Lutheran Marian Theology
Luther’s Marian theology is derived from his views of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was developed out of the deep Christian Marian devotion on which he was reared, and it was subsequently clarified as part of his mature Christocentric theology and piety. Lutherans hold Mary in high esteem. Martin Luther dogmatically asserted what he considered firmly established biblical doctrines like the divine motherhood of Mary while adhering to pious opinions of the Immaculate Conception and the perpetual virginity of Mary along with the caveat that all doctrine and piety should exalt and not diminish the person and work of Jesus Christ. By the end of Luther’s theological development, his emphasis was always placed on Mary as merely a receiver of God’s love and favor. His opposition to regarding Mary as a mediatrix of intercession or redemption was part of his greater and more extensive opposition to the belief that the merits of the saints could be added to those of Jesus Christ to save humanity.
The centerpiece of Luther’s Marian views was his 1521 Commentary on the Magnificat in which he extolled the magnitude of God’s grace toward Mary and her own legacy of Christian instruction and example demonstrated in her canticle of praise.
Mother of God
Luther believed that the person Jesus is God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, who was incarnated in the womb of his mother Mary as a human being, and since, as a person, he was “born of the Virgin Mary”.He believed that Mary is the Theotokos the God-bearer. Martin Luther said:
[S]he became the Mother of God, in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass man’s understanding. For on this there follows all honor, all blessedness, and her unique place in the whole of mankind, among which she has no equal, namely, that she had a child by the Father in heaven, and such a Child…. Hence men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God…. None can say of her nor announce to her greater things, even though he had as many tongues as the earth possesses flowers and blades of grass: the sky, stars; and the sea, grains of sand. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.”
This belief was officially confessed by Lutherans in their Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, article VIII.24:
On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed virgin, did not conceive a mere, ordinary human being, but a human being who is truly the Son of the most high God, as the angel testifies. He demonstrated his divine majesty even in his mother’s womb in that he was born of a virgin without violating her virginity. Therefore she is truly the mother of God and yet remained a virgin.
In 1544 Luther said: ‘God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, for she has conceived and borne the Lord Jesus.’ Elsewhere, “All seed except Mary was vitiated [by original sin].” When concentrating specifically on Mary herself as the Mother of God, Luther acknowledges God’s singular action in bringing her into the world, but in making general comments about the universality of human sinfulness, he includes her among all the rest of humanity.
Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are. For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person.”
Queen of Heaven
In his earlier years, Luther referred to Mary as the “Queen of Heaven”, but he warned against people using the term too much.  Luther later rejected this title due to its lack of scriptural evidence and the fact that he felt that Mary’s accomplishments should be ultimately attributed to Christ. 
Before 1516, Luther’s belief that Mary is a mediatrix between God and humanity was driven by his fear of Jesus being the implacable judge of all people. “The Virgin Mary remains in the middle between Christ and humankind. For in the very moment he was conceived and lived, he was full of grace. All other human beings are without grace, both in the first and second conception. But the Virgin Mary, though without grace in the first conception, was full of grace in the second … whereas other human beings are conceived in sin, in soul as well as in body, and Christ was conceived without sin in soul as well as in body, the Virgin Mary was conceived in body without grace but in soul full of grace.”
Luther later rejected the stance of Mary as a mediator between Christ and Humanity. Luther claimed that though Mary possessed many virtues she could not intercede for sinners. He claimed that the evidence for Mary’s powers as a mediatrix was a result of improper translation of the Annunciation. Instead, Luther believed that Mary’s lack of power to intercede is seen in her praising God and his blessings, not in taking credit for herself.
Luther composed a number of venerational poems, which focus on Mary’s virginity. He also translated old devotional Latin hymns on Mary into German. They express in various ways the incarnation of God through a virgin:
The virgin body was pregnant, but she remained pure
Here comes the saviour of the gentiles
Divine grace from heaven came over the virgin and others.
The Lutheran views on the veneration of Mary were interpreted differently by different theologians over time. Key is his interpretation of the Magnificat of Mary, which to some is a relic of the Catholic past, but to others a clear indication that he maintained a Marian piety. Luther states in his Magnificat that one should pray to Mary, so God would give and do, through her will, what we ask. But, he adds, it is God’s work alone. Some interpret his Magnificat as a personal supplication to Mary, but not as a prayerful request for mediation. An important indicator of Luther’s views on the veneration of Mary are not only his writings but also approved practices of Lutherans during his lifetime. The singing of the Magnificat in Latin was maintained in many German Lutheran communities. The Church Order (Kirchenordnung) of Brandenburg, Bugenhagen Braunschweig and other cities and districts decreed by the royal heads of the Lutheran Church maintained three Marian feast days to be observed as public holidays. It is known that Martin Luther approved of this. He also approved of keeping Marian paintings and statues in the Churches. He also advocated the use of the pre-Trent version of the Hail Mary (that is, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”) as a sign of reverence for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Comparison to Roman Catholic views
Luther came to criticize Roman Catholics for blurring the distinction between high admiration of the grace of God wherever it is manifested in human beings and religious service offered to them and other mere creatures. In some instances he considered the Roman Catholic practice of making intercessory requests addressed especially to Mary and other departed saints to be idolatry.
- “Furthermore, how will you endure [the Romanists’] terrible idolatries? It was not enough that they venerated the saints and praised God in them, but they actually made them into gods. They put that noble child, the mother Mary, right into the place of Christ. They fashioned Christ into a judge and thus devised a tyrant for anguished consciences, so that all comfort and confidence was transferred from Christ to Mary, and then everyone turned from Christ to his particular saint. Can anyone deny this? Is it not true?”
This distinction separates Lutheran views from Roman Catholic Mariology. It is also significant in the context of Roman Catholic claims that modern Protestants deserted Luther’s Mariology. Roman Catholics and Protestants may have held some similar views on Mary in the 16th century, but for Luther it was a “passive” Mariology, while for Roman Catholics it was “active” in suggesting devout veneration (“hyperdulia“) and constant prayers for intercession. Questions have been raised as to whether the Marian views of Martin Luther could bring separated Christians closer together. There seems to be scepticism on both sides. The eighth “Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue” addressed these issues.
Throughout Luther’s life, he called Mary by the title Theotokos, Mother of God,. Martin Luther as well as Martin Chemnitz, “the other Martin” of early Lutheranism, are said to have prayed the pre-Trent Hail Mary, and very likely other suddenly-ex-Catholic Lutheran priests who were contemporaries of the two Martins likewise did. Modern Lutheran Synods usually reject or at least do not actively recommend the practice of directly addressing Mary and other saints in prayers of admiration or petition as part of their religious worship of God.
- Gritsch (1992), pp. 235-248, 379-384; cf. p. 235f.
- Gritsch (1992), pp. 236-237
- Gritsch (1992), p. 238
- Grisar (1915), vol. 4, pp. 502–503
- Bäumer (1994), p. 190
- Bäumer (1994), p. 191
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, The American Edition, Jaroslav J. Pelikan & Helmut Lehmann, eds., 55 vols., (St. Louis & Philadelphia: CPH & Fortress Press, 1955-1986), 295-358; cf. Anderson, Stafford & Burgess (1992), pp. 236–237
- Cf. the Apostles’ Creed.
- Luther’s Works, 21:326, cf. 21:346.
- Tappert (1959), p. 595
- Luther’s Works, 22:214-215
- Grisar (1915), p. 210
- Pieper (1950), pp. 308–309
- LCMS FAQ – New Testament
- Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 61 vols., (Weimar: Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nochfolger, 1883-1983), 52:39 [hereinafter: WA]
- WA, 39, II:107.
- Luther (1996), p. 291
- Luther’s Works 7:573
- Kreitzer “Luther Regarding the Virgin Mary”
- Brecht (1985), pp. 76–77
- Anderson, Stafford & Burgess (1992), p. 238
- Kreitzer,”Luther Regarding the Virgin Mary”
- Luther’s Works, 10 II, 407–409
- Augsburg Confession XXI 2
- Luther’s Works, 47:45; cf. also Anderson, Stafford & Burgess (1992), p. 29
- Düfel (1968)
- Luther’s Works, 21:346
- Wright (1989)
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