Why so much silence on the Assumption?

There is no reference to it anywhere for a long time. Let’s grant that the earliest references to it date from the third century (Ethiopic texts, ect); let’s assume that Mary died very old (she can even be a centenarian and die in the 080s).

Even if we assume a few decades of oral tradition before anyone does any writing, we still have over a century of silence.

How do we explain a century of silence on the subject?

PS NOTE WELL: I accept the Assumption. I do not want arguments for it. I want explanations of why it’s a century before anyone says anything.

Why must things be in writing at all?

I think St. Justin Martyr, who lived in the mid-100s, and St. Irenaeus, who lived in the late 100s, both imply the Assumption through their doctrine of Mary as the New Eve, as well as through a few of their statements about Mary defeating/not receiving death.

Mary’s Assumption in the Doctrine of the Pre-Nicene Church

165 A.D. - St. Justin Martyr - “Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy.” (Dialog with Trypho Chapter 100)

180 A.D. - St. Irenaeus - “[J]ust as the human race was bound to death because of [Eve], so it was set free from death by [Mary].” (Against Heresies Book V Chapter 19 Paragraph 1)

It’s not the least bit surprising considering:

  1. This was not central to the Gospel in the Primitive Church.
  2. It may have been downplayed on purpose for this very reason
  3. Persecutions were preventing much writing from occurring
  4. Much that was written was lost due to persecutions.

It seems to be that they had more important doctrines to figure out. Roughly into the fourth century they were still trying to understand who Jesus was. Was he fully God and partially human, was he human at all, was he equal to the Father, etc? These were far more pressing issues that needed to be defined and clarified due to various heretical groups at that time teaching contradictory doctrines. After all, if we don’t know who Jesus is, does his mother really matter all that much?

It’s really only in understanding who Jesus is, that Mary and her life, death/dormition, and assumption become something worth knowing.

And while we may not have early church fathers that write about her assumption, we do have St. John the Apostle writing about it in Rev 11:19-12:1 in the first century. The following is purely speculation on my part, but I think it’s possible that maybe some of the early church fathers out of pious respect for St. John (who cared for her) didn’t want to write something that could possibly overshadow his rendition of it, and so they write nothing, but the oral tradition was taught.

Perhaps it’s not something anyone thought about or talked about or believed in during the first 3 centuries?
Maybe it was a belief that came centuries after she died.


Assuming the event actually took place, it would have been hard for it to escape notice.

Because the contemporary witness of those who were around at the time were uncontested until many years later.

See, the whole “They had bigger Christological fish to fry” thing, occurred to me.
Yet, it seems that the first occurrences of writing on the Assumption actually come during the height of Christological controversies. Which makes sense, because Marian doctrines were sometimes at the crux of resolving and instigating Christological disputes (Theotokos, Nestorius, etc.). So, I am unsure.

Besides, this kind of thought, (It wasn’t disputed; not the biggest issue; etc) it might miss the point.
Before this would be a doctrine, something brought up to be fought about or affirmed or anything, it would be a historical event. It would be a pretty noteworthy historical event, no? The kind of thing someone would mention, right?

BUT, maybe the Johanine community was less into evangelization (as some suggest), and maybe given its internal Christological fights we see play out in the epistles, they didn’t further complicate it by talking about the Assumption. So, the “bigger fish to fry” argument probably does provide a partial answer.

And I suppose that the persecutions did keep a lot from getting written down. The hagiographies we have of most people do finally get written a while after their deaths. This is maybe the best explanation; stories of saints’ deaths tend to go a long while before being recorded, even in the case of people we know knew them (Athanasius knew Antony; Gregory knew Macrina, but it was years before either of them wrote anything, and of course, they were literate, making them exceptions in antiquity, so “why need any writing” you may have a point).

And then, hagiography doesn’t really become a genre until the persecutions subside, so I suppose the “Persecutions keep people from writing” argument has a good point.

The partial answers probably all come together to give a good one. If anyone else has any thoughts, please share!

Now, I am assuming people would have noticed.
Maybe not. Maybe she just disappeared from her tomb one day and then people (grave robbers? persecutors? relic collectors? An emperor apparently wanted one and was informed by one of the Chalcedonian council fathers that there was this Assumption deal that happened a while back) noticed she was missing decades later.
The oldest stories always say like three days, but maybe that is a folk-tale way of illustrating a parallel with the Resurrection that they wanted people to take away. Maybe it was much longer.

Who knows?

I want to highlight this reason by way of example.

Among the early references to the Assumption in Christian literature, one of them refers to other authors whose works now seem to be lost. The passage I’m referring to comes from Eusebius’ Chronological Tables in Year 48 A.D. You can view the Latin of one manuscript here: books.google.com/books?id=DxQRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA584#v=onepage&q&f=false

Look on that page, near the top, where there is a chunk of text indented and centered, with the word “Romanorum” above it. On the right of that chunk of text you can see a table of years: “An. Dom.” is at the top, with the numbers 47, 48, 49, and 50 going down beside it. Look next to Year 48 and you’ll see the following text in Eusebius’ book: “Maria virgo Jesu Christi mater ad Filium in caelum assumitur, ut quidam fuisse sibi revelationi scribunt.” According to the translation here, this does not appear in all manuscripts, and it translates to, “The virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, is taken up to her son in heaven, as some write had been revealed to her.”

If the entry is a genuine text of Eusebius, that makes this a very early explicit reference to the Assumption from the early 300s A.D. And it is very interesting that the text refers to other authors: “as some write had been revealed to her.” Who are the “some”? Well, we do know some of Eusebius’ sources: Eusebius wrote his history based on books he consulted at the lost library at Alexandria. He paid special regard to the now-lost history by Hegesippus. At the beginning of his Chronological Table he names several sources: “Clement, and Africanus, and Tatian from among ourselves, and Josephus and Justus from among the Jews.”

The historical writings of all these authors are lost, except Josephus’s books. But if the Eusebius entry is genuine, then he knew of authors prior to himself, prior to the early 300s, who referred to Mary’s Assumption. Thus there is some reason to suspect that Mary’s Assumption was a known historical fact in the pre-Nicene Church, but the writings which refer to it are basically lost.

One thing is for certain here. It’s a known fact that the early Christians venerated the saints to the absolute max. And they went to great lengths to gather their relics. Here we have the greatest Saint who ever lived, the mother of the Messiah, and yet no one claims to have the remains of the most important creature to ever live in all of Christendom? How can that be? It just doesn’t add up. I love what this article has to say about her Assumption. Here’s an excerpt;

There is also what might be called the negative historical proof for Mary’s Assumption. It is easy to document that, from the first, Christians gave homage to saints, including many about whom we now know little or nothing. Cities vied for the title of the last resting place of the most famous saints. Rome, for example, houses the tombs of Peter and Paul, Peter’s tomb being under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the early Christian centuries relics of saints were zealously guarded and highly prized. The bones of those martyred in the Coliseum, for instance, were quickly gathered up and preserved—there are many accounts of this in the biographies of those who gave their lives for the faith.

It is agreed upon that Mary ended her life in Jerusalem, or perhaps in Ephesus. However, neither those cities nor any other claimed her remains, though there are claims about possessing her (temporary) tomb. And why did no city claim the bones of Mary? Apparently because there weren’t any bones to claim, and people knew it. Here was Mary, certainly the most privileged of all the saints, certainly the most saintly, but we have no record of her bodily remains being venerated anywhere.

Peace, Mark

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