Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 4) Calvin Did Not Refer to Mary as "Mother of God"?

I've been intrigued by the alleged "Mariology" of the Reformers for years because of the argumentation of Roman Catholic apologists. I recently came across Wikipedia's John Calvin's views on Mary entry. I didn't get far into the entry before I came across a few facts that appeared odd. I'm going to work through the entry, time allowing. Previous entries are as follows:

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 1)

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 2)

Wikipedia's "John Calvin's views on Mary" (Part 3) Perpetual Virginity

Mother of God
The article contains a section on Calvin and the phrase Mother of God: "It has been argued that Mary was, in Calvin's view, properly called the Mother of God." This time, the Wiki article does an adequate job with some of the facts, but never arrives at an actual conclusion as to Calvin properly calling Mary the Mother of God. Calvin's use (or lack thereof) is an interesting topic, particularly as it relates to Roman Catholic apologetics.

Calvin's comments on Luke 1:43 are most frequently cited by Roman apologists.  There Calvin mentions Elizabeth calls Mary "the mother of her Lord." To demonstrate how popular this comment from Calvin is within Romanism, note but a few examples. Citing this reference, John Pasquini states in his books Catholic Answers to Protestant Questions and True Christianity the Catholic Way, "Even John Calvin recognized the reality of Mary as the Mother of God!" EWTN hosts a webpage that states, "The French reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) also held that Mary was the Mother of God." The oft-quoted web article, The Protestant Reformers On Mary uses it. Roman apologist Scott Windsor has an article with the same Calvin quote. One Roman apologist cites Calvin's comment on Luke 1:43 as proof that,
"...anti-Marianism runs strong in Protestant circles, in reaction to what they perceive as an 'excessive Mariology' in the Catholic Church. So they become downright irrational in their opposition to 'Mother of God.' This opposition, however, is not intrinsic to Protestantism, since early Protestant leaders Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Bullinger all used the term 'Mother of God' (or at least described the same concept in slightly different terms)."
These Roman Catholic documents make bold assertions in regard to Calvin's comments on Luke 1:43. Keep in mind, in the context of Calvin's comments, the phrase "Mother of God" is not used. In fact, when Calvin states, "She calls Mary the mother of her Lord" the comment is simply the biblical phrase Calvin is going to comment on. That is, in Calvin's commentaries he picks a particular biblical phrase and then comments. Here's how Calvin's commentary on Luke 1:43 looks in context, as produced in my electronic version:

43. And whence is this to me? The happy medium observed by Elisabeth is worthy of notice. She thinks very highly of the favors bestowed by God on Mary, and gives them just commendation, but yet does not praise them more highly than was proper, which would have been a dishonor to God. For such is the native depravity of the world, that there are few persons who are not chargeable with one of these two faults. Some, delighted beyond measure with themselves, and desirous to shine alone, enviously despise the gifts of God in their brethren; while others praise them in so superstitious a manner as to convert them into idols. The consequence has been, that the first rank is assigned to Mary, and Christ is lowered as it were to the footstool. Elisabeth, again, while she praises her, is so far from hiding the Divine glory, that she ascribes everything to God. And yet, though she acknowledges the superiority of Mary to herself and to others, she does not envy her the higher distinction, but modestly declares that she had obtained more than she deserved.

She calls Mary the mother of her Lord. This denotes a unity of person in the two natures of Christ; as if she had said, that he who was begotten a mortal man in the womb of Mary is, at the same time, the eternal God. For we must bear in mind, that she does not speak like an ordinary woman at her own suggestion, but merely utters what was dictated by the Holy Spirit. This name Lord strictly belongs to the Son of God “manifested in the flesh,” (1 Timothy 3:16,) who has received from the Father all power, and has been appointed the highest ruler of heaven and earth, that by his agency God may govern all things. Still, he is in a peculiar manner the Lord of believers, who yield willingly and cheerfully to his authority; for it is only of “his body” that he is “the head,” (Ephesians 1:22, 23.) And so Paul says, “though there be lords many, yet to us,” that is, to the servants of faith, “there is one Lord,” (1 Corinthians 8:5, 6.) By mentioning the sudden movement of the babe which she carried in her womb, (ver. 44,) as heightening that divine favor of which she is speaking, she unquestionably intended to affirm that she felt something supernatural and divine.

In some English translations of Calvin's commentaries, the particular biblical Phrase Calvin is going to comment on is highlighted is some sense, usually by being italicized. One need only read Calvin's explanation of the text that he isn't concerned with securing the popular phrase "Mother of God."

The key argument though to Calvin's opinion on the title "Mother of God" is not found in this simple passing commentary of Luke 1:43. Rather, it's found in a letter Calvin wrote September 27, 1552 to the French Church in London. They had written to him and asked, "Is it lawful to call Mary the Mother of God?" Calvin responds,
Concerning the other debatable points, I doubt not but there may have been somewhat of ignorance in their reproving the way of speaking of the Virgin Mary as the mother of God, and together with ignorance, it is possible that there may have been rashness and too much forwardness, for, as the old proverb says, The most ignorant are ever the boldest. However, to deal with you with brotherly frankness, I cannot conceal that that title being commonly attributed to the Virgin in sermons is disapproved, and, for my own part I cannot think such language either right, or becoming, or suitable. Neither will any sober-minded people do so, for which reason I cannot persuade myself that there is any such usage in your church, for it is just as if you were to speak of the blood, of the head, and of the death of God. You know that the Scriptures accustom us to a different style; but there is something still worse about this particular instance, for to call the Virgin Mary the mother of God, can only serve to confirm the ignorant in their superstitions. And he that would take a pleasure in that, shews clearly that he knows not what it is to edify the Church.
This comment clearly expresses what Calvin thought of the title "Mother of God." The Wiki article goes on to mention,"Calvin never explicitly refers to Mary as the 'Mother of God'." I found this assertion rather unbelievable, but as I've sifted through my collection of Calvin's writings, I've yet to find Calvin using the phrase. Roman Catholic writer Thomas O'Meara mentions this lack of usage is sometimes used to prove Calvin was "a Nestorian in disguise." He states, "One reason for this which is commonly advanced is that Calvin nowhere calls Mary Theotokos, or the Mother of God."  He mentions Calvin does write at one point, "Mother of the Son of God." Ultimately, O'Meara arrives at the same letter from 1552 and states, "The reason for his hesitancy [to use "Mother of God"] seems to be based upon a fear of falling into what he saw as the excesses of the past."

1 comment:

James Swan said...

One of the major points of my blog entry was to demonstrate that a number of Roman polemicists have incorrectly used Calvin’s comments on Luke 1:43. I believe I've proven my case, once again, that Roman polemicists veer towards propaganda at times rather than actually going deep into history.