Assumption of Mary, Where Science and Theology are Met

I’ve never understood why people who have no problem with Elijah and Enoch being assumed into paradise have a problem with Mary — the greatest, and most blessed of all created creatures — being assumed into heaven. “It’s not in scripture” doesn’t cut it, (as Msgr. Charles Pope demonstrates here) because what did the early Christians reference before the bible as we know it finally came into being in the fifth century? Teachings and traditions, as Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

While the dogma was only made definitive by Pope Pius XII in 1950 (Munificentissimus Deus), the tradition of Mary’s assumption after her death at Ephesus is an old, old one that, as demonstrated by early-fourth century Ethiopian apocrypha (Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), pre-dates the Bible.

But I’m not interested in apologetics or in re-arguing sola scriptura, an idea which, ironically enough, is also not found in scripture. I believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary not because my church tells me to, or because I am particularly pious. I believe it because of scripture and science, and frankly, for me science has the edge in the argument, because of microchemerism. I’ve written about this these past four years; learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself — and that it remains within her forever — made the dogma of the Assumption a no-brainer for me.

In Psalm 16 we read a curious reference to body and soul:

And so my heart rejoices, my soul is glad;
even my body shall rest in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead,
nor let your Holy One know decay.

Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which forever contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to corrupt as well, but would be taken into heaven and reunited with Christ. Mary was a created creature and moral. But she was no mere mortal; she could not be, once the particles of God had entered her chemistry.

In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, we share a small portion of Mary’s larger reality, but it is a temporary portion — the Christ-food goes into our digestive system and is fed into our blood and our cells, but our blood and cells live and die and are ultimately sloughed off as new ones are created: this Eucharistic unity cannot last, and this is why we seek repeated reception of this Divine Meal — if we’re not lazy, we seek it every day, so this supernatural Sustenance and Presence can remain with us. But for us it will never be as it was for Mary, who lived every day of her life, from the moment of the Incarnation until her death (or, as our Eastern brothers and sisters say, her Dormition) with the very cells of the Living God dwelling within her own flesh. Do we bury God, even on the cellular level? Christ’s own resurrection says no. The Holy One will not undergo corruption.

In the the book of Revelation we read (as explained by Father Dwight Longenecker) about the place of the Ark of the Covenant in cosmic design:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Rev. 11:19a)

We bible-believing Christians understand that there is an ongoing supernatural battle taking place all around us — a pageant of good and evil, things seen and unseen — and that all things will be revealed in God’s own time, when we will finally comprehend all of what seems to us mysterious and unknowable, today. But scripture, science and common reasoning (if it is undertaken) all serve to inform us that Mary is no bit-player meant to bear God himself to the world and then exit, stage right, with no further relevance to this great drama.

Moses and Elijah showed up at the Transfiguration; Mary, the God-bearer — whose fiat put in motion the entire thrust of God’s salvific intention — is certainly no less than either of them, and yet no other great biblical presence who said “yes” to God has ever been so dismissed by some as has been Mary. This is a great error, perhaps a grave one.

From this day all generations will call me blessed
the Almighty has done great things for me, and Holy is his name
- Luke 1:48-49

It is a mystery to me how people who claim (quite correctly) that there are no accidents in scripture, no extraneous words, not a single line that is without meaning, can be dismissive of Mary.

Then again, I’ve never understood how anyone believing so can read Leviticus 17:11 (“for the life is in the blood”) or Christ Jesus’ own words in John 6:54-56 (“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him”) and John 6:53 (“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”) or 1 Corinthians 10:16 (“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”) can still argue that Christians do not need to partake of the Eucharistic meal.

Why would anyone want to miss it?

But that’s another argument for another day. For today, let us ponder the great mystery of the Assumption of Mary, in light of science, and how our understanding of some things validates what we find today, in our research and microscopes.

“The genuine significance of Catholic devotion to Mary is to be seen in the light of the Incarnation itself. The Church cannot separate the Son and the Mother. Because the Church conceived of the Incarnation as God’s descent into flesh and into time, and His great gift of Himself to His creatures, she also believes that the one who was closest to Him in this great mystery was the one who participated most perfectly in the gift. When a room is heated by an open flame, surely there is nothing strange in the fact that those who stand closest to the fireplace are the ones who are warmest. And when God comes into the world through the instrumentality of one of His servants, then there is nothing surprising about the fact that His chosen instrument should have the greatest and most intimate share in the divine gift.” — Thomas Merton

UPDATE:
Today’s Office of Readings from the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

It is important to remember that from the second century onwards the holy fathers have been talking of the Virgin Mary as the new Eve for the new Adam: not equal to him, of course, but closely joined with him in the battle against the enemy, which ended in the triumph over sin and death that had been promised even in Paradise. The glorious resurrection of Christ is essential to this victory and its final prize, but the blessed Virgin’s share in that fight must also have ended in the glorification of her body. For as the Apostle says: When this mortal nature has put on immortality, then the scripture will be fulfilled that says “Death is swallowed up in victory”.

So then, the great Mother of God, so mysteriously united to Jesus Christ from all eternity by the same decree of predestination, immaculately conceived, an intact virgin throughout her divine motherhood, a noble associate of our Redeemer as he defeated sin and its consequences, received, as it were, the final crowning privilege of being preserved from the corruption of the grave and, following her Son in his victory over death, was brought, body and soul, to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages.

Related:
Frank Weathers:
Yes, but don’t get too excited

Pat Gohn: Dumping my Assumptions about Mary

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • scott

    Thank you for helping me understand this better. I debated using the regular weekday readings for Morning Prayer, but my wife convinced me we should pray the Assumption order. Glad we did.

  • CSmith

    Thank you for this article. Very enlightening.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I just wonder… Could it possibly be that more or less “ignoring” Mary while recognizing that Moses and Elijah have been lifted up to heaven would have something to do with, unfortunately, the attitude of many peoples in early centuries – and even today in some countries and with some Christians – towards women was still about considering women as inferior beings? In this respect, was it not necessary for some early council to even debate if women had souls? If some people then had difficulty with women having souls, how could not such people more or less “look down” on Mary and not ralize her importance to the story of salvation?

  • Gee

    Microchimerism is fascinating indeed. But if you’re going to use science to make your argument, what about the Assumption itself? I am unaware of any scientific basis for Heaven, nor any explanation of how a living person would enter it.

  • MeanLizzie

    I get your question and will counter with a suggestion that all of that will become clear over time. We’re currently “unaware of any scientific basis for Heaven…” but 100 years ago we were “unaware of any scientific basis” for microchemerism.

  • MeanLizzie

    Good question. I have to think not, though. If ppl had looked down on Mary for her womanhood, the tradition might not have ever been carried forth.

  • Guest

    Dark matter, string theory, etc, are all concepts being bantered about by scientists to explain something that is there but not yet understood, according to their calculations. Maybe the realm of the invisible is part of all that.

  • Adam Frey

    The theology of Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant” makes astonishing sense when you compare Mary’s treatment in the New Testament to the Ark’s treatment in the Old. Stephen Ray explained it much better than I could over here: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/mary-the-ark-of-the-new-covenant.

    Two comments I will add that Mr. Ray didn’t. One, John’s Gospel famously opens with the words of the Angelus: “And the word was made flesh and dwelled among us.” I recently learned that the more-correct translation is that the word “tabernacled upon us.” John’s use of that word makes an obvious callback to the Book of Exodus, where the Israelites constructed an elaborate tent which God literally dwelled over in the form of a cloud. And where did Jesus tabernacle for nine months, plus several more years of infant dependence…? Oh yeah….

    Second, I went to the Vigil Mass last night and was thunderstruck at the inter-reading Psalm: “Lord, go up to the place of your rest, you and the ark of your holiness. Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah/we found it in the fields of Jaar/Let us enter his dwelling/let us worship at his footstool.” “Ephrathah,” I didn’t know until relatively recently, is Biblically synonymous with “Bethlehem.” Suddenly, that Psalm isn’t just about David and the Ark, but it could equally be about the Visit of the Magi. So again, what’s the “ark of [his] holiness” that’s going up to the place of his rest…?

  • http://leelusplace.blogspot.com/ leelu

    So, I wonder what God’s DNA looked like?? Seriously. Fetal cells are made up of half of both parent’s DNA…

  • Win Nelson

    I can only say that I loved reading this.

    Carry on, :D

  • Marthe Lépine

    I think you are correct. And also maybe when all things are made known, we shall see it clearly. In the meantime scientists are slowly and stumblingway making their way closer and closer

  • jaimjackson

    Elizabeth, I am so excited! I was reading about microchimerism a coul[e of months ago, and put some thoughts down on paper about how this would relate to Blessed Mary. I added to my thoughts over the past 3 days, and reached the same conclusion you did: that Mary’s body, having become the permanent home to living cells of the Living Incorruptible Christ, could not have decayed in the ground.

    More than St. Paul, much more than any person on earth, Mary could say: “I live — yet not ‘I’, but Christ lives in me.” Since it is now known that fetal stem cells can colonize sites in the maternal body, even in the brain and in the cardiac tissue, think how literally Mary had Our Lord “on her mind and in her heart” long after He had left her side as a grown Man.

    Blessed Mary, how astoundingly the Lord has favored you!

    I had some cautious feelings about this, thinking the “microchimerism” connection was too wild a flight of fancy, but now I see that you think this is significant, too. So I’m ~ not ~ crazy.

    Or if I am crazy, I’m not alone!

  • BM

    I don’t believe you mean it when you say, “I believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary not because my church tells me to…” If you didn’t know about these other arguments, but still had the teaching from the Church, I suspect you would hold to it as any faithful Catholic would. After all, that is formally how we hold to the truths of the faith: because the Church proposes them for our belief.

  • James H, London

    There can be no ‘scientific basis for heaven’. Modern ‘science’ deals only with that which is observable, measurable, etc. Heaven is by definition outside of space and time. Outside of the physical laws of the universe, we can’t possibly say what goes, other than what we’ve been told by those who’ve been there (and come back, which is more important!).

    I think it’s pretty arrogant to insist that only those things describable by one field of study, are real.

  • Daddalus

    It’s even more interesting than you thought:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130815133058.htm

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Between the Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Coptics, the overwhelming majority of Christians do have a healthy embrace of our Blessed Lady. It’s the Protestants who are out of whack when it comes to Mary. They are in the minority, and frankly they do it mostly to be in opposition to Catholicism.

  • Rosemarie

    +J.M.J+

    >>>In this respect, was it not necessary for some early council to even debate if women had souls?

    Actually, no, that never happened. Here’s an article debunking that common error:

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/12/002-the-myth-of-soulless-women-3

  • Arligator

    Believe what you like, but to try to suggest that science supports this is absurd.

  • TerryC

    Glad to see you seem to be feeling better, at least I hope so.

  • Genevieve Mary

    Not enough about Mary in the New testament, nor St Joseph. Where can I find specific readings?

  • TXRed

    Eh, some Protestants are Adoptionists and believe that Jesus was fully human and was adopted by G-d (Mark 1-2). In which case Mary remained purely human. The view is not taken to spite the other branches of the Christian Church, but because of putting so much more weight on Mark’s account than on other parts of the Bible.

  • oregon catholic

    Do you know what else I find fantastic in this same sense? The body of baby girl at only 16 weeks gestation is already forming all of the eggs she will ever carry in her ovaries throughout her life. Not only does the mother’s body carry and nourish the body of her child, she also is literally carrying and nourishing within her some of the actual human ’tissue’ from which her grandchildren will be formed. Amazing stuff.

  • Dan

    Dearest Arligator,

    Not so. I think this is a rather clever application of using information to suport assertions. She trusts the authority of scripture, and the authority of the science. In this case, It is agreeable that they are non-contradictory. However if you reject the authority of scripture, but accept science, then you aren’t going to understand the certain necessities which make the assertion non-contradictory. Its simple, you’re totally wrong, because she does not contradict. However your belief and her belief do contradict. Therein lies the actually question, which of you are correct? for me, as a catholic, I cannot deny the Gospel just as much as I cannot deny my own beating heart. And beleve me when I say I have attempted both before.

    In the end you need to start asking the right questions. Yet it does appear that you might just be doing that. Good luck and I will pray for you

    God Bless,

    Dan.

  • newenglandsun

    I come from a Protestant background. I usually am scolded with an ignostic comment when I state that such and such who is a Roman Catholic is a Christian. I used to be a strong Protestant fundie but am now an agnostic and actually considering exploring the Catholic Church.

  • Victor

    (((was brought, body and soul, to the highest glory of heaven, to shine as Queen at the right hand of that same Son, the immortal King of Ages.)))
    Great, am I to start believing that Jesus was really King of Apes?
    Sorry Anchoress but sinner vic had con vinced me, myself and i that the word Ages through my con science, “I” mean conscience, no, no, “I” mean through science that this word Ages was really Apes. See was trouble a single alpha could cost ‘you man “IT” he’, “I” mean humanity? :(
    I hear YA! What are you talking about sinner vic? :)
    Peace

  • Victor

    Anchoress for what “IT” is worth, “I” would like to summarize this topic in our twenty first century by saying, “Glory be to our Mother, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as “IT” was when “Jesus” was born, as “IT” is now, as “IT” always will be, “ONE” Blessed Spiritual, Reality until GOD (Good Old Dad) and His Family returns in Glory to set “U>S” (usual sinners) on The Straight and Narrow.
    Peace

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    Therefore heaven is currently unscientific, although its status may change. The lack of bodily corruption is also unscientific. No one has a testable sample of incorruptible living matter. So your whole argument is unscientific.

    All that we get from science is that probably Mary got something of Jesus’s.


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