Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dealing with some assumptions about the Assumption of Mary

Published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam on August 21, 2011.


There are four main things the Catholic Church holds to be true about Mary: 1) Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos), 2) Mary was conceived without sin and remained sinless (the Immaculate Conception), 3) Mary remained a virgin (Perpetual Virginity of Mary), and 4) Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul (the Assumption of Mary). These four teachings are Dogmas. A Dogma is a matter of Faith which Catholics must believe and cannot hold otherwise.

They are also the favorite targets of those who wish to populate their churches with former Catholics. Why is this? Why do Catholic antagonists almost always first “go after Mary”? Well, because it’s easy, that’s why. Despite the many popular expressions of Marian piety, few of us know how to explain or defend what we believe about Mary.

Part of the challenge in defending Mary is that Mary herself is so “quiet” in the Scriptures, and much of what the Scriptures say about Mary is figurative and implicit(e.g. “the woman” of Genesis 3:15, and “the woman clothed with the sun” in Revelations 12:1). Thus theologians and apologists, in defining and explaining the Marian dogmas, rely mostly on figurative references, “antiquity of belief”, and the argument that Scripture does not contradict what we believe (e.g. though the Assumption is not found in the Bible, the Bible does not contradict it, so we can believe it).

While these explanations may suffice for Catholics, they are rejected by those who hold the “It has to be in the Bible” view of Christianity (Sola Scriptura). So what to do? For those who would like to explore this quandary in depth, you are encouraged to join our Catholic Adult Study Group which meets every Monday evening, 6pm, at the Basilica Cafe. But for the limited space this column is allowed, here are a few things:

In regards to the challenge that the Assumption of Mary is not found in the Bible, we might first ask: “Do you believe that God is all-powerful?” (Yes.) “Then, do you believe that God could have taken Mary into heaven, body and soul, if He wanted to?” (They will have to answer yes, but will still contend that “it is not in the Bible”.) Continuing: “It is true that the Assumption of Mary is not in the Bible, but then of course, John 21:25 tells us that Jesus did many things that are not in the Bible. Do you think taking His Mother, body and soul, into heaven could have been one of them?”

At this point, the antagonist would have to agree with you on the possibility, but, would most likely stick with “it’s not in the Bible”. We might then make a case for a precedent for the Assumption of Mary by referring to three accounts in the Bible wherein bodily assumption is in evidence.

In Genesis 5:24 we read: "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." Here we see that Enoch was "taken". Taken where? We have to assume that he was taken into heaven since Scripture states he "walked with God", and that he was taken bodily because he was “seen no more.”

In 2 Kings 2:11 we read : "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."  We don't have to assume  where Elijah went, for Scripture says he “went up into heaven.” We also have a confirmation from an eye-witness in the next verse: "And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more…"

So here we have two instances, recorded in Scripture, of God taking two humans, body and soul, into Heaven. So not only COULD God do it, He DID do it. “BUT”, our antagonist argues, “the Bible still says nothing about Mary being taken into Heaven.” So we now turn to Matthew 17:1-9, where we read the account of the Transfiguration. And who do we see there? Elijah and (wait for it)...MOSES. Now how did Moses get there! There is no record in the Bible of Moses being taken into Heaven, yet he’s at the Transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus.  

At this point, we have determined two key things from the Bible alone: 1) their is a biblical precedent for the Assumption of Mary in the assumptions of Enoch and Elijah; and 2) not everything God does is recorded in Scripture (e.g. the assumption of Moses). So if God took three old guys into heaven, body and soul, do you think He might have done the same for His very own Mother? We have many reasons to believe that He did, not the least of which is there is no church or shrine dedicated to the burial place of Our Lady.

There is also one more important matter. Jude, in his Epistle, alludes to a dispute between St. Michael and Satan over the body of Moses which some ancient writers believed to be recorded in a manuscript entitled the Assumption of Moses. Jude also directly quotes from the Book of Enoch. Neither book is in our Bible, yet both are known to Jude, and in the case of Enoch, directly quoted.

This raises the question of who had the authority to dogmatically define which books got into the Bible? Answer: the same Church that dogmatically defined (in Munificentissimus Deus, 1950) how Mary got into Heaven. Ave Maria gratia plena.

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