For years Rome's apologists have tried to use aspects of the Reformation in support of their version of Mary. The basic argument is that the Reformers held to sola scriptura and yet had a Roman Catholic Mariology. Luther and Calvin believed this or that about Mary, so... why don't contemporary "Bible only" Protestants?
Some of their argumentation is downright silly. Staples rightly identifies one of the worst:
Luther Was Not Buried Beneath An Image of Our Lady
As I point out in my book, Martin Luther did retain much of his Catholic Mariology after having left the Church. But there are also not a few myths about what Luther did and taught floating about in Catholic circles. If you haven't heard this one yet, you will. It has been written about and spoken about by quite a few Catholics, and I have personally heard some very well-known apologists state it as true as well. The myth claims there to be a relief of the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary with an accompanying inscription by Peter Vischer the Younger over the tomb of Martin Luther in the Wittenberg "Schlosskirche" ("Palace Church") where he is buried. "See?" The argument goes. "Luther believed in Mary assumed into heaven and crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth!" Unfortunately, it is actually a memorial plaque for Henning Gode, the last Catholic Prior of that church, who died in 1521. Same building, but not connected to Luther. Luther did believe in Mary as Mother of God, Perpetual Virgin, and even, at least at times in his writings, free from all sin, though he goes both ways on this one, but there is nary at hint of Mary's assumption.
I first came across the burial vault argument in 2007 while listening to a podcast from Mark Shea. Shea stated:
For Luther the Assumption was a settled fact...indeed Luther's burial vault in the Wittenburg church on whose door he had posted his ninety five theses was adorned with the 1521 Peter Vischer's sculpture of the Coronation of the Virgin.This led me to a statement by Peter Stravinskas:
Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the realization that his burial chamber in the Wittenberg church, on whose door he had posted his 95 Theses, was adorned with the 1521 Peter Vischer sculpture of the Coronation of the Virgin, with the inscription containing these lines: Ad summum Regina thronum defertur in altum: Angelicis praelatia choris, cui festus et ipse Filius occurrens Matrem super aethera ponit. This "archaeological" fact would seem to speak volumes about Luther's final thoughts on the place of Mary in the life of a Christian.Staples is correct about the tomb inscription and that Rome's defenders have used it to say, "Luther believed in Mary assumed into heaven and crowned as Queen of Heaven and Earth!" Staples is also correct that in Luther's Reformation writings "there is nary at [sic] hint" he believed Mary was assumed into heaven.
Staples then moves to a mistake about John Calvin:
Calvin Did NOT Believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary
This second myth is even more widespread. I have found it not only taught and published by many Catholics, but I even found one popular Calvinist apologist who has it up on his website as being true. And that is, John Calvin actually taught the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. He did not. The error seems to have stemmed from misunderstanding some few comments from John Calvin’s 3-volume set, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Transl. by Rev. William Pringle (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009). In his commentaries on Matt. 13:55 and Matt. 1:25, in volume 1, he takes Helvidius to task for assuming Mary had other children because of the mention of the “brothers of the Lord,” in Matthew 13:55, and for assuming “Joseph knew her not until…” meant that Joseph then was being said to have known Mary conjugally after Christ was born. Calvin correctly and sternly (in good Calvin fashion) teaches the "brothers" of the Lord may well be a Hebrew idiom representing "cousins" or some other extended relative. And he also points out that the "until" of Matt. 1:25 really says nothing about what happened after Mary gave birth. It was used there to emphasize the virginity of Mary up "until" that point. Don't get me wrong here. This is good stuff from John Calvin. He honestly exegetes these texts and corrects not only Helvidius, but, no doubt, some of his own confreres who were presuming what was not in these texts. That's a good thing! But unfortunately, many Catholics have taken these two sections of Calvin's commentary out of context and claim it to mean he agreed with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. But in fact, he never says that. He simply concludes these Scriptures to be silent on the matter. They prove neither yeah nor nay when it comes to Mary's perpetual virginity. What my Catholic friends should have done (and I include myself here before I found this while researching for my book... ssssssshhhhhhh!) is to read further in Calvin's commentary and head over to Luke 1:34, in volume 2 of this same work, where he expressly denies Mary’s perpetual virginity.Luke 1:34 is the famous text where Mary, having heard God's invitation for her to become the Mother of God through the message of the Archangel Gabriel, asks the obvious question: "How shall this be since I know not man?" In other words, "How is this going to happen since I do not plan on having conjugal relations?" For more details on this and more, get my book! Calvin's commentary on this text reads: “The conjecture which some have drawn from these words, that she had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage…” Notice here, he not only denies this text could be used to prove the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, but he denies the doctrine itself as a possible consideration.
This is another issue that's been on this blog for many years now. One of my earliest blog entries addressing this goes back to 2006, and it's come up a number of times since then. I would say that Staples is probably the first of Rome's popular defenders to arrive at the conclusion he has about Calvin on this issue. I look forward to utilizing Staples here the next time one of Rome's apologists bring this up.
Kudos to Mr. Staples, especially with his position on Calvin. I've accused Rome's defenders for years of sloppy and inaccurate historical work on the Protestant Reformation, especially the Reformers' Mariology. At times it's been like shooting fish in a barrel. I have not purchased the book Staples reveals all this information in. I would speculate there's a good chance he probably came across this blog while doing his research. I know even if he did utilize my blog for his book, he would probably not admit it. It is possible as well Mr. Staples has no idea who I am and figured this stuff out the same way I did: by looking at evidence and reading documents in context.
Ah well. It's enough for me that one of Rome's popular defenders is now saying some of the same things I've been saying for years.
ht: "guy fawkes" for his blog comment alerting me to the blog entry from Mr. Staples.
I attempted to purchase the e-book version of Staples' new book on Mary, but as of 10/12/14 it was not yet available. Because (as Staples explains below) his comments about the Reformers are footnotes rather than actual lengthier treatments, I can't see the value in spending more than twice the amount for the actual book.
A comment was left for Mr. Staples giving (among other things) a Calvin citation from a secondary source (that is, no original or complete context) documenting a sermon from Calvin (a citation from Calvin in English which was translated from the French, originally from shorthand notes), taken from a French journal, not the original sermon (that is- the secondary source utilized a Calvin quote from a journal).
Mr. Staples then responded and gave some further information about his position on John Calvin and Mary's perpetual virginity:
I did not go into this kind of detail in the book because it was a peripheral point and limited to a footnote. I was speaking of how a lack of understanding of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary can lead to the loss of an understanding of many crucial teachings, like the indissolubility of marriage, sacraments, consecrated celibacy, the biblical notion of consecration in general, and more. In passing I note how the loss of an understanding of these things can lead to a loss of understanding of Mary's Perpetual Virginity or vice versa. That is when I toss out the idea that Luther's followers could be examples of the former while Calvin's followers the latter. I then footnote the fact that I believe Calvin rejected the Perpetual Virginity of Mary in his commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke and that I think many of us have taken this work out of context over the years. I don't comment on his earlier sermon at all. Again, maybe I should have, but it was a footnote. At any rate, here's my take on what you say. I think Calvin, like Luther on the Immaculate Conception, seemed to waffle on this teaching. Calvin was much more systematic than Luther, but he evolved (or devolved) in his teaching at times as well. But the use of his commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, specific to his comments on Matt. 13:55 and especially Matt. 1:25 is misguided, in my opinion. When you consider that Calvin explicitly takes a position in between Helvidius and Jerome in his commentary on Matt. 1:25 and he says as much, he says the text does not conclude either way, and then he footnotes his own work in Matt. 1:25 when he comments on Matt. 13:55 that the "brothers of the Lord" could be a Hebrew idiom for some other extended relation, that seems to me to be more agnostic than declaratory of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. I don't think the references to "the Virgin Mary" would carry the day either. I know I referred to Mary as "the Virgin Mary" when I was Protestant, but that did not mean I believed she was a perpetual virgin. While it is true that the "title" "Virgin Mary" did carry with it a connotation of a permanent state in the first 16 centuries of the Christians era, so it is an interesting point, I think it more important to go to Calvin's writings on the topic to get at what he really believed. To the point: I would give more weight to his Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, than to the earlier sermon. A major commentary on Scripture that probably took years to write seems to me to be more telling than a sermon that is written in a few days. Moreover, the translation of Calvin's commentary (by Pringle) I used is a collation of both the original Latin 1555 edition and the 1563 French translation that Calvin himself translated from his original Latin text just about a year before he died. So this would come after his 1562 sermon. To give you more of the citation, I'll pick up near the end of my citation and continue: "... and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God. Although the Papists have exercised barbarous tyranny on this subject, yet they have never proceeded so far as to allow the wife to form a vow of continence at her own pleasure. Besides, it is an idle and unfounded supposition that a monastic life existed among the Jews." Thus, he rejects the notion that Mary could have had a vow of perpetual virginity at the annunciation to be sure. He then goes on to reject that Mary could be referring to the future and never having intercourse with a man either: "We must reply, however, to another objection that the virgin refers to the future, and so declares that she will have no intercourse with a man. The probable and simple explanation is that the greatness or rather majesty of the subject made so powerful an impression on the virgin, that all her senses were bound and locked up in astonishment, when she is informed that the Son of God will be born, she imagines something unusual, and for that reason leaves conjugal intercourse out of view. Hence she breaks out in amazement, 'How shall this be?'" What jumped out at me reading this was this: He is responding to an "objection." An objection to what? To his teaching that the very idea of a virgin giving herself to a husband while planning to be a perpetual virgin would be tantamount to committing "treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and... pour[ing] contempt on the holy covenant of marriage." Those are very strong words that would, in my view, lend themselves to Calvin having second and third thoughts about the perpetual virginity of Mary at the very least. If he wanted to clarify things, it would seem to me Matt. 1:25 would be the place to do it because that is where "Joseph takes Mary his wife," but there he is clearly agnostic on the matter. Again, I don't go this deep into Calvin's mind in the book, but I would think, at the very least, one should say Calvin may have held to the view and then waffled on it, rather than just claiming he held to the dogma as did Luther, Zwingli, and even Wesley. Whenever I cite Luther on the sinlessness of Mary, I also note that this was early in his career and he seemed to move away from it later. That seems to me to be the honest thing to do. I would hope folks would have this same courtesy toward me if they come upon things I taught early on that I have come to see I was mistaken on. Or, at least, I would hope folks would inform their audience of my change in thinking. That's my two cents worth. Though you may think it worth less than that!