Mariology

The recent post on “The Pope on Luther” led to a discussion of Luther’s views of Mary, in which noted Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in.  (I am continually amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He cited evidence that Luther had a relatively “Catholic” view of Mary  early in his career, though after the Diet of Worms, in 1521.  (The source of that evidence was somewhat confused, though, which the discussion helped to sort out.)

One of the issues was the “immaculate conception,”  the Roman Catholic teaching that by a direct miracle of God the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.  This is an interesting example of the Roman Catholic theological method, as distinct from how virtually all Protestants “do” theology.  The teaching is not arbitrary dogma, or the exaltation of tradition, or an extension of Mary-worship, or “popish superstition.”  Rather, it is a logical conclusion based on reason, as practiced by scholastic theology.

The chain of reasoning goes like this:  In order to redeem the world, Jesus Christ had to be without sin.  He certainly lived a sinless life.  But he also needed to be without original sin as inherited from Adam.  Jesus took His human nature from being born of the Virgin Mary, not having a human father.  Somehow, though, He could not have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, with its inherent sinfulness, its genetic (we would say) disposition to sin,  the accompanying curses of the Fall.  Therefore, the mother of Jesus must not bear that fallen nature.   She was conceived in the normal manner–not as another virgin birth, with which the doctrine is often confused–but, through a miracle, “immaculately.”

That Mary did not have original sin means that she also did not suffer under the curse of the Fall.  This explains the tradition that she did not feel the pains of labor.  It also explains the bookend Catholic dogma the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  If she did not have original sin, she could not die, so must have been taken up bodily into Heaven.

These notions sound strange to Protestant ears, but they grow out of the Roman Catholic approach to theology, which supports and extends revealed truth with flying buttresses of reason.

Now one might believe these things of Mary without  seeing her as a mediatrix between human beings and Christ, without praying to her, and without seeing her as a co-redemptrix.  One could believe Mary was free of original sin and that she was received bodily into Heaven while still being evangelical, as Luther evidently did in 1521.

But the Protestant theological method, which derived from Luther, uses not reason as the primary authority but the Word of God, which is held to be the only authority in theological issues.  The Bible does not mention any of this about Mary, which is presumably would, if, as Rome claims, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are fundamental and necessary dogmas of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Mother of our Lord praises God as her “savior,” which implies that she too is in need of salvation.  And she certainly suffered, which Eve in her pre-fallen state did not, as Simeon prophesied to her:  “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

Further, we could argue that Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work requires that He take upon Himself our fallen nature.  He never sinned even though He shared our fallen flesh.  Thus he became the Second Adam who freed us from the curse.  (I know talking about the two natures of Christ can easily get heretical.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am, I recant.)

That God died

I had assumed that yesterday’s post about Crucifixion, in which I talked about how God died, would attract objections. This was actually a big controversy during the Reformation, with Zwinglians in particular denying that God could be said to have died on the Cross. The human nature of Christ died, of course, but divinity–conceived in the Aristotelian way as an impassive, unchanging Being–could not be said to have died. The Lutherans responded with their unique Christology, which teaches the communication of the attributes, that what can be said of Christ’s human nature can be said of His divine nature, so that His human body can truly be omnipresent on all altars at Holy Communion, and that in the incarnation God was so united with human flesh that we can say that Mary was indeed the mother of God and that God died on the Cross. This is affirmed in the Lutheran confessions, in The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII:

If the old weather-witch, Dame Reason. . .would say, Yea, divinity cannot suffer nor die; you shall reply, That is true; yet, because in Christ divinity and humanity are one person, Scripture, on account of this personal union, ascribes also to divinity everything that happens to the humanity, and vice versa. 42] And it is so in reality; for you must certainly answer this, that the person (meaning Christ) suffers and dies. Now the person is true God; therefore it is rightly said: The Son of God suffers. For although the one part (to speak thus), namely, the divinity, does not suffer, yet the person, which is God, suffers in the other part, namely, in His humanity; for in truth God's Son has been crucified for us, that is, the person which is God. For the person, the person, I say, was crucified according to the humanity. . . .

Dr. Luther says also in his book Of the Councils and the Church: We Christians must know that if God is not also in the balance, and gives the weight, we sink to the bottom with our scale. By this I mean: If it were not to be said [if these things were not true], God has died for us, but only a man, we would be lost. But if "God's death" and "God died" lie in the scale of the balance, then He sinks down, and we rise up as a light, empty scale. But indeed He can also rise again or leap out of the scale; yet He could not sit in the scale unless He became a man like us, so that it could be said: "God died," "God's passion," "God's blood," "God's death." For in His nature God cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is correctly called God's death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God.

This high view of the Incarnation, this notion that God is to be known not as an abstraction as in theologies of glory but in Christ crucified, is at the essence of Luther’s theology. Zwingli taught that Christ could not be bodily present in the sacrament, since He ascended bodily into Heaven. The Lutherans, though, taught that since He ascended into Heaven, His body COULD be present by virtue of the omnipresence of the Godhead. Lutheran Christology looms behind many other doctrines, but it is much neglected today. (“Like what?” you may ask. I’ll let you readers answer that question.)


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