Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Hypocrisy of Those Who Reject the Assumption

What are the principle objections Protestants have regarding the dogma of Mary's Assumption?

1. It's not in Scripture.

2. It's not found in writing earlier than the early part of the 5th century.

Why are these objections hypocritical?

1. Like the doctrine of the Trinity, it is not explicitly taught in Scripture yet affirmed by apostolic tradition (albeit we have less evidence for the apostolicity of the Assumption since it wasn't a critical doctrine for the early Church - they had bigger fish to fry). There are a handful of other Christian doctrines not explicitly taught in Scripture yet most if not all of us believe them. This line of logic disproves the objection.

But why is it hypocritical? Consider all of the other exclusively Protestant doctrines which are not only not found explicitly in Scripture but not even found implicitly and some even directly contradicted by Scripture!


Not found explicitly (but is arguably compatible with Scripture): Calvin's re-invention of the word "Church" to mean the invisible collective body of true believers all over the world.

Not even found implicitly (and arguably contradicts other parts of Scripture) Sola Scriptura

A direct and unequivocal contradiction to sacred Scripture (see James chapter 2) Sola Fide

2. See this post on the reliability of tradition as to why the reasoning that "its first appearance is at this year, therefore the doctrine originated at this time" is completely bogus. Now that we know the objection is faulty, why is it hypocritical?

For starters, even if the doctrine did originate in the early 5th century - that is about 1100 years before any of the exclusively Protestant doctrines originated. Any claim whatsoever that written accounts of Sola Scriptura or Sola Fide (on which all other Protestant errors are built) precede Luther is completely ludicrous. Although the Protestant doctrine of rejecting Christ's words regarding the Eucharist and the Real Presence date back to the very ancient (in Protestant terms) 14th century Wycliffe, and the heretical practices of the Pentecostals have obvious roots in the Montanist heresy, there is absolutely zero historical proof that any of the basic tenants of Protestantism precede the 16th century reformation.

The Protestants say they reject this doctrine (the Assumption) because it is "young", but would they believe it if it were proven to be ancient? It is beyond any doubt whatsoever that the doctrines of transubstantiation, redemptive baptism and the current hierarchy of the Church (bishop-priest-deacon system) dates back to the first century. Yet Protestants reject those as well. So why do they pretend they reject this doctrine because of its (mistakenly) assumed youth?

Before (and during) conversion, I had major problems with this dogma for the above two reasons. So this post is as much directed to my old self as it is to any Protestant. I am pointing out my own hypocrisy after having realized it. I caught myself doing the same thing with other areas of Mariology - having hypocritical objections to it. Anti-Marianism runs deep and is hard to shake.

(Yes, I anticipate someone replying with a (perhaps) less-than-honest - "that's not why I disagree with it"... in order to avoid facing the arguments).


Jeff Baker said...

We just got back from evening Mass on this wonderful feast day. Good reading in light of the homily I just heard at church!


Jeff @ DUiB

Tiber Jumper said...

Perhaps the reason that people so vehemently reject Marian doctrine may be because it will ultimately lead them to consider the other "assumptions" of Catholicism? As you well stated there are many doctrines that non-Catholics hold to that are not found in the Bible, but there is no difficulty for them to "assume" they
are true. But it still ultimately comes down to the fact that we don't require the Bible to be the sole source of faith and doctrine for us.

Anonymous said...

I suppose a good red herring will be one that I used to toss out when faced with such a strong argument: it's not necessary for my salvation, so why is it dogma?

Of course, that was before I realized, by the grace of God, the intrinsic link of Mariology and Christology.

Anonymous said...


" still ultimately comes down to the fact that we don't require the Bible to be the sole source of faith and doctrine for us."

The interesting point in GFF's post is this: apparently, neither is it so for the Protestants.

Thos said...

I think the better criticism (though it may be the smoke screen of raising doubt) is that the Assumption is first recorded in apocryphal (in Catholic terms, not deuterocanonical) texts. I read about this in Fr. Luigi Gambero's "Mary and the Fathers of the Church" (Ignatius Press) - I believe it was the Protoevangelium of James (but I'm on vacation, so don't have the book handy). For the skeptic, this makes it appear as if the dogma of assumption came from early Christian folk lore.

There's a deeper debate here. Some of my fellow (devout) Protestants demand that every belief or practice be permitted in scripture. They would oppose other Protestants who believe that beliefs or practices are acceptable which do not conflict with scripture. To the former, of course, the Assumption is a particularly heinous shackle.

Finally, to your point that Protestant doctrines are entirely novel to the 16th Century, I believe it is worth bearing in mind that the Reformers (notably Calvin) tied their dogmas to their interpretation of the "ancient church" as they understood it. Specifically, Calvin is famous for presenting Augustine's views and explaining how he means only to return to the church to what it was when Augustine wrote. So the key to unraveling our debate should be accepting or dismissing Calvin's interpretation of Augustine and church history...

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I understand all too well the concern that this doctrine could be Christian folk lore.

This is where it is critical to trust the infallibility of the Church. Protestants trust her infallibility on some issues (but don't realize it, thinking they trust only the Scriptures).

But the Church could have made an error (were she capable of doing so) in the first century just as easy as in the 5th or the 21st. Before any Scripture was written concerning Christ, the Church already taught the Jesus was God yet His contemporaries had no concept of this while He was alive on Earth (see NT Wright's section on Jesus' trial in his book 'Jesus and the Victory of God' regarding the anachronism of reading the 'second Person of the Trinity' into the synoptic passages).

What if it turned out that the gospel of John was really "apocryphal"- a forgery? All of the sudden, the doctrine of the Trinity just became an arbitrary invention of Christian folk lore. Even Paul didn't advocate the Trinity (at least not how you and I do) the doctrine had simply not 'developed' (emerged, been clarified) yet.

Though Christ's divinity was clearly an early 1st century dogma, we know it is true not because of Scripture but because of the apostolic authority by which it was affirmed through the Church and later written into Scripture by one of the apostles.

Oh how critical of a doctrine! Imagine if the fallible concept of 'Church' Calvin invented was really true. What guarantee would we have that the Church had not erred on this critical (yet no more difficult to err on) doctrine? What guarantee do we have that they selected the right books for the Bible?

Without an infallible magisterium, something being 'in the bible' is no less likely to be the 'doctrine of men' (as opposed to one of God) because the Bible was selected by man!

On Calvin & Augustine - again we have Calvin saying one thing and all historical documents saying something else, so you can trust his word for it or you can actually read the documents themselves. Augustine wasn't a Protestant - there's a reason why he was canonized.

What of the Church at his time? Here's a post (that did get a little ugly) on the doctors of the 4th century Church.

Although Augustine being somewhat more friendly in his language to Protestant concepts (though certainly affirming none of them and in many places contradicting them ie. Augustine's loyalty to the pope, his strong belief in the authority of the Catholic Church, affirmation of Transubstantiation etc...) he and his contemporaries were Catholic through and through.

Augustine talks a lot about predestination and even originally advocated a view of predestination fairly compatible with Calvinism. One slight problem for Calvin though, his [Augustine's] teachings were rejected by the early Church. Not everything that early Christians believed was affirmed by the magisterium. Both St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr believed in some form of Millenarianism but the Church rejects it.

But where the Church fathers are unanimous (transubstantiation, regenerative baptism etc...), the doctrine must be held to be true.

Joseph said...


Yes. The "Protoevangelium of James" is one of the apocryphal (a true apocryphal) writing that describes the Assumption of Mary. There is also the "Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God". An apocryphal history of Mary's life before the Incarnation (and after) is in the "Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew".

I'm not sure how highly the "Account of St. John" is held, but I believe that "Pseudo-Matthew" and "Protoevangelium", though not infallible, are held in high regard and are either believed to be written by the Apostles or by one who received the tradition from them or one of their disciples. From what I understand (this includes a discussion with my Russian Orthodox friend), those writings are held in the same reverence as the "Didache".

Your assertion with the relationship of Calvin and St. Augustine is true as well. Almost every Calvinist I've encountered seems to try and pull St. Augustine on their team, as if we are playing dodgeball or something. With all due respect, I believe that their arguments of St. Augustine can only be made without reading his entire body of work. It is clear that St. Augustine's understanding of predestination differs remarkably from Calvin's. I think that Calvin borrowed from St. Augustine's writings, but, either didn't quite understand the complexity of it or he didn't read everything St. Augustine wrote on the topic.

I admittedly don't understand St. Augustine in all of his writings. One day I hope God will give me that grace. I think it is important to understand St. Augustine as a person before one can understand his writings. Argueably, a good place to start would be "Confessions" and any other biographical information you can gather. He was a sophist and a very educated pagan philosopher (though his mother tried to raise him Catholic). He dabbled in heresy and lived as a libertine before his conversion. His thought is very deep. I know I won't be able to debate St. Augustine convincingly. I can only assure that his definition of "predestination" which he never separated from "free will" is not the same as Calvin's.

Here is also one of the most famous quotes from St. Augustine. I'm sure you've seen it before:

"I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so." - St. Augustine
Against the letter of Mani, 5,6, 397 A.D.

If St. Augustine ever believed in predestination in the same sense as Calvin, he would have departed from that train of thought and submitted to the Teaching Authority of the Church. So, essentially, the debate over who's team St. Augustine was on becomes irrelevant with that understanding alone.

That is the major difference between the Catholic Church and the Protestant religion. It also helps to illustrate how the Church has remained One and intact for 2000 years.

Phil Snider said...

I do think that theo's criticism about the Assumption only being attested in the deutero-canonical work, the Protoevangelion of John, is probably the strongest arguement against the feast, although I would be careful to note that the tradition could be older than that document. One does have to be careful with Christian apocrypha, given the fact that there are a lot of dodgy apocryphal things, but there is an arguement that this is oral tradition only preserved by chance by this Protoevangelium.

That said, I can't really work myself up into a froth on this issue. The Assumption isn't attested in Scripture, it is true, but as God Fearin' points out, a lot of other Christian practices aren't. I personally think the concept of Mary implied in the Assumption might be a touch exalted for my taste, but I'm not sure anyone's salvation is at stake on this. My attitude is that this is a traditional position which does little harm, so can be accepted or not.

Perhaps that is rather too Anglican.


Joseph said...


You are correct on your last statement.

Thos said...

Your comments on the Gospel of John displaying a later (more developed) understanding of Trinitarian doctrine than the synoptic authors is noteworthy. The independentarian (Protestant) will vomit at this notion. I recently heard the Family Radio founder expound on the independentarian view (note: he is vehemently opposed to formal "church"): every word of scripture is meaningfully chosen and placed on paper by God only via the author (a mere scribe). It is my impression that, while maybe only few would describe Scripture's crafting this way, this is a widespread Protestant understanding. So to say John was in possession of fuller doctrinal understanding when he wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit would grate some the wrong way (I find it intriguing, and I think I like it, by the way).

Joseph, thanks for your comments on Augustine v. Calvin. I agree all over, I just mean to stress that this is where the discussion is well held. One cannot defeat Calvin's views by defeating modern sola scriptura methodology (i.e., death by proof-texting).

Phil, yup. To be clear, I was only noting that the Protestant (who trusts no church) will never buy Assumption dogma as long as he can be persuaded that it's earliest sourcing is not scripture and could be folk lore. The Catholic trusts the church, so this sourcing does not shake faith, and is useful to track the history of belief in this area.

Joseph said...


I just so happen to be reading G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy (1908)". I just might have a friendly quip in return for the following statement:

"For the skeptic, this makes it appear as if the dogma of assumption came from early Christian folk lore."

Here is G.K. Chesterton (on his favor of democracy, so you'll forgive me, it's a bit out of context). I hope you see the link I'm proposing and the humor in it:

"But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club [a Conservative political club in Pall Mall, London], along with the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same ideal. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross."

Phil Snider said...


The thing is that I've never denied that the Assumption may be an early tradition. I'm open to that possibility because, at the end of the day, the first mention of a tradition in writing need not be the first appearence of the idea. Given the number of sources lost over time even in Christian patristic writing, much less the nature of oral tradition, it would be foolhardy to take that position.

Yet, just because something is traditional doesn't mean it is genuine or even good. I honestly do think the Assumption has become central to a particular type of Marian theology which I really can't agree is consistent with Scripture, at least in its extreme forms (including the identification of Mary as Co-Redemtrix).

I respect tradition, but I do think that it is a weaker basis for a doctrine, feast or whole theology than Scripture. If Scripture doesn't explicitly pronounce on the subject, that is one thing and clearly this is the case now. Yet, the case would be stronger with Scripture, which tells me that this is a belief which is not a necessary one. Given my caveats above, the Assumption isn't one of those feasts that I celebrate, but I wouldn't stop anyone else from doing so.

That may be characteristically Anglican, but it is based on some thought about the historical/theological implications of the practice.


Joseph said...

You needn't clarify. I understand your position and it is not only Anglican in nature.