Martin Luther on Mary

1- Martin Luther seemed to have believed in the Immaculate conception (yes, even before it was infallibly been defined by a Pope), as he wrote:

“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin"

-Martin Luther (Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527 Luther).

2- Along with virtually all important Protestant Founders (e.g., Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer), Luther accepted the traditional belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary (Jesus had no blood brothers), and her status as the Theotokos (Mother of God) as he wrote:

“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.”

-Martin Luther (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.”

-Martin Luther (Ibid.)

“God says… “Mary’s Son is My only Son.” Thus Mary is the Mother of God.”.

-Martin Luther (Ibid.)

“God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary’s Son, and that Mary is God’s mother…She is the true mother of God and bearer of God…Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus. not two Christs. . .just as your son is not two sons…even though he has two natures, body and soul, the body from you, the soul from God alone.”

-Martin Luther (On the Councils and the Church, 1539)

“She is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin—something exceedingly great. For God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.”

-Martin Luther (Personal {“Little”} Prayer Book, 1522)

3- Perhaps he believed in the Assumption of Mary too. In his sermon of August 15, 1522, the last time he preached on the Feast of the Assumption, he stated:

“There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know. And since the Holy Spirit has told us nothing about it, we can make of it no article of faith… It is enough to know that she lives in Christ.”

-Martin Luther (Sermon, Feast of the Assumption of Mary, 1522)

4- Luther held to the idea and devotional practice of the veneration of Mary and expressed this on innumerable occasions with the most effusive language:

“The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.”

-Martin Luther (Sermon, September 1, 1522).

“[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.”

-Martin Luther (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).

“No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sarah, blessed above all nobility, wisdom, and sanctity.”

-Martin Luther (Sermon, Feast of the Visitation. 1537).

“One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace… .Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ…Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.”.

-Martin Luther (Explanation of the Magnificat, 1521)

Thanks for the quotes. I hope it helps me out someday as I try to shine the light of Truth. But I do have to say that while perhaps some Protestants give Martin Luther’s opinions some weight, my Protestant friends do not give any more weight to Martin Luther’s opinions than the opinion of their own pastor - or even just their own opinions.

I say this now only because I’ve been thinking about how us Catholics might possibly talk past our brothers in faith - thinking that they have a parallel leader to our Church.


I forgot to put the 5th point…

Luther goes even further, and gives the Blessed Virgin the exalted position of “Spiritual Mother” for Christians, much the same as in Catholic piety:

“It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother. God is his father.”

-Martin Luther (Sermon. Christmas, 1522)

Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees…If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.

  • Martin Luther (Sermon, Christmas, 1529).

Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation.

-Martin Luther (Sermon, March 11, 1523).

Our prayer should include the Mother of God… .What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!” You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor… .We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her…He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary.

-Martin Luther (Personal Prayer Book, 1522).

Its quite funny that Martin Luther’s writings could be used to defend the Catholic position.

Wow, those quotes are great! I’m sure someone here knows more about this than me, but I was surprised recently to find out that Martin Luther believed in the Real Presence also. The Eucharist was not one of his points of contention with the Church.

coming from the lutheran church, i’d be quite surprised if very many current lutherans are even aware of martin luther’s beliefs as they relate to the blessed virgin mary…:slight_smile: Here’s a Lutheran website on the topic.

While some of what the Lutheran reformers saw as abuses of devotion to the saints was addressed in the Reformation via the Lutheran confessional statements in Augsburg and Smalcald, Marian piety was largely a non-issue. Calvin and Zwingli picked that particular bone with Rome.

Things like the perpetual virginity were more or less assumed by the Evangelicals and they did not see it as injurious to the gospel message. While we never raised Marian piety to the level of proclaiming dogma (which, at that time, only theotokos and semper virgo were defined), it was never forbidden to hold them, either.

All of the orginal protestant reformers (Calvin, Luther and Zwingli) exalted Mary highly, and this was reflected in their liturgies. I suppose a point of difference would be that they wouldn’t ask Mary (or any of the other Saints) to intercede for them, as they would direct these intercessions direct to Christ, and you won’t find statues of Our Lady in Presbyterian and Reformed Chuches, though she is often depicted in stained glass. I am not sure about Lutheran churches as I have seen many beautiful oil paintings of Our Lady in Lutheran churches in Scandanavia and Germany.

Some Lutheran Churches have icons and statues of Mary. Lutherans even have a feast day in honor of Mary on August 15th. The difference is that for Lutherans the Marian beliefs are more passive. A lot was lost within Lutheranism when they came to the United States. Lutherans were viewed as being too Catholic by many of the more protestant minded Americans. Things like the sacraments as a means of grace, the real presence in the Eucharist, images, private confession etc. were viewed as Roman Catholic practices. The same mentality exists today in parts of America. So unfortunately rather than endure persecution the Lutherans did away with much of their High Church emphasis. Statues and Crucifixes were no longer seen in many Lutheran Churches. I am happy to say that today there is a new spiritual awakening within Lutheran circles and much of what was lost is resurfacing. Lutherans are beginning to further distinguish themselves from other protestants and turn back to their confessions and the 7 ecumenical councils of the Church. Some are even being ordained with Apostolic succession from Old Catholic lines.

The Nordic Catholic Church is a group of Lutherans that are under the auspices of the Polish National Catholic Church and the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church is seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church under the Anglican ordinate.

That is starting to change but it is one of the reasons I became Anglo-Catholic. I also attend Mass at the Polish National Catholic Church from time to time. There are small but growing Evangelical Catholic Churches within Lutheranism. If we had one in my area I might still be Lutheran. I did not leave because I reject any of Lutheranisms “official” beliefs.

When I talk to my Lutheran friends about asking the saints to intercede they many times quote the Lutheran confessions. What I always tell them is that it did not mean “that” when it was written. At the time of the Reformation the saints and Mary had basically overshadowed Christ and He was viewed more as a judge than a loving atonement for our sins. This is why the confessions are written they way they are. I doubt the historic Lutherans would view the current Roman Catholic doctrine as recorded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a dividing issue. The Lutheran confessions even assert that the Saints and Angels do intercede for us, though they would not invoke them directly. If there is an abuse, then there has to be something there to be abused.

This quote made its way into a cyber space when a popular Roman Catholic apologist about 10 years ago began posting it after he took it from Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar’s book, Luther Vol. IV (St Louis: B. Herder, 1913). Grisar though points out that “The sermon was taken down in notes and published with Luther’s approval. The same statements concerning the Immaculate Conception still remain in a printed edition published in 1529, but in later editions which appeared during Luther’s lifetime they disappear.” The reason for their disappearance is that as Luther’s Christocentric theology developed, aspects of Luther’s Mariology were abandoned. Grisar also recognizes the development in Luther’s theology. In regards to the Luther quote in question, Grisar says (from a Roman Catholic perspective): As Luther’s intellectual and ethical development progressed we cannot naturally expect the sublime picture of the pure Mother of God, the type of virginity, of the spirit of sacrifice and of sanctity to furnish any great attraction for him, and as a matter of fact such statements as the above are no longer met with in his later works. The most one can conclude from this Luther quote is that Luther held to some form of Mary’s sinlessness in 1527. According to Grisar, the comment was stricken from the sermon, and Luther abandoned his earlier view. I’ve detailed this quote here:

This quote indeed appears to treat Mary as entirely sinless. This statement was made in 1522. If Grisar is correct, Luther’s later view does not reflect such sentiment. Even in this early Reformation writing, Luther began changing the emphasis on Mary, and de-emphasizing the importance of her attributes:

“Take note of this: no one should put his trust or confidence in the Mother of God or in her merits, for such trust is worthy of God alone and is the lofty service due only to him. Rather praise and thank God through Mary and the grace given her. Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat.”


I’ve got this sermon in front of me at the moment. Here is the context of this quote. You tell me if it has anything to do with Mary’s Assumption. Luther says:

“Today the festival of our dear lady, the mother of God, is observed to celebrate her death and departure above. But how little this Gospel corresponds with this is plain. For this Gospel tells us nothing about Mary being in heaven. And even if one could draw from this text every detail about what it is like for a saint to be in heaven, it would be of little use.** It is enough that we know that departed saints live in God**, as Christ concludes in Matthew [Matthew 22] based on the passage in Exodus [Exodus 4] where God says to Moses, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” that God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.’”

Then if you skip down to the third paragraph Luther states:

“Now since here on earth God deals with us in this meager prison (that is barely half a life), in such a way that we barely perceive how we live here, how much more can He give life in heaven where it is spacious and where is true life. So we cannot set up any definite limits or establish a rule as to how the saints live there since even here dreaming and crazy people live, but we can’t imagine how. It is enough to know that they live. But it is not necessary for us to know what that life is like. That is why I have always said that our faith always must rest upon what is known. We do not make articles of faith out of what doesn’t rest squarely on Scriptures, else we would daily make up new articles of faith. For this reason, those things that are necessary to believe which you must always preserve, which Scripture clearly reveals, are to be markedly distinguished from everything else. For faith must not build itself upon what Scripture does not clearly prove. So since the Scripture clearly says here that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all believers live, then it is necessary for you to believe that the mother of God lives…”

Now here is the quote in context:

“You know, my friends, that deep in the heart of men is inscribed the honor with which one honors the mother of God; yes, it is even so deep that no one willingly hears anything against it, but extols her more and more. Now we grant that she should be honored since we are enjoined by the Scripture to receive one another with honor, as Paul says (Romans 12:10); so man must also honor her. Above all she must be rightly honored, but the people have “fallen” so deeply in this honor that she is more highly honored than is right and there are two harmful results of all of this: a rupture with Christ inasmuch as the hearts of men are more directed to her than to Christ himself. Christ is put behind in darkness and entirely forgotten!”

And now, off to church I go. Perhaps I’ll go through the rest later.


This quote comes 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).”

Note, the quote as cited by Cole is actually two quotes from two different pages, separated by an entire page. The question that needs to be asked is what exactly is Marian devotion? In other words, what does it mean for a Roman Catholic to be devoted to Mary, and what does it mean for Luther to be devoted to Mary?

This quote is probably taken from William Cole’s article, "Was Luther a Devotee of Mary [Marian Studies XXI, 1970, p. 132]. The quote as frequently cited in cyber space appears in this form in Cole’s article:

"Five years later, likewise preaching for the Feast of the Visitation, he marvels at Mary’s humility in the face of Elizabeth’s great praise, which he makes equivalent to ‘No woman is like you. You are more than Eve or Sara, blessed above all nobility, wisdom and sanctity’ " (July 2, 1537- WA 45, 105, 7 to 106, 1].

Max Thurian provides some further context as well as an alternate translation:

"…then on another Feast of the Visitation, July 2.1537, Luther said: ‘When the Virgin received the acclamation of Elizabeth as being the blessed Mother of God, because she had believed and because all was coming to pass as the angel had spoken, she was not filled with pride by this praise which no other woman had ever yet spoken to her—this immense praise: “No woman is like unto thee! you are more than an empress or a queen! you are more than Eve or Sarah; blessed above all nobility, wisdom or saintliness!” No, she was not filled with pride by this lofty, excellent and super-abundant praise …’ " [Weimar, 45: 105, 7 to 106, 1].

Source: Max Thurian, Mary Mother of the Lord, Figure of the Church (London: The Faith Press, 1963), p.80. Again, what does it mean for a Roman Catholic to be devoted to Mary, and what does it mean for Luther to be devoted to Mary? I submit these are two different things.

It’s not so much that Luther didn’t say what’s purported in the quote, it’s that he said what he said in multiple places, in different contexts, not in this one quote. You see, this is another quote from William Cole’s article. Cole’s Luther quote here is actually a rather “loose” compilation of a few Luther quotes, from different treatises, with an emphasis on Luther’s exposition of the Magnificat. If you count it all up, Cole provides around 20 references for 7 lines from Luther. 20 references? Something, obviously, doesn’t add up. William Cole’s documentation is somewhat free-style (for lack of a better phrase).

Luther’s exposition of the Magnificat is not representative of his lifelong Mariology. As to “coming through her to God,” Luther eventually abandoned the intercession of the saints. By 1522 things had changed. Erfurt Evangelists questioning Luther on the intercession of saints received this response from him:

“I beseech in Christ that your preachers forbear entering upon questions concerning the saints in heaven and the deceased, and I ask you to turn the attention of people away from these matters in view of the fact…that they are neither profitable nor necessary for salvation. This is also reason why God decided not to let us know anything about His dealings with the deceased. Surely he is not committing a sin who does not call upon any saint but only clings firmly to the one mediator, Jesus Christ.”

The problems that Lutherans had was rationalism and pietism, in addition to being accused by Evangelicals and Calvinist of being too Catholic. Finally Lutherans are coming out of their shell and claiming their Catholic roots. Our pastor says that change has to be done with teaching and love.

Were the teachings of the Catholic Church about Mary something Luther addressed in his initial indictments against the Church which he pinned to a Church door?

No. His 95 theses only addressed the practice of indulgences. Disagreements with Marian beliefs were only discussed within the context of the Lutheran opposition to the invocation of the saints. This is mentioned in the Augsburg Confession and the Smalcald Articles.

Iggy is right.

I would only add, sometimes it’s suggested that Luther wrote excessively on Mary or had a profound piety toward Mary very similar to contemporary Roman Catholicism. The evidence typically put forth is Luther’s alleged “Marian sermons.” When one actually reads Luther’s Marian sermons, one finds that Mary is usually not the main subject, Christ is. Hence, Luther generally emphasized Mary far less than Roman Catholics do (both then and now).

It would be extreme to say that Luther didn’t have a “Mariology.” Luther did indeed have a Mariology. It reflected his commitment to Christ, and stood in antithesis to popular Catholic belief in the sixteenth century. One must be very careful to avoid anachronism when reading his writings. That is, before you claim he supports “your view”- you need to understand what he’s saying in his historical context. Even in Luther’s most extensive writing on Mary (his exposition of the Magnificat), some Roman Catholic historians have pointed out there is something just not quite* Roman Catholic* about it and shouldn’t be cited as proof of Marian piety.

James Swan

Is their any evidence he did not believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary? That is one concrete example. I came to faith in an Evangelical type Christianity and it was taken for granted that Jesus had siblings, whereas it was not a teaching in Catholic or Orthodox Churches, which covers about 1500 years of the Church. What is your view of this teaching as a Reformed Christian?

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