Today, August 15, is celebrated by Catholics as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. On the calendar for many centuries, it was only defined as a dogma in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. The key section of his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, reads:
44. … by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, 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.
This is followed by an anathema:
47. It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
What proof is adduced? The existence of churches named after her and images of her, prayers to her and the calendar commemoration, words of ancient Catholic writers such as St. John Damascene (late 7th, early 8th century), etc. In short: TRADITION.
Using circular reasoning, the mere fact of the testimony of tradition on this point is cited as proof that it was revealed by God, since it isn’t in Scripture:
12. … Thus, from the universal agreement of the Church’s ordinary teaching authority we have a certain and firm proof, demonstrating that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven- which surely no faculty of the human mind could know by its own natural powers, as far as the heavenly glorification of the virginal body of the loving Mother of God is concerned-is a truth that has been revealed by God and consequently something that must be firmly and faithfully believed by all children of the Church. For, as the Vatican Council asserts, “all those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition, and which are proposed by the Church, either in solemn judgment or in its ordinary and universal teaching office, as divinely revealed truths which must be believed.”
The only Scriptural “evidence” cited consists of fanciful allegorical interpretations of some passages in Psalms and the Song of Solomon (Ps 131:8; Ps 44:10-14ff.; Song of Solomon 3:6; 4:8; 6:9). Appeal is also made to the image of the woman in Revelation 12.
But what says the Scripture itself? Not a word. The paucity of information about Mary in Scripture stands in stark contrast to the volumes of Catholic Mariology. Outside of the Gospels, she’s mentioned in only Acts 1:14. The Gospel of John mentions her only a couple of times (2:3-5; 6:42; 19:25-26). In the Synoptics she’s mentioned in connection with Jesus’ passion, and, in Matthew and Luke, infancy narratives. That’s it. Not a word about her after Pentecost. Nothing about where she went, what she did, what she said, or where she died. There is no speculation, nor curiosity, nor any reference even to her motherly role.
Where then did the traditions come from? It’s hard to tell. A late fourth century writer, Epiphanius of Salamis, said no one knew what became of her. Only later do stories start circulating. Why? Who knows. But once they started circulating, and had done so for some time, they suddenly became no longer rumor or speculation, but “Tradition.” The same thing happened with purgatory. It’s in Plato, and comes into Christianity through ghost stories, but once those stories had been told by enough people, they obtained the aura of “Tradition.”
It is interesting that the same year he defined the Assumption, Pope Pius XII endorsed evolution. In the first case, he claimed the authority to add to Scripture; in the second, he claimed the authority to negate Scripture. In doing so, he acted in accordance with longstanding teaching concerning the papacy (as documented in Lucius Ferraris, Prompta Bibliotheca, s.v., “Papa”; selections and commentary).
As in the case of the Sabbath, it comes down to a matter of authority: will you rest content with Scripture, or run after man-made tales? Will you trust the Word of God, or cling to another authority that condemns any who will not heed her teachings?