Behold Your Mother By Matthew Russell S.J. Part 9. Thoughts On The Assumption (a) *

* See note to the preceding- essay.


The great outlines of the devotion to the Mother of God are clearly traced in the early monuments of Christian tradition. Almost at the start of Christianity we find, to borrow Dr. Newman's words, the ever-blessed immaculate Mother of God exercising her office as advocate of sinners, standing by the sacrifice as she stood by the cross, and offering up and applying its infinite merits and incommunicable virtue in union with priest and people. Moreover, the sweet image of Mary clasping her Child to her bosom cheered our first fathers in the faith within those dark retreats to which the malice of a world, rendered savage by corruption, had driven them for refuge. Virgin-Mother and Child-God have ever been, and shall ever be, together enshrined in the hearts of the faithful, just as they have been from the beginning together assailed by the mocking blasphemies of the pagan and the subtle malice of the heretic.

The doctrine concerning Mary's privileges forms, in a true sense, the rampart of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. She defends in the Church militant the dogma of her Son's two Natures united in one Divine Person, as of old she protected Him in His infancy from the rage of the tyrant Herod. The Council of Ephesus vindicates the mystery of the Incarnation by declaring Mary Theotokos, Deipara, "Mother of God" She conceived the Son of God ; she brought forth the Son of God ; she is God's own true Mother, The simplest child can see that the only Son of God's Mother must needs be God. We might pursue the same train of thought with respect to her virginal Maternity. Her perpetual Virginity which the Holy Ghost miraculously crowned with the honours of motherhood, removes all notion of mere human origin from the Blessed Fruit of her womb. Thus her virginal and divine maternity illustrates and manifests the Godhead and Manhood of Jesus Christ. And hence that gentle form, crowned with the mystic lily and the red rose, and folding the little Babe with loving arms, draws us nigher to the Word Incarnate by filling our hearts with the freshness, the beauty, the sinlessness, the unspeakable dignity of his Maiden Mother.

To the Divine Motherhood the other privileges of Mary may be referred, since they either prepare the way for that sublime office or flow from it almost as natural consequences. The great fact that Mary conceived the Son of God, that the Eternal Word did not shrink from the Virginia womb, is the mystery of mysteries, the crown and sum of all the great things which He who is mighty hath wrought in her behalf.

As the perception of this grand truth, and of the simple ideas which group themselves around it, grew in depth and keenness, the other privileges of her who is full of grace came out before the mind in bolder relief. Jesus shed His light around His Blessed Mother, and the faithful followed its course, now to the wondrous message of Gabriel by which she became the Mother of God, now to the foot of the cross where she became the mother of men. But more slowly did they trace that divine light as it shone on the beginning and on the end of Mary's mortal course. It shone of old as it shines now—the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever—but the Holy Ghost turned the eyes of the faithful to Jesus and Mary united, before He led them to gaze on the solitary figure of Mary, as she came forth from the hands of the Most High, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, gleaming with innocence and grace; or, again, as she went back to the Maker's hands who made her so peerless, with the soul which knew not sin, and the virginal body which defied corruption.

Our hearts swell with joy as we ponder on the grand hymn of praise in which Pius IX, proclaimed our Lady's exemption from the sad heritage of Adam's children- By a miracle of redeeming mercy she is sanctified before sin had time to enter her soul. She rises in brightness and beauty, so that we naturally expect her setting to be even as her rising, and that clouds and darkness shall never settle permanently around aught so radiant and so fair.

That the Mother of God is in heaven both in body and in soul is a truth so dear to every Catholic heart that few would have the hardihood to call it in question. The belief in the anticipated resurrection of our Lady is spread so far and wide among pastors and people, and is so closely bound up with the other truths which faith teaches concerning her privileges, that any denial of it would imply that the gainsayer heeded not the practical teaching of the Church, and had yet great way to make in the knowledge and love of the Mother of God.

The scope of this paper does not permit us to do more than point out the theological foundations on which this doctrine is based. They are the following. The Feast of the Assumption has been kept in both the Eastern and Western Churches for more than a thousand years, as the liturgies, calendars, and several martyrologies testify. From the eighth century we have the homilies and panegyrics of many of the greatest saints in the East and in the West explaining this doctrine of the Assumption of our Lady in body and soul into heaven. We then find it pass from the Fathers to the Scholastics, by whom it was generally received. Suarez could say, in his day, that it was so widely spread through the Church that no pious Catholic could call it in question ; and that, though it was not of faith, yet it had the same degree of certainty as the doctrine (since defined) of the Immaculate Conception. Benedict XIV. roundly asserts that all theologians hold it. The definition of the Immaculate Conception has given new force to the arguments in its favour. Hence, theologians generally brand the opposite opinion with the censure of temerity or error. All these arguments show what is the universal and ordinary practical teaching of the Church on the matter. If this ordinary magisterium had proposed it as having been divinely revealed, it would, then, be of divine and Catholic faith according to the definition of the Vatican Council. It has not done so. However, when the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church proposes something, not precisely as having been formally revealed, but yet as belonging to the order of religious truths there is then, according to the Catholic Doctors, a sure guarantee against error.

These principles furnish a reply to the difficulties against the Assumption which were urged by Tillemont, Launoy, and those who in the last century followed the same dangerous line. They tried to make out that the doctrine was founded merely on those spiritual romances known by the name of apocrypha, and that, as these documents are spurious, the doctrine must fall to the ground. We admit that an historian, if he confine himself within the limits of his own science, would find it no easy matter to draw out a convincing proof for the Assumption. Bat the same fact may fall within the domain of history and of theology. Now, as theology has means of attaining truth distinct from those of history, it reaches to facts to which history cannot come, almost in the same way as one sense detects what another cannot. It is not upon the apocrypha that the doctrine of the Assumption is grounded, but upon the general sentiment of the Church, manifested by the several documents I mentioned already. Nor does this general belief touch the circumstances narrated in the apocrypha. It is disputed where the Blessed Virgin died, whether at Ephesus or Jerusalem ; what was the year of her death ; how long she remained in the tomb ; who were the witnesses of her resurrection, and what circumstances attended it. But the universal sentiment is, that she rose from death to live in glory; and that general sentiment of the Church is never deceived in the matter of religious truth. Hence, it came to pass that the arguments urged by the opponents of this doctrine made a momentary splash, like a stone cast into a tranquil stream, but yet a little while, and all was as bright and calm as if they had never been known.

In order to show that this doctrine belongs to the order of religious truth, we shall now bring together some of the theological reasons with which it has been proposed in the course of Catholic tradition. These reasons have considerable force if they be well pondered. It is not required, however, for the argument that they prove the necessity of the Assumption by themselves. If they closely link the Assumption with other religious truths, and exhibit it as their fitting counterpart and evolution, it is clear that those who proposed the Assumption with such reasons regarded it as being in the same order as the reasons themselves. These will throw some light, too, on the bearing of the Assumption on the other privileges of Mary, and perhaps make us better disposed to follow the sweet admonition which the Poet of the Schools represents himself as receiving in Paradise from the lips of St. Bernard (Parad. xxxv. 85) :—

"Riguarda ormai nella faccia ch' a Cristo
  Piu s'assomiglia, che la sua chiarezza
  Sola ti puo disporre a vedder Cristo.'' *

* "Look now into the face that unto Christ
     Hath most resemblance, for its brightness only
     Is able to prepare thee to see Christ."
                                     (Longfellow's Translation.)

One of the great traditional ideas concerning Mary is, that she is the New Eve sharing in the privileges of the New Adam, as our first mother shared in the privileges of our first father. The first Eve, virgin and innocent, shared in the immortality proper to the first Adam. According to St. Augustine, this gift consisted in posse non mori — that is, in the power of warding off death as long as innocence was preserved. Another immortality belonged to the New Adam. He was not to keep Death for ever at arm's length, but rather, whilst yielding to his power, to rob him of his victory. But in what consists this victory if not in making the human frame pass through corruption to its primitive dust ? It is only when that dust shall have been reassumed, when what is mortal shall have put on immortality, and what is corruptible shall have put on glory and incorruption, that shall come to pass the saying that is written : " Death, where is thy victory ?'' Now, through the merits of Christ, even we are to share in this victory at the end of the world, as by the sin of Adam we have all been brought under the yoke of death. Moreover, the extent to which we are to share in the triumph over death is measured according to the closeness of our union with Jesus Christ. Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection, and then every one in his order. The New Eve is united to the New Adam, not according to the order of our fallen race, but according to an order that is proper to herself alone. She is joined to Him in the closest bands of kindred, in the closest bands of charity. Nature and grace combined to render the order of her union with Him such as can never be equalled in kind or degree ; and both claim a singular and exceptional participation in the privilege of his immortality.


The holiness of Mary's virginal body seems, also, to claim at the hands of her Divine Son that special honour and reverence implied in the Assumption. As she was destined to give of her substance a human frame to the Eternal Word, her pure flesh was sanctified and dedicated to God by a most special consecration. The holiness of the Sacred Body of Jesus Christ was, according to the holy Fathers, sufficient to claim a glorious resurrection from the Almighty.It is true that the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ is anointed with the holiness of the Godhead, to which it was inseparably united in the Incarnation, and that, on this account, the sanctity of Mary must, of necessity, be infinitely less; yet it is, nevertheless, so perfect and so peerless as to guard her sacred flesh from the ravage of the tomb.

The holy Fathers speak of her as the living temple of the Most High, the holy tabernacle of the Most Blessed Trinity, the living ark of the Covenant, fashioned of incorruptible wood, and overlaid with the purest gold- They also apply to her those passages of the Old Testament, which describe the glories of the Eternal Word and his procession from the bosom of the Eternal Father. St. Ephrem sums up the Catholic doctrine when he cries out in one of his beautiful poems : "Thou (Christ) and thy Mother are indeed passing fair, for in Thee, Lord, there is no spot, nor any stain in thy Mother!'' This freedom from all stain, beginning in her Immaculate Conception, and persevering through her whole life in the perfect obedience of sense to reason, and reason to grace, though it does not keep away death, to which even her Son submitted, preserves her from death's dreadful sequel. Corruption is, in the moral order, the fit penalty of concupiscence, the medicinal humiliation of all proud and rebellious flesh. Hence, the all-pure and sacred body of Mary was exempted from that law under which all mere earthly beauty fades and withers into dust.

Our next argument is taken from analogy. About this species of argument St. Francis de Sales has a pretty story. A Calvinist preacher was working hard, and not unsuccessfully, to keep back those who at Thonon were seriously minded to return to the Church of their fathers. According to him, analogy was altogether on the Protestant side, and he defied any Catholic to meet him on that ground. St. Francis wrote a little work on the Creed to show that this fearful-looking weapon was, in the minister's hands, a mere sword of wood ; or, to drop metaphor, that the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist did not "destroy the symbol and the analogy of faith." " For, "adds the saint," the minister affected to use the word analogy, not understood by his hearers, in order to appear mighty learned."