The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
from Juniper Carol's Mariology


The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin MaryThe Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Mariology edited by Juniper Carol

Catechism 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." [Vatican II LG 59; cf. Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus (1950): DS 3903; cf. Rev 19:16] The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death. [Byzantine Liturgy, Troparion, Feast of the Dormition, August 15th]

Assumed Into Heaven (Popes, Magisterium, Modern History)

Present State of Belief

"Studies were undertaken with new enthusiasm, which gave due prominence to the dignity and sanctity of the Mother of God." [1]

These words from Pope Pius XII in the Marian Year encyclical, Fulgens Corona (8 Sept 1953) describe one of the results produced by the definition of the Immaculate Conception. The Pontiff also recalls that it was his privilege to define,

"....that the Mother of God was assumed body and soul into heaven; and thus to satisfy the wishes of the faithful, which had been more urgently expressed after the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception. For then, as We Ourselves wrote in the Apostolic Letter Munificentissimus Deus 'the faithful were moved by a certain more ardent hope that the Dogma also of the corporal Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven should be defined as soon as possible by the Supreme Magisterium of the Church.' " [2]

What the belief of the faithful and the studies of the scholars had held and hoped for became a reality on November 1, 1950, when the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, in his office as supreme teacher of the universal Church solemnly defined:

"For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have called upon the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished His special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church, 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." [3]

LATIN: "....divinitus revelatum dogma esse: Immaculatam Deiparam semper Virginem Mariam, expleto terrestris vitae cursu, fuisse corpore et anima ad caelestem gloriam assumptam."

Munificentissimus Deus does not neglect the past history of Papal favor to the Assumption, but the theological principle invoked to justify the proclamation of the dogma is the present uniform faith of the whole Church. The Holy Father appeals, first of all, to the "concordant teaching of the Church's ordinary doctrinal authority and the concordant faith of the Christian people which the same doctrinal authority sustains and directs" as manifesting the bodily Assumption to be a revealed truth. [4]

The Assumption in History

The documents of the magisterium before the reign of Pius XII do not exhibit any official Papal statement clearly stating Our Lady's bodily Assumption. There has never been any doubt that her soul is in heaven. For example, Benedict XII authoritatively declared in 1336 that the souls of the saints enjoy the beatific vision. [5] Pope Pius XII's first express mention of Our Lady's presence, body and soul, in heaven is in the encyclical on the Mystical Body, 1943. Yet, as Munificentissimus Deus relates, "Various testimonies, indications and signs of this common belief of the Church are evident from remote times down through the course of the centuries." [6]

What are some of these signs? How have the popes shown their approval of belief in the Assumption in the history of the Church? Munificentissimus Deus looks first to the law of prayer (lex orandi), saying that the sacred liturgy "because it is the profession, subject to the supreme teaching authority within the Church, of heavenly truths, can supply proofs and testimonies of no small value for deciding any individual point of Catholic doctrine." [7] Lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing) is an old motto, based on the close connection between sound doctrine and true devotion. The Church's care of cult is not a merely disciplinary matter; in approving its liturgy the Church acts infallibly. The official prayers of the Church, particularly the Mass and Divine Office, are a practical school of Christian doctrine. The Apostolic See has used its authority to encourage the feast of the Assumption and to explain its true sense. Nor does the Pope neglect the Rosary in the attitude of the faithful, for he adds: "Nor can we pass over in silence the fact that in the Rosary of Mary, the recitation of which this Apostolic See so urgently recommends, there is one mystery proposed for pious meditation which, as all know, deals with the Blessed Virgin's Assumption into heaven." [8]

  • Pope St. Sergius I (687-701) prescribed the litany or stational procession to be held on the four Marian feasts: the Nativity, Annunciation, Purification, and Dormition. [9]
  • Under Pope St. Adrian I (772-795) appears for the first time in the West the title "Assumption" for the feast earlier called the "Dormition" or "Falling Asleep" of Our Lady. The Pope sent Charlemagne the Gregorian Sacramentary, a liturgical book containing the prayer of Veneranda, in which occur the words, "this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten Thy Son Our Lord incarnate from herself." [10]
  • Pope St. Leo IV (847-855), again according to Munificentissimus Deus, "saw to it that the feast, which was already being celebrated should be observed in even a more solemn way when he ordered a vigil to be held on the day before it and afterwards prescribed prayers on the octave day. When this had been done, he decided to take part himself in the celebration...." [11] 
  • Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) counted the Assumption an opinion that could be held or not held, for the Church had not yet decided. [12]

Many theologians were strongly in favor of the doctrine, among them

  • St. Albert the Great (1206-1280)
  • St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
  • St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)
  • John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)

The Assumption never met the strong scholastic opposition found in the case of the Immaculate Conception.

Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries a series of gradual changes in the Mass for the Assumption and its vigil emphasized more and more the glorious resurrection of Mary, less emphasis was placed on her death. Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572) removed from the second nocturn of Matins the lessons wrongly attributed to St. Jerome. These readings, in an excess of prudence against the apocryphal stories of Mary's death and resurrection, had counseled an attitude of reserve toward the bodily Assumption. Pius V put in their place lessons explaining the bodily Assumption. [13]

Pope Pius IX to the Present

From Pius IX to Pius XII, the popes have spoken more often of Mary in heaven. They have at the same time received petitions and encouraged the movement for the dogmatic definition. May we not then see in their references to Our Lady in heaven an implicit affirmation of her bodily Assumption?

Pius IX (r. 1846-78), in Ineffabilis Deus, emphasized the close bond that linked the Mother of God with her Son Jesus Christ: "from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination." [14] Munificentissimus Deus connects the sinless conception and anticipated resurrection as parts of the same victory over sin and its consequences.

"[Mary] by an entirely unique privilege completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body." [15]

In 1864, Pius IX received a petition for the definition of the Assumption from Queen Isabella II of Spain. Although the Pope judged the time not yet opportune for the definition, he wrote in reply, "There is no doubt that the Assumption, in the sense commonly believed by the body of the faithful, follows from the Immaculate Conception." [16] A petition was presented in 1870 at the Vatican Council. [17]

Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) gave his explicit approval to the program of studies of the International Marian Congress held at Fribourg, Switzerland, 1902. The topics included the dogmatic study of the Assumption. Among Leo XIII's many Marian documents, especially the Rosary encyclicals, some references seem to concern the Assumption, especially those treating of Our Lady as Queen. For example, Iucunda semper (1894) thus describes the glorious mysteries of the Rosary:

"....We behold her taken up from this valley of tears into the heavenly Jerusalem, amid choirs of angels. And we honor her, glorified above all the saints, crowned with stars by her Divine Son, and seated at His side, the sovereign Queen of the universe." [18]

Blessed (now St.) Pius X was already interested in the Assumption when he was Patriarch of Venice. He was one of the instigators of the petition sent to the Fribourg Congress. As Pope he encouraged the movement for the definition, sending congratulatory messages concerning the Congresses of 1906 at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, and Valencia, Spain. Both conventions submitted petitions for the proclamation of the Assumption as a dogma. On another occasion, in 1908, he said, "There is still need for many studies, and for serious ones." [19] The same year he ordered the definability thoroughly studied. Some consider that Ad diem illum of (St.) Pius X alludes to the Assumption in its interpretation of the Woman of the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse (Revelation 12). "A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon was under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). After quoting this text, (St.) Pius adds: "No one is ignorant that this woman signified the Virgin Mary, who remained inviolate when she brought forth our Head...So John saw the most holy Mother of God already enjoying happiness...." [20]

Benedict XV, like his two predecessors, decreed that all the petitions for the Assumption be kept. During World War I he requested that the sending of petitions be deferred until peace came again.

Pius XI encouraged the movement for the definition. On March 2, 1922, he named Our Lady under her title of the Assumption principal Patroness of France; and on May 31, 1937, gave his approval to the third-centenary celebrations of Louis XIII's solemn consecration of the kingdom to Our Lady, a vow that was annually commemorated on the feast of the Assumption.

The pontificate of Pius XII is distinguished by a whole series of statements and writings about the Assumption, before as well as after the definition. To list or attempt to analyze them would require a book. A few selected examples must suffice here. In Mystici Corporis, June 29, 1943, there is the first explicit mention in a Papal document of Our Lady's bodily Assumption into heaven:

"May she, then, most holy Mother of all Christ's members, to whose Immaculate Heart We have trustingly consecrated all men, her body and soul refulgent with the glory of heaven where she reigns with her Son -- may she never cease to beg from Him that a continuous copious flow of graces may pass from its glorious Head into all the members of the Mystical Body." [21]

Meantime, the Holy Father was taking active steps toward the definitions. He issued special orders commanding more advanced inquiries into the matter, and likewise ordered the publication of the petitions since Pius IX's time. [22] Following the same procedure which Pius IX had used before defining the Immaculate Conception, by the letter Deiparae Virginis Mariae, May 1, 1946, the Pope asked all the bishops,

"....to make known to Us how much devotion is manifested by the clergy and the faithful entrusted to your care toward the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin, in accordance with the faith and the piety of each. Above all, We desire to know if you, Venerable Brethren, in your outstanding wisdom and prudence, are of the opinion that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin can be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith, and if, with your clergy and people, you so desire." [23]

"Munificentissimus Deus"

The replies of the bishops shows the "outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful." [24] On November 1, 1950, in a fullest exercise of his supreme teaching authority, speaking infallibly as Vicar of Christ, the Holy Father defined the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul, into heavenly glory, as a truth revealed by God. The dogmatic definition concerns the Assumption alone:

"....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." [25]

In the precise words of the definition are mentioned, in addition to the Assumption, only the three privileges of Our Lady defined as dogmas in earlier centuries: Mother of God, ever Virgin, Immaculate. Nothing is said of when or where or in what manner the Assumption occurred. Nor does the actual formula say anything about Mary's Mediation, her Queenship, or other privileges.

Munificentissimus Deus provides a rich background for the better understanding of the newly defined dogma. The theological principle of the universal consent of the Church is explained, and new light shed on the role of the supreme magisterium. A survey is given of the belief across the ages, both in the liturgy and in patristic and theological writings. The marvelous harmony between Mary's gifts is described:

"God...put the plan of His providence into effect in such a way that all the privileges and prerogatives He had granted to her in His sovereign generosity were to shine forth in her in a kind of perfect harmony....The wonderful harmony and order of those privileges which the most provident God has lavished upon this revered associate of our Redeemer...." [26]

The Assumption is compared with the Immaculate Conception; with Mary's association in her Son's victory over the devil, sin, and death; with her virginity in the birth of Christ. The common fountainhead of all Mary's privileges is the divine motherhood. The scriptural foundations are examined in the light of traditional interpretation: especially the Proto-evangelium -- the Woman of Genesis 3:15; the "Full of Grace" of Luke 1:28; and "that Woman clothed with the Sun, whom John the Apostle contemplated on the island of Patmos" (Apoc or Rev 12:1ff). [27]

At the close, the Holy Father expressed his confidence:

"....That this solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God was bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Christ's Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who in all things shows her motherly heart to the members of this august Body....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." [28]

(from "Mary in the Documents of the Magisterium" by Eamon R. Carroll, in Mariology edited by Juniper Carol, volume 1, pages 24-32)


Mary in Western Patristic Thought

As with the first moment of Our Lady's earthly existence, so with the last, theology's quest of patristic data is initially hampered by the state of the evidence. For a discouragingly long period the problem is not that the Assumption is denied; it is rather that the final lot of Mary is apparently not discussed. In consequence, scholars have come to speak of the silence [29], even the ignorance [30], of the first three centuries with respect to Mary's end. In reaction, others have retorted that the silence is sheerly relative, a surface silence which was inevitable and is actually eloquent. [31]

In point of fact, both claims are justified. The early Church is silent on the destiny of Mary, in the sense that no extant document deals explicitly with that destiny until a half century after Nicaea. And if in the East we must wait until 377 before St. Epiphanius of Salamis offers his three hypotheses on the manner of Mary's departure from this world ("For either the holy Virgin died and was buried...or she was killed [martyred]...or she remained alive....") [32] the awakening of the West is a slower process still. Even when popular faith has been quickened, there is little evidence in the West of a theological movement to rival the homiletic productions of the East. If only because it is so surprisingly slender, the explicit witness of the West deserves to be detailed.

Explicit statements or conjectures on the final lot of Mary begin with the last quarter of the fourth century -- contemporary, therefore, with Epiphanius. But the witnesses touch the problem ever so lightly, with evident uncertainty. Tychonius, a lay theologian among the Donatists, independent enough to be excommunicated by his own sect, seems to have identified Mary with the woman of Revelation 12, and to have spoken of a "great mystery" in her regard. [33] Ambrose is more specific but equally unsatisfactory. Discussing Simeon's sword of sorrow, he dismisses the idea that Our Lady died a violent death; such a thesis has no warrant in Scripture or history. [34] But Ambrose does not tell us just how Mary did leave this life. In a remarkable passage he presents, as one hypothesis, the yearning of Mary to rise with Jesus in case she was fated to die with Him. [35] There may be an insinuation here that the desire was not frustrated; against this conclusion is the flat statement elsewhere that Christ alone has risen once and for all. [36]

Paulinus, Bishop of Nola in Italy (d. 431), is anxious to learn Augustine's mind on the exegesis of Simeon's prophecy; he himself, like Ambrose, is aware of no document reporting Mary's death by violence. [37] In his reply, Augustine mentions a previous letter of his own on the Lucan text; it is, regrettably, lost to us, but he does tell Paulinus that their views on the scriptural passage coincide. [38] Elsewhere, in several striking phrases, he makes it clear that Mary did die: she died after her Son; she died a virgin; she died, like Adam, in consequence of sin. [39]

Finally, however his silence may be explained, the fact remains that Jerome, who knew the local traditions of the Holy Land as well as Epiphanius, gives no indication that he is aware of any historical tradition with reference to the death of Our Lady, her grave, or an assumption. [40] Briefly, between Nicaea (325 AD) and Ephesus (431 AD) the allusions to Mary's destiny are rare and insignificant.

Transitus Mariae literature

The first express witness in the West to a genuine assumption comes to us in an apocryphal Gospel, the Transitus beatae Mariae of Pseudo-Melito, which may stem from the middle of the sixth century. [41] This account is significant, in the first instance, because it affirms unequivocally the death and burial of Mary, the reunion of her soul and body without delay, and her assumption into heaven in soul and body. It is significant, in the second place, for the developed Assumption theology which links this privilege causally with Mary's Maternity and virginity, and stresses the parallelism which ought to exist between Christ and His Mother in victory over death. [42] The account of Pseudo-Melito, like the rest of the Transitus literature, is admittedly valueless as history, as an historical report of Mary's death and corporeal assumption; under that aspect the historian is justified in dismissing it with a critical distaste. But the account is priceless nonetheless -- historically and theologically. Historically, because it witnesses indisputably to the feeling of the faithful for Mary, a growing awareness of her dignity, even though we are unable to specify the full range of this awareness geographically or even to indicate its dawning. Theologically, because it postulates the Assumption on grounds that are valid not simply for piety but for scientific theology as well.

Gregory of Tours (c. 538 - 594 AD)

The next witness in the West is Gregory, Bishop of Tours in Gaul; the year, 590. Borrowing in all probability not from Pseudo-Melito but from a Syriac Transitus of the fifth century, Gregory states very artlessly:

"After this, the apostles scattered through different countries to preach the word of God. Subsequently blessed Mary finished the course of this life and was summoned from the world; and all the apostles were gathered together, each from his own area, at her home. On hearing that she was to be taken up (assumenda) from the world, they kept watch with her. All at once her Lord came with angels, took her soul, delivered it to Michael the Archangel, and disappeared. At daybreak, however, the apostles lifted up the body together with the funeral-bed, placed it in a tomb, and kept watch over it, in readiness for the Lord's coming. And again, all at once the Lord stood by them and ordered the holy body taken up and carried on a cloud to paradise. There, reunited with the soul, it rejoices with His elect and enjoys eternity's blessings which will never end." [43]

In brief, Gregory affirms in sober fashion the death and burial of Our Lady, the assumption of her body into paradise with little delay, the reunion there of body with soul, and Mary's unending blessedness. He proposes no reasons for the privilege; the only inkling in that direction is the vague reference to the holiness of her body, and a later statement that she who was assumed into heaven was the Mother of Christ, virgin before and after His birth. [44] A formal connection, therefore, between Assumption and virginal motherhood is not made, but the suggestion seems to be there, especially if read in the light of similar apocryphal accounts. At any rate, Gregory's account influenced the development of popular belief in an anticipated resurrection of the Virgin, though it made little impression on the theologian because of the jaundiced eye which he cast on its apocryphal source. Jouassard is inclined to find Gregory's influence in some of the old Gallican Missals of the seventh and eighth centuries, e.g. the Bobbio Missal and especially the Missale Gothicum. [45]

Moreover, a friend of Gregory, St. Fortunatus, a native of Treviso who became Bishop of Poitiers in Gaul about 595, celebrated Mary's queenship in verse; her triumph in glory is clear; not so her glorious Assumption in body as well as soul:

"Cuius honore sacro, genitrix, transcendis Olympum,
Et super astrigeros erigis ora polos.

Conderis in solio felix regina superbo,
Cingeris et niveis lactea virgo choris.

Nobile nobilior circumsistente senatu,
Consulibus celsis celsior ipsa sedes.

Sic iuxta genitum regem regina perennem,
Ornata ex partu, mater opima, tuo.
"

"By whose sacred honor, O Birth-Giver, you rise above Olympus,
And raise your face above the star-bearing poles.

You take your place on a lofty throne, O blessed Queen,
And you are girt round with snowy choirs, O milk-white Virgin.

Nobler than the noble senate (cf. Rev 5:8-14) that stands around you
You sit, yourself higher than the highest consuls.

So, Queen next to the eternal King your Son
Adorned on account of your giving birth, O resplendent Mother." [46]

Isidore of Seville (c. 560 - 636)

In the seventh century, only Isidore, Archbishop of Seville in Spain (d. 636), breaks the silence, but simply to attest our profound ignorance on the way Mary left this earth.

"Some affirm that she quit this life by suffering a cruel, violent death. Their reason is that Simeon...said: 'And thy own soul a sword shall pierce.' As a matter of fact, we do not know whether he was speaking of a material sword or of God's word that is powerful and keener than any two-edged sword (Heb 4:12). The point is, however, that no narrative informs us that Mary was slain by the punishment of the sword, seeing that nowhere is there an account even of her death. Some do say, though, that her tomb is to be found in the Valley of Josaphat." [47]

Isidore echoes Ambrose: we have no evidence that Mary died a martyr. He echoes Epiphanius too: we have no information at all about her death. We learn from Isidore that the thesis of Mary's martydom still persists; we learn, too, of the Jerusalem tradition on her tomb -- a tradition which leaves him quite unmoved. We learn nothing about the Assumption.

A century later, the English Bede confessed his ignorance of the final disposition of Mary's body. He has read the account given by Adamnam, Iona's Abbot, of the pilgrimage undertaken by the French Bishop, Arculf, between 670 and 685. [48] He reproduces therefrom the data on the reputed death of Mary on St. Sion, and the empty tomb in the Valley of Josaphat, "in which holy Mary is said to have rested for a while; but who took her away, or when, we do not know." [49] Bede shows no awareness of an anticipated resurrection. He may well have heard of it; after all, he was familiar with Pseudo-Melito. But he attacks this apocryphal work in sharp tones. Not, it is true, on the score of the Assumption; but his general criticism could hardly have encouraged in his readers any sort of confidence in Pseudo-Melito, even on the theological level. [50]

With this patristic background it will not be surprising to find the first orators of the feast of August 15 in the West -- Paul the Deacon, for example -- consistently wary of pronouncing on Mary's corporeal resurrection; a far cry from (eastern Fathers) Pseudo-Modestus of Jerusalem, Germanus of Constantinople, Andrew of Crete, and John of Damascus. [51]

It will not be surprising to find in Spain, at the close of the eighth century, some Asturians directly denying Mary's Assumption -- the first to do so, as far as the evidence goes [52]. It will [also] not be surprising to see develop in the ninth century, beside the tradition favorable to the Assumption represented by Pseudo-Augustine, another current of thought represented by Pseudo-Jerome and hostile, if not to the doctrine, at least to an unequivocal affirmation of the doctrine as somehow binding. [53] For the silence of the first three centuries has been broken in the West only by unambiguous affirmations which have the disadvantage of being tagged as apocryphal, or by genuinely patristic affirmations which reveal a regrettable indifference, uncertainty, or ignorance.

On the other hand, the silence is a relative thing and rather eloquent. Faller has undertaken to show that the early reticence is perfectly understandable, seeing that several more fundamental facets of Christian belief, such as the Trinity and Christology, had first to be confronted, before Mariology could claim attention. [54] Cayre, too, has indicated how the initial silence with respect to Mary is normal rather than surprising, for it goes back to her role in the early Church: "Her vocation was not to command, but to love and to pray, two functions that call for silence...." [55] The silence in question, theologians insist, does not reflect an absence of life; the life, the doctrine, is there in germ. The seed is discovered in the patristic thesis of recapitulation, the Eve-Mary parallelism proposed by St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Ambrose, the analogy which associates the New Eve with the New Adam in a total triumph over Satan. [56] The seed is there in the twin privileges of divine motherhood and deathless virginity. Insight into these mysteries would lead to increasing reverence for the sacredness of the body which knew only God, to a realization that this body could not fittingly know corruption. [57]

These and other seeds of an Assumption doctrine are discoverable in Western patristic thought, but it would be sheer unsupported theorizing to suppose that the patristic West recognized the seeds for what they were. As the age of the Fathers draws to a close, the West is on the point of confronting the problem of Mary's destiny on theological grounds. On this score the task of theological elaboration has not kept pace with the Eastern development. What Jouassard has concluded of the patristic world as a whole, must surely be said of the West:

"In these conditions we shall not ask patristic thought -- as some theologians still do today under one form or another -- to transmit to us, with respect to the Assumption, a truth received as such in the beginning and faithfully communicated to subsequent ages. Such an attitude would not fit the facts....Patristic thought has not, in this instance, played the role of a sheer instrument of transmission; rather has it been the precious agent of a task that has enlisted the cooperation of all manner of people -- authentic theologians, and individuals too who cannot claim that title. Both have played their part in harmony with the capacity of each; they will continue to play it in the years to come...." [58]

(A word of caution is not impertinent here. The investigation of patristic documents might well lead the historian to the conclusion: In the first seven or eight centuries no trustworthy historical tradition on Mary's corporeal Assumption is extant, especially in the West. The conclusion is legitimate; if the historian stops there, few theological nerves will be touched. The historian's mistake would come in adding: therefore no proof from tradition can be adduced. The historical method is not the theological method, nor is historical tradition synonymous with dogmatic tradition.)

Not a few aspects of Marian theology with seeds in the early Christian West have inevitably been omitted from these pages. There is, for example, the complex, intriguing problem of the relationship between Mary and the Church; here it is Justin and Irenaeus and Tertullian, Ambrose and Augustine, who have had the initial significant insights. [59] There is a lovely concept of Mary's Queenship, exercised not by jurisdiction but by intercession. [60] There is the idea of Mary's universal Mediation, rooted in her function as Second Eve and suggested so vividly by Ambrose. [61] There is much more, but perhaps enough has been said in this study to insinuate that the treasures of patristic Mariology are not the legitimate plaything of aprioristic speculation, nor will they reveal themselves in their totality to unaided historical analysis. The thought of the Fathers on Our Lady will be mined in its purity only by theologians with a feeling for philology, and by philologists deeply rooted in theology.

(from "Mary in Western Patristic Thought" by Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. in Mariology edited by Juniper Carol, volume 1, pages 147-155 on the Assumption)


Mary in Eastern Patristic Thought

In the three centuries that followed Chalcedon, Mariology escaped the general decadence that enveloped theology. This anomalous situation was due in great measure to the institution of a cycle of feasts covering the principal mysteries of Our Lady's life:

  • the Annunciation (March 25)
  • her Nativity (September 8)
  • her Dormition (August 15)
  • the Conception of Anne (December 9)

These feasts provided orators and poets with the opportunity of singing the praises of the Virgin, with emphasis on her dignity as Mother of God and her role in the Redemption. Nevertheless, as Jugie has pointed out, even during these centuries theologians do not frame explicitly the question of the Immaculate Conception. They run the gamut of implicit testimonies, the major premises which logically demand the privilege in question; but it is only incidentally, almost accidentally, that a few theologians, such as Andrew of Crete and Sophronius of Jerusalem, formulate the prerogative in explicit or equivalent terms. The emphasis is on Our Lady's perpetual holiness rather than on her exemption from original sin. [62] As the patristic age draws to a close, Eastern Christianity can say with one voice to Our Lady: "You are all fair....and there is nothing to blame in you." [63]

Death and Assumption

With respect to the Assumption the significant literature in the patristic East comprises

  1. two passages from Epiphanius,
  2. the apocryphal accounts called Transitus Mariae, and
  3. the Greek homilies on the Dormition stemming from the seventh and eighth centuries.

As the evidence stands, the first explicit reference to a genuine Assumption of Our Lady occurs in Epiphanius, ca. 377 AD.

Note: Before Nicaea (325) the only overt reference to the close of Our Lady's earthly life is a phrase attributed to Origen: "With respect to the brethren of Jesus (John 2:12), there are many who ask how He had them, seeing that Mary remained a virgin until her death..." -- the passage is more significant as testimony to Mary's permanent virginity than as evidence for her death. True, her death is mentioned obliquely, as though it were self-evident; but this manner of speaking need not reflect a tradition; it may stem from lack of reflection on the dignity of God's Mother. In a word, we may conclude no more than that the author took Our Lady's death for granted. [64]

Epiphanius (c. >310 - 403 AD)

St. Epiphanius of Salamis, in a digression typical of his Medicine Chest against eighty heresies, is concerned to forestall a perilous accommodation of John 19:27 ("From that day the disciple took [Mary] into his home [or as his own]"). He is afraid that in the John-Mary relationship clerics may find a pseudo-justification for retaining in their homes the much-discussed virgines subintroductae. He insists that the case of Mary was guided by a wise providence, that this procedure is to be regarded as an exception to the common conduct obligatory in the way of God, and that once John had taken Mary into his home she did not remain with him any longer. And he continues:

"But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary's death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried. More than that: John journeyed to Asia, yet nowhere do we read that he took the holy Virgin with him. Rather, Scripture is absolutely silent [on the end of Mary] because of the extraordinary nature of the prodigy, in order not to shock the minds of men.

"For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence. For it may be that somewhere we have found hints that it is impossible to discover the death of the holy, blessed one. On the one hand, you see, Simeon says of her, 'And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed' (Luke 2:35). On the other hand, when the Apocalypse of John says, 'And the dragon hastened against the woman who had brought forth the male child, and there were given to her an eagle's wings, and she was carried off into the wilderness, that the dragon might not seize her' (Rev 12:13-14), it may be that this is fulfilled in her.

"However, I do not assert this absolutely, and I do not say that she remained immortal; but neither do I maintain stoutly that she died. The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left [this matter] uncertain, for the sake of that valued vessel without compare, to prevent anyone from harboring carnal thoughts in her regard. Did she die? We do not know. At all events, if she was buried, she had had no carnal intercourse...." [65]

Twelve chapters later Epiphanius returns briefly to the problem of Mary's end:

"....either the holy Virgin died and was buried; then her falling asleep was with honor, her death chaste, her crown that of virginity. Or she was killed, as it is written: 'And your own soul a sword shall pierce'; then her glory is among the martyrs and her holy body amid blessings, she through whom light rose over the world. Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no one knows...." [66]

The testimony of Epiphanius is crucial for two reasons. Before Ephesus he alone deals expressly with the problem at issue; and he knows the Holy City and its traditions as few others of his time. It is the more regrettable, therefore, that his witness is so vague that several interpretations of his thought are possible. As a defensible exegesis I submit three points.

  1. How did Mary end her life? Epiphanius does not know. There are three possibilities: natural death, bloody martyrdom, deathless immortality. Of these, it is illegitimate to exclude any, illegitimate to impose any.
  2. In any event, the end of Mary's life on earth was worthy of God and in harmony with her dignity and holiness.
  3. Epiphanius' importance lies in this, that he has posed the problem and allowed us to glimpse the possible solutions. [67]

It is not difficult to see in him the first theologian of the Assumption, in the sense that he had an intuition of the mystery and was fascinated by it. [68]

Ephraem of Syria (c. 306 - 373 AD)

This rather conservative interpretation of Epiphanius, which emphasizes the absence of a fixed historical tradition on the final lot of Mary, is not shaken by other extant pre-Ephesus evidence, specifically that of Ephraem of Syria, Gregory of Nyssa, Severian of Gabala, and the so-called Timothy of Jerusalem. It is true, Ephraem sees Our Lady lifted on the wings of Christ and carried through the air; she has received a garmant of glory sufficient to cover the nakedness of all men; Christ has clothed her with a new garment; she has put on His grandeur and magnificence; He who is of heaven has introduced her to heaven. [69] Ephraem has her say:

"I shall enter in a moment, the verdant gardens of paradise, and there I shall praise God, where Eve fell so ingloriously." [70]

Regrettably, Ephraem's language is too general to find in it a bodily glorification. He believes that Mary died; he maintains that she lives in glory. [71] More than that he does not specify. In Ephraem's works there is no express declaration of Our Lady's glorious resurrection; on this point his remarks are consistently vague. [72]

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 - 394 AD)

In an unusual passage Gregory of Nyssa compares the Virgin with other virgins, to illustrate the victory of virginity over bodily death. Ordinary virgins destroy death's power by refusing to give it new victims.

"With reference to Mary, God's Mother, the death which held sway from Adam to her (for it was near her too) first stumbled on the fruit of her virginity as on some rock, and was crushed in regard of her...." [73]

The passage is not perlucid. What Gregory has in view, however, is the triumph of Mary's Son over death. Death has approached Mary by attacking the fruit of her womb. In the assault death has been smashed, because Christ rose from the dead, escaped the tomb's corruption. Gregory neither affirms nor denies Our Lady's death or her share in her Son's triumph by a glorious resurrection. [74]

Severian of Gabala (d. >408 AD)

Severian of Gabala pictures Eve hearing herself constantly called a sorry, pitiful thing, while Mary each day hears herself called blessed:

"But you say, what good is it to her [i.e. Mary], since she does not hear it? Indeed she does hear, seeing that she is in the place of brightness, in the land of the living, she who is the mother of salvation, the source of the Light perceptible to sense -- yes, perceptible to sense by reason of [His] flesh, accessible to mind by reason of [His] divinity. Thus, then, in every way is she called blessed. In fact, while she was yet living in the flesh she was called blessed, for she heard felicitation while still in flesh...." [75]

Severian's thought is obscure. It may be argued that "the mother of salvation" ought herself to be utterly saved, that "the source of sensible Light" should be in the land of the living in her sensible frame, that she who is "in every way pronounced blessed" hears the felicitations with ears as well as mind, that "life in the flesh" means simply life here on earth. But Severian does not say so. He seems to assume that Mary died; he has not confronted the problem of her glorious resurrection. [76]

Timothy of Jerusalem (c. 400 AD)

A passage frequently adduced to bolster the testimony of Epiphanius derives from a homily on Simeon by a certain Timothy, who is styled by the best manuscripts "a priest of Jerusalem" and on internal evidence was located by Jugie toward the end of the fourth century or at the beginning of the fifth. [77] From the text as reconstituted by Faller we gather that

"...some have supposed that the Mother of the Lord was put to death with a sword and won for herself a martyr's end. Their reason lies in the words of Simeon, 'And your own soul a sword shall pierce.' But such is not the case. A metal sword, you see, cleaves the body; it does not cut the soul in two. Therefore, the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that He who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption [or to the places of His ascension, or into the regions high above]. [78]

Despite the unsatisfactory state of the text, and the ambiguities inherent in the significant adjective [Greek], the conclusion seems justified that the author holds for a translation of Mary, body and soul, to a supraterrestrial region. Scholars cannot agree, however, whether the phrase "immortal to this day," (a) implies that Mary did not die, and (b) presents her immortality as a provisory, temporary thing. [79] The text and its problems have lost some of their pertinence and fascination ever since Capelle argued so convincingly that "Timothy of Jerusalem" is an unknown author of the Byzantine world who wrote between the sixth and eighth centuries. [80]

To sum up: Before Ephesus the scant evidence suggests strongly (a) that a widespread ignorance prevailed relative to Our Lady's destiny, and (b) that, save for isolated instances, Eastern Christianity had not yet confronted the problem.

Transitus Mariae literature

An intriguing corpus of literature on the final lot of Mary is formed by the apocryphal Transitus Mariae. [81] The genesis of these accounts is shrouded in history's mist. They apparently originated before the close of the fifth century, perhaps in Egypt, perhaps in Syria, in consequence of the stimulus given Marian devotion by the definition of the divine Maternity at Ephesus. The period of proliferation is the sixth century. At least a score of Transitus accounts are extant, in Coptic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Armenian. Not all are prototypes, for many are simply variations on more ancient models.

What do the Transitus Mariae stories say? In point of fact, the divergences are so pronounced that the accounts cannot be reduced to a genuine unity.

  • A first common feature is that all recount the death of Mary; this is their theme, their primary concern, the event which invests them with a specious homogeneity. Around this central event several characteristic, legendary details are grouped:
  • the miraculous arrival of all or some of the Apostles;
  • the tidings brought to Mary of her approaching death;
  • Mary's experience of fear;
  • some hostile Jewish intervention on the occasion of her burial.
  • A second common feature is that all postulate in connection with Mary's death a divine intervention unique on such an occasion. It is on the nature, the time, and the locale of this intervention that disagreement arises. Some accounts speak of
  • a translation of Mary's body to a presumably earthly paradise, where it is preserved incorrupt under the Tree of Life;
  • still others describe a genuine assumption, a reunion of soul and body which entails Our Lady's entrance into Heaven.

The interval between death and prodigy varies from some moments to seven months. The locale is now the Mount of Olives, now the Valley of Josaphat, now Gethsemane.

A splendid example of this literary genus lies in the fragments of a Syriac account entitled Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, which may well be the oldest of the Transitus narratives. In this account the Apostles are keeping a three-day vigil at Mary's tomb when Christ descends from heaven with Michael and sits among them:

"...Our Lord made a sign to Michael, and Michael began to speak with the voice of a mighty angel. And angels descended on these clouds; and the number of angels on each cloud was a thousand angels, uttering praises before Jesus. And the Lord said to Michael: 'Let them bring the body of Mary into the clouds.' And when the body of Mary had been brought into the clouds, Our Lord said to the Apostles that they should draw near to the clouds. And when they came to the clouds they were singing with the voice of angels. And Our Lord told the clouds to go to the gate of paradise. And when they had entered paradise, the body of Mary went to the tree of life; and they brought her soul and made it enter her body. And straightway the Lord dismissed the angels to their places." [82]

In the second half of the fifth century, therefore, an original Syrian apocryphon, emanating perhaps from Jacobite circles, teaches explicitly the anticipated resurrection of Mary -- the oldest unmistakable affirmation. [83]

What is the value of these witnesses? As historical accounts of an actual event -- Mary's death, her translation, her Assumption -- by individuals who were personally present, or else were in contact with the events through unimpeachable sources, the Transitus literature is valueless. [84] But theologically the tales are priceless. They reveal the reaction of early Christian piety when confronted with the apparent fact of Our Lady's death; they evidence the first unequivocal solutions to the problem of Mary's destiny. The solutions, though divergent, disclose a genuinely Christian insight: it was not fitting that the body of Mary should see corruption. More importantly, the solution is given, incorruption is postulated, on theological lines: the principles of solution are the divine Maternity, Mary's unimpaired virginity, her unrivaled holiness. Finally, the more ancient of these apocrypha exercised a perceptible influence on the establishment of the Eastern feast of the Dormition or of the Migration of the Mother of God. [85] The feast, once established, gave rise to new Transitus accounts and occasioned the Greek homiletic literature which blossomed from the seventh to the ninth centuries -- the fairest flowering of patristic thought on the final lot of Mary. [86]

Greek theology seventh century and beyond

The earliest extant Byzantine discourse on the August 15th feast, the first monument of genuine Greek theology affirming the Assumption in categorical terms, is dated by Jugie at the end of the seventh century or the beginning of the eighth.

Modestus of Jerusalem (d. 634)

This Panegyric on the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, long attributed to Modestus, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 634), is remarkable for its doctrinal content, its independence of the apocrypha (which it does use), its reasonable conjectures, and its repeated, unhestitating affirmation of the Assumption. [87] Mary died, yes:

"ever anguished by a mother's yearning for her Son divine, she quit her holy body with her eyes upon Him, and into His hands she commended her all-blessed, all-holy soul." [88]

Why did she die? "As His Mother all-holy, she followed Him...." [89] What happened to her body in the tomb? The Mother of God, "after childbirth ever virgin, in the grave suffered not corruption of the body that held Life, preserved by the omnipotent Saviour Christ who came forth from her." [90]  A genuine Assumption, preceded by a glorious resurrection and postulated by the divine Maternity, is reiterated again and again:

"...as Mother all-glorious of the Giver of life and of immortality, Christ our Saviour and God, she was given life by Him, concorporate with Him in incorruption for eternity, with Him who raised her from the tomb and took her to Himself, in the way that He alone knows...." [91]

(The expression "concorporate in incorruption" is peculiar to Modestus, is repeated several times, and means that, as the bodies of Jesus and Mary were similar on earth in passibility and mortality, so He wanted His Mother's body to resemble His in her risen state.) The same idea is summed up in a strikingly lovely sentence:

"Christ, God, who took....flesh from her who was ever virgin, summoned her and clothed her in the incorruption of His own body [in concorporate incorruption], and glorified her with incomparable glory, so as to be His heir, she who was His all-holy Mother, in harmony with the Psalmist's song: 'At your right hand stands the queen in a vesture of gold, all hung about with embroidery' (Psalm 44:10)." [92]

(Modestus likewise insists on Mary's mediatorial role in glory -- a common possession of Byzantine Mariology in this period. She intercedes with her Son and makes Him propitious to us.) It has been asserted -- and I incline to agree -- that Modestus' affirmation of Mary's incorruption, resurrection, and Assumption, so serene, categorical, free from all hesitation and any palliation, gives the impression that the author is not defending a disputable thesis but expounding an admitted truth. [93]

Germanus of Constantinople (c. 634 - 733)

Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople in the early eighth century, is as categorical as Modestus with reference to the Assumption. [94] In a rather fictitious historical framework he affirms the fact of Mary's death:

"Give to the earth without distress [Our Lord says to Mary] what is the earth's....Trust your body to me, seeing that I myself entrusted to your womb my divinity....Death will not vaunt itself over you, for you have conceived Life....Lie down in the tomb of Gethsemane, and that for appearance alone. I will not leave you long an orphan therein. I will come to you, as soon as you have been laid to rest in the grave, not to be conceived by you anew....but rather to take you to myself to dwell with me. Lay your body with great confidence in Gethsemane, there where I before my passion bent my knees to pray the prayer of a man; for, prefiguring your dormition, I bent in that place the knees of the body I took from you. Therefore, just as I, after bending my knees there, went forth willingly to the life-giving death of the cross, so you, after depositing your remains, will pass to life without delay." [95]

Mary died (a) because her Son Himself willed to die, (b) because her nature is no different from our own, and (c) because her death was intended as confirmation of the reality of the Incarnation. She rose from the dead, was taken up to her Son, in the integrity of her human nature, because it was impossible for the vessel that had held God to be dissolved in dust.

"For since He who had emptied Himself in you was God from the beginning and Life from eternity, it could not but be that the Mother of Life should live with Life, that she should entertain death as if it were sleep, and as Mother of Life submit to migration as if it were a waking." [96]

This, Germanus implies, is what the Christian sense imperiously demands. The bodily Assumption is a consequence of the divine Maternity.

Andrew of Crete (c. 660 - 740 )

Andrew, contemporary of Germanus and Metropolitan of Gortyna on the Island of Crete, consecrated a trilogy of sermons to the Dormition. He tells the Cretans that the object of the feast is the Dormition of God's Mother, a mystery "celebrated hitherto by a few, but now lovingly honored by all." [97] His basic ideas on the final lot of Mary include her death, the reunion of her soul and body, her glorious entrance into heaven, and the premises which postulate such a destiny, i.e. holiness, virginity, Maternity:

"She who has introduced into heaven that which is dust, strips off the dust and lays aside the veil she has carried from her birth, and restores to the earth what is kin to earth. She who gave life to Life migrates up to a new life, makes her home in a place where life originates and life is indestructible....And, last of all phenomena, that which appears to our eyes rises up and in a spiritual way goes along with that which is spiritual in the manner known to Him who of old linked the two together, and after dissolving them united them anew....See if a more astounding miracle can be discovered than the marvel that was accomplished so incredibly in her....A spectacle truly new it was, and beyond human thinking: the woman who surpassed the heavens in her purity, crossed the threshold of heaven's sanctuary; the virgin who surpassed the Seraphim by the marvel of her divine Maternity, drew close to the primal nature, God the Creator of all things; the mother who had given birth to Life itself, crowned her life by an end that rivaled her childbearing....For, as the womb of the mother knew not corruption, so too the flesh of the dead did not perish." [98]

John of Damascus (c. 676 - 749)

Another trilogy of sermons for the feast of the Dormition was delivered by John Damascene (of Damascus), very probably at Gethsemane on August 14th and 15th, about the year 740. Like Germanus, but with great discretion, he makes use of apocrypha, especially John of Thessalonica. With the candor of Andrew he confesses that the circumstances surrounding his account of Mary's end are conjecture or rhetoric.

As Damascene sees it, Mary dies because she is human; moreover, it is through death's crucible that mortality gives place to immortality. [99] More accurately still, "she yields to the law of her own Son." Though she gave life to all, as daughter of Adam she is subject to the hereditary debt; for even her Son, Life itself, did not refuse to die. [100] Though Homily 3 contains Damascene's clearest affirmations of Mary's glorification in soul and body, it is in Homily 2 that he enumerates, in one of the most moving of patristic texts, Our Lady's titles to the Assumption:

"For there was need that this dwelling meet for God, this undug well of remission's waters, this unploughed field of heaven's bread, this unwatered vineyard of immortality's wine, this olive-tree of the Father's compassion, ever green and fair and fruitful, be not imprisoned in the hollows of the earth. Rather, just as the holy and incorrupt body that had been born of her, the body that was united hypostatically to God the Word, rose from the tomb on the third day, so was there need that she too be snatched from the grave and the Mother restored to her Son; and, as He had descended to her, so she had to be carried up...to heaven itself.

"There was need that she, who had entertained God the Word in the guest-chamber of her womb, be brought home to the dwelling of her Son; and, just as the Lord said that He must be in the place that belongs to His Father, so the Mother had to take up her abode in the palace of her Son, in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. There was need that the body of her who in childbirth had preserved her virginity without stain, be preserved incorrupt even after death. There was need that she who had carried her Creator as a babe on her bosom, linger lovingly in the dwelling of her God. There was need that the bride whom the Father had betrothed to Himself, live in the bridal-chamber of heaven.

"There was need that she who had looked so closely on her very own Son on the cross, she who there felt in her heart the sword-pangs of sorrow which in bearing Him she had escaped, there was need that she look upon Him seated with His Father. There was need that the Mother of God enter into the possessions of her Son and, as Mother of God and handmaid, be reverenced by all creation....For the Son enslaved all creation to His Mother." [101]

Two remarks are in order. First, Damascene's (Greek "there was need") seems to be more than sheer appropriateness; there is in this a certain exigence. Second, Damascene's arguments for the Assumption are derived not primarily from Scripture (which serves him rather for illustration) [102] and only in general from tradition. [103] They are drawn principally from the analogy of faith; he plays the theologian, not the exegete or historian. The Assumption is for him a postulate of Mary's other prerogatives: to some extent her virginity and holiness, but more than all else her divine Motherhood. [104]

At the end of the patristic period in the East the doctrine of the Assumption has reached the level of theological elaboration. It is not simply that the basic truth, Our Lady's glorification in soul and body, is accepted as indisputable by the outstanding orators of the Dormition feast, and apparently by the main body of the faithful as well. Still more significant is the fact that the Assumption is postulated on theological premises. [105] Not that the whole structure of Assumption theology, as expounded in early Byzantine homiletic literature, will be recognized as solid by succeeding centuries; modern doubts on Mary's death are a case in point. But the heart of the matter has been touched; the task of the future will be to sift incontestable Christian doctrine from probable opinion and illegitimate speculation. [106]

(from "Mary in Eastern Patristic Thought" by Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. in Mariology edited by Juniper Carol, volume 2, pages 138-153 on the Assumption)


Objections to the Assumption

  • "This is truly an amazing dogma, yet there is no Scriptural proof for it...."

Says who? Pius XII states the dogma is based on the Sacred Writings (Scripture): "All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation." (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus)

And not "amazing" if one considers in Scripture that Enoch and Elijah were "assumed" to heaven, body and soul; and perhaps Moses if we interpret Jude's mention with the apocryphal literature (Assumption or Testament of Moses) as an "assumption" of the body of Moses. Jesus ascended to heaven on his own power, body and soul, and it is only fitting that His own Mother, the holy Mother of God, would also not see corruption. All true Christians will eventually be sinless and bodily assumed (resurrected and glorified) in heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary, being a type of the Church as all the Fathers taught, is an example of the perfected Christian in heaven (cf. the holy, stainless, blameless Church mentioned in Ephesians 5:25-33; Heb 12:22ff; Rev 21:1ff). Mary received that perfected state (in soul and body) before the rest of Christ's Church by the grace of God.

"Often there are theologians and preachers who, following in the footsteps of the holy Fathers, have been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture to explain their belief in the Assumption. Thus, to mention only a few of the texts rather frequently cited in this fashion, some have employed the words of the psalmist: 'Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified'; and have looked upon the Ark of the Covenant, built of incorruptible wood and placed in the Lord's temple, as a type of the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempt from all the corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven.

"Treating of this subject, they also describe her as the Queen entering triumphantly into the royal halls of heaven and sitting at the right hand of the divine Redeemer. Likewise they mention the Spouse of the Canticles 'that goes up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense' to be crowned. These are proposed as depicting that heavenly Queen and heavenly Spouse who has been lifted up to the courts of heaven with the divine Bridegroom.

"Moreover, the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos. Similarly they have given special attention to these words of the New Testament: 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women,' since they saw, in the mystery of the Assumption, the fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special blessing that countered the curse of Eve." (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus)

As for biblical evidence for the belief, Pius XII refers to several texts and Marian types: the holy Ark of the Covenant; Psalm 132(131):8; Psalm 45(44):10-14; Song of Songs 3:6; 4:8; 6:9; Rev 12:1ff (cf. 11:19); Luke 1:28. If the "Ark" of Psalm 132:8 or the "Woman" of Revelation 12 is the Blessed Mary, then the Scriptures directly "prove" the Assumption. But scholars interpret these texts different ways. As Pius XII explained, the Church Fathers were "rather free in their use of events and expressions" taken from Scripture. But neither Pius XII nor the Fathers ignored the Scriptures when speaking of Mary's Assumption into heaven:

"These [the "Sacred Writings," the Scriptures] set the loving Mother of God as it were before our very eyes as most intimately joined to her divine Son and as always sharing His lot. Consequently it seems impossible to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought Him forth, nursed Him with her milk, held Him in her arms, and clasped Him to her breast, as being apart from Him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life. Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, He could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God’s law, than to honour, not only His eternal Father, but also His most beloved Mother. And, since it was within His power to grant her this great honour, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that He really acted in this way." (Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus)

The Scriptures are the ultimate theological foundation for the dogma, according to Pius XII. 

  • "The patristic testimony is therefore non-existent on this subject. Even Catholic historians readily admit this fact..."

What Catholic historians admit (see Burghardt's articles above) is that the Fathers are "silent" on the final lot of Mary through the 4th century. And some Catholic theologians argue this silence is "relative," and "was inevitable and is actually eloquent" (Carol Mariology, volume 1, page 147-148). The Church had to decide the doctrines of Christology and the Holy Trinity before the doctrines of Mariology could develop and flourish. This theological development occurred shortly after the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451) which declared Mary Theotokos (Mother of God or God-bearer). This is when the so-called Transitus literature "exploded" unto the scene. Pius XII also mentions an indirect historical proof of the Assumption: "Finally, since the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people, we have a proof on the order of a sensible experience." (Munificentissimus Deus)

Burghardt: "....the silence is a relative thing and rather eloquent. Faller has undertaken to show that the early reticence is perfectly understandable, seeing that several more fundamental facets of Christian belief, such as the Trinity and Christology, had first to be confronted, before Mariology could claim attention. Cayre, too, has indicated how the initial silence with respect to Mary is normal rather than surprising, for it goes back to her role in the early Church: 'Her vocation was not to command, but to love and to pray, two functions that call for silence....' The silence in question, theologians insist, does not reflect an absence of life; the life, the doctrine, is there in germ. The seed is discovered in the patristic thesis of recapitulation, the Eve-Mary parallelism proposed by St. Justin Martyr, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and St. Ambrose, the analogy which associates the New Eve with the New Adam in a total triumph over Satan. The seed is there in the twin privileges of divine motherhood and deathless virginity. Insight into these mysteries would lead to increasing reverence for the sacredness of the body which knew only God, to a realization that this body could not fittingly know corruption." (Carol Mariology, volume 1, page 153-154)

As a reminder for sola scriptura (Scripture alone) believers, the 27-book New Testament canon itself wasn't recognized by the Catholic Church until the late fourth century as well (first with St. Athanasius, 367 AD, then later Councils of Hippo/Carthage in 393/397/419 AD, and Popes Boniface I and Innocent I confirmed this same canon).

  • On the Transitus literature: "There were many versions of this literature which developed over time and which were found throughout the East and West but they all originated from one source."

They did not originate "from one source." Both Shoemaker (Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption) and Burghardt (Carol's Mariology articles above) tell us there are many strands of these Transitus traditions, and that the beliefs and traditions existed prior to the literature. 

Shoemaker: "...the end of the fifth century saw the initial emergence of these traditions into the mainstream of orthodox Christian discourse from an otherwise uncertain past. That these traditions had some sort of a prior existence is quite clear, not only from the sheer volume and diversity of the traditions that suddenly appear, but also from the fact that many of the earliest extant narratives are themselves, translations from earlier Greek texts that must have been in circulation no later than the early fifth century." (Ancient Traditions, page 76-77, emphasis added)

Burghardt: "The genesis of these accounts is shrouded in history's mist. They apparently originated before the close of the fifth century, perhaps in Egypt, perhaps in Syria, in consequence of the stimulus given Marian devotion by the definition of the divine Maternity at Ephesus. At least a score of Transitus accounts are extant, in Coptic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Armenian. Not all are prototypes, for many are simply variations on more ancient models." (Carol Mariology, volume 2, page 144, see above, emphasis added)

Shoemaker in fact lays out several different types of these Transitus stories: the "Palm of the Tree of Life" traditions, the "Bethlehem" traditions, the Coptic traditions, "Atypical" traditions, "Late Apostle" traditions, traditions of Constantinople and Ephesus (Shoemaker, page 32ff).

  • "Juniper Carol explicitly states that the Transitus literature is a complete fabrication which should be rejected by any serious historian."

Juniper Carol does not state that. Fr. Burghardt, who wrote the articles on the western and eastern Fathers, does not use the words "complete fabrication" or even "fabrication." What he says is although they are "valueless" as strict history, they are nonetheless "significant," and "priceless" both historically and theologically. These Transitus accounts reveal a genuine Christian insight that it was not fitting that the body of Mary should see corruption. This argument is the same made on theological lines by the Fathers, Catholic theologians, and Pius XII in his definition of the Assumption.

Burghardt: "This account is significant, in the first instance, because it affirms unequivocally the death and burial of Mary, the reunion of her soul and body without delay, and her assumption into heaven in soul and body. It is significant, in the second place, for the developed Assumption theology which links this privilege causally with Mary's Maternity and virginity, and stresses the parallelism which ought to exist between Christ and His Mother in victory over death. The account of Pseudo-Melito, like the rest of the Transitus literature, is admittedly valueless as history, as an historical report of Mary's death and corporeal assumption; under that aspect the historian is justified in dismissing it with a critical distaste. But the account is priceless nonetheless -- historically and theologically. Historically, because it witnesses indisputably to the feeling of the faithful for Mary, a growing awareness of her dignity, even though we are unable to specify the full range of this awareness geographically or even to indicate its dawning. Theologically, because it postulates the Assumption on grounds that are valid not simply for piety but for scientific theology as well." (Carol Mariology, volume 1, page 149-150, see above, emphasis added)

Burghardt: "What is the value of these witnesses? As historical accounts of an actual event -- Mary's death, her translation, her Assumption -- by individuals who were personally present, or else were in contact with the events through unimpeachable sources, the Transitus literature is valueless. But theologically the tales are priceless. They reveal the reaction of early Christian piety when confronted with the apparent fact of Our Lady's death; they evidence the first unequivocal solutions to the problem of Mary's destiny. The solutions, though divergent, disclose a genuinely Christian insight: it was not fitting that the body of Mary should see corruption. More importantly, the solution is given, incorruption is postulated, on theological lines: the principles of solution are the divine Maternity, Mary's unimpaired virginity, her unrivaled holiness..." (Carol Mariology, volume 2, page 145-146, see above, emphasis added)

  • "....the Transitus literature is the real source of the teaching of the assumption of Mary and Catholic authorities admit this fact."

Again, Fr. Burghardt does not say the "real source" of the Assumption is the Transitus. He says the "first express [written] witness in the West" to the Assumption is from the late fifth-century Transitus. In the East we have the statements in the fourth century from St. Epiphanius of Salamis that perhaps (he is unsure about the death or final lot of Mary): "her holy body from which light shone forth for all the world, dwells among those who enjoy the repose of the blessed" (Panarion 78:23, 377 AD; PG 42:737, translation by Fr. Luigi Gambero). Fr. Burghardt also implies Christians believed the doctrine prior to the literature. 

Burghardt: " But the account is priceless nonetheless -- historically and theologically. Historically, because it witnesses indisputably to the feeling of the faithful for Mary, a growing awareness of her dignity, even though we are unable to specify the full range of this awareness geographically or even to indicate its dawning." (see above, emphasis added)

Burghardt: " But theologically the tales are priceless. They reveal the reaction of early Christian piety when confronted with the apparent fact of Our Lady's death; they evidence the first unequivocal solutions to the problem of Mary's destiny. The solutions, though divergent, disclose a genuinely Christian insight..." (see above, emphasis added)

Again, the belief was already in place, the Transitus reflected the belief of pious Christians. As Fr. Mateo notes, the supposed "historical uselessness" of the apocrypha or Transitus literature is irrelevant since Pius XII made no mention of this material in his definition. He writes in Refuting the Attack on Mary: "The Assumption is a theological datum and must be proved or disproved on theological, not historical grounds..." And those are the grounds that the early Fathers used for their belief in the Assumption: "...Modestus, Germanus, Andrew, and Damascene...primary reasons for asserting an Assumption of Mary are not pseudo-historical but theological..." (Carol Mariology, volume 2, page 152, note 310). And Burghardt: "It is not simply that the basic truth, Our Lady's glorification in soul and body, is accepted as indisputable by the outstanding orators of the Dormition feast, and apparently by the main body of the faithful as well. Still more significant is the fact that the Assumption is postulated on theological premises." (Carol Mariology, volume 2, page 152, see above, emphasis added)

  • "....the Roman Church has embraced and is responsible for promoting teachings which originated, not with the faithful, but with heretical writings which were officially condemned by the early Church. History proves that when the Transitus teaching originated the Church regarded it as heresy....In the list of apocryphal writings which are to be rejected Gelasius signifies the following work: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sanctae Mariae, Apocryphus....This specifically means the Transitus writing of the assumption of Mary....Pope Gelasius explicitly condemns the authors as well as their writings and the teachings which they promote and all who follow them. And significantly, this entire decree and its condemnation was reaffirmed by Pope Hormisdas in the sixth century around A.D. 520....These facts prove that the early Church viewed the assumption teaching, not as a legitimate expression of the pious belief of the faithful but as a heresy worthy of condemnation."

This has already been refuted above. The objection confuses the Transitus "literature" with the Assumption teaching. The mistake is suggesting the Assumption itself was ever condemned, even if some of the Transitus literature was. A true belief can be contained in non-canonical or apocryphal material (e.g. the NT book of Jude quotes the apocryphal Book of Enoch). The doctrine of the Assumption was believed quite explicitly from the 6th and 7th century forward by noted saints and doctors of the Catholic Church, east and west: St. Gregory of Tours, St. John Damascene, St. Germanus of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, Amadeus [bishop of Lausarme], St. Anthony of Padua, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Francis of Sales, St. Alphonsus, St. Peter Canisius, etc. They weren't aware the belief was supposedly rejected by a Pope in the fifth century. According to Fr. Burghardt, the first Christians to dispute the Assumption were some "Asturians" from Spain in the eighth century, "the first to do so, as far as the evidence goes." (Carol Mariology, volume 1, page 153).

There is a single Transitus writing which was labeled "apocryphus" by (supposedly) "Pope Gelasius" in the late fifth century. The "Pope Gelasian Decree" or Decretum Gelasianum de Libris Recipiendis et non Recipiendis is online here: (ENGLISH) (ENGLISH) (LATIN)

Read it for yourself. Is the Assumption of Mary itself anywhere condemned, rejected, or declared heretical in this writing? The answer is NO. What we have here is a delineation of the OT and NT canonical books from the apocryphal books, such as

  • the Itinerary in the name of Peter the apostle, which is called the nine books of the holy Clement -- apocryphal
  • the Acts in the name of the apostle Andrew -- apocryphal
  • the Acts in the name of the apostle Thomas -- apocryphal
  • the Acts in the name of the apostle Peter -- apocryphal
  • the Acts in the name of the apostle Philip -- apocryphal

And so on.... Also there is indeed one named "the book which is called the Assumption of holy Mary -- apocryphus"

Again, the Assumption itself is not condemned, only the book with that particular title is labeled "apocryphus." The doctrine of the Assumption is nowhere mentioned. The Gelasian decree has nothing to do with Mariology or the Assumption. It simply concerns the list of correct canonical vs. non-canonical writings received by the Church, with various heretics condemned at the end. That's it. There is no mention of this in Carol's Mariology as even relevant to the Assumption teaching, which it is not. If there was a writing that contained some apocryphal stories about Jesus, and that writing was titled "The Ascension of Jesus" -- we would not reject the Ascension because of this. As Catholic apologist Art Sippo notes: "The mere fact that a book supporting the Assumption is declared to be a pious fiction does not mean that the Assumption is itself denied. The Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the film 'King of Kings' in 1961 because of its Protestant biases. Did that mean that it condemned the story of Christ? No, just that particular telling of it." (from Patrick Madrid's Envoy Magazine discussion boards, Aug 2007).

Speaking of "apocryphal" : "The proof that the document is not a real Decretal of Gelasius or any other Pope is almost as decisive, if not quite so startling....Thus these famous Lists represent no Papal ordinance, but are the production of an anonymous scholar of the sixth century. He must have been a fairly well-read man for that time and shews a good acquaintance with the writings of St Jerome, but v. Dobschütz does not believe that he had read, or even seen, most of the 'Apocryphal' books which he condemns..." (F. C. Burkitt, Journal of Theological Studies 14 [1913], pages 469-471, on The Decretum Gelasianum, see this short commentary)

So the "Decree of Gelasius" might not be authored by Pope Gelasius. Shoemaker in his recent book on the Assumption traditions, agrees it is NOT Pope Gelasius (see his book, page 17, note 27) : "Although these theologians invest the decree with Papal authority, its author was not Pope Gelasius, but an otherwise unknown Christian of sixth-century Gaul." (he then notes Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, and Ernst von Dobschutz, Das Decretum Gelasianum, from 1912, also Jugie, La Mort, p. 167-171).

  • "The only grounds the Catholic faithful have for believing in the teaching of the assumption is that a supposedly 'infallible' Church declares it."

False. The grounds are both biblical and theological (see above). The Catholic Church, through the Papacy of Pius XII, only put its final and infallible "stamp of approval" after centuries of Marian development and theological reflection by the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Catholic faithful who already believed the doctrine for over a thousand years. The Orthodox, who split with Catholics in the 11th century, also clearly affirm the dogma. The theological argument from Pius XII: "She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body." The Assumption follows from the complete sinlessness (Immaculate Conception) of the Mother of God. The Greek Fathers believed the Assumption based on Mary as Theotokos, her perpetual virginity, and her all-holiness (Panagia or All-Holy One).

Burghardt: "...the solution is given [i.e. in the Transitus], incorruption is postulated, on theological lines: the principles of solution are the divine Maternity, Mary's unimpaired virginity, her unrivaled holiness..." and "...a genuine Assumption, preceded by a glorious resurrection and postulated by the divine Maternity, is reiterated again and again [in Modestus of Jerusalem]..."

To summarize Pius XII's encyclical on the definition:

  • The Pope polled the entire Catholic world (all the bishops) because this was a matter of such great moment and importance (as all Christian doctrines are);
  • the bishops were unanimous that the doctrine should be defined as dogma;
  • the Pope clearly affirmed there was a development of the doctrine in the life of the Church by the Spirit of Truth;
  • the Pope affirmed this belief is based on the Scriptures;
  • the belief is thoroughly rooted in the minds of the Catholic faithful;
  • the belief was approved in liturgical worship from remote times;
  • and the Assumption is completely in harmony with other revealed truths of the Catholic Faith.

Pius XII simply perfected the doctrine by making it a Catholic dogma (de fide) in 1950. I'll conclude my answer to these anti-Catholic objections with Shoemaker's own conclusion to his scholarly book on the Assumption:

Shoemaker: "The anti-Catholic prejudice of this passage [referring to mocking statements from Hans von Campenhausen] hardly needs comment. Nor is this tendency merely an isolated vestige from the past: the lingering impact of nineteenth-century Protestantism on early Christian studies continues to be seen particularly with regard to Mary. Although we have fortunately begun to see more balanced views of Mary's significance in early Christian culture, much work remains to be done in this regard. It is to be hoped the evidence of early devotion to Mary and concern with her theological significance afforded by the ancient Dormition traditions will help to overcome this not infrequent bias." (page 289)


NOTES (some footnotes abbreviated for brevity)

[1] AAS (Acta apostolicae sedis [Vatican City, 1909- ]), Vol 45, 1953, p. 568. [2] ibid, p. 583. [3] ibid, Vol 42, 1950, p. 769. English of the NCWC trans, No. 44, also Palmer, p. 113. [4] AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 756, NCWC trans No. 12, cf. Bishop Wright, "The Dogma of the Assumption" in The American Eccl Review, Vol 124, 1951, p. 81-96. [5] D.E., 530. [6] AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 757; NCWC, No. 13. [7] ibid, p. 758. [8] ibid, p. 758. [9] ibid, p. 760. [10] This prayer now occurs as a Collect in the Assumption Mass of the Dominican, Carmelite, and other rites. [11] AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 760. [12] G. Geenen, OP, L'Assumption et les Souverains Pontifes... in Angelicum, Vol 17, 1950, p. 327-355. Fr. Geenen has gathered his facts from M. Jugie, AA, La Mort et l'Assomption de la Sainte Vierge (1944). [13] William O'Shea, SS, "The History of the Feast of the Assumption," in The Thomist, Vol 14, 1951, p. 127-128. [14] quoted in Munificentissimus Deus, AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 768. [15] AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 754. On the relationship between the IC and the Assumption, cf. Roschini, "The Assumption and the Immaculate Conception," in The Thomist, Vol 14, 1951, p. 59-71; and K. Healy, O.Carm., "The Assumption among Mary's Privileges," ibid, p. 77-81. [16] Geenen, p. 337-338; Healy, p. 78. [17] AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 755. [18] Tondini, 158; Lawler, 116 (The Rosary of Mary, ed. Wm. Lawler, OP (1944). [19] Geenen, p. 339. [20] Unger, Mary Mediatrix, p. 16-17. [21] AAS, Vol 35, 1943, p. 247-248. There is also a connection between the doctrine of the Immaculate Heart, to which the Pope here refers, and the bodily Assumption, for Our Lady's Most Pure Heart is her physical heart. Cf. Remigius De Roo, Regina in Coelum Assumpta, in Les Tracts Marials, Nos. 37-38, 1953. [22] AAS, Vol 42, 1950, p. 756. [23] ibid, p. 782-783. [24] ibid, p. 756. [25] ibid, p. 769. [26] ibid, p. 754, 758. [27] ibid, p. 763. [28] ibid, p. 769-770.

[29] M. Jugie, La mort et l'Assomption de la sainte Vierge (1944). [30] G. Jouassard, L'Assumption corporelle de la sainte Vierge et la patristique in Assomption de Marie (Paris, 1949), p. 102. [31] O. Faller, De priorum saeculorum silentio circa Assumptionem b. Mariae Virginis (Rome, 1946), p. 129. [32] Epiphanius, Panarion, haer. 78, cap. 23. Cf. Jugie, p. 77-81; Faller, p. 33-43; Altaner in Theologische Revue, Vol 44, 1948, p. 131-133. [33] Tychonius view is transmitted by Cassiodorus, Complexiones in Apocalypsin, n. 16, PL 70:1411. [34] Ambrose, Exposit evang secun Lucam, lib 2, n. 61. [35] Ambrose, De instit virg, cap 7, n. 49; PL 16:333. [36] Ambrose, De interpell lob et David, lib I, cap 7, n. 25. [37] Paulinus, Epist 50, n. 17-18. Same in Augustine, Epist 121. [38] Augustine, Epist 149, n. 33. [39] Augustine, In evang Ioannis, tr 8, n. 9, PL 35:1456; De catechiz rudibus, cap 22, n. 40, PL 40:339; Enarratio in ps 34, Serm 2, n. 3, PL 36:335. [40] Altaner, Theologische Revue, Vol 44, 1948, p. 133-134.

[41] The Transitus Mariae literature attempts to fill up the lacunae of the canonical books on the life, death, and final lot of Mary. Perhaps the oldest is a fifth-century Syriac Transitus, which made its way into the West, probably in a Latin translation, and caused such scandal that it was listed in the books proscribed by the Decretum Gelasianum (so-called Decree of Pope Gelasius) at the beginning of the sixth century. cf. A. Thiel, Epistolae Romanorum Pontificum genuinae, Vol 1, 1868, p. 465; A.C. Rush, "Assumption Theology in the Transitus Mariae," in The American Eccl Review, Vol 123, 1950, p. 93-110, esp 101. Jugie would date it about 550, while Faller argues for the fourth century AD. For the text, see Tischendorff, Apocalypses apocryphae (Leipzig, 1866), p. 124-136, English trans by M.R. James, The Apocryphal NT (Oxford, 1924), p. 209-216.

[42] Pseudo-Melito, Transitus beatae Mariae, cap 15, n. 2ff; Tischendorf, p. 134ff. [43] Gregory of Tours, Lib 1 miraculorum: In gloria martyrum, cap 4, PL 71:708; on the date, W.C. McDermott, Gregory of Tours: Selections (1949), p. 9; on fifth-century Syriac Transitus, which Jugie regards as oldest, cf. W. Wright, Contrib to Apoc Lit of NT (1865), p. 46f; Jugie and Altaner believe it likely Gregory borrowed from an early Latin translation. [44] Gregory, cap. 9; PL 71:713. [45] Jouassard, L'Assomption corporelle, p. 111-112. [46] (translated by Edwin [Contarini], Envoy Magazine boards), the lines are found in Miscellanea, lib 3, cap 7, PL 88:282; the poem belongs before 576, there is some doubt as to authorship, but H. Weisweiler, in Scholastik, Vol 28, 1953, p. 520. [47] Isidore, De ortu et obitu patrum, cap 67, n. 112, PL 83:148-49. Later redaction presents the existence of the Jerusalem tomb as certain, PL 83:1285-1286. [48] Adamnan, De locis sacris, lib 1, cap 12. [49] Bede, Liber de locis sanetis, cap 2 & 5. [50] Bede, Liber retractationis in Actus apostol, cap 8, PL 92:1014-1015. [51] Jugie, p. 272-274. [52] correspondence between Bishop Ascarius and his friend, Tuscaredus, PL 99:1233-1235. The Asturians believed Mary died like anyone else, but her body was still in the tomb awaiting resurrection; the thesis scandalized Ascarius; Tuscaredus replied that we have no evidence of a violent death, or any death. It would seem Tuscaredus believed in Mary's glorious immortality. [53] Pseudo-Jerome, Epist 9, Ad Paulam et Eustoch de assump BMV, n. 2, PL 30:127-128; Pseudo-Augustine, De assump BMV, n. 2-9, PL 40:1143-1148; on authorship cf. Jugie, p. 278, 290-291. [54] Faller, p. 69-76. [55] F. Cayre, L'Assomption aux quatre premiers... in Studia Mariana, Vol 4 (1948), p. 135ff. [56] C.F. De Vine, "The Fathers of the Church and the Assumption," in Vers le dogma de l'Assomption, p. 408-410. [57] Faller has developed these and other principles at length, p. 77-128. [58] Jouassard, L'Assomption corporelle, p. 115-116; W.J. Burghardt, "The Catholic Concept of Tradition in the Light of Modern Theological Thought," in Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Convention (Catholic Theological Society of America, 1951), p. 73-75. [59] A. Muller, Ecclesia-Maria: Die Einheit Marias und der Kirche (1951); G. Montague, "The Concept of Mary and the Church in the Fathers," in The American Eccl Review, Vol 123, 1950, p. 331-337; K. Dalahaye, Maria, Typus der Kirche, in Wissen & Weis Vol 12, 1949, p. 79-92. [60] H. Barre, La royaute de Maria pendant les neuf premiers siecles, in Recherches de science religieuse, Vol 29, 1939, p. 129-162, 303-334; A. Luis, La realeza Patristic Period, in Marian Studies, Vol 4, 1953, p. 82-108. [61] the articles of Bover in a previous note.

[62] Jugie, p. 95-146; Jouassard, Marie a travers la patristique, p. 139-147. [63] Andrew of Crete, Oratio 4: In nativ b. Mariae, PG 97:872. [64] The authenticity of the passage is suspect. [65] Epiphanius, Panarion haer 78, n. 10-11; [66] ibid, n. 23. [67] see same solution of M. Jugie, Le mort et l'Assomption de la sainte Vierge (1944), p. 77-81; a more benign interpretation is offered by O. Faller, De priorum saeculorum silentio circa Assumptionem b. Mariae virginis (1946), p. 33-43. [68] F. Cayre, L'Assomption aux quatre premiers... in Studia Mariana, Vol 4 (1948), p. 144-145. [69] Ephraem, De nativitate domini sermo 12, 11, 4; Opera omnia syriace et latine, Vol 2, p. 415. [70] Ephraem, Sermo 1 de diversis; Opera omnia, Vol 3, p. 600; Jugie finds this sentence an early patristic idea which located the temporary abode of just souls in an earthly paradise, cf. La mort, p. 60. [71] Ephraem, Hymni de beata Maria, 15, n. 2. [72] Ephraem, Sedra de probis et iustis. [73] Gregory of Nyssa, De virginitate, cap 14 (13); Cavarnos, p. 306. [74] Jugie, La mort, p. 63. [75] Severian of Gabala, In mundi creationem oratio 6, n. 10, PG 56:498. [76] Jugie, La mort, p. 64-65. [77] ibid, p. 73-74; [78] In prophetam Simeonem, ed. Faller, p. 26, PG 86:245. [79] For two well-reasoned interpretations: Jugie, La mort, p. 74-76; and Faller, p. 30-31. [80] B. Capelle, Les homelies liturgiques du pretendu Timothee de Jerusalem, in Ephemerides Liturgicae, Vol 63, 1949, p. 5-26; Jugie considers Timothy a contemporary of Epiphanius. [81] Jugie, La mort, p. 101-171; A.C. Rush, "The Assumption in the Apocrypha," in The American Eccl Review, Vol 116, 1947, p. 5-31; "Assumption Theology in the Transitus Mariae," ibid, Vol 123, 1950, p. 93-110. [82] Obsequies of the Holy Virgin, W. Wright, Contrib to Apoc Lit of NT (1865), p. 46f; on dates, Jugie, La mort, p. 107-109.

[83] Another pertinent but controverted document is in John Damascene's Hom 2 in dormit Mariae where an unknown author has Juvenal, Archbishop of Jerusalem, narrate at the time of Chalcedon what he has learned about Mary's passing "from an ancient and utterly unerring tradition." This embraces her death, the arrival of the Apostles, the vision of angels, the commitment of Mary's soul to God's hands, the burial in Gethsemane, the discovery after three days of a coffin empty save for burial shrouds, the Apostles' conclusion that Christ wanted to honor His Mother's immaculate body "with incorruption and transposition before the common, universal resurrection." The Historia of which this is an exract has not been recovered. Many scholars consider the extract an interpolation in Damascene's homily. Euthymiaca historia, lib 3, cap 40, in John Damascene's Hom 2 in dormit Mariae, n. 18, PG 96:748-752; Jugie calls the Juvenal narration sheer legend and insists it should not be dated much before 890, cf. La mort, p. 160-167; while Gordillo follows Kekelidze, Abel, Baldi in admitting its historicity, pointing to the temperate narrative and its similarity to Epiphanius' approach, cf. Mariologia orientalis (Rome, 1954), p. 222, note 45.

[84] Altaner: "...no tradition underlies the Transitus which is to be taken seriously from a historical point of view...", col 135. [85] The influence of the apocrypha is evident in a pastoral letter, The Dormition of Our Lady (c. 620) in which John, Archbishop of Thessalonica, introduced the Dormition feast into his diocese shortly after Emperor Maurice prescribed it for the Empire; cf. Jugie, Patrologia Orientalis, Vol 19, 1926, p. 344-438. Rest of long footnote omitted. [86] According to Jugie, the first traces of a special solemnity that makes express mention of Mary's death and Assumption do not go back beyond the second half of the sixth century. In many churches, however, this feast of the Dormition was an outgrowth of the primitive Marian feast, the Commemoration of the Blessed Mary, which celebrated in general fashion Mary's entry into the Church Triumphant. Rest of long footnote omitted.

[87] Encomium in dormitionem sanct dominae nostrae semp virginis Mariae, PG 86:3277-3312; on authorship, Jugie, La mort, p. 215-218; L. Carli, 1940, p. 387. [88] Encomium, n. 11, PG 86:3308; [89] ibid, n. 12. [90] ibid, n. 7, PG 86:3293. [91] ibid, n. 14, PG 86:3312; cf. Jugie, La mort, p. 222. [92] ibid, n. 5-6, PG 86:3289, 3292-3293. [93] Jugie, La mort, p. 223. [94] The three homilies in PG 98:340-372 are actually but two, the first two are two parts of one homily. [95] Germanus, Hom 3 in dormit, PG 98:368. [96] Germanus, Hom 1 in dormit, PG 98:348. [97] Andrew of Crete, Hom 2 in dormit, PG 97:1072; order of first two homilies are reversed. [98] ibid, Hom 1, PG 97:1080-1; Rest of footnote omitted. [99] John Damascene, Hom 3 in dormit Mariae, n. 2-3, PG 96:753-757. [100] ibid, Hom 1, n. 2, PG 96:725. [101] ibid, Hom 2, n. 14, PG 96:740-741. [102] ibid, Hom 2, n. 2, PG 96:724. [103] ibid, Hom 2, n. 4, PG 96:729. [104] Mention should be made of Cosmas Vestitor, an orator of moderate ability, who apparently lived in Constantinople c. 750 AD, whose four discourses on the Dormition reveal an Assumption theology remarkably sound. Rest of footnote omitted.

[105] R.L.P. Milburn, Early Christian Interpretations of History (1952) devotes an Appendix and part of a chapter on the historical background of the Assumption, p. 134-141, 161-192. There is "no means of disproving the doctrine of the Assumption, for, in the absence of historical data, it is not given to mankind lightly to confine the power of a God 'whose judgments are unsearchable and whose ways are past finding out...' " (p. 139). He is less than fair as an historian, however, to Modestus, Germanus, Andrew, and Damascene when he does not reveal that their primary reasons for asserting an Assumption of Mary are not pseudo-historical but theological. Rest of long footnote omitted. [106] see the splendid brief survey of the patristic period by G. Jouassard, L'Assomption corporelle de la sainte Vierge et la patristique, in Assomption de Maria (Paris, 1949), p. 99-117.


See also The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God

RECOMMENDED SOURCES

Juniper Carol, editor, Mariology, 3 volumes (1955-1961)
Max Thurian, Mary: Mother of All Christians (Herder, 1964)
Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church (Ignatius Press, 1999 English trans, orig 1991 in Italian)
Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God (Image / Doubleday, 2001, 2006)
Beverly Roberts Gaventa, editor, Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (John Knox Press, 2002)
Dwight Longenecker and David Gustafson, Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate (Brazos Press, 2003)
Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption (Oxford Univ Press, 2002, 2006 paperback)

FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION -- AUGUST 15, 2007


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