Harry Potter and the Unnecessary Assumption

Last week, I went to Mass with my boyfriend on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The officiating priest had lucked out, as the parents whose child was being baptized at the Mass had named their child Mary, providing him with ample material for a homily. Happily, he still returned to the matter at hand, telling the story of the Assumption, talking about the reasons it wasn’t in the readings or the Bible and explaining how the act of taking the event on faith could be transformative.

I was puzzled by the emphasis placed on Mary’s assumption, since it seemed an unnecessary filigree to add to the whole Christian story. As far as I can tell, the Assumption of Mary is not a necessary logical consequence of the theology of the Bible. Sure, if I believed that Mary was immaculately conceived, I might wonder whether the normal rules of death and judgment were applicable, but I wouldn’t really view myself as entitled to a ruling on the minutiae.

The whole business reminds me of the behavior of people deeply immersed in Harry Potter fandom (and by people, I obviously mean me). While reading the series, I had plenty of questions about the logistical underpinnings of Harry’s world. My particular interest was the genetic inheritance of wizardry, and plenty of other fans worked out other details, establishing maps and concordances for the books.

Even with meticulous research, many details could not be resolved and our answers were necessarily ambiguous. They were irrelevant to the story that J.K. Rowling was telling about Harry. It was fine (and fun!) to speculate, but the overall story didn’t depend on the structures we were inventing.

I can’t really imagine any way that the Assunption of Mary would impact my life more than the story of Christ if I believed. The whole discussion reminds me of the famous example of theologians quibbling over the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin. The answer may exist, but I really don’t care what it is.  Couldn’t the time and study be more productively spent elsewhere?


Perhaps any Catholic readers could help me out.

Do you think there is strong historical evidence for the Assumption of Mary, or do you take it on faith?

Are some theological questions unanswerable? Irrelevant?

Is believing by faith alone a virtue to be cultivated? Why?

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  • Leah:If you're interested on my take, not just on the Assumption, but on the point of all Marian doctrine and devotion, I'd recommend you get a copy of my Mary, Mother of the Son. Some of it may not scratch where you itch, since you aren't coming at Marianism from the stand point of sundry post 17th Century English Protestant prejudices and haven't drunk at the well of Evangelical Mariophobia. But I suspect the trilogy may still answer quite a few questions about where Catholics get all this stuff about Mary and why they think she's crucial to a healthy grasp of the Faith. Drop me a line at chez.ami@verizon.net with your snail mail address and I'll send you a freebie copy.

  • Matthew Gerken

    "As far as I can tell, the Assumption of Mary is not a necessary logical consequence of the theology of the Bible."That's basically correct, so why celebrate it? Because, based on the writings of the Church fathers and the traditional account and so forth, the Church says it really happened. It's like things J.K. Rowling says in interviews (Dumbledore was gay!)- they might not be deducible from the text of the book or have any strong relation to it, and yet there's a heavy authoritative weight to it because of the authority of the source.Faith, in many ways, is about trusting the right authority, which is why taking things on so-called "faith alone" is a good thing to cultivate. As it's good to cultivate the virtue of listening to your parents and teachers, it's good to learn to trust the judgment of God and Church Doctrine without demanding logical proofs and irrefutable historical evidence (as if there were such a thing). Done with the right attitude (faith seeking understanding) there's nothing wrong with looking, for, say, historical evidence of the Assumption and being interested in those sorts of questions, but you can't begin from a position of doubt.

  • Are some theological questions unanswerable? Irrelevant?I'm no Catholic, but I am a Christian, and from this point of view I'd have to answer affirmatively in both cases. For instance, on the irrelevant end, it seems to me that the varied ways of reading Genesis, and therefore the Creationism v. Evolution debate, is exactly one of these questions. As far as unanswerable goes, I am unsure that many of the relevant questions, such as soteriological ones, are ever going to be satisfactorily resolved for all.I can't claim to know much about Marian beliefs, but I have to wonder whether you'd need to believe that they're historically true in order to benefit from them.

  • So while Orthodox and Catholics disagree about Mary's immaculate conception, we do agree about her assumption into heaven (commonly referred to as the Dormition of the Theotokos by Orthodox).This post makes a lot of the points I'd like to make but was written by a priest, so I'll let him make them: http://frjamescoles.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/what-can-we-learn-from-marys-falling-asleep/You can skip the first two paragraphs if the Orthodox liturgical calendar doesn't interest you, but the rest of it is a good read.

  • There are several ways to look at this. The orthodox Catholic perspective is that it was a constant teaching of the church that, while only implicitly included in Scripture, was clear in church tradition, and needed to be defined as an antidote to the secular view that man's end was 6 feet underground as worm bait. The "cynical catholic" (note the lower-case c) position is that the Roman Catholic Church is interested in obedience and submission to the pope above everything and wanted to add a doctrine that had no more serious justification than "Rome says so." The conspiracy theory Protestant position is that the Catholic Church is on a mad quest to add Mary to the Trinity, and is pushing Marian devotion as far as they can one step at a time. You said, "I can’t really imagine any way that the Assumption of Mary would impact my life more than the story of Christ if I believed." I think you're not thinking very carefully. Even if we take the most extreme position of Catholic Marian devotion, she's just a woman. Christ, OTOH, is the Son of God. The idea that Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, etc., could be seen as some irrelevant to the normal (non divine) human being. IOW, he couldn't really relate. But the idea that Mary — just a human, albeit uniquely graced — was assumed into heaven …. That's a different thing. It brings the reality of redemption on step closer to the "normal" human.

  • Crowhill said:"But the idea that Mary … was assumed into heaven …. That's a different thing. It brings the reality of redemption on[e] step closer to the "normal" human."You make it sound as if the Church had to come up with another story to really convince us of redemption. In other words, the Church doesn't expect us to be convinced by the Bible alone. This doesn't say much for their view of scripture.

  • Keith — following your logic, every principle in Scripture should be taught precisely once. I have no dog in this fight and really don't care to defend the church or the doctrine of the assumption. My only point was that one way to look at the definition of the assumption was that the church was concerned that cultural trends were heading in a secular direction, so they considered it an opportune time to remind people of certain facts about redemption, and the assumption was a useful vehicle for that.