Free Online Bible Library | Assumption

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The belief that “Mary, immaculately conceived by God and ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life had been finished had been taken up in body and soul to heavenly glory,” which was defined as an article of faith in the Roman Catholic Church by Pius XII (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950). Previously the belief had the status of a pious and probable opinion which Benedict XIV refused to make into an article of faith in 1740. There had been pressure since 1870 for some such definition to be made. Nothing is said in the NT about the death of Mary, and the belief is first found in some apocryphal documents with a Gnostic flavor in the late fourth century. They include such titles as The Passing of Mary, The Obsequies of Mary, and The Book of the Passing of the Blessed Virgin. These writings vary in their accounts of when the assumption took place and indeed when Mary's death took place. One work was condemned in the Decretum Gelasianum and they were not accepted in orthodox circles in the West until the time of Gregory of Tours in the late sixth century. There are texts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic. The Coptic texts may be the most important, as the legend was probably first elaborated in Egypt. The standard Greek writing is one attributed to John the Evangelist and the standard Latin writing one attributed to Melito of Sardis. In the East, Andrew of Crete in the eighth century believed, on the evidence of the pseudonymous work Concerning the Divine Names, that Dionysius the Areopagite had witnessed the assumption; John of Damascus presented it as an ancient catholic doctrine. The idea has been less precisely defined in the East and is known as the Koimemsis (“falling asleep”).

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