Feedback on my “breathlessly false claims” about Mary’s “Dormition”

I had some rather interesting feedback from someone who apparently had a lot of time:

My emphases and comments:

 

Carissime Pater Zuhlsdorf,
 
I continue to be astonished by the ignorance of so many Catholics regarding the Assumption of the Mother of God.
 
In your "Patristic Rosary Project," you assert that "We do not know if Mary died and was assumed body and soul into heaven or if she was assumed without dying."  Not to be outdone, you continue:  "There are not elaborate writings by the Fathers on the Assumption, because it was not a main point of reflection."  I must offer a response to these breathtakingly false claims.
 
1.  The Church of the Byzantine sui iuris celebrates the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on the same day as the Romans celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption.  "Dormition", as you know, means "falling-asleep," a Christian euphemism for "death" still retained by the Eastern Christians when referring to the passing of this lie of one of the baptised.  If we take the argument that legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, we must conclude that the falling-asleep of the Mother of God, commemorated at least since the fifth century, is to be found in the Deposit of Faith.  Not only is it counted among the Twelve Great Feasts, it is also preceded by a Dormition Fast, thus highlighting its solemnity.  Moreover, the fact that the Feast of the Dormition has never been suppressed by the Orthodox Christians in communion with the Successor of Peter speaks to the truth that the Mother of God fell asleep in the flesh.  A cursory reading of the kontakia, troparia, and idiomelia of the Byzantine liturgy loudly attests the death of the Mother of God.  And we have, also, the astonishing testimony of the ephiphatios of the Mother of God as well as the tradition of referring to this same celebration as her own Pascha, hence the custom in many Russian Catholic parishes to celebrate the Rite of the Burial of the Most Holy Theotokos analogous to the Burial Rite on Great and Holy Friday.  And there has not been an ounce of concern from the Holy See to suppress such practises.

2.  Most people pretend awareness of H. H. Pope +Pius XII’s apostolic constitution Munificentissiumus Deus by citing only the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption (no. 44).  Granted, the clause "at the end of her earthly life" is hermeneutically neutral with respect to the question of Mary’s death, but the context of the entire constitution speaks rather frequently of the death of the Mother of God.  To cite a few examples:  nos. 14, 18, 22, 26, 38, and 40.  Curiously, in the constitution (no. 39), Pius XII cites 1 Cor 15:21-26, in which verse 22 and 23 have been carried over to the current Office of Second Vespers for the Solemnity.  The context of this Scripture, found in the celebration of the Assumption, implies that she did in fact fall asleep in the Lord.

3.  Contrary to what you wrote, the Fathers do indeed have plenty to say about the Dormition of the Mother of God.  Our Holy Father Among the Saints, John of Damascus, penned three homilies for the Feast.  Pius XII cites not only him, but also Germanus of Constantinople.  And of course we can add to their testimonies that of other Fathers, thanks to the research of Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption (Oxford University Press, 2003).  As the "Last of the Fathers", the testimony of St John of Damascus is not to be lightly ignored since he is the heir of the Patristic Era, and we are heirs of the Church of the Fathers only insofar as we have ears for their teachings.  (The more I study the Fathers–and I penned my M.A. thesis on the theology of the First Seven Ecumenical Councils and especially the Cappadocians–Roman Catholics are guilty of what they accuse Protestants of doing–selectively quoting the Fathers.  I find your "Patristic Rosary Project" a sad example of this.) [Golly.]

4.  As well, if we are to understand properly the theological enterprise, we must attend to the "monuments of tradition" (as Pere Yves Congar calls it), among which are the testimonies of Christian iconography.  Even among the Latins, Fra Angelico’s Death and Assumption of the Virgin (1432) represents a very late continuation of the tradition.  Even in Renaissance and Baroque paintings, images of the Assumption are not without the Mother of God being taken from her tomb; among the notable instances are Francesco Botticini’s Assumption of the Virgin (d. 1498); Mateo Cerezo’s Assumption of Mary (d. 1666); Peter Paul Rubens’s The Assumption of the Virgin (1612-17), and numerous others.  Of course, those in the authentic tradition of iconography represent the more compelling witnesses.  Images of the Mother of God being assumed into heaven but lacking the burial-motif are of relatively recent origin and therefore farther removed from the authentic Tradition of the Church.
 
5.  Any pilgrim to the Holy Land is aware of the "Tomb of Mary" found in the precents of Gethsemane.  And of course there is the rival shrine in Ephesus in the possession of Catholics of anti-Byzantine sympathies.  (The Ephesus "version" is highly unlikely because the Byzantine liturgy sings of the burail of the Mother of God at Gethsemane.)
 
6.  I must also add that there is an "interpretation" to the Solemnity which must be weighed against the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary on 22 August.  Why two different feasts, of different ranks, so close to each other?  Why even two?  I would suggest that the Solemnity of 15 August it not so much "about" the Mother of God as it is "about" the destiny of those who die in the state of sanctifying grace.  The fate of the Mother of God, although it was her singular privilege on account of her Immaculate Conception and the timing of her experience of the eschaton, is a mirror of the fate of all Christians.  The Memorial of 22 August is the Mother of God’s alone.  Just as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord to commemorate not only the ascending of Jesus to the Father, but more precisely to the Father’s right hand, that is, his reception of full Lordship as a result of His Paschal Mystery.  In the case of the Mother of God, on the other hand, her Assumption, following the Dormition, reflects on her privilege as the perfect Christian; her Queenship is an instance of Christ’ purely gratuitious love for His Mother and thus not extended to her fellow-believers.  In other words, what the Mother of God inherited from Christ was split into two mysteries–her assumption, which all Christians will eventually share thanks to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and her coronation, which is reserved only to Mother of God.  And this splitting has been carried over into popular piety as well, in the fourth and fifth glorious mysteries of the Rosary.
 
According to Tradition, an unbeliever by the name of Anthonios had the audcity to touch the funeral bier of the Mother of God while she was being carried to Gethsemane.  An angel is said to have severed his hand for having touched it; most commentators interpret this episode as a "theologizing" about those who trivialize the mystery of the death of the Mother of God.
 
I find it immensely disturbing that a layman [and an apparently obnoxious one at that] is needed to correct seriously erroneous teachings issued by a presbyter, [I prefer "priest"] who, according to Presbyterorum Ordinis 4 and the Code of Canon Law 528 is to have the ministry of preaching and teaching foremost among his tasks.  I also worry about those who are preoccupied with the externals of worship (such as Latin as an ordinary liturgical language) to the detriment of the mystagogical import of various feasts.  That having been said, it is my hope that you will make corrections to your blog.  [Nope.] As a layman and on behalf of all of Christ’s lay faithful, I appeal to my canonical right to expect sound teaching from the Church’s pastors (cf. Code of Canon Law, 212, 213, 217).
 
Sincerely in Christ,
M. G. Hysell, M.A., M.Th. (Cand)

 

I respond saying:

That the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered death before she was bodily assumed into heaven is NOT an infallible, dogmatic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics are free to believe either that Mary died or that she did not die before her Assumption. That is the reason that Munificentissimus Deus uses the phrase "having completed the course of her earthly life".

It follows that the teaching that Mary died before she was bodily assumed into heaven is NOT part of the deposit of faith.

Not every word uttered by a Father of the Church forms part of the Catholic Church’s official teaching. For example, the Church does not accept certain aspect of St. Augustine’s teachings on predestination.

St. John Damascene is recognized as a Father of the Church both by the Roman Catholic and by Eastern Orthodox Churches. However he is Byzantine and late. Just as the Eastern Fathers and the Eastern Christian Churches did not accept all aspects of Western patristic teaching, so too the Western Fathers and the Western Christian Church have not accepted all aspects of Eastern patristic teaching.

Not every word or idea that forms part of the ancient or medieval Christian liturgies exercises a normative dogmatic effect on officially defined Christian belief.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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173 Responses to Feedback on my “breathlessly false claims” about Mary’s “Dormition”

  1. Ray Marshall says:

    I heard a priest say the other day on Relevant Radio that the reason that the Gospels make no reference to Mary’s “death” and assumption is that she was probably still alive at the time that St. John wrote the last Gospel.

    If she was 15 when Jesus was born, that would make her about 48 at the time of Jesus’ death.

    Wikipedia: Most scholars agree on a range of c. 90–100 for when the gospel was written, though dates as early as the 60s or as late as the 140s have been advanced by a small number of scholars.

    Since no original copies of any of the four Gospels are known, that might be.

  2. Angels Stole my Phonebox says:

    Fr Z
    I’m sorry you have to put up with this sort of thing. I said a prayer for you.

  3. Matt Q says:

    Good reply, Father Z. Who is this schlub anyway? The fact we believe our Blessed Mother was Assumed into Heaven is one thing and part of Dogmatic faith, however, the immediate point at which She did is not relevant. If in the 2000 years since, neither She or the Saints have revealed or alluded as to when, then obviously it isn’t an issue!

    God bless you, Father Z.

  4. Paul says:

    Someone sounds a little grumpy!!!

  5. Cecilia says:

    He must be important, he has lots of letters after his name!

    Cecilia I.M, A, V.I.P

  6. Christabel says:

    Uh-oh, Father Z, I’m in BIG trouble. I’ve been recommending your most excellent Patristic Rosary Project to all and sundry ever since it appeared on your blog. I didn’t realise you had made so many breathtakingly false claims. You are a little tinker, you naughty thing!

    But then again, nor had I realised that a fellow lay person could claim to represent me (let alone “all of Chirst’s faithful”) without my knowledge!

    Please, not in my name, M.G.Hysell.

  7. Matt Q says:

    Yes, Paul, you’re seeing red. Sometime these things have a CSS issue, or Father has an open tag in his formatting.

  8. John Enright says:

    This just proves the point that a little knowledge is dangerous. The author of this diatribe seems to be ready to pronounce as dogma that the Mother of God died and that anyone believing otherwise is heterodox. That’s scary when the Universal Church hasn’t reached a conclusion – or even a consensus – regarding the issue. Besides, what is the big deal? How does belief either way alter the underlying truth? It simply doesn’t.

  9. Sid says:

    Your rebuttal, Fr. Z., is your work at its best!

  10. RichR says:

    We all are tempted to let our Christian zeal justify our neglect of Christian charity. I don’t see why all the stops have to be pulled out when discussing a non-dogmatic idea between two people who both love the Catholic faith and are 100% against spreading error.

    We have enough problems with the liberals. Let’s not bite our own heads off – least of all one of our best leaders (Fr. Z).

    Relax!

  11. jpbehnke says:

    Though the person who is the subject of this article is a bit haughty and lacks some tact, I think it’d be a charitable thing to not descend into the realm of ad hominem attacks, as that is the direction in which I see these comments going…

  12. Dominic says:

    I expect Mr Hysell meant well. I’ve written some silly and pompous letters in my time. Now I look back at them with some embarrassment yet amusement. In time, I hope young (?) Mr Hysell will too.

  13. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Well whatever the argument about the Dormition of Mary, the details are pretty interesting. We’ve never been told we can’t believe in the death of Mary, although there nothing official as you say Fr Z.

    You are too funny Fr Z. You are my hero of succinctness. I wish to follow in your footsteps.

  14. …that a layman [and an apparently obnoxious one at that] is needed…”
    Maybe I have thicker skin, but I found nothing obnoxious in his position nor his writing.

    “…St. John Damascene is recognized as a Father of the Church…However he is Byzantine …”
    Do I not understand the nuances of the exchange – is that a subtle put down of Byzantines?

    Without agreeing or disagreeing with the positions, surely, Father, the Divine Liturgy is much more connected to the Ever Virgin Mary than the Roman Rite. Would not the Fathers of the Eastern Church or Byzantine Rite have a clearer picture of the Assumption than Western Fathers?

  15. Deusdonat says:

    While I agree with the poster’s analysis of the eastern church’s dogma on the subject of the Dormition, I certainly cannot agree with or tolerate the tone of the post, which was as disrespectful as it was petty.

    I will say that while it is not necessarily infallible dogma in the Latin church that the BVM died before she was assumed, it was as much common belief and teaching throughout the church as it was in the East for all intents and purposes. We can use church-sponsored art as a lithmus test for this, evidenced in WESTERN art, such as the 11th century church in Broughton, Oxfordshire, the 13th century Martorana which while executed by Byzantine artisans, was commissioned by the Latin Catholic church under the patronage of Norman king Roger II, and probably the most famous of depictions from Carravagio in the very early 17th century.

    So while it may not be absolute dogma that the BVM died, it is absolutely church tradition that she did. The fact that the Eastern churches celebrate this feast without supression from the Latin church just makes it that much more compelling. Why anyone would think anything to the contrary is actually beyond me. Dying does not lessen her sinlessness, so I don’t see any relevance here.

  16. JR says:

    Oh dear! Now I know Fr. Z. has lost it as not only is he “breathtakingly wrong” about Marian Doctrine, but he now has us “reading” the red! Then again, we who read this blog are “preoccupied with the externals of worship” after all! Ha! Great response Fr. Z! Keep I the good work! I shall be praying for you.

  17. Tim Ferguson says:

    Might I also add, as a junior canonist, that there is no such animal as the “Church of the Byzantine sui iuris,” (and what an odd phrasing, in any case). There are several Churches sui iuris who use what some call the Byzantine liturgical tradition. Most of the canonists and liturgists I’ve met from those Churches would prefer that we call it the Constantinopolitan liturgical tradition. There are the Ukrainian Church sui iuris (after the Roman or Latin Church, it’s the largest), the Italo-Albanian, the Hungarian, the Russian, the Georgian, the Bulgarian, the Melkite et al. Churches sui iuris.

    I’m also curious about the “many Russian Catholic parishes” about which Mr. Hysell is familiar. From my understanding, there are only two Russian Catholic parishes in the United States – one in San Francisco (Our Lady of Fatima) and one in New York (St. Michael). There are a handful of others among the Russian diaspora in Western Europe, but I don’t believe they number more than a dozen. I have heard there are about six parishes in Russia proper (most Russians who are Catholic are ascribed to the Latin Church sui iuris) but they do not have a hierarchy proper to themselves (there were two exarchates that were established many years ago – in the 30’s, I believe, but the one in Moscow is vacant, as is the one in Harbin, China).

    There are also a number of other Churches sui iuris who do not follow the Constantinopolitan tradition in their liturgy but also utilize the term “Dormition” when speaking of the events at the end of the Blessed Virgin’s earthly life. Every one of them, in communion with the See of Rome, accept the teaching and terminology of Pius XII expressed in the dogmatic portion of Munificentissimus Dei. That terminology leaves ambiguous whether the Blessed Virgin died, and the faithful are not bound to believe one or the other. She clearly did not “suffer” death.

  18. Jordanes says:

    M. G. Hysell said: Granted, the clause “at the end of her earthly life” is hermeneutically neutral with respect to the question of Mary’s death, but the context of the entire constitution speaks rather frequently of the death of the Mother of God. To cite a few examples: nos. 14, 18, 22, 26, 38, and 40.

    I personally believe the Blessed Virgin probably did suffer death, but I also think Mr. Hysell has misrepresented what Munificentissimus Deus says about this question.

    14. In the same way, it was not difficult for [Christ’s faithful] to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life. But this in no way prevented them from believing and from professing openly that her sacred body had never been subject to the corruption of the tomb, and that the august tabernacle of the Divine Word had never been reduced to dust and ashes.

    Note: “had passed from this life,” not “had died.”

    18. “God, the King of the universe, has granted you favors that surpass nature. As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.”

    This quotation from the Byzantine liturgy refers to the common belief that the Blessed Virgin did in fact die, but it neither endorses that belief nor questions it.

    22. “As the most glorious Mother of Christ, our Savior and God and the giver of life and immortality, has been endowed with life by him, she has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.”

    Again, this patristic quotation refers to the common belief that the Blessed Virgin did in fact die, but Pius XII didn’t quote it to establish that she died, but to establish that she had been assumed body and soul and glorified.

    26. the most pure body of the Virgin Mary, preserved and exempt from all the corruption of the tomb and raised up to such glory in heaven.

    “Exempt from all the corruption of the tomb” neither confirms nor denies that her body had ever actually lain lifeless in a tomb.

    38. And, since it was within his power to grant her this great honor, to preserve her from the corruption of the tomb, we must believe that he really acted in this way.

    Same as with no. 26: “corruption of the tomb” neither asserts nor denies that she had ever been in the tomb.

    40. Hence the revered Mother of God, from all eternity joined in a hidden way with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a most perfect virgin in her divine motherhood, the noble associate of the divine Redeemer who has won a complete triumph over sin and its consequences, finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven where, as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.

    “Preserved free from corruption of the tomb” and “like her own Son, having overcome death” do not necessarily mean that she had died “like her own Son,” but can readily mean that she was spared bodily death altogether.

    Father Zuhlsdorf is right: the Church does not say that Mary did in fact die. In fact it could be that the Church cannot answer that question one way or the other. Catholics may believe that she “fell asleep,” as our Eastern brethren celebrate, or that may believe that Jesus granted her the grace that she should not taste death at all.

    P.S. The significance of the two Marian feasts in August, the Assumption/Dormition and the Queenship, is readily explained: the Queenship is the Octave of the Assumption, which was celebrated in various places in the past. I see no evidence that the Churchnecessarily means us to see those feasts as Mr. Hysell suggests.

  19. I appeal to my canonical right to expect sound teaching from the Church’s pastors (cf. Code of Canon Law, 212, 213, 217).

    I can only presume he means sound teaching from our bishops, which Fr. Z. is apparently passing on. Sheesh!

  20. Jordanes says:

    Tim said: She clearly did not “suffer” death.

    Okay, in that case change my above comments to “undergo death.”

  21. mao now says:

    well in my little corner… I firmily believe that our Blessed Lady did NOT die. As have (I think) most of the ordinary laymen and women of the Latin rite throughout the centuries. I thought death was the price of sin, and Our Lady was sinless. She always did Gods will. Most Priests I know ascribe to this belief. I would bet that the Priest who sits on the Throne of St. Peter would agree.

  22. Animadversor says:

    Breathtaking indeed….

    Mr. Mandzok, it doesn’t seem to me that
    there was much “nuance” in the exchange for you to understand, so don’t
    feel too bad.

  23. Nick says:

    In Mr.(?)Hysell’s defense the matter of the term “Assumption” as opposed to the “Dormition” of the Virgin Mary is one of the problems the Eastern Orthodox have with Roman Catholic Mariology. The icon of the Dormition shows Christ holding the Virgin’s soul in His hands while the Apostles escort her body to burial. I’m sure Fr. Z could provide an example. Three days later the Apostle Thomas went to her tomb to find it empty. The fundamental problem the Eastern Orthodox have is that theologically they see it as Western “Mariolatry”, where the Virgin Mary by supposedly escaping death becomes greater than her Son, Jesus Christ, Who died.

  24. William Hunter says:

    You are correct Father; the gentleman has too much time on his hands.

  25. Deusdonat says:

    I firmily believe that our Blessed Lady did NOT die. As have (I think) most of the ordinary laymen and women of the Latin rite throughout the centuries.

    Mao, as I pointed to above, church iconography says otherwise.

  26. mysticalrose says:

    “I find it immensely disturbing that a layman is needed to correct seriously erroneous teachings issued by a presbyter, who, according to Presbyterorum Ordinis 4 and the Code of Canon Law 528 is to have the ministry of preaching and teaching foremost among his tasks.”

    Um . . .ewww! Apparently, candidacy in theology does not require manners.

  27. Jordanes says:

    Nick said: The fundamental problem the Eastern Orthodox have is that theologically they see it as Western “Mariolatry”, where the Virgin Mary by supposedly escaping death becomes greater than her Son, Jesus Christ, Who died.

    That’s the wrong way to look at it. Escaping death wouldn’t make her greater than Jesus, because Jesus is still God Incarnate, while Mary is just a human being: Mary’s escaping death doesn’t make her Creator or eternal. Again, Jesus came to earth to die for us, so the human race would not have to suffer death. It wasn’t God’s will that any of us should die, and since Mary was sinless, it would be fitting that she would enjoy the fullness of Christ’s redemption in such a way that she would even escape death. If Mary escaped death, it would make her lesser than, not greater than, her Son, who alone died for us, who alone could die for us.

    Of course it would also be fitting that, as she was conformed to Her Son in all other matters, so she might follow Him in tasting bodily death as He did.

  28. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Just a little point of interest vis-à-vis Nick’s observation that “ (t)he fundamental problem the Eastern Orthodox have is that theologically they see it as Western “Mariolatry”, where the Virgin Mary by supposedly escaping death becomes greater than her Son, Jesus Christ, Who died.”

    Following the dogmatic definition of the Assumption made in 1950, a partially new office for the feast was drawn up, in which 7 of the 9 of the readings for Matins were changed. The only 2 that were retained from the old office were the 4th and 5th of the prior office, readings from the homily on the Dormition of the Virgin Mary by Saint John Damascene. Towards the end of the 5th reading, he says, “For how should she taste death, from whom true life had flowed unto all? But she yielded to the law established by him to whom she had given birth, and, as the daughter of the old Adam, underwent the old sentence, (even her Son, who is Life Itself, did not refuse it.) ”

    This homily is read at the 2nd nocturn of the Assumption in the majority of breviaries; therefore it would be safe to say that the public liturgy of the church contains an explicit (though by no means definitive) assertion that the Virgin Mary did die first, and furthermore, that statement was deliberately retained as a part of the public worship of the Church.

  29. Byzshawn says:

    While I do not doubt Mr. Hysell’s scholarship (in fact his letter is largely correct-save those errors that Fr. Z highlights), I do find the tone of his letter uncharitable and haughty. I am not excusing that, but I can somewhat understand the impulse behind it-if he is indeed an Eastern Rite Catholic. We Byzantines often get the back of the hand from our Latin Rite cousins so, like many Latin trads, we tend to be a bit touchy-especially if we feel that our “equal dignity” has not been fully acknowledged.
    That being said, all tradition friendly Catholics owe a debt of gratitude to Fr. Zuhlsdorf – many he have Many Years.

    Oh, BTW I think that Mr. Hysell might have meant the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church sui iuris of Pittsburgh. The only sui iuris Eastern Church in the U.S.

  30. Romulus says:

    Mr. Hysell needs to work on his skills of tact and presentation. All the same he makes a good case which (Christians being not “eye-for-an-eye” people) deserves better than unsupported so-there affirmations, much less ad hominem snark.

    (FWIW, my anti-spam word is “hermeneutic”)

  31. Quote: I thought death was the price of sin, and Our Lady was sinless. She always did Gods will.

    Hum, does this comment make sense if you stop and think about it? God died on the cross and he was sinless. You must mean eternal death…Hell is the price of sin not repented of.

    IMHO, being no one important or learned, I sincerely believe that Our Lady died in imitation of her Son, who also suffered bodily death.

  32. Jim says:

    Certainly in charity, Mr. Hysell, I would point out that if you were in the Army, you’d be labeled a “self licking ice-cream cone” for the tone of your letter. It sounds more like you wrote it to impress yourself with your own knowledge than to inform or discuss the issue with another.

    Jimbo Ph.T Th.Pph Pht.H

  33. Nick says:

    Jordanes,

    Interesting. The Eastern Orthodox however would see this as convoluted since there is no pre-Counter-Reformation basis for it to my knowledge. The East sees many of the subsequent Western laudations/titles of the Virgin Mary as a Latin overcompensation for the derogatory (at times blasphemous) treatment Protestants gave to the Virgin Mary. In any event, if the Virgin Mary did not die there would have been no need to have a tomb, which is depicted in both Western and Eastern art. The notion that there was a parallel “Ascension” of the Virgin Mary witnessed by the Apostles is unknown in the East, where it would presumably have happened.

  34. Aelric says:

    This might be interesting vis-a-vis this topic: http://papastronsay.blogspot.com/ (transalpine redemptorists)

    The Church remembers today, that by the power of Almighty God, Our Blessed Mother rose from the dead, and was assumed body and soul into Heaven.

  35. W. Schrift says:

    Thorough, but utterly lacking in charity.

    And truth without charity… though of course in this case, it would behoove us to avoid mistaking the edifices of scholarship for truth. M. G. Hysell’s hyperbole straddles the line between being entertainment and being unbearably pompous.

    One wonders how the magisterial authority of the Church survives, beset as She is with “seriously erroneous” priests like our Father Zuhlsdorf who would dare neglect the hermeneutic subtleties of Orthodox patristics!

    Abandoning sarcasm though, it is beyond belief to me that this M. G. Hysell could really suggest that Father Z. is concerned with “merely” the externals of worship, as though accurately conveying certain quibbles of mystagogical minutiae are so integral to a priest’s preaching ministry that to slip on one could justify such a pretentious rebuff.

    Of course, the point is not missed by Father Zuhlsdorf. God bless our priests and their preaching ministries – and let Him whose foolishness is the wisdom of men deign that the pharisaical ramblings of candidate theology masters students be kept to themselves.

  36. Mitch says:

    Kind of acidic don’t ya think?? I still think the debate over Latin is more useful.

  37. Jayna says:

    I’m not going to comment on the content of his treatise, as you all are handling that task quite well, but I just wanted to point out that he used “penned” twice in the same paragraph. The classic hallmark of an arrogant academic. Obviously “wrote” is too colloquial a word for him to use.

  38. Deusdonat says:

    Semperfi – God died on the cross and he was sinless.

    it’s a bit more complicated than that. It is because of the sins of the world thatOur Lord bore that He could die on the cross. The bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 eum qui non noverat peccatum pro nobis peccatum fecit ut nos efficeremur iustitia Dei in ipso.

    He who had no sin for us was made sin that we would become justice of God through Him. (please forgive my translation).

    So, we can formulate it was sin (ours) which made God, the son succumb to death, we of course cannot say the same for the BVM. St John Damascene (Pray for US!) formulates that it was merely the fact that the virgin succumbed to the natural order of things put in place by God on the imperfect world as to the reason she died. This seems perfectly logical to me as well.

    Once again, the fact that the BVM died has no bearing on her sinlessness.

  39. Joshua says:

    Dear Fr Z,

    Please don’t be offended by that letter: for, to be honest, the contents (as opposed to the phrasing) are quite worthy of attention in the matter of Our Lady’s Dormition. The theological opinion that she did not die – the “immortalist” view – arose only in the 17th C., and has only ever been held by a minority of theologians. I expect that you could say that the majority view – that she indeed died – is “sententia communis” if not “sententia certa”. What is important to note is what Newman prophesied: that since the definition of Papal infallibility, Catholics have tended to restrict their attention to the exactly defined Papal definitions alone, with an implicit downgrading of non-infallible statements: as if the “ordinary” magisterium were not so important. Thus, even tho’ Pius XII simply intended to leave open the question of Our Lady’s death, the fact that he chose not to define it has been taken as evidence one can freely take the minority opinion, or even claim that this reticence has validated the minority opinion, whereas even in the western tradition – cf. the Dominican collect and secret for the feast, both very ancient, which explicitly speak of Our Lady’s death – there is abundant evidence for the Dormition.

  40. Don’t worry, folks, I am not much touched by this fellow’s note. I am, in fact, rather happy that it was fairly intelligent insulting, rather than the usual scrub stuff I get. So, in its way it was refreshing!

    o{];¬)

  41. Deusdonat says:

    Joshua – very well put, and agreed. I could not find anything to support the immortalist view prior to the 18th century. To me, it is yet another creeping innovation.

  42. Malta says:

    This fellow is informative, but, dare I say, has his panties in a bunch….

  43. sister joan says:

    Now, after all that has been said and done, I do hope
    that we can all be friends! :)

  44. Phillip says:

    I always believed that Our Blessed Mother never died and was assumed body and soul into heaven. Last friday on Assumption day, as I read my latin missal, it said on the top that the BVM lived for 12 years after Our Lord’s resurrection. She was taken care of by the apostle whom He loved, John. Then, it said she died, and three days later was assumed into heaven body and soul. I was a little confused by this, but now I understand this concept of dormition.

  45. aelianus says:

    If the immortalist position is truly so much of a novelty and (as it seems) Pius XII assumes the traditional doctrine throughout the text of his Apostolic Constitution then the fact that the dormition is not defined would not alter the strong probability that it belongs to the deposit. The doctrine of the assumption has the same historic basis as the dormition. The doctrine of the assumption did not become revealed by God only when it was defined by the Holy See.

  46. After Master Hysell’s Latin salutation, I was excited and thought the whole letter would be in Latin. Alas, I was disappointed.

    Lee Fratantuono, A.B., A.M., Ph.D.

  47. mike says:

    Father Z

    I read this fellows arguement once. I’m not a theologian but it seems like a pretty substantial case. A little pushy? Maybe. I suppose there are some professors that teach people to argue in this style. I thought you were thicker skinned that you could have approached this in a less snarky way. And the comments section piling on with the “Yay Father – you sure showed him” – a little sickening. [I do wish people would self-edit at times.]

    This guy was serious and put his mind to some serious thinking. And he was enthusiastic about it. You could have offered it up for debate before jumping down his throat.

    [I certainly didn’t do that.]

    Worse Case: A quote from Full Metal Jacket – “Private Joker is silly and ignorant but he’s got guts and guts is what counts.”

    Now please excuse me while I sip my Veuve & nibble my canapes.

    m

  48. Forrest says:

    On the Feast of the Assumption, my 1962 Roman Missal describes Mary as dying 12 years after Christ’s death and that her tomb was found empty 3 days afterward.

    What’s the Church’s position??

  49. QC says:

    Are there any Fathers or Doctors or Magisterial texts or traditions or other evidence (countering her tomb, etc.) that says she did not die?

    I tend to agree with St. Alphonsus who, in Glories of Mary, argued that Mary did die–not due to sin, but as a special grace to allow her to completely follow the path of her Son.

  50. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    Mr Hysell’s letter to Fr Z was inexcusably rude and disrespectful. But I find myself agreeing with the substance of Hysell’s argument on the death of the Blessed Virgin. While it may be true that Pope Pius XII did not dogmatically define the death of the Theotokos, this does not necessarily mean that “the teaching that Mary died before she was bodily assumed into heaven is NOT part of the deposit of faith,” as Fr Z suggests. It only means that the teaching has not YET been definitively identified by the Church as belonging to the deposit of faith.

    As John Paul II noted in his 25 June 1997 catechesis, the opinion that Mary did not die “was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a common tradition actually exists which sees Mary’s death as her entry into heavenly glory.” In light of the strong witness of Sacred Tradition, I do not believe it is accurate to say that the question of the Blessed Virgin’s death is in fact open. The claim that Mary did not die contradicts the tradition and liturgy of the Church. One would have to have compelling argument and evidence to justify this contradiction.

    [If people are convinced by this fellow’s argument, that’s fine. Holy Church hasn’t issued a definitive teaching on this matter. People are free to agree or not.]

  51. QC says:

    Oh, and just to add: St. Alphonsus also says that Mary loved with such blazing charity and that her desire to be united with her Son was great, that it was a miracle that her body could even withstand it and stay alive.

  52. JM says:

    Byzantine Dormition vespers are one of the most beautiful liturgies I have ever seen, only surpassed by some of the byzantine liturgies during Holy Week. [There are some beautiful traditional Latin holy week liturgies too, but I have a preference for byzantine liturgies.] Dormition vespers is a funeral service. Everyone brings flowers and herbs (which are blessed at the end) to place around the shroud of the fallen asleep Theotokos. Tradition says that when the tomb was opened after three days, it was filled with flowers, and the Virgin Mary had been assumed. There is a procession with the shroud and all “walk’ on their knees and reverence three times on the way to venerate the shroud. Dormition Matins are also beautiful, and also long. The spiritual impact that these liturgies had me was great. My understanding of Mary, her relationship to her Son, and our relationship to her as our Mother, and to her Son and the Trinity changed dramatically after experiencing Dormition Vespers, Matins, and Divine Liturugy. I highly recommend going to all three if the opportunity avails itself.

  53. I thought you were thicker skinned that you could have approached this in a less snarky way.

    What does “snark” mean?

  54. Antiquarian, MA, MFA, PhD says:

    I too assume the correspondent is young, and like many graduate students, hasn’t yet learned that knowledge and intelligence are two different things.

  55. L.T. says:

    From the pre-V2 St. Andrew Missal on the Vigil of the Assumption:
    Christ after having lain for only three days in the tomb, rose again and ascended to heaven. Likewise, the death of the Virgin resembled rather a short sleep, hence it was called “Dormitio”, and before corruption could defile her body, God restored her to life and glorified her in heaven. These three privileges are celebrated by the feast of the Assumption which follows logically from the privilege of the Immaculate Conception and the Mystery of the Incarnation. For sin never having defiled the soul of Mary, it was right that her body, in which the Word had become Incarnate, should not be tainted by the corruption of the womb.

    It’s only to our benefit to heed the wisdom of the Eastern Churches who never relied solely on formal, positivistic declarations of infallibility to know what has apostolic merit. (They’re not the ones who have bishops and priests publicly indulging in all sorts of liturgical and doctrinal nonsense these days.) Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus in fact overwhelmingly draws from the Eastern Fathers in his teaching on the Assumption and is clearly deferential to the Eastern belief that the BVM was not exempted from a bodily death.

    Mary prefigures our redemption in Christ through death. Her Immaculate humanity overcame spiritual death and thus had nothing to fear or lose from undergoing bodily death. Just as Christ submitted to death only to trample it down, so shall we in Christ, and thus Mary’s death is fitting for its conformity to and participation in the Paschal Mystery.

    There’s no question that God could have exempted her from death by divine fiat. But the arbitrariness of divine will is not what drives Apostolic teaching, that is, unless you believe Ockham and Protestant theology have some authority over Catholic doctrine. The issue is whether Mary’s falling asleep has intrinsic Christological merit over her exemption from death in light of the Apostolic sensus fidelium. The witness of the Eastern Fathers is far more compelling on this. Western contemplation has often gotten bogged down in procedural matters of authority or speculation over the precedents of Elijah & Enoch, while the East has kept the focus on the substance of Mary’s identity as icon of our redemption.

    The fact that Fr. Z has to rely on the non-infallibility of Mary’s death only demonstrates how underdeveloped the question is in the West. In the East, it is de facto Christological dogma that Mary did die a natural death. But even the East understands there was a special quality of her passing, hence “dormitio.” Hence all who die in Christ merely fall asleep in Christ. I’m grateful the official Roman Catholic teaching does not contradict light from the East.

  56. Geoffrey says:

    Wow, I wish I had half that much free time!

    Fr. Z: You are so patient! I would have been scrambling for the delete button! [He won’t be posting anymore.]

  57. L.T. says:

    Oops-big typo. The quote should read “corruption of the tomb,” not “womb.” Sorry.

  58. Jim says:

    The Theotokos places high value on the virtue of humility, I believe. This correspondent does not display humility.

  59. Jordanes says:

    Aelianus said: If the immortalist position is truly so much of a novelty and (as it seems) Pius XII assumes the traditional doctrine throughout the text of his Apostolic Constitution then the fact that the dormition is not defined would not alter the strong probability that it belongs to the deposit.

    I don’t think it can be affirmed that Pius XII assumed the common belief that Mary died. His language leaves the question open. At this time Catholics may continue to hold the ancient tradition found in the apocryphal literature regarding her death and post mortem assumption, or they may opt for the view that she did not die. Until some further magisterial clarification is forthcoming, we just have to leave it at that.

    It’s only to our benefit to heed the wisdom of the Eastern Churches who never relied solely on formal, positivistic declarations of infallibility to know what has apostolic merit.

    The Western Churches also have “never relied solely on formal, positivistic declarations of infallibility to know what has apostolic merit.”

    (They’re not the ones who have bishops and priests publicly indulging in all sorts of liturgical and doctrinal nonsense these days.)

    First, you’re painting with a broad brush, inviting people to provide examples of Eastern liturgical and doctrinal nonsense. Second, you’re bringing up something that is irrelevant to the question at hand. Whether or not bishops and priests publicly indugle in liturgical and doctrinal nonsense has no bearing on whether or not the tradition that Mary died is a matter of Apostolic Tradition.

    Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus in fact overwhelmingly draws from the Eastern Fathers in his teaching on the Assumption and is clearly deferential to the Eastern belief that the BVM was not exempted from a bodily death.

    I think Mary probably did die, but still I don’t think the deference you claim is as clear as you seem to think. Pius XII naturally drew on Eastern sources in this matter, since this doctrine is better and earlier attested in the East than in the West. But seeing that the “mainstream” view has been that Mary died, it is especially noteworthy that Pius XII did not choose to explicitly speak of her death when he formally defined the dogma and had a chance to speak plainly on the matter.

    Just as Christ submitted to death only to trample it down, so shall we in Christ, and thus Mary’s death is fitting for its conformity to and participation in the Paschal Mystery.

    That’s a good argument, even though it is inconclusive. “It is fitting” doesn’t establish that something was handed down from the Apostles to be believed.

    The fact that Fr. Z has to rely on the non-infallibility of Mary’s death only demonstrates how underdeveloped the question is in the West. In the East, it is de facto Christological dogma that Mary did die a natural death.

    But of course the only way it could be an clear and undeniable Christological
    dogma is if the Holy Father and/or an Oecumenical Council taught it as such, so the prevalent opinion of the Eastern Church is not sufficient to settle the question. That Father Zuhlsdorf reminds us of the non-infallibility of Mary’s death points to the fact that the West has developed and investigated this question much more deeply than the East has. That’s probably why the Pope chose to leave the question open for now.

  60. Joshua says:

    For what it is worth, the Queenship on Aug 22 is only since 1970, before it was the Immaculate heart, and Queenship was on May 31 (but only since 1956, before that May 31 was the Mediatrix of All Graces).

    Anyways, regardless of the dormition, the Queenship follows the Assumption quite nicely.

  61. Terry says:

    This guy doesn’t like you – he’s been laying in wait to pounce on you. Too bad – we can believe the Blessed Virgin died or not – the dogma only demands we recognise that Our Lady was taken body and soul into heaven. Such a scene about nothing… you handled it well Father.

    I like to think the Mother of God died a mystical death of love… and her Son came to fetch her… “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one and come, see the rains are over and done…”

  62. Joshua says:

    While I agree the point is not dogmatic, one support of her death is an old Latin tradition of a Catafalque for her, with a statue of Mary deceased 3 days before the Assumption, then empty for eight days.

    http://papastronsay.blogspot.com/

  63. AJP says:

    The tone of the feedback was rude, to be sure, but I appreciated his comments
    about why the feasts of the Assumption and Coronation of Mary are split up.
    I had never thought of it in those terms before, and what he says is very
    interesting and thought-provoking. It will certainly deepen my understanding
    the next time I celebrate Assumption, Coronation, or pray the glorious
    mysteries of the rosary.

  64. Cathguy says:

    I am inclined to agree with Mike.

  65. Jason says:

    In other words, what the Mother of God inherited from Christ was split into two mysteries—her assumption, which all Christians will eventually share thanks to the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and her coronation, which is reserved only to Mother of God. And this splitting has been carried over into popular piety as well, in the fourth and fifth glorious mysteries of the Rosary.

    But won’t we all be crowned in Heaven:

    “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” (2Timothy 2:11-12)

    “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)

    Although the crown given to Our Lady is the greatest crown. She is crowned Queen of the Universe. But is it accurate to say that she is the only one who will be coronated?

  66. Eric says:

    I agree with Mao. (Does that make me a Maoist?)

    Death entered the world with sin. The separation of the body and soul is an unnatural state of being. Death means the separation of the soul from the body not hell.

    I am no theologian but since the Church has made no definitive statement, I can believe she never died and still be in a state of grace. So na na na boo boo.

    To prove a simple high school grad can hang with the big boys.

    Nobody has pointed out that Mr Hysell said According to Tradition, an unbeliever by the name of Anthonios had the audcity to touch the funeral bier of the Mother of God while she was being carried to Gethsemane. An angel is said to have severed his hand for having touched it; most commentators interpret this episode as a “theologizing” about those who trivialize the mystery of the death of the Mother of God.
    That would be “tradition” not “Tradition”. I do believe Mr. Hysell has talked himself into something.

    From that same statement did anyone else infer that Mr. Hysell is warning Father Z. to be careful with his hands?
    If that is indeed how most commentators interpret that episode, I’m glad I don’t read those commentators.

  67. Fr Z is correct that the dogma of the Assumption does not include nor is it based on a dogma that the BVM experienced physical death before her body and soul were taken up to heaven. Pope John Paul the Great made a reference to the death of Our Lady in one of his Angelus’ talks but only in the context of theological conclusion. He said it seems likely and it does not contradict reason that the Blessed Mother followed in the footsteps of Her Son to her own Calvary (death), HOWEVER, the late pontiff did NOT elevate that conclusion to the level of doctrine NOR did he infallibly teach it as dogma. Hence, like the controversy between the Dominicans and Jesuits over predestination where Dominicus Banez, OP, and Louis Molina, SJ, and their respective orders duked it out theologically, the Roman Pontiff sent them to neutral corners and said it was a non-defined issue. Likewise, Catholics can in good faith believe in the death of the BVM or they may believe in her dormition (sensa morte). Pope Pius XII had every opportunity to include the word ‘death’ in the papal bull defining the dogma of the Assumption. He chose to leave it out. None of his successors have issued any clarifying ex cathedra statement and the Ordinary Magisterium is not definitive on this one particular issue.

  68. Mark M says:

    I don’t remember this Patristic Rosary Project; can you tell me more.

    Oh, and you’re right about obnoxious; this gives it all away: “M.Th. (Cand)” [candidate; i.e. still studying].

  69. I read somewhere (I forget where unfortunately) that one of the earlier Popes changed the name of the Feast from the Dormition to the Assumption precisely to get away from the arguments of the nature of Mary’s passing and to lay the stress on her being taken up and glorified.

    As an executive in a Devotional Guild in honur of Our Lady I too would like to know more about your Patristic Rosary Father.

  70. HQD says:

    Pietro Sambi said to John Allen about the Pope’s Visit to the US in April that, “The problem is that there are too many people here who would like to be the pope,” Sambi sighed, “and who attribute to themselves a strong sense of their own infallibility.”

    It’s a little unfair for a layman to start waving around bits of Canon Law when he is not necessarily trained as a Canon Law lawyer. It’s simply unfair! Also, “externals” such as Latin are trivial but externals such as “iconography” are dogma!

    You put up a good blog and you do us a great service. Thought the quote was somehow appropriate =)

  71. Thomas says:

    I read the same homily by John Damascene in my breviary, and I cannot quite recall, but I think he said that she was taken up from where she died (versus from a tomb, after a procession) and she was likely Assumed in AD 49 with all the Apostles present (versus after the writing of John’s Gospel). I am not saying this to show that anyone is wrong, but rather that even within the tradition we have conflicting stories; nevertheless, they have merit.

  72. M. G. Hysell says:

    Of course I’m being a bit “pushy.” Yes, my tone was harsh, but you must understand that many Catholics in the Eastern rites are frustrated by people such as Fr Zuhlsdorf who so glibly ignore the Byzantine patrimony of the Church. As one Russian Catholic deacon told me, “We’re treated like second-class citizens.” And we don’t like it one bit, not because it is offensive, but because it displays an unacceptable attitude to what the Holy Spirit has entrusted to the Church. Or is Fr Zuhlsdorf content to breathe with one lung? [Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows my respect for Easter Churches.] (And the “Roman” Catholic Church is not the official name of our communion; it is not even found in the documents of Vatican II, and rarely, if ever, in any of the dicasterial documents.)

    First, a correction. “Byzantine sui iuris” was a mistake; I meant to say Byzantine Rite; and as for the remark of only two Russian Catholic Churches in the U.S., that is correct; I’ve served a number of times at Our Lady of Fatima Russian Catholic Church in San Francisco, and it was that parish I was referring to. My gratitude goes to the canonist who made this correction.

    I do mean what I say about the externals of worship; of course they are important, but Fr Zuhlsdorf completely sidesteps the crux of the matter–that the belief in the death of the Mother of God is to be found in the content of faith, infallible or not. Of course it is not dogma, but it is still doctrine (cf. canon 750). The mistake is to think that dogma and doctrine are co-extensive; they are not. Not everything believed by a Catholic is defined by the solemn magisterium. Simply because the doctrine of the Son of God’s consubstantiality with the Father was not dogmatic prior to the Council of Nicaea does not mean that Arius was _not_ a heretic when he proposed his novelty, or that Eunomius was _not_ a heretic because the First Council of Constantinople had not yet expanded the Symbol of the 318 Fathers.

    The rush to Fr Zuhlsdorf’s defence is worrisome. He does not address the issues I raise (the Byzantine liturgy, the Fathers, and iconography), which leads me to believe he is more a Latinist than a theologian, and a non-theologian has no business being a liturgist. Is Fr Zuhlsdorf a demagogue, then? [What the… He’s gone.] Does his popularity override his accountability to teach sound doctrine? Apparently it does, among those to whom he is endeared.

    Few of the responders actually came to grips with the evidence of the “monuments of Tradition” (and whether you agree with me or not, nonetheless a heart-felt “thank-you”!). I am glad that some people had the integrity to look at the doctrine and not the hero of this blog.

    With regards to the acidic tone of my letter, yes, I have been lying in wait. I’m nauseated by the caustic language and biting sarcasm that is often so characteristic of the conservative party and especially of the “reform of the reform” clique (or as I prefer to call it, the counter-reform). People such as Zuhlsdorf, Trigilio, Mother Angelica, H.E. +Fabian Bruskewitz, Fessio, [I am honored to be counted in this company.] and many others, have turned off so many people to an otherwise worthy cause. In a place as stupidly leftist as San Francisco, the purity of the Message has been clouded by the such styles of discourse as Fr Zuhlsdorf. Now I see that Fr Zuhlsdorf does not like the tase of his own medicine.

    By the way, the Roman documents are rather consistent in its use of “presbyter”–St Thomas Aquinas uses it quite often in his writings, and “priest” is in fact a corruption of “presbyter.” It is erroneous to translate “sacerdos” as “priest” because, etymologically, the two words are worlds apart. I wonder if Fr Zuhlsdorf’s preference for “priest” (by which he is probably thinking “sacerdos”) owes to his self-understanding as a sacramental vending machine, even though the documents of Vatican II and the norms of Canon Law insist that the obligations of the teaching office of the ordained come before the sanctifying office. So, a “sacerdos” you are, indeed, but as the Rite of Ordination says, “in the presbyteral rank.” The Sacred Liturgy trumps Fr Zuhlsdorf’s personal preferences, despite his blog’s content.

    By way of an excursus, Fr Zuhlsdorf is correct when he says that not every aspect of St Augustine’s teachings on predestiantion have been retained by the Church. But–and this is important–the Council of Orange was necessary to identify which of his teachings would be rejected. Despite even this, I would suspect that the average Catholic who is fervently opposed to the Calvinist heresy would find himself uneasy when reading St Thomas Aquinas’ treatise on predestination in his de Veritate. As I said in my letter, there has not been an iota of consternation by the Holy See regarding the expression of the content of faith that the Mother of God passed from this life, or even that there is an epiphatios with her as the subject! So, if even Saint Augustine can be wrong, then, a fortiori, Fr Zuhlsdorf can be, too.

    Finally, and I cannot overemphasise this, the real issues–the testimonies of the Eastern liturgy, of iconography, and of the Fathers–have been sidestepped. Even the interpretation of the Solemnity of the Assumption, along with the Reading from Second Vespers, vis-a-vis the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is completely ignored. Responded Fr Zuhlsdorf, “Not every word or idea that forms part of the ancient or medieval Christian liturgies exercises a normative dogmatic effect on officially defined Christian belief.” What about “legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi”? Again, sidestepping.

    Without mystagogy, there is no point in liturgy.

    M. G. Hysell

    [The fact remains: people are free to believe that the Blessed Virgin experienced death and they are free not to believe that. The rest of what this obnoxious poster wrote is beside the point. For the rest, had this guy been even slightly respectful, I think I would have enjoyed a longer discussion. As it stands, however, he was so rude that I don’t feel the need to spend time on him.]

  73. Tom McKenna says:

    It is, as Fr. Z states, an open question. I personally lean towards Our Lady not experiencing death for this reason:

    She was preserved entirely from Original Sin. Death is a consequence and part of the punishment for Original Sin. For Our Lady to have undergone death, therefore, is inconsistent with her preservation from Original Sin.

    That she may have willingly chosen, despite her sinlessness, to undergo death is entirely possible also, and should the Church care at some point to define this point of course it will be a closed case.

    Until then, freedom of belief on this issue is the order of the day, pace our Eastern brethren. I think Fr. Z’s interlocutor has the “flow matrix” for authority a little reversed: Eastern traditions, which by definition are not universal, cannot bind Peter.

  74. Tom McK: Your image “flow matrix” intrigues me. I am not quite sure what it means.

  75. Jordanes says:

    Nick said: The Eastern Orthodox however would see this as convoluted since there is no pre-Counter-Reformation basis for it to my knowledge. The East sees many of the subsequent Western laudations/titles of the Virgin Mary as a Latin overcompensation for the derogatory (at times blasphemous) treatment Protestants gave to the Virgin Mary.

    They probably would, but then the Eastern Orthodox do get a lot of things wrong. Generally speaking, they seem not to understand Catholic Marian devotion, and in some of their criticisms and polemics they mirror or even borrow Protestant objections and accusations.

    In any event, if the Virgin Mary did not die there would have been no need to have a tomb, which is depicted in both Western and Eastern art.

    Correction: “if it was not commonly believed that the Virgin Mary died . . .” The common belief in East and West was undoubtedly that Mary died, and that belief is probably, though not certainly, correct. The artwork and iconography and liturgical notices were influenced by the apocryphal literature and pious legends that grew up around the doctrine of the Assumption, but as Father Zuhlsdorf said, “Not every word or idea that forms part of the ancient or medieval Christian liturgies exercises a normative dogmatic effect on officially defined Christian belief.” The legends of her falling asleep in Jerusalem, of the apostles’ miraculously being gathered to her deathbed, of the funeral cortege, the smiting off of Anthonius’ hand (cf. God’s smiting Uzzah for touching the Ark), and the discovery of the flowers in her sarcophagus, present a stylised and probably embellished retelling of the event. All we really know, however, is that at the end of her earthly pilgrimage, she was assumed body and soul into heaven and there lives in the glory of the resurrection. The Church does not insist that it happened in Gethsemane, nor that we must take the Eastern liturgical references as definitive.

    The notion that there was a parallel “Ascension” of the Virgin Mary witnessed by the Apostles is unknown in the East, where it would presumably have happened.

    We must reject any notion that the Assumption was a parallel “Ascension,” since Jesus ascended on His own power, whereas Mary was assumed, taken, by God’s power.

    Two summers ago I was blessed to celebrate the Dormition with a Byzantine Catholic community, and the priest in his homily carefully presented the doctrine that, whether or not Mary died, she certainly did not “die” — her departure from this world cannot rightly be called “death.” His emphasis was not, as Mr. Hysell’s, on the contentious point of the nature of the end of her earthly life, instead showing it as a mystery that in the end cannot be comprehended. As he presented it, what is important aren’t the nature or details of how her earthly existence ended, but the fact that God did not allow her body to undergo corruption, but has granted her the glory of the resurrection in anticipation of the glory that God wishes all of us to enjoy.

    I found his approach to the question to be somewhat surprising, as I had thought Eastern Catholics focus more on the event of the Dormition and generally believe that Mary did die: instead he insisted she didn’t die, sounding rather like a Western Catholic. It was a neat and balanced synthesis, I thought, of the traditional view of her Dormition and the more recent emphasis on her glorification that is found in certain Latin writers: she died, but did not really die.

  76. Erick says:

    The fact remains M.G. Hysell:

    Truth without charity is not very Christian… and that is how you spoke.

    I think it would be wise for you to think about how much better your dialogue would have been received, if you had actually spoken with love instead of acidic hatred?

  77. From the earlier post, and, again, thanks for the homily on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Fr Z:

    East and West, and whatever mix in between, have nothing to argue about on this one.

    The Immaculate, Virgin Mary, Mother of God, assumed soul and body into heaven, was not subject to death since she was not affected by original sin. Nor could she just will herself to death to be like her Son.

    Instead, a sword of sorrow did pierce her heart not only upon Calvary, but also in an ongoing Gethsemane of seeing the indifference of man to God’s love for us. This clarity, and, because of that, sorrow, is enough to kill anyone. It is said that Christ would have died of a broken Heart even if He was not crucified, for the agony that He suffered in Gethsemane with the sweat of blood is possible, but does such damage to the heart that it is impossible to survive.

    O.K. But, anyway, regardless of that, even if Mary were only wisked up to heaven, she would still have to change, as Saint Paul says, in the twinkling of an eye, a change which is as good as death, a change transforming the body into a spiritual body, able to take in the beatific vision.

    Again, I don’t think that the East and the West have much to argue about on this one. It’s a matter of love with the Blessed Mother. Hasn’t it always been that way? Just look at her Son, so much like His Mother, and the Mother, so much like her Son!

    Cheers!

  78. Kradcliffe says:

    I’m surprised you gave him any time at all. Couldn’t you smell the crazy from his very first paragraph? I fear the crazy and try to avoid it whenever possible.

    I’ll bet this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sort of emails you get on a regular basis. Hoo-boy! LOL

  79. Dominic says:

    Perhaps I’m missing something here, but Mr. Hysell’s reference to canon 750 seems rather to work against his argument than for it.

  80. MJL says:

    Tom McKenna:
    It is, as Fr. Z states, an open question. I personally lean towards Our Lady not experiencing death for this reason:

    She was preserved entirely from Original Sin. Death is a consequence and part of the punishment for Original Sin. For Our Lady to have undergone death, therefore, is inconsistent with her preservation from Original Sin.

    Tom, I too have long agreed with this simple reasoning. I wonder whether some clever theologian might find some mileage in revisiting the distinction between “death” and “corruption/decay” to help us find a way forward. There’s an interesting phrase in the (OF) Preface to the Mass of the Assumption of the BVM:

    “Quoniam Virgo Deipara hodie in caelos assumpta est, Ecclesiae tuae consummandae initium et imago, ac populo peregrinanti certae spei et solacii documentum; corruptionem enim sepulcri eam videre merito noluisti, quae Filium tuum, vitae omnis auctorem, ineffabiliter de se genuit incarnatum.”

    [In its rather bald translation]:
    “Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way. You would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your Son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the Incarnation.”

    This could chime with the earlier point made by Deusdonat about St Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that the sinless God died on the Cross for us – so why not Our Lady? Interesting one for the theologians…

  81. quodvultis says:

    Truly pompous stuff! I fear that some of our oriental brethren have a chip on the shoulder, a sort of poor relation complex (even when no-one mentions the U-word)…

    But what really tickles me is this typo: “[…] retained by the Eastern Christians when referring to the passing of this LIE of one of the baptised”: breathtakingly funny!

    I know, I know, I’m showing signs of triviality…

  82. Fr. Angel says:

    Wow. My head was spinning from M.G. Hysell’s first post when the second came along. What could have been an opportunity for apologies and clarifications turned into another spewing of attack on Fr. Z for basically being born and continuing to exist. M.G. Hysell’s second post, like the first, is a verbal rampage of complaints that has no focus and therefore cannot be the starting point for meaningful theological discussion.

    Among the concerns listed are that the Byzantine patrimony of the Church has been ignored, that Eastern Catholics are treated as second-class citizens, that belief in the death of the Mother of God is not forcefully taught because it is an undefined doctrine, that Fr. Z is popular on his own blog and people rushed to defend him (on his own blog), that people did not address sufficiently the themes of Byzantine liturgy, the Fathers, and iconography, that non-theologians teach about liturgy, that posters did not sufficiently address the “monuments of Tradition,” that those who desire a “reform of the reform” are a caustic, sarcastic clique whose style has clouded the purity of the Message in San Francisco, that a priest should prefer to be called presbyter, otherwise he will think he is a sacramental vending machine before he is a teacher of the faith, that people should know that the Council of Orange was needed to know which of Augustine’s teachings would be rejected, that if Calvin is opposed on predestination than Aquinas should make you nervous as well, and that the Holy See shows not one iota of consternation that there is an epiphathios with Mary as the subject, thus Fr. Z could certainly be wrong as well!! And if each poster does not address each of these concerns, but sidesteps, it certainly shows there is no mystagogy and therefore no point in liturgy.

    Whew. I am tired just thinking about all the evils in the Church caused by Fr. Z, who if we investigated could possibly be blamed also for the low birth rate in China and Hurricane Fay hitting Florida. [Yah… sorry about all that! o{]:¬) ]

  83. Cassandra says:

    Jordanes,

    Looks like “Tim’s” comment got deleted so I don’t know what his argument was, but I don’t think you should back off from the statement that Mary “suffered” death versus “undergoing” it (see Adrian I below).

    In your arguments that avoiding the “corruption of the tomb” (Munificentissimus Deus) can be interpreted as avoiding death, you’re confusing concern over death with concern over corruption of the body. As Pius II says “it was not difficult for them to admit that the great Mother of God, …, had actually passed from this life.” It was the corruption of her body in the grave that they rejected and the horror that Mary’s body would be “reduced to dust and ashes” or “given over to worms”. (There is a parallel in the miracles of the “incorruptible” saints. It is not that the saints did not die that testifies to their holiness, but that God preserves their bodies). Note that Pius XII lays out in #4 and #5 that in the Assumption she was exempted from the rule that “the bodies of even the just are corrupted after death.” “She was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body.” This is the context of the declaration of MD; the presumption that she did die and would ordinarily decay.

    While you are technically correct that “corruption of the tomb” in #26 and #38 does not explicitly assert she had been in the tomb, it does not really make sense to speak in those terms a person who escaped death. Why be concerned about escaping the corruption of decay if you escaped death itself? JPII makes reference to this in #4 of his 25 June 1997 catechesis: “how could the information about [escaping death] have remained hidden…and not passed down to us?” While we could only know by Faith that she had been assumed (#12), the witnesses could have known naturally that she had died.

    You also overlook explicit references to being “in the tomb” in the quotes Pius XII chooses (#21, #22, etc). Choosing such texts is a way of affirming them if no correction is offered for deviant points. In #16, Pius XII testifies that the sacred liturgy “can supply proofs and testimonies of no small value” and then goes on in #17 to quote Pope Adrian I’s sacramentary on the assumption that “this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death”. (and I don’t have space here to fully unpack all of Munificentissimus Deus).

    Neither can JPII’s 25 June 1997 catechesis be so easily dismissed. While not “infallible” in its context, JPII is clearly teaching not only in the context of MD but interpreting Pius XII’s statements. He is offering this as a rebuttal to those using MD as a justification for being able to question her death. While I suppose that juridically speaking you and Fr. Z are technically correct that no one can be convicted of heresy for denying she died, are they then “free” to deny? But is denying her death “freedom” or an abuse of it? Were people free in 324 A.D to deny homoousious or in 430 AD to deny Theotokos or in 1949 the Assumption? I supposed you and Fr. Z would have to say “yes” to be consistent. And yet Pius XII points out in #36, that even though the Assumption had yet to be declared dogmatic, some considered questioning it to be “temerarious, if not heretical.” He quotes St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597!) “that those who deny [the Assumption] are not to be listened to patiently but are everywhere to be denounced as over-contentious or rash men, and as imbued with a spirit that is heretical rather than Catholic.”

    So I ask again, are people really free to deny the long tradition of the bodily death of Mary? I’d say no. They are asserting an additional miracle, and the burden of proof is on the one who asserts. They’re abusing the fact that the Church doesn’t throw out formal dogmatic pronouncements except to quell confusion and stop dissension, rather than as an ordinary teaching vehicle.

  84. ansjo says:

    I think the tone of the e-mail Fr Z received was unnecessarily harsh and it’s unfortunate this joyful feast has occasioned dissensions among us.

    I do think the ‘monuments of Tradition’ strongly suggest that Mary died. Perhaps we Latins are guilty from time to time of not taking the Eastern witness to Tradition as seriously as we ought.

    (As an aside, the Assumption collect from the Sarum rite:

    Assist us on the way towards everlasting life, O Lord: by this solemn feast day whereon we do call to mind how the holy Mother of God underwent temporal death; and how nevertheless death might not bind in bonds her who bare in the flesh thine only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who.. )

    But equally one is not a heretic for denying Mary’s death, subject to further dogmatic clarification by the Church. And Fr Z is, after all, a priest of the western Church and is entitled to present the thinking of the west on this matter, which is not completely unambiguous.

    The most important thing, which we are bound to believe, and celebrate, is that Mary is glorified in body and soul in heaven. Gaudeamus!

  85. Cassandra says:

    BTW, as posted by someone else above JPII’s 25 June 1997 catechesis is available here : http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1997/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_25061997_en.html
    I couldn’t get the anchor tag to work.

  86. Jan says:

    As Fr Z says, whether Our Lady died or not is not a dogma of the Church but Pope Pius XII solemnly proclaimed the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a dogma that all Catholics must believe: “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” (Munificen­tissimus Deus, #44; reaffirmed at Vatican II in Lumen Gentium, #59).

    I wonder if M.G. Hysell is not, in fact, one of these female “priestesses”. He certainly seems to have it in for Fr Z. I suggest he or she not read Fr Z’s postings. I certainly wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t in conformity to my beliefs. On the contrary, I find Fr Z’s blog a wonderful oasis in the desert that the Church has largely become thanks to the sandalistas – the lack of reverence to and believe in the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament and the attempt to protestantise the Church.

    M.G. Hysell’s comments: “I’m nauseated by the caustic language and biting sarcasm that is often so characteristic of the conservative party and especially of the “reform of the reform” clique (or as I prefer to call it, the counter-reform). People such as Zuhlsdorf, Trigilio, Mother Angelica, H.E. +Fabian Bruskewitz, Fessio and many others, have turned off so many people to an otherwise worthy cause.” put him/her firmly in the camp of the modernists as far as I’m concerned. Keep up the good work Fr Z. We need priests like you to light the way. God bless you.

  87. Jan says:

    Doing a little research on the Internet I found that M.G. Hysell is in fact one of the founding members of the Mark Seven Bible Institute. I can now understand his comments re: “People such as Zuhlsdorf, Trigilio, Mother Angelica, H.E. +Fabian Bruskewitz, Fessio …” having read some of the material on the the Mark Seven Bible Insitute: “Since we are gathered to study the Bible, special attention is given to the instructions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and reputable Catholic biblical scholars such as Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Roland Murphy, Rudolph Schnackenburg, and many others. And, recognizing our shared grace of baptism, we also attend to the solid research of Evangelical Protestants such as Oscar Cullmann, Joachim Jeremias, Daniel B. Wallace, and Carsten Theide.

    By moving away from a superficial religiosity, we work hard to establish an evangelization of culture, first at the personal level, and then culture at the level of family, society, and the world. By placing ourselves “in touch with the sacred text itself,” we are equipped to renovate ourselves with the help of sanctifying grace for a life that makes the Gospel contagious.”

    It always helps to know where such bloggers are coming from.

  88. Baron Korf says:

    Question:

    Does death mean cessation of bodily functions, separation of body and soul, or both? And how do these terms refer to our Blessed Mother?

  89. Here is the text of Pope John Paul II’s General Audience address linked above:

    POPE JOHN PAUL II

    GENERAL AUDIENCE

    Wednesday, 25 June 1997

     

    Mary and the human drama of death

    1. Concerning the end of Mary’s earthly life, the Council uses the terms of the Bull defining the dogma of the Assumption and states: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over” (Lumen gentium, n. 59). With this formula, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, following my Venerable Predecessor Pius XII, made no pronouncement on the question of Mary’s death. Nevertheless, Pius XII did not intend to deny the fact of her death, but merely did not judge it opportune to affirm solemnly the death of the Mother of God as a truth to be accepted by all believers.

    Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century, whereas a common tradition actually exists which sees Mary’s death as her entry into heavenly glory.

    2. Could Mary of Nazareth have experienced the drama of death in her own flesh? Reflecting on Mary’s destiny and her relationship with her divine Son, it seems legitimate to answer in the affirmative: since Christ died, it would be difficult to maintain the contrary for his Mother.

    The Fathers of the Church, who had no doubts in this regard, reasoned along these lines. One need only quote St Jacob of Sarug (†521), who wrote that when the time came for Mary “to walk on the way of all generations”, the way, that is, of death, “the group of the Twelve Apostles” gathered to bury “the virginal body of the Blessed One” (Discourse on the burial of the Holy Mother of God, 87-99 in C. Vona, Lateranum 19 [1953], 188). St Modestus of Jerusalem (†634), after a lengthy discussion of “the most blessed dormition of the most glorious Mother of God”, ends his eulogy by exalting the miraculous intervention of Christ who “raised her from the tomb”, to take her up with him in glory (Enc. in dormitionem Deiparae semperque Virginis Mariae, nn. 7 and 14: PG 86 bis, 3293; 3311). St John Damascene (†704) for his part asks: “Why is it that she who in giving birth surpassed all the limits of nature should now bend to its laws, and her immaculate body be subjected to death?”. And he answers: “To be clothed in immortality, it is of course necessary that the mortal part be shed, since even the master of nature did not refuse the experience of death. Indeed, he died according to the flesh and by dying destroyed death; on corruption he bestowed incorruption and made death the source of resurrection” (Panegyric on the Dormition of the Mother of God, n. 10: SC 80, 107).

    3. It is true that in Revelation death is presented as a punishment for sin. However, the fact that the Church proclaims Mary free from original sin by a unique divine privilege does not lead to the conclusion that she also received physical immortality. The Mother is not superior to the Son who underwent death, giving it a new meaning and changing it into a means of salvation.

    Involved in Christ’s redemptive work and associated in his saving sacrifice, Mary was able to share in his suffering and death for the sake of humanity’s Redemption. What Severus of Antioch says about Christ also applies to her: “Without a preliminary death, how could the Resurrection have taken place?” (Antijulianistica, Beirut 1931, 194f.). To share in Christ’s Resurrection, Mary had first to share in his death.

    4. The New Testament provides no information on the circumstances of Mary’s death. This silence leads one to suppose that it happened naturally, with no detail particularly worthy of mention. If this were not the case, how could the information about it have remained hidden from her contemporaries and not have been passed down to us in some way?

    As to the cause of Mary’s death, the opinions that wish to exclude her from death by natural causes seem groundless. It is more important to look for the Blessed Virgin’s spiritual attitude at the moment of her departure from this world. In this regard, St Francis de Sales maintains that Mary’s death was due to a transport of love. He speaks of a dying “in love, from love and through love”, going so far as to say that the Mother of God died of love for her Son Jesus (Treatise on the Love of God, bk. 7, ch. XIII-XIV).

    Whatever from the physical point of view was the organic, biological cause of the end of her bodily life, it can be said that for Mary the passage from this life to the next was the full development of grace in glory, so that no death can ever be so fittingly described as a “dormition” as hers.

    5. In some of the writings of the Church Fathers we find Jesus himself described as coming to take his Mother at the time of her death to bring her into heavenly glory. In this way they present the death of Mary as an event of love which conducted her to her divine Son to share his immortal life. At the end of her earthly life, she must have experienced, like Paul and more strongly, the desire to be freed from her body in order to be with Christ for ever (cf. Phil 1:23).

    The experience of death personally enriched the Blessed Virgin: by undergoing mankind’s common destiny, she can more effectively exercise her spiritual motherhood towards those approaching the last moment of their life.

  90. Cornelius says:

    It is also noteworthy that the Mark Seven Bible Institute is an apostolate to the
    deaf:

    “As an apostolate of the Deaf Catholic community, the Mark Seven Bible Institute conducts its sessions in American Sign Langauge and maintains formal ties with the International Catholic Deaf Association and the National Catholic Office for the Deaf.”

    It seems like a very good and grace-filled apostolate. It’s a shame that so many
    have been introduced to it through these caustic and uncharitable posts of Mr. Hysell.
    I hope he posts again after modifying his tone.

  91. mike says:

    Father Z

    I’m a little speechless. This sounds like vigorous debate to me! [I think I recognize vigorous debate when I see it. That was simply obnoxious.] I love you and to be honest I’m not feeling the insult. Maybe you don’t have the time or energy now to refute the (pointed) arguement but talk of “shutting down” this voice or “he’s out” seems at least uncharitable if not unfair. [Unfair? This is not a public street corner, friend. This is like walking into my living room, where I permit you to remain as a guest or not.] I have a lot of respect for you and I want to see you as a charitable and fair (to the extent possible) man. WWJD. [That WWJD thing is too easily tossed around.]

    m

  92. Joshua says:

    I thank Fr. Z for posting JPII’s audience. I would also (to put it in scholastic terms) add that the gift of immortality was a preternatural gift to Adam, not something that had to be for human nature. There is no contradiction in the BVM being conceived in the state of justice and grace (original sin is the deprivation of original justice) and yet not having the secondary preternatural gifts that Adam also lost, and even Christ, before His death did not have (immortality, impassibility, perhaps infused knowledge etc). Rather, for those preternatural gifts even Christ underwent death.

    If we remember that pure human nature is not immortal, that on the part of our body death is natural and only has the character of punishment from the fault which lost us a GIFT of immortality, then it is easier to see that Mary’s sinlessness in no way contradicts or even makes unfitting her death. That said, the Church certainly tolerates the opinion that she did not die.

  93. jarhead462 says:

    “I’m nauseated by the caustic language and biting sarcasm that is often so characteristic of the conservative party and especially of the “reform of the reform” clique (or as I prefer to call it, the counter-reform). People such as Zuhlsdorf, Trigilio, Mother Angelica, H.E. +Fabian Bruskewitz, Fessio and many others, have turned off so many people to an otherwise worthy cause.”

    M.G. Hysell has revealed his/her true nature. I smell a rat.

    Semper Fi!

  94. Ron says:

    Just out of curiosity, Fr. Z, what parts of St. Augustine’s theology on predestination would you say the Church does not accept? I know that is way off of what everyone is talking about but I am wondering about it since it was one of his major contributions to the Church’s teaching.

    Thanks!

    Pax Christi tecum.

  95. Geoffrey says:

    I had always thought that whether the Holy Virgin “died” or not was much like the topic of limbo… not official doctrine, can be freely discussed and debated, can be believed or not believed, etc.

  96. Bo says:

    As long as Mary did not die from corruption, which is what I would assume a “natural cause” is, I’m fine with Her being sinless and dying. Again, if we look at Christ, the new Adam, I always assumed (and this may get me in trouble, I admit) that it would have been impossible for him to die through corruption, i.e. what we are all calling natural causes. He had to be killed. Maybe I am making a distinction that doesn’t exist, and to be honest, I am throwing this out here because I would like to hear what people think of it, but it seems to me there are deaths that are attributibal (sp?) to the corruption that comes from sin, and then there is the fact that you can still die if someone cuts your head off, for instance. it is of course difficult because we are getting into areas that are, for the vast majority of humans, exceptions to rules. In the same way that we say that Christ “impassably suffered” (a patristic term, if that makes Eastern people happy) on the Cross due to His unique existence as the God-Man, it seems to me that in the case of Jesus and Mary we must talk about “non-corruptive death” due to their freedom from Original Sin. Therefore, something must be said to the order that although their bodies were able to “change” and thus “suffer” in the obvious senses that they did, and this allows for death to occur, it cannot be the same “suffering” of “corruption” that wages between our body and souls.

    I’m sorry if this is a jumbled mess…do please comment and let me know where my logic is flying in different directions…

  97. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Dear Thomas,

    In the same homily, Saint John Damascene goes on to say (no. 16):

    “But thou, o most sacred of holy sepulchers, (after that of the Lord, which gave the beginning of life, and was the fountain of the Resurrection,) I speak to thee as to a living being: where is the gold which the hands of the Apostles laid up within the thee? Where are the riches which cannot be consumed? Where is that precious trewasure which recived Life? Where is the new volume upon which the Word of God was ineffably written?… (The tomb answers) Why do you seek in the sepulcher Her that was translated to the celestial dwelling-places? Why do you ask of me an account of my guardianship? I cannot resist the divine commands. The sacred and holy body, which imparted holiness also to me, …having abandoned its shrouds, has gone away, being rapt on high, accompanied by the Angels, the Archangels, and all the heavenly powers.”

    This passage is in the Monastic Breviary on August 17th, the third day within the octave of the Assumption, and in others breviaries as well, such as that of the Cathedral of Florence. (It does not occur in the Roman Breviary, because the day is impeded by the feast of St. Hyacinth, or the Octave day of St. Laurence.) It was retained in the Monastic Breviary, the most widely diffused in the church after the Roman, even when the new office of the Assumption was promulgated in 1951.

    It is perhaps worth noting that St. John was part of the clergy of the See of Jerusalem; the patristic scholar Fulbert Cayre describes him as a spokesman for the Patriarch of Jerusalem. As such, he was very familiar with the traditions of that church; when he speaks to the tomb, comparing it to the Holy Sepucher itself, he is probably not speaking in the abstract, but referring to an actual site known as the Tomb of the Virgin. I only point this out as an example of the fact that the Blessed Virgin’s mortality is (not in a definitive way, of course) well attested in the public liturgy of the Church – more respectfully, I hope, than one who seems to aspire to be the Charles Kingsley of our times.

  98. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Sorry, I meant to write “well-attested in the public liturgy of the LATIN Church.”

  99. Ed the Roman says:

    My great concern in this regard is to live so as to be able to ask Her in person which way it happened.

  100. Tom says:

    “So I ask again, are people really free to deny the long tradition of the bodily death of Mary? I’d say no. They are asserting an additional miracle, and the burden of proof is on the one who asserts. They’re abusing the fact that the Church doesn’t throw out formal dogmatic pronouncements except to quell confusion and stop dissension, rather than as an ordinary teaching vehicle.”

    Comment by Cassandra

    You’d say no, but the Church has not said “no.” You can maintain the view you express, and it may in fact be the majority opinion amongst theologians. However, like someone here who mentioned Limbo, the matter is not definitively settled, and is an open question.

    Moreover, the positing of “an additional miracle” is in fact what proponents of Our Lady’s death are doing, since we know that Our Lady was free from the stain and effects of Original Sin– she would not suffer death unless it be by some desire on her part which was ratified by some special “miracle” of God to allow her to undergo a death not otherwise in accord with her preservation from Original Sin.

    In other words, the miracle would be her undergoing death despite her lack of Original Sin; the “ordinary” course of things would be that she not suffer death.

  101. John Enright says:

    Mr. Hysell referred to Fr. Z as “a sacramental vending machine.” That’s not being pushy; its downright insulting to the highest degree. Ever notice that when a debater starts to lose an argument, his or her entire argument tends toward ad hominum attacks?

  102. Focusing on the issue of Mary’s death (granted, this is demanded by the letter to Fr. Z that began the discussion), we fail to grapple with the purpose of the definition of the Assumption of the Mother of God as a dogma of the Church.

    The Popes have infrequently employed ex cathedra statements; it is reasonable to suppose that the popes are so moved by the Holy Spirit because of an issue of great import for the Church.

    I think that it may be that the reason the Pope Pius XII was moved to make this definition about the Assumption (and that Pius IX was similarly inspired) was to counteract the rise of ideas which are poisonous to Christian faith.

    In the 19th century, during the birthing of modernism and revolution, Pius IX defined the Immaculate Conception, which, while affirming the sinlessness of the Holy Virgin also affirmed the sinfulness of the rest of us. Which of course was precisely the opposite of the founding principle of the modernist philosophies, which see man as inherently good and perfectable on his own initiative.

    Then in the 20th century, Pius XII defines the Assumption, which affirms not only Mary’s glorification, but also confirms the essential goodness of the human body…for it is not to some spiritual, disembodied heaven that we are destined, but to a resurrected state. And this definition also came just as the new gnosticism of the New Age was gathering steam to assault the world with its heretical ideas about the goodness of the flesh (with the same strange results as early gnosticism and albigensianism).

    Just as Mary was acclaimed Theotokos or Mother of God, not so much for her own glory as the glory of her Son, and to affirm the unity of his person, so these dogmas not only affirm a truth about Mary, but about humanity of which she, as the icon of the Church, is the exemplar.

  103. Ohio Annie says:

    Father,
    A flow matrix is a new name for a flow chart, which shows the logical steps of a process, in this case Church authority. [Ah! Thanks!]

  104. Jordanes says:

    Cassandra said: Looks like “Tim’s” comment got deleted so I don’t know what his argument was, but I don’t think you should back off from the statement that Mary “suffered” death versus “undergoing” it (see Adrian I below).

    No, Tim Ferguson’s comment is still there, but he didn’t actually lay out an argument per se regarding whether or not it is accurate to use the word “suffer” when talking about Mary’s death. I can gather what he was getting at though: if Mary died, it wasn’t a death that entailed punishment for sin, pain, fear or anxiety. The quote from the sacramentary can be read with that same understanding.

    In your arguments that avoiding the “corruption of the tomb” (Munificentissimus Deus) can be interpreted as avoiding death, you’re confusing concern over death with concern over corruption of the body.

    No I’m not. As my comments indicate, I was and am well aware of the distinction between death and corruption.

    This is the context of the declaration of MD; the presumption that she did die and would ordinarily decay.

    More accurately, the context is the common belief that she did die, a belief that Pius XII did not question. But Pius XII prescinded from the question of how her earthly existence ended, when he could have spoken more clearly. If he had wished to rule out the minority opinion that she didn’t die at all, he could easily have done so. He limited himself to defining the Assumption as dogma.

    JPII makes reference to this in #4 of his 25 June 1997 catechesis: “how could the information about [escaping death] have remained hidden…and not passed down to us?” While we could only know by Faith that she had been assumed (#12), the witnesses could have known naturally that she had died.

    Those are among the reasons I think it is most probable that she did die. But while the favored position is that Mary died, the Church has not settled that question, nor does She reprobate the minority opinion that Mary didn’t die. We really know nothing of the circumstance of how her earthly existence ended. For all we know, her falling asleep was not death, but appeared to the witnesses to have been so. I don’t find that terribly likely or persuasive, but there it is.

    Neither can JPII’s 25 June 1997 catechesis be so easily dismissed. While not “infallible” in its context, JPII is clearly teaching not only in the context of MD but interpreting Pius XII’s statements. He is offering this as a rebuttal to those using MD as a justification for being able to question her death.

    I’m not sure his catechesis was offered as a “rebuttal,” and again I note that John Paul II could have settled the question but declined to do so.

    While I suppose that juridically speaking you and Fr. Z are technically correct that no one can be convicted of heresy

    Nor even be accused of heresy.

    for denying she died, are they then “free” to deny? But is denying her death “freedom” or an abuse of it?

    This isn’t a matter of legal loopholes, it’s about charity and generosity in upholding all that the Church demands and allowing all that the Church allows.

    And yet Pius XII points out in #36, that even though the Assumption had yet to be declared dogmatic, some considered questioning it to be “temerarious, if not heretical.” He quotes St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597!) “that those who deny [the Assumption] are not to be listened to patiently but are everywhere to be denounced as over-contentious or rash men, and as imbued with a spirit that is heretical rather than Catholic.”

    Are there are any statements of saints, or any magisterial declarations, condemning those who say that Mary never tasted death? There may be, but I’m not aware of any.

    So I ask again, are people really free to deny the long tradition of the bodily death of Mary? I’d say no.

    But it’s not up to us, it’s up to the Church, who has not yet, as far as I know, reined in those who believe Mary didn’t die.

    They’re abusing the fact that the Church doesn’t throw out formal dogmatic pronouncements except to quell confusion and stop dissension, rather than as an ordinary teaching vehicle.

    It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say, as many have, that the Church doesn’t make formal dogmatic pronouncements except to quell confusion and stop dissension. That has been the general rule, but there wasn’t much, if any, confusion and dissension in the Church regarding the Assumption when the Holy Father pronounced the dogma. Anyway, I think those who believe Mary did not die ought to give serious consideration to the evidence provided by the Fathers and the liturgy, supported by the tradition of sacred art. The Church permits them to think otherwise on this question, but the weight of the evidence is not in their favor.

  105. Patrick T says:

    If “dormition” means death, then why did the early Church use this word? Why didn’t they just say death? It would seem that this word was employed specifically to indicate something other than death. Why do we not speak of any other dormition’s of saints? Why do we only hear of their deaths?

    Because of the word use itself, I think we can conclude that Mary almost certainly did not die before she was assumed into Heaven.

    What am I missing here?

  106. Deusdonat says:

    Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century,

    I reiterate: beware of creeping innovation.

  107. Father Z,

    I cannot believe I completely missed this posting, but I have been a tad busy pastorally with the Feast going on last week and other sundry things…

    I echo the sentiments here which regard Mr. Hysell’s tone as haughty and offensive to a worthy priest who has labored to communicate faithfully the mind of the Church – including the Fathers – to so many. Your Rosary project especially is worthy of great respect, and hopefully frequent use on the part of devout Latin Catholics. I think he needs to apologize for his manner of speaking to you.

    That said, I am more sympathetic to his main point, which is to say that the fact of Mary’s “falling asleep” in death cannot simply be regarded (or discarded) as theological opinion. The very fact that it has been received into a legitimate Catholic liturgical tradition since about the 7th century gives it greater magisterial weight than simply one person’s “opinion”. Even Pius XII acknowledged that the liturgy is the most common expression of the Church’s magisterium. Not everything that has been defined authoritatively as part of Holy Tradition has been done so as a result of a papal encyclical or a conciliar canon. The liturgy itself is magisterial, and the various Eastern traditions of the Church have been clear on this point regarding the venerable end of the life of the Theotokos.

    So it is not a question of the need for an infallibile definition per se, but rather what has been taught authoritatively by the Church. As a Byzantine and a faithful Catholic, I believe that the Dormition of the Theotokos – without corruption and with her subsequent translation and glorification into heaven – has been taught authoritatively by the Catholic Church by virtue of its canonical establishment as one of the Great Feasts of the Church’s year. [Fair enough. BTW… I should point out that I haven’t said what I think about this issue! – Fr. Z ]

    In ICXC,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

    PS: I will lay out the arguments made for the “fittingness” of the Dormition later. I believe that there is a way to reconcile this feast with the teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

  108. dm says:

    The Dormition may not be explicitly defined as dogma, but it’s the only explanation of the Dogma of the Assumption that has any ancient pedigree.

    The comparison to Augustinian writings on predestination isn’t very good, because those writings were contrary to a broader patristic consensus.

    Is there ANY witness from the fathers, either in theology, iconography or liturgy that would support a different explanation? Or is there a unanimous consent of the fathers on the matter?

  109. Bo says:

    “Some theologians have in fact maintained that the Blessed Virgin did not die and and was immediately raised from earthly life to heavenly glory. However, this opinion was unknown until the 17th century,

    I reiterate: beware of creeping innovation.”

    yeah, like the progressive use of Aristotle. We all know how bad that went. :)

  110. Ron says:

    I don’t see how St. Augustine’s teaching on predestination “were contrary to a broader patristic consensus.” What was the consensus he was contradicting?

    Pax Christi tecum.

  111. Tina in Ashburn says:

    I am very interested in this clarifying discussion on tradition, approach, and specific teachings on Mary and her feasts. Its too bad Hysell sunk to personal attacks and some mean statements. Ironic how Hysell takes others to task for the same thing! I hope the rest of us can refrain from doing the same here.

    Particularly helpful are the comments on What Does The document, teaching, tradition, Really Say.

    As far as NOT dying, there’s the example of Elias in his chariot, even before we were redeemed.

    Reading these posts, I can understand how Mary may have died, but not as we normally think of death. As the child raised from the dead that Jesus described as ‘sleeping’, there was precedent for this. It makes sense that Mary could not suffer corruption. And like her Son, she went to heaven after three days. She is in heaven glorified while the exact details of how her body changed in death is fuzzy.

    I am very grateful for our Byzantine ‘lung’ of the Church. They have preserved many good things that allowed many dispossessed Latin riters a place of refuge [for me and my son] during the chaos of abuses in the Latin rite. Their depth of thinking and devotion offers a refreshing perspective from Western methods.

    Just because the tradition is old or Byzantine doesn’t mean it isn’t susceptible to error. I understand that there is a tradition in the Eastern Church that St Joseph was married before the betrothal to Mary. Considering the Latin tradition of St Joseph’s chastity and his statues holding the lily of chastity, this is a tough one to accept. Although the definition of “chastity” doesn’t necessarily mean ‘virginity’, I still cannot understand how the Byzantines can be right about this. Considering this, I wonder if there’s equal fuzziness about the end of Mary’s life permeating Byzantine belief.

  112. Tina says:

    I don’t have much to add, not taking a theology class since high school.
    However, I would like you all to contemplate this thought that I hazily remember. We call when Christ went to Heaven the Ascension. We call when Mary went to Heaven the Assumption. Now the Church tends to get picky about what we call things and the use of language. Since they are named 2 different things, something different must have occurred at each one. The question is what?

    If Mary didn’t die and just went to Heaven, why don’t we call it the Ascension of Mary?

  113. Deusdonat says:

    TINA – very good points : )

  114. Jordanes says:

    Patrick asked: If “dormition” means death, then why did the early Church use this word?

    Because Christians don’t “die” in the usual sense. We have eternal life through faith in Jesus. That is why the New Testament often says “fell asleep” instead of “died,” or “them that sleep in Jesus” instead of “dead Christians.” [Indeed, sometimes we refer to their death as “birth”, as in the case of the death of saints, dies natalicia.]

    It would seem that this word was employed specifically to indicate something other than death.

    Or that their deaths are something different than the deaths of those who do not have faith in Jesus.

    Why do we not speak of any other dormitions of saints?

    The Eastern Churches not only celebrate the Dormition of the Mother of God, but also the Dormition of St. Anne, Mother of the Theotokos. In addition, the account of St. Stephen’s martyrdom in the Book of Acts does not say, “He died.” It says, “He fell asleep.” But there is no doubt that St. Stephen died.

    Because of the word use itself, I think we can conclude that Mary almost certainly did not die before she was assumed into Heaven.

    No, that’s not right at all.

  115. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    Mr. Hysell, your incivility and disrespect is inexcusable and makes godly discussion impossible. I say this as one who agrees with the substance of your argument.

    I agree with you that it is insufficient to say that the Mary’s death is an open question, as if it were simply a matter of theological speculation and scholastic logic. Whether Mary in fact died or did not die is a matter of history. Theologians cannot change history by the logic of their arguments. [Good point. And we don’t have much historical evidence.] For example, the argument of one of the commentators above that “She was preserved entirely from Original Sin. Death is a consequence and part of the punishment for Original Sin. For Our Lady to have undergone death, therefore, is inconsistent with her preservation from Original Sin” may be commendable for its desire to honor the Blessed Virgin, but it lacks grounding in any kind of historical witness. Theology cannot invent facts. Neither logic nor piety can alter the apostolic revelation. As John Henry Newman writes, “The Church does not know more than the Apostles knew.”

    How can the Church know that Mary was assumed into heaven? Presumably because people were present who witnessed her bodily disappearance, either alive or shortly after her death, or at least witnessed her empty tomb. Thus when Emperor Marcian asked the the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol, the patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that “Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later … was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.” The dormition of the Theotokos and her assumption into heaven are intrinsically and historically linked; both are grounded on the witness of the Apostles as passed down to us in Holy Tradition. In my opinion, to deny the dormition of the Blessed Virgin is to attack the historical memory of the Church upon which the dogma of the Assumption is grounded. [Strong point.]

    This is not a matter of resolving conflicting witnesses within the tradition, as if conflicting contemporaneous accounts of the end of Mary’s earthly life can be cited. If John Paul is correct, the claim that Mary did not die did not appear in the Church until the 17th century, whereas before that all Christians believed, taught, and celebrated her dormition. On what basis is this common tradition of the dormition, which the Eastern Church most certainly considers to be a dogmatic fact, to be set aside? Has there been a new revelation? Of course not! I do not see how one can deny the death of the Blessed Virgin without at the same time undermining the dogma of the Assumption. [Interesting.] This is why I do not consider this an open question, even though the Magisterium has refrained until now from correcting those who have advanced the novel opinion that Mary did not suffer death. Pope John Paul II’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin was profound and deep, but as his catechetical lecture (cited above) makes clear, he recognized that the assertion of Mary’s dormition is grounded in the apostolic witness and well accords with story of redemption: “To share in Christ’s Resurrection, Mary had first to share in his death.”

  116. Peter says:

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments here, so perhaps what I will say has already been mentioned.

    Someone above made a comment to the effect that the truth about Mary’s death had not been revealed privately. I checked last night and this isn’t correct. According to the “Mystical City of God” (http://www.themostholyrosary.com/mystical-city.htm) Mary revealed to Ven. Mary of Jesus of Agreda that she did die. In the TAN book version it is on pages 629-630 of volume 4. According to this account she was given the choice of dying or not, and in imitation of Jesus she chose to experience death.

    I know that this is only a private revelation, but it should at least be mentioned.

  117. Jordanes says:

    Tina asked: If Mary didn’t die and just went to Heaven, why don’t we call it the Ascension of Mary?

    Because “ascension” means “climbing,” and carries the connotation of doing so under one’s own power, whereas “assumption” means “taking,” and doesn’t necessarily have the connotation of moving on one’s own power, but of being carried by someone else’s power. Mary’s Assumption was solely by grace, and therefore it would be mistaken to call it an “Ascension,” and it would also blur the fact that Jesus, in both His divinity and His glorified human nature, ascended to heaven by His own power, whereas Mary’s body and soul could not have gone to heaven unless God accomplished it for her.

  118. Jordanes says:

    P.S. Remember that Enoch and Elijah also were taken to heaven without dying. Just being taken to heaven without dying does not make it “Ascension,” and calling it “Assumption” doesn’t necessarily mean there was a death, just as calling it “Dormition” doesn’t necessarily mean there was no death (quite the contrary: the usual connotation of “dormition” is that there really was a separation of soul and body).

  119. Deusdonat says:

    Fr Alvin Kimel – I agree with your post wholeheartedly and am grateful there is someone who has the scholarship, tact and authority to articulate what I could not. Thank you so much for that.

    The arguments used as “well, the church hasn’t said it infallibly (yet), so I’m gong to believe “x” in spite of logic, tradition and fact” is just not reliable, and I would argue that it is indeed a very dangerous and slippery slope.

  120. Bo says:

    I was joking with the Aristotle bit, but it does seem to me that we can treat something like the 17th century “immortalist” position charitably by asking what their concerns are, being that they have not been deemed heritics, instead of calling it simply “creeping innovation” as if these people wanted to innovate for the sake of innovation. Let us assume that the overwhelming evidence presented so far is true and does point to the Virgin’s death (which, unless someone has another tradition heretofor not pointed out, I must say I am rather convinced). But in assuming that, we do not have to squash the “immortalist” or the concerns of those who press the effect of the Immaculate Conception so easily. The next step would be to talk about how it is that Mary’s sinlessness squares with the fact that she died. That to me seems like the interesting question. We have private revelation that says she chose this death, but even then, there is a subsequent theological question to be asked that is not, in my mind, innovative, but simply an attempt to reconcile two things the Church holds dear to Her heart: the dormition and the Immaculate Conception. This seems to me to be a very pregnant subject that theologians could actually debate in all charity, about how these two things square away with each other. However, if someone has already dealt with this question, I would love to hear from them as well…

  121. Deusdonat says:

    BO – you’re of course free to choose whatever words you’d like. But I stand by mine. I have never been affraid of calling a spade a spade. And by definition, the relatively recent advent of the immortalist view is innovation (i.e. “something new or different introduced”). If you choose to associate a negative connotation to the word, then that is your choice.

  122. Cassandra says:

    Tom said….
    Moreover, the positing of “an additional miracle” is in fact what proponents of Our Lady’s death are doing, since we know that Our Lady was free from the stain and effects of Original Sin—she would not suffer death unless it be by some desire on her part which was ratified by some special “miracle” of God to allow her to undergo a death not otherwise in accord with her preservation from Original Sin.

    Quite the contrary. You are making a leap in assuming that the Immaculate Conception granted Our Lady immortality. That is not immediately supportable. As JPII said in #3 (posted above by Fr. Z):
    “the fact that the Church proclaims Mary free from original sin by a unique divine privilege does not lead to the conclusion that she also received physical immortality”.

    Additionally, Mary is called Queen of the Martyrs. So where is her martyrdom? As explained to me by a reliable source, her martyrdom was at the Cross where she would have perished from grief had she not been miraculously preserved. Thus, like martyrs are often shown with the instruments of martyrdom, she is sometimes portrayed with the seven swords of sorrow. (I’m not presenting this paragraph as conclusive).

    So it’s back to you Tom to back up your assertion that Mary would have been immortal. And still leaving it to the deniers to prove that she didn’t die.

  123. Bo says:

    Deusdonat

    come on now, I’m not trying to play word games with you or be coy. But calling a “spade a spade” is not the summation of all that is involved here. Yes, the immortalist view is an “innovation,” but why? Innovation, you must admit, has the connotation in many of the discussions we have around this blog of not only something negative, but an innovation either a) for the sake of innovation itself, or b) for, however you want to put it, “primitivist” reasons (I think Reid calls this archeologicalism…and yes, i have no clue how to spell that). My point is only to say that this “innovation” seems to be coming from a different place than what we ussually deem “innovations” in the discussions on this blog. I may be wrong, but my impression was that the immoralist view stems from concerns of the lack of Original Sin implying the lack of death on the part of the Virgin. If this is the case, and they have not been deemed heretics for having this concern, your side, which has the stronger evidence, should have the resources to account for this counter-claim as well. All I am saying is that this would be an intersting and fruitful discussion. i’m not playing semantics.

  124. Jordanes says:

    And still leaving it to the deniers to prove that she didn’t die.

    Well, it’s going to be pretty difficult to prove that — probably more difficult than prove that she died, which is also something that very easy to do. The traditional view has far better support, I think, but I’m not sure it is conclusive. It could be that the Church has left the question undefined because it does not touch on the deposit of faith.

  125. Jordanes says:

    Make that: “probably more difficult than proving that she died, which is also something not that very easy to do”

  126. aelianus says:

    If the Fathers are unanimous then surely the doctrine of the Dormition must be held regardless of whether it has been formally defined?

    “I also admit the Holy Scripture according to that sense which our holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, to whom it belongeth to judge of the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures. Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” The Creed of Trent

  127. Cassandra says:

    Jordanes said …
    Remember that Enoch and Elijah also were taken to heaven without dying.

    It is purely speculation that they did not experience death in the process.

    Are there are any statements of saints, or any magisterial declarations, condemning those who say that Mary never tasted death? There may be, but I’m not aware of any.

    You are missing the point of Pius XII and Peter Canisius. Pius XII didn’t just drop that quote into a dogmatic document for filler. He’s making a point about people contentiously disputing tradition, especially that which has been expounded in the Liturgy which “springs [from the Faith] in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the fruit comes from the tree”. (#20). Pius XII says in (#36) “Once the mystery which is commemorated in this feast had been placed in its proper light, there were not lacking teachers who, instead of dealing with the theological reasonings … chose to focus their mind and attention on the faith of the Church itself” in regard to defending the doctrine. “Relying on this common faith, they considered the teaching opposed to the doctrine of our Lady’s Assumption as temerarious, if not heretical.” This is 400 years before it’s dogmatically declared. Yet Peter Canisius is not shy about condemning those disputing it as having a heretical spirit.

    So the Church hasn’t dogmatically defined that she died. That doesn’t let those advancing that she didn’t off the hook anymore than those that Peter Canisius condemned. On what basis can this really be disputed other than to engage in dispute? As Fr. Kimel points out it’s really undermining the traditional teaching surrounding the Assumption. You ask who’s condemned it? Well if JPII is right and it’s only appeared in the 17th Century, we’re not going have any Fathers to condemn it and few doctors. Has it been so widespread that the Magisterium is going to specifically address it? Well JPII did to some degree 1997.

    In the 1950’s theologians were disputing the supernatural birth of Christ. Due to the propriety of the nature of addressing the physical sign of virginity, the Church just shut down the debate in an unpublished document. What’s notable is that the Church had explicitly taught (and does teach) the supernatural birth in the Roman Catechism. If the Church is not going to explicitly condemn positions contrary to explicit teaching, I think it is unreasonable for you to demand that the Church must explicitly condemn this. I think this very demand of needing special pronouncements to curb lines of speculation is right down the same alley that St. Peter Canisius was condemning. Too bad that he died too soon to condemn those that assert she didn’t die.

  128. Cassandra says:

    Jordanes said…
    Make that: “probably more difficult than proving that she died, which is also something not that very easy to do”

    I don’t think that reason demands that we find a video and/or an EKG recording to “prove it”. I’m trusting Fr. Kimel’s contribution is an accurate quote of history: “Thus when Emperor Marcian asked the the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol, the patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that “Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later … was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.”

    If those who were there and those later familiar with the traditions say she died, why is it reasonable to deny it? Why must modern man say that our predecessors’ testimony is so unreliable? We get the same garbage from those who do not accept the historicity of the Gospels which were written in the lifetimes of those who could discredit lies.

  129. Everyone: This is turning into a pretty good discussion.

    See what happens when people who are civil engage a topic?

  130. Deusdonat says:

    Bo – if you are not a politician, you definitely missed your calling. First you say, “I wouldn’t use the term innovation” in one post, then back-peddle and say, “Oh, I’m not saying it’s not innovation” in another : ) Regardless, “my” side (see: the entire church EAST AND WEST prior to the 18th century) has presented its “evidence” as you call it in several posts on this particular thread. Regardless of the good intentions of this particular exercise in innovation, it is still just that. And in my opinion, the good intentions do not excuse or mask it for what it is.

    The concerns I have here are very valid. We have seen the fruits of innovation quite clearly as manifested in the Novus Ordo. Am I equating the immortalist view with the Novus Ordo? yes. Absolutely. As both are distortions of longstanding church tradition cloaked in “good intentions”. But while the Novus Ordo attempts to use archeological references to justify its innovation, the immortalist view cannot even do this, since it is merely centuries old.

    I wouldn’t go as far to apply the adage of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” since the belief of whether or not the BVM died will not jeopardise one’s soul one way or another. But I absolutely point to Father Alvin’s extremely well-put points; namely that the BVM’s death is either a historical reality or it isn’t. Attempting to muddy the waters with “ifs” and “maybes” given the overwhelming evidence does nothing but create further tumult in a church that IMHO has “enough issues” these days.

  131. Jordanes says:

    Cassandra said: It is purely speculation that they did not experience death in the process.

    On the contrary, the Epistle to the Hebrews explicitly says Enoch was translated (to use the archaic rendering) so that he would not “see” (experience) death. If he did experience death all the same, then what was the point of God translating him? Furthermore there are numerous patristic references to the belief that Enoch and Elijah did not die, and some speculated that they will be the “two witnesses” or two martyrs (in the 11th chapter of the Apocalypse): apparently the reasoning was that since they had not died, and “it is appointed unto all men once to die . . .,” God will send them back to earth with a special mission of opposing the Antichrist, and then they will be martyred. Now, I think all that “two witnesses” stuff is purely speculation, but the belief that Enoch and Elijah did not die is based on inspired scriptural testimony.

    Pius XII didn’t just drop that quote into a dogmatic document for filler. He’s making a point about people contentiously disputing tradition, especially that which has been expounded in the Liturgy which “springs [from the Faith] in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the fruit comes from the tree”. (#20).

    But, again, since his intent was only to define the dogma of the Assumption, we can’t act as if St. Peter Canisius’ quote was deployed to rule out speculation that Mary didn’t die. The point was to build the case that, yes, the Assumption is something that has always been believed, that it forms such a constant and integral part of the faith that we find saints regarding it as heretical or tantamount to heresy to disbelieve it.

    So the Church hasn’t dogmatically defined that she died.

    Nor has She, to my knowledge (nor to anyone else’s?), forbidden the speculation that She was assumed into heaven like Enoch, “that she should not see death.”

    As Fr. Kimel points out it’s really undermining the traditional teaching surrounding the Assumption.

    I’m not so sure it is. We don’t know how the Assumption was revealed to the Apostles. Father Kimel’s scenario of how it may have been revealed is plausible, but it would not have required a witnessed death for the Apostles to have been shown what God did with her body. I do agree that it is significant that the early traditions and legends of the Assumption always describe both her Dormition and her Assumption, but that isn’t a conclusive argument either, since there is so much that is obviously apocryphal tied up with them. Nor, for that matter, is the liturgical argument conclusive. Weighty and cogent, but not conclusive. Compare the traditional and liturgical support for the identification of St. Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany, sister of Sts. Martha and Lazarus. Does the Church require that we assent to that identification (which is by no means as unlikely as many recent writers have been asserting) as an article of faith?

    You ask who’s condemned it? Well if JPII is right and it’s only appeared in the 17th Century, we’re not going have any Fathers to condemn it and few doctors.

    It doesn’t have to be a Father or Doctor. Even one saint like Peter Canisius would suffice.

    Has it been so widespread that the Magisterium is going to specifically address it? Well JPII did to some degree 1997.

    My impression is that the view is pretty widespread among the faithful, even though it is a comparatively recent theological opinion. As for John Paul II, as I said, he did not condemn or forbid the speculation that Mary didn’t die, even though he clearly did not favor it (and I agree with him).

    If the Church is not going to explicitly condemn positions contrary to explicit teaching, I think it is unreasonable for you to demand that the Church must explicitly condemn this.

    Your example is a poor one: denial of the Virgin Birth has been condemned several times through the ages, by the Church and by Fathers and Doctors. For example, the Syllabus of Errors condemns that view. But I’m not aware of any comparable rejection of the speculation that Mary didn’t die.

    I think this very demand of needing special pronouncements to curb lines of speculation is right down the same alley that St. Peter Canisius was condemning.

    If the Pope had not defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, today we’d still have some Catholic theologians championing St. Thomas Aquinas’ position, and there would be no recourse against it, no way to “shut their mouths,” as it were.

    Too bad that he died too soon to condemn those that assert she didn’t die.

    Or perhaps providential?

  132. Bo says:

    Deusdonat

    I apologize for being confusing…I tried to clear things up by saying they are not, in my opinion, “innovators” of the same stripe as the word is often used in the negative fashion. I then attemptd to seed your point, but you accuse me of sophistry instead of addressing my main concern. Look, to put it bluntly, I am convinced by your argument and Fr. Kimel. I believed that it historically happened. I am not trying to say “well, either/or.” I’m requesting that the superior position reach out to the weaker one. I am saying that if your position is stronger, which I think it is, it will be able not only to makes its point, and not only be able to point out the flaws of the other position, but demonstrate why their legitimate concerns (which I am saying I think they have, i.e. Immaculate Conception) are better addressed by the superior argument. Fr. Z does this all the time. Are Ordinary Rite people concerned about participation? Fr. Z doesn’t simply point out why their position is flawed, but how the EO rite addresses their concerns more completely than their understanding. Worried about Priests reintroducing Clericalism if the EO returns? deomonstrate how not only the NO may prompt Priest’s to act like “liturgical MC’s”, but how the theology of the Priesthood in the 1962 missal deconstructs that concern. This is all I have been asking for in my posts, and think that using the historical evidence of Fr. Kimel’s position to approach an answer to the concerns of the Immaculate Conception/Original Sin folks would not only be interesting, but for the good of theology in general. This is not the request of a politician…if anything, I’m stealing from Alasdair MacIntyre about how epistemological crises are solved, or in other words, how arguments are won. I don’t know why you are taking this so personal, I just want your camp, the superior camp, to address their concerns. I attempted above, but it evidently was so muddled no one thought it was worth a crap to respond to. I’m sorry that this gets your goad so badly…

  133. mpm says:

    FWIW, I hold that Our Lady did in fact die.

    I keep hearing about “immortalists” who began forwarding their view in the
    16th century, so my question is “who were they, and what did they
    preach/write?” Anybody know?

  134. Romulus says:

    theologians were disputing the supernatural birth of Christ.

    Another Marian belief that, like the Dormition, is enshrined in the iconography of the eastern Church. [And is also not the subject of this entry.]

  135. Jordanes says:

    Good question, mpm. Anybody know?

    By the way, the old Catholic Encyclopedia doesn’t breath a word about the “immortalist” position, so it’s got to be pretty recent and definitely a minority view. It does a good job of showing just how little we really know about how Mary’s time of this earth ended, though:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm

  136. Byzshawn says:

    I am going to revise my earlier comments. Mr. Hysell is not simply a bit touchy. He is an arrogant *&^$#@! While I can’t be sure of his intentions, I plan to send a copy of his correspondence to all of the Eastern Catholic vocations offices in the U.S. They need to be warned. We don’t need this kind of person in Holy Orders. [I wouldn’t do that.]

  137. Jordanes says:

    the supernatural birth of Christ.

    To correct my above remarks, I had confounded “Virgin Birth” (which often is meant, misleadingly, as a reference to the virginal conception) with the belief that the birth of Jesus was supernatural in a way that Mary was preserved a perpetual virgin. I think Cassandra is right: the Church has not formally defended that belief or reprobated its deniers in terms such as St. Peter Canisius used about those who deny the Assumption. Even so, it would be helpful if someone could point us even to a private admonition or “crack down” on those who speculate that Mary did not die.

  138. dm says:

    Another Marian belief that, like the Dormition, is enshrined in the iconography of the eastern Church.

    These aren’t just “eastern” things. Look at any of the sacred iconography of the Latin Church, before the 16th century ruptures caused by the censorship of Molanus, and you will see the exact same subjects – in glass, sculpture, manuscripts, murals, mosaics, ivory – everywhere. They can be defended even without reference to the eastern Churches.

  139. Romulus says:

    Fr. Z. Please forgive me. I misinterpreted your comment at 1:46. [Nothing to forgive! I was just trying to close off a ‘rabbit hole’ I saw about to open. o{]:¬) ]

  140. Deusdonat says:

    DM – I posted links to the few I knew of from memory. If you have any more please provide them as well. There are of course countless icons on the theme, but I limited my selections to “western” art.

  141. Ron says:

    In regard to comments that people have problems with the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas on predestination, in what way did they deviate from the Fathers before them or in what way did the Council of Orange reject some of St. Augustine’s teaching on predestination? As far as I can tell none of what St. Thomas teaches on predestination has been rejected and what I read by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange on the subject seems quite consonant with the teaching of Sts. Augustine and Thomas. I’m not sure what aspects are being thought of as rejected.

    Pax Christi tecum.

  142. Ron says:

    From Ludwig Ott:

    “b) Attempts at Solution

    The Thomists, the Augustinians, the majority of the Scotists and also individual older Molinists (Suarez, St. Bellarmine) teach an absolute Predestination (ad gloriam tantum), therefore ante praevisa merita. According to them, God freely resolves from all Eternity, without consideration of the merits of man’s grace, to call certain men to beatification and therefore to bestow on them graces which will infallibly secure the execution of the Divine Decree (ordo intentionis). In time God first gives to the predestined effective graces and then eternal bliss as a reward for the merits which flow from their free cooperation with grace (ordo executionis). The ordo intentionis and the ordo executionis are in inverse relation to each other (glory-grace; grace-glory).

    Most of the Molinists, and also St. Francis de Sales (+1622), teach a conditioned Predestination (ad gloriam tantum), that is, postand propter praevisa merita. According to them, God by His scientia media, sees beforehand how men would freely react to various orders of grace. In the light of this knowledge He chooses, according to His free pleasure a fixed and definite order of grace. Now by His scientia visionis, He knows infallibly in advance what use the individual man will make of the grace bestowed on him. He elects for eternal bliss those who by virtue of their foreseen merits perseveringly cooperate with grace, while He determines for eternal punishment of hell, those who, on account of their foreseen demerits, deny their cooperation. The ordo intentionis and the ordo executionis coincide (grace-glory; grace-glory).

    Both attempts at explanation are ecclesiastically permissible. The scriptural proofs are not decisive for either side. The Thomists quote above all passages from the Letter to the Romans, in which the Divine factor in salvation is brought strongly to the foreground (Rom 8:29; 9:11-13, 9:20 et seq.) . . . The Molinists invoke the passages which attest the universality of the Divine desire for salvation, especially 1 Tim 2:4, as well as the sentence to be pronounced by the Judge of the World (Mt 25:34-36), in which the works of mercy are given as ground for the acceptance into the Heavenly Kingdom. But that these are also the basis for the ‘preparation’ for the Kingdom, that is, for the eternal resolve of Predestination, cannot be definitely proved from them . . .

    While the pre-Augustinian tradition is in favour of the Molinistic explanation, St. Augustine, at least in his later writings, is more in favour of the Thomistic explanation. The Thomist view emphasizes God’s universal causality while the other view stresses the universality of the Divine salvific will, man’s freedom and his cooperation in his salvation. The difficulties remaining on both sides prove that Predestination even for reason enlightened by faith, is an unfathomable mystery (Rom 11:33 ff.).”

    I’m a little confused as to what of St. Augustine’s teaching the Church had rejected…and yes I know this theme isn’t really a major one being discussed.

    Pax Christi tecum.

    [NO MORE comments about predestination. This is NOT the topic of this entry, but merely a tangent. This is an official “rabbit hole”. It can be discussed in another entry. – Fr. Z]

  143. Byzshawn says:

    Fr. Z,
    If you don’t think I should, then I won’t. [Thanks.]

  144. I declare “predestination” to be a “rabbit hole” in this entry.

    Additional comments focusing on predestination, rather than on the topic of this entry, will be deleted.

  145. Ron says:

    Well predestination was used as a parallel so I don’t see how it can necessarily be a rabbit hole since it was brought up in the argument. But I respectfully will not ask anything else about it. I was just curious what the logic was since I knew of nothing St. Augustine taught that the Church has officially rejected.

    The end :)

    Pax Christi tecum.

  146. RBrown says:

    1. The issue raised by Mr Hysel has seen a change since Vat II. In his book on Mariology, Fr Garrigou-LaGrange refers to the “death and resurrection” of Christ’s mother. Because later emphasis in theology was on direct Scriptural foundations (cf. Ecumenism with the Protestants), there have been few discussions on the Assumption that included the problem of Mary’s death.

    2. Re Mr Hysel contrasting the concept of priest with presbyter:

    A. The word “priest” is merely the English derivative of “presbyter”.

    B. Presbyter does not necessarily include preaching and teaching. We know this from 1 Tim 5:17, which says that there were presbyteroi who were working in preaching and teaching. Thus, it follows that there were presbyteroi who were not.

    C. Perhaps Mr Hysel is thinking of the exaggerated distinction favored by liberals between sacerdos and presbyter (cf Ecumenism with the Protestants).

  147. On private revelations, St Elizabeth of Schonau had one revealing that Mary did die. And Eatern and Western liturgical traditions do differ on significant ‘dogmatic facts’, a prime example being whether St Mary Magdalene is the sinful woman in Luke 7 – the TLM assigns that reading to her feastday, the Eastern church rejects the association. I personally favour the view that Our Lady died, but I don’t think it is entirely clear cut, particularly as the Pope has not definitvely ruled one way or the other. Some refresher training on the scope for differences of theological opinion would seem in order for many, and I’ve posted some relevant extracts from the inimicable Dr Ludwig Ott on my blog!

  148. Nick says:

    After having gone to the trouble of proclaiming the Dogma of the Assumption without a more exact explanation (death or not death)I find myself wondering on what the Pontiff based his decision: Tradition or a personal partial revelation? The former is consistent as to the death of the Blessed Virgin. Along with most of the readers I regret Mr. Hysell’s style and tone but I agree with his arguments. He did mispell “epitaphios” however. BTW, does anyone out there have any idea what “a mystical death of love” is?

  149. JCD says:

    I just read a beautiful account of the Assumption by:Saint John The Theologion C.400 from http://WWW. NEW ADVENT.ORG/FATHERS/0832.HTM CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA . Really beautiful.

  150. Anne says:

    April 6, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

    Dear Mr Ray,

    This isn’t “60s faddish nonsense.” This is the minimal education required of our clergy, a M.Div. that all seminaries offer, which is scarecely [sic] more than a Mickey Mouse club for theologians.

    As a former seminarian, I must admit with great sadness that, despite some of the good professors that teach in our seminaries, most seminarians see themselves not as teachers of the faith but sacramental vending-machines. I know, for instance, what materials are used at a major seminary on the West Coast in its course on the Trinity, and I’m telling you, these graduates won’t have enough information to teach a high school religion course, let alone adult [catechumenate]. And Catholic schools require at least an M.Div. to teach its religion curriculum!

    It’s time to dump the M.Div. and expect a better education for our clergy-to-be, or at least expect more from existing academic formation. The intellectual culture in our seminaries and houses of formation is what feeds such “60s faddish nonsense.” And it itsn’t [sic] going away anytime soon.
    Matthew Hysell, M.A., M.Th. (Cand.)
    http://blog.catholic-convert.com/?p=2018

    Mr Hysell wrote this comment on another blog. I don’t know much about the education of our “clergy-to-be” to make an educated judgment. He obviously has a poor impression of our priests which could account for his condescending attitude to Fr. Z.

  151. Martin says:

    First, I deserve some kinda prize for reading all this on my phone yhen bravely typing a comment onehanded as my son sleeps on the other.

    without, I hope, opening a rabbithole I ask how this question: How does Mary\’s deathlessness compare to women\’s ordination? EG: Tradition is against it, the Magisterium speaks against it- but not infallably (if JPII\’s closing the discussion is infallable or \”just\” athoritative – I expose my ignorance).

    Could someone -in good faith- have openly pushed for W.O. in 1969 because there was no infallable statement?

    How does the position that the Church has not infallably ruled on an idea (past tense for WO- work with me) compare/contrast between a permissible (deathlessness of Mary) and impermissable (WO)?

  152. Cassandra says:

    Jordanes said…

    If the Pope had not defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, today we’d still have some Catholic theologians championing St. Thomas Aquinas’ position, and there would be no recourse against it, no way to “shut their mouths,” as it were.

    Shut their mouths? Appeals to authority only work with those docile enough to submit to it. Have you not followed anything going on in the last 50 years and seen how defiant some theologians are to even dogmatic teachings? (Yes, Martin, it is dogmatically declared that women cannot be priests). Even you, Jordanes, are representing the same spirit that Canisius is talking about when you require that the Magisterium take time to address this minor theological point. They can’t even control dissent today over major dogmatic issues. It is unreasonable for you to insist on detailed pronouncements to curb each contention. It’s not how the Magisterium operates. It’s not a dogmatic vending machine.

    …But, again, since his intent was only to define the dogma of the Assumption, we can’t act as if St. Peter Canisius’ quote was deployed to rule out speculation that Mary didn’t die. The point was to build the case that, yes, the Assumption is something that has always been believed, that it forms such a constant and integral part of the faith that we find saints regarding it as heretical or tantamount to heresy to disbelieve it…

    You continue to miss the principle involved. The Assumption had a tradition and was expounded in the Faith of the Church through the Liturgy. Pius XII goes out of his way (after separately and clearly detailing a tradition for the belief itself) to state that contentiously disputing such established tradition has been seen in the Church as being of a heretical spirit. It doesn’t matter if you apply the principle to the Assumption, the Trinity, women priests, or Mary dying. The spirit remains the same.

    We’ve been around this, what? four times now? What a waste of time! I can’t believe I let myself get sucked into a debate in the comment boxes AGAIN. And what was accomplished? Nothing. It doesn’t even matter who is right; it was an utter waste of time. Not only did I waste time, but this actually cost me several hundred dollars by taking up potentially billable time to my clients.

    mea maxima culpa…I firmly resolve to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life…

    Fr. Z, please block me from commenting on your blog. Obviously, I am unable to avoid the near occasion of sin by myself. I don’t know if you have enough control at the application level to block the browser requests and prevent me from even reading your blog. But, if so, please do.

    I’m sure you would agree my time would be much better spent in Scripture or in the Fathers. Heck, even prayer.

    Goodbye.

  153. Fr. Peter says:

    As a Byzantine rite priest I feel I must apologize for the tone of Mr. Hysel…Though we wish to espouse the teachings of the Christian east which have merit for the whole church, it is embarrasing to have a member of one of our communities engage you and the readers of this blog in such a vitriolic manner.
    Though I feel that western theology needs to become more aware of the patrimony of the Christian East, the theological diaolgue needs to be co-directional. Western Christians have much to learn from the life of the eastern churches, but we too have much to learn from our Roman bothers and sisters.
    Though we have often been made to feel less worthy or less than Catholic because we are not Roman in tradition, it does not excuse one from being rude or obnoxious. That simply closes the door to learning and understanding.
    Serving the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom teaches me to stand in humility before God’s saving mercy..and when I serve the Mass acc. the Missal of 1962 (for wont of a better term) I too stand in humble awe and unworthiness before God.
    Thank you Fr. Z. for your fine work.

  154. mike says:

    “Everyone: This is turning into a pretty good discussion.

    See what happens when people who are civil engage a topic?”

    Indeed – things have cooled down. These things are cyclical like the seasons.

    Does not summer come before the Fall?

    m

  155. Jordanes says:

    Cassandra said: Appeals to authority only work with those docile enough to submit to it.

    How do you know that everyone who believes, contrary to longstanding tradition and common belief, that Mary didn’t die is not docile enough to submit to Church authority if She were to rein in their speculation? And just because some wouldn’t submit, does that mean it would be bad for the Church to settle the question once and for all?

    Even you, Jordanes, are representing the same spirit that Canisius is talking about when you require that the Magisterium take time to address this minor theological point.

    How so? I have said many times that I believe Mary died. My point, however, is that the Church has not seen fit to say that Catholics who think she didn’t die are heretics or tantamount to heretics, and that therefore we should be charitable and patient with those who hold what is most likely an erroneous opinion. So far nothing has been provided here to show my point is mistaken. I’d be happy if someone did provide something that would do that.

    You continue to miss the principle involved. The Assumption had a tradition and was expounded in the Faith of the Church through the Liturgy. Pius XII goes out of his way (after separately and clearly detailing a tradition for the belief itself) to state that contentiously disputing such established tradition has been seen in the Church as being of a heretical spirit. It doesn’t matter if you apply the principle to the Assumption, the Trinity, women priests, or Mary dying. The spirit remains the same.

    And yet the fact remains that St. Pius XII didn’t deploy the quote from St. Peter Canisiuus in order to suggest that those who speculate Mary didn’t die have transgressed the bounds of Catholic theological inquiry.

    John Paul II said this opinion first arose about 400 or 500 years ago. Surely in all that time the Church would have made some kind of admonition or reprobatory statement if She had problems with it. There may well be some such statement, but I am not aware of any, and apparently you aren’t either or you’d have produced it by now. I hope somebody can do some digging and find out if the Church has actually spoken on the question of Mary’s death and those who speculate that she was assumed without dying.

  156. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    From Pope Benedict’s 15 August 2008 address:

    ‘In the heart of what the Latins called “feriae Augusti,” August holiday, from which stems the Italian word “ferragosto” — the Church celebrates today the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven in soul and body. In the Bible, the last reference to her earthly life is found at the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which presents the Virgin Mary gathered in prayer with the disciples in the Cenacle in anticipation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).

    ‘Subsequently, a twofold tradition — in Jerusalem and Ephesus — attests to her “dormition,” as the East says, that is, her “falling asleep” in God. That was the event that preceded her passage from earth to heaven, confessed by the uninterrupted faith of the Church. In the eighth century, for example, John Damascene, great doctor of the Eastern Church, established a direct relation between Mary’s “dormition” and Jesus’ death, affirming explicitly the truth of her corporal assumption. In a famous homily he wrote: “It was necessary that she who bore the Creator in her womb when he was a baby, should live with him in the tabernacles of heaven” (Second Homily on the Dormition, 14, PG 96, 741 B). As mentioned, this firm conviction of the Church found its crowning in the dogmatic definition of the Assumption, pronounced by my venerated predecessor Pius XII in the year 1950.’

  157. Jordanes says:

    Perhaps the anathema of the Second Nicene Council against anyone who “rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church,” would apply to those who believe Mary did not die? Because the case seems pretty solid that the fact of her death has been unvaringly believed throughout the Church until comparitively recent times, and even now is questioned only by a few.

  158. jcd says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf , what would be your opinion of the writings I have just read again by St.John the Theologian c.400? I think they are very beautiful. What can you tell us about him and these writings? Thanks.

  159. Mairead says:

    It doesn’t make any difference to me or my devotion to Our Blessed Lady whether she died and was then taken up to Heaven or went to Heaven before she died.It has always been enough for me to believe in the Assumption without question and I feel very inadequate when I read all the thoughtful entries in this post.

  160. jd says:

    Nothing?

  161. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf (Father, bless!):

    1. I would like to thank you both for your good work as regards your column for The Wanderer (where I first read your comments on matters liturgical), and with this weblog. I have long been a reader of both, but I have seldom taken the opportunity to comment here.

    2. I would particularly like to thank you for the excellent sermon, which is the basis of all of this brouhaha, and of which I actually took the trouble to listen to in its entirety. You have proved me wrong in my general belief that RC priests are incapable of making good sermons (My thanks in especial for that!)

    3. More particularly, I would like to thank you for getting Fr. Alvin Kimel to the point where he would comment here, not once, but twice. I greatly respect Fr. Kimel, and miss the discussions which he led in his own weblog, Pontifications. Further, I would like to thank you for finding and posting in the comments the letter by the late Sanctus Joannes Paulus Magnus, even though it spoke against your interest in the present discussion. I greatly respect your intellectual honesty for doing so.

    That said:

    4. As another Russian Catholic, I would like to apologize for the insensitive and rude tone of the writings of young Master Hysell, which has prompted the controversy in much of the present discussion. Unfortunately, St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church in Los Angeles (where I worship the life-creating Trinity and serve the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom), and her sister churches in San Francisco, Denver, and New York, tend to collect a number of refugees from the various culture wars which are plaguing both Roman and Eastern Catholicism. I hope that both you, good Father, and the other readers will not allow the words of one (apparently former) communicant to sour you to one of your sister churches.

    5. That said, I must nonetheless agree with young Master Hysell, the good Father Kimel, and His Late Holiness SJPM, that Holy Tradition has been unanimous, both East and West, up to the 17th century, that the Apostles witnessed what appeared to be Our Blessed Lady’s bodily death, that they buried her most precious body, that the Apostle Thomas, coming three days late upon the scene, wished to view her one last time, but when her grave was opened, all that could be found were flowers.

    6. I would invite you, Fr. Z, and all of the other readers here, to read the hymns of the Orthodox service for the Feast of the Dormition. A decent translation, made by the estimable Archimandrite Ephrem Lash, can be found at http://web.ukonline.co.uk/ephrem/, (One can find it by going to his section on “Menaion”, then to the month of August, and then to August 15th.) My point in suggesting this is that the Byzantine hymnography is unanimous that the point was not that Our Lady died, but that she was both preserved from corruption, that she was taken bodily into heaven, that she is higher in honor than the Cherubim and by far more glorious than the Seraphim, and that with her living eyes she beholds her Son and the Life Creating Trinity.

    I would also suggest that readers of this present set of comments may want to go back and listen to Fr. Z’s sermon, because it brilliantly mirrors the Byzantine iconography and resounds with Latin hymnography in praise of Our Lady. In my view, to fail to do so would be to miss the point of Fr. Z’s proper honoring of our Blessed Lady, which is common to both the Catholic West and the Orthodox East.

    If there be some who wish to believe, in the name of piety, that Our Lord preserved Our Blessed Lady even from death itself, and bestowed upon her the honor reserved to Enoch and Elijah, rather than that honor reserved to Moses and Our Lord, I may privately disagree, but I will not gainsay them. As the late Pope Pius XII has observed, both are honors which Our Lady well deserves.

    7. (And last, for which all readers may praise God!) It has not escaped my attention that you, Fr. Z, have done a marvelous job, on many occasions, of presenting Eastern Christianity to Roman Catholics with both accuracy and respect. My little weblog afflicts people who do such things with the Order of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. If you would not object, may I enter you into that Order?

    Very truly yours,

    Bernard Brandt

  162. RJM says:

    “I attempted above, but it evidently was so muddled no one thought it was worth a crap to respond to.”

    Bo, Fr. Kimel briefly addresses your idea in his second comment. I thought perhaps you overlooked it.

  163. Nick says:

    In the Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Last Judgment it says: “According to the Holy Prophet Daniel, seven years before the end, St. Enoch and St. Elijah will come preaching to the people not to accept the Antichrist. He will imprison them, torture them, and then behead them. Those people who choose to live piously, keeping their true religion, will flee far away. Finding them in the mountains,the Antichrist will tempt them by means of demons. But those seven years will be shortened for the sake of the elect. There will be a great famine , with all the elements undergoing a change, such that almost all living creatures will be obliterated…” Consequently Sts. Enoch and Elijah will die. This is read annually in the pre-Lenten services of the Eastern Orthodox.

  164. Quanah says:

    Fr. Z,

    Thank you for this discussion concerning the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. I cannot speak
    for others, but it has given me a very welcomed opportunity to reflect further upon the
    Mysteries of our Lord and Lady.

    A few years ago I had believed that the Holy Theotokos did not die because she had been
    preserved from Original Sin. I changed this belief when I found out that in the icon of the
    Dormition Christ comes to the body of His Mother holding her soul like a child in His arms. It
    did not make sense for me to believe something contrary to what I was praying at Divine Liturgy.

    Now, years later, the discussion on this blog has enabled me to come to a greater understanding
    of this mystery of our faith and its importance in the life of the Church. I agree with Fr.
    Kimel and many others who have commented here. Of great importance is the fact that what we are
    discussing is not theological speculation, but a historical event (like the Crucifixion and
    Resurrection) that either did or did not happen. The fact, the the Tradition of the Church fully
    and consistently gives witness that it did happen cannot be overlooked or taken
    lightly.

    Finally, thinking about Fr. Kimel’s comment that denying the death of the Holy Theotokos
    undermines the dogma of the Assumption I had this thought, which I am sharing for further
    reflection and, since this is new to me, possibly correction. The Holy Catholic Church is very
    clear that our Mother in a very intimate and unique way shared in the saving work of Her Son.
    That work was not completed solely by the Cross, but by the Cross and Resurrection together. In
    order to have a resurrected body one must first die. If the Holy Theotokos did not die then she
    does not have a resurrected body, and, therefore, she did not participate in the Resurrection.
    This seems to disconnect Her from the saving work of Her Son.

    Again, thank you, and I welcome any corrections on what I have here presented.

    In Christ through Mary,
    Quanah

  165. (Bo, I drafted the following comment two days ago, but decided not to post it, as it seemed that the thread was coming to a close. But perhaps you might find it of interest.)

    Bo: “The next step would be to talk about how it is that Mary’s sinlessness squares with the fact that she died. That to me seems like the interesting question. We have private revelation that says she chose this death, but even then, there is a subsequent theological question to be asked that is not, in my mind, innovative, but simply an attempt to reconcile two things the Church holds dear to Her heart: the dormition and the Immaculate Conception.”

    Bo, I agree that further theological discussion is warranted, and you identify what may well be the key concern of the immortalists, viz., the reconciliation of the immaculate sinlessness of the Theotokos with her death. But I suggest that this discussion cannot take place until one has first achieved some measure of certitude about whether she died or did not die. Our theological reflection must be grounded upon and controlled by the events of salvation history.

    As Fr Z notes above, the historical evidence here is meager; in fact, from the point of view of critical historiography, it is so meager as to render a critical historical judgment impossible. Most historians tell us that all stories of the death and assumption of Mary are legendary. Yet the Church trusts her historical memory, and this memory attests to the dormition of the Blessed Virgin. Once this is acknowledged, then (and only then) can we raise the question about the meaning of the death of Mary. What we cannot do is to refashion the historical memory of the Church because it conflicts with our theological logic or our private piety.

    The Church confronted an analogous issue in the early second century. Did the Incarnate Son die? Those who came to be known as docetists maintained that the divine Son did not die on the cross–despite the explicit witness of the gospels. They denied the suffering and death of Christ because suffering and death, in their view, are not only impossible for divinity but also unseemly and inappropriate. And so they asserted that the Christ only appeared to have suffered and died. Instead of allowing salvation history to reinterpret their preconceptions about divinity, they allowed their preconceptions to reinterpret salvation history. Their logic and religious presuppositions trumped the apostolic witness–that was their heresy.

    And here is precisely my concern–the detachment of theological reflection from the “givens” of Scripture and Holy Tradition. We have seen too much of this kind of speculation, in a modernist vein, during the past 150 years. Just as many 20th century theologians (Protestant and Catholic) came to believe that it was possible to believe in and confess the resurrection of Jesus apart from the historical correlate of the empty tomb, so some post-16th century theologians came to believe that they could believe in and confess the Assumption of Mary apart from its historical correlate of her death and the subsequent disappearance of her corpse. But as denial of the empty tomb objectively undermines and distorts faith in the resurrection of Jesus, so denial of the Blessed Virgin’s death objectively undermines and distorts faith in the Assumption. Both denials call into question the historical memory of the Church.

    It is not unimportant that Popes John Paul and Benedict have seen fit to quietly but clearly re-assert the dormition of the Theotokos. Peter is recalling from the deep memory of the Church that which some Catholics appear to have forgotten.

    I think it would be fitting to conclude my comment with this passage from Cardinal Newman:

    And therefore she died in private. It became Him who died for the world, to die in the world’s sight; it became the Great Sacrifice to be lifted up on high, as a light that could not be hid. But she, the lily of Eden, who had always dwelt out of the sight of man, fittingly did she die in the garden’s shade, and amid the sweet flowers in which she had lived. Her departure made no noise in the world. The Church went about her common duties, preaching, converting, suffering; there were persecutions, there was fleeing from place to place, there were martyrs, there were triumphs: at length the rumour spread abroad that the Mother of God was no longer upon earth. Pilgrims went to and fro; they sought for her relics, but they found them not; did she die at Ephesus? or did she die at Jerusalem? reports varied; but her tomb could not be pointed out, or if it was found, it was open; and instead of her pure and fragrant body, there was a growth of lilies from the earth which she had touched. So, inquirers went home marvelling, and waiting for further light. And then it was said how that when her dissolution was at hand, and her soul was to pass in triumph before the judgment seat of her Son, the Apostles were suddenly gathered together in one place, even in the Holy City, to bear part in the joyful ceremonial; how that they buried her with fitting rites; how that the third day, when they came to the tomb, they found it empty, and angelic choirs with their glad voices were heard singing day and night the glories of their risen Queen. But, however we feel towards the details of this history (nor is there anything in it which will be unwelcome or difficult to piety), so much cannot be doubted, from the consent of the whole Catholic world and the revelations made to holy souls, that as is befitting, she is, soul and body, with her Son and God in heaven, and that we are enabled to celebrate not only her death, but her Assumption.

  166. Amen, Fr. Kimel, Amen.

  167. Bo says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    Thank you very much for responding. I must show my inner nerd and say its quite an honor to be answered by the Pontificator on Fr. Z’s blog. Either way, I agree with your point wholeheartedly. I want to be clear that I am convinced by this discussion that tradition declares that the Virgin did die. Please do not read into anything I have written that I want to revise that, or say something like “yes and no”, etc. I truly think tradition and history prove your position correct, and do not want to doubt that. Therefore, I cannot agree more with your statement:

    “And here is precisely my concern—the detachment of theological reflection from the “givens” of Scripture and Holy Tradition. We have seen too much of this kind of speculation, in a modernist vein, during the past 150 years.”

    Thus, I do not think I am running afoul of that…I’m trying to ask a different question. I guess my only question from your post is this: do you think we cannot engage in the theological “answer” to the immortalist concerns UNTIL we have a magisterial declaration, or are you saying that there will NEVER really be a time that we can undergo such an operation because of the tenuous nature of the historical data involved? Once you answer that question for me, I think we are pretty much on the same page. I just want to press that if traditionalists are correct to point out how important the witness of tradition is, then we must not be scared of answering the concerns of those who have “recently” stated their case and dismiss it simply as “creeping innovation” to use the quote from earlier. Because we are certain due to the witness of tradition, we can then proceed on a firm foundation to answer the concerns of the immortalists, and my contention is that it will have to do with making a distinction between corruptible bodies and bodies capable of death…and it is precisely from the fathers that I believe we can find some of these answers (off the top of my head I think Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation” may be a place to start, perhaps certain analogies with Maximus’s notion of gnomic vs. non-gnomic willing, but this is just shooting from the hip). Again, thank you for clarifying, and taking the time to write back.

  168. The Collect for the assumption in the traditional Dominican rite refers explicitly to Mary’s Assumption:

    Veneranda nobis Domine hujus diei festivitas opem conferat salutarem
    in qua sancta Dei Genitrix mortem subiit temporalem
    nec tamen mortis nexibus deprimi potuit
    quae Filium tuum Dominum nostrum de se genuit incarnatum.

    Fr Z. might like to give us one of his excellent commentaries on this collect one day!

    According to the adage “lex orandi, lex credendi”, this collect lends support to those (and I am one of them) who hold the opinion that our Lady did die.

    However, there is a twist! In the 1970s, the Order adopted the reformed Roman rite, but with extensive, mostly optional, additions and alternatives from our old rite, aprroved by the Holy See. One of those presented to the Sacred Cong. for Divine Worship for approval was this Collect, “Veneranda.” The Congregation referred the matter to the Cong. for the Doctrine of the Faith (!) who ruled that, after the definition of the dogma by Pope Pius XII, “it would be inappropriate to include in a liturgical text what was merely a theological opinion”, (I quote from memory) so the Collect was not permitted to be included in the Supplement to the Missal and Divine Office for the Order.

    Fr de Couesnongle, then Master of the Order, pointed out in reply that the Collect had been reproduced without question and with Vatican approval in the 1965 edition Dominican Missal, and that the Order was much attached to this beautiful and ancient prayer, “but we bow before the decision of the sacred congregation.”

    However, nothing was said to remove it from the 1965 Missal, which was “never abrogated” and which may still be used by friars with the permission of the Prior Provincial, so the Collect does remain in (rare) liturgical use.

  169. Martin Wallace: Thanks for that fascinating post! This is getting really interesting.

  170. Of course, in the above post I meant to write:

    “The Collect for the Assumption in the traditional Dominican rite refers explicitly to Mary’s death:

    – Martin Wallace OP

  171. Thank you, Fr Z. To go off at a tangent, (not that I’m the first to do that in these pages!!) did you know that our Order’s Proper includes a Collect, Super Oblata and PostCommunion said to have been dictated (in a vision) by our Lord himself? In the modern Supplement, they form the basis of the votive Mass “Pro Praedicatoribus”.

  172. Here is the relevant passage from the Vitae Fratrum or Lives of the Brethtren, compiled by Bro. Gerard de Frachet at the command of the General Chapter and published around 1256 to 1259: [The translation is by Fr Placid Conway, O.P.]

    ———-

    At the same time there lived in the Cistercian abbey of St Galganus, near Siena, a monk named James, a man of great simplicity and piety, and worthy of credit, on which account he was often summoned to the court of Rome: very marvellous, too, are the accounts given of his visions and revelations while he was saying Mass. Having a very special love and devotion for the Order on account of its fruitful labours, he was often heard to declare he wished all his brethren the world over were one with ours in preaching the gospel. It chanced that some of our religious, after preaching at St Galganus, with great profit of souls, besought him to offer up a special prayer for the Order. During the next night, as he was praying with more fervour than usual, entreating our Lord to reveal the most fitting prayers he could use for the Order, it was revealed that he should say the following in the holy Mass. They were given him by our Lord Jesus Christ in person, with these injunctions: ‘Brother James, take these prayers, and so continue to pray for the Order of Preachers.’

    Collect. — Enlighten, O Lord, the hearts of thy servants with the unction of the Holy Ghost, bestow upon them the gift of burning eloquence, and grant increase of merit to such as preach thy word, through Christ our Lord.

    Secret. — Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, the gift of winning speech to thy servants, and whilst thou sanctifiest these offerings made unto thee, visit their souls with thy saving presence, through Christ our Lord.

    Postcommunion.– Keep thy servants, O Lord, who have partaken of the body and blood of thy only-begotten Son, and shed the fulness of thy saving grace upon all who preach thy word, through Christ our Lord.

    These prayers were approved of by the Pope, who had them inserted in the Missal.[ for the Vigil of the Epiphany – though in the ordinary Rite they form a votive Mass “For Preachers”.]

    ———-

    Here are the Latin texts:

    Collecta
    Corda famulorum tuorum, Domine, illumina Spiritus Sancti gratia; ignitum eis eloquium dona, et iis, qui tuum praedicant verbum, largire virtutis augmentum. Per Dominum…

    Super oblata
    Famulis tuis, Domine, verbum tribue gratiosum, et, munera oblata sanctificans, corda eorum in salutari tuo, quaesumus, visita. Per Christum…

    Postcommunio
    Conserva, Domine, famulos tuos, Unigeniti tui corpore et sanguine suscepto, et tuum nuntiantibus verbum largitatem tribue gratiarum. Per Christum …

    For the full text of the Lives of the Brethren, go to http://www.domcentral.org/trad/brethren/default.htm

  173. Many thanks for those interesting orations!