Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Crossing the Tiber and Bringing Luther With You

I followed the link James White gave to a blogger who calls himself, "Tiber Jumper". I found one of those "Luther wants you to pray the Hail Mary" quotes. The brief discussion in which I engaged TJ can be found here:

Magnificat: A Canticle of Mary, A Lesson for Us

The Luther quote used:

"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."

Roman Catholic criticism of Martin Luther is rampant in cyber-space. Fairly common topics include: Luther’s alleged antinomianism, his rejection of certain canonical books, his alleged desire to be a Protestant pope, and some even argue Luther’s partial responsibility for Nazi Germany. Interestingly though, 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.

Luther abandoned the most significant aspect of Roman Catholic Mariology: the intercession of Mary. Truly, this is the doctrine that defines Roman Catholic Mariology.Without a doctrine of the intercession of Mary, this woman and her attributes become less important in Luther’s theology.

The man who only a few years earlier called upon her, concluded that “those who bless her with many rosaries and constantly mouth the Hail Mary… speak evil against Christ’s word and faith in the worst way.” Their prayers to her are an evil deed against both her and her son. With the popular "Hail Mary" prayer, Luther reinterpreted it for his readers, again shifting the emphasis of praise to Mary to veneration of God alone.

Luther knew that prayers to, and faith in the saints violated the First Commandment. In his understanding, the role of faith or trust in the First Commandment determines whether one worships the true God, or an idol. To have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe in Him with the whole heart. This trust and the faith of the heart alone make either God or an idol. If faith and trust are “right,” then your god is the true God. If it is wrong, then you do not have the true God. That to which the heart clings is really your God. If your heart clings and entrusts itself to something God has made, then your faith is wrong, and you are caught in your sin, and you stand under the crushing condemnation of God’s law.

Even early in his Reformation career, Luther began changing the emphasis on Mary, and de-emphasizing the importance of her attributes:

Take note of this: no one should put his trust or confidence in the Mother of God or in her merits, for such trust is worthy of God alone and is the lofty service due only to him. Rather praise and thank God through Mary and the grace given her. Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat."

But what does Luther mean by “through Mary”? Luther does not mean, “by praying to her,” but rather by thanking God for creating such a noble, blessed, person. The words of the Hail Mary are, according to Luther, “neither a prayer nor an invocation” and “are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor” to God. Note the following quotes from Luther:

"Therefore we should make the Hail Mary neither a prayer nor an invocation because it is improper to interpret the words beyond what they mean in themselves and beyond the meaning given them by the Holy Spirit."

“…her giving birth is blessed in that it was spared the curse upon all children of Eve who are conceived in sin and born to deserve death and damnation. Only the fruit of her body is blessed, and through this birth we are all blessed.”

“…in the present no one speaks evil of this Mother and her Fruit as much as those who bless her with many rosaries and constantly mouth the Hail Mary. These, more than any others, speak evil against Christ’s word and faith in the worst way."

"Therefore, notice that this Mother and her Fruit are blessed in a twofold way—bodily and spiritually. Bodily with lips and the words of the Hail Mary; such persons blaspheme and speak evil of her most dangerously. And spiritually [one blesses her] in one’s heart by praise and benediction for her child, Christ—for all his words, deeds, and sufferings. And no one does this except he who has the true Christian faith because without such faith no heart is good but is by nature stuffed full of evil speech and blasphemy against God and all his saints.”

All this to say, if TJ wants to practice Roman Catholic Mariology, I suggest he leaves Luther on the side of the Tiber in which he belongs. Luther will not champion the Roman Catholic cause. There is a particular effort among Catholic laymen apologists to use Luther as a "devotee of Mary". It's actually a farce if one does the research.

6 comments:

MasterJedi said...

James, I truly love reading your materials daily. Your information is very reliable, trustworthy, and almost totally unbiased. I only hope that when many of the Roman Catholics visit your site, they come to appreciate the even-handledness to your approach towards the historical accuracy and contextual appropriateness of your Luther research.

After browsing through the "Tiber Jumpers?" site, I see the same old Roman Catholic claims of authority, apostolic succession, and all the yada yada that is included with that, proudly on parade in the Blogs and comment sections.

It would be very beneficial for any RC to grab a hold of the King/
Webster 3 Volume set on Holy Scripture - The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, and at least get a familiarity with the Reformed position and interact with it on a more scholarly level instead of the slandered and misinformed versions they have been taught as a RC. Most of the time on these blogs, you get alot of the same old same old RC vs. Prot mantra. It would be refreshing to see more RC's (and Prot's) accurately represent both the positions they hold and their opponents.
Just my 2 cents. Keep up the great work, I appreciate it.

Tiber Jumper said...

Dear James:
I certainly agree with you that it was misguided at best to quote Luther out of context of all his writings and theological evolution. Would I ask though that you would be willing to post the rest of my comments to get the context of what I was saying.
My main point was not to demand that Protestants honor Mary because Luther did, what I was saying is that Catholics believe they are obeying Scripture by calling her blessed and my post was to posit the question of how non-Catholics follow that Scripture.
Did Calvin also later on eschew his Marian devotion ? I heard the same argument that he was a Marian devote but perhaps that isn't true as well?

James Swan said...

MaterJedi-

Thanks for the kind words. Of course, everyone has bias, even me. I try though to keep my Luther stuff as even-handed as possible.

But, even I can make mistakes and read into things. Case in point: I revised my entry on Luther's opinion of the book of Esther about 15 times. I kept studying, and digging for info. I had a whole section interacting with a quote from Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar, and then I realized I misunderstood what his point was, and just dropped the whole thing.

As to TJ's blog, i haven't read a lot- and i agree it would be helpful if those RC's who are interested in dialog have the best Protestant materials available. They should each have the Webster/King set.

I have an ever-increasing collection of Catholic books about Luther. The last one I got a few days ago cost me 30 bucks (Grisar's "Luther Vol 1"- I just need vol. 5 & 6 for the complete set). I wish RC's would likewise plop down some cash and get some solid Protestant material. I plan on doing a blog entry of just that- which books Catholics should get.

Blessings,
James

James Swan said...

TJ said:

Would I ask though that you would be willing to post the rest of my comments to get the context of what I was saying.

I made it a point to link to your blog entry, so everyone who stops by here could read your words. I guess i could add the rest of your post in this blogback section, but i don't see the point.

TJ said:

My main point was not to demand that Protestants honor Mary because Luther did, what I was saying is that Catholics believe they are obeying Scripture by calling her blessed and my post was to posit the question of how non-Catholics follow that Scripture.

As far as I know, Protestants likewise think Mary was blessed. I know i do. Best bet would be to dialog over what the word means. I concentrated on your Luther quote, because I felt you intended to say a lot more than your point above mentions. And then, your follow up to me about praying "through Mary" likewise implied a Luther praying to Mary.

If you want to know how Luther ultimately viewed Mary, Jarislov Pelikan cites the use of Mary by Luther as “a characteristic summary of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone and not by works…”. This could be fleshed out a lot. Again, using Luther to substantiate RC Mariology is not a good idea.

Even with the quote you used, it would be a good idea to find out what Luther meant, and then compare it to your own RC belief system. When Luther published his exposition of the "Hail Mary"- Catholics attacked it!

TJ said:
I certainly agree with you that it was misguided at best to quote Luther out of context of all his writings and theological evolution.

Even Protestants need to be careful quoting Luther. His work is hard to navigate through. I am though, very sensitive to Catholic use of Luther about Mary. It amazes me with how much is out there that is simply not correct, and even those who are professional Catholic apologists don't seem to have the desire to put Luther in context when citing him about Mary.

Regards,
JS

Tiber Jumper said...

Thanks!
God bless
your Christmas and that we all focus on the joy of His coming to earth for our salvation

FM483 said...

James,

Another point worth mentioning is that a study of Martin Luther would show how his theological beliefs changed over time as he came out of medieval Roman Catholicism. Early on Luther may appear somewhat RC,but reading later writings will clearly show how his thinking became continually conformed to the Word of God rather than the traditions of men. One of the finest demarcation points for Luther is his treatise on the Heidelberg Disputations, which comprised points of contention to be debated with his Augustinian monastic order. Although the debate never materialized, the points made by Luther clearly illustrate the perceptive Scriptural points of the entire Reformation. Every Reformed theologian should read and contemplate the theological truths contained within the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. An excellent treatment of the subject was produced by the late Lutheran theologian Gerhard O. Forde "On Being A Theologian Of The Cross". The first thesis alone illustrates the profound difference between orthodox Christian belief and all others which confuse Law and Gospel:

Thesis 1 - The Law of God, the most salutary dictrine of life, cannot advance humans on their way to righteousness, but rather hinders them"