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A Patristic Argument for the Assumption of Mary

Orcs who randomly commit cannibalism are a thing…

Some time ago now, I wrote an article entitled,  A Biblical Defense of the Bodily Assumption of Mary where I made a joke about the alternative being worms eating our Blessed Mother’s flesh because… I guess I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings too many times and the heroes almost being eaten is a commonplace occurrences in Tolkien’s books.

However, Protestants very frequently claim that Catholics have hardly any biblical evidence, outside of Revelation 11-12. Now, I will say first of all that I think the entire doctrine makes more sense if someone already accepts the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, since if Mary had prelapsarian flesh, it would not be fitting for it to be corrupted.

So now let us begin a patristic defense of the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Lack of Bones

This is probably the first point. There are two supposed tombs of Mary—one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus. Historically speaking, Mary is thought to have lived in both places, which explains it. However, no body is found in either tomb and no relics are to be found. This is important, since early Christians basically always preserved the bones of the saints. Christians held to the sanctity of the body while Gnostics held disdain for the flesh. It is a bit odd that the Mother of Christ Himself would not have relics. It seems to me that this should at least make the Assumption of Mary much more plausible.

But does this doctrine not date until around the Sixth Century?

Now, it is often claimed that the Assumption of Mary is not often discussed among the Church Fathers. Although this is true, it is not so to the same extent as some might think. There was a man named Fr. Antoine Wenger who in 1955 published a book called L’assomption de la T.S. Vierge dans la tradition byzantine du VIe au Xe siècle études et documents. In English, this translates to The Assumption of the Most Holy Virgin in the Byzantine tradition from the sixth to the tenth century studies and documents. Now, unfortunately, the book is in French, so it would be appreciated if someone who is fluent in French could translate it. However, this is still significant because Fr. Wenger found a Greek manuscript that verified what scholars had previously believed to be true—because there were whole families of manuscripts from widely different areas of the world by the time of the sixth century that told a similar story of Mary’s Assumption, there had to be previous manuscripts dating from earlier from which everyone received their data. At any rate, I think this alone is good evidence that the idea of the Assumption of Mary had to have come from beforehand. Fr. Michael O’Carroll explains this as follows.

“However, the landmark in manuscript publication was Fr. A. A. Wenger’s L’Assomption in 1955. He had found, in the Vatican library, a Greek manuscript which seemed to fulfill a remarkable scholarly conjecture made by Dom B. Capelle, and, by a singular stroke of good fortune, in Karlsruhe, a Latin translation of the same text. Dom Capelle had surveyed the whole manuscript position and concluded that a basic text prior to all must be postulated; it was desirable that it be found.

“The manuscript, discovered and published by Wenger, did seem to correspond to correspond to Capelle’s description; it was John of Thessalonica’s source. Some years later, M. Haibach-Reinisch added to the dossier an early version of Pseudo-Melito, the most influential text in use in the Latin Church. This could now, it was clear, be dated earlier than the sixth century. Meanwhile, the search went on for the primordial composition from which the Wenger manuscript derived. V. Arras claimed to have found an Ethiopian version of it which he published in 1973; its similarity to the Irish text gave the latter new status. In the same year M. Van Esbroeck brought out a Gregorian version, which he had located in Tiflis, and another, a Pseudo-Basil, in the following year, found in Mount Athos. 

“Much still remains to be explored. The Syriac fragments have increased importance, being put as far back as the third century by one commentator. The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century—possibly, if research can be linked with archaeological findings on the tomb of Gethsemani, in the first—a daunting task. All the earliest versions concur with the fact of Mary’s bodily assumption.”

O’Carroll, Michael. Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary. United States: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000, p. 59.

Now, seeing as this particular historian is a priest, I grant that he might have something of a bias or perhaps be too optimistic. Still, I think this alone shows there is a chance that the doctrine of the assumption is found in writing earlier than some give credit.

But why did not more Fathers talk about it earlier?

The most obvious reason would be that the Gnostics did not have any particular objection to it. Therefore, there was no reason to defend the doctrine. We do not find much on the celibacy of Jesus either, since there was probably much agreement on the topic. Much of early Christian literature was apologetic in nature. Similar to the New Testament, it mostly dealt with problem areas in the Church that needed to be addressed.

A second reason is that we do not actually know the date of the Assumption. It presumably happened during the Apostolic Age before the death of the last apostle. Still, it happened later than most of the other doctrines, so news would have probably taken a while to spread.

But even so, the doctrine could easily be dated back to the Fourth Century, which was the same time the Trinity and the Hypostatic union. To quote Timothy of Jerusalem, “[Mary] is immortal to the present time through him who had his abode in her and who assumed and raised her above the higher regions.” (Homily on the Prophet Simeon and the Blessed Virgin Mary, ca. 350-390)

Now, as could be expected, there was disagreement in the circulating stories of the Assumption of Mary, such as whether she was taken up alive or after having died. But that is aside the point and Catholics are free to believe either—although it is the common teaching that she died before her bodily assumption. 

But wasn’t the Assumption a Gnostic belief, condemned in the Fifth Century?

The reason this is sometimes brought forward is that allegedly Pope Gelasius I condemned the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary. This, in itself, seems odd to me even from an average Protestant framework, since it is undoubtedly possible that someone can be bodily assumed into heaven. (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11)

This is a reference to the Decretum Gelasianum, also known as the Gelasian Decree. The Gelasian Decree was a document, written in the fifth century, which deals heavily with the canon of scripture. Now, even if the Assumption were condemned here, this is not an infallible decree, so the Bodily Assumption could not be treated as necessarily invalid on that account, since Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus has greater dogmatic weight. However, the doctrine of the Assumption was not condemned in the Gelasian Decree. 

The reference is actually to “the book which is called the Assumption of holy Mary”. The fact that a book is not scriptural does not mean everything in it is wrong.

St. Epiphanius

Epiphanius is a favorite among Protestants to cite. In his Panarion (“breadbox”) or Refutation of All Heresies, written in the late fourth century, he includes eighty-eight sections to deal with many heresies, but here I want to specifically deal with 78 and 79. In 78, he condemns the Antidicomarians, a group that denied the Perpetual Virginity. In 79, he condemns the Collyridians—a group of women who were being ordained as “priestesses” to worship Mary.

Now, most people say that Epiphanius admits no one knows whether or not she died—a thing with which most Catholics would admit. However, he undoubtedly believed in her bodily assumption. People frequently skip over this quote in the midst of it:

“And if I should say anything more in her praise, she is like Elijah, who was virgin from his mother’s womb, always remained so, and was taken up and has not seen death. She is like John who leaned on the Lord’s breast, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” She is like St. Thecla; and Mary is still more honored than she, because of the providence vouchsafed her.”—Panarion 79:5:2

So Epiphanius was at least personally quite convinced by the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary. Obviously, it had not been definitively resolved yet, but this shows that this doctrine was circling around since the fourth century.

So the Assumption of Mary is deeply rooted in Church History. Therefore, I think it is unreasonable for Protestants to claim it is unattested. Catholics and Orthodox are more or less in agreement for this issue, so I think that from the early Church, it can even be said to have probably been the majority viewpoint.

Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor

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By The Chivalric Catholic

Hello, I am the Chivalric Catholic or the Catholic of Honor. I conform all my beliefs to the Magisterium founded by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. The short explanation of who I am is a teenager with nostalgia for the Middle Ages. I have a love for apologetics, honor, and literature (especially adventures). I believe it is important and honorable to respect my opponents in this. If anything I write is contrary to the Faith (after all, I have no degrees) please write to me and inform me.

4 replies on “A Patristic Argument for the Assumption of Mary”

“At that time, the Savior coming from the Virgin, the Ark, brought forth
His own Body into the world from that Ark, which was gilded with pure
gold within by the Word, and without by the Holy Ghost; so that the truth
was shown forth, and the Ark was manifested…. And the Savior came into the world bearing the incorruptible Ark, that is to say, His own body.”
St. Hippolytus, In Daniel Vl (c. A.D.205)

The ECF Hippolytus acknowledged Mary to be the antitupos of the Ark of the Covenant or, in other words, the New Ark of the Covenant. To be consistent in drawing this parallel, he would have also had to acknowledge a universal belief in the Assumption. Notice that he means to say that Jesus took his incorruptible body from the incorruptible body of his blessed mother Mary – the Ark. He writes in his anti-Christ Treatise of the same year: “For whereas the Word of God was without flesh, He took upon Himself the holy flesh by the holy Virgin.”

Our Blessed Mother’s tomb is empty and there are no relics of her because her divine Son resurrected his beloved mother from the dead, probably on the third day, before bodily corruption would normally set in. Thus, we have an implicit statement on the Assumption of Mary into heaven, and this one as early as A.D. 205. We should also note that the original Ark of the Covenant was made from acacia wood (shittim) which worms and insects won’t consume.

Further, the 2nd century ECF Irenaeus acknowledged Mary to be the antitupos of Eve, or New Eve, by drawing a contradistinction between the two women.

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as humanity fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:19:11, 38
(180-189 AD)

“And concerning His birth, the same prophet [Isaiah] says in another place, ‘Before she who was in labor gave birth, and before the birth-pains came on, she was delivered of a male child’ (Isaiah 66:7). Thus, he indicated His unexpected and extraordinary birth from the Virgin.”
St. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 54 (A.D. 190)

As we know, Eve was condemned to bring forth offspring in the agony of labor because of her transgression. Mary, on the other hand, was exempted from suffering this penalty because of her preservation from contracting the stain of original sin and remaining sinless. Eve shared the same fate as her husband Adam by being banished from paradise. Mary, the second Eve, shared the same fate as her Son the New Adam by being taken up body and soul into heaven. Likewise, Ireneaus must have acknowledged the Assumption of Mary into heaven, or else his Marian theology of the New Eve would be inaccurate and incomplete.

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Catholic dogma Mary’s Assumption based upon church authority. The errors concerning the denial of Oral Torah proves that the Catholic church has no Divine authority. Holy Communion/Eucharist, the basic idea of the Papacy. Perhaps the twin pillars of the Catholic church. The assumption of Mary perhaps qualifies as the unholy Trinity of Catholic dogmatism.

Catholic faith most essentially affirms Heaven & Hell. But this “infallable dogma” does not compare to Life/Death\Blessing\curse of the prophet Moshe. Why? Because the oath brit faith centers upon the Spirit of the Name (never incorporated in the bible, a direct violation of the 1st Sinai commandment) living within the hearts of the chosen Cohen people. The virgin birth, not directly essential to the Gospel mythology of JeZeus.

The Catholic church concept of the afterlife has nothing, no common ground with the Torah. The Torah concept of “world to come” centers upon the seed of Avraham’s chosen cohen nation lives throughout the generations DESPITE enduring the curse of g’lut/exile.

Paul’s original sin theology contrasts with the Jewish understanding of g’lut/exile learned from Adam’s expulsion from the garden, the story of Noach, and the promise that Avram’s chosen Cohen seed would endure barbarous exile/g’lut\. Moshe’s life/death\blessing\curse directly refers to Jews ruling the oath sworn lands.

Torah faith commands mussar NOT history. The Catholic church dependence upon a historical Jesus extends to his so call adulterous mother. Dogmatic consideration the Catholic church prioritizes over the Torah faith to rule the land with just courts. No European court ever forced the church to stand trial for war crimes committed against humanity.

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