One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.
The quote is said to come from Luther's exposition of the Magnificat. It's usually documented as "Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521." Is this any sort of helpful reference? Not at all. As some in the discussion have speculated, the quote isn't one quote, but rather various sentences strung together. This is indeed the case. The quote is from a secondary source: William Cole's article “Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?” (Marian Studies Volume XXI, 1970, page 132-133. Cole states,
Five years later, likewise preaching for the Feast of 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 nobility, wisdom, and sanctity."
We cannot dispute the fact that Luther honored Mary wished her to be honored. As Preuss has observed,
Mary is and remains for Luther worthy of honor or veneration. He always maintains this although he changed the reason for it. For him the main reason is not that she has given us Christ, but that she is a model for our acceptance of Him.
There remains the question how. Luther himself responds in the Magnificat and many other places:
One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace. God has given Mary the honor to be the Mother of God and this honor we all wish to give her, to praise her highly, and to hold her in respect. But we must thereby straightway enter the right path, and this way is Christ, for Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ and she bore Christ for me, not herself.144
Putting it negatively,
One must not attach himself to the mother of God and depend upon her, but through her he must press on to God. Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.145
144 WA 1,60; cf. 7, 193, 553, 560, 565, 568, 575; 11, 60; 15, 477, 480; 17 (2), 320; 32, 265; 34 (2), 496.
145 WA 7, 564, 567, 568, 569, 574; 10 (3), 316; but especially 10 (2), 407.
Luther quotes like these have floated around the Internet for years. I've found more than a few Luther / Mary quotes come ultimately from Cole. I don't have much to say about this, other than the person who asked for documentation about this alleged Luther quote asked the right questions. It's the same question I've asked, often. It's obvious that Cole was attempting to make a summary statement for Luther using Luther's words.
Cyber-space as it is, this bogus Luther quote traveled far. It even got itself published. It's not so much that Luther didn't say what's purported in the quote, it's that he said what he said in multiple places, in different contexts, not in this one quote. You see, William Cole's quote is actually a rather "loose" compilation of a few Luther quotes, from different treatises, with an emphasis on Luther's exposition of the Magnificat. If you count it all up, Cole provides around 20 references for 7 lines from Luther. 20 references? Something, obviously, doesn't add up.