Martin Luther on the Mother of God

By Dr. Alexander Roman

A Lutheran acquaintance recently pointed out to me the great veneration that Martin Luther had for the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout his life. Luther believed that the Theotokos remained a Virgin always: "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." (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4, 1537-39).

Luther also called Mary the "Mother of God": "God says . . .'Mary's Son is My only Son.' Thus Mary is the Mother of God. (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. (On the Councils and the Church, 1539).

Martin Luther also had this to say about the veneration of the Theotokos: "The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (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 honour her enough." (Sermon, Christmas, 1531).

And what, according to Luther, is the relation of the Theotokos to us? "It is the consolation and superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his Mother, Christ is his Brother, God is his Father. (Sermon, Christmas, 1522).

"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 honour. 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 . . .(Personal Prayer Book, 1522).

John Calvin and other Protestant Reformers also maintained that the Virgin Mary is "Mother of God." A number even included the "Hail Mary" prayer at the beginning of their liturgies. A number of Lutheran theologians after Luther himself continued to use prayer beads to count both the Our Father and the Hail Mary prayers.

The relationship of Lutheranism to Orthodoxy is an interesting one.The "Confession of Dositheus" was developed to oppose Protestantism.However, when Luther himself went to debate with Roman Catholics, he actually defended Eastern Orthodoxy as the Church of Christ's "better half." (That is apparently the origin of that popular term.)

At the time of the Second World War, a Ukrainian Byzantine-Rite Lutheran Church developed in Western Ukraine. These were former and disaffected Ukrainian Catholics. They made a number of attempts to adapt some of the Eastern Rite to their Lutheran worship and even produced a Ukrainian Lutheran "Sluzhebnik" or Service Book with a special liturgy. I am in touch with a Lutheran Pastor in Germany who is currently collecting information about Ukrainian Lutherans.

There is also a "Lutheran-Rite" and independent Orthodox Church in the U.S. called the "Evangelical Catholic Church." While not accepted by mainstream Orthodoxy, this group is formed from former Lutherans of German background. They try to keep some elements of their Lutheran heritage, but maintain that Martin Luther was, in fact, trying to focus the Reformed Christians of his day toward the Orthodox Church.

Something similar happened with the Czech hero and martyr, Jan Hus,about whom Taras Shevchenko wrote in his poem, "The Heretic." Hus also became a central figure in the Pan-Slavic movements of the nineteenth century. Martin Luther declared Hus "My saint."

After Hus was burned at the stake on 6 July 1415, the University of Prague declared him a martyr and saint. The Czech churches, separated from Rome, began painting his image in churches and erecting statues to him everywhere. An Englishman, John Payne, was interested in the reforming ideas of Hus and came to Prague. He was soon led to Orthodoxy and went to Constantinople where he was consecrated Bishop with the name "Constantine Anglikos." He returned to Prague and was Bishop to the Orthodox Czechs who became Orthodox under the inspiration of Jan Hus! This has also been studied by Russian Orthodox theologians who maintain the conclusion that Hus was preaching the values of Orthodoxy that had been lost under Roman Catholicism: married clergy, Scriptures in the national language,Communion in both kinds etc.

The friend of Hus, Jerome of Prague, left the Czech lands and travelled in Eastern Europe. He received Orthodoxy and was baptized in Latvia. He returned to Prague where he was also burned as a heretic on 30 May 1416. There is interest in his possible glorification as an Orthodox saint by the Czech Orthodox Church. His Orthodox baptismal certificate has been located in Latvia.

More study is forthcoming on this topic and also on the relationship between Luther, Lutheranism and Orthodoxy. ...