THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY AND HISTORY

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THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

The Holy Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (CCC 966). However, the anti-Catholics held that this dogma was never believed by neither the apostles nor the early Christians and was just a mere invention of the Church in the 20th century, i.e. almost 2000 years ago from the death of Christ. According to them, this doctrine came only in existence when it was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by exercising papal infallibility. Well, is that so?

The Holy Catholic Church never denied the historical fact that the belief on the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary became an article of faith only in AD 1950 but it does not mean that it was never believed by the early Church. In fact, Pope Pius XII only dogmatically defined a doctrine that has already been known and believed since the earliest eras of Christianity. The good pope neither created it nor invented it. The Church, through the guidance of the Paraclete (cf. John 14:16), only spoke as the magister of truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).

Nevertheless, the belief on the bodily assumption of the Mother of God has already existed in Christendom even before the 1950 definition by the Church. Below are the writings of the early Christians concerning what really happened to Mary:

Melito the Philosopher, bishop of Sardis

“If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: “Be it done according to your will” (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2-17 [A.D. 180]).

Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis

“If the Holy Virgin had died and was buried, her falling asleep would have been surrounded with honour, death would have found her pure, and her crown would have been a virginal one…Had she been martyred according to what is written: ‘Thine own soul a sword shall pierce’, then she would shine gloriously among the martyrs, and her holy body would have been declared blessed; for by her, did light come to the world.” (Panarion,78:23 [A.D. 377])

Timothy of Jerusalem

“Therefore the Virgin is immortal to this day, seeing that he who had dwelt in her transported her to the regions of her assumption” (Homily on Simeon and Anna [A.D. 400]).

John the Theologian

“The Lord said to his Mother, ‘Let your heart rejoice and be glad. For every favor and every gift has been given to you from my Father in heaven and from me and from the Holy Spirit. Every soul that calls upon your name shall not be ashamed, but shall find mercy and comfort and support and confidence, both in the world that now is and in that which is to come, in the presence of my Father in the heavens’. . . And from that time forth all knew that the spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise” (The Dormition of Mary [A.D. 400]).

Gregory, bishop of Tours

“[T]he Apostles took up her body on a bier and placed it in a tomb; and they guarded it, expecting the Lord to come. And behold, again the Lord stood by them; and the holy body having been received, He commanded that it be taken in a cloud into paradise: where now, rejoined to the soul, [Mary] rejoices with the Lord’s chosen ones. . .” (Eight Books of Miracles 1:4 [A.D. 575]).

Theoteknos, bishop of Livias

“It was fitting … that the most holy-body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinized, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full glory … should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God” (Homily on the Assumption [ca. A.D. 600]).

Modestus, patriarch of Jerusalem

“As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him (Encomium in dormitionnem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae [ante A.D. 634]).

Germanus I, patriarch of Constantinople

“You are she who, as it is written, appears in beauty, and your virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life” (Sermon I [A.D. 683]).

John of Damascus, presbyter of Syria

“It was fitting that the she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father, It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God” (Dormition of Mary [A.D. 697])

Gregory I, bishop of Rome

“Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of 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” (Gregorian Sacramentary, Veneranda [ante A.D. 795]).

AND the Church, in her great Catechism, has added: “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” (CCC 966).

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

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