By Steve Kearney
Someone once said, the story of the Assumption was apocryphal and did not take place, but that just the same it was true. Such wishful thinking is the woof and weave of Mariolatry.
The Assumption of Mary into heaven is the most revolutionary of Marian doctrines; distinct as it is from Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it has its origins in the apocryphal writings, owes it development to theological forgeries and its doctrinal status to popular demand.
For the first time ever, a dogma was defined without reference to Scripture or Tradition. For the first time also the people decided for the hierarchy and not vice versa. The Assumption of Mary into heaven has created a precedent in the formulation of Catholic doctrine which will make it possible to dogmatize any belief on the grounds of majority agreement.
How right Paul was when he prophesied, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The Assumption In Scripture
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). For the Christian, Holy Writ is the voice of God. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 2:20-21). The revelations of these holy men are preserved for us in the Bible. In this book we have “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” It is “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). At the end of the day there is only one sure way of knowing a doctrine is from God and that is to have a book, chapter and verse to confirm it!
If Mary was assumed into heaven one would naturally expect the Scriptures to have at least one reference to this momentous occasion, but alas, nothing! It is not that the Bible overlooks such events; on the contrary, the Holy Spirit makes numerous references to miraculous translation. In 2 Kings 2:11 Elijah’s ascension to heaven on a fiery chariot, is documented. Genesis 5:24 tell us Enoch was taken by God. Acts 1:9 records, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” So, the Bible is not bereft of documentary evidence for such events. It is however, as silent as the proverbial grave on the ascension of Mary into heaven. Obviously the Assumption is not a part of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
This is confirmed even by Catholic sources Michael O’Carroll, C. S. Sp. (p. 60) in his Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, admits that the Pope’s researchers on the Apostles as witnesses of the death and assumption of Mary may suggest that the belief was of apostolic origin. In the immense scholarly research which preceded the promulgation of the dogma, attempts to trace a link were not successful; this approach was abandoned.” Conway also makes the same damaging admission on page 361 of Question Box. “It (The Assumption) cannot be proved from the Bible or from contemporary historical witnesses. Some may think it strange that the Fathers of the first five centuries do not mention it.”
Let not brazen-faced declarations distract you from the fact that the Catholic Church has no authority from Christ or the apostles for the doctrine of the Assumption. The teaching is unscriptural!
The Assumption In Tradition
Catholics believe that Tradition is of equal importance to the Bible, and not finding a teaching in the Bible is not an insurmountable obstacle to their faith. They simply circumvent the Bible and appeal to the Fathers as the source of their Traditions. The doctrine of the Assumption is the exception. They cannot call on the support of the early Fathers, because none of them mention the assumption of Mary.
The facts are as follows: Clement is mute about the Assumption, so is Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas, Papias and Justin Martyr. From 70 A.D. to 403 A.D. there is not one word about what happened to Mary after her death. The silence is broken by Epiphanius (315-403 A.D.) but he breaks the silence only to inform us that the Scripture is silent about how Mary passed from this world. He writes, “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 the 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” (Theotokos, p. 117).
No one knew until the apocryphal writings came on the scene. These works of religious fiction are the source of the Assumption story. “The belief in the corporal assumption of Mary is founded on the apocryphal treatise ‘De Obitu S. Dominae,’ bearing the name of St. John, which belongs however to the fourth or fifth century” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 6).
Catholic writers deftly shroud the illegitimate birth of the Assumption by referring to the works of Germanus (635-733 A.D.) who was Patriarch of Constantinople, Andrew of Crete (660 A.D.) and John Damascene who was a monk of some renown in Jerusalem (675 A.D.). In this way the Assumption of Mary is given a semblance of Traditional antiquity, e.g. “Toward the middle of the eight century St. John Damascene, in three magnificent homilies on Mary’s Domition, summed up the traditional faith and teaching of the Eastern and Western Church concerning her glorious Assumption and mediation of graces in heaven” (A Catholic Catechism for Adults, pp. 244-245). What the Catechism fails to tell the reader is that John Damascene based his homilies on the apocryphal writings of the fourth and fifth centuries!
The claim that Mary was assumed into heaven is untenable by Scripture or tradition.
The Assumption In Apocrypha
The roots of the Assumption story can be traced back to the writings of the apocrypha. M.R. James in The Apocryphal New Testament explains what an apocryphal book is, “Originally – one too sacred and secret to be in every one’s hands: it must be reserved for the initiate, the inner circle of believers. But, in order to enlist respect, such books were almost always issued under venerable names which they had no true right to bear. We hear of apocryphal books of Adam, Moses, and so forth. The pretense was that these had lately been brought to light, after ages of concealment by pious disciples. I do not intend to write a history of the gradual degradation of the world: I need only say that the falsity of the attributions was soon recognized: and so (to pass over three centuries of transition), in the parlance of Jerome, who has influenced posterity more than any one else in this matter, apocryphal means spurious, false, to be rejected and, probably, disliked.”
These writings are not apostolic nor are they historic, they do nothing to instill true religion, and can only be categorized as romantic novels. Yet, they are the source of a dogma, which in time was to be as important as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Obsequies of the Holy Virgin is the earliest fragment dealing with the after-life of Mary. There are a number of Assumption texts in Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Arabic and Latin. The two main texts are the Greek, supposedly written by John; (already referred to in the Catholic Encyclopedia), and the Latin text called Pseudo-Melito. A few excerpts from this narrative should help us see the caliber of writing we are dealing with. Mary is in her dwelling place weeping, when an angel appears to her, “Behold, said he, this palm branch. I have brought it to thee from the paradise of the Lord, and thou shall cause it to be carried before thy bier on the third day when thou shalt be taken up out of the body. . . And behold, suddenly, while Saint John was preaching at Ephesus, on the Lord’s day, at the third hour, there was a great earthquake, and a cloud raised him up and took him out of the sight of all and brought him before the door of the house where Mary was . . . And lo, suddenly by the command of God all the apostles were lifted up on a cloud and caught away from the places where they were preaching and set down before the door of the house wherein Mary dwelt. . . And immediately when the Lord had so said he was lifted up in a cloud and received into heaven, and the angels were taken up upon clouds and returned everyone to the lot of his preaching declaring the mighty works of the God and praising the Lord Jesus Christ” (The Apocryphal New Testament, pp. 210-216).
Can you imagine Peter being transported on a cloud to the household of Cornelius? How credible would the story of the triumphant entry have been if the palm branches in the peoples hands had been from the paradise of God?
Jerome was right when he said, “Apocryphal means spurious, false, to be rejected.” How could the Catholic Church base a doctrine on such myths?
The Assumption In Development
Myths need time to develop and the Assumption of Mary is no exception. From the time of the apocryphal writings to the first of November 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary a dogma of faith, was some 1600 years. During the time the belief waned and advanced according to the mood of the times. The tenth and eleventh centuries saw a significant advance in the formulation of the doctrine, through two theological forgeries, PseudoJerome and Pseudo-Augustine.
Michael O’Carroll takes up the story in his Theological Encyclopedia Theotokos (p. 58), “Towards the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth century a still more important work appeared, a treatise on the Assumption, theologically profound and claiming the authority of St. Augustine. Pseudo-Augustine gradually eclipsed PseudoJerome. By the thirteenth century, the great doctors taught the truth of Mary’s bodily Assumption; so did theologians of stature thereafter, until agreement was practically universal. ” Paul was right when he wrote to the Thessalonians: “And with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven”; even for the formulation of the dogma on the assumption of Mary into heaven. “Between 1849 and 1950, numerous petitions for the dogma arrived in Rome. They came from 113 Cardinals, eighteen Patriarchs, 2,505 archbishops and bishops, 32,000 priests and men religious, 50,000 religious women, 8,000,000 lay people. On I May 1946 the Pope had sent to the bishops of the world the Encyclical Deiparae Virgins (qv), putting this question to them: ‘More especially we wish to know if you, Venerable Brethren, with your learning and prudence consider that the bodily Assumption of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin can be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith and whether in addition to your own wishes this is desired by your own clergy and people.’ When the replies were collated, it was found that twenty-two residential bishops out of 1181 dissented, but only six doubted that the Assumption was revealed truth, the others questioned the opportuneness. Figures for dissent among other categories were; Abbots and Prelates nullius, two out of fifty-nine; Vicars Apostolic, three out of 206; titular bishops, five out of 381. The Pope interpreted the universal agreement of the ‘ordinary teaching authority’ as a ‘certain and firm proof’ that the Assumption is a truth that has been revealed by God” (Theotokos, p. 56).
In the annals of Catholic jurisprudence the formulation of this dogma is unique; no, it’s revolutionary! For the first time ever the hierarchy did not decide for the people but the people for the hierarchy. No doubt this will act as a precedent in the further development of Marian doctrines. From now on the formulation of dogma has a new set of rules. It no longer needs scriptural authority nor traditional backing, all it needs is a universal consensus of the laity and clergy. Henceforth, the Catholic Church can manufacture its own truth!
There are approximately 700,000,000 Catholics in the world. All of them are required to believe in the Assumption of Mary with the same conviction they have about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The question is often asked, “Can 700,000,000 people be wrong?” Well, the Assumption of Mary, as we have discovered, is unscriptural. It has no historical foundation. Its roots are traceable to the romantic fiction of apocryphal writings. Its development nurtured by theological forgeries. Can 700,000,000 people be wrong? Judge for yourself!
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 12, pp. 360-362
June 21, 1990