Saturday, February 18, 2006

Luther and Mary...One More Time.

Pictured left:The last known photo of the only three people that have actually read through a debate on Luther's Mariology. 

I’d like to address some comments made by a Roman apologist that were left in the comments of one of my blog posts. This particular defender of Rome has a self imposed New Years resolution that restricts him from interacting with "anti-Catholics." Due to his own “loophole” he’s able to bypass his resolution and critique and evaluate my allegedly notorious auntie Catholic writings.

Some may be wondering why on earth any two people with time on their hands would care about Luther’s opinion on Mary’s Immaculate Conception. I have spent time lobbing citations back and forth with Rome's defenders, writing blog entries- etc. I admit, in the scope of relevant topics of substance, Luther’s opinion on Mary’s alleged sinlessness is somewhere near the bottom of my list. So why bother with it? Here's why. Note these words from a defender of Rome:

Luther indeed was quite devoted to Our Lady, and retained most of the traditional Marian doctrines which were held then and now by the Catholic Church. This is often not well documented in Protestant biographies of Luther and histories of the 16th century, yet it is undeniably true. It seems to be a natural human tendency for latter-day followers to project back onto the founder of a movement their own prevailing viewpoints. Since Lutheranism today does not possess a very robust Mariology, it is usually assumed that Luther himself had similar opinions. We shall see, upon consulting the primary sources (i.e., Luther's own writings), that the historical facts are very different. We shall consider, in turn, Luther's position on the various aspects of Marian doctrine.
This quote has a basic underlying presupposition: Luther originated Protestantism, Protestantism is a deviation from the truth, the truth of the Roman Catholic Church. Since Protestants should be consistent with their founder, they should hold to the same beliefs as their founder.

Therefore, it can be stated without fear of contradiction that Luther's Mariology is very close to that of the Catholic Church today, far more than it is to the theology of modern-day Lutheranism. To the extent that this fact is dealt with at all by Protestants, it is usually explained as a "holdover" from the early Luther's late medieval Augustinian Catholic views ("everyone has their blind spots," etc.). But this will not do for those who are serious about consulting Luther in order to arrive at the true "Reformation heritage" and the roots of an authentic Protestantism. For if Luther's views here can be so easily rationalized away, how can the Protestant know whether he is trustworthy relative to his other innovative doctrines such as extrinsic justification by faith alone and sola Scriptura?
There is some ambiguity about whom is being describing above. Is this describing a Protestant who simply wants to understand Reformation history? Or is it describing a Protestant who wants to be an “authentic” by seeking to align one’s beliefs with those of Luther’s? I’m tempted to say it’s the later (though it’s quite possible he infers both). The person the quote seems to have in mind is the person who adheres to “extrinsic justification” and “sola scriptura”. These are “authentic” Protestant beliefs. But contemporary Protestants do not follow Luther’s Marian "devotion." Why is it Luther is right on justification and sola scriptura, but not Mary? An authentic Protestant knows that Luther is trustworthy, so Luther’s Mariology should be embraced, shouldn't it?

The error of course is with the infallibility of Luther. Protestants don’t follow sola scriptura or sola fide because Luther infallibly pronounced these doctrines. It is quite possible to pick up an exegetical exposition of sola fide and sola scriptura and hardly mention Luther, but rather confine one’s study to the words of the infallible sacred scriptures. For instance, if one picks up the King / Webster set on Sola Scriptura, there is a conspicuous absence of chapters dedicated to the infallibility of Luther. Similarly with James White’s book on Justification, a detailed look on Luther’s infallibility is missing. Why? Because sola scriptura and sola fide are not based on Martin Luther, they are based on the Bible.

Now this should suffice to render Luther’s position on anything as inconsequential. Whether or not Luther believed this or that doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t determine whether or not one is an “authentic” protestant. Luther's words and writings are not essential to salvation. They are not the words of God. Even Luther himself would agree. Upon reflection of the entirety of his work and those who wished to collect them and republish them, Luther said in 1539:
I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board. Among other reasons, I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah).

Although it has been profitable and necessary that the writings of some church fathers and councils have remained, as witnesses and histories, nevertheless I think, “Est modus in rebus,”[“There is a reason for the way things happen”]  and we need not regret that the books of many fathers and councils have, by God’s grace, disappeared. If they had all remained in existence, no room would be left for anything but books; and yet all of them together would not have improved on what one finds in the Holy Scriptures.
It was also our intention and hope, when we ourselves began to translate the Bible into German,  that there should be less writing, and instead more studying and reading of the Scriptures. For all other writing is to lead the way into and point toward the Scriptures, as John the Baptist did toward Christ, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” [John 3:30], in order that each person may drink of the fresh spring himself, as all those fathers who wanted to accomplish something good had to do.

Neither councils, fathers, nor we, in spite of the greatest and best success possible, will do as well as the Holy Scriptures, that is, as well as God himself has done. (We must, of course, also have the Holy Spirit, faith, godly speech, and works, if we are to be saved.) Therefore it behooves us to let the prophets and apostles stand at the professor’s lectern, while we, down below at their feet, listen to what they say. It is not they who must hear what we say.
I cannot, however, prevent them from wanting to collect and publish my works through the press (small honor to me), although it is not my will. I have no choice but to let them risk the labor and the expense of this project. My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by God’s grace) have written anything good. Non ere melior Patribus meis.[I am no better than my fathers].  He who comes second should indeed be the first one forgotten. Inasmuch as they have been capable of leaving the Bible itself lying under the bench, and have also forgotten the fathers and the councils—the better ones all the faster—accordingly there is a good hope, once the overzealousness of this time has abated, that my books also will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches.

Very well, so let the undertaking proceed in the name of God, except that I make the friendly request of anyone who wishes to have my books at this time, not to let them on any account hinder him from studying the Scriptures themselves. Let him put them to use as I put the excrees and excretals [That is, “decrees and decretals.” The translator has attempted to render Luther’s pun “Drecket und Drecketal” in English.]of the pope to use, and the books of the sophists. That is, if I occasionally wish to see what they have done, or if I wish to ponder the historical facts of the time, I use them. But I do not study in them or act in perfect accord with what they deemed good. I do not treat the books of the fathers and the councils much differently.
Herein I follow the example of St. Augustine,  who was, among other things, the first and almost the only one who determined to be subject to the Holy Scriptures alone, and independent of the books of all the fathers and saints. On account of that he got into a fierce fight with St. Jerome, who reproached him by pointing to the books of his forefathers; but he did not turn to them. And if the example of St. Augustine had been followed, the pope would not have become Antichrist, and that countless mass of books, which is like a crawling swarm of vermin, would not have found its way into the church, and the Bible would have remained on the pulpit. (LW 34:283-284)
If one approaches the subject of Luther’s opinions as one who seeks to understand “authentic” protestant history, then what Luther said or did has some bearing and interest. It is interesting to study the Reformation period, and this does enhance one’s appreciation for sola fide and sola scriptura, and a Reformation heritage.

Protestants do understand Mary in a different way than Roman Catholics, and this was true during the Reformation period as well. It would be interesting to see how the early Reformers understood her role in theology. Was Luther’s Mariology “a ‘holdover’ from the early Luther's late medieval Augustinian Catholic views ("everyone has their blind spots," etc.)”? My answer is that this was indeed an aspect that influenced his theological opinions. Luther was a man of his time, and he was a well-trained Roman Catholic theologian. It would be anachronistic to think that Luther should be completely aligned with contemporary Protestant theologians. The theological battles and ideas circulating in the 16th century are not entirely the same as those that came afterward. Half of the struggle in doing history is always trying to remember: it’s history. That Luther still clung to such things like the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is no surprise to me. I understand why he did so, I disagree with him (based on exegetical grounds of the New Testament).

In regard to a close study of Luther’s Mariology, one can find some “holdover” type of opinions, while on the other hand, one can find some “deviation” (for lack of a better word!) from medieval Mariolatry. I reviewed this in my long response on Luther’s Mariology. One thing can be said on this subject- Luther indeed had a Mariology. It reflected his commitment to Christ, and stood in antithesis to popular Catholic belief in the sixteenth century. It wasn’t always what a modern day Protestant would expect, but it wasn’t exactly “extraordinarily devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary” as Rome's defenders argue. Luther’s Roman opponents gripped this. For instance, Luther’s interpretation of the “Hail Mary” definitely irked his papal contemporaries. It prompted von Schwarzenberg to write against it. Eck’s Enchiridion says “woe ungodly Lutherans” as “hating…all worship of the Christ bearing Virgin…” (See chapter 15). My response to on Luther’s Mariology goes into all this in much detail.

A defender of Rome has been by recently, re-posting his arguments against my understanding of Luther's Mariology. He then asks me again to refute him:

“I think those who like your writing would like to see you refute what I have written, or concede the point. Either way, you would only further gain their (and my) respect. But squirming and rationalizing, doing neither, doesn't impress anyone, I dare say.”
But as I read through his recent comments, it is basically the same stuff I’ve already responded to. For instance he continually repeats the “Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception” scorecard- he lists a bunch of scholars who held this to be Luther’s opinion. Now I responded to that, in detail, and even added some more names of scholars and their opinion. I worked through all the sources he utilized, and commented on them: O’Meara, Piepkorn, Pelikan, etc. in detail. Why do I need to re-post all this stuff on the blog? Are people being somehow blocked from my lengthy response on Luther’s Mariology? Here’s the link again: My response on Luther’s Mariology.

I approach research differently than many of Rome's defenders. A while back I got into a heated discussion with the late Theodore Letis. Now I am no fan Letis and his work, but one thing he was correct on was ad fontes. Letis continually badgered me to use primary sources in my research. At the time of our dialog I had been working on my Luther and the Jews paper. Letis continually provoked me to use primary sources, not only for Luther’s comments, but for medieval anti-Semitism as well. As much as possible, I try to do this. So many problems can be avoided by actually having the source of the quote one is utilizing. Especially with Luther, context is vital. Much of his writings have been translated into English- and they're not all pretty- you can find all sorts of things that present Luther in a less than admirable light.

I would never quote a secondary source for Luther (like Grisar) to prove a point about Luther (his lifelong comittment to the immaculate Conception) in which the immediate context the writer is using the quote in is stating the exact opposite of what I’m trying to prove. This is sloppy. Previous to all of one Romanist's later research on Luther and the Immaculate Conception, he sent his readers to a book with a Luther quote in which the author used it to deny Luther’s lifelong adherence to that belief. I asked this guy the following question:

What do you make of this “fact” noted by Grisar:“The sermon was taken down in notes and published with Luther’s approval. The same statements concerning the immaculate conception still remain in a printed edition published in 1529, but in later editions which appeared during Luther’s lifetime they disappear.”

He Responded:

"Why do you ask me when I have already answered this several times, even in comments below on this very blog? Don't you read my replies? Grisar thought Luther changed his mind (though possibly he only meant that the statements disappeared; technically, one might suspect that they could do that for other reasons without Luther changing his mind)."

Ok- what other “reasons” would provoke the statement on the Immaculate Conception to disappear from the sermon during Luther’s lifetime? I think Grisar brings up an interesting fact, and I find it curious that no one seems to think its relevant, particularly you. One thing I think we should both come to agree on- If the quote was stricken from Luther’s corpus during his lifetime, we shouldn’t appeal to it as a definite statement to prove our points. Mention it, but don’t make a big deal about it. I recall this guy posting an entire blog on this quote, asking his readers who wrote it- Why not let them know it was likewise deleted from the sermon during Luther’s lifetime? I doubt this guy will do this- this quote is too important for this guy to prove his point. If he decreases its importance, he decreases his argument.

In fact, this guy provides very little ad fontes evidence for his position. Read through his papers on Luther and Mary for yourself. When he quotes Luther, check to see if you think he actually read the work Luther said it in. This is what can happen when a context isn't provided- He quoted Luther from a source all of us can look at in a recent Blog back:

"In his conception all of Mary's flesh and blood was purified so that nothing sinful remained. Thus Isaiah is correct in saying, 'There was no deceit in his mouth' [53:9]. Each seed was corrupt, except that of Mary." [footnote 23; p. 381: "Disputation on the Divinity and Humanity of Christ," February 28, 1540. WA 39/2:107.8-13."] See:"

Yes by all means, follow his suggestion and paste the above link in your browser and go look it up. It proves exactly what I’ve argued all along: At the conception of Christ, Luther argues that Mary’s flesh and blood was purified. Luther says,

Argument: Every man is corrupted by original sin and has concupiscence. Christ had neither concupiscence nor original sin. Therefore he is not a man.

Response: I make a distinction with regard to the major premise. Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ. Every man who is not a divine Person [personaliter Deus], as is Christ, has concupiscence, but the man Christ has none, because he is a divine Person, and in conception the flesh and blood of Mary were entirely purged, so that nothing of sin remained. Therefore Isaiah says rightly, "There was no guile found in his mouth"; otherwise, every seed except for Mary's was corrupted.”

Luther makes this point often- that at the birth of Christ, the Holy spirit performed a blessed miracle. For instance in a Sermon specific about the birth of Christ given on Christmas Day, Luther said: “…[H]e was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and God so filled the flesh, body, and soul of the virgin Mary with the Holy Spirit in such a way, that no sin was present in her conception and carrying of the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Sermons of Martin Luther vol. 5, 135].

Then he quotes this:

Luther, 1544 [he died in 1546]:"God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, for she has conceived and borne the Lord Jesus." (WA 52, 39)
Got a context? Do you have a translation of WA 52 handy? I don’t mean just a snippet or partial context, I mean an actual context. No I didn’t think you did. Get me a complete context, and then we’ll talk about this quote. Ad fontes. I would like a compelling argument to respond to. In other words, get me the context of the above quote. If all you can get is the German, then translate it so we discuss it. I look forward to your work on this.

I expect a response. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to respond to anything i've written. However, i'm quite serious about the above challenge. For me to take a position on Luther's view of the Immaculate Conception seriously, I need ad fontes work. I need to see the context for myself. I don't think this is too much to ask.