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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Feast of Assumption

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The feast of the "Assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary" (Lat. festum assumptionis, dormitionis, depositionis, pausationis B. V. M.; Gr. Koiµnvcs or dvhXmlics is a festival of the Christian Church celebrated on the 15th of August, in commemoration of the miraculous ascent into heaven of the mother of Christ. The belief on which this festival rests has its origin in apocryphal sources, such as the Eis 7-7)v Koi / C?7] (.v ri s OfcrroLvn g ascribed to the Apostle John, and the de transitu Mariae, assigned to Melito, bishop of Sardis, but actually written about A.D. 400. Pope Gelasius I. (492-496) included them in the list of apocryphal books condemned by the Decretum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis; but they were accepted as authentic by the pseudo-Dionysius ( de nominbus divinis c. 3 ), whose writings date probably from the 5th century, and by Gregory of Tours (d. 593 or 594). The latter in his De gloria martyrum (i. 4) gives the following account of the miracle: As all the Apostles were watching round the dying Mary, Jesus appeared with His angels and committed the soul of His Mother to the Archangel Michael. Next day, as they were carrying the body to the grave, Christ again appeared and carried it with Him in a cloud to heaven, where it was reunited with the soul. This story is much amplified in the account given by St John of Damascus in the homilies In dormitionem Mariae, which are still read in the Roman Church as the lesson during the octave of the feast. According to this the patriarchs and Adam and Eve also appear at the death-bed, to praise their daughter, through whom they had been rescued from the curse of God; a Jew who touches the body loses both his hands, which are restored to him by the Apostles; and the body lies three days in the grave without corruption before it is taken up into heaven.

The festival is first mentioned by St Andrew of Crete (c. 650), and, according to the Byzantine historian Nicephorus Callistus ( Hist. Eccles. xvii. 28), was first instituted by the Emperor Maurice in A.D. 582. From the East it was borrowed by Rome, where there is evidence of its existence so early as the 7th century. In the Gallican Church it was only adopted at the same time as the Roman liturgy. But though the festival thus became incorporated in the regular usage of the Western Church, the belief in the resurrection and bodily assumption of the Virgin has never been defined as a dogma and remains a "pious opinion," which the faithful may reject without imperilling their immortal souls, though not apparently - to quote Melchior Cano ( De Locis Theolog. xii. 10) - without "insolent temerity," since such rejection would be contrary to the common agreement of the Church. By the reformed Churches, including the Church of England, the festival is not observed, having been rejected at the Reformation as being neither primitive nor founded upon any "certain warrant of Holy Scripture." See Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopadie (ed. 3), s. "Maria";Mgr.L. Duchesne, Christian Worship (Eng. trans., London, 1904); Wetzer and Welte, Kirchenlexikon, s. "Marienfeste"; The Catholic Encyclopaedia (London and New York, 1907, &c.), s. "Apocrypha," "Assumption."

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Feast of Assumption'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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