The Magdalene

Score title

The Magdalene


Libby Larsen

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Program note

In the third century, when the Pistis Sophia was written, Christian beliefs were in a state of flux. Different sects believed in radically different versions of Christianity. One faction, the Gnostic Christians, believed that a spiritually open worshipper could have visions of Jesus that would reveal fresh insights into the faith. Orthodox Christians believed that the established teachings of the disciples, and not the impromptu revelations of worshippers, should form the unchanging core of the Christian faith. This argument ended when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, recognizing the orthodox Christians as legitimate and deeming the other sects heretical.

The Magdalene is a setting of Chapter 33 verses 1-12, 14-18 and 30-35 from the Pistis Sophia, a Gnostic text. Eleven years have passed since Jesus’ resurrection and he has returned many times to teach his disciples (a group that includes Mary Magdalene and other women). Mary steps forward to tell the story of the Pistis Sophia, a personification of the Gnostic belief in gaining wisdom through questioning. Mary speaks a version of the 68th psalm, repurposing the text to describe the oppression of the Gnostics by the rule-oriented orthodox Christians. The Gnostics seek a balance between the religious laws of the orthodox and the intellectual originality of the Gnostics, between the accepted and the revelatory.