Roman Catholic apologist Scott Windsor has put forth a response to my view that Luther did not hold a lifelong belief in Mary's immaculate conception. I appreciate that Scott took some time to look into this topic. It appears he actually did work through at least some of the evidence surrounding this issue. For that, I'm grateful. Many other Roman Catholic bloggers / apologists simply cut-and-paste citations from Luther or other apologists. Often these citations are poorly documented, an obvious sign the actual contexts from which the quotes were taken were never read. It appears Mr. Windsor did attempt to go beyond this usual approach, at least by interacting with some of my writing on this subject. I've saved a copy of what he posted on his blog as of 12/19/10, and it is to that which this response is based.
This is a complicated matter, one in which I've spent considerable time on. I have, not because it actually has any important significance as to Luther studies. Whether Luther did or did not hold to a lifelong belief in the immaculate conception really doesn't matter to me. Luther held to many things in which I would disagree. If it so happens he held to lifelong belief in Mary's immaculate conception, this would be simply another point in which I would disagree with Luther.
Rather, I've studied Luther's alleged Marian beliefs because of their polemical use by Roman Catholics. The very article Mr. Windsor is now revising stated "the Marian teachings and preachings of the Reformers have been 'covered up' by their most zealous followers - with damaging theological and practical consequences." Typically Luther is vilified by many Roman apologists. When it comes to the topic of Mary, Roman Catholic sentiment towards Luther shifts considerably. Luther becomes the staunch supporter of Mary; a leader that all contemporary Protestants should learn a great lesson in Mariology from. This drastic shift is puzzling; particularly since Luther’s abandoning of the intercession of the saints and his doctrine of justification significantly changes his Marian approach. With Luther's Mariology, I've studied and written on this topic often only to demonstrate Romanists do not go deep into history, and that articles (like the one Mr. Windsor is now revising) serve as propaganda.
For all his efforts, Mr. Windsor is mistaken in his conclusion that Luther held to a life long belief in Mary's immaculate conception.
My initial reading of Mr. Windsor's article left me wondering if Scott actually took the time to read Luther in context or if he simply relied on the work of others. For instance, I noted that Scott cited Luther via my articles (LW 31:172-173; LW 32:79-80;Martin Luther, D.Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Abteilung Werke 45:51 quoted in Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Vol. I, 152). That's flattering, but how does Scott know if I cited any of these sources correctly? This is a major problem with many of Rome's apologists. They simply don't take the time to track down the sources and read them for themselves. He also cited William Ullathorne, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God (Benziger Bros., 1904) for a snippet of Luther's 1527 sermon "On The Day of Conception of the Mother of God." In a recent blog article (in which I made Scott aware of) I noted many primary sources this sermon could be found in (including an entire English translation). Why not track down the sermon and read the entire context? For a religion whose apologists claim to go "deep in history" they often certainly don't when it comes to reading Luther's writings in context for themselves.
III. Scott's View of Luther and the Immaculate Conception
Mr. Windsor believes that Luther did not abandon a belief in the immaculate conception: "what we have seen here, even using Mr. Swan's own citations, is that Luther did indeed have a life-long belief in the Immaculate Conception." Unfortunately, Scott has committed the same error that some of his fellow apologists have made. He's mis-read contexts, not considered all the evidence, and not presented any clear positive proof that Luther held to the immaculate conception for his entire career. This evidence was fully available to him via blog entries I gave him links for. It appears he looked at a few of them, and ignored the rest.
A. The 1527 sermon by Luther on "The Day of Conception of the Mother of God"
I've written extensively on this sermon here: Luther: the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin. It is beyond dispute that Luther actually deleted his comments on Mary's immaculate conception that Romanists are so fond of quoting. Commenting on this, 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 58:434-435].
Not only was the relevant section deleted (which may not have been written by Luther at all), it was actually re-written by Luther (a translation which can be found in Joel Baseley, the Festival Sermons of Martin Luther [Michigan: Mark V Publications, 2005] pp. 42-51). Thus, the only clear positive evidence that Luther believed in Mary's immaculate conception was deleted and revised by Luther himself.
When one reads the revised sermon in full, Luther's view of "two conceptions" isn't at all certain. In fact, the sermon is quite harmonious with Luther's earlier comments that belief in the immaculate conception isn't clear or necessary: "Today we celebrate the feast of how the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin, a feast that has created a great deal of apathy, quarrelling and discord among the monks, without any benefit or good, since there is not one letter about it in the Gospel or anywhere else in Scripture." Mary's immaculate conception may be interesting speculation , but it "was not commanded of us nor needful for us to know."
After spending the majority of the sermon on the topic of sin, Luther closes the sermon by speculating on how some people have approached the topic of original sin and how Mary could've possibly been exempt from it, outlining a speculative view on two conceptions. At the end of the revised sermon, Baseley's translation reads, "But that God did anything unique in her conception is not revealed to us in the Scriptures and so there is also nothing here to be definitively believed or preached. But speculation concerning this will go on." There the sermon ends, as Luther intended it. That specualation Luther saw as destracting to important biblical topics- he stated this in this very sermon. In fact, Luther went on to reject the festivals of Mary's Immaculate Conception, December 8, and her Assumption, August 15.
True, as Windsor states "Abandoning the statements cannot be equivocated to denying the statements." What would verify that the deleted comments remained Luther's view would be corroborating evidence from his later writings. As I've stated to Romanists repeatedly, I've not seen any such clear evidence. Rather, the evidence proves something quite different, in fact in one writing, Luther agrees with Staupitz' comment that the Immaculate Conception is a fraud.
B. Luther's view: Christ was conceived of a virgin without sin
The remainder of Scott's evidence looks at Luther's later comments and interpreting them to be speaking of Mary's purification rather than Mary being purified at Christ's conception. Isn't there simply a clear statement from Luther which conception he's talking about? Why indeed there is, and it was cited in one of the very web pages of mine Scott read and cited from. I also provided him with another link addressing the same information.
Luther's later view appears to be that at Christ's conception the Holy Spirit sanctified Mary so that the child would be born with non-sinful flesh and blood. Here's an extended selection from Luther that I think should clearly present my view. This selection is from Luther's lectures on Genesis. The editors of LW hold the majority of material pertaining to Luther's exposition of Genesis 38-44 dates from 1544, it is possible though some of the material may have been presented in November 1543. Luther is commenting on Genesis 38 and the account of Judah and Tamar. He expounds on the reasons the Bible includes such scandalous accounts. One of the reasons he states as follows:
In the second place, the Holy Spirit considered the Messiah and the birth of the Son of God; and this is the more important reason. For it was necessary for this lapse to take place in the very line in which the Son of God was to be born. Judah, the very eminent patriarch, a father of Christ, committed this unspeakable act of incest in order that Christ might be born from a flesh outstandingly sinful and contaminated by a most disgraceful sin. For he begets twins by an incestuous harlot, his own daughter-in-law, and from this source the line of the Savior is later derived. Here Christ must become a sinner in His flesh, as disgraceful as He ever can become. The flesh of Christ comes forth from an incestuous union; likewise, the flesh of the Virgin, His mother, and of all the descendants of Judah, in such a way that the ineffable plan of God’s mercy may be pointed out, because He assumed the flesh or the human nature from flesh that was contaminated and horribly polluted.
The scholastic doctors argue about whether Christ was born from sinful or clean flesh, or whether from the foundation of the world God preserved a pure bit of flesh from which Christ was to be born. I reply, therefore, that 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” (Luke 1:35). To be sure, the Messiah was not born by the power of flesh and blood, as is stated in John ( cf. 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. Therefore it is truly human nature no different from what it is in us. And Christ is the Son of Adam and of his seed and flesh, but, as has been stated, with the Holy Spirit overshadowing it, active in it, and purging it, in order that it might be fit for this most innocent conception and the pure and holy birth by which we were to be purged and freed from sin. [LW 7:12]
The name of the wife was Tamar... it is necessary to mention her, and this chapter is written for her sake alone; for she is a mother of the Savior, God’s Son, for whose sake all Holy Scripture has been given, in order that He might become known and be celebrated. From this Tamar, then, the Messiah was descended, even though through an incestuous defilement. Him we must seek and acknowledge in this book...Christ alone is a son of the flesh without the sin of the flesh. Concerning all the rest the statement “who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh” (cf. John 1:13) remains immovable.[LW 7:17]
But Judah begs that he may be permitted to go in to Tamar, that is, to have intercourse with her—for thus Holy Scripture is accustomed to speak—and nothing is added as to where they perpetrated the incest, since Moses said that she sat in an open place and in sight of passersby. I do not think that they cohabited in public like the Cynics; but I suppose that perhaps they withdrew into a small house, a cave, or a nearby wood. And there she was made pregnant by the most shameful act of incest, and the flesh from which Christ was to be born was poured from the loins of Judah and was propagated, carried about, and contaminated with sin right up to the conception of Christ. That is how our Lord God treats our Savior. God allows Him to be conceived in most disgraceful incest, in order that He may assume the truest flesh, just as our flesh is poured forth, conceived, and nourished in sins. But later, when the time for assuming the flesh in the womb of the Virgin came, it was purified and sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to Luke 1:35: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and will overshadow you.” Nevertheless, it was truly flesh polluted from Judah and Tamar.
Therefore all these things have been described for Christ’s sake, in order that it might be certain that He really had to be born from sinful flesh, but without sin. Accordingly, David says this of himself in Ps. 51:5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity.” This is said correctly also of the flesh of Christ as it was in the womb of Tamar, before it was assumed and purged. But this flesh He assumed later, after it had been purged, in order that He might be able to bear the punishment for sin in His own body.[LW 7:31]
Here, therefore, the Blessed Seed is described. It is descended from the accursed, lost, and condemned seed and flesh. Nevertheless, It Itself is without sin and corruption. According to nature, Christ has the same flesh that we have; but in His conception the Holy Spirit came and overshadowed and purified the mass which He received from the Virgin that He might be united with the divine nature. In Christ, therefore, there is the holiest, purest, and cleanest flesh; but in us and in all human beings it is altogether corrupt, except insofar as it is restored in Christ. [LW 7:36]
I recently went through this citation battle with another Roman Catholic apologist. I was mocked, insulted, accused of distorting facts, charged with blasphemy, and even the evidence I provided deemed "correct" was compared to a broken clock correct twice a day. All this until I presented the quote above from LW 7. Then, all went silent, and a sparse admission was written that my detractor's view had "changed."
The above extended section from Luther was enough to silence this other apologist on this topic. Scott needs to read this selection closely, and then return back to the comments in which he attributes the purifying to Mary at her conception. Scott's position simply is a mis-reading of the texts. I think if he goes back and rereads the texts and looks closer with Christ as the subject, he'll see that (according to Luther) it's at Christ's conception that Mary is purified.
I have no doubt that Scott is a man of integrity, and that he'll make the necessary corrections to his entries. I don't find him to be anything like the other apologist, who, when confronted with this information, has simply kept calling me names while benefiting from my research.