Sunday, January 25, 2015

Luther: Mary... [She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified

This is an update on a Luther quote I wrote about back in 2007: Luther: Mary... [She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. I'm revisiting it because I found the quote being referenced here, and I noticed I hadn't tracked down the context. The quote is used as proof "Luther praised and venerated Mary with the following words,"

[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures. (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).

Back in 2007, I speculated that the quote entered into cyberspace via its use by Roman Catholic apologists. The quote appears to have been taken from William Cole’s article “Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?” (Marian Studies Volume XXI, 1970, p.131). Cole states:
In a Christmas sermon of 1531, Luther speaks of Mary as the "highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ." He goes on to claim that "she is nobility, wisdom and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures” (WA 34, 2, 497 and 499).
The quote as cited by Cole is actually two quotes from two different pages, separated by an entire page (Yes, that's Rome's apologists at their best). Some years later I revised the entry to include links to the primary sources cited by William Cole WA 34, 2, 497WA 34, 2, 499. The irony is that I had an English translation of the context all along and didn't realize it. First, the sermon is actually in vigilia nativitatis christi not In festo natalis domini.  Second, WA 34 2 is a volume dedicated to Luther's 1531 sermons, but this sermon in particular says "conciones viri dei lutheri anni 1532." Is this is a typo in WA? When the English edition  of the House Postils was put together, they cited this sermon as "Preached Christmas Eve, 1532, at the parish church." Because of the date variants between the way Rome's apologists cite the text as compared to WA 34 2, I never put these clues together. The sermon can be found in The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), p. 209-220. The sermon is entitled, "Festival of Christ's Nativity" (first sermon) and it's based on Isaiah 9:1-7. An edited online version can be found here.

Typical of Luther, the majority of the sermon isn't about Mary. Rather, the first sections are about the blessed mystery of the humanity of Jesus. Luther goes on for the first 16 points and barely mentions Mary. In point 16 he states,
16. 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.

Section 17 then follows up:
17. 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 Savior and the Savior 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! It is about this that this beautiful festival preaches and sings: "To you this night is born a child Of Mary, chosen virgin mild; This little child, of lowly birth, Shall be the joy of all the earth. This is the Christ, our God and Lord, Who in all need shall aid afford; He will himself your Savor be From all your sins to set you free."
As mentioned above, the rest of the quote occurs further into the text.
24. Under the papacy only the mother has been praised and extolled. True it is, she is worthy of praise and can never be praised and extolled enough. For this honor is so great and wonderful, to be chosen before all women on earth to become the mother of this child. Nevertheless, We should not praise and extol the mother in such a way as to allow this child who has been born unto us to be removed from before our eyes and hearts and to think less highly of him than of the mother. If one praises the mother, the praise ought to be like the wide ocean. If either one is to be forgotten, it is better to forget the mother rather than the child. Under the papacy, however, the child has all but been forgotten, and attention riveted only on the mother. But the mother has not been born for our sakes; she does not save us from sin and death. She has, indeed, begotten the Savior! for this reason we are to wean ourselves away from the mother and bind ourselves firmly to this child alone!

One will notice there are some differences between this English translation and that from Cole. Particularly notice Cole says, "She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified." I don't see the "wisdom and holiness personified" in the text. Nor do I see "injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures." Perhaps someone with better Latin / German skills can look over WA 34 2 and compare the translations. It's quite possible that there are two versions of this sermon: most of Luther's sermons are the result of those who listened to him and wrote down what they heard. It wouldn't be uncommon for there to be more than one version of the sermon. It could very well be the English translation I've utilized was based on a different set of sermon notes: that put together by Georg Roerer (see p. 14-15 in the preface in vol. 5 of Luther's Complete Sermons). The sermon I've cited above is based on the St. Louis edition volume 13b. In the St. Louis edition, the first part of the quote is found here, the second part, here, in German. In WA 34 2, the text is a mixture of German and Latin.

Once again, there's no denying Luther said nice things about Mary. Luther though abandoned the distinction between latria and dulia. If you search out all the times Luther used the word “veneration,” you will find an entirely negative meaning applied to the term. The question that needs to be asked is what exactly is Marian devotion and veneration? What does it mean for a Roman Catholic to be devoted to or venerate Mary, and what does it mean for Luther to be devoted to or venerate Mary? If you look closely at point 24 above, Luther chastised the papacy for its treatment of Mary. So, challenge the Roman apologists to define their terms. They need to be able to tell you what Marian devotion is. They cannot be allowed to equivocate: Luther saying nice things about Mary does not equal Rome's version of devotion.  I do not deny that Luther spoke favorably about Mary, but when Catholics say "honor" or “devotion,” they mean something quite different than Luther.


zipper778 said...

Excellent post James!

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said: "What does it mean for a Roman Catholic to be devoted to or venerate Mary, and what does it mean for Luther to be devoted to or venerate Mary?" When Roman Catholics (not all) appeal to Luther for support of their interpretation of Mary, it is clear that once you dig into Luther's theology that he did not support Rome's interpretation of her. It is dishonest to present him to anyone as if he did.

It appears to me that Luther didn't wish to dishonor Mary by completely shunning her, but he also didn't want to give away the glory that belongs to Christ alone.

Kent McDonald said...

Thank you James, for shedding light once again on the thorny topic of Mariology. I have more than once seen Mary extolled far above her proper place in humanity. There is one mediator between God and man, the Lord, Christ Jesus. We must never forget it, or diminish His Glory one iota.

James Swan said...

Kent & Zipper:

Thank you. It always amazes me as to how sloppy Rome's defenders are when it comes to citing and interpreting Luther.

zipper778 said...

James said:

"Thank you. It always amazes me as to how sloppy Rome's defenders are when it comes to citing and interpreting Luther."

Absolutely. Not only is it amazing how sloppy they can be in regards to Luther, but then they turn around and tell you that you're the sloppy one for digging up the original quote and demonstrating what Luther actually said. It would be an interesting conversation with Roman Catholics if they presented real arguments instead of copying what another misinformed Roman Catholic says.

How dare you disagree with Roman Catholic's interpretation on everything including Luther James, lol.

Kent McDonald said...

I am not going to debate the RC doctrines on Mary. Perpetual virginity, bodily assumption, ability to hear you pray,etc.

We are directed by scripture to pray to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Period. There is no scriptural reason to believe Jesus can be moved to act on my behalf because His earthly Mother aske Him to. My prayers as a believer are enough. His love for me is not dependent upon His mother "vouching" for me, so to speak. I will enjoy meeting Mary in eternity, but I will speak to her THEN not now. Thank you for you interest in the working out of my salvation, but God is sufficient help.
In Christ alone,

zipper778 said...

Kent, there's no point addressing Mr. Guy. He's not interested in talking or debating, he is interested in vandelising James' blog because he has a personal problem with people who dispute the claims of Rome. In fact I guarentee that because you posted here, Guy will post at least two more comments.

I do appreciate what you are saying though Kent. We have Jesus Christ, we do not need any other advocate.

Discipled by Him said...

Zipper, very accurate assessment on "guy". I would put the over under at 4, for how many inane and irrelevant comments he makes. He is definitely in the process of moving out of the "Most irrational and unable to dialogue with RC apologist on the internet" to "Most easily ignored RC apologist on the internet.

zipper778 said...

That didn't take long for my prediction to be proven true and exceded.

JimBrooks1776 said...

I see no indication that "Guy" ever sleeps, therefore I must conclude that "Guy" is in fact a trollbot.

Discipled by Him said...

This "guy" may just be the most ludacrously delusional RC Apologist that has ever trolled the internet. Over on Tim Kaufmann's blog, he is whootin and hollerin about how he kicked everyone's teeth in over here and now noone can even speak to him BWahahahahahaha, you can't make this stuff up. He is pretty well ignored over there since he never offers up any worthy arguments or dialogue either. Its pretty much the same over on Green baggins, and Triablogue as well. Guy, my recommendation to you is another name change. Guy Fawkes comments are now at an over/under of 7. I'll take the over, zipper please send me a DunkinDonut coffee you lost in the previous wager. I'm gonna go pop some popcorn.

zipper778 said...

Discipled by Him, even though your comment is really funny, it is disappointing to see people like guy fawkes. To know that people in this world are as dilusional as he is (and many more who are worse) just shows exactly what we are up against. He offers little to no substance and expects us to go along with his nonsense. On this board, guy wants vengence and reminds me of an internet version of a jihadist. I know that all I do is check to see who comments, and if it's guy I ignore it. I'll read from other Roman Catholics, even people as ridiculous as Lloyd, but guy has nothing to offer us on this board. It's truly sad.

Discipled by Him, maybe it is time to buy you a coffee because you were right. It looks like guy has posted over half a dozen comments after Kent's. He should start his own blog if he wants to be heard so badly. Otherwise, he's bringing more attention to James blog then there has been in quite awhile.