Pseudo-Joseph of Arimathaea
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The Passing of Mary, or Transitus Mariae, is a mostly fictitious account of the death of Mary, falsely attributed to Joseph of Arimathaea. By the end of the 5th century, Christians’ attention had become occupied with the Dormition of Mary and began presenting it more vigorously in both religious literature and the sacred liturgy. Mary’s dormition soon appeared in a body of apocryphal literature which are sometimes grouped together and referred to as the Transitus Mariae. These writings, most of which date back to at least the second half of the 5th century, were written to fill in for the silence of Sacred Scriptures about Mary’s death.
Although these stories are not strictly historical, they do reveal the common beliefs of early Christians concerning Mary’s bodily Assumption, which also manifested itself in the 6th century liturgical feast of the Dormition of Mary. Emperor Maurice (582–602) later decreed that the feast should be celebrated on August 15 throughout the entire Byzantine Empire. Sermons by St. Modestus of Jerusalem (d. c. 634), St. Andrew of Crete (d. 740), and St. John Damascene (d. c. 750) are still in existence and show the importance Christians placed on Mary’s Assumption. The feast was eventually adopted in Rome during the 7th century and Pope Sergius I (687–701) ordered a solemn procession to be celebrated on the feast.
The Passing of Mary (First Latin Form)
“In that time before the Lord came to His passion, and among many words which the mother asked of the Son, she began to ask Him about her own departure, addressing Him as follows:— O most dear Son, I pray Your holiness, that when my soul goes out of my body, Thou let me know on the third day before; and do Thou, beloved Son, with Your angels, receive it. Then He received the prayer of His beloved mother, and said to her: O palace and temple of the living God, O blessed mother, O queen of all saints, and blessed above all women, before you carried me in your womb, I always guarded you, and caused you to be fed daily with my angelic food, as you know, how can I desert you, after you have carried me, and nourished me, and brought me down in flight into Egypt, and endured many hardships for me? Know, then, that my angels have always guarded you, and will guard you even until your departure. But after I undergo suffering for men, as it is written, and rise again on the third day, and after forty days ascend into heaven, when you shall see me coming to you with angels and archangels, with saints and with virgins, and with my disciples, know for certain that your soul will be separated from the body, and I shall carry it into heaven, where it shall never at all have tribulation or anguish. Then she joyed and gloried, and kissed the knees of her Son, and blessed the Creator of heaven and earth, who gave her such a gift through Jesus Christ her Son.
In the second year, therefore, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, the most blessed Virgin Mary continued always in prayer day and night. And on the third day before she passed away, an angel of the Lord came to her, and saluted her, saying: Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord be with you. And she answered, saying: Thanks to God. Again he said to her: Receive this palm which the Lord promised to you. And she, giving thanks to God, with great joy received from the hand of the angel the palm sent to her. The angel of the Lord said to her: Your assumption will be after three days. And she answered: Thanks to God.
Then she called Joseph of the city of Arimathæa, and the other disciples of the Lord; and when they, both relations and acquaintances, were assembled, she announced her departure to all standing there. Then the blessed Mary washed herself, and dressed herself like a queen, and waited the advent of her Son, as He had promised to her. And she asked all her relations to keep beside her, and give her comfort. And she had along with her three virgins, Sepphora, Abigea, and Zaël; but the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ had been already dispersed throughout the whole world to preach to the people of God.
Then at the third hour there were great thunders, and rains, and lightnings, and tribulation, and an earthquake, while queen Mary was standing in her chamber. John the evangelist and apostle was suddenly brought from Ephesus, and entered the chamber of the blessed Mary, and saluted her, and said to her: Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord be with you. And she answered: Thanks to God. And raising herself up, she kissed Saint John. And the blessed Mary said to him: O my dearest son, why have you left me at such a time, and hast not paid heed to the commands of your Master, to take care of me, as He commanded you while He was hanging on the cross? And he asked pardon with bended knee. Then the blessed Mary gave him her benediction, and again kissed him. And when she meant to ask him whence he came, and for what reason he had come to Jerusalem, behold, all the disciples of the Lord, except Thomas who is called Didymus, were brought by a cloud to the door of the chamber of the blessed Mary. They stood and went in, and saluted the queen with the following words, and adored her: Hail, Mary, full of grace! The Lord be with you. And she eagerly rose quickly, and bowed herself, and kissed them, and gave thanks to God. These are the names of the disciples of the Lord who were brought there in the cloud: John the evangelist and James his brother, Peter and Paul, Andrew, Philip, Luke, Barnabas, Bartholomew and Matthew, Matthias who is called Justus, Simon the Chananæan, Judas and his brother, Nicodemus and Maximianus, and many others who cannot be numbered. Then the blessed Mary said to her brethren: What is this, that you have all come to Jerusalem? Peter, answering, said to her: We had need to ask this of you, and do you question us? Certainly, as I think, none of us knows why we have come here today with such rapidity. I was at Antioch, and now I am here. All declared plainly the place where they had been that day. And they all wondered that they were there when they heard these things. The blessed Mary said to them: I asked my Son, before He endured the passion, that He and you should be at my death; and He granted me this gift. Whence you may know that my departure will be tomorrow. Watch and pray with me, that when the Lord comes to receive my soul, He may find you watching. Then all promised that they would watch. And they watched and prayed the whole night, with psalms and chants, with great illuminations.
And when the Lord’s day came, at the third hour, just as the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in a cloud, so Christ descended with a multitude of angels, and received the soul of His beloved mother. For there was such splendour and perfume of sweetness, and angels singing the songs of songs, where the Lord says, As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters, Song of Songs 2:2 that all who were there present fell on their faces, as the apostles fell when Christ transfigured Himself before them on Mount Thabor, and for a whole hour and a half no one was able to rise. But when the light went away, and at the same time with the light itself, the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken up into heaven with psalms, and hymns, and songs of songs. And as the cloud went up the whole earth shook, and in one moment all the inhabitants of Jerusalem openly saw the departure of St. Mary.
And that same hour Satan entered into them, and they began to consider what they were to do with her body. And they took up weapons, that they might burn her body and kill the apostles, because from her had gone forth the dispersions of Israel, on account of their sins and the gathering together of the Gentiles. But they were struck with blindness, striking their heads against the walls, and striking each other. Then the apostles, alarmed by so much brightness, arose, and with psalms carried the holy body down from Mount Zion to the valley of Jehoshaphat. But as they were going in the middle of the road, behold, a certain Jew, Reuben by name, wishing to throw to the ground the holy bier with the body of the blessed Mary. But his hands dried up, even to the elbow; whether he would or not, he went down even to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, weeping and lamenting because his hands were raised to the bier, and he was not able to draw back his hands to himself. And he began to ask the apostles that by their prayer he might be saved and made a Christian. Then the apostles, bending their knees, asked the Lord to let him loose. And he, being healed that same hour, giving thanks to God and kissing the feet of the queen of all the saints and apostles, was baptized in that same place, and began to preach the name of our God Jesus Christ.
Then the apostles with great honour laid the body in the tomb, weeping and singing through exceeding love and sweetness. And suddenly there shone round them a light from heaven, and they fell to the ground, and the holy body was taken up by angels into heaven.
Then the most blessed Thomas was suddenly brought to the Mount of Olivet, and saw the most blessed body going up to heaven, and began to cry out and say: O holy mother, blessed mother, spotless mother, if I have now found grace because I see you, make your servant joyful through your compassion, because you are going to heaven. Then the girdle with which the apostles had encircled the most holy body was thrown down from heaven to the blessed Thomas. And taking it, and kissing it, and giving thanks to God, he came again into the Valley of Jehoshaphat. He found all the apostles and another great crowd there beating their breasts on account of the brightness which they had seen. And seeing and kissing each other, the blessed Peter said to him: Truly you have always been obdurate and unbelieving, because for your unbelief it was not pleasing to God that you should be along with us at the burial of the mother of the Saviour. And he, beating his breast, said: I know and firmly believe that I have always been a bad and an unbelieving man; therefore I ask pardon of all of you for my obduracy and unbelief. And they all prayed for him. Then the blessed Thomas said: Where have you laid her body? And they pointed out the sepulchre with their finger. And he said: The body which is called most holy is not there. Then the blessed Peter said to him: Already on another occasion you would not believe the resurrection of our Master and Lord at our word, unless you went to touch Him with your fingers, and see Him; how will you believe us that the holy body is here? Still he persists saying: It is not here. Then, as it were in a rage, they went to the sepulchre, which was a new one hollowed out in the rock, and took up the stone; but they did not find the body, not knowing what to say, because they had been convicted by the words of Thomas. Then the blessed Thomas told them how he was singing mass in India — he still had on his sacerdotal robes. He, not knowing the word of God, had been brought to the Mount of Olivet, and saw the most holy body of the blessed Mary going up into heaven, and prayed her to give him a blessing. She heard his prayer, and threw him her girdle which she had about her. And the apostles seeing the belt which they had put about her, glorifying God, all asked pardon of the blessed Thomas, on account of the benediction which the blessed Mary had given him, and because he had seen the most holy body going up into heaven. And the blessed Thomas gave them his benediction, and said: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
And the same cloud by which they had been brought carried them back each to his own place, just like Philip when he baptized the eunuch, as is read in the Acts of the Apostles; Acts 8:39 and as Habakkuk the prophet carried food to Daniel, who was in the lions’ den, and quickly returned to Judæa. And so also the apostles quickly returned to where they had at first been, to preach to the people of God. Nor is it to be wondered at that He should do such things, who went into the virgin and came out of her though her womb was closed; who, though the gates were shut, went in to His disciples; John 20:19 who made the deaf to hear, raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, gave sight to the blind, and did many other wonderful things. To believe this is no doubtful matter.
I am Joseph who laid the Lord’s body in my sepulchre, and saw Him rising again; and who, before the ascension and after the ascension of the Lord, always kept his most sacred temple the blessed ever-virgin Mary, and who have kept in writing and in my breast the things which came forth from the mouth of God, and how the things mentioned above were done by the judgment of God. And I have made known to all, Jews and Gentiles, those things which I saw with my eyes, and heard with my ears; and as long as I live I shall not cease to declare them. And her, whose assumption is at this day venerated and worshipped throughout the whole world, let us assiduously entreat that she be mindful of us in the presence of her most pious Son in heaven, to whom is praise and glory through endless ages of ages. Amen.”
Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.)
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