The ‘Mary’ in the Basilica of Mary Major That Pope Francis Prays Before (Photo by Joyce Thiel, June 2013)
August 15th is a holiday known as the Assumption of Mary. It is not a day that the early Christian church observed.
Today, Pope Francis observed it:
August 15, 2015
(Vatican Radio) On Saturday, Pope Francis became the first Pope in more than 60 years to lead the Angelus for the Solemnity of the Assumption in Saint Peter’s Square. …
Following the Angelus, Pope Francis greeted the many pilgrims from Rome and around the world, and spontaneously invited them to pay a visit to the icon of Our Lady Salus populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman people) in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/08/15/pope_celebrates_assumption_angelus_at_st_peters_square/1165268
In Roman Catholicism it is now a Marian dogma that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven (while most early writings indicated that she died first, some teach that she did not–whether or not she was dead or alive is not currently part of the dogma).
The Catholic News Agency teaches:
4) The Assumption…This dogma has no direct basis in scripture. (The Four Marian Dogmas. Catholic News Agency, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resource.php?n=424 viewed 08/26/11)
One Catholic writer noted:
Many people, even Catholics, don’t believe in the assumption of Mary. (Rozett E. Mother Mary and the Goddess. http://www.interfaithmary.com/pages/mary_rosary.html, viewed 08/15/2011)
The belief in the “Assumption of Mary”–the teaching that she perhaps did not die but went directly to heaven (or was her body was “assumed” into heaven at or after death)–is based on assumption, mysticism, and apparently compromise.
Saint Mary’s tomb has been claimed to have been in both Jerusalem and Ephesus, which suggests, at least, that it was believed that she died and was buried.
The Catholic Encyclopedia admits:
Regarding the day, year, and manner of Our Lady’s death, nothing certain is known…The dates assigned for it vary between three and fifteen years after Christ’s Ascension. Two cities claim to be the place of her departure: Jerusalem and Ephesus. Common consent favours Jerusalem, where her tomb is shown; but some argue in favour of Ephesus. The first six centuries did not know of the tomb of Mary at Jerusalem. The belief in the corporeal 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. It is also found in the book De Transitu Virginis, falsely ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis, and in a spurious letter attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite.(Holweck, Frederick. “The Feast of the Assumption.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 26 Aug. 201114 Aug. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm>)
So, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia the basis for the “belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is founded on the apocryphal” texts which were claimed to be written by people (like the Apostle John and Melito of Sardis) who did not write them. This makes no sense as a source for any dogma people would hold to be true. Also, if the body of Mary was “assumed” into heaven 3-15 years after Christ’s ascension in the Book of Acts, then why is it not mentioned in sacred scripture? All the books of the New Testament were written at least 5 years after Jesus’ ascension and the last book (Revelation) was apparently written over 60 years later–hence if this is a doctrine that God wanted His people to accept, why is it not specifically mentioned in the Bible? The Catholic writer Epiphanius, in the late fourth century, wrote:
Perhaps this [Rev. 12:13-14] can be applied to her; I cannot decide for certain, and I am not saying that she remained immortal. But neither am I saying that she died. (Panarion of Epiphanius, 78.11.4. As cited in Shoemaker S. The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 12)
Notice what a Catholic translation of the scripture Epiphanius referred to actually states:
13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman, who brought forth the man child: 14 And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place, where she is nourished for a time and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (Revelation 12:13-14, DRB).
Notice that “the woman” goes to “the desert” and “here she is nourished for a time and times, and half a time”. Heaven is NOT a desert. Also understand that Catholic scholars tend to correctly believe that the expression “a time and times, and half a time” refers to 3 1/2 years in this passage (and even if that was in error, this is a finite period of time, not nearly two thousand years). Thus, it makes no sense that Revelation 12:13-14 could possibly apply to Mary. Epiphanius should have been able to decide for certain that it did not, around 400 years after she was born. It should be clear that the idea of Mary’s “assumption” was not a dogmatic belief centuries after she would likely have been expected to have died.
Of course, the Bible was clear in the mid-late 1st century that only Jesus had immortality:
13 I charge thee before God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate, a good confession, 14 That thou keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Which in his times he shall shew who is the Blessed and only Mighty, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 Who only hath immortality, and inhabiteth light inaccessible, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and empire everlasting. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16, DRB)
The above was written in approximately 63 A.D. (Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1847). That is more than 3-15 years after Jesus’s ascension, and if Mary had obtained immortality by then, Saint Paul should have mentioned that, but he did not.
Now I have often used the Catholic-approved Douay-Rheims translation in this article to show that these ideas have support even within Catholic-approved writings. If Mary was immortal then, then the Apostle Paul would not have been inspired to write that.
Concerning Mary, the Catholic saint Augustine wrote of “her death” (Augustine. Tractates on the Gospel of John (Augustine) > Tractate 8, Chapter 9. Translated by John Gibb. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701008.htm>). Thus, the idea of Mary dying was an old concept.
So where did the idea of Mary’s assumption come from? Basically, from apocryphal literature in the fourth century (or possibly as early as the late third century)–but mainly even later than that. Although Epiphanius tried to investigate it, he was uncertain as to when it really first developed.
Interestingly, the ancient Romans had a 1-3 day festival for the goddess Diana. On the first day she allegedly came to earth and on the third day, August 15, they apparently celebrated her assumption into heaven as the queen of heaven. This is the same day of the Catholic feast of the assumption of Mary. Some do not consider this to be coincidental. (Green CMC. Roman religion and the cult of Diana at Aricia, Volume 0, Issues 521-85150. Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 62; Frazer JG. The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings V1, Volume 1. Kessinger Publishing, 2006, pp. 14-17). Notice also the following:
Lena Gorve’s name has symbolic significance, identifying her with Diana of Nemi, Diana of the Woods whose sacred groce stood on the lake of Nemi. The fact that the festival of Diana of Nemi gave place to the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin on August 15 offers an obvious basis in the combination of Lena of pagan qualities and of attributes associated with the Virgin Mary. (Kerr E. William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha: “a Kind of Keystone in the Universe.” Fordham Univ Press, 1985, p. 61)
The Assumption of the Virgin is set for the 15th of August. This day is marked in the Roman calendar of Columella as that of the death or disappearance of Virgo. (Hillard K. The Black Madonna of Loreto. Atlantic Monthly, September 1889, p. 412)
Diana was known as the “revered virgin” (Fischer-Hansen T, Poulsen B. From Artemis to Diana: the goddess of man and beast. Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009, p. 56) and “the Lady Artemis” (Davidson HE. Roles of the northern goddess. Psychology Press, 1998, p. 18); also as ”the virgin” (Morford MPO, Lenardon RJ. Classical mythology, 6th edition. Oxford University Press US, 1999, p. 141).
There is a suspected connection between Diana and various other goddesses and how many view Mary (Fischer-Hansen, p. 49). Yet, the Catholic saint Augustine specifically referred to Diana as one of several “false and lying deities” (Augustine. The Harmony of the Gospels, Book I, Chapter 25. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1602125.htm>). Hence, it would seem wise that Catholics consider the wisdom in observing the date of her claimed assumption into heaven.
Mary’s “assumption” apparently became more of an issue after the death of Mohammed. Wikipedia notes:
John of Damascus, from this period, is the first church authority to advocate the doctrine under his own name; he had been brought up in an environment in which a corporeal ascent of Muhammed into heaven was official policy, since he, and his father before him, held the post of imperial chancellor of the Islamic empire of the Umayyads, and Muhammed’s ascent into heaven is the subject of the Night Journey, a Surah in the Quran. His contemporaries, Gregory of Tours and Modestus of Jerusalem, helped promote the concept to the wider church.
So, it may be that the assumption became a Catholic-equivalent of not only the pagan Diana, but the Muslim Muhammed. Furthermore, perhaps I should mention that Muslims teach that Muhammed’s daughter Fatima also was assumed into heaven. Some have considered that how certain Muslims venerate Fatima is very similar to how some Catholics venerate Mary.
Of course, since Mary is mentioned in the Quran, there is some Islamic veneration of her as well.
A Catholic writer posted:
The occasion and the site are sacred to Muslims and Christians alike. Every Sunday at least some Muslims come here before ‘Hazreti Meryem Ana’, Her Majesty Mother Mary and attend mass.
(Rozett E. Mother Mary and the Goddess. http://www.interfaithmary.com/pages/mary_Islam.html, viewed 08/15/2011)
Apparently because the Muslims claimed that Muhammed (and Fatima), and Greco-Romans that the goddess Diana, went directly to heaven, certain Catholics began to promote the idea about Mary in a widespread manner.
However, it should be pointed out that even the place of the “assumption” changed. Wikipedia reports:
In some versions of the story the event is said to have taken place in Ephesus, in the House of the Virgin Mary, although this is a much more recent and localized tradition. The earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary’s life in Jerusalem…
So, the earliest accounts claimed Jerusalem, but that was later changed to Ephesus by some. If Mary died 3-15 years after Jesus, then she likely did not die in the area near Ephesus. Another article in The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions:
As to tradition, there is some testimony for Mary’s temporary residence in or near Ephesus, but the evidence for her permanent home in Jerusalem is much stronger… In Panaghia Kapoli, on a hill about nine or ten miles distant from Ephesus, was discovered a house, or rather its remains, in which Mary is supposed to have lived. The house was found, as it had been sought, according to the indications given by Catherine Emmerich in her life of the Blessed Virgin… In 451 Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, testified to the presence of Mary’s tomb in Jerusalem…Another witness for the existence of a tradition placing the tomb of Mary in Gethsemani is the basilica erected above the sacred spot, about the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century… It has been seen that we have no absolute certainty as to the place in which Mary lived after the day of Pentecost. Though it is more probable that she remained uninterruptedly in or near Jerusalem, she may have resided for a while in the vicinity of Ephesus, and this may have given rise to the tradition of her Ephesian death and burial. There is still less historical information concerning the particular incidents of her life. (Maas, Anthony. “The Blessed Virgin Mary.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 Aug. 201114 Aug. 2010 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15464b.htm>)
Of course, the presence of a tomb suggests that one was buried within it, not assumed directly to heaven. Others have claimed her body left the tomb:
In the eighth century, St. John Damascene was known for giving sermons at the holy places in Jerusalem. At the Tomb of Mary, he expressed the belief of the Church on the meaning of the feast: “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay. . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” (Stevens C, Priest. Assumption of Mary. Catholic Heritage, July-August 1996. http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/aofmary.htm)
S. Shoemaker also claims that the earliest accounts of the assumption state it occurred in Jerusalem, but later Ephesus:
Nevertheless, the earliest evidence of any such belief appears only in the ninth century, in a Syriac manuscript, copied in 874 which reports that Mary accompanied John to Ephesus, where she died and was buried. (Shoemaker S. The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 75)
The idea that Mary’s house was specifically in Ephesus allegedly began to gain acceptance because of visions that the mystic nun Anne Catherine Emmerich claimed to have had in the early 19th century. Because of her visions,one or more priests went to Ephesus and found a house apparently matching her descriptions (Shoemaker, p. 76). Some in the local area confirmed the location as Mary’s last house. And while some may claim that is proof it was Mary’s home, I should also add that Anne Catherine Emmerich claimed to have seen Limbo in her visions, yet the current Pontiff (Benedict XVI) has indicated that there is no such place as Limbo (What is Limbo? Is There Such a Place as Limbo? What Happens to Babies When They Die?). Despite this, on October 3, 2004 Anne Catherine Emmerich was beatified by Pope John Paul II.
But irrespective of what location may have been “Mary’s house,” the historical accuracy of the “assumption of Mary,” is at best an assumption that seems to contradict scripture. Although some have claimed that the apostles originally reported “the assumption” there do not appear to be any pre-fourth century documents that state this (and even the “apostolic claim” was from testimony in the mid-fifth century by Juvenal, see The Catholic Encyclopedia Assumption of Mary).
The assumption position mainly seems to be have been accepted because people want to believe it as opposed to basing it upon reliable historical documentation:
In view of the striking absence of early historical evidence, the Vatican proceeded to establish the Assumption dogma primarily on a dogmatic rather than a historical basis. It was determined that despite the complete lack of any historical evidence for early belief in the Virgin’s Assumption, the dogma should still be proclaimed…(Shoemaker S. The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 15)
Wikipedia also noted:
Protestant theologians…cite the fact that the idea did not gain acceptance in the church until the sixth century, after Gregory of Tours accepted the apocryphal work “Transitus Beatae Mariae”…Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott stated, “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries…. The first Church author to speak of the bodily assumption of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours.”…The Catholic writer Eamon Duffy goes further, conceding that “there is, clearly, no historical evidence whatever for it.”…
In Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma he states that “the fact of her death is almost generally accepted by the Fathers and Theologians, and is expressly affirmed in the Liturgy of the Church”, to which he adduces a number of helpful citations, and concludes that “for Mary, death, in consequence of her freedom from original sin and from personal sin, was not a consequence of punishment of sin. However, it seems fitting that Mary’s body, which was by nature mortal, should be, in conformity with that of her Divine Son, subject to the general law of death”…The point of her bodily death has not been infallibly defined, and many believe that she did not die at all, but was assumed directly into Heaven. The dogmatic definition within the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus which, according to Roman Catholic dogma, infallibly proclaims the doctrine of the Assumption leaves open the question whether, in connection with her departure, Mary underwent bodily death; that is, it does not dogmatically define the point one way or the other, as shown by the words “having completed the course of her earthly life”…Many Catholics also believe that Mary first died before being assumed, but they add that she was miraculously resurrected before being assumed…This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.
The holiday, then, is an assumption based upon mystic literature like the Transitus Mariae, essentially combined with a dogmatic declaration in 1950.
Now, the Transitus Mary was allegedly an account from an apparition claiming to be Mary. Yet, Catholics need to realize that in the early 6th century, a papal decree, Decretum Gelasianum, classified the Transitus Mariae writings as apocryphal (The Transitus Mariae Non-canonical Account of Mary’s passing. http://www.bibleprobe.com/transitusmariae.htm). Anyway, the Transitus Mariae claims that John was in Ephesus and the Holy Spirit transported him to Mary in Bethlehem (Smith Lewis A. Apocrypha syriaca: the Protevangelium Jacobi and Transitus Mariae, with texts from the Septuagint, the Corân, the Peshiṭta, and from a Syriac hymm in a Syro-Arabic palimpsest of the fifth and other centuries. C.J. Clay and sons, 1902, p. 25) and that Mary was taken into heaven from her house in Bethlehem (p. 33) and that was within the jurisdiction of the governor of Jerusalem (p. 36).
Now, having been to Ephesus a couple of times, I would like to mention the Islamic Turks in that area actually do celebrate the “assumption of Mary” as well. Not because it is mentioned in the Quran (it does not seem to be), but because Mary is mentioned in the Quran more times than Jesus. Certain Muslims venerate Mary to a degree.
Perhaps I should add that August 15th is considered by certain Catholics to be Mary’s “heavenly birthday.” However, perhaps it should be pointed out that early Christians did not observe birthdays (Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays?), hence the “birthday into heaven” position also was not a position of early Christians.
Notice what the Catholic news agency Zenit reported on the dogma:
Why a…dogmatic pronouncement on the Assumption? Because the Vicar of Christ…was inspired to do so to bring forth a new outpouring of grace for the Church through the intercession of the Queen of Heaven — the Mediatrix of all graces who was newly honored by a solemn papal proclamation of her parting earthly prerogative…
One objection voiced during the months preceding the 1950 definition by a group of theologians was that the new Marian definition would wreak havoc to ecumenical efforts newly initiated with other Christians. The late Cardinal Edouard Gagnon who lived through the years preceding and proceeding the Assumption definition, repeatedly testified to the opposite — that immediately following the papal proclamation of Our Lady’s Assumption, the Church experienced its greatest ever advancement in ecumenism in Church history up to its time, which consequently led to its historic flourishing at the Second Vatican Council.
Mothers unite. They do not divide. (Our Lady and Dogmas: Pondering the Assumption. ZE10081612 – 2010-08-16. Permalink: http://www.zenit.org/article-30069?l=english)
So, the dogma is for the eventual ecumenical plans of the Church of Rome. But it was not an original dogma (it was adopted in 1950), it is in conflict with sacred scripture, and it was not an original apostolic tradition.
For more information, please check out the following:
Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions Do you know much about Mary? Are the apparitions real? What happened at Fatima? What might they mean for the rise of the ecumenical religion of Antichrist? Are Protestants moving towards Mary? How do the Eastern/Greek Orthodox view Mary? How might Mary view her adorers? Here is a link to a YouTube video Marian Apparitions May Fulfill Prophecy. Here is a link to a sermon video: Why Learn About Fatima?
Origin of the Marian Dogmas: Where Do Catholic Scholars Say The Four Dogmas of Mary Came From?
The ‘Lady’ of Guadalupe: Any Future Ramifications? It is claimed that a female apparition appeared near Mexico City on December 12, 1531. How has it affected the world? What might it suggest about the future? A video of related interest is titled: The ‘Lady of Guadalupe’ and Prophecy.
Fatima Shock! YouTube Dr. Thiel highlights a few points of why no one would support Fatima, etc. as discussed in the documented book Fatima Shock!
Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions Do you know much about Mary? Are the apparitions real? What might they mean for the rise of the ecumenical religion of Antichrist? Are Protestants moving towards Mary? How do the Orthodox view Mary? How might Mary view her adorers?
Pope Francis: Could this Marian Focused Pontiff be Fulfilling Prophecy? Pope Francis has taken many steps to turn people more towards his version of ‘Mary.’ Could this be consistent with biblical and Catholic prophecies? This article documents what has been happening. There is also a video version titled Pope Francis: Could this Marian Focused Pontiff be Fulfilling Prophecy?
Jesus: The Son of God and Saviour Who was Jesus? Why did He come to earth? What message did He bring? Is there evidence outside the Bible that He existed? Here is a YouTube sermon titled Jesus: Son of God and Saviour.
Why Should American Catholics Fear Unity with the Orthodox? Are the current ecumenical meetings a good thing or will they result in disaster? Is doctrinal compromise good? Here is a link to a related video Should you be concerned about the ecumenical movement?
Orthodox Must Reject Unity with the Roman Catholics The talks for unification involve compromise and the apparent rising up of a changed religion that no one should accept.
Catholic Prophecies: Do They Mirror, Highlight, or Contradict Biblical Prophecies? People of all faiths may be surprised to see what various Roman and Orthodox Catholic prophets have been predicting as many of their predictions will be looked to in the 21st century.
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions. [Português: Qual é fiel: A igreja católica romana ou a igreja do deus?]
What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection? Is there more than one future resurrection? Did early Christians teach a physical resurrection? Did early Christians teach three resurrections?
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 in the first century to the 21st century. Two related sermon links would include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. In Spanish: Marque aquí para ver el pdf folleto: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios.