I have stalled long enough, though I have basically defended every other Marian doctrine. This week, I would like to defend the bodily Assumption of the Mother of God into heaven from Scripture. Most or nearly all Protestants reject this claim as unbiblical. I suppose I understand that from those who adhere to Sola Scriptura, since it is not directly described in Scripture. Still, it is there, which I will describe as follows.
The corporeal assumption of Mary into heaven, as oppose to certain other Marian doctrines such as the Spiritual Maternity, the Immaculate Conception, the Dispensatrix of Graces, and the Heavenly Queenship, is actually quite simple to comprehend. In short, the doctrine states 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.” (Munificentissimus Deus 44)
A Protestant must accept this, at least in theory, is possible, since the same happened to Enoch and Elijah. Many Protestants furthermore believe that it will happen to all true Christians in the End Times. So, unless the Bible says specifically that the Virgin died, Protestants cannot rule that out as a possibility.
Typically, Protestants deny the Immaculate Conception. I think the Assumption makes logical sense from the premise that the Mother of God was conceived without stain of Original Sin. I defended that doctrine here, for those who are interested. The point is, Mary did not have the guilt of Original Sin, so it is unfitting that she would share in their punishment by her corpse decomposing.
It can also be noted that Jesus was born under the law (Galatians 4:4) and followed the command to honor His father and mother. The Hebrew word for “honor” does not imply bestowing mere courtesy, but the bestowal of honor and glory. By preserving Mary’s body from corruption, Jesus fulfills the command to honor his mother in a way that only a divine Son could.
So, where does it say specifically in the Bible that Mary was assumed into heaven? I quote this passage at length:
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” Revelation 11:19-12:6
This presumably comes to the first, obvious objection: how do you know this is Mary? Well, Protestants will immediately raise a number of objections. Their usual interpretation is that she is a remnant of the kingdom of Israel. I would not say that this has nothing to do with Israel, but more importantly she is both Mary and the Church. The term is polyvalent symbolism. For example, The beast in Revelation 13 is a fusion of the four beasts in Daniel 7. As Protestant author Gregory Beale writes: “Most of Revelation’s symbols have multiple associations or meanings and the interpreter can never be sure that all the multiple meanings of a symbol have been discovered.” (John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation, 59)
My problem is that the excessive persecution of the woman by the dragon described in this section does not make sense if she is a remnant of the kingdom of Israel. The Christian remnant was rarely singled out for persecution. Certain Christians, in fact, thought that Gentiles should not be allowed to be baptized unless they were first circumcised—although this was, of course, condemned in Acts 15. Now a Protestant might point out the Jewish Wars and the terrible destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, but Christians were not singled out then. In fact, the Christians received Christ’s warning. If Protestants are admitting that this refers to the Jews in general as well as the Christian remnant of them, this is admitting to polyvalent symbolism. Some Protestants would insist that Christians who held onto their Jewish traditions were looked down upon in the Medieval period, but to the best of my knowledge, they were not openly persecuted. I imagine Jewish Christians were killed by the Ottomans, but also were practicing Jews and gentile Christians. At any rate, I am doubtful that this passage was talking about simply something that occurred mainly during the Middle Ages, without reference to the early Church or Church history in general. So it makes sense that Revelation is referring to the persecution of the Church by Satan.
Some would argue that since the woman is referred to as a “portent”, she cannot be a literal mother, but since she is also referred to as a “sign” in Isaiah 7:14, I do not think this to be particularly strong. Others would say that this cannot be the “Catholic” Mary, because she had birth-pangs, which are a result of Original Sin, which she did not have (see Genesis 3:16, Isaiah 66:7). However, her birth pangs were, as Simeon prophesied, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35) Her “pangs of birth” began at the Annunciation and would continue from the cradle to the cross, where she suffered with her Son as prophesied by Simeon to be painfully fulfilled in John 19. So the supposition that this refers to Mary at least in part makes the most logical sense, because she gives birth to Christ. In some sense, at any rate, the woman is Mary. Protestant scholar Ben Witherington agrees, “I would suggest, then, that this figure is both the literal mother of the male child Jesus and also the female image of the people of God. Again, the text is multivalent!” (What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible 130)
If it follows that she is Mary, this begs another question: how do I know that Mary was assumed into heaven based on this passage? First of all, it should be noted that she is described as “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”. So it seems she has a body. One might question why this matters since Revelation obviously uses symbolism in its descriptions. However, when referring to the dead, John refers to, “souls of those who had been slain”. (Revelation 6:9) Again, in Hebrews, there is referenced, “the spirits of just men made perfect”. (Hebrews 12:23) She, however, is seemingly described as corporeal.
More importantly, directly before the first mention of the woman clothed in the sun, the Ark of the Covenant is revealed to be in heaven. There were no chapters and verses when John wrote it, which means this was all written in the same breath. This is not the first time Mary was associated with the Ark of the Covenant in Scripture. In Luke 1:35, St. Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The word for “overshadow”, ἐπεσκίαζω/episkíazo is used in Exodus 40:35 and Numbers 9:18,22 when God came to dwell in the Ark.
The similarities do not end there. In 2 Samuel 6:9, David declares: “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” David then took the Ark aside to the house of Obededom the Gittite and it remained there for three months. In Luke 1:43, Elizabeth declares, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mary then remains in the house of Elizabeth for three months—only to name a few of the many places in Scripture where Mary seems to fulfill the role of the Ark.
The Ark of the Covenant was the holiest object in Israel because it contained the bread from heaven, the staff of Aaron, and the Ten Commandments and because the Spirit of God overshadowed it. Uzzah died for touching it without permission. (2 Samuel 6:6-7) Let us not even get started on the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4-6 who tried to steal the Ark who kept on getting tumors yet persevered nonetheless (until it turned out that the Philistines who lived in Ekron finally had some common sense at any rate…).
So considering the reverence God commands for an inanimate object, one might suppose that God would not allow the woman who gave His Son a human nature by which He might die for our sins, whose room was a tabernacle where God Himself corporeally dwelt, to decompose and become tasty and immaculate food for worms.
The reader probably groaned at that one.
Now since the Ark of the Covenant is revealed to be in heaven in Revelation, as makes logical sense because Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant, it is reasonable to assume (no pun intended) that she was bodily assumed into heaven. Mary’s body is in heaven, since her body is the Ark of the New Covenant.
Bonum Certamen Certemus
I am the Catholic of Honor
All Scripture passages are from the Revised Standard Version