Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bodily Marian Relics And The Assumption Of Mary

In his decree dogmatizing the assumption of Mary, Pope Pius XII commented, "Finally, since the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people, we have a proof on the order of a sensible experience." The alleged lack of interest in and lack of claims of possession of bodily relics of Mary has been made much of by Roman Catholics as evidence for Mary's assumption. As I've mentioned before, though, the lack of interest in bodily relics of Mary and lack of claims of possessing them can easily be explained without recourse to a bodily assumption (a lack of interest in relics in general among some of the relevant sources, a lack of interest in Marian relics in particular without believing that she had been assumed, agnosticism about whether such relics existed, etc.). And, as I documented in the post linked above and in another one here, the lack of discussion of Marian bodily relics is accompanied by evidence of a widespread absence of belief in her assumption.

But more should be said about the alleged lack of discussion of bodily relics. In 1957, the Roman Catholic scholar Walter Burghardt published an article on Mary's death in patristic sources. You can read it here. There's a lot of significant information in the article, but what I want to highlight here is a few references to sources of the patristic era who seem to have denied the Roman Catholic view of what happened to Mary's body.

On page 65 in Burghardt's article (going by the original page numbering), he cites Severian of Gabala's comments on how Mary was called blessed when she was living in the flesh. The most natural way to interpret his comments seems to be that he didn't think Mary was in the flesh any longer.

Burghardt also cites a passage in Pseudo-Antoninus Placentinus in which Mary is referred to as being "taken up out of the body" (92), an apparent reference to her death. It's unlikely that he'd refer to Mary's experience surrounding death that way, without any accompanying reference to a bodily assumption, if he believed in an assumption.

On page 94, Burghardt cites Adamnan referring to how nobody knows where Mary's body was taken, and he refers to how her body is awaiting resurrection. Contrast that to Pope Pius XII's decree, in which the Pope claims to know where Mary's body is and cites Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 15:54 as having already been fulfilled in Mary.

On the same page, Burghardt cites some comments in Bede that are similar to Adamnan's.

Burghardt goes on to cite an account of some government officials going to the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century and asking to have Mary's remains relocated to Constantinople (94-95). They're then told that there are no remains, since she was assumed to heaven. But notice that the account, however unhistorical it is, allows for such significant ignorance of Mary's assumption and people seeking her relics as late as the fifth century.

Michael O'Carroll, a Roman Catholic scholar who specialized in the history of Marian beliefs, refers to some of the same material Burghardt cites and similar material in other sources. He refers, for example, to how Paschasius Radbert believed in an assumption "of the soul only" (Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], 278). O'Carroll refers to how Paschasius' influence "arrested development of thought on the Assumption for two-and-a-half centuries" (57). See the same page for a discussion of other sources by whom "doubt was expressed" about the assumption.

Notice that there's no need for people to have expressed interest in parts of Mary's body, such as a finger or legbone, in order to have expressed interest in her body as a whole and to have been agnostic about or denied the Catholic view of what happened to her body. It's misleading to frame these issues in terms of seeking or claiming to have a portion of Mary's body, since references to her body as a whole can likewise be inconsistent with the Catholic view of what happened to her.

Once belief in an assumption had become popular enough, it was in the interest of those involved in promoting relics to use ones ambiguous enough to accommodate both views without much difficulty, the view that Mary was assumed and the view that she wasn't. We see widespread claims about having something like a portion of her hair or clothing.

In his article, Burghardt explains why it's likely that there was widespread belief in Mary's death in the earliest centuries of Christianity (in contrast to the notion that she was assumed to heaven without dying or some such thing). If you combine that evidence with the evidence addressed in my articles linked earlier (here and here) to the effect that there was a widespread lack of belief in an assumption of Mary in the earliest centuries, it seems that the earliest view was that Mary died and wasn't assumed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Degrees Of Reward And Contentment In Heaven

"But who can conceive, not to say describe, what degrees of honor and glory shall be awarded [in heaven] to the various degrees of merit? Yet it cannot be doubted that there shall be degrees. And in that blessed city there shall be this great blessing, that no inferior shall envy any superior, as now the archangels are not envied by the angels, because no one will wish to be what he has not received, though bound in strictest concord with him who has received; as in the body the finger does not seek to be the eye, though both members are harmoniously included in the complete structure of the body. And thus, along with his gift, greater or less, each shall receive this further gift of contentment to desire no more than he has." (Augustine, The City Of God, 22:30)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Principles For Evaluating Development Of Doctrine

The subject of doctrinal development often comes up in discussions with Roman Catholics, but it's relevant to other contexts as well. We've written a lot about it over the years, and you can find many relevant posts in our archives. I want to outline several of the principles we should keep in mind as we think about the topic:

- Different individuals and groups make different claims about the beliefs under consideration, and they bear different burdens of proof accordingly. Catholics can't try to have the benefits of making higher claims about the alleged history of their doctrines without also paying the cost of bearing a higher burden of proof. The two go together. See the second-to-last paragraph of the post here regarding what Roman Catholicism has claimed about the history of the assumption of Mary or the opening paragraphs here regarding the papacy, for example.