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.What appears to have happened is this quote was put together in an edited form by using William Cole's article “Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?” (Marian Studies Volume XXI, 1970, pages 132-133). It was sent off into cyber-space incorrectly documented as "Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521." Was the quoted checked against Luther's Magnificat for accuracy? It appears not. Sure, it may have been many years ago that this quote was taken from Cole's article, but even way back when, Luther's treatise on the Magnifcat shouldn't have been too hard to track down, especially if one were going to put such a quote either in a published article or book. Without the Internet, all it would have taken, all those years ago... was a good college library.
Cyber-space as it is, this bogus Luther quote traveled along, being cited here and there. 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. William Cole's documentation is somewhat free-style (for lack of a better phrase). His citation and documentation reads as follows:
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.
What I did was attempt to work through the documentation to see exactly what Cole put together. I was able to track down the contexts for almost the entirety of his references with the exception of one (#8). For reference #8, I actually did a blog article on the treatise in question, and I'm working on getting it translated. This work is open to correction as well. Synching up Latin and German pages to English translations can be a bit tricky, but not impossible. Special thanks to Brigitte for help with #2, #9, #10.
1. WA 1, 60
This is reference to a Latin sermon from August 15, 1516. It's rather short (it ends on page 61). One would assume this reference would be to the first line of Cole's Luther citation. It isn't. In fact, I don't believe any of Cole's Luther citation comes from WA 1:60. Why then was this reference given? From the context, it appears Cole included it for in this early sermon Mary is put forth as "the most pure worshipper" of God who magnifies God in all things. Cole makes a number of references to WA 1, 60, at one point even translating a section from it, but then connecting it to another sermon from the same volume where Luther states Mary "boasts of nothing herself, nothing of merit, no work; she is, by her own admission, purely passive and a receiver, not a doer of good works." This basic thought will be the basis Cole builds on: Luther held Mary does nothing, Christ does it all.
2. WA 7, 193
This is a reference to the last section of a sermon from December 25, 1520. Nothing from this page appears to be part of Cole's quote. Why did Cole included it? Perhaps because Luther says that Mary abstained from praise, nor did she desire any praise. It would thus be a support reference for Cole's "The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace." Luther states:
...although she was a virgin she had to forgo all honor and praise, which she might have received from this (virginity and miraculous conception), but had to let it go. Similarly, even though by birth she was from the most noble and kingly tribe, she was still held to be nothing and did not receive praise. If she had wanted to received praise, she would have never come to the child (as Savior). But now her praise is preached in all the world and no one can praise her sufficiently. ( But) this is the entire good news, that we receive the child alone.
3. WA 7, 553
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. Here may be some of Cole's Luther quote. The German reads,
The bolded section below would be Cole's "One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds." LW translates:
Let this suffice in explanation of these two words, soul and spirit; they occur very frequently in the Scriptures. We come to the “magnifies,” which means to make great, to exalt, to esteem one highly, as having the power, the knowledge, and the desire to perform many great and good things, such as those that follow in this canticle. Just as a book title indicates what is the contents of the book, so this word “magnifies” is used by Mary to indicate what her hymn of praise is to be about, namely, the great works and deeds of God, for the strengthening of our faith, for the comforting of all those of low degree, and for the terrifying of all the mighty ones of earth. We are to let the hymn serve this threefold purpose; for she sang it not for herself alone but for us all, to sing it after her. Now, these great works of God will neither terrify nor comfort anyone unless he believes that God has not only the power and the knowledge but also the willingness and hearty desire to do such great things. In fact, it is not even enough to believe that He is willing to do them for others but not for you. This would be to put yourself beyond the pale of these works of God, as is done by those who, because of their strength, do not fear Him, and by those of little faith who, because of their tribulations, fall into despair. [LW 21:306]
4. WA 7, 560
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. The page from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21:313. There doesn't seem to be anything similar to Cole's quote. However, on page WA 561 (LW 21:314), there is a thought Cole has been highlighitng, that it's not Mary's work to be praised, but God's work:
This, therefore, is what Mary means: “God has regarded me, a poor, despised, and lowly maiden, though He might have found a rich, renowned, noble, and mighty queen, the daughter of princes and great lords. He might have found the daughter of Annas or of Caiaphas, who held the highest position in the land. But He let His pure and gracious eyes light on me and used so poor and despised a maiden, in order that no one might glory in His presence, as though he were worthy of this, and that I must acknowledge it all to be pure grace and goodness and not at all my merit or worthiness.”
5. WA 7, 565
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. The page from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21:319. Here Luther discusses praising the work of God's grace in others. This section doesn't appear to contain any of the text Cole alludes to.
6. WA 7, 568
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. This appears to be Cole's "How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace." The page from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21:321-322. There Luther states,
From this we may learn how to show her the honor and devotion that are her due. How ought one to address her? Keep these words in mind, and they will teach you to say: “O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, you were nothing and all despised; yet God in His grace regarded you and worked such great things in you. You were worthy of none of them, but the rich and abundant grace of God was upon you, far above any merit of yours. Hail to you! Blessed are you, from thenceforth and forever, in finding such a God.” Nor need you fear that she will take it amiss if we call her unworthy of such grace. For, of a truth, she did not lie when she herself acknowledged her unworthiness and nothingness, which God regarded, not because of any merit in her, but solely by reason of His grace.
7. WA 7, 575
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. The page from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21:329. Luther states,
Therefore she adds, “And holy is His name.” That is to say: “As I lay no claim to the work, neither do I to the name and fame. For the name and fame belong to Him alone who does the work. It is not proper that one should do the work and another have the fame and take the glory. I am but the workshop in which He performs His work; I had nothing to do with the work itself. No one should praise me or give me the glory for becoming the Mother of God, but God alone and His work are to be honored and praised in me. It is enough to congratulate me and call me blessed, because God used me and did His works in me.”Perhaps the bolded section is Cole's "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." Or perhaps it's "The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God's grace."
8. WA 11, 60
This a reference to sermon from March 11, 1523.
9. WA 15, 477
This appears to be another possible source for Cole's "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."
(Study) regarding the mother Mary, 2.) and the Son. Our salvation does not reside in the virginity of the mother, but in the Son, and for that reason this portion is more seen by us, which speaks of the Son, because thus far we have brought all glory to the mother and have been forgetful of the son. Certainly it is a great honor, that she is a virgin, more than a mother, but it is beneficial to her, not to me, save only that I demonstrate in her the mercy and glory of God, wherefore she is thus reverent, lest we make her an idol.
10. WA 15, 480
11. WA 17 (2), 320
This is a page from Luther's Kirchenpostille. The most relevant Marian section begins on the bottom of page 319, and continues to the top of 320. This appears to be a possible source for Cole's "Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ" :
This text reads:
Because of this you see that the dear Apostle Paul, John, Peter and Christ Himself use absolutely no words about His mother or the virgin Mary. For the greatest power does not rest upon her being a virgin, but rather everything depends on something else. So also everything else that happens, how this child is there for our sake, that for us He walked and stood, depends upon His being our LORD and God who wants to preserve and defend us. Before all things one should cry out and lift this up else if one only praises this mother and is silent about the rest, that must be judged as pure blasphemy. She is not there for her own sake, but for my sake, that she serve me and give me this child. She is surely worthy of all honor. Yet let her be the treasure chest without confusing her over and against this treasure. [Festival Sermons of Martin Luther, The Church Postils (Michigan: Mark V Publications, 2005), p. 139].
12. WA 32, 265
This a reference to a sermon preached December, 25, 1530. It can be cross-referenced to LW 51:213-214. Here appears to be Cole's "Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, she bore Christ for me, not herself." Luther states:
When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, “To you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:11], remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that he is my Savior become in my eyes that I can say: Mary, you did not bear this child for yourself alone. The child is not yours; you did not bring him forth for yourself, but for me, even though you are his mother, even though you held him in your arms and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and picked him up and laid him down. But I have a greater honor than your honor as his mother. For your honor pertains to your motherhood of the body of the child, but my honor is this, that you have my treasure, so that I know none, neither men nor angels, who can help me except this child whom you, O Mary, hold in your arms. If a man could put out of his mind all that he is and has except this child, and if for him everything—money, goods, power, or honor—fades into darkness and he despises everything on earth compared with this child, so that heaven with its stars and earth with all its power and all its treasures becomes as nothing to him, that man would have the true gain and fruit of this message of the angel. And for us the time must come when suddenly all will be darkness and we shall know nothing but this message of the angel: “I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:10–11].
13. WA 34 (2), 496.
This is a reference to a sermon on the Festival of Christ's Nativity (December 24, 1532). This also appears to be Cole's source for "Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, she bore Christ for me, not herself." The relevant section Cole appears to be citing is the following:
The first thing to learn in this prophecy of Isaiah is that a child is born to you and is your child, just as we sing, "A child so praiseworthy is born to us today." We must accentuate the word "us" and write it large. That is, when you hear, A child has been born to us, make the two letters US as large as heaven and earth and say, The child is born, it is true; but for whom is he born? Unto US, for us he is born, says the prophet. He was not born solely to his mother, the Virgin Mary, nor solely for his compatriots, his brethren and kinfolk, the Jews. Much less was he born to God in heaven, who was in no need of the birth of this child; but he was born unto us humans on earth. Thus the prophet wants to say to you and to me, to all of us in general, and to each and every one in particular, Listen, brother, I want to sing a joyous song to you and proclaim the joyous news to you. There, in the manger at Bethlehem, lies a young child, a fine little boy; this little child is yours, he is granted and given to you.14. WA 7, 564
Ah, Lord God, everyone ought open his hands here, take hold of and joyfully receive this child, whom this mother, the Virgin Mary, bears, suckles, cares for, and tends. Now, indeed, I have become lord and master and the noble mother, who was born of royal lineage, becomes my maid and servant. Ah! for shame, that I do not exult and glory in this, that the prophet says, This child is mine, it was for my sake and for the sake of us all that he has been born, to be my Saviour and the Saviour of us all! That is the way in which this mother serves me and us all with her own body. Really we all ought to be ashamed with all our hearts. For what are all the maids, servants, masters, mistresses, princes, kings, and monarchs on earth compared with the Virgin Mary, who was born of royal lineage, and withal became the mother of God, the noblest woman on earth? After Christ, she is the most precious jewel in all Christendom. And this noblest woman on earth is to serve me and us all by bearing this child and giving him to be our own! [Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 7(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) pp. 215-216]
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. The page from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21:317-318. The section Cole appears to be referencing is the following in which Luther exhorts his readers not to look to Mary, but rather to use them as a vehicle to cling to Christ alone. This may be Cole's "One must not attach himself to the mother of God and depend upon her, but through her he must press on to God":
As Jeremiah says (Jer. 9:23, 24): “Let no one glory in his might, riches, or wisdom; but if anyone wants to glory, let him glory in this,that he understands and knows Me.” And St. Paul teaches (2 Cor. 10:17): “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Now, after lauding her God and Savior with pure and single spirit, and after truly singing the praises of His goodness by not boasting of His gifts, the Mother of God addresses herself in the next place to the praise also of His works and gifts. For, as we have seen, we must not fall upon the good gifts of God or boast of them, but make our way through them and ascend to Him, cling to Him alone, and highly esteem His goodness. Thereupon we should praise Him also in His works, in which He showed forth that goodness of His for our love, trust, and praise. Thus His works are simply that many incentives to love and praise His bare goodness that rules over us.15. WA 7, 567- 568 - 569
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. These pages from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21: 320-323. For Cole, these three pages of text are meant to refer to two sentences: "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." It appears though to be only the exact reference for "Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.":
all those who heap such great praise and honor upon her head are not far from making an idol of her, as though she were concerned that men should honor her and look to her for good things, when in truth she thrusts this from her and would have us honor God in her and come through her to a good confidence in His grace.
Whoever, therefore, would show her the proper honor must not regard her alone and by herself, but set her in the presence of God and far beneath Him, must there strip her of all honor, and regard her low estate, as she says; he should then marvel at the exceedingly abundant grace of God, who regards, embraces, and blesses so poor and despised a mortal. Thus regarding her, you will be moved to love and praise God for His grace, and drawn to look for all good things to Him, who does not reject but graciously regards poor and despised and lowly mortals. Thus your heart will be strengthened in faith and love and hope. What do you suppose would please her more than to have you come through her to God this way, and learn from her to put your hope and trust in Him, notwithstanding your despised and lowly estate, in life as well as in death? She does not want you to come to her, but through her to God.
16. WA 7, 574
This is a reference to Luther's exposition of the Magnificat, 1521. The page from WA 7 can be cross-referenced to LW 21:328. Luther states,
This, then, is the meaning of these words of the Mother of God: “In all those great and good things there is nothing of mine, but He who alone does all things, and whose power works in all, has done such great things for me.” For the word “mighty” does not denote a quiescent power, as one says of a temporal king that he is mighty, even though he may be sitting still and doing nothing. But it denotes an energetic power, a continuous activity, that works and operates without ceasing. For God does not rest, but works without ceasing, as Christ says in John 5:17: “My Father is working still, and I am working.” In the same sense St. Paul says in Ephesians 3:20: “He is able to do more than all that we ask”; that is, He always does more than we ask; that is His way, and thus His power works. That is why I said Mary does not desire to be an idol; she does nothing, God does all. We ought to call upon her, that for her sake God may grant and do what we request. Thus also all other saints are to be invoked, so that the work may be every way God’s alone.
17. WA 10 (3), 316
This is a reference to a page from Luther's sermon, The Day of the Nativity of Mary (September 8, 1522). This appears to be the source for Cole's "One must not attach himself to the mother of God and depend upon her, but through her he must press on to God." Luther states,
Her being given great grace is not done so that we should venerate her, but out of God's mercy for her. For we could not all be God's mother, but apart from that she is just like us and must also come to grace through the blood of Christ as we do. So you now personally receive the same grace for which we must honor the saints. By acknowledging this we keep ourselves from detracting from Christ. We are Christ-centered when we receive His blood and suffering and set our heart only upon that and on no saint beside. So honor the mother of God so far that you do not dwell on her, but rather press through to God and set your heart on Him and never take Christ out of the center. For we are altogether brothers and sisters since He Himself says He is our brother.[Festival Sermons of Martin Luther, The Church Postils (Michigan: Mark V Publications, 2005), p. 158-159].18. but especially WA 10 (2), 407
This is the first page of Luther's explanation on the "Hail Mary." It can be cross-referenced to LW 43:39. Luther states,
Take note of this: no one should put his trust or confidence in the Mother of God or in her merits, for such trust is worthy of God alone and is the lofty service due only to him. Rather praise and thank God through Mary and the grace given her. Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat [Luke 1:46–55].