AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
If you have been blessedly beyond the reach of the internet or newspapers this week, you may want to pour yourself a stiff drink before reading what the Biden Administration and our Justice Department have been up to. The fishing expedition/raid on Mar-a-Lago, complete with ridiculous media assertions that President Trump perhaps stole the nuclear codes, followed the announcements about 87,000 new IRS agents to crack down on the middle class but no border agents to control the chaos there. Oh, yeah, and the fact that inflation stayed at a mere 8.5% was greeted as a stunning victory even as the poor continue to be ground down by it.
Though much of the behavior is objectively absurd, the very seriousness of the dishonesty and lawlessness makes for bitter laughter. Where is the justice? Where is the truth?
Thankfully, the traditions of the Christian year help us deal with all this uproar. The Transfiguration of Jesus, celebrated in August, teaches us that the path to glory is one that is preceded by the Cross. Where the Master trod the disciples too must walk. This is seen in a special way in the life of Jesus’ mother, Mary, who is, as Jacob Prahlow, a Protestant pastor in Missouri, observes, “an appropriate role model for Christian mothers everywhere” who, just as “so many other Biblical and historical saints, . . . serves as a worthy example of what it means to live a life that is honoring to God.”
Catholics and many Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate the culmination of that God-honoring life in a special way on August 15 at the feast of the Assumption, or Dormition, of Mary, which teaches Christians that that glory promised to those who are in Christ is certain.
As a Catholic theologian (who was raised as a Protestant), I am well aware that this teaching about Mary is controversial. Though the Protestant Reformer Heinrich Bullinger believed in it, Martin Luther held it possibly true (he affirmed Mary’s soul was with Christ), and many Anglicans hold it, most Protestants do not. Many do not agree with the biblical identification of Mary in the book of Revelation noted below (or think it does not mean what Catholics and Orthodox think it means). Many think it sets Mary up as a competitor to Jesus. Since AMAC Newsline is not a Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or even general theological website, I am not going to pursue an apologetic argument for those who disagree. The goal here is merely to explain the belief and show how Christians who do affirm this teaching do not see things the same way.
So what is the Assumption or Dormition of Mary? The basic teaching is this: that at the end of her life, Mary experienced the fruits of the Resurrection immediately. She was “assumed,” meaning that she was resurrected and lifted into Heaven body-and-soul. She did not “ascend” under her own power.
In the Catholic Church, this is a dogma, or a doctrine that is required to be believed by the faithful, that was formally defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in a document called Munificentissimus Deus. In that document, the pope, taking his bearings from Scripture and the great Tradition, wrote, “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” Note here the wording: it does not say that Mary died; nor does it say she didn’t die. The teaching is merely that she lives in the resurrected state in heaven now.
Though most Catholic theologians (and most Catholics) believe that Mary died, some traditions hold that, like Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament, she was taken up into Heaven still alive. For all Christians who hold the teaching, Mary is seen as the one depicted in John’s vision of Heaven in the book of Revelation, chapter 12, verse 1: the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head.”
In the Christian East, August 15 (or August 28 for those using the old Julian Calendar) is celebrated as the Dormition, or “falling asleep,” of Mary, but the upshot is the same. According to Orthodox tradition, after Mary’s death, her soul was received by her son and her body was resurrected on the third day.
Christians who do affirm the Assumption of Mary do not think of her as a competitor to her son. Instead, they think of her as his first and best disciple. Any privileges she might have are not because she is good on her own, but because of the grace she has been given and because she is the one who says to others regarding Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Any holiness or privilege in her life is, as the theologian Thomas Guarino has written, is “is due to Christ alone, Christus solus.”
Those who believe in Mary’s Assumption do not pit her against Christ. Instead, they understand this teaching as meant to remind Christians what exactly our human destiny is and that it is a sure thing—and on this all Christians can agree. The Christian teaching is that human destiny is not simply to be floating souls enjoying a long holiday with harp music and white robes. It is to “reign” with Christ as body-and-soul creatures fully once more. As Paul writes to Timothy, “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” (2 Timothy 2: 11-12).
Paul further writes to the Church at Corinth to remind them that this is not simply honorary: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3). Reformed Protestant seminary professor Cornelis Venema writes that this theme, that “those who are faithful to the Lord and their testimony are more than conquerors through Christ,” is one that pervades the book of Revelation.
Christians who believe in Mary’s Assumption take Mary’s enjoyment of this privilege of reigning bodily with Christ as a sign, a foretaste, and an assurance that we too will be raised and reign with Christ fully one day. Christ keeps his promises.
There is no question that our world right now, and especially our country, is one that is racked by lawlessness and disorder. The message of the Assumption of Mary is that ultimately justice is sure because God himself always wins in the end. As she herself prayed in thanksgiving at the beginning of her own incredible journey,
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree. . . . (Luke 1:52-53)
At the beginning of this essay, I suggested a stiff drink for those catching up with the news. The Assumption of Mary suggests that it be a drink in celebration of the fact that the injustice and the lies have an end. In the end, justice and truth wins out. Life defeats death. Christ is risen and he will raise us, too, just as he raised his mother, who trusted with all her heart that God’s way defeats the mighty and the proud while exalting the lowly who trust in Him.
David P. Deavel is an Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas (Texas). A senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative, he is a winner of the Acton Institute’s Novak Award and a former Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute. With Jessica Hooten Wilson, he edited Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West (Notre Dame, 2020). Besides his academic publications, his writing has appeared in many journals, including Catholic World Report, City Journal, First Things, Law & Liberty, and The Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Gettr @davidpdeavel.
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