Monday, June 30, 2008

The Reformers and the Assumption

Here's one I caught on the CARM Catholic board:

We know that in the early Church, a belief arose in [Mary's] Assumption (as documented in the Transitus and the Dormition), and that belief was consistent down through the centuries - never refuted as a heresy. Even through the time of the Reformation, men such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all believed in the truth of the Assumption.

My response: OK, let's see the proof. I'm very interested.

The proof: From Luther's sermon on August 15, 1522 (the feast of the Assumption)- "There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith." Regarding John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, I may be mistaken. I can find nothing from them either supporting or denying their belief in the Assumption, as they do not appear to have taken much of a position on that particular subject. I withdraw my assertion regarding these two. In my opinion, the Assumption of Mary is not just telling us something about Mary, but it's also a "preview" of what awaits us as Christians.

"There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith"- This quote doesn't say Luther believed in Mary's Assumption. There simply isn't enough of a context to know exactly what Luther was talking about. In 1522, early in the Reformation, it would not be so outrageous to find Luther making a statement like this that would allow for some version of the Assumption.

I strongly doubt you have the context for this quote. If you did, you'd be one of the first. Recently I noticed Catholic writer George Tavard alludes to it in his book, The Thousand Faces of the Virgin on pages 112-113. Tavard assumes that Luther did not "repudiate" Mary's Assumption, but he offers no proof he affirmed it. This is a typical Roman Catholic argument- no proof of x and no denial of x equals belief in x.

Now, let's take off our Assumption Dogma glasses for a moment with that Luther quote from 1522. Toward the end of his life, Luther delivered a series of lectures on the book of Genesis. Note the following quote:

This is what Moses wanted to indicate when he speaks of 'the lives of Sarah.' It is as though he were saying: 'Sarah, in conformity with differences in places and people, often adopted a different attitude and different ways. When she came to a place where she thought she would live pleasantly and quietly, she was compelled to move and to change her plans and feelings as she did so.' For this reason that saintly woman had many lives. More attention should have been given to these things, although it is easy for me to believe that in her hundredth year she was just as beautiful as she was in her twentieth.

Then one should much rather consider how Abraham delivered a beautiful funeral address about Sarah. For in the Holy Scriptures no other matron is so distinguished. Her years, lives, conduct, and burial place are described. In the eyes of God, therefore, Sarah was an extraordinary jewel on whom extraordinary love was bestowed, and she is mentioned deservedly by Peter as an exemplar for all saintly wives. He says (1 Peter 3:6) that she called Abraham lord and that “you are her daughters.” To all Christian matrons Peter holds her up as a mother.

Scripture has no comments even on the death of other matriarchs, just as it makes no mention of how many years Eve lived and of where she died. Of Rachel it is recorded that she died in childbirth (Gen. 35:16–19). All the other women it passes over and covers with silence, with the result that we have no knowledge of the death of Mary, the mother of Christ. Sarah alone has this glory, that the definite number of her years, the time of her death, and the place of her burial are described. Therefore this is great praise and very sure proof that she was precious in the eyes of God.

But these facts do not concern Sarah, who is already dead, as much as they concern us, who are still alive. For it is a very great comfort to hear that the departure and death of that most saintly matriarch and of all the fathers, in comparison with whom we are nothing, differs in no wise from our own death but was just as odious and ignominious as our own is. Their bodies were buried, consumed by worms, and hidden in the earth on account of their stench, not otherwise than if they had not been the corpses of saints; yet they were most saintly people, and, although departed, they are actually alive in Christ.

Accordingly, these things are written for our sakes, in order that we may know that the most saintly fathers and mothers underwent the same experiences we are wont to undergo. Nevertheless, it is certain about them that in the eyes of God they live; and I believe that they — namely, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Adam, etc. — rose with Christ.

Note above how Luther treats Mary. He doesn't speak of some cryptic way in which Mary disappeared off the earth. No, she's placed in a list with others whose deaths are not recorded in Scripture, and are passed over in silence. Are we to assume, based on Luther's words, that all the women were Assumed into Heaven? For those wanting to affirm the Assumption, no lack of information will stop them from finding the Assumption, I'm sure. I strongly suggest if you want to believe in the Assumption, leave the Reformers out of it. Believe in the Assumption for the only reason there is: Rome has said so.For more information about Luther and the Assumption, see:

Luther: The Assumption was a Settled Fact? (Part 1)

Luther: The Assumption was a Settled Fact? (Part 2)

Luther: The Assumption was a Settled Fact? (Part 3)

As with Luther, you are mistaken with Calvin, not "may be mistaken."


Karla said...

I didn't realize people believe Mary was taken up to heaven like Elijah or Jesus. Surely she is in heaven, but through a natural death as far as we can know.

pilgrim said...

Let's see, I've never said that I don't believe George Bush is an alien, and I've never made any statement on that--either for or against--therefore I must believe he is an alien?

Would that be along the same lines?

pilgrim said...

Oh, and it has to be said--"Assumption" is indeed the correct word here. It is an assumption at best.