The “Reformers” accepted every major Marian doctrine and considered these doctrines to be both scriptural and fundamental to the historic Christian Faith.
Mary the Mother of God
Throughout his life Luther maintained without change the historic Christian affirmation that Mary was the Mother of God:
“She is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God … It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God.”
Again throughout his life Luther held that Mary’s perpetual virginity was an article of faith for all Christians - and interpreted Galatians 4:4 to mean that Christ was “born of a woman” alone.
“It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a Virgin.”
The Immaculate Conception
Yet again the Immaculate Conception was a doctrine Luther defended to his death, confirmed by Lutheran scholars like Arthur Piepkorn. Like Augustine, Luther saw an unbreakable link between Mary’s divine maternity, perpetual virginity and Immaculate Conception. Although his formulation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not clear-cut, he held that her soul was devoid of sin from the beginning:
“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin.”
Although he did not make it an article of faith, Luther said of the doctrine of the Assumption:
“There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know.”
Despite his criticism of the traditional doctrines of Marian mediation and intercession, to the end Luther continued to proclaim that Mary should be honored. He made it a point to preach on her feast days.
“The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.”
“Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the holy Mother of God rather not to be honoured? This is the woman who crushed the Serpent’s head. Hear us. For your Son denies you nothing.” Luther made this statement in his last sermon at Wittenberg in January 1546.
John Calvin: It has been said, belonged to the second generation of the Reformers and certainly his theology of double predestination governed his views on Marian and all other Christian doctrine . Although Calvin was not as profuse in his praise of Mary as Martin Luther he did not deny her perpetual virginity. The term he used most commonly in referring to Mary was “Holy Virgin”.
“Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God.”
“Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ.” Calvin translated “brothers” in this context to mean cousins or relatives.
“It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.”
“To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son.”
“It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God.”
“I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” Zwingli used Exodus 4:22 to defend the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.
“I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary.”
“Christ was born of a most undefiled Virgin.”
“It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother.”
“The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow.”
We might wonder why the Marian affirmations of the Reformers did not survive in the teaching of their heirs particularly the Fundamentalists. This break with the past did not come through any new discovery or revelation. The Reformers themselves took a benign even positive view of Marian doctrine - although they did reject Marian mediation because of their rejection of all human mediation. Moreover, while there were some excesses in popular Marian piety, Marian doctrine as taught in the pre-Reformation era drew its inspiration from the witness of Scripture and was rooted in Christology. The real reason for the break with the past must be attributed to the iconoclastic passion of the followers of the Reformation and the consequences of some Reformation principles. Even more influential in the break with Mary was the influence of the Enlightenment Era which essentially questioned or denied the mysteries of faith.
Unfortunately the Marian teachings and preachings of the Reformers have been “covered up” by their zealous followers with damaging theological and practical consequences. This “cover-up” can be detected even in Chosen by God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective, an Evangelical critique of Mariology. One of the contributors admits that “Most remarkable to modern Protestants is the Reformers’ almost universal acceptance of Mary’s continuing virginity, and their widespread reluctance to declare Mary a sinner”. He then asks if it is “a favourable providence” that kept these Marian teachings of the Reformers from being “transmitted to the Protestant churches”
What is interpreted as “Providence” by a Marian critic may legitimately be interpreted as a force of a very different kind by a Christian who has recognized the role of Mary in God’s plan.