Question – I have a Protestant friend who thinks we Catholics are crazy to believe in the bodily Assumption of Our Lady into heaven when there is no reference to it in Scripture. How can I answer him?
As we have said in this column many times over the years, there are many truths we believe in as Catholics that are not made explicit in Scripture, but are part of the tradition of the Church. dating back to the first centuries.
Among them are the belief in Purgatory and the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.
The very canon, or list, of the books of the Bible is another fact that is not found in Scripture, but rather comes from the tradition of the Church.
What is the proof of the tradition of the Assumption, which was defined by Pope Pius XII until 1950? To begin with, we can say that when a truth has been defined as a dogma of faith, as is the case here, it is because the Church is absolutely certain that it is true.
The popes do not “invent” dogmas.
They find them in the constant and firm faith of the Church.
The tradition of the Assumption of Our Lady goes back to the first centuries.
The oldest known account is the Liber Requiei Mariae (Book of the Rest of Mary), which was probably composed in the 4th century, but possibly as early as the 3rd.
It is considered an apocryphal work, that is to say not officially approved by the Church, but the very fact that it speaks of the Assumption of Our Lady testifies to the belief of many people at that time.
Another work that attests to the Assumption is the Six Dormition Tales Booksof the fifth and sixth centuries, and the By Obitu S. Dominae (On the Death of the Blessed Lady), which is a summary of the Six Books.
The first Church Father in the West to bear witness to the tradition of the Assumption of Mary was Saint Gregory of Tours, who died in 594 AD. He writes:
“Finally, when the blessed Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was about to be called from this world, all the apostles, coming from their different regions, gathered together in her house. When they learned that she was to be taken from the world, they stood guard with her. And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels and, taking his soul, gave it to the Archangel Michael and departed. At dawn the apostles lifted his body on a pallet, laid it in a tomb, and again the Lord appeared to them and ordered that his holy body be taken up and carried to heaven. There she is now, united again to her soul; she exults with the elect, rejoicing in eternal blessings that will never end.
L. Gambero, Mary and the Church Fathers, Ignatius 1999, p. 353
An Eastern Father of the Church who bears witness to this tradition is Saint John Damascene, who died in 749. He wrote in a prayer to Mary:
“The assembly of the apostles has carried you, the true Ark of the Lord God, as the priests of old carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders. They have laid you in the tomb, by which, as by the Jordan, they will lead you to the promised land, that is to say, Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful, whose God is architect and builder. Your soul did not descend into Hades, and your flesh did not see corruption. Your virgin and uncontaminated body was not abandoned on earth, but transferred to the royal abode of heaven, you, the Queen, the sovereign, the Lady, the Mother of God, the true bearer of God…”
Homily 1 on the Dormition 12-13
As early as the sixth century, a feast of the Dormition, or death, of Our Lady began to be celebrated on August 15 in Jerusalem and Rome.
By the 16th century, the tradition of the Assumption of Mary was firmly established in the prayers of the Church.
The Rosary, which was standardized by Dominican Pope Pius V in 1569, had the Assumption of Our Lady as its fourth glorious mystery, as it has always been ever since.
And one Manual of Devout Prayers and Devotions, printed in England in 1688, of which I have a copy, celebrates the feast of the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” on August 15.
Thus, with this constant tradition going back to the primitive Church, there can be no question of the bodily Assumption of Our Lady, even if it is not explicit in the Scriptures.