Here's one of those "Luther was extraordinarily devoted to Mary" quotes that has been floating around cyber-space for some time: "The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart."
I've been aware of this quote for quite a few years now. Recently, a Roman Catholic posted it in the comments section of one of my blog entries, as if it would somehow be a "shocker" to me (yawn....). If you do a web-search, you'll find it oft-quoted. Books are likewise citing it. For instance, "The Everything Mary Book" states, "According to Martin Luther, not only was devotion to Mary a spiritually helpful practice, but it was an almost intrinsic aspect of healthy spirituality. According to a sermon he gave on September 1, 1522, 'the veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.' "
So where did this quote come from? This quote was probably first brought into cyberspace by a Catholic apologist:
Luther held to the idea and devotional practice of the veneration of Mary and expressed this on innumerable occasions with the most effusive language: The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart. (Sermon, September 1, 1522)
This Luther quote was probably taken from a catholic apologist reading of Thomas O'Meara's Mary in Protestant and Catholic Theology (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966). On page 123, O'Meara states, "After all, [Luther] had written on September 1, 1522: 'The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart' (WA 10, III, 313)." I can't know for sure, but since O'Meara and the same catholic apologist both cited the sermon with the wrong date of September 1, and that same Catholic apologist has cited O'Meara in his writings, the chances are pretty good that once again, whoever put this quote online didn't have "WA 10, III, 313." If he did, he wouldn't have been posting the wrong date for the sermon. Some may wonder why I pick out things like this, but simply do a web search on the quote and see how far misinformation spreads.
I actually didn't even realize I had a broader context for this quote in my library, but I came across it while looking for some other things. The sermon was actually preached on September 8, 1522, not September 1. Some see 1522 as one of the major transitional years in Luther's Mariology, particularly as he was quickly heading towards the denial of prayer to the saints. Keep that in mind as you read the following paragraphs from which this quote is taken. See for yourself if it proves "Luther held to the idea and devotional practice of the veneration of Mary" like Roman Catholics do.
You know, my friends, that deep in the heart of men is inscribed the honor with which one honors the mother of God; yes, it is even so deep that no one willingly hears anything against it, but extols her more and more. Now we grant that she should be honored since we are enjoined by the Scripture to receive one another with honor, as Paul says (Romans 12:10); so man must also honor her. Above all she must be rightly honored, but the people have "fallen" so deeply in this honor that she is more highly honored than is right and there are two harmful results of all of this: a rupture with Christ inasmuch as the hearts of men are more directed to her than to Christ himself. Christ is put behind in darkness and entirely forgotten!
The other result is the harm done to the common folk; for when the Mother of God and her service are held in such high esteem, poor, indigent Christians are forgotten. I gladly allow you to hold her in high respect, to praise her greatly, but only insofar as there is no law made about it. Thus the Holy Scripture itself has described nothing about her birth so that no one should set his heart on her. But now the priests and monks wish to extol the honor of women and have so highly extolled Mary that they have made out of this humble servant a goddess after the manner of the heathens. To arrive at such a position they have to use lies and to turn Scripture around to say things which do not belong to it. You see that the gospel which was read today refers to Christ's birth and not to Mary's ... yes I willingly allow that one honors her, but I ask that those who honor her should not make lies out of Scripture! WA 10 (3) 313, 15 to 315, 16
In the same sermon, Luther comments on the Salve Regina stating:
"Hail, queen of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope." Is not this too much? Who wishes to justify that she is our life, our sweetness and our hope when she herself indicates that she is a poor vessel? This prayer is sung through the entire world and bells are rung! It is the same with the Regina Coeli;, it is not better that she is called Queen of Heaven. Is not this a dishonor of Christ that one gives to a creature what belongs to God alone? WA 10 (3) 321, 15-18
Now we have placed Mary so far above all the choirs of angels, next to her son and Lord, that dishonor and harm is done to her loving child. This is a great injustice and I claim that if she were on earth that she would weep blood about such dishonorable honor. Man should leave her in the honor which has come to her and respect her as a child of God. Yes, even see her as mother of God and praise God in her the same way that she herself has done in Magnificat. Grimmental, Oetigan, Einsiedein, (pilgrimage centers) ach, and so on, but go into the house of the neighbor who is in need and what you would spend on a pilgrimage, give to him! This I say about the honor of the saints. WA 10 (3), 325 13 to 326, 17
Note the entire sentence of the quotation: "You know, my friends, that deep in the heart of men is inscribed the honor with which one honors the mother of God; yes, it is even so deep that no one willingly hears anything against it, but extols her more and more." Luther's point is that whatever respect Mary was due to her, the Church collectively had gone far beyond it. Note Luther's qualifier: "Now we grant that she should be honored since we are enjoined by the Scripture to receive one another with honor, as Paul says (Romans 12:10); so man must also honor her." Romans 12:10 states, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another." Luther saw that Mary had become more than she actually was. Note where Luther places Mary with his veneration of her:
We are called Christians after Christ, because we depend upon him alone and are his children and heritage; in this respect we are like the Mother of God herself and Mary's brothers and sisters; otherwise we do injury to the holy blood of Christ, for through his blood all of us are cleansed from sin and made partakers of his goods. In this respect we are likewise holy as she. And if she received greater grace, that did not happen because of her merit but because of the mercy of God, for we cannot all be the mother of God. Otherwise she is like to us inasmuch as, by the blood of Christ, she has come to grace as we have.WA 10 (3), 315, 10 to 316, 11
So there you go- in a passage in which Luther chastises the church of his day for excessive Mary worship, and Mary is to be honored as all Christians are according to Romans 12:10, the quote is cited by a Catholic apologists to prove Luther held to similar devotional practices of today's Roman Catholic. One Roman apologist does state, "Luther did strongly condemn any devotional practices which implied that Mary was in any way equal to our Lord or that she took anything away from His sole sufficiency as our Savior. This is, and always has been, the official teaching of the Catholic Church." Do you think this apologist actually had more of the context of this quote when he wrote this? I think not.
What were the official standards on Marian piety in 1522? To what was Luther using to critique Marian piety above? Luther says it's the "the priests and monks" who were directly responsible for rampant Mariolatry. Luther is noting the Roman Church of his day collectively dishonored Mary by their entanglement of veneration and intercession. Such is the case today as well.
The concept of veneration and intercession are intimately intertwined in Roman Catholic piety, both in Luther's day and ours. One wonders if any sort of comparison between Luther's "nice" and honoring statements about Mary, and Roman Catholic statements about Mary can be put forth. One cannot read Luther's writings as if he's speaking the same language as Roman Catholic Marian "veneration." He isn't, and 16th Century Roman Catholics knew it. Luther states in the sermon:
Gladly will I admit that she prays for me, but that she should be my confidence and life, that I will not admit and your prayer is as agreeable to me as hers! Why? Because if you believe that Christ is likewise in you as he is in her, you can likewise help me, as she does! WA 10 (3), 322
Luther went on only a short time later to clearly deny the intercession of the saints. But here, we see that Luther considered the prayers of his contemporary Christians as equally important as the prayers of Mary. He placed no extra confidence in her abilities. His "Mariology" was not Roman Catholic Mariology, and as his career went on, he moved further away from the idolatry present in his day.
I've spent a lot of time on Luther's Mariology over the years. I have done so because Roman Catholics are misusing history when they claim Luther should be looked to as a Protestant champion of Mary. I say, go ahead, and look at Luther's statements about Mary (the few and sparse that they are), but read them in context, and don't allow Catholic apologists to spin the facts to fit their worldview. If they had historical truth on their side, the Luther quotes they use, when placed in a context, wouldn't make them look so incompetent.
"Luther's attitude toward the cult of the saints bore a close resemblance to his critique of monasticism. Both, in his view, transgressed Christ's summary of the Law, to love the Lord God and one's neighbor as oneself. As the religious were guilty of blasphemy for magnifying human achievement at God's expense, so saint worship detracted from the worship of God. As monasticism conflicted with the demands of neighborly love, so 'the living saints'- the poor and the sick- suffered while money was wasted on dead saints. The Virgin Mary, rightly honored by us as the Mother of God, is a model of humility. She would be appalled, protested Luther, to be worshipped as a pagan goddess, 'the queen of mercy,' by those who should know better. The pious are encouraged to visit shrines containing fragments of the true cross. Even if this were genuine- and there are enough pieces of the true cross in Germany to build a house- the one true cross is the cross that Christ himself bade us to bear, and we need travel no further than our own hearts to find and honor it [Luther publicized these views on the saints in Sermon von der Geburt Mariae, given on 8 September 1522 and reprinted eleven times before 1524, excluding editions of collected sermons; and Sermon von der Heiltumen, given on 14 September 1522 and reprinted five times before 1524, excluding editions of collected sermons] Source: David V.N. Bagchi, Luther's Earliest Opponents: Catholic Controversialists, 1518-1525 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1991), p. 152-153).