History of the belief
The Assumption (Latin: assumptio, "a taking") was defined as dogma by the Catholic Church in 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined it ex cathedra in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose), which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. Probably composed by the 4th century, this Christian apocryphal narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the "Six Books" Dormition narratives. The earliest versions of this apocryphon are preserved in several Syriac manuscripts of the 5th and 6th centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the 4th century.
Later apocrypha based on these earlier texts include the De Obitu S. Dominae, attributed to St. John, a work probably from around the turn of the 6th century that is a summary of the "Six Books" narrative. The story also appears in De Transitu Virginis, a late 5th-century work ascribed to St. Melito of Sardis that presents a theologically redacted summary of the traditions in the Liber Requiei Mariae. The Transitus Mariae tells the story of the apostles being transported by white clouds to the deathbed of Mary, each from the town where he was preaching at the hour.
The Decretum Gelasianum in the 490s declared some transitus Mariae literature apocryphal.
An Armenian letter attributed to Dionysus the Areopagite also mentioned the supposed event, although this was written sometime after the 6th century. John of Damascus, from this period, is the first church authority to advocate the doctrine under his own name. His contemporaries, Gregory of Tours and Modestus of Jerusalem, helped promote the concept to the wider church.
In some versions of the story, the event is said to have taken place in Ephesus, in the House of the Virgin Mary. This is a much more recent and localized tradition. The earliest traditions say that Mary's life ended in Jerusalem (see "Mary's Tomb"). By the 7th century, a variation emerged, according to which one of the apostles, often identified as St Thomas, was not present at the death of Mary but his late arrival precipitates a reopening of Mary's tomb, which is found to be empty except for her grave clothes. In a later tradition, Mary drops her girdle down to the apostle from heaven as testament to the event. This incident is depicted in many later paintings of the Assumption.
Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world, having been celebrated as early as the 5th century and having been established in the East by Emperor Maurice around AD 600. St. John Damascene records the following:
St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.
The Assumption of Mary was celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV confirmed the feast as official. Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation. But the people celebrated the Assumption as part of the cult of Mary that flourished from the Middle Ages. In 1950 Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church. Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott stated, "The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus-narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. ... The first Church author to speak of the bodily assumption of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus of the B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours." The Catholic writer Eamon Duffy states that "there is, clearly, no historical evidence whatever for it." However, the Catholic Church has never asserted nor denied that its teaching is based on the apocryphal accounts. The Church documents are silent on this matter and instead rely upon other sources and arguments as the basis for the doctrine.
Psychologist Carl Jung, who was deeply interested in archetypes and comparative religion, celebrated that the Catholic Church had officially elevated the Virgin Mary (whom he noted as symbolizing the feminine principle) to standing with three masculine figures in the panoply of the church. (Jung: "Answer to Job")