Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I regard the Bible as "true" as a basic presupposition in my own thinking. It serves as the basis for all other aspects of my thinking. It even serves as the basis for “doing” history. Thus, I begin with the Bible as a beginning point, it is a core belief (we all have these). God has spoken. No authority exists above God to validate this, even history. History doesn't prove the Bible. The Bible proves history.
In the case of the Mary's Assumption, Catholics claim that it is a Christian truth. I don’t grant the validity of an extra-biblical infallible authority, all claims for religious truth must be weighed and tested by the only infallible authority: the very voice of God found in the Scriptures. The Assumption fails this test. Biblical proof of the Assumption simply doesn't exist.
Roman Catholics also appeal to the record of history to validate their claim for an infallible authoritative tradition that exists beside Scripture. The Assumption fails this test as well, as we will see momentarily.
Here is a test the Assumption doesn’t fail: "I believe in the assumption and the claims of the Roman Catholic Church because I want to. I begin with a core presupposition that Rome is infallible, and God’s living church. The testimony of either Scripture or history that contradicts the core presupposition in Rome’s infallibility is not to be considered as harmful to my core presupposition, because my faith rests in Rome, not in the Bible or history."
In my conversations with Roman Catholics, i've never had them admit the doctrine of Mary's Assumption can only be held on the basis that they "want to" believe this doctrine. Here's a typical Catholic defense about Mary's Assumption:
"Last night I heard the Bible Answer Man repeated an oft used Protestant canard concerning Pope Gelasius' document Decretum Gelasianum. This is usually used to somehow show how popes contradict one another.He made the claim that pope Gelasius explicitly condemned the notion of Mary's assumption into heaven in this document and makes it anathema. Of course this claim is false. No one can produce a single document in which the pope specifically condemns the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven.Gelasius did, however, condemn a group of apocryphal books in his decree, including one called Transitus Mariae, which contained fanciful stories of the 12 Apostles being transported to Jerusalem to meet Jesus at Mary's tomb - some of whom are magically resuscitated from death (prematurely resurrected?) for this purpose. The Twelve then urge Our Lord to take Mary into heaven with Him, and He concedes. So Pope Gelasius rightly condemned this writing because it was obviously fictional, NOT because it contained an account of Mary's assumption, which it does. After all, other apocryphal writings condemned by early popes contain accounts of the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Does that mean the popes rejected the idea of the resurrection and ascension of Christ? No. It just means that errors and fabrications are usually mixed with truth in apocryphal writings. Sorry Hank."
The problem, if I recall, is not so much Gelasius condemning Transitus Mariae, a book which included the notion of Mary's assumption. Rather, the problem is, the Transitus Mariae is the earliest source that speaks of Mary's bodily assumption.
You see the problem: a condemned apocryphal book is the earliest substantiation for Mary's bodily assumption. Now, red flags should definately be going up.
The assumption is a big historical problem for Roman Catholics. The first church father to teach it was Gregory of Tours in 590 AD. The Transitus Mariae dates from the end of the fith century. Catholic historian Ludwig Ott confirms this as the earliest source of Mary's assumption:
"The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours' "
Source: Ludwigg Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209-210.
Pope Gelasius condemned the authors of the Transitus Mariae, as well as the teachings it promoted as well as any who would follw those teachings. I would assume, Mary's bodily assumption is a teaching of the Transitus Mariae. In a future blog post- i'll look at the charge that only certain heretical teachings were condemned- and Mary's assumption was not one of them. This claim is more wishful thinking than it is a "fact" of history.
Now, the Roman Catholic Church claims the assumption is a historical fact, yet they can't provide historical verification that links it back to an unwritten teaching of the apostles. They can link it back to a condemned apocryphal gnostic book. If this isn't enough to make someone stop and consider what it means to put their faith in the Roman Catholic Church, nothing will.
This is what Roman Catholics are required to believe about Mary's assumption:
"...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.
Hence, if anyone, which God forbid, should dare wilfully to deny or call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic faith...It is forbidden to any man to change this, Our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul."
source: decree Munificentissimus Deus by pope Pius XII
Here's An excellent resource for the historical facts about Mary's bodily assumption: