The True Assumption
August 14, 2011 by Paul
There are several key doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants — large among these are the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception, and that of the Assumption of Mary bodily into Heaven. And, from the Protestant perspective, the dogma of Mary being bodily assumed into Heaven is a very large “assumption” — especially given that the basis of the teaching is not found in “Scripture alone.”
The feast was originally celebrated in the East, where it is known as the Feast of the Dormition, a word which means “the falling asleep.” The earliest printed reference to the belief that Mary’s body was assumed into Heaven dates from the fourth century, in a document entitled “The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God.” The document recounts, in the words of the Apostle John, to whom Christ on the Cross had entrusted the care of His mother, the death, laying in the tomb, and assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Tradition places Mary’s death at Jerusalem or at Ephesus, where John was living.
St. John of Damascus, (P.G., I, 96) recounts the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem:
St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.
Fr. William G. Most, in ”Our Lady in Devotion and Doctrine”, gives us some insight as to how this teaching came to be proclaimed as dogma.
“Pius XII … asked the opinions of all the Bishops of the world on the Assumption. Their response was almost unanimous in the affirmative. The universal teaching of the authorities of the Church by itself, he tells us, gives us a proof (Cf. Lumen gentium ## 25 and 12).
He next reviewed some of the outstanding statements of Tradition throughout all the centuries. This teaching is found at a very early date in the liturgical books. After the patristic age, the same doctrine was studied in detail by scholastic theologians. For example, the Pope quotes the words of St. Bernardine of Siena who “… gathered up and carefully treated everything that medieval theologians had said and discussed on this matter. He was not satisfied to repeat the chief considerations which doctors of previous times had already proposed, but added others of his own. For the likeness of the Mother of God and the Divine Son in regard to nobility of soul and body–a likeness which forbids the very thought that the heavenly Queen should be separated from the heavenly King–absolutely demands that Mary ‘must not be anywhere but where Christ is.’ And furthermore, it is reasonable and fitting that not only the soul and body of a man, but also the soul and body of a woman should have already attained heavenly glory. Finally, since the Church has never sought for bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin, nor exposed them for the veneration of the faithful, we have an argument which can be considered as ‘practically a proof by sensory experience’” (AAS 42. 765-66).