Thursday, August 15, 2013

Remembering the Assumption of Mary

On the Death of Mary: Why the Infallible Interpreter Still Needs to be Interpreted

10/16/2011 - James Swan
As I've understood Roman Catholicism, it isn't determined one way or the other that Mary died. A Roman Catholic is free to believe either. Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating states, 
The Church has never formally defined whether she died or not, and the integrity of the doctrine of the Assumption would not be impaired if she did not die, but the almost universal consensus is that she did in fact die [Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 273].

Against this "almost universal consensus" is none other than Patrick Madrid. Of Revelation 12:1-8 he states, 

This passage also shows us a vision of Mary, queen of heaven, and hints at her Assumption. The gift of suffering no corruption in the grave and of being 'caught up' into heaven while still alive is perfectly in accordance with Scripture [Patrick Madrid,Where is That in the Bible? (Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2001), pp. 71-72].

Against this "almost universal consensus" is also the New Catholic Answer Bible:

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 [The New Catholic Answer Bible (Kansas: Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005) Insert F2].

On the other hand, there are Roman Catholic web pages like this stating the following:

In any case, 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.

The confusion stems from the magisterial teaching of Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus. Some say he did not explicitly state that Mary died. Some Roman Catholics read this "infallible" pronouncement and state:

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...  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."

Other Roman Catholics reading the same document declare:

However, the definition infallibly declared by Pius XII does not explicitly state that the Blessed Virgin suffered death: "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."

These interpretive snippets demonstrate an ironic flaw in Romanism: even their alleged infallible dogmatic pronouncements are open to interpretation. We need to continually remind Roman Catholics about this when they argue that they have some sort of superior certainty that non-Romanists do not. Roman Catholics sometimes say that if one lacks an infallible interpreter, one is left with private interpretation (as Patrick Madrid call it, "a blueprint for anarchy"). But what this often assumes is that the actual infallible pronouncements don't need to be interpreted... but they do! One never escapes private interpretation, so when Roman Catholics raise the issue, the double standard needs to be exposed. One may respond that it really isn't that important whether Mary died or not. That individual Roman Catholics quibble over it is no big deal. Actually though it's simply one more example of a much bigger problem. For instance, on the fundamental issue of what are, or are not, the very Words of God, Catholics are not unified.  


Nick said...

The text of Munificenttisimus doesn't give any indication that Mary did not die. The text does however make comments to the effect that She did die:

Either way though, your overall argument doesn't hold water because the Dormition is secondary to the dogma of the Assumption itself. Even Protestants claim there are such things as non-essential aspects to dogmas.

If you want real confusion, consider the fact Protestants cannot agree on whether Jesus died for everyone or not. Svendsen denied the L in TULIP while White affirms it.

Conhecereis a Verdade said...

This dogmatic definition, completely devoid of biblical, patristic and historical support, is extremely curious because Pius XII could define with all certainty that Mary ascended into heaven in body and soul, but can not tell if he really died or not. Hence the obvious ambiguity of the words "having completed the course of her earthly life."

Indeed, an outstanding example of the double discourse typical of the popes.


TomiPad said...

Often Roman Catholics, under the premise that only infallible statements count, their church has never contradicted itself. Rome defines what a contradiction is and infallibly defines herself as possessing assured infallibility in accordance with her infallibly defined criteria. 

Scott said...

As even this article from Swan points out, there is no definition of death in MD. The closest we come to that is that it DOES define "having completed the course of her earthly life." But again, MD does not seek to define whether she died or not, but that she was taken into Heaven, body and soul, and that IS defined, and infallibly so. Whether or not she died is PURELY a distraction to the TRUE subject at hand in MD.

My initial response to Swan's article from 2011 is here:


Stephen Galanis said...

Firstly, Nick, "doesn't give any indication that Mary did not die" is the argument from ignorance. And you've backed up your view by citing... the infallible magisteirum? No. By citing Taylor Marshall. And he's not infallible. That's his interpretation of the magisterium. Thank you for that demonstration of real-world Catholic authority. You do see the irony of how you responded? You claim an epistemological advantage of Protestants, but if Catholics have to defend the perspicuity of the magisterium, then logically, it has already failed to be perspicuous.

Scott, you're right, there's no definition of death in MD. And you'll have to admit there is some level of confusion about whether Mary died or not. It may be a distraction, but Rome ought to settle the debate if it can. And if Rome wants to make historical claims about the assumption of Mary - and it is an historical claim - surely it knows whether or not she died? How on earth can one begin to defend "Mary definitely was assumed into heaven, but whether it was before or after her death we don't know"? Because whatever source you imagine supports the assumption (there would have been eyewitnesses - family at her deathbed, that sort of thing), that source would also contain the datum of whether Mary had died or not prior to her assumption. It's remarkable that Rome, and you, claim to know one but not the other. And what of those Catholics who died before the assumption was made a required belief? It wasn't necessary for salvation before 1950, so that just looks like Rome dictating terms to God.

Scott said...

Dr. Marshall doesn't have to be infallible! We're not even discussing a topic under the charism of infallibility! I do find it a bit amusing to see Protestants continue to distract this way though - who do you think you're fooling?

As for your comment to me, whether or not she actually died is not important! What is important is that she "completed her course of her earthly life" and was "assumed, body and soul into Heaven." There is no real "need" for Rome to settle whether or not she experienced physical death - her course of this life was complete, period.

As I said (on my blog) if you want to discuss or debate whether she actually died, fine - that's another discussion. We can discuss this all you want, but when you get down to it, it's just musings of folks on the Internet positing opinions (ancient and/or new) regarding this.

MY POINT is that if we're "Remembering the Assumption of Mary" (as Swan entitled this article) then let us do that! Why the distraction?

We could discuss further, as you brought up, that prior to the 1950 defining of this dogma not all faithful Catholics held to the dogma - and I concur with that. The point, as you recognized, is that after the definition was promulgated no faithful Catholic can deny it. It becomes a recognition of the authority Jesus Christ empowered His Church with and denial of that authority becomes a denial of Christ - and THAT is more relevant than whether or not one "accepts" the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Michael Taylor said...

As a former RC, I would have simply responded that Mary's death has not been dogmatically defined and that it therefore matters little that Madrid disagrees with Keating et alia.

That said, it isn't always clear what has an has not been dogmatically defined. Most commentators believe the phrase, "having completed the course of her earthly life," was chosen precisely so that either camp could holds it's view while still affirming that Mary was assumed, body and soul.

But I'm sure one can find many who would say that the phrase is simply a euphemism for "died." If so, then MD can be read as having dogmatically determined that Mary did in fact die.

The point is this: What has and has not been dogmatically defined isn't always clear (and often is not). Witness the intra-Roman debate about the ordination of women. Conservatives are quite certain that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (J2P2) infallibly excluded women from holy orders. Moderates and liberals are quite certain that the John Paul II had no intention of making a dogmatic exclusion. Canon lawyers on both sides of the debate cite Canon 749 §3 in support of their view: "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."

For the conservatives, it is "manifestly evident" that OS excludes women priests and that this is an infallible statement. For everyone else, it's not so clear.

Or take the meaning of the word "subsists" in Lumen Gentium 8. Conservatives, including Benedict the XVI back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, have largely redefined history by claiming that Vatican II's choice of the word "subsists" is simply synonymous with "is," meaning that the one, true church that Jesus founded "is" the Catholic Church ®, and not simply that it "subsists" within the Catholic Church ®.

Yet all moderates and liberals, including those who were at Vatican II and sat in the very theological commission that chose the word "subsists" and deliberately rejected "is," rightly protest this kind of revisionism. After all, they were there and they remember why "subsists" was chosen: They didn't want to say "the Church" was coterminous with the Catholic Church ®, but rather that it also included churches with valid orders (i.e, the Orthodox) who were not united with Rome.

But this is the "dogmatic constitution on the Church" we're talking about. So what, finally, is the meaning of "subsists?" Not even Roman Catholics can agree on this precise understanding of dogma.