Friday, September 21, 2007

Luther: The Assumption Was a Settled Fact?


I listened to a few of Catholic apologist Mark Shea's webcasts on the Assumption of Mary. Mark made one statement that I would be very interested in having documentation for:

"For Luther the Assumption was a settled fact...indeed Luther's burial vault in the Wittenburg church on whose door he had posted his ninety five theses was adorned with the 1521 Peter Vischer's sculpture of the Coronation of the Virgin."

First and foremost, I would be extremely interested in which primary references Shea can provide from Luther in which Luther explicitly confirms a lifelong belief in Mary's Assumption. Saying "settled fact" requires proof. A quote with a context would be nice (and I would hope not to get one of those sparse English translations from a German source that no one has, particularly the person making such a claim). I have done a lot of research into this, so if Shea can pull the assumption out of a Luther-hat, this I'd like to see.

Secondly, as to Luther's burial vault, Shea explains in an old blog entry (edit: no longer available, but found here, and here):

"And, of course, problems with it constituted no difficulty for the Reformers, which is why Luther's tomb is decorated with a bas-relief of the Assumption. Indeed, objections to Mary are johnny-come-latelies on the stage of Protestant theology, as is demonstrated by Fr. Peter Stravinskas in Mary and the Fundamentalist Challenge."

This is the claim made by Peter Stravinskas:

"Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the realization that his burial chamber in the Wittenberg church, on whose door he had posted his 95 Theses, was adorned with the 1521 Peter Vischer sculpture of the Coronation of the Virgin, with the inscription containing these lines: Ad summum Regina thronum defertur in altum: Angelicis praelatia choris, cui festus et ipse Filius occurrens Matrem super aethera ponit. This "archaeological" fact would seem to speak volumes about Luther's final thoughts on the place of Mary in the life of a Christian."

This website makes an interesting counter-claim:

"If one believes Peter Stravinskas, it would seem that this inscription on [Luther's] heart is reflected in the inscription on his tomb. Stravinskas published a generally good article on 'The Place of Mary in Classical Fundamentalism', but I'm afraid he made one pious mistake: He maintains that the sculpture of the Coronation of the Virgin and inscription by Peter Vischer the Younger which is to be found in the Wittenberger Schlosskirche, where Luther is burried, goes with Luther's tomb. I wish it were so, but I'm afraid it belongs to one of the other tombs in the church. If you google for images of Luther's tomb (or Luthers' Grabmal), you'll see that it is the simplest little slab of stone rising a little out of the floor of the main church, a good distance away from the walls - no "burial chamber" at all. The German tour guide "Baedekkers Allianz Reisefuehrer Deutschland, 1991" mentions that "in the Schlosskirche there is a piece of art by Peter Vischer the Younger, who also created the tombs of Sir Hans Hundt and Prior Henning Gode." So if somebody out there could go by the church and let us know to which tomb this obscure "piece of art" belongs, I would much appreciate it."

And this website states:

"2. Epitaph for Henning Goeden
Directly to the right is located "The Coronation of Mary", a bronze plate created in 1521 by Peter Fischer the Younger, a founder from Nuremburg. A work of great aesthetic merit, the plate is the tombstone for Henning Goden, Jurist and last Catholic Provost of the Castle Church."


But, ok, let's for a moment grant that Luther's burial chamber has this particular sculpture. How in the world does this serve as proof Luther held a lifelong belief in the assumption as a settled fact? Mark, if you read this, please try an understand, lack of proof does not mean "proof". You must do better than a burial tomb, or stating something like Luther never spoke against it. Take these words to heart:

"But an argument from silence is recognized by all to be quite weak. It implies that one must have almost total evidence before demonstration is possible. If this is the case, one could argue cogently that there may have been airplanes in the time of Christ." Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973), p. 178.

15 comments:

Kepha said...

Tq,

Have you thought of writing a Luther for Catholics book?

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Luther was pretty much in charge of things at that church. He would not have permitted such art if he thought it was a wrong Catholic teaching. Even on another tomb he would have had it removed. I agree that I would not call this evidence alone enough to settle the question of what he believed but it is quite difficult to imagine this happening if he had anything ressemblin current protestant attitudes.

Carrie said...

Have you thought of writing a Luther for Catholics book?

I'm sure Sophia Press would pick it up.

kmerian said...

It is clear that Luther believed that Mary was in heaven. But, being true to Sola Scriptura he did not feel that her being in heaven should be an article of faith due to the fact that there was no explicit verse in the Bible one way or the other.

This varies with modern Protestants (especially the ones here) because they declare it as impossible and as a fact that it did not happen.

Of course, this ia a "argument from silence" as well, so I guess I could tack on your quote here also.

Carrie said...

James,

I found a travel book from 1890 which supports the claim that the Coronation brass belonged to the tomb of Goden:

“The wooden doors (N. side) to which Luther affixed his famous 95 Theses were burned in 1760, and were replaced in 1858 by Metal Doors, 10 ft. in height, presented by Frederick William IV., and bearing the original Latin text of the theses. Above, on a golden ground, is the Crucified, with Luther and Melanchthon at his feet, by Prof. v. Klöber. On the right and left, above the doors, are statues of the Electors Frederick the Wise and John the Constant, who are interred in the church, by Drake. In the INTERIOR of the church are brazen slabs with Latin inscriptions which mark the graves of Luther (d. at Eisleben, 1546) and Melanchthon (d. at Wittenberg, 1560). — Among other interesting monuments the choir contains that of Elector Frederick the Wise (d. 1525), by Peter Vischer, cast at Nuremberg in 1527, and that of John the Constant (d. 1532), by Hans Vischer, a son of Peter. The brass of Henning Goden, behind the altar, with a coronation of the Virgin, is also by Peter Vischer, 1522 (copy at Erfurt).”

NORTHERN GERMANY AS FAR AS THE BAVARIAN AND AUSTRIAN FRONTIERS WITH EXCURSIONS TO COPENHAGEN AND THE DANISH ISLANDS.
BY K. BAEDEKER. (1890)

Anonymous said...

"But, ok, let's for a moment grant that Luther's burial chamber has this particular sculpture. How in the world does this serve as proof Luther held a lifelong belief in the assumption as a settled fact? Mark, if you read this, please try an understand, lack of proof does not mean "proof". "

It is not quite "proof;" however, it is a very strong statement that at a minimum those who knew him well enough to be responsible for his burial either believed Luther believed in the assumption of Mary and considered the notion inspirational at least--or they were just plain nasty.

Could you see James White's famly buring him in a toomb decorated with an expensive, reveent sculpture or relief of the assumption of Mary? Not if they knew him and liked him, they wouldn't. Any chance Luther would have neen so buried if he had not made it known that he believed in her assumption? Sure. Any chance OJ might find the real killers? Only slightly less is my guess.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's some of the worst spelling I ever produced!

Kepha said...

"For Luther the Assumption was a settled fact...indeed Luther's burial vault in the Wittenburg church on whose door he had posted his ninety five theses was adorned with the 1521 Peter Vischer's sculpture of the Coronation of the Virgin." - Mark Shea

Let's not get off track. First and foremost, Mr. Shea needs to acknowledge that he was wrong. This, like the 30,000 denominations Catholic apologetics tool, is yet another example of Catholic apologetical dishonesty or deception or ignorance. In other words, it is simply not true, yet still it is used for Catholic apologetics.

Anonymous said...

The statement, "For Luther the Assumption was a settled fact" is not unreasonable, given the witness of his gravesite, unless you actually believe that all of his friends, relatives and associates who survived him wanted to play some sort of joke on the man.

Carrie said...

given the witness of his gravesite, unless you actually believe that all of his friends, relatives and associates who survived him wanted to play some sort of joke on the man.

You seem to have missed the evidence that the Mary brass was not even associated with Luther's tomb. Why would you hold onto this idea when there is at a minimum reasonable doubt?

James Swan said...

My understanding is that Luther was pretty much in charge of things at that church. He would not have permitted such art if he thought it was a wrong Catholic teaching.Even on another tomb he would have had it removed.

This doesn't follow- in fact, if you study Luther's view of church art, you find that he was strongly against Carlstadt for the destruction of Catholic Churches, and their contents. So, I'm sure there were plenty of things within the churches that Luther would've been against, yet he did not seek their destruction.

James Swan said...

The statement, "For Luther the Assumption was a settled fact" is not unreasonable, given the witness of his gravesite, unless you actually believe that all of his friends, relatives and associates who survived him wanted to play some sort of joke on the man.

Wow, after demonstrating Luther's tomb doesn't have this Mary thing on it, and that it is rather the Epitaph for Henning Goeden, Jurist and last Catholic Provost of the Castle Church, you still think this proof Luther believed in the Assumption?

Get yer' bernackulers out, I think I sees Bigfoot in that tomb also.

pilgrim said...

People see what they want to see, and personally--I don't care what is on Luther's grave. (I did notice that the picture is not from Luther's grave.)

At one time in my life, although I was a Protestant, if I had died I would have been given a Roman Catholic funeral & burial. I wouldn't have approved. But those who would have organized it would have done that-and not becasue they hate me, but becasue they love me--and in their view that would be the proper and loving thing to do.

L P Cruz said...

I think it is a brute approach to paint Luther in one's own mind. Who knows who might have put it there and when you are dead, you got no control what people do to your grave.

And why is it so important to paint Luther in a certain way, specially by one's camp? Because there is a childish idea that Luther is the Protestant's Pope, that simply because Luther did this or believe that that Protestants would follow suite. The argument is evidence that they do not know the Protestant mind set.

Golly, even Calvinists differ with Calvin on some issues, showing that Calvin is no Protestant Pope either.

LPC

Anonymous said...

"The statement, "For Luther the Assumption was a settled fact" is not unreasonable, given the witness of his gravesite, unless you actually believe that all of his friends, relatives and associates who survived him wanted to play some sort of joke on the man.

Wow, after demonstrating Luther's tomb doesn't have this Mary thing on it, and that it is rather the Epitaph for Henning Goeden, Jurist and last Catholic Provost of the Castle Church, you still think this proof Luther believed in the Assumption?

Get yer' bernackulers out, I think I sees Bigfoot in that tomb also."

It's either on his gravesite or it isn't. Which is it? If it is, and if it was already in place at the time of his burial,
would Luther's closest associates allow him to be buried under such a declaration if Luther felt the same way about the doctrine as you do? Would you allow James White to be buried under a statue of the crowning of the Virgin as Queen of Heaven?

You might not find Bigfoot lurking in the dark recesses of history, but you just might find some other things that you imagine are monsters but are merely shadows you cast yourselves upon the landscape of the era.