shape to Christ’s wound. Reiterating the connection between blood, birth, and divinity in a single geometric form.


Seen throughout the late Medieval and Renaissance periods in art, notable examples of these mandorla assumptions are found in Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci’s Assumption of the Virgin (Fig. 13), Pietro Perugino’s San Francesco al Prato Resurrection (26) (Fig. 14), and Bartolomeo Vivarini’s Death of the Virgin (Fig. 15). Gherarducci Assumption and Perugino’s Resurrection each depict their figures hovering above opened and empty stone tombs, encased in the mandorla, and surrounded by angels. Although distinctly different in style—one more Byzantine and the other closer to traditional Renaissance realism—these organization of figures and elements share a definitive consistency in their glorification of these two maternal figures within the divine vaginal shape of Christ’s wound. Unique to the three examples, Vivarini’s Death of the Virgin offers a more complex depiction of Mary’s assumption. At the base of the image Mary’s body lies surrounded by the twelve mourning apostles along with Saint Lawrence and Saint Stephen (Vivarini). Above these figures Christ sits with a miniature Mary in his lap, carrying her body into Heaven inside the holy mandorla. This image recalls the familiar Virgin and Child iconography in reverse. Christ has become the mother who protects her child from death, wearing pink robes and enclosed in a blue mandorla, mirroring the earthly Mary’s garments. From the Divine Wisdom of infancy into the afterlife, across scripture and the visual arts, Christ reflects the divine feminine in all aspects.


Abstractions of gender exist within scripture and subsequent theological discussions surrounding Christ and his teachings. However, the Vatican’s immutable stance on patriarchal leadership seems to ignore and constrict the physical feminine over the divine feminine characteristics of Christ’s word. Relegating women into a lower station within the structure of the Church and deeming them unequal to men in their capacity to minister diminishes the significant role divine feminine energy plays in reflecting the full and robust image of God. An ideology which espouses an exclusively male trinity neglects the original interpretations of both God and Christ who are scripturally outside of normative gender constructs.


The pre-translated Hebrew language used to describe the essence of the Old Testament God incorporates both masculine and feminine imagery in equal measure. The word “Ruach” is a feminine gendered word used to describe the spirit while the word for God is the masculine “Elohim” (Schaupp). The Ruach Elohim—which translates to “holy spirt,” defining one third part of the trinity—combines the gendered masculine and feminine into one entity, signifying the divine unification of both essences through language. According to Hebrew scholars, the Spirit cannot be identified with the gendered He pronoun, signifying a linguistic necessity to communicate the concept of God outside of gender (Schaupp). Scripture frequently uses feminine allegorical language and imagery to balance the androcentric language of God the Father and Christ the Son, using symbolism to untether both entities from the constrictive categorizations of human gender (27).


Later Neoplatonic philosophical concepts further described and defined the soul as a genderless/neutral entity. Theologians like St. Augustine would refer to this Platonic ideal that the soul and especially its highest, intellectual part is not gendered (Tornau). Citing the promise of the Apostle Paul that in Christ “there is neither male nor female” (28) Augustine argues that women are equally like men because the genderless intellectual soul, not the physical body, is the true reflection of God’s image (Augustine Genesis). Throughout the bible God acts as both the spiritual Father and Mother of humankind, with the Virgin Mary and Christ enacting his will on earth. Although translations define God’s gender as male, the recurring use of feminine allegory within scripture poetically infuses the maternal aspects into the essence of his spirit. The figures of Mary and Christ are God’s gender incarnate, each acting as co-redeemers and intercessors between humankind and the divine, reflected in both scripture, theology, and the visual arts. While the Church’s practices and ideology remained institutionally patriarchal, in actuality Christological iconography during these periods shows a consistent pattern of glorifying the feminine qualities present within the Madonna and Christ. These depictions exist as visual reminders of spiritual unification between masculine and feminine energies, which reflect a more complete image of God’s divine nature. Iconographic paintings of the Virgin Mary and Jesus venerate and sanctify the relationship between mother and child and stand in contrast to the androcentric gendering of the holy trinity that permeates Christian theology.


Appendix


Figure 1. Ciccarello, Olivuccio. The Madonna of Humility with the Temptation of Eve. 1400, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland. https://www.clevelandart.org/art/1916.795


Figure 2. Biondo, Giovanni del. Crucifixion with God the Father. 1375-1380. Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester. https://magart.rochester.edu/objects-1/info?query=Portfolios%20%3D%20%22571%22&sort=0


Figure 3. Durer, Albrecht. Adoration of the Trinity. 1509-1511. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. https://www.khm.at/objektdb/detail/1658/?offset=10&lv=list


Figure 4. Modena, Barnaba. Madonna and Child. 1370. Louvre Museum, Paris. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010066518


Figure 5. Eyck, Jan van. Lucca Madonna. 1437. Stadel Museum, Frankfurt. https://sammlung.staedelmuseum.de/en/work/lucca-madonna


Figure 6. David, Gerard. Rest on the Flight into Egypt. 1512-1515. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436101



Figure 8. Memling, Hans. Virgin Showing the Man of Sorrows. 1480. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/4179/


Figure 9. Bellini, Giovanni. Blood of the Redeemer. 1460-1465. The National Gallery, London. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/giovanni-bellini-the-blood-of-the-redeemer


Figure 10. Cornelisz van Oostsanen, Jacob. Man of Sorrows. 1510. Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp. https://vlaamsekunstcollectie.be/en/news/jacob-cornelisz-man-of-sorrows-mayer-van-den-bergh


Figure 11. Attributed to Jean le Noir. Prayer book of Bonne de Luxembourg. 1349. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Cloisters Collection. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/471883


Figure 12. Unknown Artist. Bible Moralisee (French). 1220-1230. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. https://artway.eu/content.php?id=2438&lang=en&action=show


Figure 13. Gherarducci, Don Silvestro. Assumption of the Virgin. 1365. Pinacoteca Vatican, Italy. https://www.wga.hu/html_m/g/gherardu/assumpti.html


Figure 14. Perugino, Pietro. San Francesco al Prato Resurrection. 1499. Pinacoteca Vatican, Italy. https://www.perugino2023.org/en/perugino-bio/resurrection-of-christ-vatican-city/


Figure 15. Vivarini, Bartolomeo. Death of the Virgin. 1485. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437912


Footnotes


(1) Matthew 23:37, New International Version, Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/.


(2) Ezekiel 34:12-16.


(3) Established by Pope Paul III in 1542, the Sacred Congregation is a permanent committee of cardinals in the Vatican who are tasked with handling the business of the Church (“Sacred Congregations”).


(4) John 20: 11-18.


(5) See Galatians 3:26-28.


(6) For examples of feminine allegory and God see: Numbers 11:12, Deuteronomy 32:18, and Isaiah 42:14, 49:15, 66:13.


(7) For examples of these teachings see: 1 John: 11-12, John 14:16, John 8:12, Acts 2:38.


(8) The Greek Sophia, grammatically feminine, translates to divine wisdom, holy wisdom, or wisdom personified (”Sophia”).


(9) Examples in scripture: John 1: 1-4, 14, 1 Corinthians 1:24.

(10) 400-700 CE., with the homily of St. Proclus occurring around 428 CE.


(11) Council of Ephesus: Three assemblies held by bishops to address problems in the early Christian Church (“Council of Ephesus“)


(12) Greek: “God-Bearer.” Eastern Greek Orthodox designation of the Virgin Mary as the mother of God.


(13) In Christian theology, the hypostatic union refers to the biblical doctrine that within Christ exists two distinct yet inseparable natures: human and divine (Slick). For scriptural evidence see also John 1:14, John 10:30, Colossians 2:9.


(14) 1300-1500 CE.


(15) Pope Pius IX decreed in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus that, according to the scripture “[...] the soul of the Blessed Virgin, in its creation and infusion into the body, was endowed with the grace of the Holy Spirit and preserved from original sin” (Pius IX). For scriptural example see Luke 1:28.


(16) See Genesis 3:16-22.


(17) Earliest known use as a pigment date back to the 6th century, however lapis lazuli gained popularity during the 14th and 15th century paintings, often reserved to color the garments of the Virgin Mary, Christ, and God ("Ultramarine”).


(18) Although Madonna and child imagery has been found dating as early as the 2nd century, the Madonna Lactans iconography was popularized and widely disseminated between the 1300-1500s in the form of both paintings and manuscripts (Schaefer 4).


(19) Ecclesia is the Ancient Greek word for an assembly or community. In Christianity it refers to the congregants of the Church, faithful to the word of God (”Ecclesia”).


(20) In St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue on the manifestation of God’s mercy she writes, “I showed you this in my open side, where you discover the secret of my heart: namely that I love you more than what I could show you with the finite torment” (Catherine).


(21) Also referred to as the Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper. It remains a formal rite in Christian practice. Depending on denomination, the Eucharist is considered either a symbolic communion, or as in the Roman Catholic doctrine, the true presence of the body and blood of Christ (”Eucharist”).


(22) In Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology, the assumption occurs when both the body and soul are taken into Heaven after death (“Assumption”).


(23) Collection of Ecclesiastic law and treatises on Chrisitan doctrine, worship, and discipline meant for the clergy and other Church leaders (Peterson).


(24) God willed that the Virgin Mary, through the act of Immaculate Conception, be exempt from the law of bodily corruption in the grave. This proclamation confirmed that when God filled Mary with his grace and conceived Christ she was freed from the curse of Original Sin (Pius XII).


(25) The “ichthys”—the Greek word for “fish”—is a type of vescis picis, with the ends extended slightly beyond the base on one end of the lens shape. This shape became a way for Christians during the persecution to identify one another as part of the same faith. The original Greek “ΙΧΘΥΣ” translates to “Jesus Christ God’s Son’s Savior” (“Ichthys”).


(26) This painting is a depiction of Christ’s resurrection; however, the title is taken from the church of San Francesco al Prato where the image was originally housed.


(27) See note 6.


(28) Galatians 3:28

Works Cited


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Athanasius, of Alexandria, Saint, 296-298. The Orations of S. Athanasius Against the Arians. Translated by John Henry Newman and Archibald Robertson, Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.


Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Translated by Maria Boulding, New City Press, 1997.


Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430. Literary Commentary on Genesis (Incomplete). Patristic Bible, https://sites.google.com/site/aquinasstudybible/home/genesis/augustine-s-unfinished-commentary-on-genesis. Accessed 20 Feb 2023.


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http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/council-ephesus.htm, Accessed 17 Dec 2022.


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The Bible. New International Version, Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/


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—————. “The Body of Christ in the Late Middle Ages: A Reply to Leo Steinberg,” Renaissance Quarterly, 1986, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 399-439.


Catherine, of Siena, Saint, 1347-1380. “Confession: Manifestation of God’s Mercy,” Vatican, https://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20001020_caterina_en.html#:~:text=With%20the%20baptism%20of%20the,is%20kneaded%20with%20my%20blood, Accessed 17 Dec 2022.


Catherine, of Siena, Saint, 1347-1380. The Letters of Saint Catherine of Siena vol. 2, “Letter LVIIII to Bartolomea di Savatico,” Translated by Susan Noffke, Medieval Renaissance Text and Studies, New York, 1988.


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