Thursday, May 18, 2006
Assumptions About The Assumption #2
“If the Assumption is not true, then where is Mary’s tomb?” This question was offered to me once in support of the Assumption. This is a dangerous way to argue for the truth one's beliefs. The corrupt/bogus practice of gathering alleged relics exploded during the 16th Century. Such things like pieces of the cross and drops of the Virgin Mary's milk became objects of great idolatry. Calvin said once,
"St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin has a whole body at Apt in Provence, and another at Notre Dame-de-lille in Julich, and a third in a tower named after her in Thuringia. I shall not speak of her other relics shown in more than a hundred different places."
Perhaps St. Anne was given the gift of ubiquity! But what of the question, "Then where is Mary's historical tomb?"- This method of determining truth says in effect, that if a relic or tomb has been historically said to exist, it therefore verifies the truth about the Assumption, one way or another. Since no historical reference to Mary's tomb has surfaced, Mary was bodily assumed. But I have found a reference to Mary's tomb. In his book The Virgin Mary, the historian Giovanni Meigge wrote,
"She [Mary] departed life humbly and modestly as she had lived it, and none remembered the place of her burial, even if a tradition toward the mid-fifth century gave her a sepulcher near Jerusalem in the Garden of Gethsemane."
Source: Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 85.
Miegge’s book details the growth of the “cult of Mary” and its impact on such things like the Assumption. I find it curious that a “tradition” gave Mary a sepulcher!Now, I would posit it probably wasn't really Mary's tomb- but who knows? Tradition is saying it- and "Tradition" says a lot of curious things- some silly, some contradictory, and some which may be the truth, or have a kernal of truth- but verifying its claims is not the easiest task.
It seems to me that early church history didn’t know what to do about the death of Mary. For instance, the words of Epiphanius contradict the idea of a long held belief in the Assumption. Epiphanius notes another "tradition" that no one knows what happened to Mary. His is the earliest non-heretical voice that comments on the subject of Mary's bodily assumption, around 377:
“But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried ... Scripture is absolutely silent (on the end of Mary) ... For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence ... The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left uncertain ... Did she die, we do not know ... Either the holy Virgin died and was buried ... Or she was killed ... Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.’" (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed., Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).”
William Webster has rightly pointed out:
“For centuries in the early Church there is complete silence regarding Mary’s end. The first mention of it is by Epiphanius in 377 A.D. and he specifically states that no one knows what actually happened to Mary. He lived near Palestine and if there were, in fact, a tradition in the Church generally believed and taught he would have affirmed it. But he clearly states that ‘her end no one knows.”
“In addition to Epiphanius, there is Jerome who also lived in Palestine and does not report any tradition of an assumption. Isidore of Seville, in the seventh century, echoes Epiphanius by saying that no one has any information at all about Mary’s death. The patristic testimony is therefore non-existent on this subject.”