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“Reformers on Mary”
An Assembly of Quotes
Before we begin, let me clarify, this page of quotes was not originally of my own doing. My original exposure to the original quotes came from a participant on the BattleACTS discussion group on April 25, 2004 (that post has been deleted, I assume by the original author, who has that right, in fact ALL posts by that author in that timeframe have disappeared though you can see “replies” to her). Later, I found the exact same list on mariology.com (click here for an archive copy of that page, or here for the current page there). Mr. James Swan challenged virtually all of the quotes attributed to Martin Luther, so I have gone through these quotes - many due to Mr. Swan's research - and corrected those needing correction. For continued discussions of the quotes in particular, please see the “Indices” page on the CathApol Blog under “Luther on Mary, A Dialog with James Swan.” This current page represents a correction of the original and has added a few more quotes to the mix as well.
I would also add that for the average Catholic this topic is basically a who cares? topic. Ten or so years ago it was of some interest to me. I spent quite a bit of time on this recently (late 2010 and early 2011) to correct citations which were, admittedly, incorrect. I felt those corrections should be made, and publicly replace the document I had published back in 2004. Still, some non-Catholics may find this topic intriguing as well as some Catholics, especially converts, to see how much "Catholic thought" those who are considered the "fathers" or at least "leaders" of the Protestant revolt held - and this should not come as much of a surprise as most of them came directly from the Catholic Church as they were forming new churches separated from the Body of Christ.
Mary the Mother of God
"She is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God ... It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God."1
"Let them say here too that the flesh of the Virgin was meanwhile annihilated, or as they would more aptly say, transubstantiated, so that Christ, after being enfolded in its accidents, finally came forth through the accidents! The same thing will have to be said of the shut door and the closed mouth of the sepulchre, through which He went in and out without disturbing them."2a
"I believe that for me He was born of the pure Virgin Mary, without harm to her bodily and spiritual virginity, in order that, by the mercy of His Father, He might make my sinful, damnable birth, and the birth of all who believe in Him, blessed and harmless and pure."2b
The Immaculate Conception
Luther clearly believed in the Immaculate Conception prior to becoming a Protestant, and I posit that this belief stayed with him throughout his life - however support for this is not as clear later in his life as it was earlier. Some base this lack of clarity later in his life as a rejection of the concept, though logically speaking, silence would lend itself to consent, not rejection.
1518: (Still a Catolic here) “Second, even if the pope along with a large part of the church should feel thus and so, and even if it were true that he does not err, it is still not a sin, nor is it heresy, to take the opposite position, especially in something which is not necessary for salvation, until the one position has been rejected by a general council and the other approved. But, lest I become too involved, let me state that my position is proved in this one instance, namely, that the Roman church along with the general council at Basel and almost with the whole church feels that the Holy Virgin was conceived without sin. Yet those who hold the opposite opinion should not be considered heretics, since their opinion has not been disproved.” 3
1521: (Recently excommunicated) “In regard to the conception of our Lady they have admitted that, since this article is not necessary to salvation, it is neither heresy nor error when some hold that she was conceived in sin, although in this case council, pope, and the majority hold a different view. Why should we poor Christians be forced to believe whatever the pope and his papists think, even when it is not necessary to salvation? Has papal authority the power to make unnecessary matters necessary articles of faith, and can it make heretics of people in matters which are not necessary for salvation?” 4
1527: "But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin..."5
1538: “In our Christian Creed we confess that Christ was conceived and became man or was incarnate (if I may so speak), that He became a real human being by assuming a body. We confess that He assumed genuine flesh and blood from the Virgin Mary that He did not pass through her as the sun shines through a glass but brought her virgin flesh and blood with Him. If this had taken place only with the co-operation of Mary, the Babe would not have been pure. But though Mary has been conceived in sin, the Holy Spirit takes her flesh and blood and purifies them; and thence He creates the body of the Son of God. This is why it is said that "He was conceived by the Holy Ghost." Thus He assumed a genuine body from His mother Mary, but this body was cleansed from sin by the Holy Spirit. If this were not the case, we could not be saved.”6
This view, "But though Mary has been conceived in sin, the Holy Spirit takes her flesh and blood and purifies them" can be compared to Luther's belief, documented previously, in the two conceptions of Mary - one physical and one spiritual. Luther believed the physical conception still inherited original sin, but upon Mary's second conception, wherein the soul is conceived and life is given, that at the moment of spiritual conception Mary was cleansed from all stain of original sin. Bearing that in mind, Luther here has not denied his earlier teaching on the two conceptions - nor does this reference explicitly state when Mary was purified. It can still be maintained that he has not denied the Immaculate Conception. Being that this is a bit vague in this sermon as to exactly when Mary was purified - we can see how those who deny the IC impute their interpretation into this citation, and if this citation alone was all we had, they may have a point, but let us continue. Likewise, it can still be maintained that he did not abandon the "two conceptions" concept he taught earlier.
(Non-Catholic) James Swan writes:
These comments are from his Genesis Commentary, toward the end of his life in 1544:
“…Christ was truly born from true and natural flesh and human blood which was corrupted by original sin in Adam, but in such a way that it could be healed. Thus we, who are encompassed by sinful flesh, believe and hope that on the day of our redemption the flesh will be purged of and separated from all infirmities, from death, and from disgrace; for sin and death are separable evils. Accordingly, when it came to the Virgin and that drop of virginal blood, what the angel said was fulfilled: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you”. To be sure, the Messiah was not born by the power of flesh and blood, as is stated in John 1:13: “Not of blood nor of the will of a man, etc.” Nevertheless, He wanted to be born from the mass of the flesh and from that corrupted blood. But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin. Although death remained in that flesh on our account, the leaven of sin was nevertheless purged out, and it became the purest flesh, purified by the Holy Spirit and united with the divine nature in one Person. 7
Swan prefaces that citation with "Rather she was purified at the conception of Christ." I believe he has misread the citation (he continues to disagree with me on this point). What Swan has quoted from Luther in 1544 is "in the moment of the Virgin's conception..." (that's Mary's conception, not Jesus') "...the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin." Remember, Luther has already posited that Jesus' conception was preserved from all sin, even in His physical conception so Luther could not have been referring to Jesus' conception here.
Swan's viewpoint here is:
But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception (of Jesus) the Holy Ghost purged and sanctified the sinful mass (of the flesh which would become Jesus’) and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin. Although death remained in that flesh (Jesus’) on our account, the leaven of sin was nevertheless purged out, and it became the purest flesh, purified by the Holy Ghost and united with the divine nature in one Person (again Jesus).
The problem would remain here - Luther believed the flesh of Christ was pure already and didn’t need purging.
As we saw above, Luther adhered to a concept of a dual conception - one physical and one spiritual. The Catholic definition does not make such a distinction, so Luther's view of the "second conception" fits quite perfectly with the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception which was so defined over 300 years after 1546, the year of Luther's death, but more to the point here, just two years before his death he expresses belief that "in the moment of the Virgin's conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful Mass (the product of the "first conception" in Luther's theology) and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin." So what we have seen here is that it can be seen that Luther did indeed have a life-long belief in the Immaculate Conception. Was it identical to the 1854 definition? That is debatable, but also unnecessary as the precision of the definition comes with the 1854 ex cathedra decree from Pope Pius IX. Thus Luther's belief in the "two conceptions" was an acceptable understanding of the Immaculate Conception for his day and this belief does not seem to have changed throughout Luther's life.
The bottom line here, as for a “lifelong” adherence to the Immaculate Conception, is that we can definitely argue for this in his early life and up to 1538 (within 8 years of his death). In 1544 arguments can be made either way, though in my personal opinion more weight falls on the accepting side of the debate than on the rejecting side - I acknowledge that Mr. Swan continues to disagree with me on this point.
1546 Death of Luther in Eisleben on February 18
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
Although he did not make it an article of faith, Luther said of the doctrine of the Assumption:
"There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know."8
Honor to Mary
Despite his unremitting criticism of the traditional doctrines of Marian mediation and intercession, to the end Luther continued to proclaim that Mary should be honored. He made it a point to preach on her feast days.
You know, my friends, that deep in the heart of men is inscribed the honor with which one honors the mother of God; yes, it is even so deep that no one willingly hears anything against it, but extols her more and more. Now we grant that she should be honored since we are enjoined by the Scripture to receive one another with honor, as Paul says (Romans 12:10); so man must also honor her. Above all she must be rightly honored, but the people have "fallen" so deeply in this honor that she is more highly honored than is right and there are two harmful results of all of this: a rupture with Christ inasmuch as the hearts of men are more directed to her than to Christ himself. Christ is put behind in darkness and entirely forgotten!" 9
We must concur with Luther that over-emphasis on Mary which would supplant her Son is misplaced honor - but Luther is still endorsing honoring the Blessed Virgin.
"Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the holy Mother of God rather not to be honoured? This is the woman who crushed the Serpent's head. Hear us. For your Son denies you nothing."10a
Luther made this statement in his last sermon at Wittenberg in January 1546. [added note - in context, this sermon is actually critical of "Bernard's" use of honor - Bernard, in Luther’s opinion went too far. Luther still supports honoring Mary, just not so far as Bernard went. And here is more context for the reader:
“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. 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.” 10b
The Church has always extolled Mary simply in the spirit of the Magnificat. Luther himself had published a printed exposition of the Magnificat in 1521. There he still speaks of the Blessed Virgin in the usual way (" Werke," Weim. ed., 7, p. 545 f. ; Erl. ed., 45, p. 214 f.). At the commencement of the work he invokes her assistance with the words :
"May the same tender Mother of God obtain for me the spirit to interpret her song usefully and practically . . . that we may sing and chant this Magnificat eternally in the life to come. So help us God. Amen."
In the same way, at the close, he expresses his hope that a right understanding of the Magnificat "may not only illumine and teach, but burn and live in body and soul ; may Christ grant us this by the intercession and assistance of His dear Mother Mary. Amen" (p. 601 = 287).
Thus he was then still in favour of the invocation and intercession of the Holy Mother of God, whereas later he set aside the invocation of any Saint, and declared it to be one of " the abuses of Antichrist." (See Kostlin, " Luthers Theologie," l 2 , p. 370 ff.)" 11
“Wherefore, let the blessed Virgin hold her place of due honour, as the woman whom God adorned with that high privilege above all other women, — that she, as a virgin, should bring forth the Son of God. 12
Mother of God
"Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God."13
"The word brothers, we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relatives whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s brothers are sometimes mentioned."14
Honor to Mary
"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor."15
"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son."16
"I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin."17
Mother of God, Perpetual Virginity (ever chaste) and Immaculate Virgin Mary
"I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary."18
"Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin."19
Honor to Mary
"It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother."20
"The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow."21
"It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God."22
1 Luther, Martin, Luther's Works, volume 24, (LW 24) 107.
2a Luther, Martin; Luther's Works Volume II, A.J. Holman Company, 1916, p. 191: qtd from: http://www.archive.org/stream/worksofmartinlut02luth#page/190/mode/2up
2b ibid. p. 371, http://www.archive.org/stream/worksofmartinlut02luth#page/370/mode/2up
3 Luther, Martin, Luther’s Works as quoted by James Swan: LW 31:172-173.
4 Luther, Martin, Luther’s Works as quoted by James Swan: LW 32:79-80.
5 Luther, Martin, Weimar edition of Martin Luther's Works, English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694.
This citation mentions J. Pelikan, but actually points to the Latin volume in “Volume 4, (p)694” You can see it in the Latin form here: http://www.archive.org/stream/werkekritischege04luthuoft#page/694/mode/2up (kudos to “Ben” for finding this).
6 Luther, Martin, as quoted by James Swan: [Martin Luther, D.Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung Werke 45:51 quoted in Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Vol. I, 152.]
This quote comes from a sermon preached by Luther ("On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527) and was published with his permission. It is alleged that prior to the end of his life support for the Immaculate Conception is not found in published editions of his works. Modern Protestant apologists speculate that he rejected the Immaculate Conception, however, their arguments seem to stem from what Luther did not say and/or may have removed from later publications of earlier sermons - including this one. You can see this quote along with context from "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God" sermon on the CathApol Blog:
7 LW 7 (Kindle Location: 251) (LW 7:13, per Swan)
8 Cole, William J. Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?" (Marian Studies), (1970), 123-124. citing WA 10, III, 268.
9 Luther, Martin, Weimar edition of Martin Luther's Works 10, III (WA 10, III) p.313. [Additional context to the original citation has been provided by James Swan.]
10a Luther, Martin, (as quoted from: http://web.archive.org/web/20040405023855/http://www.mariology.com/sections/reformers.html)
10b Luther, Martin, qtd on Coming Home Network: (LW, vol. 51, pp. 375-376) (Swan claims CHN/Dave Armstrong got this from him - and perhaps they did).
11 Grisar, Hartmann, Luther p. 237 http://www.archive.org/stream/luthergris04grisuoft/luthergris04grisuoft_djvu.txt
12 Luther, Martin, Commentary on First Five Chapters of Genesis, p. 257 (Link to ebook)
13 John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 35.
14 John Calvin, (Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke, sec. 39 [Geneva, 1562], vol. 2 / From Calvin’s Commentaries, translated by William Pringle, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1949, p.215; on Matthew 13:55) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom32.ii.xxxix.html
15 John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348.
16 John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (St. Andrew's Press, Edinburgh, 1972), p.32.
17 Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424.
18 E. Stakemeier, De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, K. Balic, ed., (Rome, 1962), 456.
21 Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 427-428.
22 Ulrich Zwingli, In Evang. Luc., Opera Completa [Zurich, 1828-42], Volume 6, I, 639
When this page was originally published on the ACTS Website the quotes were provided by a member of the BattleACTS discussion group. Later I found the quotes, verbatim, published at Mariology.com. For nearly 7 years these quotes were on the ACTS Website and in December of 2010 James Swan challenged virtually all the quotes on Luther. I have since gone through the quotes and citations, verifying them myself and/or relying on Mr. Swan’s research on several of them. Even though many times he (and others on his blog) crossed the line from constructive criticism to personal attack, I am still thankful for the time and effort he has put forth and therefore have no problem crediting him where sources came directly from him. Mr. Swan seems to pride himself in the fact that he has "corrected" me, my site, etc. but frankly, my goal is to present the truth and I am not concerned that Mr. Swan receives credit for his research. The quotes are available for the objective reader to consider.
Original 2002 source of quotes from www.mariology.com can still be found on the web.archive.org site:
Another discussion of this topic:
Dave Armstrong's article from 2003: