Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
"Reformed Catholics" and the Bodily Assumption
02/13/2007 - James WhitePaul Owen has opined on the Bodily Assumption of Mary, perhaps as a result of my posting the clip of the debate portion between myself and Gerry Matatics. He writes,
I struggle as a Protestant who longs for catholicity over the dogma of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven.I do not struggle as a biblicist who longs for unity based upon divine truth with the dogma of Mary's bodily assumption into heaven anymore than I would struggle with the dogma that Barnabas could shoot fire from his fingertips. Both would be utterly irrelevant falsehoods that not only offend the God who has spoken so clearly, but are offensive to His majesty and truth, and are to be rejected because they bind upon the faithful de fide beliefs that are plainly human in origin and were never a part of the Apostolic proclamation of the gospel.
We know that Mary went to heaven, and the date of August 15 for the Assumption of Mary continued to be recognized in the Lutheran and Swiss Reformed churches of the Reformation.Two mightily disconnected statements. We know Paul went to heaven, too, but what that has to do with traditions deeply embedded in the medieval psyche and hence slow to be washed away by the waters of truth is hard to say.
But there is not a complete agreement as to the details. Did she pass through death, and then ascend bodily into heaven? Or did she ascend into heaven without tasting death? Or should we just say that her Blessed soul passed into heaven and was received by Christ, the Saints and the Angels there?Remember, folks, this is from a man who can't allow the Scriptures to have sufficient clarity to define the sovereignty of God in salvation or whether worshipping a Jesus who is the offspring of an exalted man from another planet is sufficient to be deemed worshipping a false Jesus--but oh, when it comes to a tradition unknown in the Scriptures or even in the first five hundred years of church history, let's put that on the table! Behold the power of traditionalism.
I would tentatively suggest the following:I would firmly suggest that given his flight into "Anglo-Catholicism" Owen has no basis for anything but tentative suggestions any longer. Well, except about Baptists. He can be ever so conclusive on that subject.
1. We do not know for a certainty the details of Mary’s entrance into heaven. We do know the fact of it, and it is surely a cause for celebration.
As the entrance of any saint of God would be (using the term "saint" in its biblical, not traditional, sense). The fact is, we do not know anything about the subject, nor does anyone else for that matter. One of the most bothersome aspects of the attitudes of these men is that they do not even take seriously the concept of "dogma" as historically used by Rome. Surely, they are joined by many on the Roman side who likewise take lightly the authority claims of their own leaders, but the fact remains that Rome does not suggest dogma. Consider these words from Munificentissimus Deus, the dogmatic definition of the Bodily Assumption from 1950:
12. But those whom "the Holy Spirit has placed as bishops to rule the Church of God" gave an almost unanimous affirmative response to both these questions. This "outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful," affirming that the bodily Assumption of God's Mother into heaven can be defined as a dogma of faith, since it shows us the concordant teaching of the Church's ordinary doctrinal authority and the concordant faith of the Christian people which the same doctrinal authority sustains and directs, thus by itself and in an entirely certain and infallible way, manifests this privilege as a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which Christ has delivered to his Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly. Certainly this teaching authority of the Church, not by any merely human effort but under the protection of the Spirit of Truth, and therefore absolutely without error, carries out the commission entrusted to it, that of preserving the revealed truths pure and entire throughout every age, in such a way that it presents them undefiled, adding nothing to them and taking nothing away from them. For, as the Vatican Council teaches, "the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in such a way that, by his revelation, they might manifest new doctrine, but so that, by his assistance, they might guard as sacred and might faithfully propose the revelation delivered through the apostles, or the deposit of faith." Thus, from the universal agreement of the Church's ordinary teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof, demonstrating that the Blessed Virgin Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven- which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own natural powers, as far as the heavenly glorification of the virginal body of the loving Mother of God is concerned-is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be firmly and faithfully believed by all children of the Church. For, as the Vatican Council asserts, "all those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition, and which are proposed by the Church, either in solemn judgment or in its ordinary and universal teaching office, as divinely revealed truths which must be believed."
44. 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.
45. Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.
It is easy for Owen and his ilk to play footsie with this kind of proclamation today. These men seem to have forgotten that not all that long ago, these were matters of life and death.
2. There is no record of the end of Mary’s earthly life in the New Testament.I had always wondered about that, given that the New Testament contains the record of the deaths of so many, like Paul, Peter, all the Apostles, Barnabas...oh, wait, sorry, got confused there.
3. There is no consensus on this matter in the Church of the first five centuries.This statement honestly made me laugh out loud when I read it. It has just as much meaning to it as, "There is no consensus on the subject of alien abductions in the Church of the first five centuries." There was no discussion of the subject and the earliest even slightly meaningful reference is in Gelasius' denunciation of the Transitus literature. Even with all the unbiblical, gnostic-inspired speculation and development in Marian teaching during that period, the topic, and the belief, was simply unknown. For further reading on this topic, see William Webster's fine article here.
4. That being said, we do not know that Mary did NOT ascend bodily into heaven.Nor do we know that Paul, or Thomas, or anyone else in the New Testament did NOT bodily ascend into heaven. Maybe Caesar ascended into heaven. Who is to say?
It is foolish for Protestants to insist that this could not have happened to Mary, when it has in fact happened to saints of a lesser dignity (such as Enoch and Elijah). It would be better for us to keep our hands on our mouths.Foolish? Rome defines as a dogma, 1900 years after the Christ event, a belief that is absent from both Scripture AND any meaningful definition of the term "tradition," and Protestants are foolish for denying it? Why not be honest and say Roman Catholics are foolish for demanding it be believed? Because Rome is not the target of these folks.
Could not have happened? Who has said it could not have happened? It could have happened to lots of folks, theoretically. But the fact is, Rome says it not only did happen, but I must believe it happened with the same certainty with which I believe Jesus rose from the dead. That is the issue, and that is what should make the dogma so loathsome to the believer. Let's remind ourselves once again of how this kind of dogma can be proclaimed with the authority of Roman tradition:
I have not even addressed the fact that Rome parallels, in Mary, so many of the unique offices of Christ, so that His glory is diminished in the Roman dogmas. Why anyone with the slightest fervor of passion for the truth would even sully their hands with such man-made dogmas is hard to comprehend.