18 August 2016

Assumpta est

A recent author of a comment on this blog very reasonably argued that Pius XII, if we perform a holistic reading of Munificentissimus Deus and apply a hermeneutic of Continuity, actually does teach that our blessed Lady died. The very same day, I received an intelligent email from a friend who found it repugnant to imagine that she could have been dead, even for a moment. One can, indeed, argue that the restraint of the actual Definition is laudable for not imposing beyond what is necessary upon either 'side'. Fair enough. I am no Torquemada.

But I would add the following: the lex orandi should help us to constitute the lex credendi (I am not too sure what I think about a proposal of Pius XII that this venerable tag operates both ways round). And this suggests to me a massive bias towards the immemorial assumptions of the common ancient traditions of East and West as found in their liturgies. And why should this symphonesis be a problem rather than a source of joy?

And I will repeat a point I made originally: that, as a result of the apophaticism of the Definition, the originally common traditions of East and West have de facto disappeared from the consciousness of the West. Can this really be a matter for denial? It is easy to get the impression that the Western Church regards the old apocryphal stories of the death, burial, and Assumption of our Lady with suspicion; as being rather dubious and 'medieval' and politically incorrect 'folk religion'. Indeed, they are not canonical Scripture. But our ignorance of them means that we can see a medieval alabaster, or mural, of the Assumption - or a Byzantine ikon of the Dormition - and not have the faintest idea what on earth they are all about. Why is that man shown on the Ikon with his hands chopped off? Why did the priest after Mass/Liturgy this morning bless and give flowers to the congregation?

I do not think it was wrong of me to discern something (in Ratzingerian terms) of a Rupture in Pius XII's Definition. Rather like those Conciliar formulae which were designed to be interpreted in different ways by different people! Rather like a certain recent Apostolic Exhortation which quoted Familiaris consortio ... and missed out half the paragraph! This sort of game has become all too tempting to the modern papal machine.

But, even if I was wrong, I suggest that we revisit these stories, even if only to enrich our capacities for perception and comprehension in the field of Christian archaeology and Art History!!

SO ... If you, happily, possess a pre-1950s Breviary, you could have a look at the Mattins readings for today, the IVth Day within the Octave of the Assumption. Otherwise, google your way to (pseudo-)Joseph of Arimathea The Passing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.


mark wauck said...

Father, I think you're right to related these matters concerning the Assumption to issues raised by Vatican II as well as by even more recent developments in the Church. What it points to, IMO, is a very real need for clarity regarding what we mean by "tradition."

If we read people like Paul and his contemporaries in the ancient/primitive Church--who knew a thing or two about tradition--what was "handed down" was precisely the Faith, the Faith that pertained to Jesus, his Church, and the way of life that faith entailed. My contention is that unless some teaching has a "hook" to that tradition--the words of the Lord, the recollections of those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word from the beginning, Apostles and those who received from the Apostles what the Apostles handed down--unless there is that connection, I say, then it should not be considered Apostolic Tradition. It may be theology or pious speculation, but it isn't tradition. It may be part of the liturgy, but there still must be some connection to Apostolic Tradition for it to be considered tradition in a dogmatic sense. It may be "immemorial," but to be Apostolic Tradition we need to see a connection to the early memory of the Church, as handed down. Think about that last bit for a moment--we can't remember who came up with that, or when, so ... Tradition!?I call that reckless. We need this sort of rational control, and we need to exercise the maintenance of tradition with real humility with regard to the distinction between what we can and cannot know.

As for "ancient" tradition, I would observe that "ancient" is a highly relative term. 6th century "traditions" may seem pretty "ancient" to us now, but in their day they were speculative novelties that had arisen six hundred years after the fact. Think about that--six hundred years is a very long time! Or four hundred, if you prefer. It's still a very long time, given especially what we now know regarding the way "traditions" in folkloric terms can arise virtually overnight. Old to us doesn't a tradition make.

James Ignatius McAuley said...


You address two issues: The first is the breakdown in tradition/traditional knowledge of Our Lady's Dormition/Assumption. This traditional knowledge has been, regrettably, divorced from Marian devotion, and, amongst Catholics, this has been compounded by the plethora of visionaries giving accounts of the life of the Virgin.

This breakdown in tradition/traditional knowledge of is first due to the reformation, post reformation anti-Marian Protestant Bias,second the Bollandists who threw out anything they could not verify according to their historical methodology, and third, modern critical scholars who fail to distinguish between hagiography and apocrypha. All this has lead to an unfounded assumption that Marian devotion began after the Council of Ephesus. The end result is that our very own Catholic patristic scholars have for long ignored early Christian devotion to Mary and focused on theological works, as witnessed by the otherwise superb Fathers of the Church series and the Ancient Christian Writers series.

However, Dr. Stephen J. Shoemaker has offered up some incredible corrective material in the following three works:
1.) Ancient Tradtions of the Virgin Mary's Dormiton and ASssumption, Oxford University PRess, 2002;
2.) The Life of the Virign by Saint Maximus the Confessor translated and annotated by Stephen J. Shoemaker, Yake University Press, 2012; and
3.) Mary in early Christian Faith and Devotion, Yale University Press, 2016.

We should also acknowledge the caustic effect of the so called Gelasian Decree on inhibiting the Eastern tradtions from being accepted in the West.

In his book Aipartehenos, Orthodox preist scholar Father Laurent Cleenewerck provide an excellent translation of the Protoevangelium of James. This is a work that Shoemaker points out is the earliest "orthodox" account of the early life of our Lady.

I have found it interesting that some, basing themselves solely on the alleged visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, will dismiss these early traditions. This causes only more problems.

dunmowflitch said...

It is perfectly reasonable to say that Mary died in the sense that her heart stopped beating. Likewise, we do not have to believe that she stayed in a state of perpetual bodily youth, never having aches and pains, and never needing to use a walking stick, etc.

What we can say is that Mary underwent none of the negative attributes of dying and death. Prominent among these would be nostalgia, regret and fear. In that sense, Mary was in the Paradise-state.

Anonymous said...

I would like to capture your interest with my own account of what the Assumption of Bl Mary could be within the confines of what happens in the Catholic Church and through looking at what happened to Bl Mary at the moment her body had to return to the Beatific Vision. First we must consider what form Divine
Contemplation takes and how it forms what Mysticism is to a proper practicing Catholic. I will take (steal) from Fr Louis Sauvignan's book, “Divine Contemplation” and adhere very closely to the Church's description of the Beatific Vision. I do remind you all at this point that God's contemplation must be Divine and as Genesis tells us God sees that what he does is good (perfect of course). It would help many catholics to become Catholic if they would read Fr Louismet's Divine Contemplation.
All catholics should be mystics, many are not and until they learn the tremendous distance between mysticism and the supernatural they never will. Catholics become mystical when they practice a good prayer life and ascend towards the perfection they need by adding to their prayer life the mystical rites of the Church. I mean the Holy Mysteries first or the Sacraments as we now call them. First Baptism, a solemn ceremony made by the priest, the sacramental administer. Then the Sacrament of Confession administered by a same priesthood. No matter what we hear today it was the priesthood the descendant of the Apostles what “forgives sins” Now we are on our way to sanctification and righteousness and all the graces of the Eucharist is ours to receive. There is no other way. At the same time we must also raise ourselves up through the levels of prayer from tepidity or lower up to compunction and gradually draw into the two stages of Divine Contemplation whereby we talk to God and then He talks to us. Hosea tells us God cannot see us if we are sinful. He talks to no one intimately He cannot see we can say.
Now to Bl Mary and to save time I will not go through the stages of Bl Mary's creation and the concept(ion). The thought of God when He created her long before Adam. Revelations gives us all we need to know in the Woman standing on the Moon reflecting the sun. You can if you wish find it in my blog on the 'Net.
The third idea you should understand is what is ecstasy. I can only describe what this gift of God is and admit that some very unsavory and traitorous souls experience this gift. That is God's decision not mine and others think they reach this plateau but it is either an inflamed mind or out of foolishness. I do not expec t a reasoned Catholic thinker would deny that Bl Mary was not worthy of this gift and did not earn it by the Immaculkate state of Her soul and her twofold contemplation of Jesus as God everyday of His Life with us and as God in her womb.
Here is the heavy bit and easily denied by pride. In ecstatic contemplation by the soul, the Church writes that pins needles are experienced. The body is too heavy to be moved. So then where is the soul? Locked into Divine Contemplation fully absorbed in the Beatific Vision wherever God has it in His view. It was this view of Bl Mary's soul in the beatific Vision that made poor unfaithful, prideful Luther revolt and he was thrown out by Michael, cast in the woefull abyss as scriptures through Christ tells us. Now when Our Mother Most spiritually beautiful Mary went into to ecstasy and God claimed Her and watched such beauty that captivated His attention. He could not send her sould back to her body and so her body had to join her soul and it as brought uo assumed into the beatific vision.
I will post with Fr's permission the reat following this post

Anonymous said...

I also would like you all to know when we are perfect in grace witgh God's help we by our love conquers God.
By the way I do have some misgivings about the Catherine Emmereich her biography by a popular german romance author chosen by the local bishop claims that at the cross Blessed Mary's older sister was there. Can't be possible. It was the Mother of James and John, who was Mary of Alphaeus who become May of Clohas when James Alphaeus died. Her as we say her maiden name.

Nicolas Bellord said...

I always thought that death only comes as a result of original sin. As Our Lady was free of original sin she would not die. She may have gone to sleep (dormition) before she was assumed but that is all. Am I wrong?

Confitebor said...

Mike Hurcum, you've confused "the other Mary," mother of the Apostles St. James the Lesser and St. Jude Thaddaeus, with Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of the Apostles St. James the Greater and St. John. The Gospels identify "the other Mary" as a "sister" of the Blessed Virgin. Of course "sister" in Hebrew culture could mean an actual sister or a female cousin or a kinswoman. Alphaeus or Clopas was the husband of "the other Mary," and the Jewish Christian historian Hegesippus in the second century says Clopas, father of St. Simeon, second bishop of Jerusalem, was a kinsman or cousin of St. Joseph, husband of Our Lady.

Confitebor said...

Regarding the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for myself the unvarying and unquestioned tradition that at the end of her earthly life she did "fall asleep" -- that is, she "died," her soul and her body separated -- carries great weight, and I see no grounds for questioning or rejecting what has been accepted for most of the Church's history. There is simply no other tradition but that she died (with the important caveat that Christians do not really "die," that is, death for Christians is not what it is for those who do not believe in Christ), no tradition that she was immediately assumed into heaven without ever tasting death. If even the Incarnate Son of God suffered death, and "it is appointed unto all men once to die," I cannot see how it would be unfitting or undignified for the Immaculate, All-Holy Mother of Our Lord to submit to death. That she walked the same road that we must all walk, but then was granted the glorious crown of resurrection, gives me confidence and hope that we too can arrive where she has already gone.

Josh Hood said...

Nicolas, Our Lord certainly died a real death, and there has never been a question of sin in His regard. Our Lady died a natural death in order to be conformed to her Son.

Alan said...

On 14 August there is in Sorrento a devotion of "la Madonna morta". A statue of Our Lady on her deathbed is carried in a funeral procession through the streets. When the procession returns to church, the image is replaced under the altar where it resides, Benediction is given, and then there's a rather good bunfight in the piazza.