Wednesday, August 15, 2007

From the Archives: A Debate with "Little Less" on the Assumption of Mary, Part 1

As promised, here is my 3-part debate from Sept. 11, '06 on the Assumption of Mary. What this debate reveals is how important it is to stick to exactly what the dogma declares and nothing else. People will try to discredit the Assumption based on the various legends that surround it. But, where she died, or how many apostles were there, or what they saw when Mary was assumed is not essential to the dogma. We are called to believe only that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven. Period.

I hope this debate is helpful to you all as you field questions today from people wondering what this Assumption of Mary is all about.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic
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In history, law, medicine, science, etc., it is necessary to establish facts. They cannot be presumed to exist.However, observing Aquinas's advice which may be generally applied, "Seek such certitude as the nature of the thing allows."Dealing with a claim of the infallibility of the fact of the Assumption, the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven, we must note that Vatican I observes:"For, as the Vatican Council teaches, "the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in such a way that, by his revelation, they might manifest new doctrine, but so that, by his assistance, they might guard as sacred and might faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the apostles, or the deposit of faith."The Deposit of Faith may be defined as: "The heritage of faith contained in Sacred Scripture and tradition, handed on in the Church from the time of the Apostles, from which the Magisterium draws all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed.So we will use "scripture" and "tradition from the time of the Apostles" to see if evidence for the Assumption can be established.Obviously, my position is that it can't.
I ask in the future that you provide the sources for your quotations. This will make our dialogue more efficient and our scholarship honest.

As for the topic at hand, I commend you for acknowledging the fact that Christian doctrine must come from two sources: Sacred Scripture and Tradition. This will keep us from having to maintain a tangential debate on the rule of faith.

Now, it will be helpful at the onset to establish what exactly the doctrine attempts to set forth. In Munificentissimus Deus it was infallibly 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." This is the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, and so we should restrict our comments to this statement.

I affirm, w/ Pope Pius XII in his remarks preceeding the infallible declaration, that the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary finds support in Sacred Scripture, in the Early Church Fathers (who when in consensus testify to the Sacred Deposit of Faith), in the encyclicals and other documents of the Church, and in her worship throughout the ages. These sources comprise the Sacred Tradition of the Church, and the Assumption of Mary is firmly rooted in it.

Your task then is to prove that the doctrine of the Assumption, as it is set forth in Munificentissimus Deus, does not find support in these sources. Make your case.
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[In response to that, he wrote the following, and I replied accordingly:]
You have provided only an assertion that Pope Pius XII claimed that there is scriptural evidence and evidence in the writings of the early Church Fathers as to the fact of the Assumption. But you have provided no such evidence yourself. Nor does it exist.
Nor does it exist? Have you read Munificentissimus Deus? It is filled with testimony from the ECF's that affirms the doctrine. Do I need to reproduce paragraphs 17-38? I suggest that you read them again.

From the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Feast of the Assumption" as to the writing of the Fathers, there is this:"Regarding the day, year, and manner of Our Lady's death, nothing certain is known. The earliest known literary reference to the Assumption is found in the Greek work De Obitu S. Dominae."
I anticipated a response like this, which is why I made sure to point out at the onset what the infallible statement actually says. I provide it again, from Munificentissimus Deus, para. 44:
[T]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.
This, and this alone is the doctrine of the Assumption. This is all that we must find in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. So, the day she died is irrelevant. How she died is irrelevant. If she died is irrelevant. Who was there to see it is irrelevant. The fact that we find little record of these details is of little consequence to the belief itself. We are only expected to believe that it happened, that when she completed the cource of her earthly life she was assumed body and soul into heaven. Period. The presence of this belief in the Tradition of the Church is bountiful.

And the nature and date of this earliest know reference, thus:"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 Virginis, falsely ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis, and in a spurious letter attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite."

What's your point? These are not the only sources of belief in the Assumption. All the author is setting out to do here is to begin listing the Fathers who testify to the deposit of faith on this matter. Maybe you missed the previous paragraph from the article in question, where he writes [emphasis mine]: "The earliest known literary reference to the Assumption is found in the Greek work De Obitu S. Dominae. Catholic faith, however, has always derived our knowledge of the mystery from Apostolic Tradition."

From St. Epiphanus, the bishop of Salamis, in his Panarion (chap 78-79) (c 374 - 376) we find this admission:

"But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried. More than that: John journeyed to Asia, yet nowhere do we read that he took the Holy Virgin with him. Rather, Scripture is absolutely silent..."

As I said before, it is not necessary that Divine Revelation speak of these specific details. It is only necessary that it point to her assumption into heaven.

And a bit more current from Fr. Saunders , dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College in Alexandria and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls. "The Dormition of Mary": This admission."Granted, the event of the Assumption is not recorded in Sacred Scripture."

Well, for one, no one has claimed that an explicit reference exists. This is actually quite understandable. Why? Well, for one, Mary was probably still alive when most of the NT was written! Also, the writers of the NT were concerned primarily with faith in Jesus Christ and in recording the events of his life. Actually, the deaths of many holy NT men and women are not recorded. For example, it is only from tradition that we know that Peter was crucified upside down. The nature of the deaths of the majority of the apostles is not recorded in Scripture. We cannot expect Scripture to record explicit statements beyond its breadth and intended purpose. It is simply not meant to be a catechism, which is why we also draw from the Sacred Tradition of the Church.

Please list the alleged scriptural references to the cerain existence of the Assumption and any writing of a Father of the Church specifically mentioning the Assumption prior to the fourth or fifth century.Of course the 4th or 5th century is far removed from the time of the Apostles and hardly part of "the Deposit of Faith."

Why must we restrict ourselves to the 4th or 5th century? The task is to find evidence of this belief in the Tradition of the Church. Tradition is not bound to this time frame. Furthermore, the ECF's, whose reflection of the "deposit of faith" comprises so much of our Tradition, reach well into the 8th century. Scholars usually mark the end of the patristic age with St. John Damascene (d AD 749) in the East and with St. Gregory the Great (d AD 604) or St. Isidore of Seville (d AD 636) in the West. I simply find no warrant for restricting our evidence to that which comes from before the fourth century.

In my next post I will provide the evidence from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

2 comments:

Bill said...

Every time I read one of your conversational excerpts with those who challenge and question the Catholic faith, I kick myself for not reading your blog more often. May God continue to richly bless your work here and at Phatmass.

phatcatholic said...

Thanks bill!

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