"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Tuesday 14 August 2012


The death of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Latin tradition
"The Death of the Virgin Mary" by Caravaggio

Many Catholics (at least in the West) are under the impression that the Latin (Roman) Church favors the opinion that the Mother of God did not die, but was assumed at the end of her life without suffering the separation of body and soul; while the Eastern Church favors the opinion that the Blessed Virgin Mary did die, and that they refer to this death as a “dormition”. In truth, although there are certain modern westerners who (quite rashly) maintain that the Virgin did not die, the Latin tradition has generally been even stronger than that of the East in affirming that our Lady suffered death: While the East speaks of “the falling asleep (dormition) of the Theotokos”, the West has traditionally favored the more blunt “the death of the Virgin Mary”.

The Latin tradition is so strongly in favor of the doctrine that our Lady suffered death before her Assumption that this was very nearly adopted at the Second Vatican Council after being promoted especially by mariologists of the Roman school.

On the less-than-reliable web source Wikipedia (as of July 2011), we find this same confusion - as though the Latin Church was not just as strong as the East in affirming the death of the Virgin Mary: “The Orthodox Church teaches that Mary died a natural death, like any human being. […] Roman Catholic teaching holds that Mary was ‘assumed’ into heaven in bodily form. Some Catholics agree with the Orthodox that this happened after Mary's death, while some hold that she did not experience death. Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (1950), which dogmatically defined the Assumption, left open the question.”

We shall briefly consider at least one reason as to why this confusion has crept into popular thinking. [For a discussion of whither the Blessed Mother was assumed, please consider this article, or this one.]

Dormition vs. Death
It seems that the Eastern “Dormition” tradition entails the notion of death. Certainly, the Eastern Fathers do not use dormition to deny bodily death. However, it is worth noting that the Eastern theologians generally refrain from speaking directly of “death”, but prefer the more metaphorical language of “falling asleep”. Perhaps they mean nothing different from the Latins, I do not know – What I do know is that the East does not generally speak of “The Death of the Virgin Mary”.

The West, on the other hand, has traditionally spoken first of our Lady’s death and then of her Assumption. The Latins emphasize the distinction between the two events, which the Greeks tend to collapse under the title “Dormition”. The Latins are clear: First, the Mother of God died; then, she was resurrected and assumed into heaven. Evidence of this language can be found in the Encyclical of Pius XII, excerpts of which are reproduced below.

A point of confusion: Artistic depictions in the West, Mary was alive at the Assumption

"The Assumption", Annibale Carracci of the Western tradition
It seems that a major factor which has led to the common misconception – as though the Latin Church favors the opinion that our Lady did not die, while the East presumes that she did suffer death – is the representations of the Assumption in Western art.

When the Western artists depict the Assumption of Mary, they depict her as being alive – whereas the Byzantine iconography generally shows our Lady “sleeping” on earth while her soul is with Christ in heaven. From this fact (that the Latin art shows the Virgin alive at the Assumption), some have presumed that the Western tradition maintains that our Lady did not die, but was assumed directly. However, this is plainly not the case.

The Latin tradition (as I mentioned above) stressed more clearly the two distinct events: First, our Lady died; then, she was resurrected and assumed into heaven. Therefore, it is entirely natural that the Western depictions of the Assumption would show our Lady alive while being taken up – this does not imply that she did not die, but only that she had been raised before being assumed.

It would be incorrect to state that Mary was still alive when she was assumed; rather, the Latin tradition maintains that Mary was again restored to life when she was assumed. [This is taught by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, which speaks of Mary's resurrection.]

"The Dormition of the Theotokos"
in the Eastern tradition of Theophanes the Greek

In any case, it is at least a sententia certa (a certain teaching) that our Lady died before being raised and assumed into heaven. This is the clear and explicit tradition of the West and is maintained in a slightly less-clear (and more metaphorical) manner also in the East.

The Magisterial teaching of Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus

Again and again, the Holy Father alludes (more or less explicitly) to the death of the Virgin Mother of God.
“She was not subject to the law of remaining in the corruption of the grave, and she did not have to wait until the end of time for the redemption of her body” (n. 5)
“It was not difficult for [the Christian faithful] to admit that the great Mother of God, like her only begotten Son, had actually passed from this life.” (n. 14)
“Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death” (n. 17, quoting the Sacramentarium Gregorianum)
“As he kept you a virgin in childbirth, thus he has kept your body incorrupt in the tomb and has glorified it by his divine act of transferring it from the tomb.” (n. 18, quoting the Byzantine liturgy)
“This feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death.” (n. 20)
“It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death.” (n. 21, quoting St. John Damascene)
“She has received an eternal incorruptibility of the body together with him who has raised her up from the tomb and has taken her up to himself in a way known only to him.” (n. 22, quoting a work attributed to St. Modestus of Jerusalem)
“Thus, during the earliest period of scholastic theology, that most pious man, Amadeus, Bishop of Lausanne, held that the Virgin Mary’s flesh had remained incorrupt.” (n. 28)
“What son would not bring his mother back to life and would not bring her into paradise after death if he could?” (n. 35, quoting St. Francis de Sales)
“Jesus did not wish to have the body of Mary corrupted after death” (n. 35, quoting St. Alphonsus, the Marian Doctor)
“Consequently, just as the glorious resurrection of Christ was an essential part and the final sign of this victory, so that struggle which was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body, for the same Apostle says: When this mortal thing hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.” (n. 39)
“Hence the revered Mother of God […] finally obtained, as the supreme culmination of her privileges, that she should be preserved free from the corruption of the tomb and that, like her own Son, having overcome death, she might be taken up body and soul to the glory of heaven.” (n. 40)

"The Assumption of Mary" by Juan de Valdes Leal

However, the definition infallibly declared by Pius XII does not explicitly state that the Blessed Virgin suffered death: “We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” (n. 44)

source: Mystagogy

Monk Moses the Athonite 
August 7, 2011 

Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, a great theologian, saw the Panagia in a vision and wrote: With what human words can we describe your God-illumined beauty, Virgin Mother of God? Your grace is impossible to be identified with either words or thoughts. Only her divine vision gives brilliance, joy and exultation. 

The beauty of her face comes from her beautiful soul and pure heart. It's as light poured from the inside out giving it unparalleled decency, all-good beauty. 

The beauty, coming from her purity, modesty and humility, caught the eye of God on her and made her the Mother of God and of the people. The God-bearer Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite urges everyone to embrace the mindset of the holy Mother of God. 

Let us spruce our hearts appropriately in order for the virtues of the Panagia to reside within us, so that by seeing them on us we will receive rich spiritual graces and heavenly goods. 

The Mother of God's fifteen days of August has arrived. The year so far has given us death in Japan, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, Norway and elsewhere. Everyday we receive calls and letters for us to remember in prayer the critically ill patients and the dead from heart problems, cancer, and from various incurable diseases, and to light a candle to the All-Holy Virgin. 

The Panagia hurt a lot and knows well how to co-suffer, to reach out and to comfort. 

On the warm evenings of beautiful August, the supplications are as a balm caressing pained hearts and make us feel exquisite pleasure like sweet dew. The miracles of multiple icons, with sleepless vigil lamps, unquenchable candles from beeswax, myriad offerings, ornate silver decorations, the repentance, the tears, the greetings, the vows, the promises, the supplications and the thanksgivings. Many fast, confess and commune. 

The sacred and beautiful face of the Theotokos seduces. It makes you want to place on her your heaviness, your pain, your bitter thoughts, your moods, your fatigue, and the sigh of your unhappiness. 

Greece, Cyprus, and all Orthodoxy are full of churches, monasteries, hermitages, and shrines dedicated to her. There are pilgrims by the thousands. Mount Athos, her wonderful garden, has numerous hymns to the Economissa, the Paramythia, the Portaitissa, the Tricherousa, the Akathist, the Terrible Protection, the Sweet-kissing, the Gorgoepikoos, the Myrovlytissa, the Galaktotrophousa, the Axion Esti. 

The Sacred Church of Protaton celebrates the Dormition, as well as many cells of the Monastery of Iviron. The Mother of God is the speedy helper of the Holy Mountain and it rejoices. The Mother of God is the protectress of Greece and it rejoices. 

She who is the most beautiful in the face and heart, the most all-pure, the one more honorable than the Cherubim Panagia, is above all the saints. There was never a more holy person, a more good woman. Her jewelery is her purity, her modesty, her humility, her silence. She taught well by her example, with her virtuous life. Our times have need of inspirational and instructive personalities. 

Talkativeness, insolence, shamelessness, high-mindedness, ugliness, filth, and opacity have become very tired. 

We all thirst for openness, honesty, shame, silence, seriousness, purity, genuine humility. The current fifteen days of August lead us in contemplation, in a meeting with the Theotokos, in the revitalization of nested virtues, with the embrace of her icon, by listening to her life, and by singing the beautiful chants of her Supplication Canon. 

Translated by John Sanidopoulos

A Little Treatise on Mary 
by St. John Damascene
source: Catholic Tradition


Doctor of the Assumption 

On November 27, 1950, St. Peter's in Rome Pope Pius XII raised his voice to give the blessing on the occasion that commemorated the twelfth centenary of the death of St. John Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church by Leo XIII on August 19, 1890. 

Just a few weeks before Pope Pius XII had defined the dogma of the Assumption. The tdeclarative eaching of this truth as a dogma was new, but the truth itself was revered and ancient as Tradition itself. Pope Pius' definition only brought it into its final and sharpest focus. In Munificentissimus Deus, defining the dogma of the Assumption, the Pope called St. John Damascene "the interpreter of this Tradition par excellence." He then quoted St. John: 

"There was need that the body of her who in childbirth had preserved her virginity intact, be preserved incorrupt after death. There was need that she who had carried her Creator as a babe on her bosom, should linger lovingly in the dwelling of her God. There was need that the bride whom the Father had betrothed to Himself should live in the bridal chamber of Heaven, that she who had looked so closely upon her very own Son on the Cross, and who there felt in her heart the sword-pangs of sorrow which in bearing Him she had been spared, should look upon Him seated with His Father. There was need that God's Mother should enter into her Son's possessions, and as a Mother of God and hand- maid, be reverenced by all creation." [Par. 21]

The words are taken from the second of St. John's three homilies on the Assumption of Mary. From the opening words of the third sermon it seems that all three were preached on the same day at Mary's tomb in Jerusalem. The occasion was the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady-----also called her "Dormition" or "Falling Asleep." 

The third sermon opens in this way: 

"Lovers are wont to speak of what they love and to let their fancy run on it by day and night. Let no one, therefore, blame me if I add a third tribute to the Mother of God on her triumphant departure. I am not profiting her, but myself and you who are here present . . . She does not need our praise. It is we who need her glory . . . "

St. John Damascene's words about the Blessed Mother overflow with love, humility and gratitude. You can feel the surging emotion and understand that the beautiful words do not satisfy his yearning to say something better and more fitting. "She is greater than all praise." In his "winter of poverty" he wants to "bring garlands to our Queen, and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise." [Sermon 2]

Grateful, humble love can hardly speak more convincingly: "But what is sweeter than the Mother of my God? She has taken my mind captive and held my tongue in bondage. I think of her by day and night. She, the Mother of the Word, supplies my words." [Sermon 3]

St. John addresses Mary's empty tomb and asks: 

"Where is the pure gold which apostolic hands confided to you? Where is the inexhaustible treasure? Where the precious receptacle of God? Where is the new book in which the incomprehensible Word of God is written without hands . . . Where is the life-giving fountain? Where is the sweet and loved body of God's Mother?" [Sermon 2]

St. John concludes his third homily with this prayer to Our Lady: 

"Accept then my goodwill, which is greater than my capacity, and give us salvation. Heal our passions, cure our diseases, help us out of our difficulties, make our lives peaceful, send us the illumination of the Spirit. Inflame us with the desire of thy Son. Render us pleasing to Him, so that we may enjoy happiness with Him, seeing thee resplendent with thy Son's glory, rejoicing forever, keeping feast in the Church with those who worthily celebrate Him Who worked our salvation through thee: Christ, the Son of God, and our God. To Him be glory and majesty, with the uncreated Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, through the endless ages of eternity. Amen. 

[Source #1, pp. 241-243]

Mary Assumed into Heaven

The three homilies on the Dormition reveal the exceptional importance of Damascene's teaching for the development of doctrine on the Assumption. John explicitly teaches the truth of Mary's bodily Assumption into Heaven. In confonnity with the teaching of his two famous contemporaries, Germanus of Constantinople and Andrew of Crete, our doctor accepts the thesis that Mary's death is a premise of her imminent glorification: 

"O how could the Font of life be led to life through death? O how could she, who in giving birth surpassed the limits of nature, now yield to nature's laws and have her irnrnaculate body undergo death? She had to put aside what was mortal and put on incorruptibility, seeing that even the Lord of nature did not excuse Himself from facing death. He truly died in the flesh to destroy death by means of death; in place of corruption He gave incorruptibility; He made death into a font of resurrection!" [Homily 1 on the Dormition, 10] 

Even though she must pass through death before being glorified, nevertheless the personal destiny of the Mother of God had an unusual outcome: 

"Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption. 

"Indeed, just as her virginity remained intact when she gave birth, so her body, even after death, was preserved from decay and transferred to a better and more Divine dwelling place. There it is no longer subject to death but abides for all ages." [Ibid.]

In his second homily on the Dormition, Damascene uses biblical typology to present a whole series of reasons why it was fitting that Mary's body was not consumed by decay in the tomb. In this text, as in the passage cited above, one notes the homilist's tendency to explain the privilege of the Assumption by referring to the mystery of Mary's virginity in giving birth. Although this might seem to be an argument from fittingness, in Damascene's eyes it has the character of most strict necessity, because of the indispensable role played by Mary in the mystery of the Incarnation: 

"It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the Creator in her womb when He was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of Heaven .  . . . 

"It was necessary that the Mother of God share what belongs to her Son and that she be celebrated by all creation. An inheritance is normally passed down from parents to children; now, however, to use the expression of a wise man, the sources of the sacred rivers flow back toward their origin, now that the Son has made all created things His Mother's slaves." [Homily 2 on the Dormition, 14] 

[Source #2, pp. 403-405]


"Your holy and all-virginal body was consigned to a holy tomb, while the Angels went before it, accompanied it, and followed it; for what would they not do to serve the Mother of their Lord.?

"Meanwhile, the Apostles and the whole assembly of the Church sang Divine hymns and struck the lyre of the Spirit: "We shall be filled with the blessings of Your house; Your temple is holy; wondrous injustice" [Ps 65:4]. And again: 'The Most High has sanctified His dwelling' [Ps 46:5]; 'God's mountain, rich mountain, the mountain in which God has been pleased to dwell' [Ps 68:16-17]. 

"The assembly of Apostles carried you, the Lord God's true Ark, as once the priests carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders. They laid you in the tomb, through which, as if through the Jordan, they will conduct you to the promised land, that is to say, the Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful, whose architect and builder is God. Your soul did not descend to Hades, neither did your flesh see corruption. Your virginal and uncontaminated body was not abandoned in the earth, but you are transferred into the royal dwelling of Heaven, you, the Queen, the sovereign, the Lady, God's Mother, the true God-bearer. 

"O, how did Heaven receive her, who surpasses the wideness of the heavens? How is it possible that the tomb should contain the dwelling place of God? And yet it received and held it. For she was not wider than heaven in her bodily dimensions; indeed, how could a body three cubits long, which is always growing thinner, be compared with the breadth and length of the sky? Rather it is through grace that she surpassed the limits of every height and depth. The Divinity does not admit of comparison. 

"O holy tomb, awesome, venerable, and adorable! Even now the Angels continue to venerate you, standing by with great respect and fear, while the devils shrink in horror. With faith, men make haste to render you honor, to adore you, to salute you with their eyes, with their lips, and with the affection of their souls, in order to obtain an abundance of blessings. 

"A precious ointment, when it is poured out upon the garments or in any place and then taken away, leaves traces of its fragrance even after evaporating. In the same way your body, holy and perfect, impregnated with Divine perfume and abundant spring of grace, this body which had been laid in the tomb, when it was taken out and transferred to a better and more elevated place, did not leave the tomb bereft of honor but left behind a Divine fragrance and grace, making it a wellspring of healing and a source of every blessing for those who approach it with faith."

-----John Damascene, Homily 1 on the Dormition 12-13

[Source #2, pp. 408-409]

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem & the tomb of the Mother of God

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