On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God into heaven in the following words:
Wherefore, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God Who has lavished His special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority, We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: 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. (1)
Meaning and Scope of the Definition
1. We define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: In the definition of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Mother, Pope Pius IX used a somewhat different formula.
(2) The formula used by Pope Pius XII in the definition of the Assumption is, however, similar to that used by the Fathers of the Vatican Council in their definition of Papal Infallibility. (3) By the terms revealed dogma is meant that the Assumption of Mary body and soul into heavenly glory is a fact contained within the deposit of revelation given to us by God and is now solemnly proposed by the Pope to be believed as such by all the faithful.
2. Having completed the course of her earthly life: Due to the dispute over the fact of Our Blessed Lady’s death, the question of the precise scope of the doctrine of the Assumption was likewise a matter of dispute among theologians prior to November 1, 1950. Some maintained that the object of this privilege is the glorious resurrection of the Blessed Virgin, presupposing, therefore, the fact of her death. (4) This opinion was based upon the reasoning that in theological investigation we must not separate those truths which are inseparable in Tradition, the Liturgy, and the pious belief of the faithful. This opinion took for granted that the death, glorious resurrection, and bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin were taught as inseparable truths in Tradition and were always believed to be such by the faithful. Other theologians, on the contrary, maintained that the doctrine of the Assumption has within its scope only the glorious Assumption of Mary, body and soul into heaven, whether she died or not. (5)
The fact of Mary’s death and subsequent resurrection is uncertain. We cannot say, therefore, that they are included within the scope of the definition of Pope Pius XII. (6) For a Pope defines only what is certain. And should it be established later beyond shadow of doubt that Mary actually died and subsequently rose again before her sacred body saw corruption, this new discovery would have no bearing whatever upon the scope of the definition in the Munificentissimus Deus. For that alone is within the scope of a definition which the Holy Father or an Ecumenical Council intends to define at the moment of definition. And, by the same reasoning, those who maintain that Mary did not die cannot say that Pope Pius XII defined that Mary was assumed into heavenly glory without having previously died and risen again. The fact alone of her Assumption, body and soul, into heaven is now of faith by virtue of this Constitution, and not her death, resurrection, or bodily immortality.
A brief glance at the history of the doctrine of the death and insurrection of Mary and at the theological arguments adduced in support of them should serve to justify the opinion just stated.
In the first three centuries there are absolutely no references in the authentic works of the Fathers or ecclesiastical writers to the death or bodily immortality of Mary. Nor is there any mention of a tomb of Mary in the first centuries of Christianity. The veneration of the tomb of the Blessed Virgin at Jerusalem began about the middle of the fifth century; and even here there is no agreement as to whether its locality was in the Garden of Olives or in the Valley of Josaphat. Nor is any mention made in the Acts of the Council of Ephesus (431) of the fact that the Council, convened to defend the Divine Maternity of the Mother of God, is being held in the very city selected by God for her final resting place. Only after the Council did the tradition begin which placed her tomb in that city.
The earliest known (non-Apocryphal) mention concerning the end of Mary’s life appears in the writings of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Constantia, the ancient Salamina, in the isle of Cyprus. Born in Palestine, we may assume that he was well aware of the traditions there. Yet we find these words in his Panarion or Medicine Chest (of remedies for all heresies), written in c. 377: “Whether she died or was buried we know not.” (7) Speaking of the cautious language used by St. Epiphanius, Father Roschini says:
To understand his words fully we must remember that he was conscious, when writing, of two heresies which were then living and dangerous: that of the Antidicomarianites, and that of the Collyridians. The former denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, the latter, erring in the opposite direction, maintained that divine worship should be given to her. To assert that Our Lady died was to give a handle to the one heresy (for it was to suggest that the body of Mary was subject to the corruption of the tomb, and thus minimize her prerogatives); to assert that she did not die was to encourage the other. (8)
And with the exception of a so-called contemporary of Epiphanius, Timothy of Jerusalem, who said: “Wherefore the Virgin is immortal up to now, because He who dwelt in her took her to the regions of the Ascension,” no early writer ever doubted the fact of her death. They did not, however, examine the question; they merely took the fact of her death for granted.
Apparently influenced by the apocryphal Transitus writings of the fifth to the seventh centuries, later Fathers and Church writers likewise spoke of the death of Mary as a fact taken for granted. For all men, including Christ, died: therefore, Mary, too. Like their predecessors, they did not consider ex professo the theological arguments for or against.
St. Isidore of Seville (d.636) appears to be the first to cast some doubt upon the fact of Mary’s death. Obviously ignoring the Apocrypha, he said of the death of Mary: “. . . nowhere does one read of her death. Although, as some say, her sepulcher may be found in the valley of Josaphat.” (10) Tusaredo, a Bishop in the Asturias province of Spain in the eighth century, wrote: “Of the glorious Mary, no history teaches that she suffered martyrdom or any other kind of death.” (11) Although St. Andrew of Crete (d. 720) generally introduced much theological argumentation into his writings, he states, with very little argumentation, that Mary died because her Son died. (12) The same is true of a similar teaching of St. John Damascene (d. 749). (13) And about one hundred years later, Theodore Abou-Kurra (d. c. 820) likened the death of Mary to the sleep of Adam in the Garden when God formed Eve from one of his ribs. (14) This, obviously, was not a true death.
All the great Scholastics of the thirteenth century taught that Mary died. The principal reason for their so teaching was obviously the fact that they denied the Immaculate Conception in the sense in which it was defined by Pope Pius IX. (15) Thus we read in the writings of St. Bonaventure: “If the Blessed Virgin was free from original sin, she was also exempt from the necessity of dying; therefore, either her death was an injustice or she died for the salvation of the human race. But the former supposition is blasphemous, implying that God is not just; and the latter, too, is a blasphemy against Christ for it implies that His Redemption is insufficient. Both are therefore erroneous and impossible. Therefore Our Blessed Lady was subject to original sin.” (16)
After the definition of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854 the question of whether or not Our Blessed Lady died gradually became a subject of wide theological discussion and is today one of the most widely disputed Mariological questions. The impetus to further study out of which arose the present state of dispute was given by the writings of Dominic Arnaldi of Genoa who died in the year 1895. Arnaldi defended the thesis that Our Blessed Lady’s complete freedom from sin demanded her freedom from the penalty of death. (17)
Today we have diametrically opposed views on the death of Mary supported by outstanding Mariologists. The most outspoken proponents of the thesis that Mary did not die are Roschini and Gallus. (18) Father Freithoff, O.P., expressed the view that “the death of Mary is not certain, either historically or from revelation.” (19) On the other hand, Father C. Balic, O.F.M., maintains that “the terminus a quo of the Assumption is the death of Our Lady, the terminus ad quem is the glorification of her body in heaven. The object of the Assumption in recto is the glorification of the living body, and ex obliquo her death and resurrection.” (20) Father J. F. Bonnefoy, O.F.M., goes so far as to state that “the death of the Most Holy Virgin may be considered as historically proved and explicitly revealed: as such (explicitly revealed) it may be the subject of a dogmatic definition: there is no reason why it should not be.” (21) And the Mariological Week held at Salamanca (Spain) in 1949, which was devoted exclusively to the question of the death of Mary, sent a petition to the Holy See requesting the definition “… of the bodily Assumption of the B. V. Mary into heaven, after death…” (22) It is little wonder, then, that Cardinal Pizzardo, the Secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office, in an address on the occasion of the First International Mariological Congress in Rome (1950) referred to the question of the end of the life of the Blessed Virgin as a very obscure problem, and one which demands further study and clarification by theologians. (23)
All theologians agree, of course, that Mary was not subject to death as a penalty for sin. However, God willed that “she die for higher reasons pertaining to her relationship with Christ and the part she was to play in the work of Redemption.” (24) The reasons brought forth by those who maintain that Our Blessed Mother actually died may be reduced to the following two:
a) Conformity to Christ: The condition of the Mother should not be better than that of her divine Son. The Verbum willingly assumed passible and mortal flesh and came into the world “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” (25) in order that, through it, He might redeem us from our sins. As the Mother of the passible and mortal Redeemer from whom He took His mortal flesh, Mary, too, had to be passible and mortal. She did not, however, voluntarily assume mortal flesh as did her divine Son as something from which she was exempt. This was God’s will for her although she died not as a penalty for sin but pro conditione carnis.
This argument, however, might justly be called a post factum argument, proposed to explain the fact of Mary’s death after her death had been taken for granted. However, in its favor is the theological axiom: lex orandi statuit legem credendi. And until recently these words were in the Secret of the Mass for the Assumption. One may argue, however, that the Liturgy in this instance merely stated a popular belief, one which everyone took for granted in view of the fact of Christ’s death. For, the Second Council of Orange is quite explicit in its teaching that those who hold that the penalty of death (reatus poenae) is transmitted to the body without the transmission of sin or the death of the soul (reatus culpae) to all the children of Adam, do an injustice to God. (26) Hence, where there is no sin there can be no obligatory death of the body in a child of Adam. Hence, it would appear that if we are to defend the fact of Mary’s death we must look to another reason, one wherein the acceptance of death by Mary would be a voluntary act. Theologians see this in Mary’s role of Coredeemer of the human race.
b) Mary’s role of Coredeemer: Due to the teaching of the Second Council of Orange, many theologians who maintain that Mary died claim that she had a right to immortality but, like her Son, freely accepted death in order that she might coredeem the human race together with Him. Yet the objection is raised against this opinion that Mary should then have died on Calvary with Christ. For, with the death and resurrection of Christ the Redemption was completed in actu primo and, consequently, the Coredemption. This, too, goes counter to the traditionally accepted belief that Mary coredeemed us by a spiritual compassion, suffering in her soul the agony Christ suffered for us in His Body.
The Constitution Munificentissimus Deus leaves the question open. In the words of the definition death is not mentioned but only “having completed the course of her earthly life.” The question of the death of Mary is not treated as a subject bearing upon the Assumption. True, the Holy Father frequently mentions the death of the Blessed Virgin in the body of the document, but in every instance he quotes someone else. He does not give his own views on the subject. Consequently, I believe we can say with Father Roschini that “the question of Mary’s death is a matter for free discussion.” (27)
Finally, we should note here that whether Mary died or not, she was not subject to the law of death, the corruption of the grave. If she died, then she was assumed into heaven before her sacred body saw corruption. For, so long as the bodies of the just remain in the dust of the earth, they are under the dominion of death, and they sigh for the ultimate redemption of their bodies. (28)
3. Was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory: The Assumption of Our Blessed Mother was a privilege granted not to her body alone nor to her soul alone but to the person, Mary. True, we speak of the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin but this is due to the fact that there never has been any dispute over the question of her soul enjoying the beatific vision once she completed the course of her earthly life. Thus, the Holy Father said: “. . . the ever Virgin Mary . . . was assumed.”
The precise degree of glory to which Our Blessed Mother was assumed has never been defined by the Church. It is, however, certain theological teaching that her degree of grace at the first moment of her Immaculate Conception was greater than that possessed by any individual angel or man at the first moment of sanctification. This teaching is based on the law of filial piety whereby the Verbum loved His designated Mother more than any other creature. That the first influx of grace was greater than the consummated grace of any individual man is the common teaching of theologians and taught for the same reason as that given for the above opinion. And that Mary’s first influx of grace was greater in degree than the consummated grace of all men and angels together is a solidly probable opinion. (29)
Add to this the fact that the degree of sanctifying grace received by Mary at the moment of her Immaculate Conception was increased ex opere operato through the great dignity of the divine maternity and her reception of some of the sacraments, as well as ex opere operantis during every moment of her life on earth, and we find that the degree of glory to which she was assumed is beyond human comprehension and second only to that of Christ as Man. For the degree of glory enjoyed in heaven is determined by the degree of sanctifying grace with which the soul is adorned at the moment bf death.
We shall now outline and comment upon the reasons given in the Constitution Munificentissimus Deus which led the Holy Father to the definition of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. The Constitution may be divided as follows: (30)
I. The Assumptionistic Movement (31)
II. The teaching of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium;
III. Indications of our present belief found in remote testimonies;
a) The faithful have professed this faith under the leadership of their shepherds;
b) This faith is shown in temples, images, various exercises of devotion to the Blessed Virgin assumed into heaven;
c) This faith is shown in the Solemn Liturgies;
d) This faith is shown in the testimonies of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church;
e) This faith is shown in the writings of the theologians of Church.
I. The Assumptionistic Movement
Toward the beginning of the Munificentissimus Deus our Holy Father speaks of the Assumptionistic Movement within the Church in these words:
That privilege (the Assumption of Mary) has shone forth in new radiance since Our predecessor of immortal memory, Pius IX, solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the loving Mother of God’s Immaculate Conception. These two privileges are most closely bound to one another. (32) Christ overcame sin and death by His own death, and one who through Baptism has been born again in a supernatural way has conquered sin and death through the same Christ. Yet, according to the general rule, God does not will to grant to the just the full effect of the victory over death until the end of time has come. And so it is that the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death, and only on the last day will they be joined, each to its own glorious soul.
Now God has willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary should he 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.
Thus, when it was solemnly proclaimed that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, was from the very beginning free from the taint of original sin, the minds of the faithful were filled with a stronger hope that the day might soon come when the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven would also be defined by the Church’s supreme teaching authority.
Actually, it was seen that not only individual Catholics, but also those who could speak for nations or ecclesiastical provinces, and even a considerable number of the Fathers of the Vatican Council, urgently petitioned the Apostolic See to this effect. (33)
The petitions of which the Holy Father speaks above were collected and evaluated at his command (34) in two volumes edited by W Hentrich and R. de Moos and entitled: Petitiones de Assumptione corporea B. V. Mariae in coelum definienda ad Sanctam Sedem delata (35) From the year 1869 to the year 1941, resident bishops, ruling 820 sees or 73 per cent of all the Catholic sees of the world, submitted 1789 of these petitions. (36) To these petitions were added 656 titular bishops, 261 by vicars apostolic, 26 by abbots and prelates nullius, 61 by general superiors of clerical orders, 336 by minor prelates, 32,291 by priests and male religious, 50,975 by female religious, and 8,086,396 by the laity. (37)
The most significant petition was that submitted by nearly 200 bishops attending the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican in which stated:
Since, according to apostolic teaching (Rom. 5, 8; 1 Cor. 15, 24, 26, 54, 57; Hebr. 2, 14-15 and other places), that triumph which Christ wrought over Satan, the serpent of antiquity, was constituted by the three-fold victory over sin and the fruits of sin, which are concupiscence and death, its integral parts; and since according to Genesis (3,15) the Mother of God is shown as associated in a singular manner with her Son in this triumph; according to the unanimous vote of the Holy Fathers, we do not doubt that in the aforesaid oracle the same Blessed Virgin is shown as sharing in that threefold victory; and therefore in the same place it was foretold that she would be made victress over sin through her Immaculate Conception, over concupiscence through her virginal maternity, and also over death through her accelerated resurrection in the likeness of her Son. (38)
II. The Teaching of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium
“And, since we are dealing with a matter of such great moment and of such importance, we considered it opportune to ask all Our venerable brethren in the episcopate directly and authoritatively that each of them should make known to Us his mind in a formal statement.” (39)
Urged on by the petitions submitted to the Holy See requesting the definition of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII issued on May 1, 1946, a letter to the bishops of the world entitled Deiparae Virginis Mariae. Following the method of Pope Pius IX before the definition of the Immaculate Conception, (40) the Holy Father requested that the bishops answer the following questions: “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 it?” (41) The following are the words of the Holy Father relative to the response of the bishops: (42)
…those whom “the Holy Ghost has placed as bishops to rule the Church of God” (43) gave an almost unanimous affirmative response to both these questions. This “outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful” (44) affirming that the bodily Assumption of God’s Mother into heaven can be defined as a dogma of faith, since it shows us the concordant faith of the Christian people which the same doctrinal authority sustains and directs, thus by itself and in an entirely certain and infallible way, manifests this privilege as a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which Christ has delivered to His Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly. (45) Certainly this teaching authority of the Church, not by any merely human effort but under the protection of the Spirit of Truth, (46) and therefore absolutely without error, carried out the Commission entrusted to it, that of preserving the revealed truths pure and entire throughout every age, in such a way that it presents them undefiled, adding nothing to them and taking nothing away from them. For, as the Vatican Council teaches, “the Holy Ghost 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.” (47) Thus, from the universal agreement of the Church’s ordinary teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof, demonstrating that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven—which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own natural powers, as far as the heavenly glorification of the virginal body of the loving Mother of God is concerned—is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be firmly and faithfully believed by all the children of the Church. For, as the Vatican Council asserts, “all those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written word of God or in tradition, and which are proposed by the Church, either in solemn judgment or in its ordinary and universal teaching office, as divinely revealed truths which must be believed.” (48)
In the above statement of our Holy Father the following words are of the utmost importance: “This outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful . . . shows us the concordant teaching of the Church’s ordinary doctrinal authority and the concordant faith of the Christian people which the same doctrinal authority sustains and directs, thus by itself in an entirely certain and infallible way, manifests this privilege as a truth revealed by God….”
There are two norms of Faith: the one proximate and the other remote. The proximate norm of Faith is the Magisterium of the Church and the remote norm is Sacred Scripture and the documents of Tradition. Thus, by itself, as the Holy Father says, that is, without the need of any investigation whatever into the pages of Sacred Scripture or the documents of Tradition, the almost unanimous affirmative response of the Catholic bishops of the world is certain proof that the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God is a truth revealed to us. The living Magisterium, i.e., the bishops of the world together with the Pope, is the authentic, divinely appointed interpreter of Sacred Scripture, and only in dependence upon the Magisterium do the Fathers of the Church have any authority as witnesses to the deposit of Faith. (49)
In the passage quoted above the Holy Father very significantly pointed out the fact that the bishops of the world in communion with the Holy See arrived at their conclusion as to the definability of the Assumption not as do theologians or Scripture scholars, through mere human industry, but “under the protection of the Spirit of Truth.” For the efficient cause of their infallibility, when they teach as a group a doctrine of faith or morals in union with the Pope, is the Holy Spirit of Truth dwelling within the Church. Consequently, even before Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption, it was, objectively speaking, a truth of Divine and Catholic Faith and one to be believed as such by all the faithful.
Finally, we should note in the above-quoted words of the Holy Father relative to the response of the bishops the parenthetical remark of the Holy Father that “the Blessed Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven—which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own natural powers, as far as the glorification of the virginal body of the Mother of God is concerned—is a truth that has been revealed by God….” Quite obviously, the taking up of the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary is per se an object of sense cognition and could be known, therefore, through natural powers. But the heavenly glorification of the Blessed Virgin, included within the notion of the Assumption, embraces the supernatural beatification of her soul with its secondary effects flowing into her body together with the preternatural transformation of her body. These gifts, being super and preternatural, are not the objects of our natural senses.
III. Indications of Our Present Belief Found in Remote Testimonies
A. The Faithful have Professed this Faith Under the Leadership of Their Pastors
Christ’s faithful, through the teaching and the leadership of their pastors, have learned from the sacred books that the Virgin Mary… led a life troubled by cares, hardships, and sorrows, and that … a terribly sharp sword had pierced her heart as she stood under the cross of her divine Son, our Redeemer. In the same way, it was not difficult for them to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life. But this in no way prevented them from believing and from professing openly that her sacred body had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb, and that the august tabernacle of the Divine Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes. Actually, enlightened by divine grace and moved by affection for her, God’s Mother and our own sweetest Mother, they have contemplated in an ever clearer light the wonderful harmony and order of those privileges which the most provident God has lavished upon this loving associate of our Redeemer, privileges which reach such an exalted plane that, except for her, nothing created by God other than the human nature of Jesus Christ has ever reached this level. (50)
Guided by the Spirit of Truth dwelling within her, the Church—the faithful, under the teaching and leadership of their bishops—has always seen the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother into heaven as her crowning privilege implicitly contained within the complete notion of the Divine Maternity. “The Church sees it there, not as the result of a logical deduction, still less as a mere convenientia, but as one element of that miracle of miracles which God willed His Mother to be. The Church sees it with a supernatural insight imparted by the Divine Spirit Who dwells within her. The Bishops of the Austrian Empire call it a simple intuition.” (51) And it was this intuition which gave birth to such Mariological axioms as “potuit, decuit, fecit” of Scotus, (52) and the following of St. Alphonsus: “. . . when an opinion tends in any way to honor the most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation and is not repugnant to the faith, nor to the decrees of the Church, nor to truth, the refusal to hold it, or to oppose it because the reverse may be true, shows little devotion to the Mother of God.” (53)
The complete notion of the Divine Maternity contains within its connotation much more than the fact that Mary gave birth to the Son of God. For the Son of God is our Redeemer. She is, therefore, and has always been believed to be the Mother of God, the Redeemer, as Redeemer, making her His associate in the work of the Redemption and the Coredeemer of the human race. From these two offices, the Divine Maternity and the Coredemption, flow all the unspeakable prerogatives of soul and body with which God adorned His Mother and ours. She is the one foretold by God in the Protoevangelium who, together with her Son would crush the head of the serpent beneath her immaculate foot. (54) Immaculately pure from the first moment of her conception, she knew not the stings of concupiscence nor the slightest stain of personal moral imperfection. Virgin of Virgins, she was subject to no man nor to pain and the corruption of the flesh in conceiving and bringing forth Christ. Embellished with a degree of grace that far surpassed the combined holiness of all angels and saints together she was always believed to be the “Lily Among Thorns; Land Wholly Intact; Immaculate; Always Blessed; Free From All Contagion Of Sin; Unfading Tree; Fountain Ever Clear; The One And Only Daughter Not Of Death But Of Life; Offspring Not Of Wrath But Of Grace; Unimpaired And Ever Unimpaired; Holy And Stranger To All Stain Of Sin; More Comely Than Comeliness Itself; More Holy Than Sanctity; Alone Holy Who, Excepting God, Is Higher Than All; By Nature More Beautiful, More Graceful And More Holy Than The Cherubim And Seraphim Themselves And The Whole Hosts Of Angels.” (55)
It is little wonder, then, that the faithful under the leadership of their bishops have always believed that this “august tabernacle of the Divine Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes.” For, associated with Her Son in His complete victory over Satan, she shared with Him in His victory over the empire of Satan and, therefore, death. (56) Like Him, she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her sacred body as we do, (57) but through her anticipated resurrection in the likeness of her Son “she received the blessings of the Redemption first and in the fullest measure.” (58)
B. This Faith Is Shown in Temples, Images, Various Exercises of Piety to the Blessed Virgin Assumed into Heaven
The innumerable temples which have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary assumed into heaven clearly attest this faith. So do those sacred images, exposed therein for the veneration of the faithful, which bring this unique triumph of the Blessed Virgin before the eyes of all men. Moreover, cities, dioceses, and individual regions have been placed under the special patronage and guardianship of the Virgin Mother of God assumed into heaven. In the same way, religious institutes, with the approval of the Church, have been founded and have taken their name from this privilege. Nor can We pass over in silence the fact that in the Rosary of Mary, the recitation of which this Apostolic See so urgently recommends, there is one mystery proposed for pious meditation which, as all know, deals with the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption into heaven. (59)
C. This Faith Is Shown in the Solemn Liturgies
This belief of the sacred Pastors and of Christ’s faithful is universally manifested still more splendidly by the fact that, since ancient times, there have been both in the East and in the West solemn liturgical offices commemorating this privilege. The holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church have never failed to draw enlightenment from this fact since, as everyone knows, the sacred liturgy, “because it is the profession, subject to the supreme teaching authority within the Church, of heavenly truths, can supply proofs and testimonies of no small value for deciding a particular point of Christian doctrine.” (60)
The first remote testimony to which Pope Pius XII turns in order to indicate the fact that our present belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother was likewise the belief of the Church from the earliest times is the Sacred Liturgy. Again, by this procedure, our Holy Father followed the example set by his predecessors and especially that of Pope Pius IX in his argumentation relative to the definition of the Immaculate Conception. (61) For the Church prays according to her beliefs. And in the Sacred Liturgy we profess in a public and solemn manner the great truths of Faith contained within the deposit of revelation. Pope Pius XII very succinctly expressed this relationship between the Faith and the Sacred Liturgy in the words: “Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi“— “Let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.” (62)
The value of the existence of a feast in early times as an argument from Tradition is, therefore, obvious. The organ of divine Tradition is the living Magisterium of the Church, or the Pope and the Catholic bishops of the world in union with him. The principal means whereby that Tradition is preserved and handed down from generation to generation are the writings of the Fathers, the creeds, the practices of the Church, the monuments of Christian antiquity, and the Sacred Liturgy. And it is well to bear in mind with reference to the Liturgy that the institution of a feast in honor of one or the other prerogatives of the Blessed Mother does not mean that the belief of the Church began with its institution. The institution of the feast means that the belief of the Church has come to maturity. For the feast is but the solemn liturgical expression of a belief which has been explicit for many years, and implicitly contained in some other explicitly believed truth for centuries before that.
The feast of the Assumption began in the East as did many of the older Marian feasts. According to Father Martin Jugie, A.A., Our Blessed Mother was implicitly honored in her Assumption by the feast known as “The Memory of Mary,” the celebration of which began in the East around the fourth century. Honor was given to Mary’s Assumption through this feast, according to Jugie, because the Church intended thereby to celebrate the “birthday” of Mary, or her entrance into heaven, as was her custom in celebrating the birthday, i.e., the day of a martyr’s death and entrance into heaven. However, due to the fact that neither Sacred Scripture nor early Tradition speaks explicitly of the last days of our Blessed Mother on earth and of her Assumption into heaven, the liturgy of this feast did not mention them either. Later, when the apocryphal Transitus Mariae—in which the death and Assumption of Mary are described in detail—became popular among the faithful, the facts of her death and Assumption were inserted into the feast and the Memoria S. Mariae liturgy was changed and became the feast of the Dormitio, or the “Falling to Sleep” of the Blessed Mother. (63) Father Faller, S.J., maintains that the feast of the Assumption—or the feast of August 15—was always the same feast as theMemoria B. Virginis and was celebrated in the East from the beginning of the fifth century. (64)
Whatever may be the merits of the opinions mentioned above, the dispute is relatively unimportant theologically. The feast of the Dormitio or Koimesis—the object of which was the death, resurrection, and Assumption of the Blessed Mother—was widely established in the East by the end of the fourth century. For Emperor Maurice (582-602) decreed that it be celebrated throughout the Byzantine Empire on August 15. (65) And it is important to note that the Emperor did not establish the feast but merely fixed the date. The feast was well established before the date was fixed.
Theodore Petrensis wrote a life of the Palestinian Abbot St. Theodosius (d. 529) a little after the death of the Saint. In this biography we read that St. Theodosius performed a miracle of multiplying bread to feed the multitude that had gathered from afar for the feast celebrated in honor of Mary in die memoriae Deiparae. Theodore was an eyewitness to the miracle. His most important contribution to the history of the feast of the Assumption, however, is the fact that he refers to the Memoria Deiparae as an annual feast in the liturgical calendar of Palestine. (66) And to this testimony should be added that of St. Gregory of Tours who states that the feast was celebrated in Jerusalem in the latter part of the sixth century. (67)
There is, moreover, testimony to prove that the feast existed at an even earlier date in Syria. James of Sarug (c. 490), inspired by the occasion of the feast of August 15, wrote a poem in which he expresses the fact of the Assumption of Mary into heaven and speaks of her sacred body going forth to paradise. (68)
The earliest testimony for the existence of the feast in the West is of a later date. The reason for this may be found in the following words of Father Wuenschel, C.Ss.R.:
In the West the doctrinal development of the Assumption was retarded by several factors. The infrequent and difficult contacts with the East and a general ignorance of Greek caused the writings of the Eastern Fathers to remain a closed book to the Latins till rather late in the scholastic age, when Jacobus de Voragine (c. 1230-1298) had access to the works of the Greek witnesses, especially the homilies of St. Germanus and St. John Damascene. (69) Besides isolation from the East and ignorance of its literature, there was also a strong animus against the apocrypha in scholarly circles.
These were about the only early literature on the subject known in the West, and their legendary character engendered doubts about the truth of the Assumption. The development of the doctrine in the West, therefore, was more or less independent of the East, so that the two trends of thought confirm each other. (70)
Consequently, since the rule of belief determines the rule of prayer, one could not expect to find the feast at a time when the belief in the Assumption was not explicit.
There are no certain references to the existence of the feast in the West earlier than the middle of the seventh century. The earliest witness appears to be the Gospel Lectionary of Wurzburg (c. 650) in which the feast for August 15 is found to be Natale Sanctae Mariae. (71) And in this century Pope Sergius I (687-701) decreed that on the feast of the Dormition (as well as on the Annunciation and the Nativity of our Blessed Mother) there should be a procession from the church of St. Adrian to the church of St. Mary Major. (72) Most probably it was this same Pope who introduced the feast of the Dormition into the Roman calendar since there are no traces of it there before 690. A Syrian by birth, Pope Sergius was well acquainted with the feast from his homeland. The name of the feast was changed from the Dormition to the Assumption of St. Mary at the beginning of the eighth century. (73) And Pope Leo IV (847-855) introduced the solemn vigil and octave. (74) From Rome the feast soon spread to England, France, and Spain.
In the Munificentissimus Deus the Holy Father cites the Gregorian Sacramentary which Pope Adrian I sent to the Emperor Charlemagne between the years 784-790. The following are the words quoted from the Sacramentary: “Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten Thy Son Our Lord incarnate from herself.” (75) Although the words “could not be kept down by the bonds of death” express the idea of Assumption only implicitly, they are commonly understood in the sense of Resurrection and Assumption of Mary and not only bodily incorruption.
The Holy Father then quotes the Gallican Sacramentary which designates this privilege of Mary as “an ineffable mystery all the more worthy of praise as the Virgin’s Assumption is something unique among men.” And of the Byzantine liturgy he says: “. . . in the Byzantine liturgy not only is the Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption connected, time and time again, with the dignity of the Mother of God, but also with the other privileges, and in particular with the virginal motherhood granted her by a singular decree of God’s providence. ‘God, the King of the universe, has granted thee favors that surpass nature. As He kept thee a virgin in childbirth, thus He kept thy body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by His divine act of transferring it from the tomb.'” (76)
D. This Faith Is Shown in the Testimonies of the Fathers of the Church
However, since the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather springs from it, in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the Faith as the fruit comes from the tree, it follows that the holy Fathers and the great Doctors, in the homilies and sermons they gave to the people on this feast day, did not draw their teaching from the feast itself as from a primary source, but rather they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and accepted by Christ’s faithful. (77)
In the Munificentissimus Deus Pope Pius XII quotes but three Fathers of the Church, all Orientals. St. John Damascene (d. 749), in one of his homilies compared the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin with her other prerogatives and privileges:
It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to Himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to Him, should look upon Him as He sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and the Handmaid of God. (78)
St. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733) argued to the fact of the Assumption of Mary from the great dignity of the divine maternity and the holiness of her virginal body: “Thou art she who, as it is written, appearest in beauty, and thy virginal body is all holy, all chaste, entirely the dwelling place of God, so that it is henceforth completely exempt from all dissolution into dust. Though still human, it is changed into the heavenly life of incorruptibility, truly living and glorious, undamaged and sharing in perfect life.” (79)
Finally, in the homily attributed to St. Modestus of Jerusalem (d. 634), we find these words: “As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and our God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by Him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with Him Who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to Himself in a way known only to Him.” (80)
These three witnesses, St. John Damascene, St. Germanus of Constantinople, and St. Modestus of Jerusalem, are seventh and eighth-century Patristic writers. The explicit belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother by the faithful is, of course, traceable to a much earlier date as the witness of the Sacred Liturgy shows. However, apart from the Apocrypha, there is no authentic witness to the Assumption among the Fathers of either the East or the West prior to the end of the fifth century.
Doubtless the Holy Father made no mention of the Apocrypha due to the fact that many non-Catholic critics maintain that the later tradition of the Church expressing belief in the Assumption is an outgrowth of them. (81) Nothing could be further from the truth. The explicit belief of the Church in the Assumption is not based upon them, although the Apocrypha do have a positive value in that they witness a popular belief among the faithful in the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God.
Failing to find in the sacred books of the Bible sufficient detail to satisfy their curiosity concerning certain phases of the lives of Christ and Mary, some of the faithful of the second and third centuries A.D. drew these details from other sources, frequently spurious, from their own imaginations, and from the popular beliefs of the time. And in the firm hope that their works would be accepted as canonical scripture, they attributed them to the Apostles and Evangelists. This apocryphal literature is divided into gospels, epistles, and apocalypses. (82)
Written originally in Latin, Greek, Syriac, and Coptic, the Apocrypha passed through many versions and the result is an overwhelming variety of subject matter and detail. In describing the death of Mary and its sequel, however, they all agree in stating that the death of Mary was an exception to that of the rest of mankind and, with but few exceptions, they state that her sacred body was preserved incorrupt and that it was assumed into heaven.
The absence of an uninterrupted chain of explicit testimonies linking our times with the Apostolic period was used by some Catholic theologians previous to the definition of Pope Pius XII as well as by non-Catholic critics as an argument against the doctrine of the Assumption or its definability. Against these we quote the words of the eminent Mariologist, Father Juniper Carol, O.F.M., written previous to the definition:
In order to establish the continuity of a given doctrine throughout the ages it is not necessary that we possess an uninterrupted chain of explicit testimonies linking our times with the apostolic period. The reason for this is quite obvious. Since the custody and infallible interpretation of the deposit of faith has been entrusted by God to a living organism which is the Church, and since the Church of today is the same moral person it was in the first or second century, it follows logically that whatever the Church of today holds and teaches as pertaining to the original deposit of revelation was also held and taught (at least implicitly) by the Church of the first centuries.
Either we accept this as an incontrovertible principle or we will be confronted with very serious difficulties trying to reconcile the fact that the deposit of revelation was closed at the death of the last Apostle with the fact that the Church has defined as divinely revealed certain truths which were not always explicitly believed, such as the Immaculate Conception, to cite but one example. (83)
In our development of the doctrine of the Assumption according to the writings of the Doctors and theologians of the Church having their foundation in Sacred Scripture, we shall see in what manner the Assumption was implicitly taught and believed since Apostolic times.
Toward the end of the fourth century St. Epiphanius (d. 403), Bishop of Constantia, indicated, in his dispute with the Antidicomarianites and the Collyridians, his belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin even though he was in doubt about the manner of her passing from this life. Proposing three possibilities concerning the manner in which the course of her earthly life came to an end, he definitely implies his belief in her glorious Assumption although he attempted no solution to the former mystery.
Thus we read in his Adversus haereses: “Say she died a natural death. In that case she fell asleep in glory, and departed in purity, and received the crown of her virginity. Or say she was slain with the sword according to Simeon’s prophecy. Then her glory is with the martyrs, and she through whom the divine light shone upon the world is in the place of bliss with her sacred body. Or say she left this world without dying, for God can do what He wills. Then she was simply transferred to eternal glory.” (84) And around the beginning of the fifth century we find another witness in the East, Timothy of Jerusalem, who wrote: “The Virgin is immortal up to now, because He Who dwelt in her took her to the regions of the Ascension.” (85)
The earliest known Patristic witness to the belief in the Assumption in the West appears to be St. Gregory of Tours (d. 593). However, due to the detail with which he describes the death of our Blessed Mother with the Apostles in attendance, and her Assumption at the command of Christ, some scholars believe that he was greatly influenced by the Apocrypha. (86) The Saint said:
When finally the Blessed Virgin had fulfilled the course of this life, and was now to be called lout of this world, all the Apostles were gathered together from each region to her house . . . and behold the Lord Jesus came with His Angels and, receiving her soul, entrusted it to the Archangel Michael and departed. At the break of day the Apostles lifted the body with the couch and laid it in the sepulcher, and they guarded it awaiting the coming of the Lord. And behold the Lord again stood by them, and commanded that the holy body be taken up and borne on a cloud into Paradise, where now, reunited with (her) soul and rejoicing with the elect, it enjoys the good things of eternity which shall never come to an end. (87)
Later on, in the same work, we read: “Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who, we believe, was a virgin before and after childbirth, was, as we have said before (c. 4), carried to Paradise preceded by the Lord amidst the singing of angelic choirs.” (88)
Certainly, from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century on, with but few exceptions, the entire Christian Tradition is in favor of the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother of God into heaven. And it was unanimously accepted by the great Scholastics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries many of whom either doubted or explicitly denied the Immaculate Conception. (89)
E. This Faith Is Shown in the Writings of the Doctors and Theologians of the Church (90)
The above-mentioned arguments of the Fathers of the Church, as well as the reasons advanced by the Doctors and theologians, “are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation.” (91)
“Often there are theologians and preachers who, following in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers, have been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture to explain their belief in the Assumption.” (92) The Holy Father mentions a few of the texts usually cited in this fashion. They are the words of the Psalmist: “Arise, O Lord, into Thy resting place: Thou and the ark, which Thou hast sanctified.” (93) They also mention in this connection the Spouse in the Canticles “that goeth up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense” (94) to be crowned. And in the Woman clothed with the Sun, whom St. John contemplated on the Isle of Patmos, they likewise saw the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. (95) Finally, in the words of the Angel Gabriel spoken at the moment of the Annunciation, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women,” (96) they saw the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven as the “fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special ‘blessing that countered the curse of Eve.” (97)
With the exception of the Angelic Salutation, which was also used by Pope Pius IX as a scriptural argument for the Immaculate Conception, (98) the other texts mentioned above are used in an accommodated sense only. The solid scriptural foundation upon which the proof of the Assumption of Mary into heaven rests, as advanced by the Fathers, Doctors, and theologians is threefold: 1. the most intimate union of the Blessed Virgin with her divine Son; 2. the Divine Maternity; and 3. the coredemptive role of Mary whereby she was the New Eve associated with Christ, the New Adam, in gaining a complete and perfect victory over Satan.
l. The Most Intimate Union of the Blessed Virgin With Her Divine Son
Of this union Pope Pius XII says: “These (the Sacred Scriptures) the loving Mother of God as it were before our very eyes as most intimately joined to her Divine Son and as always sharing His lot. Consequently, it seems impossible to think of her, the one who conceived Christ, brought Him forth, nursed Him with her milk, held him in her arms, and clasped Him to her breast, as being apart from Him in body, even though not in soul, after this earthly life.” (99) And so close does this union between Christ and Mary appear to be lip the Sacred Scriptures that Pope Pius IX tells us that Christ and Mary, from all eternity, were contained in “one and the same decree” of predestination. (100)
2. The Divine Maternity
Since our Redeemer is the Son of Mary, He could not do otherwise, as the perfect observer of God’s law, than to honor, not only His eternal Father, but also His most beloved Mother. And, since it was within His power to grant her this great honor, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that He really acted in this way. (101)
In the revealed notion of Mary’s divine Motherhood the Church has always (though at times implicitly) seen her glorious Assumption into heaven by a supernatural intuition, one result of the Spirit of Truth dwelling within her. (102) Of this insight Father Wuenschel writes:
The expositions of the Fathers and theologians and the language of the Liturgy vary in viewpoint and emphasis, but they all involve this fundamental principle: the Assumption is implicit in the revealed notion of the Divine Maternity taken in its concrete historical reality. This includes immeasurably more than the bare relationship of motherhood to the Person of the Word. It is the living notion with which the Church was born, which she has been contemplating, expounding, defending, sounding even more deeply, for nineteen centuries. It is the notion of Mary as Mother of the Divine Redeemer precisely as Redeemer, with Whom she was predestined from all eternity, and through Whom she was to receive the blessings of the Redemption first and in fullest measure. It is the notion of Mary as Queen of the created universe, Queen of the Kingdom ransomed with the Blood of the immaculate Lamb. It is the notion of Mary, therefore, as possessing a dignity that exalts her above the Cherubim and Seraphim, endowed with a personal holiness that is unique and supreme among creatures, immune to the slightest shadow of sin, exempt from all penalty for sin. It is the notion of Mary as a virgin in the highest and most perfect sense, because her virginity was confirmed and consecrated by her espousals with the Holy Spirit and her miraculous motherhood of the God-Man. Her very body became inconceivably sacred as the caro deifera, the living tabernacle of the Word, Who took flesh of her flesh and made her womb the paradise of the Second Adam.
In this revealed notion of Mary’s immaculate, virginal motherhood the Church sees her bodily Assumption as her crowning privilege. The Church sees it there, not as the result of a logical deduction, still less as a mere convenientia, but as one element of that miracle of miracles which God willed His Mother to be. (103)
3. The Coredemptive Role of Mary Whereby She Was the New Eve Associated With Christ, the New Adam, in Gaining a Complete and Perfect Victory Over Satan. (104)
We must remember especially that, since the second century, the Virgin Mary has been designated by the holy Fathers as the New Eve, who, although subject to the New Adam, is most intimately associated with Him in the struggle against the infernal foe which, as foretold in the protoevangelium (105) would finally result in the most complete victory over sin and death which are always mentioned together in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: “when this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.” (106)
Without doubt this is the principal argument for the Assumption of Mary taken from the Sacred Scripture by our Holy Father. And although the Munificentissimus Deus does not in this passage use the term “Coredemptrix” (107) the doctrine, nevertheless, is clearly put forth.
By the title “Coredemptrix” we do not mean that Mary co-operated in the Redemption of the human race only in the sense in which this title may be applied to all who pray and suffer for sinners and, thereby, share in the work of applying the fruits of the Redemption to the souls of men. Coredemption is here taken in the strict sense of a direct and formal co-operation of Mary with Christ in the very act whereby He redeemed the human race. Such a title is truly hers for she allowed the whole plan of Redemption to take place by her free consent to become the Mother of the Redeemer; by freely forfeiting her maternal rights over her divine Son in offering Him in death to atone for the sin of Adam and for the sins of the entire human race; and by uniting her sufferings with those of her Son. Thus did Mary co-operate with Christ in the very act of liberating the world from the power of Satan. She merited for herself the title “New Eve” and became in actuality the Woman foretold in the Protoevangeliumwho, with her Seed, would crush the head of the Serpent beneath her immaculate foot.
The work of Christ which effected the Redemption of the human race was accomplished through everlasting enmities with Satan culminating in a complete and perfect victory for Christ over the devil and his empire. Concerning the co-operation of Mary in gaining this complete and perfect victory over Satan, the teaching of the Church is quite explicit as is seen in the following quotation from the Bull Ineffabilis Deus of Pope Pius IX:
The Fathers and writers of the Church . . . when quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world the Almighty announced His merciful remedies prepared for the renewal of mankind, and by which He crushed the audacity of the deceitful Serpent and wonderfully raised up the hope of our race saying, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed”—when quoting these words, they taught that in this divine oracle the merciful Redeemer of the human race, the Only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, was clearly and openly pointed out beforehand, and that His Most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was designated, and that at the same time the very same enmities of both towards the devil were signally expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, having assumed human nature, blotted out the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, (108) so the Most Holy Virgin, united with Him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with Him and through Him, eternally at enmity with that poisonous Serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot. (109)
In this passage Pope Pius IX identifies the redemptive work of Christ with the crushing of the head of the Serpent. (110) And, according to the text of the Holy Father, this complete overthrow of Satan’s empire was effected by Christ and Mary acting as one principle; Mary’s activity, however, being subordinate to that of Christ (with Him and through Him). This same interpretation was given to the Protoevangelium by the Fathers of the Vatican Council in their petition (signed by 113 Bishops and Archbishops) requesting of the Holy See the definition of Mary’s Assumption into heaven. (111) Now, St. Paul is very explicit in his teaching that death came into the world and rules over mankind as a result of sin. Thus, he says, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed on to all men because all have sinned….” (112) Satan rules over the empire of death to which all are subject who have contracted sin, inasmuch as sin came into the world through his instigation. As a result “we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption of sons, the redemption of our body.” (113) This redemption shall take place only when “the trumpets shall sound, and the dead shall rise incorruptible and we shall be changed. For this incorruptible body must put on incorruption, and this mortal body must put on immortality. But when this mortal body puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the word that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?'” (114)
Christ freely subjected Himself to death because this was the will of His heavenly Father. Satan gained not even a slight partial victory over Him. For, far from being conquered by death, He died “…that through death He might destroy him who had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil.” (115) For the empire of death includes not just the separation of the soul from the body, but death with its consequent bodily corruption imposing thereby the obligation upon all, even the just, of waiting until the general resurrection for the liberation of the body and the full enjoyment, as a person, of the beatific vision. It was through Christ’s anticipated resurrection that He destroyed the empire of death making His victory over Satan complete and perfect.
Mary’s association with Christ in gaining together with Him as one principle a complete and perfect victory over Satan demanded her anticipated resurrection and bodily glorification (if she died) or her anticipated bodily glorification (if she did not die). This anticipated resurrection or bodily glorification effected the union of her sacred body with her already glorified soul and “since a glorified body must be where the soul is, and Mary’s soul is certainly in heaven, therefore Mary is in heaven with her glorified body and soul.” (116)
This article was excerpted from J. B. Carol, O.F.M., Mariology, Vol. 2, Bruce, 1957.
(1) Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, in A.A.S., Vol. 42, 1950, p. 770.
(2) Cf. Ineffabilis Deus, in Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 616.
(3) Cf. D.B., 1839.
(4) Cf. Al. Janssens, De glorificatione corporali B. Mariae Virginis, in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, Vol. 8, 1931, p. 437 ff.
(5) Cf. F, S. Mueller, S.J., Origo divino-apostolica doctrinae evectionis Beatissimae Virginis ad gloriam coelestem quoad corpus (Oeniponte, 1930). Cf. the critique of Father Mueller’s work by J. Bittremieux in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, Vol. 8, 1931, p. 465 ff., in which he attempts to harmonize the two opinions by distinguishing between the Assumption in the abstract and in the concrete. Abstractly considered, the essential object of the Assumption is the bodily glorification of the Blessed Virgin. Considered in the concrete, and as it actually took place, the object would include her death and subsequent resurrection. But, as Father Roschini points out, this opinion presupposes the fact of Mary’s death and subsequent resurrection, as does that of Father Janssens. Cf. Summula Mariologiae (Romae, 1952), p. 174. Father C. Balic, O.F.M., distinguishes between the Assumption in recto and ex obliquo. Considering the Assumption in recto its object is the glorification of the living body; ex obliquo, it includes the death and resurrection. He designates the latter as the terminus a quo of the Assumption and the former the terminus ad quem. Cf. De definibilitate Assumptionis B, V. Mariae (Romae, 1945), p. 42 ff.
(6) We do, however, find commentaries on the Constitution in which it is maintained that the death and subsequent resurrection of the body of Mary are included within the scope of the definition. Cf., for example, B. Garcia Rodiguez, C.M.F., La razon teologica en la constitucion ‘Munificentissimus Deus,’ in Ephemerides Mariologicae, Vol. 1, 1951, p. 46 ff.
(7) Haereses, 78, 11, PG, 42, 716.
(8) G. M. Roschini, Did Our Lady Die? in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 80, 1953, pp. 75-76.
(9) For a critique of the teaching of Timothy of Jerusalem and the various manuscripts in which his doctrine may be found, cf. M. Jugie, La mort et l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge (Citta del Vaticano, 1944), p. 70 ff. Cf. B. Capelle, Les homilies liturgiques du pretendu Timothee de Jerusalem, in Ephemerides Liturgicae, Vol. 63, 1949, pp. 5-26. After a very thorough and scholarly investigation the author concludes that Timothy is an unknown author who lived between the sixth and seventh centuries (p. 23).
(10) De ortu et obitu Patrum, 67; PL, 83, 150.
(11) Epistola ad Ascaricum, 11; PL, 99, 1239-1240.
(12) Oratio 12 in dormit. SS. Deiparae; PG, 97, 1051-1054.
(13) Hom. 2 in dormit., 11. 2; PG, 96, 726.
(14) Opuscula, op. 37; PG, 97, 1594.
(15) Cf. C. Piana, La morte e l’Assunzione della B. Vergine nella letteratura medioevale, in Atti del Congresso Nazionale Mariano dei Frati Minori d’ltalia (Roma, 1948), pp. 283-308.
(16) In III Sent., d. 3, q. 2, ad 4; op. omnia, Vol. 3 (Ad Claras Aquas, 1888), p. 66. T. Gallus, Ad “immortalitatem” B. M. Virginis, in Marianum, Vol. 12, 1950, pp. 44-45, contends that the teaching of the Middle Ages concerning Mary’s death was based on the false premise that Mary had contracted original sin. This is perhaps true of the thirteenth century, but Father Piana has shown that many subsequent theologians who believed in the Immaculate Conception taught also Mary’s death. Cf. L‘Assomption de la Vierge et l’ecole franciscaine du XVe siecle, in Congres Marial du Puy-en-Velay, 1949 (Paris, 1950), esp. pp. 64, 72.
(17) Cf. Super definibilitate dogmatica Asumptionis corporeae B. V. M. Deiparae Immaculatae (Augustae Taurinorum, 1884), p. 32.
(18) Roschini, Il problema della morte di Maria SS. dopo la Costituzione Dogmatica “Munificentissimus Deus,”in Marianum, Vol. 13, 1951, pp. 148-163; id., II problema della morte di Maria SS. Risposta alle contestazioni del P. Sauras, in Ephemerides Mariologicae, Vol. 3, 1953, pp. 25-53. T. Gallus, art. cit., and also La Vergine Immortale (Roma, 1949).
(19) De doctrina Assumptions corporalis B. M. V. rationibus theologicis demonstrata, in Angelicum, Vol. 16, 1938, p. 12. In the same sense M. Jugie, op. cit. passim, esp. p. 539.
(20) Cf. footnote 5.
(21) Definibilite de l’Assomption, in Congres Marial du Puy-en-Velay (Paris, 1950), p. 241. Cf. his more recent article La Bulle Dogmatique “Munificentissimus Deus” (1 Nov. 1950), in Ephemerides Mariologicae, Vol. 1, 1951, pp. 89-130, esp. 104-114.
(22) Votum SS. Dno. Pio XII prolatum de corporea Asumptione B. M. Virginis in coelum, post mortem, definienda, in Estudios Marianos, Vol. 9, 1950, p. 11 ff.
(23) Cf. Alma Socia Christi. Acta Congressus Mariologici-Mariani Romae anno sancto 1950 celebrati, Vol. 1: Congressus ordo et summarium (Romae, 1951), p. 104.
(24) E. A. Wuenschel, C.Ss.R., The Definability of the Assumption, in Proceedings of the Second Annual Meeting of The Catholic Theological Society of America, 1947, p. 99.
(25) Rom. 8:3.
(26) D.B., 175.
(27) Art. cit., p. 87 ff.
(28) Cf. Rom. 8:10, 23. On the question of Mary’s death, cf. the recent study by J. B. Carol, O.F.M., The Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Death, in Our Lady’s Digest, Vol. 9, February, 1955, pp. 302-310, and also his Fundamentals of Mariology (New York, 1956), pp. 167-181.
(29) St. Alphonsus bases this opinion (with relation to all men, not angels) on Mary’s office of Coredeemer. Thus, he says: “If Mary, as the already destined Mother of our common Redeemer, received from the beginning the office of mediatress of all men, and consequently, even of the saints, it was also requisite that even from the beginning she should have a degree of grace exceeding that of all the saints for whom she was to intercede…. If, by means of Mary, all men were to render themselves dear to God, necessarily Mary was more holy and more dear to Him than all men together. Otherwise, how could she have interceded for all others?” The Glories of Mary (Brooklyn, 1931), p. 158.
(30) This division is based on that of Father I. Filograssi, S.J., from Constitutio Apostolica “Munificentissimus Deus” de Assumptione Beatae Mariae Virginis, in Gregorianum, Vol. 31, 1950, pp. 483-484.
(31) The numbers in parentheses refer to the official text of the Munificentissimus
Deus, in A.A.S., Vol. 42, 1950, pp. 754-771.
(32) Although the Holy Father uses the expression “these two privileges are most closely bound to one another,” he does not settle the disputed question of the manner in which they are so bound. Some theologians maintain that the Assumption does not follow necessarily from the Immaculate Conception but only as a fitting consequence (as, for example, P. Renaudin, O.S.B., Assumptio B. Mariae Virginis Matris Dei (Taurini-Romae, 1933), Ch. 10, 170). Others hold that these two truths are so connected that the Assumption is formally implicitly revealed in the Immaculate Conception. This opinion is held by Father Gabriel Roschini, Compendium Mariologiae (Romae, 1946), p. 469, and in The Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, in The Thomist,Vol. 14, 1951, p. 59 ff. Father Juniper Carol, O.F.M., raises the following objection against this opinion: “The Sacred Scriptures (e.g., Gen. 2:17; Rom. 5:12) do establish a positive nexus between sin and death. However, in order to show that our doctrine (the Assumption) is formally implicitly revealed in the revelation of Mary’s absolute exemption from sin, it would have to be proved that death, whether permanent or transitory, is always and necessarily a punishment due to sin, even after Christ paid our debt on the cross. And this is what some grave theologians will not admit. Besides, we have a decision of the Council of Trent according to which the sacrament of Baptism completely remits not only the guilt of original sin hut also all punishment due to it (DB, 807). And yet many Christians, even while in possession of baptismal grace, not only die but are also subject to corruption until the day of the general resurrection. The Angelic Doctor . . . gives us a cue to the possible solution of this difficulty by distinguishing between punishments due to the person and punishments due to the nature (Summ. theol. III, q. 69, a. 3, ad 3). According to this, the decision of the Council may well refer to the former, not to the latter. We say that this is a possible solution, for the Council speaks of all punishment without making any distinction. Hence the difficulty seems to remain. At any rate, we believe that the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption may be drawn from her Immaculate Conception by a somewhat different process which would give us a ‘theological conclusion.'” The Definability of Mary’s Assumption, in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 118, March, 1948, pp. 168-169. In the original article submitted to The American Ecclesiastical Review, Father Carol had written: “And yet many Christians, even while in possession of baptismal grace, not only die but. . . .” He now informs us that, for some unexplained reason, whoever prepared the manuscript for the printer took the liberty to substitute the word “most” for “many,” thus rendering his statement utterly false.
(33) Op. cit., pp. 754-755.
(34) Cf. op. cit., p. 755.
(35) Typis polyglottis Vaticanis, 1942.
(36) Cf. Petitiones, Vol. 2, pp. 832-842.
(37) Op. cit., pp. 842-854.
(38) Acta et decreta sacrorum conciliorum recentiorum. Collectio Lacensis, Vol. 7 (Friburgi Brisgoviae, 1882), p. 869 ff.
(39) Op. cit., p. 756.
(40) Cf. Ubi primum, in Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. I, p. 162 ff.
(41) Op. cit., p. 756.
(42) Op. cit., pp. 756-757.
(43) Acts 20:28.
(44) Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, in Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 615.
(45) Cf. Vatican Council, De fide catholica, cap. 4.
(46) Cf. Jn. 14:26.
(47) De Ecclesia Christi, cap. 4. D.B., 1836.
(48) De fide catholica, cap. 3. D.B., 1792.
(49) Cf. St. Thomas, Summ. Theol., II-II, q. 10, a. 12, c.
(50) Munificentissimus, pp. 757-758.
(51) E. A. Wuenschel, art. cit., p. 91.
(52) According to Angel Luis, C.Ss.R., Principle fundamental o primario, Como enunciarlo si se da ese unico principio?, in Estudios Marianos, Vol. 3, 1944, p. 190, this famous axiom was not formulated by Scotus but by one of his disciples, namely, F. Mayron, In 111 Sent., d. 3, q. 2. The words which are the basis of this interpretation of his thought are: “Deus potuit facere quod ipsa numquam fuisset in peccato originali. … Si auctoritati Ecclesiae, vel auctoritati Scripturae non repugnet, videtur probabile quod est excellentius attribuere Mariae” (Op. Oxon., III Sent., d. 3, q. 1, n. 4).
(53) Glories of Mary (ed. Brooklyn, 1931), p. 158.
(54) Gen. 3:15.
(55) Pope Pius XII, Fulgens Corona, in A.A.S., Vol. 45, 1953, pp. 579, 580.
(56) Rom. 5:12; Hebr. 2:14; Rom. 8:10.
(57 Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:52-56.
(58) E. A. Wuenschel, loc. cit.
(59) Munificentissimus, p. 758.
(61) Ineffabilis Deus, in Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 600 ff.
(62) Mediator Dei, in A.A.S., Vol. 39, 1947, p. 541.
(63) Cf. La mort et l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge (Citta del Vaticano, 1944), p. 174ff.
(64) Cf. De priorum saeculorum silentio circa Assumptionem B. Mariae Virginis (Romae, 1946), pp. 18-26.
(65) Nicephorus Callistus, Hist. Eccles., 18, 18, in PG, 147, 292.
(66) Cf. H. Usener, Der heilige Theodosius (Leipzig, 1890), pp. 38, 144; Acta Sanctorum, 11 Januarii, p. 690, n. 31; E. A. Wuenschel, art. cit., p. 77.
(67) De Gloria Martyrum, lib. I, cap. 4, 9. PL, 71, 708, 713.
(68) De transitu Dei Genitricis Mariae, ed. A. Baumstark, in Oriens Christianus, Vol. 5, 1905, pp. 91-99. On this testimony, cf. Faller, op. cit., p. 20.
(69) In dormitionem B. V. Mariae; PG, 96, 700-761; Canon in dormitionem Dei Genetricis; PG, 96, 1364-1368; Valentine A. Mitchel, The Mariology of Saint John Damascene (Kirkwood, Mo., 1931), pp. 138-169.
(70) Art. cit., p. 87.
(71) Cf. Christopher Lee, The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 54, 1939, p. 177.
(72) Cf. Liber Pontificalis, Vol. I, p. 376.
(73) We know this from the Sacramentary sent by Pope Adrian I to Charles the Great between the years 784 and 791. Cf. Roschini, Mariologia, ed. 2, Vol. 2, pars 2 (Romae, 1948), p. 154.
(74) Cf. Liber Pontificalis, Vol. 2, p. 112.
(75) Munificentissimus, p. 759.
(76) Ibid. For further details cf. the well-documented paper by B. Capelle, L’Assunzione e la liturgia, in Marianum, Vol. 15, 1953, pp. 241-276, and the select literature mentioned in it. Cf. likewise J. B. Carol, O.F.M., Fundamentals of Mariology (New York, 1956), pp. 170-172, 190-193.
(77) Munificentissimus, p. 760.
(78) Encomium in dormitionem Dei Genitricis semperque Virginis Mariae, hom. 2, n. 14; PG, 96, 741.
(79) In Sanctae Dei Genitricis dormitionem sermo 1; PG, 98, 346.
(80) Encomium in dormitionem Sanctissimae Dominae nostrae Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae, n. 14; PG, 86-11, 3306. Concerning the attributing of this testimony to St. Modestus of Jerusalem Father Faller says: “Concerning S. Modestus of Jerusalem (d. 17 December, 634) they (scholars) rightly doubt whether or not the homilies on the Assumption (PG, 86, 3277-3312) ascribed to him can be attributed to him with certitude. This is especially true since the Christological formula of the two wills in Christ (par. 10, col. 3304 B-C) was called into doubt only in the year of the death of Modestus through a letter of the Patriarch Sergius to Pope Honorius, so that it is very likely that Modestus of Jerusalem had no knowledge of this controversy before his death. Hence this testimony should be transferred to the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century. But, even so, it very probably precedes the testimonies of St. Andrew of Crete, St. Germanus, and St. John Chrysostom” (op. cit., p. 9).
(81) As, for example, E. Renan, L’Eglise Chretienne, in Histoire des origines du Christianisme, Vol. 6 (Paris, 1879), p. 513; C. Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocryphae (Leipzig, 1866), p. 34; H. Zoeckler, “Maria,” in Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche, Vol. 13, p. 300; the article entitled: Assumption in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed., Vol. 2, 1939, p. 567. Father T. Livius, C.Ss.R., in his work The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries (London, 1839), p. 365, quotes the objective view of the Anglican Mozley on this question. Mozley writes: “The belief was never founded on that story (the apocryphal). The story was founded on the belief. The belief, which was universal, required a definite shape, and that shape at length it found” (Reminiscences of Oriel College and the Oxford Movement, Vol. 2, p. 368).
(82) For a complete treatment of the Assumption in the Apocrypha cf. A. C. Rush, C.Ss.R., The Assumption in the Apocrypha, in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 116, 1947, pp. 5-31; A Vitti, S.J., Libri apocryphi de Assumptione, in Verbum Domini, Vol. 6, 1926, pp. 225-234; M. Jugie, op. cit., pp. 103-171; E. A. Wuenschel,art. cit., p. 73 ff.
(83) The Definability of Mary’s Assumption, in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 118, 1948, pp. 164-165.
(84) Adversus haereses, 78:23; PG, 42, 737. Translation of E. A. Wuenschel, art. cit., p. 79.
(85) Cf. note no. 9.
(86) For example, Father Michael Quinlan, S.J., The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 68, 1946, p. 82.
(87) De gloria beatorum martyrum 4; PL, 71, 708.
(88) Op. cit., 9; PL, 71, 713.
(89) An exhaustive collection of references to the Scholastic exponents of the doctrine of the Assumption may be found in the
article entitled Marie in the Dictionnaire Apologetique de la Foi Catholique, Vol. 3, coll. 277-280. Cf. likewise the monumental work of C. Balic, Testimonia de Assumptione Beatae Virginis Mariae ex omnibus saeculis, Vol. 1 (Romae, 1948), Vol. 2 (Romae, 1950).
(90) A complete treatment of the theological argumentation contained in the Munificentissimus Deus may be found in the excellent article by Father B. Garcia Rodriguez, C.M.F., La teologia de la “Munificentissimus Deus” in Ephemerides Mariologicae, Vol. I, 1951, p. 45 ff.
(91) Munificentissimus, p. 768. For a scholarly treatment of the scriptural arguments of the Munificentissimus Deus see Father M. Peinador’s article, De argumento scripturistico in Bulla dogmatica, in Ephemerides Mariologicae, Vol. 1, 1951, p. 27 ff.
(92) Munificentissimus, p. 762.
(93) Ps. 138:8.
(94) Cant. 3:6. Cf. also 4:8; 6:9.
(95) Apoc. 12,11.
(96) Lk. 1:28.
(97) Munificentissimus, p. 763.
(98) Ineffabilis Deus, in Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 609.
(99) Munificentissimus, p. 768.
(100) Acta Pii IX, p. 599. Cf. also Munificentissimus, p. 769.
(101) Munificentissimus, p. 768.
(102) It is disputed among theologians whether the Assumption is formally implicitly contained within the notion of the Divine Maternity or not. Father Juniper Carol, O.F.M., maintains that it is not, for there is a nexus of fitness only between these two prerogatives. With this opinion we agree. Cf. The Definability of Mary’s Assumption, in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 118, 1948, p. 167. Father Crisostomo de Pamplona holds the positive view in an article entitled, La Asuncion basada en los grandes privilegios marianos, in Estudios Marianos, Vol. 6, 1947, p-270 ff.
(103) Art. cit., p. 91.
(104) It is not our purpose here to outline the theology of the Coredemption. We refer the reader to the exhaustive work by Father Juniper B. Carol, De Corredemptione Beatae Virginis Mariae disquisitio positiva(Civitas Vaticana, 1950). On the specific point being discussed here cf. also his commentary, The Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” and Our Lady’s Coredemption, in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 125, October, 1951, pp. 255-273.
(105) Gen. 3:15.
(106) Munificentissimus, p. 768.
(107) The Holy Father, however, does speak of Our Blessed Mother as “the noble Associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences” (ibid).
(108) Col 2:14.
(109) Acta Pii IX, pars 1, Vol. 1, p. 607.
(110) This is also the teaching of St. Paul in Col. 2:14; Hebr. 2:4.
(111) Cf. Acta et decreta Sacrorum Conciliorum recentiorum. Collectio Lacensis, Vol. 7 (Friburgi Brisgoviae, 1882), p. 869 f. For further literature on the Assumption in the Protoevangelium, cf. A. Bea, La Sacra Scrittura “ultimo fondamento” del domma dell’Assunzione, in La Civilta Cattolica, a. 101, Vol. 4, 1950, pp. 547-561; M. Peinador, Mas sobre el argumento escrituristico en la Bula “Munificentissimus Deus” in Ephemerides Mariologicae, Vol. 1, 1951, pp. 395-404. Cf. likewise the excellent study (written before the definition) by L. Di Fonzo, De Immaculatae Deiparae Assumptione post praecipua recentiora studia critica disquisitio, in Miscellanea Francescana, Vol. 46, 1946, pp. 45-104, esp. pp. 72-74.
(112) Rom. 5:12.
(113) Rom. 8:23.
(114) 1 Cor. 15:52-55.
(115) Hebr. 2:14.
(116) J. B. Carol, The Definability of Mary’s Assumption, in The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 118, 1948, p. 176.