Saturday, October 02, 2010

Luther: God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins

This Luther quote was left as a comment on my blog as proof of Luther's later view on the immaculate conception:

1544: "God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins."

This quote was said to have come from 1544, a few years before Luther's death. There it is! Proof that Luther believed in the immaculate conception of Mary late in his life!

For instance, this web page states: "In 1544 (just two years before his death), he wrote: "God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins." This same information (and date of 1544) made it into this book in two different places. Wiki uses it, as does this discussion board post.

This web page demonstrates the quote was probably taken from this secondary source: Thomas A. O'Meara, O.P., Mary in Protestant and Catholic Thought (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1966).

O'Meara appears to be the culprit behind the date of 1544. On page 118 he states,

In 1532 [Luther] denied any notion of a special conception of Mary."Mary is conceived in sin just like us. . . ."20 Finally, about this time in an undated letter, Luther agrees with Staupitz' comment that the Immaculate Conception is a "fraud." The subsequent years offer quotations which advocate the doctrine of Mary's sanctification in conception along with passages which could be interpreted as denying it. It is likely, but not certain, that he eventually denied the Immaculate Conception.

Notice footnote #20. On page 139, footnote #20, O'Meara says:

WA 36, 141. "Don't dispute about the Immaculate Conception. . . .' Letter to Kaspar Crucigar, May 1, 1541, cited in Tappolet, op. cit.,p 31. Although in 1532 Luther says that Mary was conceived in sin, in 1544 he says: "God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, for she has conceived and borne the Lord Jesus." (WA 52, 39): Elsewhere,"All seed except Mary was vitiated." (WA 39, II, 107). The problem of Luther's final opinion remains to be solved.

Hilda Graef likewise states,

He seems to have given up this belief later on, though he held even in 1544, two years before his death, that she was completely without sin when she conceived the Lord Jesus. [WA, 52,39](Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, Vol. II: New York: Sheed & Ward, 1965, 11)

Upon checking O'Meara's facts, he got the date wrong in regard to the quote in question. It's from 1532, not 1544. As TurretinFan points out:

That citation is actually to a sermon from 1532. Although WA 52 is titled "Hauspostille 1544," that is Luther's "House Postils" published in 1544, but containing mostly sermons from the first half of the 1530's. Luther did assent to having the sermons published, but the work was earlier work. Specifically, Veit Dietrich published these sermons based on Veit Dietrich's sermon notes, with Luther's assent (see discussion here). This particular sermon was apparently first publicly preached in 1532 and then again in 1533, according to the index in WA 52.[source]

WA 52:39 can be found here. That would be the Hauspostille of 1544, which includes sermons from the early 1530's. The House Postil was translated into English. Two English versions exist that I know of, each set contains some similar material as well as differing material.

Here is the context of the quote:

In the papacy they used to tell a story: The devil once came to church to mass, and when in the confession of the Christian faith, which they called the Patrem, they sang the words: " Et homo factum est"— the Son of God was made man—and the people did not kneel down but stood, he struck one on the mouth, rebuked him and said: You ruffian, are you not ashamed that you stand here like a stock, and do not fall down for joy? If the Son of God had become our brother, like yours, we would not know what to do for joy.

I do not think that this is true ; for the devil is too decided in his enmity to us and the Lord Jesus ; but this is true, that he who conceived this story had the right spirit, and well understood how great an honor was conferred upon us in that the Son of God became man; not like Eve nor Adam, who was made of the earth; but He is still more nearly related to us, since He was born of the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, like other men, except that the virgin was alone, and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, conceived this blessed fruit without sin and by the Holy Spirit. In other respects He is like unto us, and a natural Son of a woman.

Adam and Eve were not born, but created. God made Adam out of the dust of the earth, and the woman of his rib. How much nearer is Christ to us than Eve to her husband Adam, since He is truly our flesh and blood. Such honor we should highly esteem and well take to heart, that the Son of God became flesh, and that there is no difference at all between His and our flesh, only that His flesh is without sin. For He was so conceived of the Holy Ghost, and God poured out so richly His Holy Spirit into the soul and body of the Virgin Mary that without any sin she conceived and bore our Lord Jesus. Aside from this, in all other respects, He was like other men; He ate, drank, was hungry, thirsty, cold like other men. Such and similar natural infirmities, which have descended upon us by reason of sin, He, who was without sin, bore and had like unto us, as St. Paul says: " He was made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man." [

Once again, read this quote in context, and ask yourself if it's stating Luther believed Mary was conceived without sin, or if the subject is the conception of Christ, and Mary's purification at that event. In my opinion, Luther's later view appears to be that at Christ's conception the Holy Spirit sanctified Mary so that the child would be born with non-sinful flesh and blood. Once again, checking a source reveals that even scholars like O'Meara make mistakes. In this case, he either misread the context and date, or either relied on some other work that did the same. O'Meara though at least states: "The problem of Luther's final opinion remains to be solved."

One also should see here the need for checking documentation. O'Meara and Graef both incorrectly identified a 1532 sermon as a 1544 sermon. In my previous entry, Piepkorn mis-dated a sermon as well in calculating his twenty-five years of Luther's view.

I was informed of a Roman Catholic audio response to this blog entry, it can be heard here.

Also (as cited above) TurretinFan has put together a similar overview of helpful contexts on this matter: Immaculate Conception in Later Luther?


Pastor Aaron said...

James, I was going to say this earlier, but relented... sounds like Luther was a Methodist, and Mary was entirely sanctified. In the "genre" of Protestants who swim the Tiber because they've accepted Mary as some kind of redeemer, it seems it's usually not Methodists :)

James Swan said...

LOL, I don't think the Lutherans would appreciate Luther being a Methodist.

James R. Polk said...


I would certainly agree that the Luther quote you provided definitely reads as if Luther is referring to the sinless conception of Christ and not Mary. Great job on setting the record straight.

Pastor Aaron said...

Ha ha, I don't think so either! And I agree with James R Polk, good work all around. I read this blog all the time for thought-provoking discussion. And because we HAVE to recover our foundations.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hello Mr. Swan, I have not read through all of your material due to time constraints, but it seems to me that there is no question that Fr. Luther did hold to a view of the IC at least for a goodly portion of his life. Instead of quibbling over ambiguities in some later sermons, is there anything that definitively shows that he repudiated it later in his life? After all, as I said elsewhere, regardless of how one may view him, Luther did not have a problem voicing his disdain against views that he disagreed loudly and forcefully. Example: his position on the Real Presence as against Oecolampadius and Zwingli.

BTW, I understand that less than half of Luther wrote has ever been translated into English. Might it be possible that all this back and forth on what Luther believed could easily be rendered pointless based on something that is out there that has not yet been translated? Is someone on your side of the Tiber ever going to get around to doing that?

God bless!

James Swan said...

Great job on setting the record straight

Thanks for your encouragement.

Anyone who delves into this issue finds the evidence to work with is sparse. I simply point people to the sources, and ask they weigh the evidence.

The bottom line is that it doesn't ultimately matter if Luther believed in something like the immaculate conception his entire life.

What bothers me is using this sparse debatable evidence as an apologetic- like what Mr. Marshall did, when he said,

"I only list these quotes to show how far Protestantism has come from it's quasi-Catholic origin. If only Lutherans would return to this single doctrine of their founder; how quickly our Lady would turn them into true Catholics! Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us!"

Romanists typically abhor Luther. 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.

James Swan said...

And because we HAVE to recover our foundations.


Thank you also for your encouragement. I take my Reformation heritage very seriously!

James Swan said...

Paul Hoffer said...
Hello Mr. Swan,

Hi Paul: I responded to you here. Thanks for your comments and interest in this subject.