Did the Church always teach the Assumption of Our Lady

Did the Church always teach the Assumption of Our Lady?

I know she has never contradicted it, and I know that people have believed it for hundreds of years but I guess my question is: was it always taught as a doctrine even before it was defined? Were people free to not believe it BEFORE it was defined? Was it in Catechisms etc?
Would we be able to say that in general a well formed Catholic knew about the assumption of Our Lady all throughout the history of the Church?

I’m just asking because I’m just trying to get my head around the idea of defining dogmas, because I know that dogmas are only defined after they have always been taught but are questioned and I’m just trying to see what this looks like in practice.

An argument could possibly be made that the Ordinary Magisterium taught it infallibly long before 1950 when it was formally defined by an exercise of papal infallibility. Here is a good article from PhilVaz.com covering Juniper Carol’s account going through the doctrine through the centuries. Whether or not the dogma was accepted in every century may be difficult to identify in light of oral tradition not being recorded by definition. But it is quite a testament based on the theology of the dogma coupled with the fact that the Church––in both the east and west––would actually take seriously the idea that Mary’s body was assumed. This would seem implausible if it was merely a novel invention.

Another source I might recommend is Cardinal Ratzinger’s (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) book Daughter Zion. He demonstrates some of the typology even in the Old Testament pointing to the truth of the Assumption. You can get an ebook and keyword search it if you like too.

Not until she was actually assumed.

**Answer by Matthew Bunson on 29-4-2006 (EWTN): **
The dogma of the Assumption – that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven, after the completion of her earthly life (termed her dormition – or falling asleep in the Lord) – was proclaimed on November 1, 1950 by Pope Pius XII in Munificentessimus Deus; There was extensive acceptance and support for the doctrines among theologians and saints for centuries prior to their formal proclamation by a pope. The doctrines were subject to intense study over a period of centuries, requiring a long process before formal acceptance was granted.

We know very little about the exact date of the dormition and Assumption. It is possible, based on various writings, that the dormition occurred not too many years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection and took place either in Jerusalem or Ephesus. The earliest surviving reliable references to the Assumption are the sermons of St. Andrew of Crete, St. John Damascene, St. Modestus of Jerusalem and others. In the West, meanwhile, St. Gregory of Tours is generally credited with mentioning it first. St. John Damascene added that St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), informed Emperor Marcian and Empress Pulcheria (who wished to possess the mortal remains of the Mother of God) that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened was found empty; the Apostles thus concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.

The doctrine was subsequently supported by a host of theologians, including Sts. Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure. The doctrine was also promoted by such eminent later theologians as St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Robert Bellarmine. Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) declared it a probable opinion.

The Feast of the Assumption was observed in Palestine during at least the 5th century, according to the life of St. Theodosius (d. 529). When it was celebrated in the Eastern Empire is a matter of some question, as it was divided between August 15 and January 18. Byzantine Emperor Maurice (d. 602) attempted to settle the date and chose August 15, according to the Liber Pontificalis, at least as far as the Eastern Empire was concerned.

In Rome, the oldest and only feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary was January 1, the octave of the birth of Our Lord. Thus before the seventh century no other feast was recognized, although there is some question concerning the feast found in the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary for August 15. That feast, however, did not mention the corporeal assumption of Mary. The Byzantine feasts for Mary, including the Assumption, were introduced in the pontificate of Pope Sergius I around 700, from where they found acceptance in other territories, including those in the West that actually kept the other Eastern date of January 18. By the end of the 8th century, the feast was universally recognized in the West on August 15. The octave was added in 847 by Pope Leo IV, and in 863, Pope Nicholas I made it equal to Christmas and Easter.

Father Frederick Jelly, O.P. approached the question of the dormition this way, in The Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine (by Our Sunday Visitor): “Although the dogma of the Assumption did not settle a number of questions regarding Mary’s departure from this life, the testimony of Tradition does seem to favor the theological opinions that she died and was most likely buried near the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, and that, in the likeness of her Son’s Resurrection, her body did not decompose after her death and burial but instead Mary was gloriously assumed intact.”

Because it has been promulgated as a Doctrine of the Faith, it is part of the Deposit of Faith which was entrusted to the Church upon the death of the last Apostle. The Church cannot ever add, modify, or remove anything from this Deposit of Faith.

But, the funny thing is, the Church doesn’t know, at any given time, exactly what the Deposit contains. Some Doctrines are flippin’ obvious, and some can be suggested by Early Church Fathers. But some Doctrines are “newly discovered.”

It’s like math - we never “invent” math, but we discover things about it which were always there. The square-root of two was an irrational number from the beginning of the universe - it did not “become” irrational when the ancient Greeks proved it (in the most simple and elegant proof in the history of the world). In a sense, we have a “deposit of Math” which has always existed and has always been true, but we are always learning things about it that are new (to us). The difference is that we don’t claim that our discoveries are deliberate actions of the Holy Spirit.

One such Doctrine would be the Church’s teaching on abortion and artificial birth control. These teachings are certainly not clearly supported by Biblical or ancient texts (Onan is a very weak source). The concepts did not exist in ancient days. One might claim that the Church has not defined that these teachings are infallible, but they are certainly Church Doctrine (and, I believe, will eventually recognized as infallible in nature).

Another example is that the Church has no authority to confer priestly Orders upon women. This IS an infallible doctrine, but it is not clearly supported in ancient texts. We can safely claim that there are no examples of female priests, but that doesn’t mean the Church could not ordain one if She (the Church) wished. The Church has likewise (to my knowledge) ever ordained an eight-year old boy, although any Baptized male past the age of reason is theologically eligible.

These teachings are part of the Deposit of Faith, but are more clearly made known to the Church by the Holy Spirit at the appropriate time.

Thanks for your answers, most helpful. :slight_smile:

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