Calvin, Luther and Zwingli: Devotees of Mary

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, a 15th Century M...

Reformers” on Mary: An Assembly of Quotes

Martin Luther:

[Note from Scott 12/12/2010: Before we begin citing Luther, it must be noted that while he did continue honoring the Blessed Virgin in a very “Catholic” sense for a time after his departure from the visible Catholic Church; later in his life such sentiments are either flatly denied or have disappeared into silence.  Therefore, contextually speaking I can only support that Luther held these views in his Catholic and early Protestant days – but not through to the end of his life.  All this being said, the only purpose in looking at these sources is that of novelty.  What do we really care if Protestant defectors from the Catholic Faith held on to some beliefs and creeds from Catholicism?  Our position should be one of validating the teachings themselves, not so much of one getting Protestants to validate them. ]

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.”[1]

Perpetual Virginity

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.”[2]

The Immaculate Conception

Yet again, the Immaculate Conception was a doctrine Luther defended to his death (as 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…[3]

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin

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.”[4]

Honor to Mary

Despite his unremitting 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.”[5]

“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.”[6]

Luther made this statement in his last sermon at Wittenberg in January 1546. [Added note – in context, this sermon is actually critical of “Bernard’s” use of such honor – and though some very Catholic adjectives are used, we really should not cite this as Luther supporting such veneration to the Blessed Virgin.  I only keep this citation now for it has existed for so long on my site (and others) that those researching this should know the bigger picture here].

And here is more context for the reader:

“Therefore, when we preach faith, that we should worship nothing but God alone, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed: “I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ,” then we are remaining in the temple at Jerusalem. Again, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” “You will find him in a manger”. He alone does it. But reason says the opposite: What, us? Are we to worship only Christ? Indeed, shouldn’t we also honor the holy mother of Christ? She is the woman who bruised the head of the serpent. Hear us, Mary, for thy Son so honors thee that he can refuse thee nothing. Here Bernard went too far in his “Homilies on the Gospel ‘Missus est Angelus.’” God has commanded that we should honor the parents; therefore, I will call upon Mary. She will intercede for me with the Son, and the Son with the Father, who will listen to the Son. So you have the picture of God as angry and Christ as judge; Mary shows to Christ her breast and Christ shows his wounds to the wrathful Father. That’s the kind of thing this comely bride, the wisdom of reason cooks up: Mary is the mother of Christ, surely, Christ will listen to her; Christ is a stern judge, therefore I will call upon St. George and St. Christopher. No, we have been by God’s command baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews were circumcised. Therefore, just as the Jews set up all over the land their own self-chosen shrines, as if Jerusalem were too narrow, so we also have done. As a young man must resist lust and an old man avarice, so reason is by nature a harmful whore. But she shall not harm me, if only I resist her. Ah, but she is so comely and glittering. That’s why there must be preachers who will point people to the catechism: I believe in Jesus Christ, not in St. George or St. Christopher, for only of Christ is it said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”; not of Mary or the angels. The Father did not speak of Gabriel or any others when he cried from heaven “Listen to him.” (LW, vol. 51, pp. 375-376)

“The Church has always extolled Mary simply in the spirit of the Magnificat.  Luther himself had published a printed exposition of the Magnificat in 1521.  There he still speaks of the Blessed Virgin in the usual way (“Werke” Weim.  ed., 7, p. 545 f.; Erl. ed., 45, p. 214 f.). At the commencement of the work he invokes her assistance with the words : ” May the same tender Mother of God obtain for me the spirit to interpret her song usefully and practically … that we may sing and chant this Magnificat eternally in the life to come. So help us God. Amen (p. 546 = 214). In the same way, at the close, he expresses his hope that a right understanding of the Magnificat ” may not only illumine and teach, but burn and live in body and soul; may Christ grant us this by the intercession and assistance of His dear Mother Mary.  Amen “(p. 601 = 287). Thus, he was then still in favour of the invocation and intercession of the Holy Mother of God, whereas later he set aside the invocation of any Saint, and declared it to be one of “the abuses of Antichrist.” (See Kostlin, ” Luther’s Theologies,” l 2, p. 370 ff.)” [Grisar, Luther…, 237 – http://www.archive.org/stream/luthergris04grisuoft/luthergris04grisuoft_djvu.txt]

John Calvin:

It has been said that John Calvin 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 was he did not deny her perpetual virginity. The term he used most commonly in referring to Mary was “Holy Virgin”. (Citation needed)

“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.[7]

“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.”[8] 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.”[9]

“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.”[10]

Ulrich Zwingli:

“It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God.”[11]

“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.”[12] Zwingli used Exodus4:22 to defend the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

“I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary.”[13]

“Christ … was born of a most undefiled Virgin.”[14]

“It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother.”[15]

“The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow.”[16]

Other Sources


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, volume 24, (LW 24) 107.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition, Volume 11, (WA 11) 319-320.

[3] Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works, English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St.
Louis], Volume 4, 694.

  • Correction on this citation, which many other Catholic apologetics sites have as well.  This quote actually comes from a sermon preached by Luther (“On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527) and was published with his permission, but prior to the end of his life it is not found in published editions of his works.  Modern Protestant apologists speculate that he rejected the Immaculate Conception, but this is an argument from silence.  The proper citation should be Grisar, Hartmann, Martin Luther: His Life and Work (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1950), p. 238. or Grisar, Hartmann, Luther, tr. E.M. Lamond, ed. Luigi Cappadelta, 6 volumes, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917, vol. 4, 238 (I have also ordered a copy of Grisar’s book and will update with my own research/citation when it arrives – I find it a bit ironic that both citations I’ve found online thus far state the same page number).
  • I’ve also just found the “Volume 4, 694” is not entirely “bogus” (as James Swan is saying -and has since withdrawn his objection to the citation) but it is not an English translation!  You can read it in LATIN here: http://www.archive.org/stream/werkekritischege04luthuoft#page/694/mode/2up – My Latin is not the greatest, but I believe this is the actual source.  I am still looking for where the “J. Pelikan” citation originates, if it does not turn up, I will delete it entirely and stick with wholly valid sources I have found.

[4] Cole, William J. Was Luther a Devotee of Mary?” (Marian Studies), (1970), 123-124. Citing WA 10, III, 268.

[5] [Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works 10, III (WA 10, III) p.313.

[6] Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works, Concordia: St. Louis, Volume 51, 128-129.

[7] John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 35.

[8] Bernard Leeming, “Protestants and Our Lady”, Marian Library Studies, January 1967, p.9.

[9] John Calvin, Calvini Opera [Braunshweig-Berlin, 1863-1900], Volume 45, 348.

[10] John Calvin, A Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (St. Andrew’s Press, Edinburgh, 1972), p.32.

[11] Ulrich Zwingli, In Evang. Luc., Opera Completa [Zurich, 1828-42], Volume 6, I, 639

[12] Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 424.

[13] E. Stakemeier, De Mariologia et Oecumenismo, K. Balic, ed., (Rome, 1962), 456.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ulrich Zwingli, Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Volume 1, 427-428. David F. Wright, ed., Chosen by God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective (London: Marshall Pickering, 1989), 180.

via CathApol: Reformers on Mary.

A great post worthy of reproducing in full. (Hopefully the CathApol Blog won’t be mad.)

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