Mary’s Assumption: Part 4


Patristic Father from the East

St. John Damascene (d. 749) also recorded an interesting story concerning the Assumption: “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.”

[Location of the remains of the apostles image]

Patristic Summary

These stories, however, must not take precedence over the theological grounding for our belief in the Assumption of our Blessed Mother. Rather, we must remember that the Patristic Fathers defended the Assumption on two counts: 1. Since Mary was sinless and a perpetual virgin, she could not suffer bodily deterioration, the result of original sin, after her death. 2. Also, if Mary bore Christ and played an intimate role as His mother in the redemption of man, then she must likewise share body and soul in His resurrection and glorification.

Dogma and Marian Apparitions 1854 dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 1858 apparition to Bernadette at Lourdes, 1859 apparition to Adele Brise in Wisconsin

Jesuits Fr. Marquette & Joliet missionaries to interior of the country

Nevertheless, the pious stories popularized the term “dormition,” reflecting that Mary at the end of her life “went to sleep” and then was taken into glory in Heaven. The Byzantine Emperor Mauritius (582-602) established the Feast of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Aug. 15 for the Eastern Church, which celebrated our Lady’s death and assumption. (Some historians speculate that the celebration was already widespread before the Council of Ephesus in 431.) By the end of the sixth century, the West likewise celebrated the feast under the title of “the Assumption.” By Fr. William Saunders

Public Persecution and Impact of doctrinal  statements

 Claims made for two cities

Two cities, Jerusalem and Ephesus (in present-day Turkey), claim to be the place where the Virgin Mary died. The Ephesusclaim rests in part on the Gospel account that Christ on his cross entrusted the care of Mary to St John (who later went to Ephesus).

Apostles at the death of Mary, in the Church of the Dormition (

But the earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary’s life in Jerusalem, where the Tomb of Maryis venerated at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Accounts of Mary’s death in Jerusalemappear in early sources such as De Orbitu S. Dominae, TransitusMariaeand Liber Requiei Mariae. These books are described as apocryphal (meaning “hidden” or “secret”). Their authenticity is uncertain and they are not accepted as part of the Christian canon of Scripture.

But, according to biblical scholar Lino Cignelli, “All of them are traceable back to a single primitive document, a Judaeo-Christian prototype, clearly written within the mother church of Jerusalem some time during the second century, and, in all probability, composed for liturgical use right at the Tomb of Our Lady.

“From the earliest times, traditionhas assigned the authorship of the prototype to one Lucius Carinus, said to have been a disciple and fellow labourer with St John the Evangelist.”

By the reckoning of TransitusMariae, Mary would have been aged no more than 50at the time of her death.

Early writers favour Jerusalem

The early sourcesare summarised in this way by the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The apocryphal works of the second to the fourth century are all favourable to the Jerusalem tradition. According to the Acts of St John by Prochurus, written (160-70) by Lencius, the Evangelist went to Ephesusaccompanied by Prochurus alone and at a very advanced age, i.e. after Mary’s death.

“The two lettersB. Inatii missa S. Joanni, written about 370, show that the Blessed Virgin passed the remainder of her days at Jerusalem. That of Dionysius the Areopagite to the Bishop Titus (363), the Joannis liber de Dormitione Mariae(third to fourth century), and the treatise De transitu B.M. Virginis(fourth century) place her tomb at Gethsemane . . . .

“There was never any traditionconnecting Mary’s death and burial with the city of Ephesus.”

Mary is an embodiment of the new Jerusalem