Sunday, September 21, 2014

Luther: Christ…was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him

Recently on the CARM boards, a defender of Rome did a cut-and-paste of a typical selection of Luther quotes about Mary. This cut-and-paste begins as many of them do: with proof that Luther believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. I did a basic overview on this some years back, but in reviewing the cut-and-paste I noticed I had never presented the context for some of these quotes. I offer them here for those searching them out looking to see the broader context.

Here's the first set of quotes presented from the CARM board:

Christ. .was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him... "brothers" really means "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39).

He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb.. .This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. (Ibid.)

God says... "Mary's Son is My only Son." Thus Mary is the Mother of God. (Ibid.).

Documentation
Whoever compiled these quotes did a substandard job of documenting them. If you look closely, you'll notice no actual page numbers are given, and no helpful edition of the text is specified. In fairness, some of the versions of this cut-and paste do have better documentation. It's interesting though that the popular version of this cut-and-paste has the substandard references. Some Roman apologists have their articles published without any documentation- consider this apologist who included a good chunk of this quote (along with others) with no references at all.   It turns out that these quotes are from LW 22.

Christ. .was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him... "brothers" really means "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4.1537-39).

This one is found on page 214. Note how whoever compiled this quote used severe editing:
Now the question may occupy us how Christ could have brothers, since He was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him. Some say that Joseph had been married before his marriage to Mary, and that the children of this first wife were later called Christ’s brothers. Others say that Joseph had another wife simultaneously with Mary, for it was permissible for the Jews to have two wives. In the Book of Ruth we hear that a poor daughter was often left on the shelf (Ruth 3:10 ff.). This displeased God; therefore He commanded that such daughters be provided for. Thus it became incumbent upon the nearest relative or friend to marry such a poor orphan girl. Mary, too, was a poor little orphan, whom Joseph was obligated to marry. She was so poor that no one else wanted her. Any children born to Joseph by other wives would have been half brothers of Christ. This is the explanation offered by some. But I am inclined to agree with those who declare that “brothers” really means “cousins” here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. Be that as it may, it matters little. It neither adds to nor detracts from faith. It is immaterial whether these men were Christ’s cousins or His brothers begotten by Joseph. In any event, they moved to Capernaum with Christ, where they took charge of the parish. We may infer from this text that they were a poor little group. After Joseph’s death they probably found it impossible to support themselves in Nazareth and for this reason left and moved to Capernaum. But just how and why this happened is a moot question. Christ was born in Bethlehem and reared in Nazareth, and now He is residing as a pastor in Capernaum. This town is His parish. He chose it as the place where He was to reside as bishop and as burgher, just as our pastor dwells here and is our bishop. Christ did not remain in Capernaum permanently. No, He wandered about. He returned to Nazareth and journeyed through all of Galilee, preaching and performing miracles; and then He would return to His abode in Capernaum. The other prophets did the same. Samuel lived in Ramah, and from there he “went on a circuit” to preach in the adjacent countryside (1 Sam. 7:16–17). 
He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb.. .This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. (Ibid.)

This second quote is found almost 200 pages before on page 22:
The devil is doing his worst against this article of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, which he finds intolerable. Christ must be true God, in accord with the powerful testimony of Scripture and particularly of St. Paul, who declares that in Him the whole fullness of the Deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9); otherwise we are damned forever. But in His humanity He must also be a true and natural son of the Virgin Mary, from whom He inherited flesh and blood as any other child does from its mother. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, who came upon her and overshadowed her with the power of the Most High, according to Luke 1:35. However, Mary, the pure virgin, had to contribute of her seed and of the natural blood that coursed from her heart. From her He derived everything, except sin, that a child naturally and normally receives from its mother. This we must believe if we are not to be lost. If, as the Manichaeans allege, He is not a real and natural man, born of Mary, then He is not of our flesh and blood. Then He has nothing in common with us; then we can derive no comfort from Him. However, we do not let ourselves be troubled by the blasphemies which the devil, through the mouths of his lying servants, speaks against Christ the Lord—now against His divinity, now against His humanity—and by the attacks which he then makes against Christ’s office and work. But we cling to the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Their testimony about Christ is clear. He is our Brother; we are members of His body, flesh and bone of His flesh and bone. According to His humanity, He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb (of which Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to her in Luke 1:42: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!”). This was without the co-operation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. Everything else that a mother imparts to a child was imparted by Mary, the mother of God’s eternal Son. Even the milk He sucked had no other source than the breasts of this holy and pure mother. 

God says... "Mary's Son is My only Son." Thus Mary is the Mother of God. (Ibid.).

For the last part of the quote, jump about 300 pages further into the text to page 323:
We must hold to this faith in opposition to the heretics. The Turk contends that Mary was not the mother of the Son of God. The Nestorians said that Mary was not the mother of God but only of the man Jesus, who by nature was only her son. They made two sons out of one. But there is only one Son; and yet there are two natures, which gave Mary the right to say: “This Son Jesus, whom I bore and suckled on my breasts, is the eternal God, born of the Father in eternity, and also my Son.” And God says likewise: “Mary’s Son is My only Son.” Thus Mary is the mother of God. And Christ, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, is very God from eternity who became man in time. So God the Father does not have a son apart from Mary’s, nor does Mary have a son apart from God the Father’s. This is the foundation on which our faith rests: that Jesus Christ has two natures even though He is one indivisible Person. There are not two sons and two persons; there is one Son and one Person.

Conclusion
The last quote appears to be highlighting the use of the phrase "mother of God." Luther did not shy away from using this phrase, and he was fully cognizant of its correct theological usage. The question to be asked is if Luther used the term for the same purpose the defenders of Rome use it. For instance, in regard to "mother of God," the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs.... This very special devotion ...differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration." The liturgical feasts dedicated to the Mother of God and Marian prayer, such as the rosary, an "epitome of the whole Gospel," express this devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Yet if one goes through the same volume of Luther's Works all the above quotes come from, Luther repeatedly denies that one should seek Mary for safety. Luther states,
“I believe in the Son, who was given into death for me.” The papists, to be sure, hear these words too; for they possess the Bible as we do. But they slumber and snore over them; they have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear. They say: “Oh, if only I had done what St. Augustine or St. Francis commanded!” The laity call upon the Virgin Mary to intercede for them with her Son. (LW 22:368)
The devil is very assiduous in trying to divert us from Christ. To invoke the Virgin Mary and the saints may make a beautiful show of holiness; but we must stay together under the Head, or we are eternally damned. What will become of those who rely on St. Barbara and St. George, or those who crawl for shelter under Mary’s cloak? To be sure, such people present a fine semblance of worship, but they transform the Son and His love into a judge. Why, then, did God grant Him to us as Mediator and High Priest? The pope has definitely endorsed the invocation of the saints, and by means of false teachers and evil temptations the devil does not cease to rob us of consolation. (LW 22:490-491)
The other quotes are geared toward perpetual virginity. It's certainly true that Luther believed in Mary's perpetual virginity, and there's no need to be embarrassed by such an historical fact. Luther never appears to waver on Mary's perpetual virginity. Note though these strong words from Luther as to the intent of perpetual virginity:
Now just take a look at the perverse lauders of the mother of God. If you ask them why they hold so strongly to the virginity of Mary, they truly could not say. These stupid idolators do nothing more than to glorify only the mother of God; they extol her for her virginity and practically make a false deity of her. But Scripture does not praise this virginity at all for the sake of the mother; neither was she saved on account of her virginity. Indeed, cursed be this and every other virginity if it exists for its own sake, and accomplishes nothing better than its own profit and praise.
The Spirit extols this virginity, however, because it was needful for the conceiving and bearing of this blessed fruit. Because of the corruption of our flesh, such blessed fruit could not come, except through a virgin. Thus this tender virginity existed in the service of others to the glory of God, not to its own glory. If it had been possible for him to have come from a [married] woman, he would not have selected a virgin for this, since virginity is contrary to the physical nature within us, was condemned of old in the law, and is extolled here solely because the flesh is tainted and its built-in physical nature cannot bestow her fruit except by means of an accursed act. Hence we see that St. Paul nowhere calls the mother of God a virgin, but only a woman, as he says in Galatians 3 [4:4], “The Son of God was born of a woman.” He did not mean to say she was not a virgin, but to extol her virginity to the highest with the praise that is proper to it, as much as to say: In this birth none but a woman was involved, no man participated; that is, everything connected with it was reserved to the woman, the conceiving, bearing, suckling, and nourishing of the child were functions no man can perform. It is therefore the child of a woman only; hence, she must certainly be a virgin. But a virgin may also be a man; a mother can be none other than a woman.
For this reason, too, Scripture does not quibble or speak about the virginity of Mary after the birth of Christ, a matter about which the hypocrites are greatly concerned, as if it were something of the utmost importance on which our whole salvation depended. Actually, we should be satisfied simply to hold that she remained a virgin after the birth of Christ because Scripture does not state or indicate that she later lost her virginity. We certainly need not be so terribly afraid that someone will demonstrate, out of his own head apart from Scripture, that she did not remain a virgin. But the Scripture stops with this, that she was a virgin before and at the birth of Christ; for up to this point God had need of her virginity in order to give us the promised blessed seed without sin. (LW 45:205-206).
In my opinion, Roman apologetic use of Luther's Mariology doesn't have the same popularity it once did. I can recall the regular occurrence on discussion boards and blog entries where a defender of Rome would present Luther's comments about Mary as proof that he was devoted to her, and then it was suggested that Protestants have either ignored, forgotten, didn't know, or covered up this revealing information.  Over the years I've sought out the context of these quotes, and it's often been the case that the contexts don't support what's being presented. Such is not the case for Luther's belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary or that he used the phrase "mother of God." however, I would argue that Luther didn't have the same thing in mind that many of Rome's defenders do.

11 comments:

Kent McDonald said...

Thank you for a revealing piece on Mary. Or rather Luther's views on Mary. A thought has occurred to me. Since Adam is referred to as the Federal head of humanity;i.e.
"the first adam" and Christ "The second adam. The first adam as head of the human family bears responsibility for original sin being passed down through the generations, although Eve sinned first and then Adam who was with her also partook. My thought was that sin is passed down through the males of the species. It is literally in our DNA. It becomes part and parcel of who we are as humans. In order for Christ to be born "sinless" he could not have a human father. Since Mary conceived via the Holy Spirit, Christ had no human father. So would it be consistent to say that mothers do not have in an of themselves the ability to pass on original sin. Since they can only become pregnant through the agency of a man, there is only one way for original sin to come to fruition in successive generations. Because Mary did not have the ability to transmit sin to her children (indeed no woman would, under this paradigm)Jesus became the spotless lamb of God, because the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary with seed untouched by The Fall. Am I being clear? And do you know if this does harm to the scripture? Have theologians already considered and rejected this idea?

Kent McDonald said...

James, No offense to Guy Fawkes, but I was really wanting my question answered by you or any reader of the Reformed persuasion.

James Swan said...

Could you help me find a quote online that I am quite sure I read in a book about 30 years ago?
At the Marburg Cooloquy where Luther and Zwingli argued about the Real Presence, before the fireworks began, both men had to prove they had an orthodox understanding of scripture by agreeing that Mary was a Perpetual Virgin despite the term "brother".
I may not have it 100% correct but I think I am close. I have googled for it but to no avail.


You appear to be referencing LW 38 (The Marburg Colloquy). Zwingli brings up Helvidius (p. 20). Luther responds on page 21. I don't see anything in this text about a beforehand agreement that "both men had to prove they had an orthodox understanding of scripture by agreeing that Mary was a Perpetual Virgin despite the term "brother".

Probably if you review LW 38, it will refresh your memory as to what you heard 30 years ago.

James Swan said...

My thought was that sin is passed down through the males of the species. It is literally in our DNA. It becomes part and parcel of who we are as humans. In order for Christ to be born "sinless" he could not have a human father. Since Mary conceived via the Holy Spirit

Luther's view is that at the conception of Christ, Mary was purified so as to not impart the sin nature. Keep in mind, Mary was conceived herself by two parents, and one of them was male, so she was infected with sin as well.

James Swan said...

One can equivocate on just what Immaculate Conception might mean due to the theory of delayed animation believed in Luther's time. As for Virginity, Mary either was or wasn't. Mother of God is also pretty black and white too.

When one takes a close look at Luther's Mariology, it was radical for his time period. Even his exposition of the Magnificat which is supposed to be just like what a Roman Catholic would believe is a polemical writing, not a devotional writing.

When Luther abandoned the intercession of the saints, his Mariology became something quite different than the regular devotion of Mary in the 16th Century.

My point is that Luther's Mary is not Rome's Mary in many regards, so one must be careful with terms.

James Swan said...

I am so glad you are debunking the idea that Luther shared my devotion to Mary.

Whenever I hear a catholic say Luther was devoted to Our Lady, I jump in to tell them that he denigrated her to having no more part to play in our salvation than the dumb and mute wood of the cross. You are right to say he did not invoke her intercession. Why would he when we consider the bulk of his errors? Devotion to the Blessed Mother would have been out of sync with his overall theology.


Glad you see the connection. Many Roman Catholics do not, particularly those with an ecumenical agenda.

I've found Luther's Mariology used in a variety of ways by Roman Catholics. Sometimes it's put forth that Luther held to a very Roman Catholic theology of Mary, and so should modern Protestants. Or: Luther was sola scriptura and yet believed aspects of Roman Catholic Mariology. Therefore, Roman Catholic Mariology can be proved from Scripture.

These two come to mind immediately, there are plenty of other reasons why Luther's Mariology is used by Roman Catholics.

James Swan said...

The Marburg / Helvidius thing is interesting, perhaps I'll put a small blog entry together.

Sorry to say, I don't know who Tim Kauffman is.

James Swan said...

OK, I put together some of the quotes from the Marburg Colloquy. The post is scheduled for 9/26. If after you read through the quotes, let me know if this is what you were remembering. If not, perhaps it was something else.

James Swan said...

As for Tim kauffman, he has written a book called Graven Bread. He believes the Doctrine of Christ's Real Presence in Eucharist to be the mark of the beast

As far as I can recall, I don't think I've ever argued against Rome with eschatology. I do recall though criticizing the Dave Hunt approach of "The Woman Rides The Beast."

I'm very selective as to which blogs I read, and I'm even more selective as to which people I ally with in presenting arguments against Rome.

James Swan said...

That's correct, I'm not a Lutheran. I have a great admiration for many of the Reformers, but this doesn't mean I agree with everything they said, held, and did (this includes Calvin and those in my tradition).

I disagree with aspects of Luther's theology, but I always strive to do so respectfully, all year. I'm more concerned that people from history are treated accurately, in their context, in their historical setting, and fairly.

James Swan said...

I'm not sure which entry you're referring to- but sometimes we forget that Luther wrote in a variety of contexts (polemical, exegetical, preaching, etc.), so depending on the intent, that colors the situation.

For Luther, Mary was a hero of the faith who experienced the miracles of Jesus and played a special role in the Gospel. To that of course, even I agree.

On the other hand, since Luther abandoned the intercession of the saints, his "mariology" is not that of the same flavor as those who belong to the Roman church. It might look and taste the same at times, but the main ingredients are different.