Liber Requiei Mariae
(The Book of Mary's Repose)

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Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose) is one of the earliest narratives concerning the Assumption of Mary bodily into Heaven.  Probably composed by the fourth century, Liber Requiei Mariae may be as old as the third century placing it sometime between 250-300 A.D.  Also quite early are the very different traditions of the Six Books Dormition Narratives, which are preserved by several Syriac manuscripts of the fifth and sixth centuries, although the text itself probably belongs to the fourth 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 sixth century that is a summary of the Six Books narrative. The story also appears in De Transitu Virginis, a late fifth 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 (“Passing of Mary”) tells the story of the apostles being transported by white clouds to the death-bed of Mary, each from the town where he was preaching at the hour. 

All these works recount a similar body of stories. After the Crucifixion, Mary devotes herself to the new church, but one day she receives an angelic visitation that recalls the original Annunciation. Knowing she is to die, she asks that the apostles be gathered from the corners of the world, and they duly appear. They accompany her at her death and join the funeral procession, which is marked by various miracles. Christ then appeared to take Mary’s body and soul to heavenly glory.  This literature had an enormous impact in the foundation of the very widely held church doctrine of Mary’s Assumption or Dormition. Assumption is the Western and Catholic term, suggesting that she was taken to heaven prior to death; Dormition is the Eastern Orthodox term inferring that her body was raised after her bodily death.  Both Catholic and Orthodox view this as the first sign of the general Resurrection in store for all Christians. These ideas became very widespread in Christian art through the Middle Ages and shaped the Eastern icon tradition.  Although these texts are fanciful in their depictions, the fact that they were so widely accepted throughout both Eastern and Western Christianity at a time when Christians argued vehemently over the various Christologies such as Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism and the like, illustrates how the underlying doctrine of Mary’s body Assumption had a deep and long-held belief throughout Christianity long before these texts were written.

Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary's Repose):

”Liber Requiei Mariae” (The Book of Mary’s Repose)

-Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002. pg 290-350. Trans. by Stephen J. Shoemaker from the Syriac text published by William Wright in Contributions to the Apocryphal Literature of the New Testament (London: Williams and Norgate, 1865).

“Then the Apostles agreed with what Paul said, for they were asking him to speak with them again, so that he would not press them, and they would not reveal to him the glorious mysteries that our Savior taught. And again all the Apostles answered and said to Paul, “Our brother Paul, speak with us in words, because we are listening to you with delight. For our Lord has sent you to us to gladden us for these three days.” And Paul answered and said to Peter, “Since you were not willing to reveal the great things of Jesus to me, tell me, when you go forth, what will you preach and teach, so that I too will know how to teach with your doctrine.”

Peter said to him, “My brother Paul, this word that you have spoken is good. Since you have asked to know and hear what we are going to teach and preach to people, listen, and I will tell you. When I go forth to preach, I will say that anyone who does not fast all of his days will not see God.” Paul said to Peter, “Our father Peter, what is this word that you have spoken? For they will not hear your word, and they will arise and kill you, because they are wicked and unacquainted with God or fasting.” And again Paul turned to John and said to him, “Tell us your doctrine too, our father John, so that I too may teach and preach thus.”

John said to him, “When I go forth to teach and preach, I will say that anyone who is not a virgin all of his days will not be able to see God.” And Paul answered and said to John, “Our father John, what are these words to people who do not know God? For if people who worship stones and trees hear these things from you, they will throw us in prison and lock us up.” And again Paul turned to Andrew and said to him, “Our father Andrew, tell us what your opinion is too, so that I too may teach and preach [thus], lest perhaps Peter should think that he is great and a bishop, and John also be proud that he is a virgin, and because of these things they have spoken grand things.” And Andrew said to Paul, “When I go forth to preach, I will say that everyone who does not leave father and mother, and brothers and sisters, and children and houses, and everything that he has, and go forth after our Lord, he will not be able to see God.” And Paul said to Andrew, “Our father Andrew, the words of Peter and John are light compared with yours, for you have separated everyone from the earth in one moment. For who will hear your words at this time and place a heavy burden on himself?” And Peter and Andrew answered and said to Paul, “Paul, friend of our soul, tell us how you want us to go forth and preach.”

Paul said to them, “If you will listen to me, do these things, and let us think of things that they will be able to do, because they are new, and do not know the truth. Let us say these things to them: ‘Let every man take his wife,’ so that they will not commit adultery; and ‘let a woman take her husband, that she may not commit adultery.’ And let us establish one or two days [of fasting] in the week for them, and let us not be too hard on them, lest they become negligent and turn away. But if they fast today and are a little weary, they will persevere for the time and say, ‘Tomorrow we will not fast.’ And if they come to the time when they eat, and they find a poor person and give to him, they will say, ‘Why do we fast, if we do not give to the poor,’ and they will know God in their hearts. And let us also say to them, ‘Let the one who is weary fast until the sixth hour, and the one who is able, until the ninth, and the one who is still able, until evening.’ And when we have given them to drink as with milk, and we have turned them to us, then we will tell them the great and glorious things, words that will be useful to them.” Then all of the Apostles murmured, and would not agree with Paul’s words.

And as all of the Apostles were sitting in front of the entrance to Mary’s tomb, disputing Paul’s words, behold, our Lord Jesus Christ came from heaven with the angel Michael. And he sat among the Apostles as they were debating over Paul’s word. And Jesus answered and said, “Greetings Peter, the bishop, and greetings John, the virgin, you who are my heirs. Greetings Paul, the advisor of good things. Truly I say to you, Peter, that your advice was always destructive: yours and Andrew’s and John’s. But I say to you that you should receive that of Paul. For I see that the whole world will be caught in Paul’s net, and it will precede them. And then, after these things, your words will become known at the end of time.” And the Lord turned to Paul and said to him, “My brother Paul, do not be sad that the Apostles, your fellows, will not reveal the glorious mysteries to you. For to them I have revealed the things that are on earth; but I will teach you the things that are in heaven.”

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