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Offline TomS

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The "assumed" fate of Jesus' mother
« on: August 14, 2004, 11:13:09 AM »
The "assumed" fate of Jesus' mother
Or, "What's 'up' with the Feast of the Assumption"?
By Sarah E. Dahl, introduced and with a postscript by Chris Armstrong

Whenever we prepare an issue on a new topic, our writers find facts in their digging that are new to me and that add to my sense of the richness of Christian history.

Our issue on Mary, the mother of Jesus—mailing at the end of this month—has certainly been no exception. Indeed, since Protestants have typically been content to leave the study of this honored biblical figure to the Catholics and Orthodox, I was more than usually enlightened this time around.

One area that was new to me is the little matter of Mary's supposed bodily assumption into heaven—on the analogy of certain particularly saintly Old Testament characters. I asked freelancer Sarah E. Dahl the question "What's up with that?"

This was her reply—originally slated as a sidebar for our issue, but through the vicissitudes of the editorial process, taken out and reserved for just this occasion: the day of the "Feast of the Assumption," August 15.

Standing before a joyful crowd packing St. Peter's square in November 1950, Pope 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 to heavenly glory." By this proclamation the pope defined belief in Mary's assumption into heaven as a dogma, or divinely revealed teaching, of the Catholic Church. However, belief that Mary "fell asleep" at the end of her life and was miraculously transported to heaven dates back to the early medieval church and has been a source of devotion for centuries in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Although Scripture reveals nothing about the manner of Mary's death, traditions surrounding her life after Christ's resurrection soon arose in the church. References to her dormition (literally "falling asleep") and assumption appear as early as the seventh century. In the most famous account, St. John Damascene (d. 749) passed on a story reportedly told at the Council of Chalcedon (451) that Mary had died in the presence of the Apostles, but when they opened her tomb they found it empty, "wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven." By the end of the eighth century, feasts celebrating Mary's dormition included prayers referring to her assumption as well.

Mary's bodily assumption into heaven has traditionally been celebrated as the firstfruits of Christ's resurrection. Catholic and Orthodox believers affirm that because Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven, she experiences the resurrected glory for which all Christians hope. Vatican II teaches that "she shines forth on earth GǪ a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God." Her assumption serves as a promise of the work that God will do for all believers, and as a reminder that resurrected humanity will be an uncorrupted union of body and soul.

The exact origin of the Feast of the Assumption is not known, but like many Marian practices, it seems to have a very early beginning. Celebrated in Palestine before the year 500, probably in August, it was also kept by the early Egyptian monks, though in January. The 6th-century church in Gaul borrowed the feast, as it did many other things, from the Eastern monks, again celebrating it in January. In the Greek Church, some followed the monastic dating of January, others the Palestinian dating of August. Finally Emperor Maurice (d. 602) set the feast for the Greek Empire on 15 August. In the Christian West, the feast seems to have been adopted somewhat later, but was observed as one of the principal festivities of Rome by the time of Sergius I (700).

Copyright -¬ 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

Offline Irish Hermit

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Re: The "assumed" fate of Jesus' mother
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2005, 11:25:39 PM »
You might say this is a case of knowing how to keep a secret. The history of
the end of Mary's life was genuinely new to most of the Church when it was
made public in the fifth century. The facts of the matter were kept private
among the clergy of the Jerusalem Church, and only became public during the
Council of Chalcedon. This was a case where there was a Tradition - a
passing-along of knowledge - that was intentionally kept private. I
personally suspect the remarkable near-silence of Scripture about the Mother
of God was deliberate on the part of the Apostles; St John (her guardian)
and the rest of the Evangelists kept her privacy.

The more picturesque details of the "transitus Mariae" literature had yet to
be developed, but in the mid-400's some basic information was revealed by
the Jerusalem clergy. I'm attaching a quote from the "Euthymiac History"
quoted by St John of Damascus, for details.

In his second homily on the Dormition of the Mother of God, Saint John of
Damascus refers to events recounted in the 40th chapter of the Life of St

"It was said above that Saint Pulcheria erected many churches for Christ in
Constantinople. One of these is the church in Blachernae, built at the
beginning of the reign of the divinely-appointed Emperor Marcian [who
acceded to the throne August, 450]. When the two of them built a worthy
house there for the all-glorious and all-holy Mother of God, the ever-virgin
Mary, and adorned it with every sort of decoration, they hoped to find her
holy body, which had been the dwelling-place of God. And summoning Juvenal,
the Archbishop of Jerusalem, and those bishops from Palestine who were
staying in the capital because of the synod then being held in Chalcedon
[October, 451], they said to them: We have heard that the first and most
outstanding church of the all-holy Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, is
in Jerusalem, in the place called Gethsemane, where her life-giving body was
put in a coffin. We now wish to bring this relic here, to protect this royal

"Juvenal answered on behalf of them all: "There is nothing in the holy,
inspired Scripture about the death of Mary, the holy Mother of God; but we
know from ancient and wholly reliable tradition that at the time she so
gloriously fell asleep, all the holy Apostles who were traveling the world
for the salvation of the peoples were lifted up in a single instant of time
and were gathered at Jerusalem. And as they stood by her, they saw a vision
of angels, and heard the divine chanting of the higher powers. So it was
that she gave her soul in an ineffable way into God's hands, surrounded by
the glory of God and all heaven.

"Her body, which had been God's dwelling place, was brought for burial
amidst the singing of the angels and the Apostles, and laid to rest in a
coffin in Gethsemane; and the angelic dancing and singing continued without
pause in that place for three days. But after three days the song of the
angels ceased; the Apostles were there, and since one of them - Thomas - had
not been present [for her burial] and came at he end of three days, and
wished to reverence that body which had housed God, they opened the coffin.
And they could not find her body, which had been the object of such praise;
all that they found were her burial wrappings. And being overcome by the
ineffable fragrance that came out of the wrappings, they closed the coffin
again. Amazed by this miraculous discovery, they could only draw a single
conclusion: The one who had deigned to become flesh in her own person and to
take his humanity from her, the one who willed to be born in human flesh as
God the Word, the Lord of glory, and who had preserved her virginity intact
even after childbirth, now chose, after her departure from this world, to
honour her pure and immaculate body with the gift of incorruptibility, and
with a change of state even before the common, universal resurrection."

"When the imperial couple heard this, they asked Archbishop Juvenal to send
them the holy coffin, properly sealed, with the funeral garments in it of
the glorious, all-holy Mary, Mother of God. And when he had sent it, they
placed it in the church of the holy Theotokos that had been built at

Offline Sabbas

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Re: The "assumed" fate of Jesus' mother
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2005, 01:38:12 PM »
It is my understanding, based on what a Catholic priest told me, that the Roman Catholics no longer believe the Theotokos reposed (died) at all. He said that because they believe the Theotokos was immaculately conceived and preserved from Original Sin that she was therefore preserved from the effects of Sin such as Death so therefore she could not have naturally died and was rather assumed body and soul into heaven where she sits as the Queen Mother. Of course Roman Catholics have not always believed this and there have been numerous paintings, Giotto, Renaissance, etc. that depict the Theotokos lying dead being mourned by the Apostles or showing her emeging from a grave carried on clouds. It is only recently that the IC and Assumption doctrines have been adopted in their current form.  Yet one more reason for Roman Catholics looking for the True Faith to become Orthodox!  Ãƒâ€šÃ‚ you can donate up to 20 times at freedonation. has online 1851 Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton English translation of Septuagint. Original Koine Septuagint and New Testament.