Magazine article New Oxford Review

The Davidic Typological Basis for the Dogma of the Assumption

Magazine article New Oxford Review

The Davidic Typological Basis for the Dogma of the Assumption

Article excerpt

Ed. Note: The Feast of the Assumption falls on August 15.

The Catholic Church professes four Marian dogmas: the Immaculate Conception; our Lady's role as the Theotokos, or God-bearer; her perpetual virginity; and her Assumption into Heaven. The first three of these dogmas can be inferred from various scriptural authorities in a relatively straightforward manner. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, however, is the only one of theses four dogmas that has no obvious biblical support and, for that matter, no obvious witness among the earliest Church Fathers. The dogma - we remind ourselves as we begin - consists of the belief that "the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things" (

One would expect to find at least some circumstantial evidence in the New Testament for the Assumption, but this dogma seems to lack anything like a set of biblical "proof texts" or readily discernible theological principles from which it can be inferred. The Assumption is nowhere explicitly described or mentioned in the New Testament; it is not even recorded in non-canonical gospels or the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. It is confirmed only by later Church Fathers who, by and large, agree on the fact that the Virgin Mary was assumed but do not agree on how or whether she died. Consequently, the dogma of the Assumption looks as if it were solely warranted by non-scriptural, partially conflicting Church authorities, and late authorities at that.

Such a view is mistaken.

The Woman Robed with the Sun

While the Assumption is not "biblical" in a literalist sense, there is nonetheless a biblical basis for the truth of this dogma. We may look first to the "woman robed with the sun" described in Revelation 12:1-6. Granted, the imagery of the woman who gives birth to what is plainly the Christ child offers by itself only tenuous support for the Assumption. But the support is strengthened by the preceding verse (11:19): "God's sanctuary in heaven was opened, and within his sanctuary was seen the ark of his covenant. There came flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm." Given that the versification of the Bible was a medieval innovation, the Ark of the Covenant would have been naturally linked to the woman clothed with the sun in the original Greek text of Revelation. The Ark was associated with the Virgin Mary and her Assumption in the minds of Church Fathers such as St. John Damascene, who wrote:

This day the Holy and Singular Virgin is presented in the sublime and heavenly Temple.... The sacred and living Ark of the Living God, who bore within her womb her own Creator, took up her rest within that temple of the Lord that was not made with hands.... And David her forefather, and her father in God, dances with joy.

This association reveals the biblical warrant for interpreting the imagery of Revelation as carrying some reference to the Virgin Mary's Assumption.

Without eliminating the possibility that this imagery also includes references to Zion and the Church, the identification of the woman with the Ark of the Covenant is an undeniable allusion to a number of Old Testament passages that vindicate the Church Fathers' understanding of Revelation 12. Among these passages is the account of the Ark's manufacture at the command of God for the purpose of storing the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Ark as the container for God's word is an indubitable type of the Virgin Mary, who would be a vessel of God's Word in a much more sublime sense. Of even greater relevance is the account of King David transferring the Ark of the Covenant from the home of Abinadab to his own residence, the city of Jerusalem. David is indisputably a type of Christ; and Christ, as the anti-type of (or the one who is foreshadowed by) King David, would be expected to bring the anti-type of the Ark into His own residence, the New Jerusalem. …

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