Over on Dr. Gene Veith's blog I was politely challenged on my assumptions about the Assumption. Since I'm not a professional Roman Catholic apologist, I'm not able to interpret Romanism infallibly. Perhaps though, some of you can. Here's an edited version of how it went down. If you know the answer to this riddle, please help me out:
Catholics do believe Mary could and did die, then she was taken up bodily into Heaven. (“…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.”
As I’ve understood Romnism, it isn’t determined one way or the other that Mary died. A Roman Catholic is free to believe either. This is some of 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.” [decree Munificentissimus Deus by pope Pius XII]
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).”
Giovanni Miegge, The Virgin Mary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 85 states:
“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.
Actually, it is an obligation for Catholics to believe that Mary died, then was assumed into Heaven. A Catholic blogger (source below) nicely puts it that “… it is at least a sententia certa (a certain teaching) that our Lady died before being raised and assumed into heaven. This is the clear and explicit tradition of the West and is maintained in a slightly less-clear (and more metaphorical) manner also in the East.”
“Sententia certa” means that the particular teaching being declared is a high-level-of-certitude teaching upon which the Catholic is obliged to accept and believe.
This certitude that Mary in fact died and was believed by the Roman Catholic Church to have died before her bodily assumption is nicely addressed by Pope Pius XII when he states in section 17 of Munificantissimu Deus (MD–see link in my original posting above) in quoting an historical source that
“…Adrian I, our predecessor of immortal memory, sent to the Emperor Charlemagne. These words are found in this volume: “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 your Son our Lord incarnate from herself.”
The requirements of Catholics to be obliged to believe the content stated within MD, including that Mary died (“…the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death…” before being taken up into Heaven is stated in various places by Pius XII within MD. Source (Catholic blogger):
Well, we’ll have to let a professional Roman Catholic apologist solve this riddle. I’ve read quite a number of sources (Protestant and Roman Catholic) saying that it is not essential for a Roman Catholic to believe Mary died. Here are a few sources:
James White, Mary Another Redeemer? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1998) p. 52.
Patrick Madrid, Where is That in the Bible? (Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2001), pp. 71-72.
Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), pp. 272-273.
Stanley Stuber, Primer on Roman Catholicism for Protestants (New York: Association Press, 1953), p. 100.
The New Catholic Answer Bible (insert F2) “If indeed she was free from sin, then it follows that she would not have to undergo the decay of death, which was the penalty for sin.”
I could multiply these sources as well. These were only a few. Whatever the answer, this very issue demonstrates a fatal flaw in Romanism: even their alleged infallible dogmatic pronouncements are open to interpretation.