Assumption of the Virgin

ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN. In Roman Catholic doctrine, that “privilege” of Mary by which, having completed the course of her earthly life, she was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Biblical evidence.

Catholic Biblical scholars today readily admit that there is no explicit reference to the assumption of Mary in the NT. They will even say that neither the NT, the Apostolic Fathers, nor any other source give us any genuinely historical information about the life of Mary subsequent to the episode mentioned in Acts 1:14. Catholic scholars now make it clear that the assumption is not to be understood as historical fact, and they admit that what kind of existence is implied, and where, is not easy to determine.

Nevertheless, Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Munificentissimus Deus used his infallible teaching authority to make the dogma of the assumption de fidei for all Roman Catholics. He insisted that in some sense the Scriptures must be seen as the ultimate foundation of the dogma. Catholic Biblical scholars have thus sought implicit support for this teaching in the pages of the NT.

Mary’s assumption is broadly based on 1 Corinthians 15:14-22 which speaks of the basis for the resurrection of all Christians. Two vv., however, traditionally have been used as the foundation for Roman Catholic thinking about the assumption: (a) Luke 1:28 (see Latin Vul.) where κεχαριτωμένη is tr. “full of grace” and “grace” is interpreted in Aristotelian-Thomistic categories. This v. “anticipates” Mary’s assumption because fullness of grace raises Mary beyond such imperfections of ordinary humanity as the grave; (b) Luke 1:42 where the words “God’s blessing is on you above all women” (NEB) are seen as specifically achieved in her assumption. Other vv. which are frequently seen as offering implicit support for the dogma are Revelation 12:1 where devotional piety saw Mary as the “woman clothed with the sun” and Genesis 3:15 where Mary is seen as the woman whose seed will bruise the serpent’s head. Catholic writers also have meditated upon the idea of Mary as the new Eve (the old Eve was the first to experience death; the new Eve was the first to be delivered from death by Christ).

Catholic writers today readily admit, however, that neither the NT nor any other source gives reliable information about Mary’s life after Pentecost. The assumption, they agree, is the result of pious devotion and tradition developing out of a pre-scientific interpretation of Biblical passages.

For patristic and later theological developments, and for the debate over the death of Mary (transitus Mariae), see the Bibliography.

Critical evaluation.

Protestants, too, see the dogma of the assumption as a result of post-Biblical devotional piety and can even appreciate the factors which led to its rise. But no matter how much Christians may revere Mary, Protestants will insist that such a dogma should not be treated as a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.

Bibliography

Pius XII, “Munificentissimus Deus,” Catholic Mind, XLIX (January, 1951), 65-78; The Thomist, XIV (January, 1951), entire issue; J. B. Carol (ed.), Mariology, 3 vols. (1954-1961); R. Laurentin, Queen of Heaven (1956), 114-125; W. Burghardt, The Testimony of the Patristic Age Concerning Mary’s Death (1957); C. X. Friethoff, A Complete Mariology (1958), 143-164; K. Rahner, “The Interpretation of the Dogma of the Assumption,” Theological Investigations, I (1961), 215-227; K. Rahner, Mary Mother of the Lord (1963), 83-92; Thomas O’Meara, “Marian Theology and the Contemporary Problem of Myth,” Marian Studies, XV (1964), 127-156; R. Laurentin, The Question of Mary (1965); T. O’Meara, Mary in Protestant and Catholic Theology (1965), esp. 72-119; G. C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism (1966); J. W. Langlinais, “Assumption of Mary,” New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), 1:971-975.