The Assumption of Mary



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.







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).








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.




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

been questioned.


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 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’ 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,

A.D. 590.


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.