By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
-Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950
August 15th is the Feast of The Assumption of The Virgin Mary, although the feast is ancient, the doctrine was only dogmatically defined in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Does this mean that Pope Pius XII just invented this belief? Not at all!When a doctrine is dogmatically defined it doesn’t mean it was just invented. The Church never “invents” doctrine, but sometimes a doctrine is accepted and believed by the faithful, but has never been officially and infallibly defined by the Church. This is what took place in 1950, and many times throughout Church history, when the Church made official and infallible, what it had already taught for centuries.
This feast has been observed since at least the 6th century, and probably much earlier than that. The belief in the Blessed Virgin Mary’s assumption has been a part of the church since the days of the Apostles. Although this doctrine is not supported by direct scriptural evidence, it is nonetheless supported by implied scriptural proofs.
This Marian dogma, like the other three of the four Marian dogmas, is often misunderstood by Catholics and misconstrued by non-Catholics. Lets first look at what it is not.
What the assumption is not
Assumption is not the same as Ascension. Jesus ascended into heaven, to ascend is to rise up by your own power, so Jesus raised himself up to heaven by His own power. Assumption means to be pulled up by another, this means that Mary was assumed by the power of God.
To say that Mary ascended into heaven is not just grammatically incorrect, it is also theologically wrong. If Mary ascended, then she had the power to ascend to heaven, only God has that power, and Mary is not God. So Mary was assumed into heaven, by the power of God, in a way similar to Enoch and Elijah.
Persons being assumed into heaven is Biblically based
To those that argue Mary’s assumption is a far fetched proposal, just look at Enoch and Elijah. Both of the Old Testament characters were bodily assumed into heaven. Although the word “assumption” or “assumed” isn’t used, the same principle is in effect.
Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
This verse doesn’t end with the “and he died”, that is include after every other person in the genealogy of Genesis 5. While this doesn’t exactly prove that Enoch was assumed into heaven, the fact that it doesn’t mention his death, but mentions the death of every other person in the genealogy, does lend this theory credence.
The next Old Testament instance of assumption is much more clear.
And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Kings 2:11
Not to say that there even needs to be proof (if the Church teaches it then I believe it), but this verse seems to prove the concept of assumption is a viable one.
The Dormation of the Virgin Mary
Did Mary die an earthly death before her assumption into heaven? Or was she assumed while still alive? I don’t know, and the church doesn’t officially hold either position.
The Eastern Orthodox churches hold to a doctrine called the dormation of the Virgin Mary, this docrtine proposes that she fell into a deep coma like sleep and then was assumed three days later. The Catholic Church neither condemns or endorses this belief, in his dogmatic defining of the doctrine of the assumption, Pope Pius XII intentionally left this issue open.
I believe that the historical evidence points toward Mary having died and then being assumed into heaven, this would also be more theologically consistent that she’d suffer an earthly death just like her Son. But faithful Catholics are free to believe in any of the three available options; that she died, that she fell into a dormation, or that she was assumed while still alive.
The Tomb of the Virgin Mary
If you’ve ever visited Jerusalem you probably would’ve seen the tomb of the Virgin Mary. You would notice that it is an empty tomb, with some of the earliest church traditions saying that the Blessed Mother died while the Apostle Thomas was away, and when he returned to Jerusalem a few days later they opened the tomb for him to pay his respects, and it was empty.
There are othe apocryphal stories and traditions pertaining to the assumption of Mary, but the one thing that is conspicuously missing is a claim on her body. You will not find any church, museum or archeological site that claims to contain the bones of the Virgin Mary. No early local church claimed to have them, no church father wrote about where they were for the purpose of veneration. Considering that the Virgin Mary has been held in high esteem since the founding of the church, and that from those earliest days people have prayed over the bones of the saints, it is quite telling that there is never a claim that someplace held her body.
Why the Assumption is important
CCC 966: “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.
God chose to assume the Virgin Mary into heaven, and God doesn’t do anything without reason. The Church teaches us that the Assumption is “an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians,” what this means is that just as we can look to the life of Mary as an example of faith and holiness, so too can we look at her death and assumption as an example of what we can expect.
Mary, being the most perfect of all God’s creations, is the ultimate example of Christian virtue, and she is also the ultimate foreshadowing of things to come. We can all look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, by looking at Christ’s Blessed Mother.
Pope Pius sums up why this doctrine matters at all, and why it’s so important to us as Catholics, in his encyclical that promulgated this feast.
And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.
MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS, 42
Our Lady of The Assumption, pray for us.
(Read the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII to get more info on this fascinating topic. http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus.html )
13 comments on “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary ”
Charles, your passion for your religion is admirable, but you overlook the clear issues with the unbiblical dogma of the assumption. At least you clear up the big misconception that I suppose most Catholics have, that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. But please consider the following:
– there is no historical evidence that Mary was assumed into heaven. i.e. “we don’t know anything about Mary’s death”.
– this dogma was NOT taught in any way by the apostles.
– this dogma was NOT part of any gospel teaching in the Bible.
– the claim that “assumption” is biblical is not pertinent whatsoever. Just because something happened in the Bible doesn’t mean we can simply apply it elsewhere without any basis for it, does it?
– the assumption of Mary was not nearly accepted in the early church, with many leaders considering it part of an apocryphal writing and heretical (not any of the current apocryphal books used by Catholics).
– the assumption of Mary developed over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, and was a result of a still growing body of worship (yes, worship) surrounding Mary in the Catholic church.
Remember, church history is not a hermaneutic, not infallible, and at times not particularly reliable. Thanks for listening.
Thanks for commenting. A few points I’d like to respond to.
The idea that all doctrine must be contained in the Bible is known as sola scriptura, as I’m sure you already knew. This doctrine is itself not found in the Bible, it was invented by a renegade catholic priest named Martin Luther. You will not find a single verse in the Bible to back up sola scriptura, also Luther tried to remove the epistle of James because it went against his ideas of justification and if read in concert with sola scriptura it doesn’t work.
Also the assumption of Mary was a belief from the earliest days of the church, it didn’t just appear.
Also I’ve written a couple posts on veneration of Mary and the saints. In short, veneration does not equal worship.
We probably will not see eye to eye on this, or many other issues, but I will pray for you, and ask that you pray for me as well.
Charles, some comments on your response.
“This doctrine is itself not found in the Bible, it was invented by a renegade catholic priest named Martin Luther.” Actually, it is found in the Bible, since 2 Tim 3:15 clearly says the Bible (scripture) is “God-breathed”. All of God’s revelation to man is captured in scripture. There is none other, and in fact we are cautioned against “and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Rev 22:19. I have yet to find anyone who can rightfully claim that any other teachings is “God-breathed” and infallible as the Bible is.
“You will not find a single verse in the Bible to back up sola scriptura” See above.
“, also Luther tried to remove the epistle of James because it went against his ideas of justification and if read in concert with sola scriptura it doesn’t work.” Actually, Luther isn’t infallible, and didn’t start a church. He rightfully and courageously rebelled against the clear abuses in the Catholic church, among them the tradition of indulgences which could be bought for salvation. And no, James 2:24, when read in its original and context, doesn’t contradict Paul’s teachings in Romans, Timothy, Galatians or any other. The Bible is consistent, because the Word of God is consistent. It is man’s weakness that makes it seem inconsistent. Please refer to your study notes from your work in James, or Galatians (especially!) or Romans.
“Also the assumption of Mary was a belief from the earliest days of the church, it didn’t just appear.” Actually, no it wasn’t. I can’t find a single verse in the Bible, a record of the earliest days of the church and of the apostles teachings, that Mary was anything more than a sinner who was saved by Christ’s death, and who bore the child Jesus because God told her she would (contrary to Catholic writings that say she had to say yes. Please read the account. She had no choice, but as a devout woman, she gladly accepted what God had already commanded of her.)
“Also I’ve written a couple posts on veneration of Mary and the saints. In short, veneration does not equal worship.” Actually, in practice, it surely does. Charles, look at Catholic churches, look at what is practiced (and NOT contradicted by the magisterium, ever) by Catholics. And look at the current movement to make Mary “co-Redemptrix” a horrific and blasphemous term.
“We probably will not see eye to eye on this, or many other issues, but I will pray for you, and ask that you pray for me as well.” Charles, I pray that God opens your eyes to the truth, and brings you the faith that will save you. Your church cannot, and will not. God bless.
You will not find any disagreement from me that scripture is the Word of God and inspired by God. But that verse from 2 Timothy doesn’t say that “scripture alone is your rule of faith.”
2 Timothy 3:16
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
I’d agree that scripture is profitable for these things, but you can’t read it as saying sola scriptura is true.
You seem to completely disregard the idea of free will. Mary said yes to the angel, God would have foreknowledge of her yes before all time, but it was still a choice given to her. This gets into the whole free will vs predestined argument that has the ability to go round in circles for all eternity.
I pray one day God will open your eyes too
As Charles has already said, 2 Tim 3:16 does not prove Sola Scriptura. Not only does it not say what your exegesis is trying to make it say, but because it would be impossible for it to include the New Testament.
Scholars date Paul’s second letter to Timothy around A.D. 67-68. Given that dating, “all scripture” could not include the Gospel of John (80-90 A.D.), the second letter of Peter (A.D. 68), any of John’s letters (late 80s-mid 90s A.D.), or Revelation (A.D. 90-95). And of course, because Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul’s death, Acts could not have been written yet. It is also possible the Gospel of Luke was not known to Paul, because scholars believe Luke and Acts were written as one text and later separated.
Even given earlier datings for these works, which would place them in existence at the time of Paul’s writing, it is unlikely he was aware of them. Publishing in those days, as I’m sure you know, was not as instantaneous as it is today. Copying letters had to be done by hand, and the mail took even longer than our modern postal service.
But let’s say, for arguments sake, the full 27 books of the New Testament are included. How can we know? Can you show me, from Scripture, which books belong in the Bible and which do not? Can you prove to me the Qu’ran, which claims divine authorship and not merely divine inspiration, is not infallible using only Scripture?
You also cite Rev 22:19. Is there any evidence the verse refers to anything other than the book of Revelation? I’m looking at the footnote in one of my Protestant Bibles right now, which says the verse only applies to the book and not to the whole Bible.
I won’t get into all the issues relating to Marian devotion, but I will point out that while there is indeed a movement to have Mary dogmatically proclaimed as “co-Redemptrix,” it does not have the support of the Vatican. To say this movement is representative of Catholic belief is akin to saying Catholics must believe abortion, contraception and gay marriage are acceptable because there is a movement in the Church arguing the Church should change its historical position on these issues.
No church can save any one .only through the blood of Christ will we be saved. But we need fellowship with the church .the Catholic Church was the first and it will stand on the last day.
2 Timothy 3:16 says all scripture……..
But it does not say ‘scripture alone… ‘
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Linda, thanks for your comment. Do you agree that the Bible is our sole record of the direct revelation we received from God? In other words, that those things that God spoke to us are captured by the inspired writings of the prophets, the apostles and their close associates? Are you aware of any other texts that are divinely inspired, and without error?
Charles, thank you for this. The last week as I looked forward to celebrating this feast I kept wondering exactly why this belief is so important to our faith. I know what we believe, and I know why we believe it, but nowhere could I find why this belief is important. Your post helped a great deal, but if you have time could you maybe add more detail as to why this belief is so important? Thanks!
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I should’ve included a link to the apostolic constitution of Pope Pius XII that officially defined the dogma of the assumption, because the Holy Father spells it out in a simple and concise way that I would fail to achieve.
“And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.”
Pope Pius XII, MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS paragraph 42b
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