Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Luther on the Annunciation. . .

On the Annunciation, it would do well to listen to Martin Luther on the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Martin Luther is well acquainted with the Immaculate Conception (long before it was defined by a Pope):

“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin"   -Martin Luther (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527).

Along with virtually all important Protestant Founders (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer), Luther accepted the traditional belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary (Jesus had no blood brothers), and her status as the Theotokos (Mother of God):

"Christ, ..was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him... "brothers" really means "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers."   -Martin Luther (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39).

"He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb.. .This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that."  (Ibid.)

"God says... "Mary's Son is My only Son." Thus Mary is the Mother of God.".  (Ibid.)

"God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary's Son, and that Mary is God's mother...She is the true mother of God and bearer of God...Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus. not two Christs. . .just as your son is not two sons...even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone."  -Martin Luther (On the Councils and the Church, 1539)

"She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil."   -Martin Luther (Personal {"Little"} Prayer Book, 1522)
Luther preached on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sermon of August 15, 1522, is the last time:

"There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith... It is enough to know that she lives in Christ."  -Martin Luther (Sermon, Feast of the Assumption of Mary, 1522)

Luther highly esteemed Mary and his piety and devotional practice of the veneration of Mary were sustained throughout his life:

"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart."  -Martin Luther (Sermon, September 8, 1522).

"[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. ..She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures."   -Martin Luther (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).

"No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity."   -Martin Luther (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation. 1537).

"One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace.. .Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ...Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God."  -Martin Luther (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521) 
Luther speaks of the Blessed Virgin Mary as also the "Spiritual Mother" for all Christians, the first of the Christians who consented to the Angel's Word, pondered all these things in  her heart, and whose own soul was pierced as Simeon prophesied:

"It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother. God is his father."  -Martin Luther (Sermon. Christmas, 1522)

"Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees...If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother."  - Martin Luther (Sermon, Christmas, 1529).

Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation. -Martin Luther (Sermon, March 11, 1523).

Our prayer should include the Mother of God.. .What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor.. .We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her...He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary. -Martin Luther (Personal Prayer Book, 1522). 

Martin Luther (like most theologians Reformation and Roman) condemned any Christian who regards Mary as equal to Jesus or who implies that Jesus was less than equal to the Father and the Spirit.  But if there could be a second status, below Jesus, but elevated above the noble saints and ordinary Christians, Luther would have placed Mary there.  Luther's Commentary on the Magnificat remains the fullest treatment of his Mariology.

In number 75 of the 95 theses Luther places blasphemy against the Virgin as a sin so great that papal indulgence cannot set it aside. Luther preached on Mary on all her feast days, perhaps with more faithfulness that do many Roman Catholic priests today. Many of these Marian feasts remained not only on the calendar but faithfully observed for a century after Luther’s death. Luther kept images of the BVM in his churches where they remained until the time of “Enlightenment” in the 18th century when the images began to be removed or covered.  Modern day Lutherans are much more reserved in their treatment of Mary than Luther or the Lutherans of the first couple centuries after the Reformation.

My point is not to shock or embarrass Lutherans but to point out that Luther was very catholic in his faith and piety and, though some of this changed or diminished slightly by the end of his life, Luther did not find appreciation for the Blessed Virgin Mary something in competition with Christ.  Just the opposite, it was the Blessed Virgin herself who sang, inspired by the Spirit, that all generations will call me blessed.  True honor and devotion to the Virgin Mary does not detract from Christ at all but honors Him.  She from whom He took His human flesh remains an example of faith and trust for all who would follow her in following Christ as Savior.  On this day when we remember the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary, a little reminder of the devotion to Blessed Mary which Luther expressed is well needed among the heirs of Luther who sometimes fear to speak her name out loud.  
To the nervous Lutherans reading this let me say.  Of course, and let me say it again, of course none of these affirmations not explicitly stated in Scripture (immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, or the assumption) could ever be required belief or be set as doctrine along side, for example, the creed.  No Lutheran and not even Luther was saying this.  But that did not and does not preclude one from believing such.  Where Lutherans differ from Protestants is that we allow these traditions to be held as private opinion which, while not found in Scripture, do not contradict it.  Roman Catholics, on the other hand, do not affirm Scripture as both source and norm of all doctrine and therefore regard tradition to be an equal source of doctrine (tradition which does not conflict with Scripture).  For Lutherans it is a matter of private faith but for Roman Catholics it is a matter of public doctrine.


Ted Badje said...

Mary was a peasant girl who was the best example of servanthood to God. She is to be honored like all of the other saints.

Unknown said...

Fr. Peters,

You wrote: " Of course, and let me say it again, of course none of these affirmations not explicitly stated in Scripture (immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, or the assumption) could ever be required belief or be set as doctrine along side, for example, the creed." I would agree with you on the immaculate conception, but on the other two points, one cannot be a catholic (little or big c) AND NOT hold to these as accepted truths of the Church which she has always proclaimed. Besides, even the creed reasserts the ever-virginity of Mary, not just her status as virgin when giving birth to Christ.--Chris

Carl Vehse said...

"Martin Luther is well acquainted with the Immaculate Conception (long before it was defined by a Pope"

It's time to review what has been previously stated here and here in the 2009 Pastoral Meandering "Problem of Mary" blog regarding Luther being "well acquainted with the Immaculate Conception":

"So, at best, one might find 'mentions' of Mary's immaculate conception Romanist fairy tale by Luther from early days. But after 1529, there is no solid indication of Luther holding such a view, especially at the end of his life."

Numerous quotes of early, mid, and late Luther were provided in that blog to substantiate this conclusion.

And while Luther did manage to rid himself of other Mariolotrist doctrines, as for the view of Luther, as well as such Protestants as Calvin, Zwingli, and Wesley regarding semper virgo, it has no more weight to a Lutheran than their (and Luther's... and the pope's... and the early-to mid-20th C. Missouri Synod's) unified view supporting the geocentric model of the universe.

There are numerous passages in Scriptures that refer to the marriage of Joseph and Mary, the (half)brothers and sisters of Jesus, or to other later children of Mary. And while one may speculate (with no contextual reason) that a broad or a peculiar, uncommon meaning of pertinent words in each Scripture passage is theoretically possible (and consequently that the normal, literal meaning is also exegetically possible), a doctrine of semper virgo would require that ALL the pertinent words in ALL the different passages, written by ALL the different apostles, Gospel and OT writers at ALL the different times, under ALL the different circumstances present in Scripture, use the peculiar, uncommon, broad, and literally-exclusive definitions/ interpretations.

Anonymous said...

Carl has it exactly correct on this one.

For folks who like to talk about "the plain meaning of Scripture" to turn and insist that all of these instances mentioning Christ's brothers are in fact using a very strange twist on the language. I find no Scriptural support for the perpetual virginity of Mary at all. The fact that is a fairy tale of exceedingly long standing does not make it any the less a fairy tale.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest

Anonymous said...

Mr. Vehse,

You stated a past writing of Pr. Peters on this blog:
"So, at best, one might find 'mentions' of Mary's
immaculate conception Romanist fairy tale by Luther from early days.
But after 1529, there is no solid indication of Luther holding such a view,
especially at the end of his life."

However, from the Smalcald Articles of 1538 we read:

First Part No. 4
"He was conceived...and was born of the pure, holy Virgin Mary."

And recently I was reminded of Luther's final sermon in Wittenberg 1546:
"Indeed, shouldn’t we also honor the holy mother of Christ?
She is the woman who bruised the head of the serpent.
Hear us, Mary, for thy Son so honors thee that he can refuse thee nothing."

-Peter Sovitzky

David Gray said...

Mary was correct when she said:

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

Mary needed a savior like every other sinner and she confessed this herself. Let us call her blessed. Other people are described as "holy" in the Bible and it doesn't mean they didn't need the blood of Christ.

"For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined."

Those overseers need the blood of Christ as well.

Carl Vehse said...

Peter Sovitzky: And recently I was reminded of Luther's final sermon in Wittenberg 1546: "Indeed, shouldn’t we also honor the holy mother of Christ? She is the woman who bruised the head of the serpent. Hear us, Mary, for thy Son so honors thee that he can refuse thee nothing."

Peter, you have only been reminded of a quote taken deliberately out of context (or perhaps you have been browsing romish mariolotrist websites too much). The quote was taken from Martin Luther's Last Sermon in Wittenberg (Romans 12:3) on January 17, 1546. The German text can be found in the St. Louis German (Walsh) Edition, Vol. XII: Col. 1172, paragraph 9.

Here's the English translation of para. 9 and para. 10, take from Luther's Works 51:375-376 (broken into easier-to-read paragraphs):

"9. Therefore, when we preach faith, that we should worship nothing but God alone, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed: 'I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ,' then we are remaining in the temple at Jerusalem. Again,'This is my beloved Son; listen to him.' 'You will find him in a manger'. He alone does it.

"But reason says the opposite: What, us? Are we to worship only Christ? Indeed, shouldn’t we also honor the holy mother of Christ? She is the woman who bruised the head of the serpent. Hear us, Mary, for thy Son so honors thee that he can refuse thee nothing. Here Bernard went too far in his Homilies on the Gospel: Missus est Angelus. God has commanded that we should honor the parents; therefore I will call upon Mary. She will intercede for me with the Son, and the Son with the Father, who will listen to the Son.

"So you have the picture of God as angry and Christ as judge; Mary shows to Christ her breast and Christ shows his wounds to the wrathful Father. That’s the kind of thing this comely bride, the wisdom of reason cooks up: Mary is the mother of Christ, surely Christ will listen to her; Christ is a stern judge, therefore I will call upon St. George and St. Christopher.

"10. No, we have been by God’s command baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews were circumcised. Therefore, just as the Jews set up all over the land their own self-chosen shrines, as if Jerusalem were too narrow, so we also have done. As a young man must resist lust and an old man avarice, so reason is by nature a harmful whore. But she shall not harm me, if only I resist her. Ah, but she is so comely and glittering. That’s why there must be preachers who will point people to the catechism: I believe in Jesus Christ, not in St. George or St. Christopher, for only of Christ is it said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”; not of Mary or the angels. The Father did not speak of Gabriel or any others when he cried from heaven, 'Listen to him.'”

So you see, Peter, the part you quoted is what Luther has Reason ("by nature a harmful whore") saying.

Pastor Peters said...

I knew the mention of Mary would stir the pot. Funny how touchy we are about her. I stand by what I said.

Anonymous said...

Check this out:


Anonymous said...

Blessed Feast of the Annunciation.

Oikos I
An angel announced the birth of the Saviour of the world to the shepherds in
the Bethlehem and with the multitude of the heavenly hosts praised God,
singing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among
men!" But thou, O Mother of God, having nowhere to lay thy head, since
there was no room in the inn, gave birth to thy first-born Son in a cave and,
wrapping Him in swaddling clothes, laid Him in a manger. Knowing the pain in
thy heart, we cry out to thee:

Rejoice, for thou wast warmed by the breath of thine own beloved Son!
Rejoice, for thou didst wrap the eternal Child in swaddling clothes!
Rejoice, for thou didst nourish with thy milk the One who sustaineth the
Rejoice, for thou didst turn a cave into a heaven!
Rejoice, for thou didst make thy throne upon the Cherubim!
Rejoice, for thou didst remain a virgin both in giving birth and after birth!
Rejoice, much-sorrowing Mother of God, turn our sorrows into joy and soften
the hearts of evil men!

Carl Vehse said...

"Oikos I..."

Eastern mariolotry.

Carl Vehse said...

The quote given at the start of Rev. Peter's article was reference as coming from Martin Luther's sermon, "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527. But it appears that Luther himsel may havef removed that text from a similar sermon he gave in 1528!

Here's the rest of the story (as discussed in a lengthy Beggars All: Reformation & Apologtics article, "Luther: the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin."

Luther's sermon can be found in an 1828 publication, Dr. Martin Luther's Kirchenpostille, Sämmtliche Werke: nach den ältesten Ausgaben, Volume 15, pp. 47-55.

However, the referenced quote on p. 54, is footnoted with the following: "Von hier an bis zum Schluss sindet sich nur in der Ausgabe vom Jahre 1527" (From here on until the end, is only found in the edition of the year 1527.)

And Beggars All notes: Lutheran scholar Eric Gritsch makes a more recent reference to the fact that the sermon was edited. After quoting a portion of the sermon in question, he footnotes the text stating:

"In another version of the same sermon from 1528 Luther declared that Scripture did not say anything about the conception of Mary. Accordingly, various ideas can be advanced, as long as none of them becomes an article of faith. For an analysis of the two versions, see Dufel, 169-170" [H. George Anderson, J. Francis Stafford, Joseph A. Burgess (editors) The One Mediator, The Saints, and Mary, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VII (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), p. 381].

In What Luther Says Volume 3, Ewald Plass also confirms the deletion of the sections on the immaculate conception. He quotes an earlier section of the sermon and mentions, "In this sermon Luther still holds to the immaculate conception of Mary. In later editions of the discourse the paragraphs which contain this error were omitted. See SL 11, 1952, 1559f" [What Luther Says, Vol.3 p. 1297]. Plass at least points to an actual edition of Luther's works in which the deletion is noted.

Finally, the editors of Luther's Works state,

Originally, Luther may have held something similar to the Thomist position, put forward in the Festival Postil (1527), sermon on the conception of Mary, WA 17/2:287-288, though the material in question seems to be solely the responsibility of its editor, Stephan Roth (d.1546), and was removed from the 1528 and subsequent editions: see StL 11:959-961; Baseley 1:50-51. In his later preaching, Luther affirmed that Mary had been both conceived and born in sin and connected her purification from sin with the work of the Holy Spirit at the time of Christ's conception: see e.g., Luther's sermons for Christmas Eve 1539, WA 47:860, and 1540 WA 49:173; Dufel, Luther's Stellung zur Marienverehrung, pp. 163-174, 196-97; Kreitzer, Reforming Mary, pp. 110-11 [LW 59:434-435].

Lutheran Lurker said...

I believe that it is Pastor Peters (Peters is his last name) and not Rev. Peter's (as if it were his first name or his last name were Peter)...

Carl Vehse said...

Thanks, Lutheran Lurker.

Yes, in my previously post, the
apostrophe in the first line should
be moved one character to the right,
so that it immediately follows the
letter "s".

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Peters: Luther highly esteemed Mary and his piety and devotional practice of the veneration of Mary were sustained throughout his life:
"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." -Martin Luther (Sermon, September 8, 1522).

On his April 18,2016, \i{Beggars All} website, Luther: The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart}," James Swan exposes this Romanist scam.

What Luther ACTUALLY wrote in his "Sermon on the Day of Mary's Birth, 8 Sept. 1522" [It's part of Luther's Kirchenpostille (festival sermons)] is in WA10, III, 313

Swan also includes the English translation:

"Today's feast of the blessed Virgin celebrates her birth. We also read today in the beginning of Matthew the accounting of part of the family tree including the great ancestors of Jesus Christ. But you know, my friends in Christ, that the honor given to the mother of God has been rooted so deeply into the hearts of men that no one wants to hear any opposition to this celebration. There is rather a desire to further elevate it and make it even greater. We also grant that she should be honored, since we, according to Saint Paul's words [Romans 12] are indebted to show honor one to another for the sake of the One who dwells in us, Jesus Christ. Therefore we have an obligation to honor Mary. But be careful to give her honor that is fitting. Unfortunately, I worry that we give her all too high an honor for she is accorded much more esteem than she should be given or than she accounted to herself.

"So from this comes two abuses. First Christ is diminished by those who place their hearts more upon Mary than upon Christ himself. In doing so Christ is forced into the background and completely forgotten. The other abuse is that the poor saints here on earth are forgotten."

As Swan makes clear, Luther is dicussing the veneration of Mary in a NEGATIVE statement, arguing that thus Romish idolatry diminishes Christ.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post, Pastor Peters, and for the compilation of quotes. At first at least, my conversion to the Roman Catholic Church from the LCMS was in part at least because I was so sick of how the LCMS treated the Blessed Mother. I never liked what seemed to be a lack of respect for her within the LCMS. What I found from my own reading was that Luther (even after the Reformation) sounded far more like a Roman Catholic than a modern day Lutheran when it concerned the Blessed Mother. In fact, to my delight, Catholics love to quote Luther on Mary. I've also had my own personal experience praying with the Blessed Mother. She does not trip me up. A relationship with her has been beautiful addition to my relationship with her son Our Savior Jesus Christ. She truly "gets" being a Mom. She can be helpful to those who've lost children as she's lost a child. She always leads me to Her Son, never distracting me away from the Triune God. As she said at Cana, "do whatever He tells you" So, again, my personal witness is that she's a true missionary, and a positive for the universal church. I could go on and on but I think you understand how highly I think of her.

It's amazing how so many modern day Lutheran pastors treat Our Lady with such disrespect. I'm glad to see that you aren't one of them!
I wonder how Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would feel about His mom getting treated so incredibly poorly!

My own experience is that she is a powerful intercessor and a great friend. Having her in my life has been an additive to my relationship with Jesus, not subtractive for my relationship with God. So, thanks for your post. She is beautiful.

God bless you.

Unknown said...

Mr. Vehse, I'm grateful for your honest and careful explanations of what Martin Luther sincerely believed and preached, particularly as he drew ever closer to the full truth of the Gospel.