|Ascension of Jesus|
Ascension of Christ by Garofalo 1520
|Significance||Affirmation of the ascension of Jesus|
|Date||Thursday[n 1] in the sixth week following Easter Sunday|
|Celebrations||A traditional Christian Feast|
|Related to||Passover, Christmas (which honors the birth of Jesus), Septuagesima, Quinquagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday which lead up to Easter, Easter Sunday (primarily), Pentecost, Whit Monday, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi which follow Easter|
The Christian doctrine of the Ascension holds that Jesus ascended to heaven in the presence of his Eleven Apostles following his resurrection, and that in heaven he sits at the right hand of God the Father.
Jesus died circa 30. In the Epistle to the Romans (c. 56-57), Saint Paul describes Christ as in heaven and in the abyss the earliest Christian reference to Jesus in heaven. The most influential account of the Ascension, and according to the two-source hypothesis the earliest, is in Acts of the Apostles where Jesus is taken up bodily into heaven forty days after his resurrection as witnessed by his apostles, after giving the Great Commission with a prophecy to return. In the Gospel of Luke, the Ascension takes place on Easter Sunday evening. The Gospel of John (c. 90-100) refers to Jesus returning to the Father. In the First Epistle of Peter (c. 90-110), Jesus has ascended to heaven and is at God's right side. The Epistle to the Ephesians (c. 90-100) refers to Jesus ascending higher than all the heavens. The First Epistle to Timothy (c. 90-140) describes Jesus as taken up in glory. The traditional ending of Mark includes a summary of Luke's resurrection material and describes Jesus as being taken up into heaven and sitting at God's right hand. The imagery of Jesus' Ascension is related to the broader theme of his exaltation and heavenly welcome, derived from the Hebrew Bible. The image of Jesus rising bodily into the heavens reflects the ancient view that heaven was above the earth.
Belief in the Ascension of Jesus is found in the Nicene Creed, and is affirmed by Christian liturgy and, in the West, by the Apostles' Creed. The Ascension implies Jesus' humanity being taken into heaven. Ascension Day, celebrated 40 days after Easter, is one of chief feasts of the Christian year. The feast dates back at least to the later 300s, as is widely attested.
The canonical account of Jesus ascending bodily into the clouds contrasts with the gnostic tradition, by which Jesus was said to transcend the physical realm and return to his home in the spirit world. It also contrasts with the beliefs of Docetism, in which matter is intrinsically evil and Jesus was said to have been pure spirit.
Scholars of the historical Jesus commonly reject New Testament accounts of Jesus' resurrection as inventions of the Christian community in the Apostolic Age. Some describe the Ascension as a convenient device to discredit ongoing appearance claims within the Christian community.
The first account of the Ascension found in the Christian Bible is in the Gospel of Mark —but see article on Mark 16. The description is brief: Jesus and the remaining eleven apostles are seated at a table, presumably in a room in or near Jerusalem. Jesus commands his followers to spread the Gospel (see also Great Commission) and tells them that those who believe will be known by their invulnerability to poison, ability to heal the sick, exorcise demons, speak in "new tongues," and the like. After delivering these final words, Jesus is received into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. No description of the Ascension itself is given; Mark simply states that it happened. This traditional ending of Mark is considered a summary of Luke's resurrection appearances, commission, and ascension, plus miracles from the apostolic tradition.
The Gospel of LukeBethany, not far from Jerusalem. While in the act of blessing them, Jesus was carried up to heaven. Since Luke was once the first part of Luke-Acts, scholars surmise that this Ascension, different from that in Acts, is from a different hand, perhaps created when Luke-Acts was divided into Luke and Acts.is even more brief in its description. Jesus led the eleven to
The third account of the Ascension is in the Acts of the Apostles.Mount Olivet, to the northeast of Bethany. Jesus tells his apostles that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, the "Comforter," see also Paraclete, and that they will spread his message the world over, i.e., the Great Commission. Jesus is taken up and received by a cloud. Two men clothed in white (i.e., angels) appear and tell the apostles that Jesus will return in the same manner as he was taken.For forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus continued to teach his followers. Not that many people saw him. Jesus and the eleven were gathered near
Even though these three accounts might appear contradictory, the reader should keep in mind that the original Gospels of Luke and Acts were both written by the same author and were thus very unlikely to contain such glaring discrepancies in their original form.
Not only is the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture cited above, but it is also elsewhere predicted and spoken of as an established fact. Thus, Christ asks the Jews: "What if then you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" , and to Mary Magdalene he says: "Do not touch (translated "approach" in the Aramaic) Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father, but go to My brethren, and say to them: I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God." In Acts, Ephesians, and 1 Timothy the Ascension of Christ is spoken of as an accepted fact.
The Gospel of Matthew ends at a mountain in Galilee with Jesus commanding the Disciples to spread the Gospel to the ends of the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (the "Great Commission"). No mention is made there of the Ascension.
The Catholic and Orthodox traditional view is that Mary was also present at the Ascension, following her mention in .
Outside of the Biblical Canon, the Ascension is discussed in the Pistis Sophia. Irenaeus in Against Heresies notes the Gnostic view that the Ascension happened eighteen months after the Resurrection. The apocryphal text known as the Apocryphon of James describes the teachings of Jesus to James and Peter 550 days after the resurrection, but before the ascension, suggesting an even longer period. The recently discovered Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas, like the canonical Gospel of Matthew, does not mention the Ascension.
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The place of the Ascension is not distinctly mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Mount Olivet (the "Mount of Olives"). After the Ascension the apostles are described as returning to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, within a Sabbath day's journey. Tradition has consecrated this site as the Mount of Ascension.states that the event took place in Bethany while it appears from Acts that it took place on the
Early Christians honored the Ascension by worshiping in a cave nearby, probably out of fear of persecution for worshiping openly. Later, after the conversion of Constantine, the first church was built on the site around 390 AD by Poimenia, a pious Roman lady. St. Helena erected over the site a basilica called "Eleona Basilica" (elaion in Greek means "olive garden", from elaia "olive tree," and has an oft-mentioned similarity to eleos meaning "mercy") in 392, which was destroyed by the Sassanid Persians in 614. It was rebuilt in the eighth century, destroyed again, but rebuilt a second time by the Crusaders. This final church was also destroyed by Muslims, leaving only the octagonal structure (called a martyrium—"memorial"—or "Edicule") which remains to this day.
The site was ultimately acquired by two emissaries of Saladin in the year 1198 and has remained in the possession of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem ever since. The martyrium, though now only bare stone, enshrines the rock said to bear the imprint of the right foot of Christ as he ascended, and is venerated by Christians as the last point on earth touched by the incarnate Christ. The Crusader building was converted to a mosque but was never used by Muslims since the overwhelming majority of visitors were Christian. As a gesture of compromise and goodwill, Saladin ordered the construction of a second mosque and mihrab two years later next door to the chapel for Muslim worship while Christians continued to visit the main chapel. Though still under the control of the Moslems, this Chapel of the Ascension is currently opened to visitors for a nominal fee.
Eastern and Oriental Christianity
In Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox theology, the Ascension is interpreted as the culmination of the Mystery of the Incarnation, in that it not only marked the completion of Jesus' physical presence among his apostles, but consummated the union of God and man when Jesus ascended in his glorified human body to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The Ascension and the Transfiguration both figure prominently in the Orthodox doctrine of theosis. The bodily Ascension into heaven is also understood as the final token of Christ's two natures: divine and human.
The Orthodox understand Christ's physical presence to continue in the Church, which is the "Body of Christ". Jesus' promise that he will be "with you always" is understood not only in terms of his active, divine grace, but also in the divine institution of the church (human sinfulness notwithstanding).
Christ's Ascension into heaven is understood as a necessary prerequisite for the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost , and especially . The biblical texts regarding the Ascension also prophesy the Second Coming of Christ, stating that Jesus will return not only in the same glorious manner, but in the same place. In other words, the Second Coming and Last Judgment will take place on the Mount of Olives, with the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) below and to the left.
Reformed tradition in Protestantism
The Westminster Confession of Faith (part of the Reformed tradition in Calvinism and influential in the Presbyterian church), in Article four of Chapter eight, states: "On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world."
Article 46 of the Heidelberg Catechism answers the question What do you confess when you say, He ascended into heaven? by stating "That Christ, before the eyes of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven, and that He is there for our benefit until He comes again to judge the living and the dead."
The Catechism further explores aspects of the ascension, asking How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us? and replying, "First, He is our Advocate in heaven before His Father. Second, we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself. Third, He sends us His Spirit [...]"
The Second Helvetic Confession addresses the purpose and character of Christ's ascension in Chapter 11:
- Christ Is Truly Ascended Into Heaven. We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, in his same flesh, ascended above all visible heavens into the highest heaven, that is, the dwelling-place of God and the blessed ones, at the right hand of God the Father. Although it signifies an equal participation in glory and majesty, it is also taken to be a certain place about which the Lord, speaking in the Gospel, says: 'I go to prepare a place for you' (John 14:2). The apostle Peter also says: 'Heaven must receive Christ until the time of restoring all things' (Acts 3:21).
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The Ascension is one of the great feasts in the Christian liturgical calendar, and commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Ascension Day is officially celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day from Easter day. However, some Roman Catholic provinces have moved the observance to the following Sunday. The feast is one of the ecumenical feasts (i.e., universally celebrated), ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the ecclesiastical calendar.
The observance of this feast is of great antiquity. Although no documentary evidence of it exists prior to the beginning of the fifth century, St. Augustine says that it is of Apostolic origin, and he speaks of it in a way that shows it was the universal observance of the Church long before his time. Frequent mention of it is made in the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and in the Constitution of the Apostles. The Pilgrimage of Aetheria speaks of the vigil of this feast and of the feast itself, as they were kept in the church built over the grotto in Bethlehem in which Christ was born. It may be that prior to the fifth century the fact narrated in the Gospels was commemorated in conjunction with the feast of Easter or Pentecost. Some believe that the much-disputed forty-third decree of the Council of Elvira (c. 300) condemning the practice of observing a feast on the fortieth day after Easter and neglecting to keep Pentecost on the fiftieth day, implies that the proper usage of the time was to commemorate the Ascension along with Pentecost. Representations of the mystery are found in diptychs and frescoes dating as early as the fifth century.
The Latin terms used for the feast, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by his own powers. In Roman Catholicism the Ascension of the Lord is a Holy Day of Obligation. The three days before Ascension Thursday are sometimes referred to as the Rogation days and the previous Sunday, the Fifth Sunday after Easter (or the Sixth Sunday of Easter), as Rogation Sunday. Ascension has a vigil and, since the fifteenth century, an octave, which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost, in accordance with the directions of Pope Leo XIII.
In Western Christianity, the earliest possible date is April 30, the latest possible date is June 3.
The Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries has obtained permission from the Vatican to move observance of the Feast of the Ascension from the traditional Thursday to the following Sunday, the Sunday before Pentecost. This is in keeping with a trend to move Holy Days of Obligation from weekdays to Sunday, to encourage more Catholics to observe feasts considered important. The decision to move a feast is made by the bishops of an ecclesiastical province, i.e. an archbishop and the neighbouring bishops. The switch to Sunday was made in 1992 by the church in Australia; before 1996 in parts of Europe; in 1996 in Ireland; before 1998 in Canada and parts of the western United States; in many other provinces in the United States from 1999; and in England and Wales from 2007. The U.S. provinces which retain Thursday observance in 2009 are Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha.
In the Eastern Church this feast is known in Greek as Analepsis, the "taking up", and also as the Episozomene, the "salvation from on high", denoting that by ascending into his glory Christ completed the work of our redemption. Ascension is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox liturgical year.
The feast is always observed with an All-night vigil. The day before is the Apodosis (leave-taking) of Pascha (i.e., the last day of the Feast of Easter). The Paroemia (Old Testament readings) at Vespers on the eve of the Feast are ; , 63:7-9; and , 14:8-11. At the Divine Liturgy, the Epistle is , and the Gospel is . Ascension Thursday also commemorates the Holy Georgian Martyrs of Persia (17th–18th centuries).
Ascension has an Afterfeast of eight days. The Sunday after Ascension is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. This council formulated the Nicene Creed up to the words, "He (Jesus) ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end." The Afterfeast ends on the following Friday, the Friday before Pentecost. The next day is appropriately a Saturday of the Dead (general commemoration of all faithful departed).
The Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different method of calculating the date of Pascha (Easter), so the Eastern Orthodox commemoration of Ascension will usually be after the western observance (anywhere from a week to as much as a month later; but occasionally on the same day). The earliest possible date for the feast is May 14, and the latest possible date is June 17. Some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, however, observe Ascension on the same date as the Western Churches.
Certain customs were connected with the liturgy of this feast, such as the blessing of beans and grapes after the Commemoration of the Dead in the Canon of the Mass, the blessing of first fruits, afterwards done on Rogation Days, the blessing of a candle, the wearing of mitres by deacon and subdeacon, the extinction of the paschal candle, and triumphal processions with torches and banners outside the churches to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven.
The antiquarian Daniel Rock records the English custom of carrying at the head of the procession the banner bearing the device of the lion and at the foot the banner of the dragon, to symbolize the triumph of Christ in his ascension over the evil one (and can also be interpreted by analogy as the triumph of England over Wales). In some churches the scene of the Ascension was vividly reproduced by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church. In others, whilst the figure of Christ was made to ascend, that of the devil was made to descend.
In some countries (e.g. Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Vanuatu) it is a public holiday; Germany also holds its Father's Day on the same date.
Coinciding with the liturgical feast is the annual commemoration by the Christian labour movement (especially syndical, in Belgium) of the encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by the Roman Catholic Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891.
Very recently Ascension day has become an annual celebration for those who practice the Ishayas' Ascension; a form of meditation said to have been taught by Jesus. On this day the ascenders take part in a twelve-hour group meditation.
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 321
- The account in Acts was originally in Luke-Acts. The Ascension account in Luke came later, possibly after the text had been split in to Luke's gospel and Acts. Mark's reference to the Ascension is based on Luke, part of the traditional ending, written in the second century and added onto Mark. Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998.
- Funk, Robert W. and the Jesus Seminar. The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998. "Empty Tomb, Appearances & Ascension" p. 449-495.
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
- "Ascension of Christ." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
- Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0
- May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. 1977.
- Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: is missing in some important early witnesses, varies between the Alexandrian and Western versions.
- Irenaeus Against Heresies I.XXX.14
- St. Leo the Great, Tome, Section V.
- Redman, Gary. "A Comparison of the Biblical and Islamic Views of the States of Christ/ Part 2: The State of Exaltation". The Muslim-Christian Debate Website. http://debate.org.uk/topics/theo/states_christ_03.html. Retrieved 2007-06-22.
- Louis Duchesne, Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution (London, 1903), 491-515.
- Ascension Day is Moving Michael Kwatera, OSB. Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.
- "Column 8". Sydney Morning Herald: p. 1. 14 May 1992.
- "Church holy day changes sought". The Irish Times: p. 5. 10 October 1996. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/1996/1010/96101000034.html. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
- Pollak, Andy (17 October 1996). "Holy days moved to following Sunday". The Irish Times: p. 7. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/1996/1017/96101700054.html. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
- The Spectator's Notes: Charles Moore's reflections on the week, Charles Moore The Spectator, Wednesday, 7th May 2008
- Is Ascension a Holy Day of Obligation? Scott P. Richert, About.com
- "The Church in Malankara switched entirely to the Gregorian calendar in 1953, following Encyclical No. 620 from Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem I, dt. December 1952." Calendars of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
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