On 25/7/98, someone who signed his/her name as "Unknown (no email / no homepage )" left the following message in my guestbook:
"I just don't understand where catholics determine that Mary does ANYTHING for you. She is dead. THE BIBLE does not indicate in any way, shape form, or fashion that she can have any greater influence on your souls than any other dead person."
The following is the first part of my response to that message. I have included a link to the second part at the end.
I am posting a response to your recent entry in my guestbook because you left no email address where I could answer you privately. I must admit that I am not fond of such "hit and run" tactics, but this topic should be addressed.
Since you essentially raised two related issues, I will answer you in two parts. This first part will tackle your contention that Mary is dead, while the second part will explain the Biblical basis for belief in the communion and intercession of saints.
Is Mary Dead?
In your message you state that Mary is dead. But where does the Bible say that? Nowhere! It is rather inconsistent to accuse Catholics of not following the Bible when you yourself believe an unbiblical doctrine (a doctrine which I encourage you to reconsider, based on the facts presented below).
We know that not everything Jesus said and did is recorded in the Gospels, for Scripture itself says so (John 21:25). In fact, most of His words and actions during His three years of ministry were not written down by the Apostles! Similarly, the Bible is silent on exactly how Mary's earthly life ended, even as it is silent on how most of the Apostles died. God obviously never intended for Scripture to contain all theological and historical knowledge (contrary to popular opinion).
Catholics, who do not embrace the novel doctrine of sola scriptura (which was invented in the sixteenth century by Martin Luther), rely on Church history to tell us what happened to these New Testament figures. And Christians have always believed that at the end of Mary's life she was taken up, body and soul, into heaven by God.
(We usually call this her "Assumption", but the concept is essentially the same as what Evangelicals call the "Rapture". One could even say that Mary was "raptured" into heaven at the end of her life.)
Even many Evangelicals accept the witness of Church history that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome, that Paul was beheaded, etc., even though Scripture does not record these events. Why then do they refuse to believe, as the early Christians did, that Jesus raptured Mary into heaven at the end of her life on earth?
Why the Assumption?
Why would God do such a thing for Mary? Why would He not? He raptured Enoch and Elijah into Heaven without them ever tasting death (Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11) and at Jesus' crucifixion He raised numerous Old Testament saints from the dead (Matthew 27:52-53). Why would Jesus not do the same for His Mother, the woman whom He is bound to honor by His own Law (Exodus 20:12)? Why would He rapture and raise all these other people and leave His beloved Mother's body rotting in the grave?
(The fact that both Jesus and Mary were raised from the dead does not mean that they are "equal". Jesus rose from the dead by His own power - see John 10:17-18 - while Mary was raised up and taken into heaven by God. She could not raise herself anymore than we could raise ourselves. In the end God will raise us as He did her.)
Evidence for the Assumption
If Mary was not taken into heaven, then where on earth is her body? Early Christians were very careful with the remains of their brothers and sisters in Christ. They even risked their lives to retrieve the bones of martyrs who were torn apart by lions in the arena. They did this out of great reverence for the body as a member of Christ and temple of the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 6:15, 19).
Because Christians took care of the remains of the saints, we know the final resting place of the bones of Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene and many other New Testament believers. But where are the remains of the Virgin Mary? There is no record of anyone ever claiming to possess the body of the Mother of Jesus.
Surely this would have been the most prized relic of all; the mortal remains of Jesus' closest blood relative, the very body which had carried Him for nine months and nursed and cared for Him long afterward! Yet in all of Church history, both biblical and extra-biblical, there is no record of its whereabouts, and the two tombs which are variously said to be Mary's are both empty (see discussion on "Two Tombs" below).
If Mary's body was not taken into heaven, this mysterious disappearance of her remains from history would be a most puzzling anomaly.
St. John Damascene, an eighth century Church Father, relates an interesting fact in this regard:
St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.So it seems the early Christians actually knew that something unusual and miraculous had happened to Mary's body soon after her death. This would explain why no one ever claimed to possess her mortal remains!
The fact that two tombs (one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus) both claim to be Mary's does not call her Assumption into doubt. There are also two tombs said to be Christ's; one in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the nearby Garden Tomb. Yet this does not disprove the Resurrection of Jesus. All four of these tombs are empty!
Evangelicals often point to Jesus' empty tomb as a proof of the Resurrection. I have even heard some of them say "There are two tombs which claim to be Jesus', and both are empty". If that is proof that Jesus rose from the dead, then surely the fact that the tombs said to be Mary's are both empty is equal proof that Mary was taken up into heaven body and soul.
As to the argument that her "real" tomb may be elsewhere and not vacant: opponents of Jesus' resurrection make the same charge - it's called the "wrong tomb" theory. (Strange how some Evangelical arguments against Mary actually parallel infidel arguments used against Jesus!) In both cases, this argument is pure speculation, and contradicted by common sense. Are we to believe that Jesus' own followers forgot where they had buried Him only three days before? Or that early believers did not know where Mary was laid to rest (though they knew where every other New Testament figure was buried)? Surely Mary's tomb would have been a sight of pilgrimages, like those of other early Christians. It would not have been easily forgotten.
The fact remains that all these tombs are empty, and that no one ever claimed to have Mary's relics. Taken together with other facts, this is a supporting proof that Mary's body did not stay in the tomb.
(Which might be Mary's real tomb? This is a matter of speculation, of course, but I tend to side with the Jerusalem tomb. It is the first one so identified and archeology indicates that it dates back to her time.)
Early Christians expressed their belief in Mary's Assumption by writing various legendary accounts of the event to edify the faithful. These Transitus Mariae stories (as scholars call them) are pious fiction; they are neither inspired nor part of Sacred Scripture. Yet they are still valuable, for they attest to the fact that the Assumption was a widespread belief in the Church. Early Christians knew that God had raptured Mary into heaven, so they wrote various stories describing how it occurred.
Scholars possess numerous compies of the Transitus Mariae legends in various languages, including Syriac, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Coptic and Ethiopian. These were the major languages spoken by Christians at that time! Since these manuscripts date back to the fourth and fifth centuries, it is clear that belief in Mary's Assumption was widespread by then.
This would in turn indicate that the belief originated at a much earlier date. Indeed, some scholars date one Syrian manuscript back to the third century - the 200's!
The early Church Fathers were very zealous for the faith. They strenuously fought all new heresies which threatened the Faith delivered to the Apostles. If the Assumption of Mary were a novel belief at the time, we would expect to find Christian writers of the third to fifth centuries condemning it as a newfangled heresy. Yet none do! Nowhere in the writings of the early Church Fathers do we find the slightest condemnation of this doctrine.
This fact, coupled with the lack of Mary's remains and the empty tomb in Jerusalem claimed to be hers, and we have strong evidence that the Assumption of Mary actually happened and that the early Christians knew about it!
So the belief that Mary is dead cannot be sustained from either the Bible or Church history. Rather, the early Christians believed that Jesus raptured her into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly life.
The rest of your objection will be answered in the next article.
For more information on the Assumption of Mary, see the Links to Marian Apologetics Sites.
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