In mid-August, here in France where there is separation of church and state, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is nonetheless a national holiday.
This frosts me every year—but not because I am against holidays. In fact, owing to the French love of time off and early retirement, life is far more civilized than in Anglo-Saxon countries where acquiring great gobs of money is often the highest value. (Sociologists and economists agree that wealth-production in vacation-loving France is no less than in countries with far fewer vacations and longer working hours.)
My problem with Assumption Day lies elsewhere. From lesser to more important reasons: (1) If the holiday comes midweek—as it usually does—days before and after it will be without postal service, banks will be closed, and the stores my wife and I frequent will be closed. (2) Many restaurants will also not be open—a national tragedy in the land of Haute Cuisine. (3) The theology of the event is not just unsubstantiated but truly dangerous (ranting and raving to follow).
Assumption Day celebrates the Roman Catholic belief that the body of the Virgin Mary, whether alive or dead, was taken up directly into heaven. The Assumption is one of the four Marian dogmas of the Roman Church, defined in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in his apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus:
“We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.”
Stephen J. Shoemaker stresses that the first known narrative to address the end of Mary’s life and her assumption is apocryphal: the third- (possibly second-) century Liber Requiei Mariae. He asserts that “this earliest evidence for the veneration of Mary appears to come from a markedly heterodox theological milieu” (Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016], pp. 24-25.)
Needless to say, there is zero biblical support for the doctrine. Pope Pius XII, in promulgating the dogma, stated that “All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation,” but he offered no biblical proof text(s) whatsoever for it. (A senior advisor, one Father Jugie, desperately proffered Rev. 12:1–2 as the chief scriptural witness to the Assumption.)
Why is the Assumption a dangerous holiday theologically? Not because of Protestant discomfort with much of Roman Catholic teaching (after all, what other major church body is consistently pro-life/anti-euthanasia?), but because it plays right into the hands of non-Christians who argue that all church holidays (and the events they celebrate) are based on nothing but a myth.
In reality, the great Christian Holy Days (Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost) are solidly founded in factual events set forth in the historically verifiable eyewitness accounts comprising the New Testament documents. The Assumption creates a guilt-by-association unworthy of God’s revelation of himself in the biblical record.
So leave my favorite French restaurants open throughout the month of August!
* * *
This 20/2 issue of the Global Journal has a particularly wide scholarly scope, offering in its two articles theological analysis of a questionable philosophical orientation called subordinationism as well as an in-depth treatment of a powerful Christian littérateur (Fyodor Dostoevsky).
John Warwick Montgomery