The Assumption of Mary
TRUTH OR FICTION?
The Orthodox Church celebrates the “Dormition of Mary”
(her death or falling asleep) but not the Assumption of Mary.
Some within Orthodoxy have used the
term Assumption of Mary to mean the same thing
as Dormition of Mary, but that is wrong and inaccurate.
The Assumption of Mary is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and those
churches that broke from her. There is no biblical authorization or Apostolic teaching
to support this nor is there any historical basis to claim it was the teaching of the early church.
Those within Orthodoxy who profess a belief in the Assumption
have abandon true Orthodoxy in favor of the unorthodox teaching authority of the Vatican.
A FALSE TEACHING
The Assumption of Mary is a
Roman Catholic Dogma that had been condemned as
Heretical by 2 Popes in the 5th and 6th Centuries.
The Roman Catholic doctrine of the assumption of Mary teaches that she was
assumed body and soul into heaven either without dying or shortly after death.
This extraordinary claim was only officially declared to be a dogma of Roman
Catholic faith in 1950, though it had been believed by many for hundreds of
years. To dispute this doctrine, according to Rome’s teaching, would result in
the loss of salvation. The official teaching of the Assumption comes from the
decree Munificentissimus Deus by pope Pius XII.
This is truly an amazing dogma, yet there is no Scriptural proof for it, and
even the Roman Catholic writer Eamon Duffy concedes that, ‘there is, clearly, no
historical evidence whatever for it ...’ (Eamon Duffy, What Catholics Believe
About Mary (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1989), p. 17). For centuries in the
early Church there is complete silence regarding Mary’s end. The first mention
of it is by Epiphanius in 377 A.D. and he specifically states that no one knows
what actually happened to Mary. He lived near Palestine and if there were, in
fact, a tradition in the Church generally believed and taught he would have
affirmed it. But he clearly states that ‘her end no one knows.’ These are his
In addition to Epiphanius, there is St. Jerome who also lived in Palestine and
does not report any tradition of an assumption. Isidore of Seville, in the
seventh century, echoes Epiphanius by saying that no one has any information at
all about Mary’s death. The patristic testimony is therefore non-existent on
this subject. Even Roman Catholic historians readily admit this fact: In these
conditions we shall not ask patristic thought—as some theologians still do today
under one form or another—to transmit to us, with respect to the Assumption, a
truth received as such in the beginning and faithfully communicated to
subsequent ages. Such an attitude would not fit the facts...Patristic thought
has not, in this instance, played the role of a sheer instrument of
transmission’ (Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., ed., Mariology, Vol. I (Milwaukee:
Bruce, 1955), p. 154). Father Carol is a leading Mariologist and was a leading
Marian Theologian, along with Father Most, at the Vatican II Council.
How then did this teaching come to have such prominence in the Church that
eventually led it to be declared an issue of dogma in 1950?
The first Church father to affirm explicitly the assumption of Mary in the
West was Gregory of Tours in 590 A.D. But the basis for his teaching
was not the tradition of the Church but his acceptance of an apocryphal
Gospel known as the Transitus Beatae Mariae which we first hear of at
the end of the fifth century and which was spuriously attributed
to Melito of Sardis. There were many versions of this literature
which developed over time and which were found throughout the East
and West but they all originated from one source. Mariologist, Father Juniper
Carol, O.F.M. gives the following historical summary of the Transitus
An intriguing corpus of literature on the final lot of Mary is formed by the
apocryphal Transitus Mariae. The genesis of these accounts is shrouded in
history’s mist. They apparently originated before the close of the fifth
century, perhaps in Egypt, perhaps in Syria, in consequence of the stimulus
given Marian devotion by the definition of the divine Maternity at Ephesus. The
period of proliferation is the sixth century. At least a score of Transitus
accounts are extant, in Coptic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, and
Armenian. Not all are prototypes, for many are simply variations on more ancient
models ( Fr. Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed., Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce,
1957), p. 144).
Thus, the Transitus literature is the real source of the teaching of the
assumption of Mary and Roman Catholic authorities admit this fact. Fr. Juniper
Carol, for example, writes: ‘The first express witness in the West to a genuine
assumption comes to us in an apocryphal Gospel, the Transitus Beatae Mariae of
Pseudo–Melito’ (Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed., Mariology, Vol. l (Milwaukee: Bruce,
1957), p. 149). Roman Catholic theologian, Ludwig Ott, likewise affirms these
facts when he says:
The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain
transitus–narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are
apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were
written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of
the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus
B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours’ (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
(Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210).
FATHER JUNIPER CAROL EXPLICITLY
STATES THE “TRANSITUS” LITERATURE
IS A COMPLETE FABRICATION WHICH
SHOULD BE REJECTED BY ANY
The account of Pseudo-Melito, like the rest of the Transitus literature, is
admittedly valueless as history, as an historical report of Mary’s death and
corporeal assumption; under that aspect the historian is justified in dismissing
it with a critical distaste (Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed., Mariology, Vol. l
(Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), p. 150).
It was partially through these writings that teachers in the East and West began
to embrace and promote the teaching. But it still took several centuries for it
to become generally accepted. The earliest extant discourse on the feast of the
Dormition affirms that the assumption of Mary comes from the East at the end of
the seventh and beginning of the eighth century. The Transitus literature is
highly significant as the origin of the assumption teaching and it is important
that we understand the nature of these writings.
The Roman Catholic Church would have us believe that this apocryphal work expressed an existing,
common belief among the faithful with respect to Mary. They would have us believe
the Holy Spirit used a fraudulent document to gradually bring to the Church’s awareness
the truth of Mary’s assumption. The historical evidence would suggest otherwise.
CONDEMNED BY THE CHURCH
History proves that when the Transitus teaching originated the Church regarded
it as heresy. In 494 to 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius issued a decree entitled Decretum
de Libris Canonicis Ecclesiasticis et Apocryphis. This decree officially set
forth the writings which were considered to be canonical and those which were
apocryphal and were to be rejected. He gives a list of apocryphal writings and
makes the following statement regarding them:
The remaining writings which have been compiled or been recognised by heretics
or schismatics the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church does not in any way
receive; of these we have thought it right to cite below some which have been
handed down and which are to be avoided by catholics (New Testament Apocrypha,
Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed. (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1991), p. 38).
In the list of apocryphal writings which are to be rejected Gelasius signifies
the following work: Liber qui apellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio Sanctae
Mariae, Apocryphus (Pope Gelasius 1, Epistle 42, Migne Series, M.P.L. vol. 59,
Col. 162). This specifically means the Transitus writing of the assumption of
Mary. At the end of the decree he states that this and all the other listed
literature is heretical and that their authors and teachings and all who adhere
to them are condemned and placed under eternal anathema which is indissoluble.
And he places the Transitus literature in the same category as the heretics and
writings of Arius, Simon Magus, Marcion, Apollinaris, Valentinus and Pelagius.
These are his comments. I have provided two translations from authoritative
These and the like, what Simon Magus, Nicolaus, Cerinthus, Marcion, Basilides,
Ebion, Paul of Samosata, Photinus and Bonosus, who suffered from similar error,
also Montanus with his detestable followers, Apollinaris, Valentinus the
Manichaean, Faustus the African, Sabellius, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius,
Novatus, Sabbatius, Calistus, Donatus, Eustasius, Iovianus, Pelagius, Iulianus
of ERclanum, Caelestius, Maximian, Priscillian from Spain, Nestorius of
Constantinople, Maximus the Cynic, Lampetius,Dioscorus, Eutyches, Peter and the other Peter, of whom
one besmirched Alexandria and the other Antioch, Acacius of Constantinople with his associates, and what
all disciples of heresy and of the heretics and schismatics, whose names we have scarcely preserved,
have taught or compiled, we acknowledge is to be not merely rejected but excluded
from the whole Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church and with its authors and
the adherents of its authors to be damned in the inextricable shackles of
anathema forever (New Testament Apocrypha,
Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Ed., (Cambridge: James Clark, 1991).
These and [writings] similar to these, which ... all the heresiarchs and their
disciples, or the schismatics have taught or written ... we confess have not
only been rejected but also banished from the whole Roman and Apostolic Church
and with their authors and followers of their authors have been condemned
forever under the indissoluble bond of anathema (Henry Denzinger,
The Sources of Catholic Dogma (London: Herder, 1954), pp. 69-70).
Pope Gelasius explicitly condemns the authors as well as their writings and the
teachings which they promote and all who follow them. And significantly, this
entire decree and its condemnation was reaffirmed by Pope Hormisdas in the sixth
century around A.D. 520. (Migne Vol. 62. Col. 537-542). These facts prove that
the early Church viewed the assumption teaching, not as a legitimate expression
of the pious belief of the faithful but as a heresy worthy of condemnation.
There are those who question the authority of the so-called Gelasian decree on
historical grounds saying that it is spuriously attributed to Gelasius. However,
the Roman Catholic authorities Denzinger, Charles Joseph Hefele, W. A. Jurgens
and the New Catholic Encyclopedia all affirm that the decree derives from Pope
Gelasius, and Pope Nicholas I in a letter to the bishops of Gaul (c. 865 A.D.)
officially quotes from this decree and attributes its authorship to Gelasius.
(See Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma (London: Herder,1954), pp.
66-69; W. A.Jurgens, TheFaith of theEarlyFathers, vol. I (Collegeville:
Liturgical, 1970), p. 404; New CatholicEncyclopedia, vol. VII (Washington D.C.:
Catholic University, 1967), p. 434; Charles Joseph Hefele, A History of the
Councils of the Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1895), vol. IV, pp. 43-44).
While the Gelasian decree may be questioned by some, the decree of Pope
Hormisdas reaffirming the Gelasian decree in the early sixth century has not
Prior to the seventh and eighth centuries there is complete patristic silence on
the doctrine of the Assumption. But gradually, through the influence of numerous
forgeries which were believed to be genuine, coupled with the misguided
enthusiasm of popular devotion, the doctrine gained a foothold in the Church.
The Dictionary of Christian Antiquities gives the following history of the
In the 3rd or 4th century there was composed a book, embodying the Gnostic and
Collyridian traditions as to the death of Mary, called De Transitu Virginis
Mariae Liber. This book exists still and may be found in the Bibliotheca Patrum
Maxima (tom. ii. pt. ii. p. 212)....The Liber Transitu Mariae contains already
the whole of the story of the Assumption. But down to the end of the 5th century
this story was regarded by the Church as a Gnostic or Collyridian fable, and the
Liber de Transitu was condemned as heretical by the Decretum de Libris Canonicis
et Apocryphis, attributed to pope Gelasius, A.D. 494.
How then did it pass across the borders and establish itself
within the church, so as to have a festival appointed to commemorate it?
In the following manner:
In the sixth century a great change passed over the sentiments and the
theology of the church in reference to the Theotokos—an unintended but very
noticeable result of the Nestorian controversies, which in maintaining the true
doctrine of the Incarnation incidentally gave strong impulse to what became the
worship of Mary. In consequence of this change of sentiment, during the 6th and
7th centuries (or later):
1)The Liber de Transitu, though classed by Gelasius with the known
productions of heretics came to be attributed by one...to Melito, an orthodox
bishop of Sardis, in the 2nd century, and by another to St. John the Apostle.
2) A letter suggesting the possibility of the Assumption was written and
attributed to St. Jerome (ad Paulam et Eustochium de Assumptione B. Virginis,
Op. tom. v. p. 82, Paris, 1706).
3) A treatise to prove it not impossible was wrongly attributed to St.
Augustine (Op. tom. vi. p. 1142, ed. Migne).
4) Two sermons supporting the belief were written and wrongly attributed to
St. Athanasius (Op. tom. ii. pp. 393, 416, ed., Ben. Paris, 1698).
5) A fraudulent insertion was made in Eusebius’s
Chronicle that ‘in the year 48 Mary
the Virgin was taken up into heaven,
as some wrote that they had had it revealed to them.’
Thus the authority of the names of St. John, of Melito, of Athanasius, of
Eusebius, of Augustine, of Jerome was obtained for the belief by a series of
forgeries readily accepted because in accordance with the sentiment of the day,
and the Gnostic legend was attributed to orthodox writers who did not entertain
it. But this was not all, for there is the clearest evidence (1) that no one
within the church taught it for six centuries, and (2) that those who did first
teach it within the church borrowed it directly from the book condemned by pope
Gelasius as heretical. For the first person within the church who held and
taught it was Juvenal, bishop of Jerusalem (if a homily attributed to John
Damascene containing a quotation from from ‘the Eutymiac history’...be for the
moment considered genuine), who (according to this statement) on Marcian and
Pulcheria’s sending to him for information as to St. Mary’s sepulchre, replied
to them by narrating a shortened version of the de Transitu legend as ‘a most
ancient and true tradition.’ The second person within the church who taught it
(or the first, if the homily attributed to John Damascene relating the above
tale of Juvenal be spurious, as it almost certainly is) was Gregory of Tours,
The Abbe Migne points out in a note that ‘what Gregory here relates of the death
of the Blessed Virgin and its attendant circumstances he undoubtedly drew...from
Pseudo-Melito’s Liber de Transitu B. Mariae, which is classed among apocryphal
books by pope Gelasius.’ He adds that this account, with the circumstances
related by Gregory, were soon afterwards introduced into the Gallican
Liturgy...It is demonstrable that the Gnostic legend passed into the church
through Gregory or Juvenal, and so became an accepted tradition within it...Pope
Benedict XIV says naively that ‘the most ancient Fathers of the Primitive CHurch
are silent as to the bodily assumption of the Blesseed Virgin, but the fathers
of the middle and latest ages, both Greeks and Latins, relate it in the
distinctest terms’ (De Fest. Assumpt. apud. Migne, Theol. Curs. Compl. tom.
xxvi. p. 144, Paris, 1842). It was under the shadow of the names of Gregory of
Tours and of these ‘fathers of the middle and latest ages, Greek and Latin,’
that the De Transitu legend became accepted as catholic tradition.
The history, therefore, of the belief which this festival was instituted to
commemorate is as follows: It was first taught in the 3rd or 4th century as part
of the Gnostic legend of St. Mary’s death, and it was regarded by the church as
a Gnostic and Collyridian fable down to the end of the 5th century. It was
brought into the church in the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries, partly by a series
of successful forgeries, partly by the adoption of the Gnostic legend on part of
the accredited teachers, writers, and liturgists. And a festival in
commemoration of the event, thus came to be believed, was instituted in the East
at the beginning of the 7th, in the West at the beginning of the 9th century (A
Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, William Smith and Samuel Cheetham, Ed.,
(Hartford: J.B. Burr, 1880), pp. 1142-1143).
R.P.C. Hanson gives the following summation of the teaching of the Assumption,
emphasizing the lack of patristic and Scriptural support for it and affirming
that it originated not with the Church but with Gnosticism:
This dogma has no serious connection with the Bible at all, and its defenders
scarcely pretend that it has. It cannot honestly be said to have any solid
ground in patristic theology either, because it is frist known among Catholic
Christians in even its crudest form only at the beginning of the fifth century,
and then among Copts in Egypt whose associations with Gnostic heresy are
suspiciously strong; indeed it can be shown to be a doctrine which manifestly
had its origin among Gnostic heretics. The only argument by which it is defended
is that if the Church has at any time believed it and does now believe it, then
it must be orthodox, whatever its origins, because the final standard of
orthodoxy is what the Church believes. The fact that this belief is presumably
supposed to have some basis on historical fact analogous to the belief of all
Christians in the resurrection of our Lord makes its registration as a dogma de
fide more bewilderingly incomprehensible, for it is wholly devoid of any
historical evidence to support it. In short, the latest example of the Roman
Catholic theory of doctrinal development appears to be a reductio ad absurdum
expressly designed to discredit the whole structure (R.P.C. Hanson, The Bible as
a Norm of Faith (University of Durham, 1963), Inaugral Lecture of the Lightfoot
Professor of Divinity delivered in the Appleby Lecture Theatre on 12 March,
1963, p. 14).
Pius XII, in his decree in 1950, declared the Assumption teaching to be a dogma
revealed by God. But the basis upon which he justifies this assertion is not
that of Scripture or patristic testimony but of speculative theology. He
concludes that because it seems reasonable and just that God should follow a
certain course of action with respect to the person of Mary, and because he has
the power, that he has in fact done so. And, therefore, we must believe that he
really acted in this way. Tertullian dealt with similar reasoning from certain
men in his own day who sought to bolster heretical teachings with the logic that
nothing was impossible with God. His words stand as a much needed rebuke
to the Roman Church of our day in its misguided teachings about Mary:
But if we choose to apply this principle so extravagantly and harshly in our
capricious imaginations, we may then make out God to have done anything we
please, on the ground that it was not impossible for Him to do it. We must not,
however, because He is able to do all things, suppose that He has actually done
what He has not done. But we must inquire whether He has really done it ... It
will be your duty, however, to adduce your proofs out of the Scriptures as
plainly as we do...(Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), Vol. III, Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch. X and
XI, p. 605).
The only grounds the Roman Catholic faithful have for believing in the teaching
of the assumption is that a supposedly ‘infallible’ Pope declares it. The
Orthodox Church says it cannot be defined because it was not taught by the
Apostles and the Apostolic Church, but the faithful are free to accept it or
reject it. It is not dogma and to accept it or deny it is not heresy.