"No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity." (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation, 1537)
This quote came under scrutiny with this CARM discussion: "Sounds Catholic To Me." It's one of those posts filled with context-less Luther quotes on Luther's alleged deep Mariology. Someone wrote me asking for some information on the above Luther citation. I've been around the block with these types of quotes. When one finds Luther being quoted, it's not up to you to produce the context. It is up to the person posting it to produce the context. When you find someone quoting Luther about Mary, ask the following:
1. Why do you think Luther's opinions about Mary are relevant?
2. Which web page did you get the quote from (I'm guessing it was some type of Roman Catholic website)?
3. If the quote is from your own readings of Luther, can you provide the context?
4. If the quote is from a German translation, did you do your own translation?
The defender of Rome who posted this quote on CARM said he was going to the library to track down the context. Here was some helpful information I gave to him before his journey. First, the quote was probably taken from William Cole's article, "Was Luther a Devotee of Mary [Marian Studies XXI, 1970, p. 132]. The quote as frequently cited in cyber space appears in this form in Cole's article:
"Five years later, likewise preaching for the Feast of the Visitation, he marvels at Mary's humility in the face of Elizabeth's great praise, which he makes equivalent to 'No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sara, blessed above all nobility, wisdom and sanctity' " (July 2, 1537- WA 45, 105, 7 to 106, 1].
I'm not sure which Roman Catholic found Cole's article and grabbed this quote. It could have been any one them (I do have my suspicions). Let me blunt: the possibility that a defender of Rome on the internet actually went out and found this non-English version of Luther's sermon from the Weimar edition of Luther's writings, and then translated it into English, is not likely. Roman Catholic internet-apologists typically do not do research like this.
Weimar 45:105-106 can be found here. Notice this is an entire page of text, in Latin and in German. If you look closely at the reference given by Cole, he refers to line 7 on page 105 to line 1 on page 106. This can mean the quote was edited down from these lines into the popular English form it's in now. In this case, what Cole means is that this quote comes from the context of line 7 on page 105 to line 1 on page 106. The quote actually is found beginning on line 10, and finishing on line 13.
In context, Luther is describing the meaning of Elizabeth's words to Mary in Luke 1:42-45, or rather what Elizabeth was saying to Mary.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
Max Thurian provides some further context as well as an alternate translation:
"...then on another Feast of the Visitation, July 2.1537, Luther said: 'When the Virgin received the acclamation of Elizabeth as being the blessed Mother of God, because she had believed and because all was coming to pass as the angel had spoken, she was not filled with pride by this praise which no other woman had ever yet spoken to her—this immense praise: "No woman is like unto thee! you are more than an empress or a queen! you are more than Eve or Sarah; blessed above all nobility, wisdom or saintliness!" No, she was not filled with pride by this lofty, excellent and super-abundant praise ...' " [Weimar, 45: 105, 7 to 106, 1].Source: Max Thurian, Mary Mother of the Lord, Figure of the Church (London: The Faith Press, 1963), p.80.
There really shouldn't be a big deal made about this quote. Luther is describing Elizabeth's words. He isn't invoking prayer to Mary. Rome's defenders though look for anything that Luther says about Mary and pour their meaning into it- that Luther venerated and prayed to Mary. In the old CARM discussion that prompted this post, one of Rome's defenders stated, "It seems quite clear that he was praying to Mary in the very quote itself, where he says 'No woman is like you.' He is speaking to her directly and that sounds like prayer to me." Certainly it was a supreme honor for Mary to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Does this mean we worship or pray to Mary? No, this does not follow for Protestants, or either from this quote from Luther.
Here was a response from the Roman Catholic who was about to go to the library with his quest for a context:
"Is that saying that Luther was elaborating on Elizabeth's quote as Bonnie friend was saying it seemed to him? If that is the case then the site I took the quote from is either unaware or dishonest in pulling that quote out like that. Either way, good work finding the context. We all have been guilty of pulling quotes from the internet without context. However, It still seems to me Luther had more reverence from Mary than most NCCs do. He still believed she was the "Mother of God" as the context of the line you provided shows us."
[Revised 1/24/15. The links to the CARM discussion no longer work, so were removed. However, the content remains the same: Roman Catholics often quote Luther about Mary, but never bother to actually look the quotes up.]