Assumption

  • In logic, an assumption is a proposition that is taken for granted, as if it were true based upon presupposition without preponderance of the facts. An assumption that is considered to be self-evident or otherwise fundamental is called an axiom.
  • In religion, assumption is the bodily translation of an individual person, either living or dead, from earth to heaven.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, informally known as The Assumption, according to the Christian beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and parts of Anglicanism, was the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”[1] This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.[2] While Catholic dogma leaves open the question of Mary’s death before rising to Heaven, the Eastern Orthodox tradition of the Dormition of the Theotokos teaches that Mary died and then rose to Heaven. In the churches which observe it, the Assumption is a major feast day, commonly celebrated on August 15. In many Catholic countries, the feast is also marked as a Holy Day of Obligation. In his August 15, 2004, homily given at Lourdes, Pope John Paul II quoted John 14:3 as one of the scriptural bases for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. In this verse, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.” According to Catholic theology, Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise.[3] The feast of the Assumption on August 15 is a public holiday in many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany (Saarland and Bavaria only), Greece, Lebanon, Lithuania, Italy, Malta, Mauritius,[4] Poland, Portugal, Senegal, Slovenia, and Spain .[5] In Eastern Orthodox churches following the Julian Calendar, the feast day of Assumption of Mary falls on August 28.

History of the belief

Although the Assumption (Latin: assūmptiō, “taken up”) was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in AD 377 that no one knew whether Mary had died or not,[6] apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it.[7] The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation.[8] Probably composed by the 4th century, this Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the “Six Books” Dormition narratives. The earliest versions of this apocryphon are preserved by several Syriac manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the 4th century.[9]

 

Assumption statue, 1808 by Mariano Gerada, Ghaxaq, Malta

Later apocrypha based on these earlier texts include the De Obitu S. Dominae, attributed to St. John, a work probably from around the turn of the 6th century that is a summary of the “Six Books” narrative. The story also appears in De Transitu Virginis, a late 5th century work ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis that presents a theologically redacted summary of the traditions in the Liber Requiei Mariae. The Transitus Mariae tells the story of the apostles being transported by white clouds to the deathbed of Mary, each from the town where he was preaching at the hour. The Decretum Gelasianum in the 490s declared some transitus Mariae literature apocryphal.

An Armenian letter attributed to Dionysus the Areopagite also mentions the event, although this is a much later work, written sometime after the 6th century. John of Damascus, from this period, is the first church authority to advocate the doctrine under his own name. His contemporaries, Gregory of Tours and Modestus of Jerusalem, helped promote the concept to the wider church.

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 (see “Mary’s Tomb“). By the 7th century a variation emerged, according to which one of the apostles, often identified as St Thomas, was not present at the death of Mary, but his late arrival precipitates a reopening of Mary’s tomb, which is found to be empty except for her grave clothes. In a later tradition, Mary drops her girdle down to the apostle from heaven as testament to the event.[10] This incident is depicted in many later paintings of the Assumption.

Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world, having been celebrated as early as the 5th century and having been established in the East by Emperor Maurice around AD 600.[11] It was celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV then confirmed the feast as official.[11] Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation, climaxing in 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church.[12] 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.”[13] The Catholic writer Eamon Duffy states that “there is, clearly, no historical evidence whatever for it.”[14] However, the Catholic Church has never asserted nor denied that its teaching is based on the apocryphal accounts. The Church documents are silent on this matter and instead rely upon other sources and arguments as the basis for the doctrine.

 

A series of articles on
Roman Catholic
Mariology
General articles
MariologyVeneration of the Blessed VirginHistory of MariologyMariology of the saintsMariology of the popesEncyclicalsMarian societies
Devotions
RosaryScapularImmaculate HeartSeven JoysSeven SorrowsFirst SaturdaysActs of ReparationHearts of Jesus & MaryConsecration to Mary
Dogmas and Doctrines
Mother of GodPerpetual virginityImmaculate ConceptionAssumptionMother of the ChurchQueen of HeavenMediatrixCo-Redemptrix
Expressions of devotion
ArtHymnsMusicArchitecture
Key Marian apparitions
(approved or worthy of belief)
GuadalupeMiraculous Medal
La SaletteLourdesPontmainLausBanneuxBeauraingFátima

 

In this dogmatic statement, the phrase “having completed the course of her earthly life,” leaves open the question of whether the Virgin Mary died before her assumption or whether she was assumed before death; both possibilities are allowed. Mary’s assumption is said to have been a divine gift to her as the ‘Mother of God’. Ludwig Ott’s view is that, as Mary completed her life as a shining example to the human race, the perspective of the gift of assumption is offered to the whole human race.[15]

 

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”.[16] 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”.[12]

 

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly declared:

 

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: 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[17]

 

Roman Catholic theologians consider this declaration by Pius XII to be an ex cathedra use of Papal Infallibility.[18][19] Although Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption, the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that she did die.[20][21]

 

Advertisements