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  Mariology is the systematic study of the figure of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the theology which has been evolved from her assigned role in human redemption. Three forces have been at work in this. First, in the early centuries of Christendom, the role of Mary as Mother of God was emphasized in order to reinforce the belief that God was literally and historically incarnate in Jesus, that Jesus was fully human, in the face of various alternative theologies. This view was somewhat undermined by the increasing obsession with virginity (for men and women) from the 3rd century onwards, so that Mary herself was said to be ‘immaculately conceived’ without the agency of a human father.

Mariology is closely linked to the doctrine of papal infallibility, since it was papal pronouncements which established Mary\'s Immaculate Conception (in 1854) and Corporeal Assumption into heaven (in 1950). Both doctrines had been passionately held by ordinary Catholics for centuries, and celebrated in great works of art since the Middle Ages, being favourite subjects for lay and ecclesiastical patrons in the Baroque period.

Mary might almost be called ‘the human face of God’ because since the 8th century she has been seen as mediatrix, while her obedience to God\'s plan for redemption has caused her to be called ‘co-redemptrix’. Other titles such as ‘Star of the Sea’ have been appropriated from the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis, whose character she has also in some respects assumed. Thirdly, there has been the radical reappraisal of Mariology carried out by feminist theologians who have reclaimed the docile, smiling heroine and recast her as a brave unmarried mother who rebelled against social customs. EMJ



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