Catholics make stuff up. II. The Assumption

Yesterday we showed that Catholic “truth,” as embodied in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, was simply a fabric of wishful thinking and non-objective theology (a redundancy).  Today we finish off Mary Month by showing the same for the dogma of the Assumption.

The Assumption—the Catholic “truth” that Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven—was proclaimed an official dogma of the Church by Pope Pius XII in his Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950.  This was announced ex cathedra, so it’s an irrefutable truth coming directly from God.  The Pope said:

 For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

It’s not clear from the above whether Mary actually died before she was vacuumed up; the usual assumption is that she did.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Benedict XIV gave this dogma extra weight by proclaiming it a “probable opinion, which to deny were impious and blasphemous” (De Festis B.V.M., I, viii, 18). (Catholics have an official definition of “probable”, which is pretty funny.)  At any rate, we know that you can go to hell for unconfessed blasphemy, so asserting that Mary rotted in the ground like the rest of us will, according to the Church, cause you to fry eternally.

Now the Bible says exactly nothing about Mary’s death or fate. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Regarding the day, year, and manner of Our Lady’s death, nothing certain is known.”  The doctrine of the Assumption was made up centuries after the supposed death of Jesus.  As usual, this fabrication rested on dubious interpretation of the Bible, Church “tradition” (i.e., stuff that Church fathers made up), and “reason” (i.e., theological “logic”).

In his ex cathedra statement, Pius XII mentions scripture only fleetingly:

Moreover, the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos.(24) Similarly they have given special attention to these words of the New Testament: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women,”(25) since they saw, in the mystery of the Assumption, the fulfillment of that most perfect grace granted to the Blessed Virgin and the special blessing that countered the curse of Eve.

Catholic theologians have also relied on dubious interpretations of the Psalms and Revelation as evidence for the Assumption. One website explains:

Catholics find the assumption of Mary prophesied in Psalm 132:7-8:

“We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool. Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.”

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant (see Revelation 11:19-12:1). The Lord ascended into Heaven and also brought His ark, just as King David took up residence in Jerusalem and escorted the ark to the same place.

Not much evidence there, right?  Instead, Pope Pius, in the Munificentissimus, relied heavily on the teachings of church fathers like St. John Damascene.  But all of these appeared centuries after the “fact”. Here’s the traditional “evidence” summarized in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

The belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is founded on the apocryphal treatise De Obitu S. Dominae, bearing the name of St. John, which belongs however to the fourth or fifth century. It is also found in the book De Transitu Virginis, falsely ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis, and in a spurious letter attributed to St. Denis the Areopagite. If we consult genuine writings in the East, it is mentioned in the sermons of St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene, St. Modestus of Jerusalem and others. In the West, St. Gregory of Tours (De gloria mart., I, iv) mentions it first. The sermons of St. Jerome and St. Augustine for this feast, however, are spurious. St. John of Damascus (P.G., I, 96) thus formulates the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem:

“St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

Of course, these statements don’t constitute independent evidence in the scientific sense.  The doctrine probably arose once, and then subsequent Church fathers and theologians simply repeated it, with the Vatican taking each repeat as further strength for the hypothesis.  It’s as if every time a scientific discovery was cited or referenced by another scientist, that discovery gained additional credibility!

Finally, to Pope Pius, Mary’s assumption must be true simply because it makes sense:

Among the scholastic theologians there have not been lacking those who, wishing to inquire more profoundly into divinely revealed truths and desirous of showing the harmony that exists between what is termed the theological demonstration and the Catholic faith, have always considered it worthy of note that this privilege of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption is in wonderful accord with those divine truths given us in Holy Scripture.

When they go on to explain this point, they adduce various proofs to throw light on this privilege of Mary. As the first element of these demonstrations, they insist upon the fact that, out of filial love for his mother, Jesus Christ has willed that she be assumed into heaven. They base the strength of their proofs on the incomparable dignity of her divine motherhood and of all those prerogatives which follow from it. These include her exalted holiness, entirely surpassing the sanctity of all men and of the angels, the intimate union of Mary with her Son, and the affection of preeminent love which the Son has for his most worthy Mother.

That’s about all the “evidence” for a bedrock doctrine of Catholic faith.  In fact, it’s considered such a solid truth that if you deny it or scoff at it, you’ll go to hell!  It’s amazing to me that such life or death matters (or rather, such afterlife and after-death matters) should require so little support.  But then what do I know—I’m a secular Jewish scientist.

And let’s not hear any nonsense about this all being metaphorical, not taken literally by the faithful.  Many Catholics do believe in the reality of the Assumption.  To see one of them, go here, and have a gander at this justification:

Jesus would no doubt protect his mother from the terrible persecutions that followed [his crucifixion]. You will notice that there is no record of Mary’s death or where she went after the day of Pentecost, though we do know that she went home to live with St. John after Our Lord’s death right? We know that St. John was the last of the apostles to die and that at one point he was miraculously saved by God when being boiled in oil for his faith…yet he never mentions Mary in his letters but there’s just no way that he wouldn’t have known her fate…that just doesn’t make any sense.

I think that the NT [New Testament] is so silent about the Blessed Virgin because they all agreed to protect her. Can you imagine the PR blitz that would’ve occurred if the Jews or Romans could have found and tortured and killed the mother of this Jesus? Whew!

Ah, the power of faith!

55 Comments

  1. Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    “I’m one of those cliff-hanging Catholics. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe that Mary was his mother.” –Martin Sheen

  2. Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Catholics will really need to bend over backwards to convince me that they are monotheistic. Because this is not convincing me of monotheism at all! D8

    • Dominic
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      They are not but they will tie themselves in knots trying to tell you that they are. The trinity, Mary, the various saints…

  3. Bdelygma
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    It is worth noticing that we are not forced into conclusion, that the body taken into heaven was her very terrestrial body. A colleague of mine who is a Catholic and a historical Jesus geek suggested me not to assume the identity of the assumpted body with the one buried in her grave. If someone really wants to believe this Romish stuff- he or she will argue the legitimacy of his or her views. Not much to do about it, but, gosh, why would a person insist on being a Catholic?

    Having written all of this, I am happy to announce that the only reliable material concerning Mary the mother of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark where she is portrayed as seeing her son as a kind of religious psycho. Then Jesus became Messiah and finally the literal son of God (of the same species, so to say) and we can see the Mary legend supporting Jesus legend in Matthew, Luke and John. It is in John’s time that she gets so exalted. After all, she’s the Mother of God. Heavy stuff, man.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      The catholics have problems when it comes to Mary’s second family – the non-goddish ones.
      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02767a.htm

      • Bdelygma
        Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        A guy lecturing on the historical Jesus said that there is a recent Catholic document (apparently issued by scholarly circles of America) that admits they were his natural brethren. Of course, Vatican won’t pronounce a word in predictable future but at least someone started to use NT sources. The problem is the Gospel writers with exception of John had no problem with this stuff, mainly because neither Jesus was for them a divine figure nor was his mother. By the time we get so called “high Christology” Jesus really becomes, as G. Vermes said, an E.T. and so does his family.

        BTW, Catholics have concept of the Holy Family consisting of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Given that they don’t have sex and Joseph is bringing up a son of someone else, that does not seem to be a particularly exemplary family model. They should have produced some good Catholic offspring after all.

  4. GraemeL
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Despite using the “Two to beam up” image macro, you seem to have missed the obvious fact that the Catholic Church seems to have invented retcon.

    • SAWells
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      It’s retrospective but it ain’t continuity.

  5. Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    From my perspective, Catholix are at least pentune in their theology:
    * The Father
    * The Son
    * The Holy Ghost
    * The Virgin Mary
    * Beelzebub (Satan)

    And from my point of view, Satan is the most powerful of those 5 mythical super-heroes, as he is able to (single-handedly) keep the others in check without breaking so much as a sweat.
    When one consults the record of YHWH’s genocidal record versus Beelzebub’s, there is no contest.

    • Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      And Satan appears to not have a predilection for fondling chitlins, yo.

    • Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      Oh, it hardly stops at those five.

      If the Olympians are all gods — and, Shirley, they must be — then so too are the Heavenly Host. And all the demons (fallen angels) of Hell.

      And if Prometheus and Pandora and Romulus and Remus and so on are all gods, then Adam and Eve and all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are also divine.

      And if the Roman ancestor gods to whom they built shrines and prayed to for guidance and protection were gods, then every dearly departed Uncle Wilfred and Aunt Tillie who serves the same porpoise is also a god.

      Indeed, about the only gods I can think of that the Pagans had that the Christians have abandoned are the nymphs, sprites, and what-not that were the personifications of particular natural features. All the rest are there.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        I did preface my fantastic list with “at least”.
        And stop calling me Shirley.

      • Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        Adam and Eve and all the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are also divine.

        I think you’ll find that they have all “fallen” from favour.
        You know, after the infamous “Evil-Eve Scrumping-Scam of 0BC”
        (As reported in the Eden-Sun Newspaper)

        That was to set legal precedent by condemning all of their offspring, (and those of the tribes who happened to be magically living in the region at the time sans magical ritual incantations from YHWH), to DAMNATION in perpetuity.

        A trifle overkill on the parental influence, if I may forward my opinion.

      • Dominic
        Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        “Christians have abandoned are the nymphs, sprites, and what-not that were the personifications of particular natural features” – but Ben, they have all that! Saints, shrines, holy wells, holy places, indeed Gregory the Great wrote to Mellitus (quoted by Bede) telling him to cleanse pagan temples & shrines & re-use them, so there was considerable continuity. Some saints like Bridget were essentially pagan gods absorbed into the saintly pantheon.

        • Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

          Indeed, you are quite correct in your cogent observation.
          The Christian festival known as “Christmas” was stolen from the pagans of NW Europe.
          Holy sprites, wood nymphs and all!
          Whence the holly wreath? Whence the mistletoe?
          I’ll gently tell thee:
          ex pagan mythology.

      • Posted May 23, 2011 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        Not completely, at least for individual Christians. Remember C. S. Lewis and Narnia?

  6. Mattapult
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    “You will notice that there is no record of Mary’s death…” Atheists have been saying that for a long time about other characters as well. Yet the conclutions are vastly different.

    • Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      There is zero extra-biblical record of Mary’s existence, let alone her death.
      The same applies to her putative parthenogenetic pop-star progeny.

      • Posted May 22, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Well…to nit-pick….

        There’s lots of extra-Biblical “evidence” of Mary’s life in a number of apocrypha. But even the Christians agree that those are unauthorized fanfics, and who are we to disagree with that assessment?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

          who are we to disagree with that assessment?

          We may well be more learned and expert on biblical exegesis than most Xtians.
          I say “may” out of a sense of false modesty.
          I am quite confident, predominantly from my intellectual engagement with you in other fora, that you know more about the Christianity, the bile(s) than most Xtians do, or of which they are even capable.

          It is ex that platform that I question the the ex-biblical “evidence”.
          For non of it is extant. And none of it is contemporary.
          And most certainly none of it is both. And that is what is required for real evidence.

          • Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            Well, for that matter, as you well know, the only way the New Testament differentiates itself from the apocrypha is that it has the committee’s stamp of approval, seeing how all these stories were written at about the same time and (don’t) survive in pretty much the same form.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted May 22, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

              A political convenience for the ruling elite, I think it may be termed.
              It is my judgement that they had neither the time nor the inclination to produce superior forgeries.
              It is also my assumption that they neither knew, nor especially cared about how their strange cargo-cult fared after they died, let alone how the conflicting fictional narratives ‘stood up’ in the the umptee-umph century.

              • Catherine
                Posted May 22, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

                You are hilarious. Love the coarse list.

  7. Tyro
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    (Catholics have an official definition of “probable”, which is pretty funny.)

    It’s funny that they have a definition but the definition itself is anything but. I defy anyone to go to that page and make sense of it. I mean they use the word “probable” twice in the definition of “probabalism”! It’s insanity.

    I figured that maybe I could look up “certainty” and use that as a comparison. It’s a little clearer but whichever pompous windbags wrote this rubbish had no intention of making it comprehensible. They did have this gem:

    The proper test of truth is evidence, whether the evidence of a truth in itself or by participation in the evidence of some other truth from which it is proved. Many truths, indeed, have to be accepted on authority; but then it has to be made evident that such authority is legitimate, is capable of knowing the truth, and is qualified to teach in the particular department in which it is accepted. Many truths which are at first accepted on authority may afterwards be made evident to the reason of the disciple. Such in fact is the ordinary way in which learning and science are acquired.

    See that? Catholics gather facts via authority and revelation just like in science! Who knew?

    • Stephen P
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      I must say when I read the first few paragraphs of that page I thought our host had a damned strange sense of humour.

      But as I ploughed through, the manner in which the author tries to build an unassailable fortress on a foundation of (hot) oxygen and nitrogen did in the end make me laugh.

    • Puzzled
      Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      Why, when I go to the “Probable” link does a picture of a young woman who wants to chat appear above the definition? Perhaps it may be Mary

  8. Stephen P
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    When he says:

    … we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma …

    isn’t Pius just admitting that it’s all made up? If he really thought it was a divine revelation, wouldn’t he have said “it has been revealed to us by God …”?

    As it is, it just reads like someone from Blizzard adding a new rule to World of Warcraft. Only more pompous.

    • SAWells
      Posted May 23, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink

      Why won’t shaman heal amputees?

  9. Ann Braden
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    As a former Catholic, I’m really enjoying this series of made-up Catholic stuff and at some point I hope you’ll tackle the very weighty and confusing concept of “Limbo–now you have it, now you don’t”. Where did the souls of all those pagan babies go? Many a sleepless night spent pondering that one. . .

    Since I no longer spend Sunday mornings at Mass, may I take the time to share my very favorite BVM story with your readers?

    Agnes,a good Catholic woman,was especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She prayed the rosary–all five mysteries–daily. She made pilgrimages to Lourdes, Fatima and Medjurgorge. Her home was filled with pictures, icons and statues of the Holy Mother. The centerpiece of her front yard was a “bathtub” shrine to Our Lady.

    After a long life of piety Agnes died and went directly to heaven-no purgatory for Agnes! She was welcomed at the pearly gates by St. Pete, who told her that the Madonna had been eagerly awaiting her #1 fan’s arrival and asked that Agnes be escorted immediately to her heavenly apartment. Agnes was thrilled.

    Agnes was warmly greeted by Mary and invited into her home for a chat and refreshments. The Mother of God was exactly as Agnes had envisioned–a beautiful blue-eyed, blonde Semite draped in an azure veil and gown, a wreath of stars on her head, surrounded by a glowing nimbus.

    The two settled in for a long conversation over a pot of Celestial Seasonings tea and slices of angle food cake.

    Beginning to feel more comfortable in the presence of The Holy Mother, Agnes inquired shyly if she could ask a somewhat personal question. Mary said, “Certainly, there are no secrets between us!”

    “Well”, began Agnes timidly, “I’ve always wondered why you are so melancholy in all your earthly depictions–the great paintings of the Italian high renaissance, the Pieta and other statues, the Greek icons–even statues of you are known to weep. Why are you so sad?”

    Mary took a deep breath, glanced around, leaned closer to Agnes and put her hand gently on her wrist and whispered softly, “Well, you see Agnes, . . .I really, really, really, wanted . . . a girl.”

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      That’s a lovely one!

    • Jim Jones
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      ??? Didn’t ‘Jesus’ have brothers (James, Joses, Simon and Judas — Matthew 13:55) and some (unnamed) sisters?

      And BTW wasn’t this Judas (called Thomas) Jesus’ twin? Will we be redoing all of the nativity scenes with twin babies?

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted May 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Catholicism says no, that’s not what those passages mean. The family-styled titles are not to be understood as meaning actual family, just close relatives.

        Cos Mary never had sex. Ever. Ever*.

        (yes, Catholics really do get taught this).

        * Possibly another reason why Mary always looks so gloomy in her portraits.

        • SAWells
          Posted May 23, 2011 at 4:56 am | Permalink

          Wow. So the bible is true except that when it actually says Jesus had brothers and sisters it means he didn’t.

          • Tyro
            Posted May 23, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

            In a curious irony, even som atheist bible studies professors have said that one of the most convincing reasons to think Jesus was an historical figure is because there is talk about James, the “brother” of Jesus. Some apologists like James McGrath have said that to deny that this refers to a literal brother instead of an honorific (somewhat like “father” is used for priests and “brother” was used for fellow labour activists) was to deny reality as strongly as evolution deniers.

            I’ll have to remember that the Catholics think that “brother” is so obviously not literal that it is heresy to say otherwise. It’ll feel good to stick that in the smarmy craw of these smug apologists who’d rather berate and intimidate critics rather than bring out evidence.

            Thanks for putting that together, not sure how I missed the connection.

            • Posted May 23, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

              On the other hand, mythicists like E. Doherty have argued that James is pretty clearly a “brother of the lord”, which is more or less a title. We have “brothers” in that sense to this day, after all.

  10. Curt Cameron
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Jerry has mentioned a few times that none of this stuff is mentioned in the scriptures, but I don’t think Catholics would be fazed by that.

    I’m not a religion expert, but it seems to me that many fall into one of two groups:

    1. The scriptures are God’s revelation to us – our understanding of him has to based on the scriptures and what can be extrapolated from them.

    2. The scriptures are just one guide, but God continues to make revelations to humans. These revelations therefore are just as authoritative as the scriptures.

    The first group includes Protestants and Muslims.

    The second group includes Catholics and Mormons.

    I would be interested in knowing how many Catholics actually accept these “Truths” that the church says they must accept. The church, as I understand, declares that to be a Catholic, you must actually believe that Mary was perpetually a virgin, that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven, and that the Eucharist is actually the body of Christ (not metaphorically). Do Catholics in the pews know this stuff? Do they realize that unless they can say they believe these things, that the Pope says they can’t be Catholics?

    If my understanding of Catholic dogma is wrong, please correct it.

    • Bdelygma
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      As a former Catholic living in a 90% Catholic (that is, baptized people who didn’t make formal apostasy) country I may say that most Catholics are material heretics. Material heresy occurs when a person holds a heretical belief being unaware it’s actually a heresy. Small percentage of Catholics are aware of their dogmas and try to stick to them. In Poland they make, I guess, about 10% of the flock. If someone is conscious that his or her beliefs are heretical and still refuses to abandon them- one is a heretic and gets anathemised by his or her conscious choice of heresy as it is in my case : ) See also Code of canon law 1364 (for a layman, it is sufficient to be a formal, that is, conscious heretic, there is no need to make a public statement about one’s heresy as it is in the case of clergymen). So being a heretic aware of your heresy results in your automatic excommunication (no Church official is needed here).

    • winwar
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I’ll base this on things I knew in the 80’s as a teenager in a “liberal” parish served by priests from a local seminary. In other words, this stuff was “official”.

      If the Church wanted people to know it, they did. Sure, we were taught Mary was a virgin, the Eucharist was the acual body of Christ (there was absolutely no doubt if you went to mass), and the other basic policies/beliefs. I have no doubt we said we believed these things. I have no doubt many people lied (I sure did as I went through Confirmation). Others just probably never thought much about it. I think by definition, being a “liberal” Catholic means you have committed heresy and offenses that are punishable by ecommunication.

      But let’s face it, as long as people show up and give money, no intelligent local priest or bishop is going to rock the boat. It’s all just a big game. You pretend to be Catholic and I’ll pretend that you are Catholic. The utter hypocrisy and dishonesty is a great tool for creating atheists.

      • Kieran
        Posted May 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        The bible is such a protestant book!

  11. Jim Jones
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    “Christianity – 2,000 years of everyone making it up as they go along”.

  12. paul fauvet
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    The Assumption is the one and only ex cathedra, infallible dogma pronounced by Pius XII.

    The man lived through the rise of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the Nazi genocide of European jewry, the discovery and use of nuclear weapons – and he never made an ex cathedra, infallible statement about any of them!

    (But he did find time to excommunicate the entire Italian Communist Party).

    So there are infallible statements about a Jewish woman who died a couple of millennia ago – but no infallible statements about real live Jews of the 20th century who were being carted off to Auschwitz.

    Don’t any Catholics find this contrast a little odd?

    • Karen
      Posted May 22, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      These things take time. After all, the church fathers were only thinking about it since the fourth or fifth century.

  13. Catherine
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    ˝rowin© up in the 1960s as a Catholic in surburbia, we made the rounds of catholic churches/cathedrals. “The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception”….”Assumption Academy”..”The Immaculate Heart of Mary” was my own parish. Like they will torture you with the familiarity of the names until you believe in it! And…there is no surprise that the assumption, and January 1st, reco©nizin© “the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God” are additional holy days, when you must ©o to church and put more money in the basket.
    Sorry, my letter © is actin© up.

    • Posted May 23, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      It’s God messing with your keyboard. When I blaspheme, sometimes my P has an X thru it.

  14. Posted May 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    The quote about Emperor Marcian raises the interesting hypothesis that the whole thing started as a ruse to prevent the manufacture of “relics” of Mary’s body.

    Ironically, some now claim that the lack of relics of Mary is evidence that her body was assumed into heaven!

  15. Karen
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I grew up Catholic, and my mother was a Marian devotee. I suspect it was because she couldn’t bear children of her own (I’m adopted), but everything was The Blessed Mother this and The Blessed Mother that. May was holy to The Blessed Mother. October was holy to The Blessed Mother. (I grew up wondering why Mary was so partial to the allergy months.) Mama prayed the full Rosary every night, and joined a weekly group Rosary prayer. She also liked to get to church early on Sunday and have a little private chat with Mary before Mass.

    I was a little surprised to see that the Assumption was only made dogma in 1950, because it was an accepted truth taught to my mother when she grew up in the ’20s and ’30s; also, again from my mother, I was always under the impression that Mary was still alive when she ascended into heaven. They never discussed Mary much in religion classes at Catholic school.

    Oh, well, I stopped believing a long time ago.

  16. Tim Martin
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s not clear from the above whether Mary actually died before she was vacuumed up; the usual assumption is that she did.

    Oh ho! I see what you did there.

  17. Posted May 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the lengthy exposition.

    I always find it interesting when various religions try to give a veneer of respectability to their beliefs by presenting “evidence” that their mythologies are real. They torture logic and reason and call their fantasies logical and reasonable. I would have more respect for them if they’d just just chalked it up to an article of faith and moved on. Instead their leaders say with a straight face that the Assumption makes sense.

  18. Dale Franzwa
    Posted May 22, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an interesting side issue: was Mary actually a “virgin” or just a “young woman”? The Greek of the NT and the Septuagint had one word “parthenos” that could be translated either way. Hebrew scriptures used two words: “bethula” means “virgin” while “almah” means “young woman.” Is the Catholic dogma here based solely on a translation issue? (My reference is Tim Callahan, religion editor for Skeptic magazine: vol 15, no. 5, 2007, p. 76)

    • Andrew G.
      Posted May 23, 2011 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      The NT is explicit that Mary was a virgin (the term “parthenos” may be ambiguous, but the remainder of the text is quite specific).

      The confusion of terminology refers to a passage in the OT, in Isaiah, quoted by Matthew to support the claim that the virgin birth was a fulfillment of prophecy. So this isn’t a confusion specific to the Catholics; it goes right back to the second phase of gospel writing (post-Mark).

      Since Matthew and Luke agree on the virgin birth (and on the name “Joseph”, and Bethlehem as the location in order to provide a link to the Davidic kingship) but disagree on every single other point of the nativity story, it is unlikely that they copied from each other. So it’s possible that the idea of a virgin birth came first, and that Matthew’s use of a misleading translation of Isaiah is just part of his usual strategy of shoehorning in as many prophecies as possible.

      Luke, on the other hand, does not use the term “parthenos” nor make any reference to the Isaiah passage; he has Mary saying, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?”

      • Karen
        Posted May 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Even if the NT weren’t explicit about it, gods are often the result of virgin births. Gotta go with the flow…

  19. Andrew G.
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    It’s not clear from the above whether Mary actually died before she was vacuumed up; the usual assumption is that she did.

    assumption, haha.

    But more seriously, the whole doctrine of the assumption actually came about because Mary could not, in the thinking of the early church at a particular stage of its development, have ever actually died; she was, so the story went, uniquely conceived without original sin (the “Immaculate Conception”) and remained a virgin throughout her life (*), and since death was a consequence of sin, it would have been inapplicable. Every other argument for the assumption is just a feeble attempt at justifying this traditional belief.

    (*) – the catholics handwave the NT’s explicit references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters by claiming they’re really his cousins; the eastern orthodox, on the other hand, claim that they are children of Joseph from a previous marriage.

  20. HP
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I feel obliged to point out that there’s a whiff of a straw man about this series of posts. And that is that Catholics (and Orthodox and Asian Orthodox and Marionites and Syriacs and Ethiopians and Copts and Nestorians and . . .) have never considered the Bible to be the sole source of theological dogma. The whole “Bible as sole source” thing is limited to a few Protestant schools of thought (Luther, Knox, etc.) and their many modern descendants.

    Globally and historically speaking, what many modern Protestants called “Bible-centered Christianity” is a minority view. It just happens to be dominant in the West.

    So, criticizing Catholics for having non-Biblical dogma is a bit of a non-starter as arguments go. Of course they do.

    • Stephen P
      Posted May 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      The criticism isn’t of Catholics having non-Biblical dogma per se. It’s of making ostensibly factual statements about Mary which are not based on any knowledge whatever of Mary – not even second-hand or third-hand knowledge.

    • Bdelygma
      Posted May 24, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      If they had only Biblical dogmas, they still wouldn’t be anything but mythologies. The only difference about Jesus becoming the Christ and Mary being taken to Heaven is the time at which the myth was produced. Besides, their acceptance of non biblical sources as evidence for dogmas is another way to say that they’re making stuff up. If an early second century Gospel (John) is not a reliable source about the historical Jesus, why assume that mid fourth century Church Fathers works are?

      If the Catholic Church said their teachings are mythologies (in a descriptive, not derogatory sense), they would be at least honest. But they are presenting their mythologies to the world as being attested by hard historical data. An that is what I call being unfair.

      BTW, what do you mean by “the West” thing? I’m quite sure France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and much of Germany are (historically) Catholic countries, not to count the so called Eastern (geographically central, culturally Western) Europe. Please do not equal the Anglo-Saxon world with the West.


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  1. […] Catholics make stuff up. II. The Assumption: The Assumption—the Catholic “truth” that Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven—was proclaimed an official dogma of the Church by Pope Pius XII in his Munificentissimus Deus on November 1, 1950. This was announced ex cathedra, so it’s an irrefutable truth coming directly from God. […]

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