Mary’s Assumption—Fact or Fiction?
AT A Eucharistic Congress held in Lima, Peru, the question was asked, “How can it be . . . that the Virgin Mary, within the plan of God, stays exempt from original sin that reaches to all? If she is free from sin, she does not need a Redeemer. The Mother of the Redeemer would remain outside the sphere of the Redemption. Would that be an honor for the Universal Redeemer?” The official answer given assures us that “the Virgin Mary is not outside the sphere of the Redemption, she was redeemed, but she was not soiled, because before being conceived, before existing, she was redeemed with the blood of her own Son, before it was poured out, since this is what the sovereign and omnipotent will of God wished.” (El Comercio) It is said that on this view, held by millions of sincere persons, is based the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.
However, this has not always been the view of the Catholic church. In the book In Praise of Our Blessed Mother, printed in 1952 under the Imprimatur of Patrick A. O’Boyle, it says: “In the first three centuries of Christianity nothing approaching an explicit mention to Mary’s immunity from original sin can be found in ecclesiastical writings.” “It is therefore in divine tradition, the unwritten word of God, that we must seek the basic and unquestionable source of the dogma that the Mother of God was preserved from original sin in the first moment of her existence.”
Tradition, however, does not show unanimity of thought on the matter. St. Augustine, for example, insisted on the Bible’s teaching of the universality of original sin. St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Franciscan writers Alexander of Hales and St. Bonaventure were all opponents of the doctrine of Mary’s sinless conception.
But the fifteenth century showed a change of viewpoint when Pope Sixtus IV in at least two papal pronouncements gave approval to the belief of Mary’s immaculate conception; this position was confirmed by the Council of Trent and by other popes in the years that followed. “And so,” we are told, “the ground was well prepared for the culminating act, the solemn definition of the dogma proclaimed by Pope Pius IX” in 1854.
It is in this papal dogma, that “the Blessed Virgin Mary was at the very moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, through the merits of Jesus Christ Saviour of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin,” said John Wright, bishop of Worcester, that we find “the root reasons for the incorruptibility of Mary’s body and her eventual Assumption, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.”
MARY NO EXCEPTION
What is the position of God’s Word the Bible in the matter? It is clearly stated in the Catholic Douay version of the Bible at Romans 3:9, 10:”We have charged both Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is not any man just.” And again, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.” (Rom. 5:12, Dy) But could there not be an exception? Yes, and such exception is identified for us at Hebrews 7:26 as Jesus Christ.
That Mary is not an additional exception to the rulership of sin is shown by the account of her purification. The law in Leviticus 12:1-4, 8, on the matter is this: “When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled. . . . she may take two turtledoves or two pigeons, the one for a holocaust and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and thus she will again be clean.”—Catholic Confraternity.
Could such expressions indicating need of purification and a sin offering as “she shall be unclean” and “the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period” properly be applied to Mary? The same Catholic Bible translation of Luke 2:21-24 shows that God’s Word answers Yes, because this very law of purification, which required a sacrifice to atone for her sins, was complied with by Mary. “And when eight days were fulfilled for his circumcision, his name was called Jesus . . . And when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord—as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’—and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’” Truly Mary was just like other women, imperfect. We agree with the inspired apostle who said “God is true,” even if men are wrong.—Rom. 3:4, Dy.
But is it not true that Mary is the ever-virgin “Mother of God”? Instead of basing our answer on emotion-charged sentiment or tradition, let us turn to the Word of God and see what it says. Turn in your own Bible to Luke 1:35 and you will find the statement that “what shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”—not God himself.—Dy.
Nonetheless, this was a truly miraculous birth, God’s Son becoming a human, and it was accomplished in an extraordinary way, a virgin being used as his earthly mother. “Now all this came to pass that there might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanuel.’”—Matt. 1:22, 23, Cath. Confrat.
MARY’S OTHER CHILDREN
Did Mary, who was now the legal wife of Joseph, bear any other children? Turn, please, to Matthew 13:55, 56, and read: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence therefore hath he all these things?” (Dy) Luke 2:7 agrees with this when it calls Jesus Mary’s “firstborn” son, not an only son. And when Matthew 1:25, Dy, says, “[Joseph] knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son,” it goes without saying that he did “know” her after that; yes, and she brought forth other children.
The apostle John throws further light on the matter by showing that these references to Jesus’ brothers do not refer to his followers, for he said: “And his brethren said to him: Pass from hence and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see thy works which thou dost. For neither did his brethren believe in him.”—John 7:3, 5, Dy.
Nor can it be argued that these brothers were merely cousins, for we read: “While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brethren were standing outside, seeking to speak to him. And someone said to him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren are standing outside, seeking thee.’ But he answered and said to him who told him, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brethren? . . . For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”—Matt. 12:46-50, Cath. Confrat.
This contrast given by Jesus, showing that the spiritual relationship is stronger and more important than the natural relationship, also shows that these brothers were not cousins. If they had been, then Jesus’ statement to his disciples must also mean, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my cousin.” Yet it is well known that Jesus taught that he and his disciples were spiritual brothers, not cousins.
These statements in God’s Word certainly cast no reproach on faithful Mary; rather, hers was a great privilege as a servant of the Lord, to be the virgin who gave birth to the promised Son of God and Savior of believing mankind. (Isa. 7:14) All Christians gladly accept the inspired record that shows such to be her happy lot, so let us also accept this further statement given under the same guiding spirit of God regarding other events in her life.
FOUNDED IN FICTION
Of particular interest are these statements in the book In Praise of Our Blessed Mother as they deal with the Assumption dogma. Quoting from Alfred C. Rush, C.SS.R.: “It is known that there is no explicit reference in Scripture to Mary’s Assumption. There is nothing in Scripture regarding Mary that corresponds to the explicit statements regarding Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension. Furthermore, in the patristic tradition of the first six centuries we find a void regarding this problem. . . . All these things add up to the fact that we do not have a genuine historical tradition on the Assumption. . . . Mary’s Assumption is not a fact of history in the sense that it can be proven historically. . . . [Speaking of the Transitus Mariae literature on the subject] As historical accounts of the Assumption they are worthless. True, they try to pass as elucubrations of the Apostles or of people closely associated with the Apostles; they try to pass as historical accounts of the events. In this they are not to be taken seriously. . . . In this regard they are pure legends; they cannot be regarded as having a foundation in genuine historical tradition. From a doctrinal point, however, they are of great value. [Why so, if they are not Scriptural or historical, but are pure legends and written by men who dishonestly represented their works?] . . . In Syriac there is a work called The Obsequies of the Holy Virgin . . . This work does not enter into reasons for the glorification of Mary, but states it as a fact, as something taken for granted. . . .”
Finally, on November 1, 1950, in what is apparently the first formal papal declaration of dogma since the pope was declared infallible when making such pronouncements, Pius XII declared “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.”
What, then, is the basis for the dogma? The church itself states that it is not based on the Bible, but rather, we might add, it is contradicted by the inspired statements at 1 Corinthians 15:44, 50: “It is sown a natural body: it shall rise a spiritual body. . . . Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God: neither shall corruption possess incorruption.”—Dy.
Furthermore, we have seen that it is not found in tradition of the early centuries of the Christian era, that it was opposed by later leaders of the church, that it is not a fact of history, but the same source shows that it is based on the highly imaginative legendary accounts of men “with a hunger for the miraculous.” Surely this teaching of tradition that contradicts God’s Word is what Paul the apostle was speaking of when he said: “Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit; according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ.”—Col. 2:8, Dy.
What motivated the declaration of the dogma? On May 1, 1946, in the letter Deiparae Virginis Mariae, Pope Pius XII asked the bishops throughout the world this question: “Do you, Venerable Brethren, in your outstanding wisdom and prudence, judge that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin can be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith? Do you, with your clergy and people, desire that it should be?”
Whose wisdom was being relied on? “The wisdom that is from above”? (Jas. 3:17, Dy) or the outstanding wisdom and prudence of men? Isaiah 29:14 says that such wisdom of men will perish. Whose pleasure was sought? That of God? or that of the clergy and people? Galatians 1:10 makes very plain the position of those following the latter course: “Do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”—Dy.