Friday, March 11, 2011

The Assumption of Mary Reviewed

When I was Eastern Orthodox, one of my favorite services was the Service of the Small Paraklesis (source). With beautiful hymns and splendid imagery in the words, I quickly fell in love with it, and after my first experience I could not wait until next year for the second (if my Eikona CD didn't satisfy my needs enough). The service is part of the worship leading up to the feast day of the Dormition (or "falling asleep") of the Theotokos (the Eastern Orthodox title for the Virgin Mary, a Greek word meaning literally "God-bearer"). Part of this celebration was the story of the Virgin Mary being assumed bodily into heaven, where she was received by her Son. At the time I didn't think much of it, and simply accepted it as fact.

When I left Eastern Orthodoxy, I soon encountered a Roman Catholic on an internet forum who asked the open question, "Why don't Protestants believe in the Assumption of the Virgin Mary?" I decided to reply, and did so by first asking what evidence there was either in scripture or early church writings of the belief. I had to press him a while, but finally he provided a source from the Catholic Encyclopedia that pointed to an apocryphal document hundreds of years after the post-apostolic church. This utterly dumbfounded me, and led me to do further research on the belief.

For those who don't know, the most basic version of the story is as follows. The Virgin Mary is near death, and the Holy Spirit picks up all the apostles from all over the world and brings them to where she is. The Virgin Mary passes away in their sight and is buried. Later her grave is found empty. It is then said that Christ has been assumed bodily her into heaven to be beside her Son.

In this post, I would like to cover on a few specific things regarding the topic: 1) the beliefs regarding the bodily assumption of Mary among the two main "apostolic" churches; 2) the evidence of the belief from church tradition; 3) the scriptural support for the tradition; and 4) common arguments made in favor of the bodily assumption of Mary.

The Relevancy Among "Apostolic" Churches

This belief is upheld between the two main "apostolic" churches, although in slightly different levels of emphasis and modes.

Roman Catholicism

Within the Roman Catholic Church, the seriousness of the belief is a little more emphasized, as the teaching was made dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. In a rare moment of a Roman bishop speaking ex cathedra, the pope wrote:
Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be exempted from this general rule. She, by an entirely unique privilege, completely overcame sin by her Immaculate Conception, and as a result she was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body. [Munificentissimus Deus; source]
This was emphasized with:
Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith. [ibid]
The teaching is likewise in the Roman Catholic Catechism:
"Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death." [Paragraph 966; source]
And again:
...the new Eve, "full of grace" of the Holy Spirit, is preserved from sin and the corruption of death (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, ever virgin). [Paragraph 2583; source]
While many might write this off as Pope Pius XII's personal opinion, one must remember that the Roman Catholic Church believes this teaching not to come solely from Pius XII, but from church tradition.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Within the Eastern Orthodox Church, the belief is not an official "dogma" as it is in Roman Catholicism, and is relegated to being part of Holy Tradition. Nonetheless, it is an integral part of the story around the dormition of the Virgin Mary, and is believed by all within Eastern Orthodoxy. One link, coming from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website, explains:
The Feast of the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15 each year. The Feast commemorates the repose (dormition and in the Greek kimisis) or "falling-asleep" of the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. The Feast also commemorates the translation or assumption into heaven of the body of the Theotokos. [source]
And again:
This great Feast of the Church and the icon celebrates a fundamental teaching of our faith—the Resurrection of the body. In the case of the Theotokos, this has been accomplished by the divine will of God. [ibid]
And from the same site:
Concerning the Dormition of the Theotokos, this is what the Church has received from ancient times from the tradition of the Fathers...When they had reached the place called Gethsemane, they buried there with honor the all-immaculate body of the Theotokos, which was the source of Life. But on the third day after the burial...the Theotokos appeared in the air, saying "Rejoice" to them. From this they learned concerning the bodily translation of the Theotokos into the Heavens. [source]
The Orthodox Church in America website likewise states:
The Dormition of the Theotokos is part of the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church...We believe that Mary was taken up to heaven, body and soul, to be with her Son, rather than lying in the grave. She takes part already in the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God. Another way of saying this is that she was "assumed" into heaven, which is why the feast is sometimes called the Assumption. [source]
Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast on August 15. The earliest dating of the feast is somewhere between the fifth and sixth centuries.
According to the life of St. Theodosius (d. 529) it was celebrated in Palestine before the year 500... [Original Catholic Encyclopedia; source]
And another source:
The festival of the Assumption...is traced by some to the fifth or sixth century. [Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom Volume 1, Chapter 4; source]
If the celebration of the event itself came at a later date, then what about the belief itself? We will review that in the next section.

The Legitimacy of the Tradition

When I first began researching the history behind the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary, perhaps one of the first things I found peculiar was that the earliest recordings of this tradition came from questionable sources.
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 Virgins", falsely ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis, and in a spurious letter attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite. [Original Catholic Encyclopedia; ibid]
The "apocryphal treatise" known as "De Obitu S. Dominae" is said here by the Catholic Encyclopedia to have come from the fourth or fifth century. Philip Schaff also points to it being the fourth century, citing Tischendorf (source). The "St. John" it is most often attributed to is "St. John the Theologian," which is the title for the beloved apostle John which the eastern churches gave him. While the apostle John did live a long time, it is safe to say that he was not around during the 300's AD.

Please note that the Catholic Encyclopedia itself admits that the belief in the bodily assumption "is founded on" an "apocryphal treatise." What is an "apocryphal treatise"? It is a book written by someone else under a falsely attributed name, usually at a later date. Some classic examples of this are the Gospel of Thomas (not written by the apostle Thomas) or the Gospel of Barnabas (written more than a millennium after Barnabas had died). In other words, the Catholic Encyclopedia is admitting that the belief was founded on a forged document.

Other early documents regarding the bodily assumption of Mary are likewise questionable, and include:
  • Six Books Apocryphon, a Syriac document from about the fourth century
  • The Passing of the Blessed Mary, falsely attributed to Melito of Sardis, dated to the fifth century
  • The Passing of the Blessed Virgin Mary, falsely attributed to Joseph of Arimathea, dated to the early seventh century
  • Homily on the Dormition, falsely attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem, dated to the middle of the sixth century (about 200 years after Cyril of Jerusalem had died)
  • Homily on the Dormition, falsely attributed to Evodius of Rome, dated to the middle of the sixth century
Certainly, to be intellectually honest, there are some legitimate early recordings of the belief in the Virgin Mary's bodily assumption, including:
  • Homily on the Dormition, written by Theodosius of Alexandria, who died in the middle-sixth century
  • Three Sermons on the Dormition, by John Damascene, a well known Desert Father who lived in the eighth century
One interesting claim I found online was in an EWTN article regarding the assumption. The earliest statement regarding the Assumption of Mary being recorded among patristics was supposedly at the Fourth Ecumenical Council in Chalcedon:
At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered in Constantinople, Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that "Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later...was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven." [source]
However, I looked through the records of the Council of Chalcedon (source) and could not find any such encounter.

Returning to Theodosius and John Damascene, by the time these men had written their homilies, the dormition and assumption of Mary had already been accepted as a feast in many parts of the church. However, the earliest documents pertaining to the tradition are almost entirely apocryphal documents falsely attributed to other men. Furthermore, they do not appear until some 300 or 400 years after the events supposedly took place. Even more amazing, before all this there were a variant of traditions regarding the story of what happened to the Virgin Mary at her death. One discussion on the matter:
The entire silence of the apostles and the primitive church teachers respecting the departure of Mary stirred idle curiosity to all sorts of inventions, until a translation like Enoch’s and Elijah’s was attributed to her. In the time of Origen some were inferring from Luke ii. 35, that she had suffered martyrdom. Epiphanius will not decide whether she died and was buried, or not. Two apocryphal Greek writings de transitu Mariae, of the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century, and afterward pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory of Tours († 595), for the first time contain the legend that the soul of the mother of God was transported to the heavenly paradise by Christ and His angels in presence of all the apostles, and on the following morning her body also was translated thither on a cloud and there united with the soul. Subsequently the legend was still further embellished, and, besides the apostles, the angels and patriarchs also, even Adam and Eve, were made witnesses of the wonderful spectacle. [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. III; source]
Again, the first time the very story of the Virgin Mary's supposed bodily assumption came onto the scene, they were all from false sources. From this simple examination, there is very little legitimacy to the tradition of the Virgin Mary's assumption.

Scriptural Evidence of the Bodily Assumption

One might be wondering, at this point, if scripture makes any mention of the Bodily Assumption of Mary. In fact, the exact number of scriptural references to the Virgin Mary's assumption are: zero. There is not one verse of scripture that either discusses or makes reference to the event. Luke, who goes into more detail on the Virgin Mary's life in his gospel, does not record one iota of it in his Acts of the Apostles. The apostle John, who was entrusted by Jesus to care for Mary, makes no reference to it either in his gospel, three epistles, or apocalyptic vision. There is simply no scriptural evidence whatsoever for the event.

In fact, keeping within the confines of scripture, the events around the bodily assumption would be illogical. For example, it is said in the tradition that all the apostles were there. Yet we know for a fact that James the apostle was dead by Acts 12:1-2, and no bodily assumption of Mary was recorded before then. We can likewise assume that Peter and Paul were martyred sometime after the end of Acts 28, but once again, no bodily assumption of Mary is spoken of by Luke.

As a matter of fact, the apocryphal documents have a humorous answer to this dilemma: some of the apostles were resurrected from death just for this event. One example:
Now none of the disciples were dead as yet, except Andrew, the brother of Simon Cephas, and Philip, and Luke, and Simon the Cananite; these were dead. And on that day the Holy Spirit informed them in their graves, (saying:) "Rise from Sheol." And the Holy Spirit said unto them: "Do not suppose that the resurrection is come; but your rising to-day from your graves is wholly that ye may go to greet the mother of your Lord, for the time draws nigh for her to leave the world." [Six Books Apocryphon, pg. 138]
And another:
Andrew, Peter's brother, and Philip, Luke, and Simon the Cananaean, and Thaddaeus who had fallen asleep, were raised by the Holy Spirit out of their tombs; to whom the Holy Spirit said: Do not think that it is now the resurrection; but on this account you have risen out of your tombs, that you may go to give greeting to the honour and wonder-working of the mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, because the day of her departure is at hand, of her going up into the heavens. [Dormition of the Holy Theotokos]
Note that in both these quotations, neither one makes mention of James the apostle...who we know was dead before the other apostles were. Apparently, he missed out on the dormition. Note also that Luke is twice mentioned being resurrected, even though, according to other church traditions, Luke was martyred a long time after both Peter and Paul. Even within the confines of church tradition, these explanations are illogical.

Common Arguments for the Bodily Assumption

Here I will briefly review some common arguments made by those who wish to somehow prove that the Bodily Assumption of Mary must be true. Some of these I have encountered in discussions with others, some I have read on various websites (including the Catholic Answers website). Either way, I thought it would be worth touching upon briefly.

Argument #1: The Bodily Resurrection Fallacy

Argument: In Matthew 26:51-53, the bodies of saints are raised from their tombs after the crucifixion. Therefore, this makes the Bodily Assumption of Mary possible.

Dilemma: This was the specific, post-crucifixion resurrection of saints from the past who had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah and God's chosen one, and has no relation to the specific bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary. A specific event dealing with a specific group of people does not denote that it definitely happened with an unrelated person at an unrelated event.

Argument #2: The Elijah Fallacy

Argument: Elijah was bodily assumed into heaven...therefore, why not the Virgin Mary?

Dilemma: This argument presents a rather broad case for anyone to be assumed into heaven. After all, why stop at the Virgin Mary? Why not say Paul was bodily assumed? Why not Peter? By this line of reasoning, any Biblical character could have been bodily assumed. The fact that one person was bodily assumed does not logically conclude that another person definitely was.

Argument #3: The No Body Fallacy

Argument: No one knows where the body of the Virgin Mary is, therefore it must have been assumed.

Dilemma: By this line of thinking, any person whose body has not been found must have been bodily assumed. Many murder victims' have yet to have their bodies found...are we going to tell their families that they must not be found because they've been bodily assumed into heaven? Mozart was buried, but to this day no one knows where, and his body has not been found - are we to assume Mozart was bodily assumed into heaven? Should any person of antiquity whose remains have yet to be found be automatically identified as having been bodily assumed? This is simply fallacious thinking.

Argument #4: The "Believe the Church" Fallacy

Argument: The Apostolic Church teaches it, therefore it must be so.

Dilemma: This is 100% circular reasoning. In order to accept this, you have to first accept the presupposition that the "apostolic" church in question is infallible, which is in and of itself circular reasoning. It should likewise be noted that I have heard this argument made even when all previous evidence already stated in this post has been brought forward. At this point, it's just appealing to authority of the individual church group, despite evidence that this group is in error.

Concluding Remarks

As we have seen, the belief of the Bodily Assumption of Mary did not appear until the fourth or fifth century, and stems entirely from forged documents. Some were falsely attributed to apostles who could not possibly have written them, while others were falsely attributed to Church Fathers who simply did not write them. In fact, the vast testimony of the early Church Fathers are amazingly silent regarding anything about the Virgin Mary being bodily assumed into heaven. From the post-apostolic era on, the Church Fathers wrote on many topics (the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the recognized scriptures, etc.), but regarding the bodily assumption of Mary, they are no records. Irenaeus, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and many other early Fathers write nothing about it. Even Eusebius, in his Church History, writes on the death of many of the original apostles, but makes no mention whatsoever of the death of the Virgin Mary. This is all a starch contrast from the comment we heard earlier, which said that "the Church has received from ancient times from the tradition of the Fathers." On the contrary, legitimate patristic writings on the subject did not appear until the 500's AD, and the belief itself did not become an "official" part of the corporate church worship until the fifth or sixth century.

Likewise, we have seen that there is no scriptural basis for the bodily assumption, and therefore its entire basis is on the flawed tradition already discussed. Even the supposed sources of this belief are illogical in regards to the scriptural account (not mentioning James the apostle, resurrecting Luke but not Peter and Paul, etc). Both in the absence of the account and the contradiction with the traditions, this belief simply does not hold water when looked to the light of scripture.

I would advise every reader to be discerning regarding this. If your church calls it dogma, ask why it calls dogma that which came from questionable sources. If your church calls it part of their sacred tradition, ask why something with such a flawed and questionable source is not only declared apostolic, but is said to be on equal with holy scripture. Ask questions, and follow up on this research. Then ask where the true, infallible word of God is: in the God-breathed words of scripture, or the developed beliefs of an individual church? This is not an attempt of mockery or to put anyone down, but to merely ask for a scripturally-minded call for discernment. God bless.

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UPDATE - APRIL 4, 2011: Some time ago, I was sent a link to a forum thread. I was actually a member of this forum, and had been for some time. Someone I knew on the forum had come across that thread and sent a link to me via personal message, saying, "You seemed to create a ruckus with some EO folks on the forum."

Originally, I was just going to ignore it. However, in the end I decided to reply to it for two reasons: 1) some objections were raised by the other posters that I thought would be worth giving a response; 2) some accusations were made about myself that I felt would have to at least be addressed to prevent further misinterpretation and misconception.

Let's start first with the objections raised by the forum's Eastern Orthodox posters:
For example, to cite works falsely attributed to people (technically pseudepigrapha) as "forged" isn't entirely fair, since it implies to modern minds a sort of dishonest motive, or an attempt to advance one's own interests by stealing someone else's reputation. Works of these kinds are all over history and very often they were written in another person's name almost as a way of honoring that person...or in sincere belief that the writer's views are in line with the person who is no longer living. Many scholars (including some generally conservative people) do at least hold open the possibility that letters of the NT, including some of Paul's and 2 Peter are works written by their disciples and attributed to them. To call them "forgeries" therefore isn't probably accurate. [source]
In my original argumentation, I had compared it to the Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of Barnabas. There were countless others, all of them known, even by Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox scholars, as apocryphal documents. They were attributed to other authors and said to have been written by them, when in fact they were written by other men. "Forgery" might be a strong word to some, but I believe it is an accurate terminology. That they are "all over history" and are sometimes done "as a way of honoring that person" does not hide the fact that they aren't written by the people they're claimed to be, and come from a different time period altogether. Keep in mind that I am not trying to paint the picture of an evil bearded man cackling madly and rubbing his hands together as he finishes up the apocryphal document. However, what I am trying to point out is that to use them as accurate sources of church history or information is simply erroneous and likewise inconsistent.

It seems, in this case, that there is a double standard when it comes to apocryphal documents. That is, when they do not coincide with your church's current doctrines, they are bad apocrypha. However, if they agree with your church's current doctrines, then they are good apocrypha. This is entirely inconsistent. Furthermore, if you want to say the belief came from early apocrypha, then very well - but don't then say the belief came from the Church Fathers when that's demonstratively untrue.

Incidentally, do the opinions of "many scholars" correspond with the opinion of Church Tradition? Does Holy Tradition believe that "some of Paul's" epistles and "2 Peter" were written by disciples and not their original authors? If not, then what is the relevance? Were early Church Fathers, citing them as having been written by the authors they were accredited to, in error? I'm simply looking for consistency in this.
Secondly, he assumes that anything not mentioned in Scripture isn't something that could have happened. His facts about the deaths of the apostles necessarily happening before Mary's death are based on the assumption that, since Mary's death (and assumption!) aren't recorded by Luke, they must not have happened yet. Joseph's death isn't recorded either but it's very likely he DID die sometime before the crucifixion (and most conservative, Reformed people are just fine with believing that). Of course that's no article of dogma. [ibid]
Note the quick straw man: "he assumes anything not mentioned in Scripture isn't something that could have happened." That's a misinterpretation of what I was driving at. My point was that if a story as detailed as the Virgin Mary's death and assumption into heaven had occurred, surely it would have been recorded by a member of the apostolic church. If the mere execution of James is recorded, why wouldn't the death of the Virgin Mary (who was mentioned by name in Acts 1:14) be included as well? Especially if, according to the traditions, the events around her death involved so much of the apostolic church (in some versions even Paul is there) that there would have been a wealth of apostolic witnesses. 
Thirdly he assumes that because something doesn't appear in written record until several centuries later, it must have suddenly appeared at that time and therefore wasn't believed earlier. It may also be that someone finally recorded something that had been believed for a very long time but hadn't been formally recorded. [ibid]
Actually, I didn't "assume" anything. I took a belief that was said to have come from the early church, reviewed it, and found that nothing regarding the belief came until 300 to 400 years after the time of Christ, and written under false names. There's no evidence that it was believed before then. If this was believed for a long time, why wasn't it written about before? Why did it take so long for it to be written down; and when it was it was in apocrypha; and when it was written by true patristics, it was long after the apocrypha had been written and passed around by the church?

The belief did not come from the Fathers - it came from apocrypha that was eventually accepted by later Fathers.
He also cites Schaff, who was quite a famous historian, but whose works had a definite polemical bent and interpreted much of history as a record of fables and legends simply growing over time. I think he was predisposed to see things that way. [ibid]
I recognize that all historians bring some kind of "polemical bent" to the table, and I certainly don't believe Schaff is infallible. However, the criticism of his supposed bias here is a form of ad hominem, meant to essentially disregard everything he said.

What I would like to ask anyone who wishes to make this argument: which of Schaff's statements reveal his "predisposed" nature to interpret "much of history as a record of fables and legends"? Was it his dating of when the feast was introduced to the church, which the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia agreed with? Was it his quotation of early church traditions regarding the Virgin Mary? If that, how do we know he has a polemical bent to it? Again, this kind of argument can't simply be said in a cavalier fashion. It has to be demonstrated.

One could easily turn the argument around and say, "Well of course you don't want to believe him, you're Eastern Orthodox! You're biased to accept what the church teaches!" Of course, I wouldn't do that, and for the reasons I already stated.
As someone remarked earlier, his facts do appear to be right. The problem is that the facts by themselves don't prove or disprove anything. It may be that the beliefs about Mary took shape over time and within a given community of believers (i.e. the Christians!). It's just as true that your friend's hermeneutical paradigm, which he uses to refute things he disagrees with, likewise evolved over time (in the late middle ages) in reaction against a particular tradition (Roman Catholicism) and within a given community of believers (i.e. Protestants). Yet he is treating it as a neutral, unbiased factual platform from which to critique other viewpoints. It may be that Mary's assumption didn't appear in writing until the 4th century as he says. It's also true that sola scriptura and the other Protestant distinctives [sic] didn't appear in writing until the 16th century. That doesn't seem to keep him from believing that they actually were the beliefs of the early church, which requires an awful lot of selective reading between the lines. [ibid]
This is a complete red herring. It essentially argues: "He may be right about the Virgin Mary's assumption...but then what about sola scriptura?!" The problem with this fallacy is obvious in its thinking: you say a is wrong, but so is b. It's distracting from the topic with an unrelated topic to change the subject. We become familiar with this thinking in little children, who might get in trouble but respond with, "But my brother did something similar a week ago!" as if that completely nullifies their guilt. This was also the argument by cigarette companies during the first big hearings, and thus they would argue "No one ever picks on beer companies despite the affects of alcohol", as if pointing out the affects of alcohol made the affects of tobacco on the body perfectly permissible.

In a similar fashion, even if sola scriptura didn't exist until 1500 years later (which I would disagree with), that doesn't answer the contention that the bodily assumption of Mary didn't appear until 300 years later. That entire argumentation is simply avoiding a response.
I had to point out that the disappearance of bodily remains being used to assume divine intervention is fairly key to Christian theology. [source]
This was in reference to the disappearance of Christ's body. Here is the major issue however: the disappearance of Christ's body is confirmed by all four gospels. By contrast, not one of the gospels, Luke's Acts, the epistles, nor Revelation make mention of the Virgin Mary's body being gone. That is the grand difference between the two. The disappearance of Christ's body didn't become an argument hundreds upon hundreds of years after the event - it was well known in the apostolic church of the first century. That simply wasn't the case with the supposed disappearance of the Virgin Mary's body.
The article makes strange arguments. There is no mention of the death or funeral of the blessed Virgin Mary at all in the bible. Does this presuppose she didnt [sic] die at all? [source]
Of course, the immediate problem is that it is made to seem as if I'm arguing we don't know whether or not Mary died. As I said before, that wasn't my contention. That is not something I am trying to "presuppose." I have no doubt in my mind that, at one point, the Virgin Mary died. Rather, my discussion was regarding the events around her death, specifically whether or not she was bodily assumed into heaven, and the origins of these beliefs.
Can this person then using scripture or even the ealiest [sic] fathers tell us with certainty how Mary died? Was it natural or violent death? How about what year it happened in? [ibid]
We don't know. For my own part, I wasn't claiming to know for certain what happened to the Virgin Mary at the end of her life (outside that she most certainly did die). In fact, I pointed out that the earliest Church Fathers didn't talk about the death of the Virgin Mary, and the very few who did never wrote that she was bodily assumed. In fact, as I showed, their writings contradicted the later teachings that become the events of her dormition and assumption.
As st [sic] Ignatius taught, God keeps many of the mysteries secret until the time is right:

"And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary, and her giving birth, and likewise the death of the Lord: three mysteries crying out to be told, but wrought in the silence of God" (Ephesians 19.1). [ibid]
This is a rather overarching argument that could be used to justify anything. Like many of the arguments I addressed before, this does not logically prove the historical truth behind the assumption of the Virgin Mary, only the mere possibility. This argument therefore simply works to attempt to squeeze in the belief on a mere possibility with an argument that is not directly or coherently related to the quotation. For example, what if an Eastern Orthodox attempted to point out to a Roman Catholic that the teaching of Purgatory came at a later date, and the Roman Catholic replied, "Well yeah, but St. Ignatius said that sometimes God reveals mysteries when the time is right, so He just chose to reveal the mystery of Purgatory at a later date!" Again, it's an overarching argument (and similar to one made by Harold Camping).

It might also be worth noting that this quotation of Ignatius is a bit misapplied. The context is that the "mystery" was the virginity of Mary with Christ in her womb, her giving birth to Christ, and then the death of Christ and all that pertained. After this, Ignatius writes: "How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of Which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment." He ends the chapter with: "Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death." Ignatius's topic is regarding the birth of Christ, and the Virgin Mary's only role (in Ignatius's point) is that Christ was born to her when she was a virgin. Ignatius knew nothing of the assumption of Mary, and he isn't touching on the subject here. The "mystery" here was simply the virgin birth, and to extend it to anything else is, as stated before, a misapplication.
The irony is of course that by rejecting our tradition, he is also rejecting scripture itself. Who decided what books were authoritative and inspired by God?...so if we were wrong about the Assumption, we must be wrong about Holy Scripture right? I mean if you throw out the infallability [sic] of the Church, who knows what else we were wrong about? [source]
This is another red herring, responding to the argument about the assumption of Mary with, "If the assumption of Mary is wrong, then what about the canon of scripture!" Regarding church authority and the canon of scripture, I've already touched upon this in my post regarding common objections to sola scriptura, so I will, for the sake of time, point that topic over there.

Now obviously, my argument is not to propose "no early church group could have ever said/done anything right." Rather, I was reviewing a belief that was considered apostolic and ancient, and simply demonstrated how it developed over history. I would also like to point out, as I mentioned earlier regarding the disappearance of Christ's body, that the authenticity of scripture was not an issue in the apostolic and post-apostolic church. We have the identity of the gospels, epistles, etc. as early as Irenaeus, with Fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp quoting New Testament scripture. However, we find them saying nothing on the events around the assumption of Mary.
I confess that I did not read the article but the tendency of its author seems that he must prove himself correct moreso [sic] than even proclaiming the Gospel itself. [source; emphasis in original]
I have to say that this comment astounded me when I first read it. "I didn't actually read what the author said...but, here is my judgment on the author's character." What is this based on? The hearsay by others in the thread? Is this the appropriate way to treat another individual, even if you disagree with them? This is not even so much about me as it is about simple principle. If I had treated this individual in the same manner, would they have appreciated it? Would they have considered that appropriate? I would assume not.

Now finally:
So why do we fools believe fairy tales and not Scriptures? Why can't we be smart like him and his family of smart Protestants and believe scriptural things like the Rapture? [source]
Note, very quickly, that I did not call anyone "fools" or anything similar in my post. I did not mock the intelligence of the people who believed in it, nor did I launch into ad hominems.

Furthermore, I actually don't believe in the rapture (at least the post-tribulation, modern dispensationalist definition of it). Therefore, that application is completely and entirely erroneous. If I had been talked to before this thread was posted, I would have willingly clarified that point.
He posted that during Lent to attack the apostolic church, any other reason considering his history? [source]
Actually, I had no such conspiracy involving the timing of my post with Great Lent. I had started working on this post a long time ago and forgotten about it, then found some more writings on the Assumption of Mary and decided to finish it and post. That this was all some sort of plan on my part is simply an empty, unprovable charge.

Also..."considering his history"? Have I "attacked" Eastern Orthodoxy in the past? If so, could we please have sources for this? Chances are there will be none.
See how he accepts St. John Damascene's writings but then disregards them as he proposes that the saint had no ability to discern on the origins of the tradition as it was already too late, what he doesn't realize that none of St. John of Damascus writings are original copies of his work, all of them being much later copies so he doesn't even know if any of it was written by St. John. Although he is quick to say, St. Cyril had been dead for 200 years so the homily on the Dormition, he is supposed to have written is a forgery. What about the MILLION traditions surround his "God breathed/infallible" Scriptures? Most of the info we have come from Eusebius who lived when? Way after the facts.... But he doesn't treat the Scriptures in that aspect. [source]
Let's review the argumentation here:

1) The criticism regarding the identity of authors. Even the Roman Catholic encyclopedia agrees with me regarding the many spurious misnomers. Could we please see some demonstration why their authors' identities should be trusted? When I say in my post that the homilies or books were written, I am not talking about earliest manuscripts, but when scholars actually think the writing was done. I realize, of course, where this argument is going: the application of how we know what dates the works of scripture were written in.

2) The criticism in favor of the "millions" of traditions. What "millions" of traditions? Are we talking about the "millions" of traditions regarding the assumption of Mary? Where are they? Or are we just talking about church traditions in general? In that case, what relevancy do they have here?

Some attempt is made to cite a source involving the tradition, although it is credited to a word document with an unknown author. This is somewhat ironic: at one point in the thread, I had been called a "Google scholar," yet in my original post I only cited credible or original sources, and linked to where others could find them....meanwhile, the only source  provided himself in the entire thread is a nameless word document.
The circumstances of the Dormition of the Mother of God were known in the Orthodox Church from apostolic times. Already in the first century, the Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite wrote about Her “Falling-Asleep.” In the second century, the account of the bodily ascent of the Most Holy Virgin Mary to Heaven is found in the works of Meliton, Bishop of Sardis. [source]
Regarding the two citations, one author at a time:

Dionysius the Areopagite: Most of the writings many attribute to Dionysius the Areopagite (a convert from Acts 17:34) are actually of another Dionysius, many centuries later, known as "Pseudo-Dionysius."
Since Pseudo-Dionysius represented himself as St. Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian member of the judicial council, the Areopagus, who was converted instantly by St. Paul, his work, strictly speaking, might be regarded as a successful “forgery”, providing him with impeccable Christian credentials that conveniently antedated Plotinus by over two hundred years. So successful was this stratagem that Dionysius acquired almost apostolic authority, giving his writings enormous influence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance...Dionysius' fictitious identity, doubted already in the sixth century by Hypatius of Ephesus and later by Nicholas of Cusa, was first seriously called into question by Lorenzo Valla in 1457 and John Grocyn in 1501, a critical viewpoint later accepted and publicized by Erasmus from 1504 onward. [source]
Meliton, Bishop of Sardis: If one had read my blog post, they would have noticed that I already touched upon supposed citation: the document which is attributed to Meliton was not written by him, and came centuries after he lived.

I would like to quickly note this isn't uncommon in the study of patristics - that is, that spurious documents would be cited (often unknowingly) by a Church Father. Thomas Aquinas, for example, cited quotations from Augustine that were never written by Augustine, and in fact had been written by other men many centuries later under the name of Augustine. If you read the introductions to the various works within the Philokalia, it is mentioned, many times, that either the Church Fathers attributed to the document never wrote it, or large chunks were written at a later date and attributed to them.
In the availability of the counter arguments from Orthodox, he just plays the "show me in the scripture" trumpet over and over again... [source]
While I do believe in the supremacy of scripture, I only do exactly what our Lord did when faced by the tradition of the Pharisees: return to the inspired word of God for instruction and doctrine. That's also what the apostle Paul did to the Judaizers, Athanasius did to the Arians, Basil the Great to the Macedonians, and Cyril of Jerusalem to the Nestorians.
He almost wants to become some type of authority in what he studies which brings lots of pride. [ibid]
This is simply character attacking. If you are going to make these claims about me, please then demonstrate them or bring forth evidence of it.
Some people are doing this out of love and faith as you see but this guy, even though he confesses how much he loves the Lord, I think is after fame and position. Humility doesn't exist in his literature. Unfortunately he is growing in his ways unchallenged, very dangerous path to set him up. [source]
Again, this is empty character attacking. If you are going to criticize me, at least cite examples or give some evidence. If you want me to be "humbled," then at least show me where I am in error. Otherwise, you are performing slander.
We have had enough of his Orthodox Church bashings. [source]
Since when is disagreeing with someone and then demonstrating why you disagree with them while citing sources considered "bashing" them? How could my post be taken as being "Orthodox Church bashing" when: 1) I didn't use any ad hominems or personal attacks against specific groups; 2) I didn't focus solely on Eastern Orthodoxy, only a belief that was shared by older churches, one of which was Eastern Orthodoxy.

I have no interest in "Orthodox Church bashing." One of the reasons I was quoting the official websites of Eastern Orthodox churches was to show respect towards the position. Citing someone and arguing from their line of thinking is not disrespect, nor is it "bashing." I've had friends disagree with me over Reformed theology, but I never once called their disagreement "Reformed bashing."

UPDATE - OCTOBER 15, 2011: Just two small updates. First, for those who might have been curious in regards to the last update, it might interest you to know that I only received two responses: one was to tell me to shove off, the other was an apology from a person, whom I assured I had taken no offense.

Second, I was going through some of my Eastern Orthodox books, and came across a passage from a book written by a well known Eastern Orthodox author. It touches briefly on the validity of the dormition and bodily assumption of Mary.
We know nothing of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mary, Jesus Christ's mother. Various stories, embellished with childlike love and tenderness, have come down to us from early Christianity, but precisely because of their variety we are under no compulsion to defend the "historicity" of any one of them. On Dormition the Church's commemoration and love are centered not on the historical and factual context, not on the date and place where this singular woman, this Mother of all mothers completed her earthly life. Wherever and whenever it occured [sic], the Church looks instead at the essence and meaning of her death, commemorating the death of the one whose Son, according to our faith, conquered death, was raised from the dead and promised us final resurrection and the victory of undying life. [pg. 39-40; Alexander Schmemann, Celebration of Faith Vol. 3: The Virgin Mary, 2001]
Schmemann admits to the "variety" of stories behind the Virgin Mary's supposed dormition and all the events around it, and does not expect one to be able to defend the historicity behind it (although one wonders where the "childlike love and tenderness" are in the stories). Schmemann instead focuses on "the essence and meaning" of the event, and says it is more a celebration of the Virgin Mary's life than the death itself. This transforms the liturgical celebration into one of symbolic background rather than historical.

2 comments:

  1. Have you got any proof that it didn't happen?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jerry, thank you for your post;

    To ask "Do you have proof it DIDN'T happen" is actually a classic example of the burden of proof fallacy. When someone makes a claim, the burden of proof is upon them to prove that it happened. So, if one wishes to claim that the Virgin Mary was bodily assumed into heaven - and there is no historical proof for it, and the apostolic witnesses are silent on the matter - then they must deal with the facts at hand. To throw it on the other side and demand they prove it DIDN'T happen is simply fallacious. This is especially fallacious because, in order for one to prove that something didn't happen, we would have to first assume that the positive case has been affirmed, which it hasn't.

    Also, such an argument could likewise be used for anything.

    "The apostle Paul had three legs."
    "Wait...where are you getting that? Nothing in scripture or history says he had three legs."
    "Well, can you prove he DIDN'T have three legs?"

    I would exhort that you refrain from such argumentation if you want to discuss this subject.

    ReplyDelete