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 Since no historical reference to Mary's tomb has surfaced, Mary was bodily assumed.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.”

8 comments:

Robbie said...

Hi James,

Thank you so very much for the book recommendation! I have a growing number of Marian books in my liberary as well. I will certainly check into getting the one you mentioned.

Robbie

Robbie said...

Hey brother, just finished reading the blog post. A quick question concerning Epiphanius. He wrote against the Collyridians. I wonder if perhaps they, in their deifing and worshipping Mary as a goddess, didn't hold to a form of the Assumption. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks.

Robbie

Robbie said...

Hi James,

I'm having trouble locating a copy of the book. Can you point me to where I might find one? Thank you so very much.

Robbie

Gavin said...

Another wonderful post. The argument I've heard most from the laypeople is more a matter of "Why aren't there any bodily relics of Mary?" (well besides jars and jars of her breast milk....) The foolishness of this is quite obvious; it presupposes 1) the truth of relics and 2) that the preservation and adoration of relics is a historical practice. Both of those are generally not held in common between a Roman Catholic and any protestant.

I find Epiphanius's comment interesting, particularly as a former Catholic. It definitely shows some early mariolatry, but what surprises me is his statement that "we don't know where she went." It seems odd, from either a Catholic or protestant viewpoint, that Mary would just have died with no fame - you'd think being Jesus's mother, people might have an interest in her, althhough certainly not to the point they do today. I don't know, when I see a celebrity or even a religous leader I at least think, "I wonder how their parents feel about this." Also, wouldn't John the Beloved have known where she went (and if she was assumed, write it down)? Doesn't sound like a very good caretaker to me. The fact that he speculates to her end is also telling of how quickly her cult grew, that he would consider an Assumption as possible. I don't know any other dead people that I think were raised body and soul into heaven.

James Swan said...

Robbie-

http://dogbert.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&an=Miegge&y=13&tn=virgin&x=46

Robbie said...

Thanks, bro. Just ordered a copy.

Robbie

James Swan said...

Gavin-

First- you mentioned your blog a few weeks back, please post the link.

Second- Miegge suggests:

"Actually the good Epiphanius made a superfluous display of hypotheses. If in his time no tradition existed about the end of Mary's life, that is simply due to the fact that her death happened in a time when the practice of venerating the memory of martyrs or of persons eminent in the Church had not yet arisen, and it passed unobserved." (page 85)

On first glance, I thought Miegge's point was silly.People are so prone to worship the creation rather than the creator- could there possibly have been a time when Christians did not violate the first two commandments? Miegge also notes that "The growth of the cult of Mary was not rapid, not as rapid, at least, as appeared possible, in view of the very great possibilities of development in the title theotokos." (p.83)

But yet, as I read through the earliest speculations about Mary's end- including the apocryphal literature, I grant he may have point.

On the other hand, if pressed- I would be forced to conclude:

There is no "one" tradition of the assumption- there doesn't appear to be any one unified theme or tradition. The only certain thing that tradition appears to point to in this matter, is that no one knows what happened to Mary.

Second, Mary's role in the New Testament diminishes- what I mean is this- The gospel accounts contain material about Mary- Acts and the rest of the New Testament do not record her "doings" in the early church. In other words, in the Bible she fades from the scene, as well as in history. God is in providential control of both, and I find their unity in this matter to be something to consider.

James Swan said...

Robbie-

I hadn't thought about the Collyridians in that way before. It's an excellent question I had not previously considered. I'm sure a web search will provide plenty of hits. I have a feeling that actual writings from the Collyridians do not exist.

On the other hand, when you get Miegge's book, read over pages 86-92. He gives good overviews of the apocryphal assumption literature. I would be prone to speculate the Colyridians indeed held a form of the assumption similar in silliness and idolatry to that put forth in the apocryphal literature.