Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bibliographic Tedium on the Reformers and Perpetual Virginity

Over on the CARM boards there have been a few threads specific to the Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin on Mary’s perpetual virginity. For instance, a person called Opus Dei” submits the following:

After hearing so many people talk about Protestantism, I've come to a conclusion. Martin Luther would call many of these denominations heretical institutions. I think he would even be disgusted at some of these obvious flaws in theology. Calvin might even be upset. The basis for my conclusion is that all of the main three reformers, Zwingli, Calvin, and Luther all supported the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, how many protestants uphold this?” [source]

And the proof:

Luther: "It is an article of faith that Mary is the Mother of the Lord and still a virgin." Works of Luther, Vol. II, 319-320 Volume 6, 510

Calvin: "There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what a folly this is!Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, Published 1562

Zwingli: "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure virgin brought forth for us the sone of God and in childbirth and after childbirth, forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.Zwingli Opera, Volume I, 424 [source]

Leaving aside the main argument for another day (for it is a flawed argument- as if it actually matters what the Reformers thought about Mary's perpetual virginity!), I’d like to explore the proof offered. For the Luther quote, the bibliographic citation given is “Works of Luther, Vol. II, 319-320 Volume 6, 510.” This reference to neither of the English editions Luther’s Works (The earlier Philadelphia edition, or the standard 55 volume Concordia set).

Others in cyber space reference the quote as “Weimer's The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510”. Weimar is the German translation- Pelikan had nothing to do with it. So, in this reference, the German and English translations are cited together, combined to give a big inaccurate reference. This site documents it, “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. (Weimarer Ausgabe 11:319-320)”. That last one may actually be accurate.

Now the Zwingli reference is given as “Zwingli Opera, Volume I, 424.” In my understanding, this is a reference to Zwingli’s works from a Latin set. In print? No. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
"Zwingli's works were first collected and published by his son-in-law, Rudolf Gwalter, and entitled: "Opera D. H. Zwingli vigilantissimi Tigurinae ecclesiae Antistitis, partim quidem ab ipso Latine conscripta, partim vero e vernaculo sermone in Latinum translata: omnia novissime recognita, et multis adiectis, quae hactenus visa non sunt" (4 fol. vols., Zurich, 1545; reprinted, 1581). The first complete edition was edited by Melchior Schuler and Johannes Schulthess (8 vols., Zurich, 1828-42). Volumes VII and VIII, containing Zwingli's correspondence, are especially important. A new edition of his complete works prepared by Emil Egli (d. 1908), George Finsler, and Walther Kohler is appearing in the "Corpus Reformatorum", LXXXVIII (Berlin, 1905); three volumes I, II, and VII, have already (1912) appeared. "
Normally when I interact with someone on this topic, the person quoting this stuff becomes silent when ask for a little more bibliographic information. I do so to find out if the person putting forth the information has actually read Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli, or if the information is a cut-and-paste job taken from Catholic apologetic web sites. The person posting this stuff made some impressive claims:

“I didn't get them from a site, but from the actual material.”
“I didn't type all of any of their statements [sic]. Trust me that is the context. if you still don't agree, look up the material, I cited everything.”

So of course, I asked for some specifics:

I would like to take you up on looking up the actual material. Is the Luther reference to the earlier Philadelphia edition of Luther's Works, or the Concordia 55 volume edition of Luther's Works? Also, which Treatise is being cited? You should know, since you got the quote from the "actual material. Can you quote Zwingli on Mary's virginity and also supply a context? The key is the later request.

The answer given for the Luther quote:

“I'll have to dig it up, I got it in college and I'm currently in the process of moving, all of my books are boxed up, I'll let you know when I find them, I just wrote down the basic works cited for a paper I did for my church, for adult education on the faith.”

And the answer given for the Zwingli quote:

“Zwingli Opera, Volume 1 424."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."I'd give you the rest of it but I'd have to dig it out of a box to do so, I'll look for it and get back to you, a couple others are waiting for it too.Note: Just to clearify [sic], I did not rip this from a website, I wrote an educational paper for an adult faith education class, and that was all I needed to put on the article, I'll look for the book after I move and unbox things. Should be in a couple of weeks or so."

It will be long couple of weeks. Now this takes guts, but then again, it’s the Internet, and anything goes. I strongly doubt I’ll get the bibliographic material I asked for. I only point out tedium like this to show that many times, people are putting forth information as if they’ve actually studied a subject, and made an informed decision. For most people though, it seems one makes a conclusion and then looks for information to support it. Such is the normal folly of the defenders of Rome.

11 comments:

EA said...

I read your interaction with 'opusdei' on the CARM boards and like you I'll be plenty surprised if 'he' had translated this Zwingli quote from the Latin set in support of an 'adult education' class at his church. In my opinion, it would be a very rare Catholic church indeed that would provide a post-graduate level survey of Reformational thinking on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. I can't wait for a few weeks to pass to see how his books fared during the move.

Keep up the good work James.

FM483 said...

James,

This thread and many earlier ones demonstrate that many Roman Catholics are confused over what Protestants actually believe. For example, although all Protestants believe the bible is the Word of God and the only infallible treatise, Lutherans testify that the Lutheran Confessions as contained in the 1580 Book of Concord are what they confess true - an accurate summarization of key biblical doctrines, NOT any quotes or sayings of Martin Luther. Many things taught by Luther are contained within the Book of Concord, however, such as the Large and Small catechisms and the Smalcald Articles. If Roman Catholics or anyone else wish to attack Protestants, they should be advised to do so through their Confessional writings, such as the Book of Concord or Westminster Confessions of Faith.

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

Frank-

You said what i was going to- the argument they use is faulty, because what Luther, Calvin, or whoever says is not really important.

James Swan said...

ea-

unbelievable isn't it? A guy translating Zwingli from the Latin for an adult education class? Please.

If the guy would've just told the truth- he would stop embarrasing himself. But, he serves as an example of showing that people reason with the heart. They are committed to their presuppositions.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with believing in the perpetual virginity of Mary? So long as one truly has an evangelical understanding of the Gospel, what difference does it make if one chooses to believe in the semper virgo (and sincerely believes that this does not contradict Scripture) or not?

James Swan said...

anonymous-

My answer would be as follows: the specific Marian doctrines put forth by Rome tend to deify Mary. Thus, I see the extra-biblical doctrines attributed to Mary as nothing other than a violation of the commandment against idolatry. the Scriptures are clear on Mary's lack of perpetual virginity (Matthew 1:18-25).

That being said, I think the Reformers, (Luther and Zwingli) would be an example of people who held to this Marian doctrine and had "an evangelical understanding of the Gospel." But, I think the reason they did hold this belief was the result of a well entrencthed tradition, rather than exegesis of the Biblical text. Each generation comes with its own set of non-biblical traditions.

I can cut these guys some slack- because I realize that the paradigm change that Luther and Zwingli went through didn't mean that all of sudden they were evangelicals with little fish pins on their jackets, and bumper stickers on their horses. Rooting out unbiblical traditions takes time.

On the other hand, I don't cut any modern day evangelicals holding to this belief any slack. The Biblical exegetical material on who Mary was is vast. If a modern-day evangelical attempts to hold this view, they are clearly in error, and should be exhorted according to the clear teachings of Scripture.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Reformers believed that the Scriptures teach that Mary lost her virginity. The Scriptures merely say that she was a virgin at the time of Christ's birth. For example, the Scriptures also teach that Christ will be with us UNTIL the end. Does that mean He won't be with us after the end? So likewise when the Bible says that Joseph did not know Mary UNTIL she had given birth to a son. I think it's possible for UNTIL in this verse to be understood in such a way as it's also understood with reference to Jesus being with us until the end- that is to say it's just emphasizing that Joseph did not know Mary until she had given birth to Jesus, but this does not necessarily imply that he had conjugal relations with her after.

I once heard how someone asked the great Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper (I believe Francis was his first name.) that if a Lutheran theologian was orthodox in all doctrinal areas but rejected the perpetual virginity of Mary, would that orthodox still be considered an orthodox Lutheran theologian. Pieper responded that if the theologian was truly orthodox in every doctrine with the exception of the semper virgo, then he would still consider the theologian to be orthodox. The point being made was that up until recently (the 20th Century), highly respected theologians held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. If Matthew 1:25 so obviously contradicted the perpetual virginity of Mary, then wouldn't this have been clearly rejected long before Luther and Calvin (and Pieper for that matter)?

I'm not saying the Bible proves the perpetual virginity of Mary. I'm just saying I can see how Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Pieper did not necessarily think that the Bible disproved it either. Thus I think it entirely possible that the Bible gives a Christian the freedom to either believe it or disbelieve it. It doesn't seem to be very important.

Now if a doctrine truly attempts to deify Mary, then of course that would be wrong.

James Swan said...

Anonymous-

I don't think the Reformers believed that the Scriptures teach that Mary lost her virginity.

For Luther and Zwingli, correct, For Calvin, he doesn’t, to my knowledge, comment on it.

The Scriptures merely say that she was a virgin at the time of Christ's birth. For example, the Scriptures also teach that Christ will be with us UNTIL the end. Does that mean He won't be with us after the end? So likewise when the Bible says that Joseph did not know Mary UNTIL she had given birth to a son. I think it's possible for UNTIL in this verse to be understood in such a way as it's also understood with reference to Jesus being with us until the end- that is to say it's just emphasizing that Joseph did not know Mary until she had given birth to Jesus, but this does not necessarily imply that he had conjugal relations with her after.

I would direct you to Eric Svendsen’s book, “Who Is My Mother?” Chapter 1. Eric provides about 20 pages of detailed exegesis on Matthew 1:18-25. What you as a possibility, Eric shows is not a possibility. What you say the Scriptures “merely say” Eric demonstrates what they actually do say.

I once heard how someone asked the great Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper (I believe Francis was his first name.) that if a Lutheran theologian was orthodox in all doctrinal areas but rejected the perpetual virginity of Mary, would that orthodox still be considered an orthodox Lutheran theologian. Pieper responded that if the theologian was truly orthodox in every doctrine with the exception of the semper virgo, then he would still consider the theologian to be orthodox. The point being made was that up until recently (the 20th Century), highly respected theologians held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. If Matthew 1:25 so obviously contradicted the perpetual virginity of Mary, then wouldn't this have been clearly rejected long before Luther and Calvin (and Pieper for that matter)?

I’m not familiar with Pieper. Theologians can hold to all sorts of things. Simply because they do, doesn’t mean they are correct. The real question is, “What does the Bible actually say?” I’m convinced that the detailed exegesis I’ve read on this subject shows that Matthew 1:18-25 implies Mary did not remain a virgin. Other than some of the early Reformers, I’d be interested in seeing how many of the great Lutheran or Reformed theologians that lived say, 100 years after the Reformation began, understood Mary’s virginity.

I'm not saying the Bible proves the perpetual virginity of Mary. I'm just saying I can see how Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Pieper did not necessarily think that the Bible disproved it either. Thus I think it entirely possible that the Bible gives a Christian the freedom to either believe it or disbelieve it. It doesn't seem to be very important.
Now if a doctrine truly attempts to deify Mary, then of course that would be wrong.


I’d be curious to see what you think of Svendsen’s exegesis on the passage in question, and if you would still hold the position you do. I’d be willing to scan it, and send to you via e-mail.

Anonymous said...

Sure, I'll be glad to read it. Unless there's something Svendsen discovered that the Lutherans up until the 20th Century missed, as well as Calvin and the Church Fathers also missed about the exegesis of the word "until", I can't imagine what Svendsen has discovered.

I have to find out what your e-mail address is so that I can give you mine. I'll go back to the main page to see if I can access it there.

Thanks for the material.

Pinoy Reformista said...

James,
I need the material for my apologetics, can you please send it to my email?

jay2005_ras@yahoo.com

Thanks! Godbless!

James Swan said...

Pinoy,

Any materials that I've written are on my blog, or over at aomin. simply use the search engine to track down what you're looking for.

Regards,
James