The Assumption
by Sebastian R. Fama

The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, just like the doctrine of the Trinity, is not formally defined in Scripture. However, in both cases we find scriptural evidence to support them.

There are two examples in Scripture that clearly demonstrate the bodily assumption of saints. Enoch (Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-13) were both taken up to heaven with their bodies. All Christians agree on this, so logically all should agree at least on the possibility that the same could have happened to Mary. (1) Scripture teaches us that it was possible.

The Assumption of Mary is further consistent with Scripture as it is the logical result of her Immaculate Conception (the fact that she was conceived without sin see essay on The Immaculate Conception). Death and corruption in the grave are the consequences of sin: "You are dust and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Mary was sinless. Thus, her being assumed body and soul into heaven was natural and to be expected. (2) Scripture indicates that it was likely.

Even though Scripture tells us that it was possible and even likely, that wouldn't necessarily mean that it happened. On the other hand, the fact that it is not explicitly taught in Scripture would not mean that it didn't. That idea comes from the Reformation doctrine of "Sola Scriptura," or Scripture alone. The leaders of the Protestant Reformation taught that all that was to be believed in matters of faith could be found on the surface of Scripture. However, this foundational teaching of the Reformation cannot itself be found in Scripture (see essay on Scripture Alone). What we do find in Scripture, is the establishment of an authoritative Church. For instance, the Church is "The pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). And rejection of the Church is rejection of Christ: "Whoever rejects you rejects me" (Luke 10:16; see essay on The Church). (3) Scripture shows us that the Church has the authority to teach.

In 1950 Pope Pius XII formally defined the doctrine of the Assumption. He was not adding something new but was affirming what the Church had already believed for centuries. (4) The Church in its authority proclaims that the assumption of Mary is a reality.

Reference to the Assumption of Mary is made early on. At the end of the third century Melito wrote “If therefore it might come to pass by the power of your grace, it has appeared right to us your servants that, as you, having overcome death, do reign in glory, so you should raise up the body of your Mother and take her with you, rejoicing, into heaven. Then said the Savior [Jesus]: "Be it done according to your will" (The Passing of the Virgin 16:2-17 [A.D. 300]).

The Church does not say whether or not Mary died. When Pius XII defined the Assumption in 1950, he simply said that Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory" (Munificentissimus Deus). Whether or not she died has been a matter of speculation for centuries. Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia, wrote the following in 377 AD: "Whether she died or was buried we know not" (Panarion 78:2). If she did die, it would present no conflict with Scripture, as she did not remain in the grave. We saw earlier in Genesis 3:19 that the penalty for sin was not merely death but death and bodily corruption (to dust you shall return). If Mary died it would probably have been because she identified so closely with everything that her Son did.

The doctrine of the Assumption in no way equates Mary with God. An assumption is not an ascension, something Mary would do by her own power. Rather she was assumed into heaven by the power of God. Someday all of the saved will be assumed into heaven by the power of God, "For the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29).

Christians have always honored those who have gone on to be with the Lord. Cities that possessed the bones of saintly people proudly proclaimed the fact. However there are no records of any city claiming possession of Mary's remains. And that is because there were none to claim.

Copyright © 2001 

For Further Study

The Early Church Fathers on Mary's Perpetual Virginity  (Free)
The Mother of God by Steve Collison (Free)
Books - Meet Mary - Getting to Know the Mother of God by Mark Miravalle and  Mary, the Second Eve by John Henry Newman and Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Fr. Luigi Gambero.
CD - Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God by Scott Hahn
Footprints of God: Mary with Stephen Ray

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