Saturday, September 22, 2007

Luther: The Assumption Was a Settled Fact? (Part 2)

I have some further remarks on Luther and the Roman Catholic dogma of the Assumption. Let's take a closer look. Catholic apologist Peter Stravinskas states, "As far as the assumption goes, he 'did not pronounce clearly on this subject, but was content simply to affirm it.' "

First, note Stravinskas provides no references to any primary material from Luther writings. Rather, Stravinskas is citing the opinion of someone else, William J. Cole ["Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?" (Marian Studies), (1970), 123]. The odd thing about the Cole citation, is that Cole is also actually citing someone else's opinion! See for yourself:

"For Luther the Assumption seems not to be so much a matter of doubt as of little importance and this is perhaps the reason, as Max Thurian affirms, that Luther did not pronounce clearly on the subject, but was content simply to affirm it."

So I went and took at look at what Max Thurian said. Thurian's comment is as follows:

"On the issue of the Assumption Luther does not speak precisely but is content to assert on August 15th, 1522: 'From this gospel one cannot draw any conclusion about the fashion in which Mary is in heaven- it is not necessary any more to know the fate of the saints in heaven. It is enough to know that they dwell in Christ as God says in Matt. 22: 32: "God is not a God of the dead but of the living' making reference to the text of Exodus 3. 6: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob"' (ibid., 55)." (Thurian, Mary Mother of the Lord, Figure of the Church, p.197)

First, note Thurian never says Luther "simply affirmed" the Assumption. He says Luther made an assertion in 1522. So, shame on Stravinskas for not looking up the basis of Cole's opinion. Then, shame on William Cole, for reading into the Thurian quote the idea that Luther simply affirmed the Assumption. We can conclude therefore, that the basis for which this idea of Luther simply affirming the Assumption is based on a mis-reading of Thurian. Thurian states Luther did not speak precisely.

In regard to the Luther quote Thurian provided, there simply isn't enough of a context to know exactly what Luther was talking about. In 1522, early in the Reformation, it would not be so outrageous to find Luther making a statement like this that would allow for some version of the Assumption (as Thurian says elsewhere, the Assumption was"...accepted by certain Reformers, not of course in [its] present form but certainly in the form that was current in their day."). It is interesting to note that Thurian's research and this quote comes from yet another secondary source, Walter Tappolet’s Das Marienlob der Reformatoren. So, what we have here is an opinion on Luther's view in which no one except Tappolet has actually read the primary source. Thurian provides sparse comments on Luther’s Mariology. It is hardly a thorough treatment.

Now, let's take off our Assumption Dogma glasses for a moment with that Luther quote from 1522. Toward the end of his life, Luther delivered a series of lectures on the book of Genesis. Note the following quote:

"This is what Moses wanted to indicate when he speaks of 'the lives of Sarah.' It is as though he were saying: 'Sarah, in conformity with differences in places and people, often adopted a different attitude and different ways. When she came to a place where she thought she would live pleasantly and quietly, she was compelled to move and to change her plans and feelings as she did so.' For this reason that saintly woman had many lives. More attention should have been given to these things, although it is easy for me to believe that in her hundredth year she was just as beautiful as she was in her twentieth.

Then one should much rather consider how Abraham delivered a beautiful funeral address about Sarah. For in the Holy Scriptures no other matron is so distinguished. Her years, lives, conduct, and burial place are described. In the eyes of God, therefore, Sarah was an extraordinary jewel on whom extraordinary love was bestowed, and she is mentioned deservedly by Peter as an exemplar for all saintly wives. He says (1 Peter 3:6) that she called Abraham lord and that “you are her daughters.” To all Christian matrons Peter holds her up as a mother.

Scripture has no comments even on the death of other matriarchs, just as it makes no mention of how many years Eve lived and of where she died. Of Rachel it is recorded that she died in childbirth (Gen. 35:16–19). All the other women it passes over and covers with silence, with the result that we have no knowledge of the death of Mary, the mother of Christ. Sarah alone has this glory, that the definite number of her years, the time of her death, and the place of her burial are described. Therefore this is great praise and very sure proof that she was precious in the eyes of God.

But these facts do not concern Sarah, who is already dead, as much as they concern us, who are still alive. For it is a very great comfort to hear that the departure and death of that most saintly matriarch and of all the fathers, in comparison with whom we are nothing, differs in no wise from our own death but was just as odious and ignominious as our own is. Their bodies were buried, consumed by worms, and hidden in the earth on account of their stench, not otherwise than if they had not been the corpses of saints; yet they were most saintly people, and, although departed, they are actually alive in Christ.

Accordingly, these things are written for our sakes, in order that we may know that the most saintly fathers and mothers underwent the same experiences we are wont to undergo. Nevertheless, it is certain about them that in the eyes of God they live; and I believe that they — namely, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Adam, etc. — rose with Christ.

Note above how Luther treats Mary. He doesn't speak of some cryptic way in which Mary disappeared off the earth. No, she's placed in a list with others whose deaths are not recorded in Scripture, and are passed over in silence. Are we to assume, based on Luther's words, that all the women were Assumed into Heaven? For those wanting to affirm the Assumption, no lack of information will stop them from finding the Assumption, I'm sure.

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