Hello Mr. Swan
Hello Paul, welcome back.
I have not read through all of your material due to time constraints
No problem. When you have time, I would start with this document, then this document, then work through all the posts I've written on Luther's Mariology. At the bottom of the last post on the page, click on the link that says "older posts" and keep working backward. You'll notice many of these older posts were written previous to the advent of Google Books. Many of the sources (like Luther's Sermons) were books I purchased and read through to compose posts like this.
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.
I think you would be correct about "the goodly portion of his life." Even from my opinion on this, Luther would have probably acquiesced to some form of the immaculate conception into his late 40's, leaving only around a decade and and half of an augmented view. It's true, Luther's theology did go through changes, which makes nailing him down sometimes a task in itself. [You may find this snippet (begin at II.A) I've written useful showing elements of Luther that did remain consistent]. His Mariology went through dramatic changes throughout his career.
Instead of quibbling over ambiguities in some later sermons, is there anything that definitively shows that he repudiated it later in his life?
You bring up an excellent point Paul. If one sifts through the vast bulk of Luther's writings, you'll quickly find Luther didn't spend a whole lot of time on Mary. The evidence, for whichever position one wants to argue, is sparse. There is no specific in-depth treatment from Luther on the immaculate conception, one way or the other, from his entire career (that I know of). There are one or two early documents that are specific to Mary from Luther's own hand, but even within them, one finds his opinions later change (simply do a study on Luther's view of intercession). Even these writings are not what one would expect in terms of Mariology.
There are passing comments, here and there, mostly in sermons, about Mary. Even this sermon material is tricky, because Luther didn't write the majority of the copies of his sermons, those listening to him did. So in many cases we're getting Luther filtered and transcribed through whoever took the notes on the sermons. What we have then is a small sampling of passing comments in contexts not specific to Mariology that typically were not written by Luther, but (hopefully) faithfully transcribed by someone listening to him.
When one reads through these references to Mary, one quickly sees that the emphasis is usually on Christ, Mary playing a very lesser role. Luther never abandons the idea that something had to happen to Mary in order to insure the sinlessness of Christ. There are though, a few of these later stray comments that indicate that "something" happened at Christ's conception, not Mary's. Combine this with his unambiguous statements, especially from the early 1530's indicating that Mary was not without sin. I find Grisar's statement that the 1527 most popular statement from Luther adhering to Mary being conceived without sin was stricken from the sermon by 1529 (and subsequent editions of the sermon). While Luther usually didn't write down his own sermons for publication, he certainly did read many of them and oversee some of them once published.
I disagree therefore that the sermon evidence I've presented is best characterized as ambiguous, especially when read as a whole- you'll read repeated statements from Luther about the sinlessness of Christ as opposed to the sinfulness of humanity (with Mary never being mentioned as an exception, or placed in the same category with Christ). I think it's fair to say that my position for the later Luther is indeed a position he held. You may disagree with me that he continued to hold it, but the evidence indicates he did put forth something different in the 1530's than his earlier view.
Perhaps then one could argue that Luther went through a period in the early 1530's in which he held the view I suggest, and then later returned back to his earlier view in the 1540's. I guess that's possible. However, this would need to be demonstrated. So far, the 1540's evidence consists of even less material to work with than the material I've presented from the 1530's. Someone arguing Luther held a lifelong adherence to some form of the immaculate conception- that's simply ignoring the evidence.
Tfan and I have already shown the alleged statement from 1544 (really from 1532) "God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins" is quite harmonious with the other material from the 1530's I've presented, so that statement has bitten the dust. Read that statement along with the other 1530's comments. They fit together quite well.
With your legal skill, I find it hard to believe you would think the 1545 statement said by Luther in bitter sarcasm has any definitive weight affirming adherence to the immaculate conception. Luther many times chastised the Romanists for Mariolatry and making saints into idols. He also ascribed to the Papists a strong desire to make Mary's immaculate conception dogma, and he spoke against them for doing such, even as early as 1518.
As to the 1540 disputation, Luther states "Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ. Every man who is not a divine Person [personaliter Deus], as is Christ, has concupiscence, but the man Christ has none, because he is a divine Person." I see your friends are trying their hand at translation work at the expense of this explicit statement.
There appears to be one other major "hot" passing 1540's statement from Vom Schem Hamphoras. I happen to have that treatise, and hope to get to it on the blog. If one wants to talk about ambiguous statements, this is probably the most ambiguous one of the lot. The statement doesn't say, one way or the other if Mary lived a completely sinless life. The statement can be read through the paradigm I've put forth for the later Luther quite consistently with the 1530's material I've presented. Keep in mind, elsewhere in the treatise Luther states all of Adam's descendants are born in sin, and the majority of Mariological material in this writing focuses on arguments supporting the virgin birth. That is, Luther argues the pure virgin is pure because she hasn't had relations with a man.
Aside from this 1530's and 1540's material, there is the undated Letter alluded to by O'Meara "Finally, about this time in an undated letter, Luther agrees with Staupitz' comment that the Immaculate Conception is a 'fraud.' "This simply is another sparse clue to add to the mystery. That text, found in WA 48, 692, states:
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.
Again Paul, Luther didn't spend a whole lot of time on Mariology. Luther reacted to major issues which were brought into his life, like the conflicts with Oecolampadius and Zwingli. On the other hand, note this statement from 1521:
In regard to the conception of our Lady they have admitted that, since this article is not necessary to salvation, it is neither heresy nor error when some hold that she was conceived in sin, although in this case council, pope, and the majority hold a different view. Why should we poor Christians be forced to believe whatever the pope and his papists think, even when it is not necessary to salvation? Has papal authority the power to make unnecessary matters necessary articles of faith, and can it make heretics of people in matters which are not necessary for salvation?[LW 32:79-80]
I would speculate this issue (the immaculate conception), throughout his career, wasn't all that important to him. Based on the evidence, it certainly wasn't as important as you and your friends make it out to be. This alone should alert us that Luther’s Mariology evolved into something different from Roman Catholicism, which is overly concerned with Mary’s attributes.
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?
A new volume of Luther's Works recently came out. The plan, if I recall correctly, is a new volume each year. Here is a tidbit of Luther's Mariology from the recent volume. I guess there could be some other passing comments from Luther that could add some more evidence to determining his later view.
I realize these words I've written to you will be used and manipulated by your friends to attack me. So be it. I stand by everything I've put forth.
When you do touch base with your friends, make sure they realize that I have co-bloggers who write here with me at Beggars All: Reformation & Apologetics. When they're adding their kindling to the fire to burn me as a heretic, ask them to make sure they aren't burning me for something I didn't write. As it appears now, they'll take anything, even if I didn't write it, in order to prove me wrong.