Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Historical Problems With The Assumption Of Mary

Gavin Ortlund just put out a video on the subject that makes a lot of good points. One of the things he brings up is that ancient sources often discussed assumptions and similar events among other figures (e.g., Enoch) without mentioning Mary in the process. He cites some material from Tertullian as an illustration. I've gathered many such examples over the years, and you can find discussions of them in the posts linked here, for example. The nature of the argument is such that it gains significantly more force when more sources are cited, so it's important to address a larger number of sources. We've also discussed some other evidence Gavin doesn't address much or at all in his video, like in the post here on Marian relics. You can find an archive of our posts on the Assumption of Mary here.


  1. As a Protestant I find the historical arguments for Mary's assumption to be quite week. Though I was wondering what your thoughts are on Marian apparitions. If for the sake of argument some were legitimate, would this be some evidence for the assumption? Or could this still be accounted for as a spirit?

    1. We've occasionally discussed Marian apparitions in other threads. Steve Hays wrote some posts about them. I briefly commented on the Zeitoun apparition on my Facebook account earlier this year. On Catholic miracles more broadly, see here and here.

      In addition to considering the possibility that a Catholic miracle comes from God (a possibility Evangelicals often don't take seriously enough), we need to consider other potential non-demonic sources. A projection of the mind of one or more living individuals with paranormal abilities or some variation of the stone tape hypothesis, for example, could better explain a Marian apparition, especially if it has one or more characteristics that seem to be better explained by a non-demonic source (e.g., simplicity [such as not being interactive], triviality, nonsensicality). And we often hear about that sort of thing in Marian contexts (e.g., weeping statues, alleged shapes that resemble Mary appearing in various contexts). Given how much Catholics and others think about Mary, are highly emotional about her, and so on, it could easily be the case that Catholics and others with paranormal abilities (including ones they aren't aware of) are producing such phenomena. In fact, I'd be surprised if that isn't sometimes occurring. In other words, a Marian apparition (or other Marian phenomenon) could be coming from the mind of one or more living individuals rather than being demonic or an appearance of the real Mary. Or a stone tape phenomenon involving a figure thought to resemble Mary could be mistaken for her. There could be a connection between the minds of living individuals and which stone tape phenomena are produced, so that an apparition is a sort of replay of a past event, but one that's selected and triggered by the mind of a living person. And so forth.

    2. We should apply the same reasoning to miracle reports among Protestants and other non-Catholic sources. Here's Stanley Krippner, a paranormal researcher, discussing stigmata and other allegedly paranormal activity occurring with a non-Christian he studied, and he mentions in the process that the phenomenon has occurred among Protestants as well. The man Krippner studied said he was "raised in the Muslim faith but now finds inspiration in all religions." (page 210 here) However, there's a reference elsewhere to how he said "I am Muslim" (214). The article refers to stigmata occurring with this individual at the mention of Jesus in a conversation, and there's discussion of some eucharistic phenomena (211-12, 216). The article also refers to another non-Catholic who experienced stigmata phenomena or something similar, a man referred to as "Not a Roman Catholic, and not particularly religious" (208). Krippner cites another source who noted that "the battle wounds of Mohammed have appeared on devout Islamic men" (218). And see page 221 for other examples of such phenomena among non-Catholics. The nature of life is such that claims like these range across a spectrum in terms of the evidence supporting them. But I find it highly unlikely that all of the phenomena discussed by Krippner are inauthentic (in the sense of being normal rather than paranormal). I doubt that even a majority are.

      An objection could be raised to the effect that allowing paranormal activity among humans, instead of attributing the events to God or Satan, opens the door to attributing Biblical and other purportedly Christian miracles to human psi. But we can't dismiss a potential explanation just because we don't like its implications. And the objection under consideration here is just a variation on the old objection that divine miracles could be attributed to demonic activity. How do we know that the miracles allegedly supporting Christianity aren't a demonic deception? We've addressed issues like these in previous posts. For example, see here on attributing Christian miracles to human psi, and see here on attributing them to demons.

      Regarding the Assumption, yes, something like a Marian apparition has the potential to add credibility to the concept. That's part of the evidence we should take into account.

    3. That is interesting and I certainly have not looked into psi stuff in the past. I always figured that if phenomenon like that was the case, then it should be replicable. With prayer, I understand that we can't know God's intentions and so can't know when or who he would perform a miracle for. But if it's the individual who is creating the image with their own mind, theoretically it seems like you could recreate the conditions to get them to project it.

      This sounds like the concept of tulpaism and Eastern religions, I don't know if you're familiar with it.

    4. Not everything in life (or science in particular) is replicable, and what is replicated often occurs outside a laboratory setting (e.g., studying animals in their natural habitat). And we don't always know the conditions involved in producing something, so we often don't even know what would need reproduced. I've addressed the issue of replicability as it relates to the paranormal in other threads, like here. Paranormal activity has often been produced on demand, sometimes in laboratory settings (e.g., the experiments done by Dean Radin and Daryl Bem; see the article here by Chris Roe, who was recently president of the Society for Psychical Research, regarding Bem's work) and sometimes outside the laboratory (e.g., D.D. Home, Eusapia Palladino, Ted Serios). In the Enfield case, Janet Hodgson produced some paranormal effects on demand in both settings: metal bending in her house and weight gaining in a laboratory at Birkbeck College. David Robertson was involved in those tests and discussed them with me a few years ago, which you can read about here.

      Since we have souls, we shouldn't expect human abilities to be limited to the body. How does a soul separated from the body operate? We apparently have abilities like telepathy and clairvoyance in the afterlife, and I see no reason to rule out the possibility of having and using such capacities in this life. As far as projecting images is concerned, how is a ghost seen (including in Biblical passages about ghosts), or how do people see what's happening in a shared death experience? If some kind of paranormal projecting of images is involved or something similar is occurring, I see no reason to think it can't occur in other contexts, such as Marian apparitions.