Vs. James Swan #2 Re Luther’s Mariology, Pt. 1

Vs. James Swan #2 Re Luther’s Mariology, Pt. 1 April 29, 2024

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This is the original reply and back-and-forth exchange (see the archived version on my original website: dated 6-28-03, and the abridged version, revised on 7-19-20). It was a rebuttal of Anti-Catholic Reformed Protestant polemicist James Swan’s paper, Luther’s Theology of Mary: A Response to Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong (June 2003), which was in response to my paper, Martin Luther’s Mariology: Reply to James Swan: . . . Particularly the Immaculate Conception / Has Present-Day Protestantism Maintained the Classical “Reformational” Heritage of Mariology? (4-26-03; rev. 4-6-23), which in turn was a reply to his 2003 article, “Martin Luther’s Theology of Mary.” Swan’s words will be in blue.


See Part 2


This paper is far too lengthy for me to respond to absolutely every point (it has 201 footnotes, many themselves quite long), and besides, I do not disagree with many of the statements and contentions in the paper , hence there is no particular reason to reply to portions with which I already concur. Thus, I will reply only to sections where I feel that my thought or some statement or other was misrepresented or misunderstood by Mr. Swan (which turned out to be quite numerous), and to areas where we would actually disagree, and/or where I feel I have some further relevant information or research to present. Readers can assume that I either agree with anything in Mr. Swan’s paper that I haven’t responded to below, or that I have no particular objection, or think it not worth spending time arguing about, or researching further.
Part of the dispute between us (as far as I can tell) has to do with what Mr. Swan thinks I am claiming with regard to Luther’s Mariology (he exaggerates my claims and tries to make “rhetorical hay” out of some of them — seemingly for apologetic and polemical purposes). Apart from his disturbingly frequent inadvertently false portrayals of my own views, I commend Mr. Swan for an educational and interesting piece of research. As a student of Church history (I love history almost as much as theology — especially the history of Christian doctrine), I always appreciate such in-depth work, particularly where Martin Luther is concerned, as I find him a fascinating figure on many levels.
Words of mine from my previous paper or elsewhere will be indented, in order to distinguish them from present replies. If I cite Mr. Swan’s words from sources other than his latest paper above, they will also be indented and still in blue. That way, I need not always mention that it is an earlier comment of his. The indentations will serve as a “code.”


1. Preliminaries

2. “Hostility, “Ad Hominem,” & the Notorious “BJ Bear”

3. My Supposed “Ever-Changing” Paper, “Extremities,” and “Complexities”

4. Luther’s Mariological Development and Qualifiers in My Viewpoint

5. Cardboard Caricatures of Medieval Marian Piety / St. Alphonsus de Liguori as a “Test Case” of Marian Excess

6. The Immaculate Conception and the Gospel According to James

1. Preliminaries

This paper is a response to the multiple versions of Dave Armstrong’s “Counter Reply: Martin Luther’s Mariology (Particularly the Immaculate Conception).”

The first version lasted only two days, and was modified after I discovered I had made a significant mistake, so the earlier versions are now irrelevant. My present Internet upload of the above paper is my final version and the one I now stand by. I shall comment more on this below, as Mr. Swan comments on now-obsolete statements of mine.

Currently, I have three different versions of Mr. Armstrong’s response to my paper, varying in layout and content.

The one above is the only relevant one.

Anyone familiar with Internet theological bulletin boards have at some point come across Roman Catholic criticism of Martin Luther. Fairly common topics include: . . . his alleged desire to be a Protestant pope, . . .

I have good reason to believe that Mr. Swan may be referring to my paper: Martin Luther the “Super-Pope” (?) and de facto Infallibility (?): With Extensive Documentation From Luther’s Own Words [11-13-02; rev. 5-15-03 and 6-18-06]. This argument of mine is often misunderstood by Protestants, and the above characterization is misleading in its simplicity and how it will likely be interpreted. I refer readers to my paper above, to better understand how I approach the issue of Luther’s self-anointed authority over against the papal authority which is always a large target of Protestant polemics. It is an instance of “turning the tables.” But one must try to make a valiant effort to take off their “Protestant glasses” when reading the paper, lest it be misunderstood in both content and intent (as it often is in fact).

Interestingly though, when it comes to the topic of Mary, Roman Catholic sentiment towards Luther shifts considerably. Luther becomes the staunch supporter of Mary; a leader that all contemporary Protestants should learn a great lesson in Mariology from. This drastic shift is puzzling; particularly since Luther’s abandoning of the intercession of the saints and his doctrine of justification significantly changes his Marian approach.

I don’t see why it should be “puzzling” at all. Luther’s Mariology is much closer to the Mariology of Catholicism than that of Protestantism, even of his own branch of it: Lutheranism. This is what a Catholic finds interesting and of note. It’s one of those fascinating tidbits of history that makes the study of history so enjoyable. Furthermore, it follows that if “going back to one’s roots” and being a so-called “Reformation Protestant” are worthwhile endeavors (it is for many thoughtful, historically-conscious Protestants today), then I think it is significant that Protestantism has largely rejected the Mariology of Luther and other early Protestants (the shift with regard to the perpetual virginity of Mary is a particularly striking evolution of doctrine within Protestantism — in most cases today a 180-degree reversal).

As for Luther’s stance on intercession of the saints, I have already long since acknowledged that this is a difference from the Catholic view, but (in my opinion) not enough of a difference to make his Mariology closer in content to current Protestant Mariology than to Catholic Mariology.

My paper was not written for the intention of inviting Mr. Armstrong to debate. Rather, it was posted . . . for the broader Protestant Internet community. I understand why Mr. Armstrong would feel the need to respond, since I referenced his web page as an example of popular Roman Catholic approaches to Luther’s Mariology.

I was interested in the subject matter.

2. “Hostility, “Ad Hominem,” & the Notorious “BJ Bear”
C. Hostility and Ad Hominem

In his initial response to my paper, Mr. Armstrong confused me with another person whom he dialogued with a few months ago. His response was quite offensive, regardless of whom he was critiquing.

This is highly interesting, in that Mr. Swan regards a simple case of mistaken identity as a breach of ethics or methodological flaw serious enough to devote a section of his paper to it and to go on and on as if this proves some terrible deficiency in my character or intellectual abilities. I also find it fascinating that he finds my response offensive, no matter who it was critiquing. This is a clear instance where context means everything. Unless one knows the original context, then one cannot properly judge the prima facie harshness of my words. Mr. Swan provided none, and so this becomes a classic exercise of giving only half the story, which amounts to a half-truth, which is not much better than a lie.

In his catalogue of my colorful “hostile” remarks, he mixes in some which were directed towards the other person whom I initially thought was him, with others directed toward the arguments of his first paper. The first category is no longer relevant; many of the comments of the second category were edited out when I myself considered them too harsh and uncharitable. But I guess this is not good enough for Mr. Swan. Rather than commend me for editing out overly-harsh remarks, he takes the opportunity to try to “prove” (or so it would seem) that I am a loose cannon who raves uncontrollably (in the vein of Luther himself). Somehow he seems to think that this proves something scandalous and unsavory in my case, but not in the case of Martin Luther, who say far worse things about far more people, and with far less warrant and justification.

The case of mistaken identity is easily explained. The person on whose website Mr. Swan’s first paper appeared mentioned in his announcement ran across Mr. Swan on a discussion board where he was engaging in discussion with me, and allegedly revealing my “extremely poor research methods.” I assumed that this was another person, who goes by the nickname “BJ Bear” (I still don’t know this person’s real name), because he was the one who accused me of incompetence in matters of citation and documentation, in a lengthy dialogue about some of Luther’s statements about his own authority. Mr. Swan (as I recall) was also interjecting comments “on the sidelines” during that debate, but was not the main participant, by any means.

The confusion was strictly due to the annoying habit of many people on bulletin boards, of using nicknames only and not their real names. So James Swan was known to me only as “TertiumQuid” until I discovered his paper on Tim’s website. I thought he was “BJ Bear” at first, but within a day or so he informed me that he was not. I promptly apologized and modified my paper accordingly. Yet Mr. Swan continues to talk about the earlier versions. The reader can decide for himself what his purpose is in doing this. I find it rather petty and unnecessary.

As for the other person, “BJ Bear,” whom I described (in my first version of the paper) as “critical and overbearing,” and one who put forth much “tedious insulting material” — this is all absolutely true. I think any fair-minded person who read my exchange with him on Luther would agree that his attitude left much to be desired. I was trying to discuss the import and meaning of a statement of Luther’s, and instead, “BJ” turned the discussion into one long examination consisting of (as I described it) “snide insinuations of my alleged profound incompetence and dishonesty.” Unfortunately, I recently edited out his comments from the paper. I did not keep a back-up copy and it was too old to retrieve from the original bulletin board exchange (probably for the better, as the exchange was excruciatingly boring and tedious — precisely why I edited it down). Mr. Swan, however, did cite a few of the comments in a public post. They give a good and representative flavor of the overall tone and tenor of “BJ Bear’s” remarks:

Propaganda isn’t as effective when specific references are given. The severe editing of the text in the original post and the following commentary betrays an incredible lack of understanding and/or deliberate bias. Using your style of citation and interpretation an atheist can easily prove that the Bible teaches there never was a god. Using your method it would go like this, “In the beginning … There is no god … You are gods.”I leave you with a definition and recommended reading.

Context: the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.

How To Read A Book, by Mortimer J. Adler. Glad to be of help in your acquisition of knowledge. I’m looking forward to reading an effective Roman Catholic apologetic argument.

The entire discussion was about a quote in one of my papers that was from Luther. “BJ” complained that it deleted large portions of material that he found in the 55-volume version of the words under consideration in Luther’s Works in English. He argued / insinuated that because I didn’t include ellipses [i.e., . . . ], and because there were several pages of material in-between, that I was therefore incompetent and had not the slightest clue of how to document information.

Well, it turned out that the mistake was not mine at all, but, in fact, that of Will Durant, the noted historian and author of the well-known multi-volume Story of Civilization (from which I got my quote). As far as I can tell (though it is speculative), it turned on the fact that he was citing a German version of Luther’s writings, which differed from the English version of that particular excerpt.  I take it as uncontroversial that I, as a non-academic lay apologist, can cite a professional historian (Mr. Swan cites dozens of them in his latest paper, in the same fashion) and trust that he has checked out the primary sources, and so forth. Since Durant made this egregious mistake that “BJ Bear” made so much of, this only goes to show that either the German version of Luther’s words was different (in which case it wouldn’t be a “mistake” at all, but a case of differing versions) or that professional historians make mistakes in citation (which I already knew, as they are human beings like the rest of us).

But did this error (or differing translation) prove (following my opponent’s convoluted reasoning) that Will Durant suffered from “an incredible lack of understanding and/or deliberate bias”? I think not. After I pointed these inconvenient facts out, “BJ Bear” understandably went rather silent (and, strangely, I have never heard from him since). His task was to embarrass me and show me up as an incompetent boob, not to do that to the secularist historian Will Durant (who wasn’t exactly an “RC apologist”)! The amusement of such folly and comic turn of events more than made up for the offensiveness of the false charge. Now, thanks to Mr. Swan’s insistence on bringing up the “embarrassing” incident again, readers can make up their own mind as to who is failing to attain a certain level of “scholarly respectability” and refraining from “hostility and ad hominem.”

He also seems to insinuate that since I am merely a “seminary student” I couldn’t possibly have an accurate opinion on Luther.

I did no such thing. One must read words in context, and once again Mr. Swan neglects it and so gives a most misleading impression. Mr. Swan is simply being overly-sensitive. Here is the context of the remark he refers to (emphasis added):

In light of the context of his entire paper, it is clear that Mr. Swan is skeptical of such a description of early Protestant views; he does not accept it. He neglects to inform the reader, however, that Pelikan himself (a far more authoritative voice on such matters than Mr. Swan, a seminary student) is not nearly so skeptical. I shall cite his statements from the same book. Mr. Pelikan noted the vigorous opposition of early Protestants to idolatry and excesses of the communion of saints — as I did, in my article above — (much of which was in full agreement with Catholic teaching, rightly-understood). But Pelikan maintains that that is not the entire picture of
early Protestant Mariology:

. . . it would be a mistake, and one which many interpretations of the Reformation both friendly and hostile have all too easily fallen, to emphasize these negative and polemical aspects of its Mariology at the expense of the positive place the Protestant Reformers assigned to her in their theology. (24) They repeated . . . the central content of the orthodox confession of the first five centuries of Christian history. (25) (Pelikan, ibid. [Mary Through The Ages, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996], 157)

Mr. Swan needs to ponder the essential, profound logical difference between the following two propositions:

1) A well-known and well-respected Church historian carries more authority when he gives his opinion on early Protestant Mariology, than a seminary student does.2) A seminary student couldn’t possibly have an accurate opinion on Luther, or his Mariology, or early Protestant Mariology.

I (in effect) asserted the first proposition, as seen by the context of the “offensive” (?) remark, above. I did not assert the second at all, nor would I ever state it, and in fact, if I had stated such a silly, foolish thing, it would immediately backfire on me, since I have no formal theological education at all, and thus if I believed this I would have to stop writing about Luther myself. Furthermore, proposition one above is not only not insulting, it is (or should be) completely non-insulting and is, I think, self-evidently true. Yet Mr. Swan was somehow offended by it (??).

His final comment was perhaps the most telling of his attitude toward my abilities:

As the inquirer gets deeper and deeper into the subject, many other more advanced treatments (including dialogues with educated, theologically-literate Protestants) can be found in my papers and links…

This is an even more groundless charge and needless offense than the remark explained above. Mr. Swan completely misunderstands my statement and makes an unwarranted assumption (viz., that my words in the parentheses were somehow intended to be a subtle, belittling swipe at him, as if I was contrasting such a person to him). Nothing could be further from the truth. This came after a list of recommended papers of mine about Mary — for readers who wanted to delve more deeply into the subject. All I was saying was that I have on my website many dialogues with educated Protestants (as opposed to uneducated ones). I seek out the best Protestant opponents I can find. That’s all this meant. Period. Mr. Swan assumes rather a lot about my internal attitudes. He assumes falsely. And I sure hope this sort of “analysis” from him will cease if we dialogue in the future.

Thus we see that Mr. Swan’s examples of my “hostility and ad hominem” include:

1) Some true remarks about another person (at first incorrectly directed towards Mr. Swan, for reasons explained) who falsely accused me of gross apologetic incompetence.
2) Remarks that I removed within two days, after self-reflection.
3) An example which was based (in proper context) on an utterly illogical conclusion that doesn’t follow at all from the words I wrote.
4) An example of an utterly mistaken and overly-sensitive interpretation by Mr. Swan.

Whatever else “personally offensive” that remains on my paper should be discussed in context, as well. Simply creating a laundry list of colorful critical remarks with absolute neglect of context will not do, and amounts to a wholesale distortion of my thought-processes, and an unseemly cynicism.

Nor will the reader find any slander against Mr. Armstrong in my original paper.

This is true. Nor have I slandered Mr. Swan. I am quite critical of some of his arguments and comments. But that is not slander. It is merely disagreement (even if expressed in colorful terminology — which I have been known to do at times).

This situation was ‘somewhat’ rectified when I pointed out Armstrong’s error of misidentification.  When he realized he was firing at the wrong target, Mr. Armstrong edited his response and toned down some of his hostile language. Some of the above comments are still contained in later versions of his paper.

They need to be read in context and discussed individually. I contend that no slander is present once my words are accurately interpreted.

3. My Supposed “Ever-Changing” Paper, “Extremities,” and “Complexities”
Perhaps with the ever-changing nature of Mr. Armstrong’s web page response, we can expect to see further editing.

I find this very amusing. I uploaded the paper on April 24th. Upon learning that Mr. Swan was not “BJ Bear” I edited it two days later, also adding some new material and re-organizing it. It’s called “editing.” It’s called “refining.” A single change within two days somehow gets described as “ever-changing”?

Earlier versions of Mr. Armstrong’s response followed no apparent order. His response was filled with a fair amount of tangential material, sending the reader in a multitude of directions (directions worthy of study, yet tangential to my paper).

Again: who cares about earlier versions? Why even mention it now? This is precisely why I better-organized it, two days later. My paper is not simply a response to Mr. Swan’s and nothing else. As is my usual custom, I often use dialogical opportunities as “springboards” to explore wider subject matter (what interests me and what I feel will be helpful to my website readers): in this case the Mariology of the early Protestants, generally-speaking. Thus, not everything in my paper is to be regarded as a “counter-response.”  This miscomprehension comes up often in Mr. Swan’s paper.

It is my contention that Mr. Armstrong’s material on Luther’s theology of Mary reflects an extreme position: the great Reformer was primarily in agreement with Rome in both doctrine and practice, with only minor conflict.

I would say that my view and approach to this topic is more so the belief that Luther’s Mariology is closer in content and spirit to Catholicism than to present-day Lutheranism (and far closer, compared to present-day Protestantism-in-general). In other words, I am examining its relative position between the two camps, not simply the Catholic camp. I fail to see how this position is extreme, in light of statements in my first paper such as the following from Protestants:

[T]he Churches that look back to the Reformers have on the whole been less affirmative about Mary than most of the Reformers themselves. (Chosen by God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective, London: Marshall Pickering, 1989, 123 [David Wright])

Another Lutheran scholar, Basilea Schlink, believes that:

[T]he majority of us have drifted away from the proper attitude towards her, which Martin Luther had indicated to us on the basis of Holy Scripture … (Mary, the Mother of Jesus, London: Marshall Pickering, 1986, 114-115)

Elliot Miller, of the evangelical Christian Research Institute (founded by the eminent cult researcher, the late Dr. Walter Martin), confesses:

[I]t is regrettably true that some Protestants—no doubt in reaction to Catholic excesses—have almost forgotten Mary . . . (“The Mary of Roman Catholicism,” Christian Research Journal, Summer 1990: 9-15; Fall 1990: 27-33; quote from p. 33)

It seems to me that I am not asserting much more than these Protestants. Is Mr. Swan prepared to call their view “extreme” too? I believe my contention here is rather obvious. Luther believed in some form of the Immaculate Conception. He believed in Mary’s Assumption. He believed in her perpetual virginity. He freely called her “Mother of God” (Theotokos). He spoke of honoring her, and preached eighty Marian sermons. Most Protestants today deny the first three tenets outright, are reluctant to say “Mother of God” (usually due to Nestorian tendencies and a misunderstanding of what the term means, and how it historically developed), “honor” Mary (if at all), only at Christmastime or during sentimental moments while singing Silent Night, and preach and talk about her hardly at all (I don’t recall ever hearing a Marian sermon in my 13 years as an evangelical Christian). Yet Mr. Swan would have us believe that my view is “extreme” in simply asserting that Luther’s views are closer to Catholicism than Protestantism? It’s a strange world . . .

Studying Luther is no easy task, and the studies of Luther throughout the past 500 years can sometimes be both help and hindrance.

I wholeheartedly concur. I don’t deny that Luther’s thought developed (Mr. Swan implies that I do deny that). But it is also true that he was contradictory (even beyond his characteristic rhetorical contrasts and exaggerations) and that his later years were less coherent (at least in expression) than his earlier years. I think all these things are true. This is Luther. He was complex and fascinating and often (from a Catholic dogmatic perspective) exasperatingly and stubbornly dead-wrong. Mr. Swan himself wrote on a Protestant bulletin board, on 4-24-03:

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to present an accurate picture of Luther. Hence, I welcome any of you that take historical studies seriously to correct me where I miss the mark . . .   Where Luther had warts, there is no need to cover them up. Where Luther did not have warts, shame on anyone who puts them there.Areopagus (http://pub84.ezboard.com/fntrmindiscussionboardfrm9.showMessage?topicID=155.topic)

Why is he being so hard on me, then, in describing my thesis on a complex question about a complex person as “extreme”? His descriptions are what are “extreme” here, not my views. I’m sure Mr. Swan knows a lot more about the details of Luther’s thought and life than I do. My interest in Luther is only one of dozens of theological interests that I have and in which I engage in my work as an apologist. Mr. Swan can specialize. I don’t have that luxury in my line of work. Yet I don’t think this means I have offered no support for my opinions about the “contradictory” Luther. I cited Roland Bainton (author of probably the most well-known biography of Luther: Here I Stand), who showed that Luther developed, but was also “an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained, and at times positively coarse.”

Likewise, in my paper about Luther’s anti-Catholicism, [Dave (4-29-24) since removed, and I have changed my opinion somewhat since then] I cited a scholar, Mark U. Edwards, Jr. (Protestant, I believe), and his book, Luther’s Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531-1546 (Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1983). Writing about Luther’s work, Against the Papacy at Rome, Founded by the Devil (March 1545), Edwards states:

The last major polemic of Luther’s life . . . was intended to inform Protestants of the true horror of the papal antichrist and to discredit the council convened at Trent . . . Without question it is the most intentionally violent and vulgar writing to come from Luther’s pen. (p. 163)

Luther even commissioned Lucas Cranach to do a series of eight cartoons to give graphic expression to his evaluation of the papacy. He provided instructions for what the cartoons were to show and penned satirical verses to accompany them. The violence and vulgarity of the treatise carried over to the cartoons . . . And he continued:

Next one should take the pope, cardinals, and whatever servants there are of his idolatry and papal holiness, and rip out their tongues at the roots (as blasphemers of God) and nail them on the gallows. . . Next, let them hold a council or whatever they want on the gallows or in hell.

One of the cartoons depicts the pope and cardinals, and their tongues, being treated in just this brutal fashion . . . Another example, this one of the vulgarity with which Luther felt the papacy should be treated, came in his discussion of the keys . . . ‘In addition, we may in good conscience,’ he wrote, ‘take his coat-of-arms, which features the keys, and his crown to the privy and use them to relieve our needs [and] afterwards throw them into the fire (it would be better if it were the pope himself).’ The associated cartoon shows a peasant defecating into the papal tiara while two other peasants await their turn . . . A third cartoon shows the Pope and three cardinals being expelled from the anus of a female devil while three furies are nursing and caring for three infant popes. The cartoon was titled ‘origin of the pope’ and was a graphic echo of Luther’s assertion in his treatise that the pope had been born from the devil’s behind . . . (pp. 189, 199)

Roland Bainton describes this “art” (my quotation marks) as “outrageously vulgar . . . in all of this he was utterly unrestrained” (Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, New York: Mentor, 1950, 298).

4. Luther’s Mariological Development and Qualifiers in My Viewpoint
Mr. Armstrong attempts to use O’Meara and Lortz to deny this growth and development.

My paper sees Luther as a gifted thinker whose theology grew and developed, rather than a man whose later years were plagued by incoherence and ravings.

I deny the first comment and agree with the first clause of the second comment. I think Luther’s “incoherence and ravings” spanned his entire lifetime. The two are not mutually exclusive. As a serious theologian, his thought developed and expanded. The other aspect (second clause above) had mainly to do with his portrayal of Catholicism and Catholics. His caricatures of Catholic doctrine and practices became more outrageous and vulgar as he grew older. But that is a different thing from his own theology. So I say that both aspects are true.  I need not deny either. It’s a false dichotomy.

. . . I pointed out that “Luther did indeed have a Mariology.” Mr. Armstrong though seems to think I am denying that Luther (and the Reformers) had a Mariology.

No; I denied Mr. Swan’s assertion that Luther’s Mariology was closer to Protestantism than to Catholicism. That was my underlying thesis, and the one which Mr. Swan so strongly (but curiously and strangely) disavows. It is not the same statement as “denying that Luther . . . had a Mariology.” It’s a matter of degree rather than “existence vs. nonexistence.” Mr. Swan apparently thinks I am special pleading and distorting the historical picture for Catholic polemical reasons. I need not distort anything. I think history clearly tells us (above and beyond scholarly disagreements on various details) that Luther and also the other early Protestant leaders were far more interested in and devoted to Mary than present-day Protestants. Mr. Swan can “work around the edges” of this truth but it won’t change the fact.

This is a major charge against Mr. Armstrong’s response: throughout his paper he documents that Luther had a Mariology (as well as other early Reformers), but then fails to explore the content of that Mariology by citing and exploring the primary source writings of Luther.  Mr. Armstrong infrequently cites Luther in his response, . . .

My main interest was in his view of the Immaculate Conception. Thus the subtitle: “Particularly the Immaculate Conception.” I cited plenty of his own writings in that regard.

. . . and rarely interacts with the quotes of Luther I used. One would think he would have scoured contexts in order to prove my interpretation of Luther faulty. Such argumentation is missing from the bulk of his response.

Of course it is, because I agreed with most of these Luther quotes from Mr. Swan. How could I not? These were Luther’s own words about his Mariology. That was not an area of disagreement. The same thing will apply to much of his present paper, when we get into Luther’s words and scholarly appraisals of his Mariology. That Luther’s Mariology was Christocentric and “non-dogmatic” and lacking the intercessory aspect is utterly uncontroversial. But Mr. Swan seems to think it is controversial to contend that Luther’s Mariology is more akin to Catholicism than to present-day Protestantism. And that is why all the quotes from Protestants suggesting a view like mine were relevant to my purpose and argument (if not his), despite Mr. Swan’s protests of their irrelevance. But Mr. Swan (though continuing to describe my view of the matter as “extreme”) has softened his position a little bit in his second paper, stating:

There are similarities because both Rome and Luther have a Mariology, employ similar terms, and are aware of Christological teaching about Mary.

It is the content and progress though of Luther’s Mariology that is the focal point of my paper.

I dealt with that somewhat (mostly within scholarly quotations, and mostly about the Immaculate Conception). Most of this will be uncontroversial, and I will have no comment because I accept it just as Mr. Swan does. His paper, in many respects, complements rather than contradicts my first paper and the present one.

Mr. Armstrong thinks that I incorrectly summarized his view of Luther’s Mariology when I said he drew a picture of Luther espousing a doctrine of Mary that reflects Roman Catholic theology, with little or no conflict with Luther’s Reformation ideals.

I was responding by taking into consideration the context of how you introduced (or prefaced) your remarks, which was as follows:

. . . A quick search for information about Martin Luther on the World Wide Web reveals that polemics against Luther remain frequent and high-pitched, as different groups create the villain they find in  his writings. The basic elements of Luther’s thought are generally missing, distorting the man, his theology, . . . Others present a more “Catholic” Luther . . .  Such is the case with Luther’s theology of Mary.

Then the example of a statement from my website is offered. In context, the insinuation (at least as I interpreted it) is that I am offering a skewed, distorted picture and special pleading; making Luther out to be a “Catholic” in this regard, at the expense of his distinctively Protestant emphases. This is false. I simply present Luther as he was, as far as I can ascertain with the help of the historians. And, as I said, I offered several qualifications (about eight, as it were) where I contrasted Luther with the Catholic view. That doesn’t sound “extreme” or like some sort of pre-planned “knee-jerk” reaction to me. Mr. Swan then denied that the Mariological situation in Protestantism had changed much:

By reading selected quotes [of] Luther, it does indeed appear that Protestantism has deviated from his veneration of Mary.

He though would rather be thought to hold, “several nuanced [sic] qualifying remarks, contrasting Luther’s Marian views with those of the Catholic Church.” The only qualifier he actually mentions is Luther’s rejection of the intercession and invocation of the saints.

This is simply untrue. In the very same context, following my words above, I wrote:

. . . Immaculate Conception . . . Concerning this question there is some dispute, over the technical aspects of medieval theories of conception and the soul, and whether or not Luther later changed his mind . . .  . . . In later life (he died in 1546), Luther did not believe that this doctrine should be imposed on all believers, since he felt that the Bible didn’t explicitly and formally teach it.. . . he was highly critical of what he felt were excesses in the celebration of this Feast [of the Assumption].

Luther did strongly condemn any devotional practices which implied that Mary was in any way equal to our Lord or that she took anything away from His sole sufficiency as our Savior. This is, and always has been, the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

His attitude towards the use of the “Hail Mary” prayer (the first portion of the Rosary) is illustrative. In certain polemical utterances he appears to condemn its recitation altogether, but he is only forbidding a use of Marian devotions apart from heartfelt faith, . . .

Furthermore, in my citations of scholars concerning the Immaculate Conception, many disagreements are explored. So this is six or seven more qualifiers and contrasts. It’s another frustrating instance of Mr. Swan not reading or understanding my words very well at all. And this was from my paper, Martin Luther’s Devotion to Mary [see a later revised version with one clarification], which was cited by Mr. Swan in his first paper, and which was written in 1994! I hope this doesn’t become a pattern: Mr. Swan reads something of mine about Mary; he goes on (despite reading it) to make a false claim about my understanding of Luther’s Mariology. I quote portions of the same material again; he continues to make a false charge; I cite it a second time (now) . . . one wonders if three times reading it will cause him to stop misunderstanding my viewpoint? Why should I have to cite again in this paper what I already cited in the last one?

Mr. Armstrong’s approach to Luther is an excellent example of the “drastic shift” I noted above. When Luther makes positive comments in regard to Mary, Luther is seen as a positive theological beacon that all Protestants should flock towards.

Here we go with the melodramatic words again. First, we had “extreme,” now “drastic.” My views are neither, as far as I am concerned. First of all, the argument at a deeper level is a comment on the internal dynamics of Protestantism, with regard to the relationship of current Protestants to their origins (perhaps this aspect was misunderstood — my arguments against Protestantism often are, because Protestants are so completely unacquainted with such vigorous critiques and Catholic modes of thinking and argumentation are very foreign to them):

1) Luther founded Protestantism.
2) Many Protestants today are seeking to revisit, incorporate, or re-establish the “Reformation heritage.”
3) Part of that heritage is Luther’s Mariology, which is far more robust than present Protestant Mariology.
4) Protestants ought to ponder why this is, and consider that it may suggest that there is a bit more to Catholic distinctives than meets the eye, seeing that Luther’s principle was sola Scriptura, not adherence to all dogmas of the Catholic Church.

Secondly, I don’t see why it is somehow a questionable notion that Catholics would commend Luther when his views are similar or identical to theirs. After all, Protestants do this all the time in their polemics, the other way around. They will quote some Catholic or a Church Father whom they think sounds like a Protestant (St. Augustine is routinely utilized in this way). They will extoll him to the heavens. But when the same person speaks in some shockingly Catholic way (say, about purgatory or allegiance to the pope), then he is (rhetorically) cast off like a pair of dirty socks. Protestant histories of the early Church are often typified by this love-hate relationship with early Christians.

Philip Schaff, in particular, comes to mind. He will often praise the “Protestant” elements of some Father and then immediately rail against the “Catholic” stuff that was widespread at the time — to his obvious dismay and bewilderment. Schaff is quite opinionated, but he sticks to facts and tells it like it was, which is why I like him so much. When Luther is right, the Catholic will commend him! That this is an amazing, “drastic” phenomenon is “extremely” curious to me. It’s just common sense. Truth is truth.

After spending time reading Armstrong’s articles about Luther, why should anyone believe Luther about anything?

Because the standard of truth is a separate entity from Luther. If he is right about something, then he is right, regardless of how wrong he is on many other points. This is elementary.

Why is it that when Luther speaks about Mary, anybody should listen?

Protestants should listen, because he is the founder of their system and highly respected by them. The more relevant question, in my mind, would be, “why should Protestants ignore Luther when he teaches about Mary, and why should they paternalistically dismiss his Mariology as, e.g., an unfortunate ‘holdover’ from the Catholicism that he only recently emerged out of?”

It is hard to take Mr. Armstrong’s views on Luther seriously.

One wonders, then, why such a huge paper (the longest direct response to my work that I have yet encountered) is devoted to them . . .

What Armstrong rips away with one hand (Luther as an authority: The great Reformer), he attempts to give back with the other (Luther as an authority: Protestant Mariology).

This is wrongheaded insofar as it misunderstands what I am trying to state and achieve in my argument (as I am trying to clarify throughout this paper). Secondly, Catholics oppose Luther, Calvin, and other Protestants only as far as they dissent from received Tradition. Where they agree with us, we rejoice. In other words, we oppose their heresy (from the perspective of Catholic orthodoxy).

Mr. Armstrong stayed away from denying my point that Luther’s Mariology was Christocentric.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Swan that this was because I agree with his point! Of course, I also assert that Catholic Mariology is Christocentric. That was the point of it from the beginning: its development was always for the purpose of safeguarding the divinity of Jesus. This was especially true in the controversies with the Nestorians over the title Theotokos (Mother of God).

5. Cardboard Caricatures of Medieval Marian Piety / St. Alphonsus de Liguori as a “Test Case” of Marian Excess
In another place, Gritsch explains Luther’s Mariology is presented in the context of “a christocentric theology which Luther saw affirmed in apostolic and patristic thought, but no longer in the normative scholastic tradition of the medieval Western church.”  This is a striking implication and indictment of the medieval church.

It certainly is, but I haven’t seen anything to prove that this was indeed the case in the “normative scholastic tradition.” I understand this is discussed in greater depth later in Mr. Swan’s paper, so I’ll see if he can “deliver the goods” then, in terms of some actual proof from definitive Catholic doctrinal statements [he did not].

In my description of the medieval climate and Luther’s own admission of partaking in Mariolatry (while a faithful son of the Catholic Church), Mr. Armstrong’s charges that I put forth a “Cardboard Caricatures of Medieval (and Orthodox Catholic) Marian Piety.”

Indeed I did, and rightly so, for Mr. Swan made absurd statements like the following:

Mary had taken the role of intercessor, co-redeemer, and had been elevated to the status of a “goddess” who would defeat Satan.  She had become an idol. In the worship of idols, there is no salvation. Mary takes on the attributes of Christ and thus becomes an idol . . .

While Luther could call Mary the “Mother of God,” he was far more concerned to say something about the work of God in Christ than about her, thus, he un-deified her by definition.  His usage was not intended to be a quasi-divine statement of veneration similar to medieval or current Roman Catholic trends.  When Luther abandoned aspects of Mariology like the Immaculate Conception, it served to further un-deify the goddess . . . making sure that Mary was not to be deified . . .

Her attributes were worshipped in order to gain her favor.

He saw that she had been adorned with attributes that only belonged to Christ.

What Mr. Armstrong fails to do in these criticisms is to put forth doctrinal standards of Marian piety within the Sixteenth Century to correct my (alleged) caricature.

That’s not my task. Rather, it is Mr. Swan’s task to show that any of these absurd claims can be demonstrated by official Catholic teaching. I say that they cannot. The burden of proof is on him, since he is making the charge. I’m not interested in doing a giant study on the Marian folk piety of the Middle Ages. But if Mr. Swan can show me some documentation that the Church ever taught the nonsense he describes above, then I would surely respond.

He cannot seriously be suggesting the latest version of the Catholic catechism was the doctrinal standard for Marian piety four hundred years ago, or for that matter the Second Vatican Council.

Development occurs, of course, but it has been a consistent development with regard to Mary. It was never taught that she was a “goddess” or an “idol” or that she was “deified” or “quasi-divine.”

What he fails to document is whether sixteenth century elite Catholics knew what excessive Marian devotion was.

It’s not my burden. If Mr. Swan thinks he has seen something suggesting this, then he needs to produce it and we can continue the discussion. I don’t waste my time trying to disprove straw men. Mr. Swan needs to demonstrate his extraordinary claims with some solid documentation.

It seems apparent that many of the theologically educated of the sixteenth century participated in excessive Mariology and deviant piety.

By all means, then, I would like to see this “apparent” truth documented by citing official documents and orthodox Catholic theologians who taught the goofy stuff that is alleged by Mr. Swan. He cites in his Appendix C lengthy comments by Jaroslav Pelikan (then Lutheran, now Orthodox). It is obvious that Mr. Swan’s main concern in with the notion of Mary Mediatrix, which he interprets (as far as I can tell) as involving making Mary a “goddess” or an “idol” or  “deified” or “quasi-divine.” Of course this is not true, and the subject is quite involved and deserving of its own in-depth treatment. This I have done on my website, in the following papers:

Several of these are of particular relevance to our present dispute. In the last paper, I have several sections devoted to extensive biblical evidences and analogies to Mary Mediatrix. The notion is not as utterly absent from Scripture as most Protestants assume:

II. Biblical Evidence: Mary, Paul, and “Spirits” as Distributors of Grace
III. Biblical Evidence: John 19:26-27, Revelation 12, and the Daughter of Zion: Mary as Spiritual Mother
IV. Biblical Evidence: Unilateral Atonement and Redemptive Suffering Among Christians as a Direct Analogy to Mary’s Preeminent Role

In my paper, St. Alphonsus de Liguori: Mary-Worshiper & Idolater? [8-9-02], I catalogued how this saint, in the very book which is considered by many to be the epitome of Catholic Mariological, supposedly “idolatrous” excess, made it very clear that he, too, was Christocentric (precisely the thing that Mr. Swan claims that even “educated” Catholics lacked till Martin Luther came along to set them straight). Now it is true that St. Alphonsus lived in the 18th century, yet he was perhaps the foremost (or most “notorious,” depending on one’s perspective) exponent of what many Protestants like Mr. Swan would see as an outrageous, blasphemous Mariology which supposedly raises the Blessed Virgin to a “goddess” or an “idol” or “deified” or “quasi-divine” state. Therefore, it is highly relevant and important to examine closely how he speaks about Jesus Christ, and the centrality of the Lord. I did this. Here are his own statements (all fully documented in the above paper):

 1) “My most loving Redeemer and Lord Jesus Christ”
 2) “graces that I have received from God”
 3) “his precious blood in which alone is our salvation, life, and resurrection.”
 4) “the plenitude of all grace which is in Christ as the Head, from which it flows, as   from its source”
 5) “God is the source of every good, and the absolute master of all graces”
 6) “Mary is only a pure creature”
 7) “Mary . . . receives whatever she obtains as a pure favor from God”
 8) “Jesus Christ is the only Mediator of justice”
 9) “by his merits he obtains us all graces and salvation”
10) ” receiving all she obtains through Jesus Christ, . . . in the name of Jesus Christ”
11) “. . . all graces that have been, that are, and will be dispensed to men . . . through the merits of Christ”
12) ” the mediation of Christ alone is absolutely necessary”
13) “Jesus . . .  has supreme dominion over all, and also over Mary”
14) “a mediator, . . . his Son Jesus, who can obtain for thee all that thou desirest.”
15) “He has given thee Jesus for a mediator; and what is there that such a son cannot obtain from the Father?”
16) “Jesus . . . having satisfied divine justice for them [our sins] by his death, he has already effaced them from your souls”

I commented after this list:

Does this sound like — as Len believes — the Catholic Church places Mary “above God,” or that she “can manipulate God,” or “can get things for Catholics from God that Jesus can’t”? Hardly. The truth of the matter is plain to see. Len has gotten his facts wrong. He may believe — based on his own Protestant theological and hermeneutical presuppositions (themselves not above all critique) — that the notion of Mediatrix is thoroughly unbiblical, and in fact, untrue, but he can’t prove that the Catholic system teaches it in such a way that God is lowered and Mary raised to a goddess-like status. That simply is not true, . . .

I then proceeded to document more such statements from St. Alphonsus:

“Either pity me,” will I say with the devout St. Anselm, “O my Jesus, and forgive me, and do thou pity me, my Mother Mary, by interceding for me” . . . my Jesus, forgive me; My Mother Mary, help me.  (p. 79)To understand why the holy Church makes us call Mary our life, we must know, that as the soul gives life to the body, so does divine grace give life to the soul; for a soul without grace has the name of being alive but is in truth dead, as it was said of one in the Apocalypse, Thou hast the name of being alive, and thou art dead. [Rev 3:1] Mary, then, in obtaining this grace for sinners by her intercession, thus restores them to life. (p. 80)

Most certainly God will not condemn those sinners who have recourse to Mary, and for whom she prays, since he himself commended them to her as her children. (p. 76)

. . . in us she beholds that which has been purchased at the price of the death of Jesus Christ . . . Mary well knows that her Son came into the world only to save us poor creatures . . . therefore Mary loves and protects them all. (pp. 60-61)

Thou, after God, must be my hope, my refuge, my love in this valley of tears. (pp. 55-56)

St. Augustine declares that “as she then co-operated by her love in the birth of the faithful to the life of grace, she became the spiritual Mother of all who are members of the one Head, Christ Jesus.” (p. 49)

Jesus our Redeemer, with an excess of mercy and love, came to restore this life by his own death on the cross . . . by reconciling us with God he made himself the Father of souls in the law of grace . . . (p. 47)

Whoever places his confidence in a creature independently of God, he certainly is cursed by God; for God is the only source and dispenser of every good, and the creature without God is nothing, and can give nothing. But if our Lord has so disposed it, . . . that all graces should pass through Mary as by a channel of mercy, we not only can but ought to assert that she, by whose means we receive the divine graces, is truly our hope. (p. 174)

. . . not as if Mary was more powerful than her Son to save us, for we know that Jesus Christ is our only Saviour, and that he alone by his merits has obtained and obtains salvation for us . . . (p. 137)

The Eternal Word came from heaven on earth to seek for lost sheep, and to save them he became thy Son. And when one of them goes to thee to find Jesus, wilt thou despise it? The price of my salvation is already paid; my Saviour has already shed his blood, which suffices to save an infinity of worlds. This blood has only to be applied even to such a one as I am. And that is thy office, O Blessed Virgin. (pp. 140-141)

No one denies that Jesus Christ is our only mediator of justice, and that he by his merits has obtained our reconciliation with God . . . St. Bernard says, “Let us not imagine that we obscure the glory of the Son by the great praise we lavish on the mother; for the more she is honored, the greater is the glory of her Son.” (p. 153)

St. Bonaventure: “As the moon, which stands between the sun and the earth, transmits to this latter whatever it receives from the formerso does Mary pour out upon us who are in this world the heavenly graces that she receives from the divine sun of justice” . . . it is our Lord, as in the head, from which the vital spirits (that is, divine help to obtain eternal salvation) flow into us, who are the members of the mystical body . . . (pp. 159-160)God has enriched thee with so great power . . . from all eternity God had determined by another decree that nothing that she asked should ever be refused to the divine Mother. (pp. 183-184)

The angelical Doctor St. Thomas [Aquinas] says [Summa Theologica 2. 2. q. 25, a.1, ad. 3], that we can place our hope in a person in two ways: as a principal cause, and as a mediate one. Those who hope for a favor from a king, hope it from him as lord; they hope for it from his minister or favorite as an intercessor. If the favor is granted, it comes primarily from the king, but it comes through the instrumentality of his favorite; and in this case he who seeks the favor is right in calling the intercessor his hope. The King of Heaven, being infinite goodness, desires in the highest degree to enrich us with his graces; but because confidence is requisite on our part, and in order to increase it in us, he has given us his own Mother to be our mother and advocate, and to her he has given all power to help us; and therefore he wills that we should repose our hope of salvation and of every blessing in her. Those who put their hopes in creatures alone, independently of God, as sinners do, and in order to obtain the friendship and favor of a man, fear not to outrage his divine Majesty, are most certainly cursed by God, as the prophet Jeremias says. (pp. 109-110; cf. p. 220)

. . . thy son Jesus Christ . . . has willed that thou also shouldst interest thyself with him, in order to obtain divine mercies for us. He has decreed that thy prayers should aid our salvation, and has made them so efficacious that they obtain all that they ask. To thee therefore, who art the hope of the miserable, do I, a wretched sinner, turn my eyes. I trust, O Lady, that in the first place through the merits of  Jesus Christ, and then through thy intercession, I shall be saved . . . “Jesus is my only hope, and after Jesus the most Blessed Virgin Mary.” (pp. 117-118)

. . . St. Augustine says, “that Mary, having merited to give flesh to the divine Word, and thus supply the price of our redemption, that we might be delivered from an eternal death; therefore is she more powerful than all others to help us to gain eternal life.”

. . . St. Bonaventure, who, considering the great benefit conferred on us by our Lord in giving us Mary for our advocate, thus addresses her: “O truly immense and admirable goodness of our God, which has been pleased to grant thee, O sovereign Mother, to us miserable sinners for our advocate, in order that thou, by thy powerful intercession, mayest obtain all that thou pleasest for us.” (pp. 188-189)

This is orthodox Catholic Mariology, from a very high authority: a Doctor of the Church. We see nothing of the “goddess” nonsense that Mr. Swan thinks is entailed in the notion of Mediatrix. Mr. Swan later cites St. Alphonsus as an example of the medieval tendency towards the notion of “Christ as Judge, Mary the Merciful” (thus my citation of him at length is quite relevant to this dialogue):

Later Graef discusses (canonized) Saint Ligouri . . .

Not to nitpick, but most saints (excepting those before the current formal selective process was developed, post-16th century) were canonized. Secondly, this saint is usually referred to as either St. Alphonsus, or St. Alphonsus de Liguori (just as Thomas Aquinas is referred to as St. Thomas or St. Thomas Aquinas, but rarely, “St. Aquinas”). And the spelling is “Liguori.”

Furthermore, Jaroslav Pelikan, in a more recent book, cited St. Anselm with regard to the relationship of Christ as Mediator and Mary as Mediatrix:

The author of the most influential theological treatise ever written about Christ as Mediator, Why God Became Man, Anselm of Canterbury at the end of the eleventh century, also wrote a treatise On the Virginal Conception and on Original Sin, as well as fervent prayers addressed to the Virgin as Mediatrix. As Anselm himself pointed out, the two treatises were closely connected, because consideration of Christ the Mediator provoked the question of “how it was that God assumed a man from the sinful mass of the human race without sin,” which was also a question about Mary. (Mary Through the Centuries, New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1996, 129-130)

Pelikan further comments, three pages later:

The countervailing force against what the Protestant Reformation was to construe as Mariolatry and as a diminution of the glory of Christ, the sole Mediator, was the recognition that she had been “exalted through thy omnipotent Son, for the sake of thy glorious Son, by thy blessed Son,” as Anselm put it in one of his prayers. It was, moreover, a consensus that Mary had been saved by Christ, a consensus that had a decisive effect on the eventual formulation of the Western doctrine that by her immaculate conception she had been the great exception to the universality of original sin. (Ibid., 133)

Mr. Armstrong shares the same confusion as O’Meara. For Armstrong though, Luther becomes the champion of Marian piety, correcting medieval excess. Armstrong fails to connect Luther’s autobiographical admissions of Mariolatry with his theological reform.

So Luther was an idolater . . . the fact that he was formerly ignorant of orthodox Catholic Mariology does not mean that everyone else was, and that the Church officially declared Mary as a “goddess,” etc. This was not the last time that a theologically-ignorant Catholic converted to Protestantism and then fought against the errors in his own past, as if they were doctrinal Catholic errors.

D. Armstrong’s Luther ascribes to Vatican II?

. . . I do not think Mr. Armstrong can harmonize Vatican II and Luther.

This is a non sequitur and based on more fallacious reasoning, since all I claimed in this regard was the following:

. . . he also strongly criticized excesses in Marian devotion, just as Catholics also do; particularly in Vatican II.

To suggest that Luther’s “veneration” of Mary is nothing but Catholicism properly understood is mistaken.

Of course it is, and I have never stated this (in fact, I have always expressly denied it, since I’ve always recognized that Luther ditched intercession of the saints which is part and parcel of Catholic veneration). Mr. Swan quotes my words more than once, from which he makes another of his false deductions that are becoming oddly commonplace in his writing, where I am concerned. I wrote that Luther:

. . . didn’t feel compelled to create the absolute (and quite unbiblical) silly dichotomy that characterizes present-day Reformed thought and much of Protestantism, generally-speaking — where no creature can ever be given honor, lest this immediately be an assault upon God and idolatry.

This remains true, despite Mr. Swan’s efforts to make me say something I did not say. Note his lack of coherent logic in this instance, where he is, in effect, equating the following two propositions. The first is what I actually asserted. The second is what he wrongly thinks I asserted, as “deduced” from the same words above:

1) Luther didn’t believe that no creature can ever be given honor, lest the one giving it fall into idolatry.2) Luther’s notion of veneration is essentially the same as that in Catholicism (“nothing but Catholicism”).

Read in context, my argument had much more to do with Luther’s dissimilarity with present-day Protestantism (especially the Reformed variety) than with similarity to Catholicism. I stated that he rejected the common Protestant dichotomies.

I would be curious to see how Mr. Armstrong comes down on this issue, . . . Ligouri [sic] taught it and was canonized.

St. Alphonsus’ thought must be balanced by proper consideration of the many Christocentric thoughts that he offered, as I have compiled above.

On what basis did those in the Sixteenth Century decide the orthodoxy of this doctrine?  Admitting that it is not current Catholic doctrine does not help those in previous centuries who embraced it.

By the simple fact that Jesus is Savior as well as Judge (Mary is neither, since she is not God); also by the clear biblical teaching of universal atonement (Jesus died for all men), which shows Jesus’ mercy well enough. But Calvinists like Mr. Swan reject universal atonement, so I suppose their Jesus is less merciful than the Catholic Jesus, in which case his criticisms would perhaps be better directed towards his own camp, as it persists in this error to this day.

By the Twentieth Century, one finds the Mother of God praised for her sacrifices and attributes, rather than Christ’s. The original understanding has been reversed: Mariological, not Christological. As an example, note the encyclical of Pope Pius XII from 1954. The following excerpts emphasize the greatness of the Mother of God and her role, rather than Christ:

Ad Caeli Reginam (On Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary; 11 October 1954), was (obviously) primarily about Mary (in terms of subject matter), not Jesus. It is unreasonable to expect a person to always talk about related ideas (even closely-related ideas). To use an analogy that Mr. Swan could relate to as a Protestant (Calvinist): must sanctification always be discussed when justification is discussed? No (most Protestants assert the necessity of sanctification, but consider it as a distinct category from justification). Must limited atonement always be discussed when perseverance of the saints is discussed? No, though all Calvinists believe in TULIP (the acronym of five principles that they adhere to). For that matter, must the Father always be discussed when Jesus the Son is discussed? No, of course not.

One is not obliged to always discuss everything at once. It does not follow, furthermore, that to not emphasize one thing in talking about another, proves that the first thing is disbelieved or considered unimportant. This is simply the rampant Protestant dichotomous mindset. It is not a logical deduction from the fact that Pius XII wrote an encyclical about the Queenship of Mary, where he mentioned Mary more than Jesus. What does Mr. Swan expect?: that every time a Catholic mentions Mary, he has to include a footnote: “and I must emphasize the fact that we believe Jesus is Lord and that He is far above Mary in the scheme of things”? Certain things are regarded as givens and need not always be mentioned. This is also true in science, history, philosophy, and pretty much any field of study.

Mr. Swan’s remaining section on Luther’s use of the term Mother of God suffers from gratuitous assumptions of what Catholics mean when they use the term. To consider these thoughts would require another discussion and take us far afield. My main point was simply that Luther used the term, whereas many Protestants today seem most reluctant to. And that is because Luther understood the patristic sense of the term. Mr. Swan, however, accepts the illusion that the Catholic understanding of Theotokos is somehow different from the patristic conception.

In his footnote 60, Mr. Swan cites Protestant historian, Heiko Oberman: “The warm praise which Luther has for the Mother of God throughout his life, his last sermon on 17 January 1546 included, is not based upon the great qualities of Mary herself but upon the grace granted to her.” Precisely! Of course it is all grace. This is exactly why Catholics are fond of saying things like “Hail Mary, full of grace” (Luke 1:28). The Immaculate Conception is nothing, if not total grace. How could, after all, Mary have participated in an act which was applied to her at her very conception? So the notion many Protestants have: that Catholics are attributing to Mary intrinsic qualities that somehow exist apart from the sheer grace of God, is preposterous.

It is true that we highly honor her for her obedience, but so what?, given the fact that in Hebrews 11, many saints are honored for what they did “in faith.” Does this mean that they, too, somehow did their righteous deeds apart from God’s grace? No, of course not. The same applies to Mary. All that she was, was due to God. She cooperated, but the very cooperation is entirely enabled by God. Mary’s glory is that she “did not not cooperate” (not cooperating with God was Eve’s mistake). But Mr. Swan shows only a dim understanding of all this, as indicated in ludicrous statements like:

Mary was the fourteen-year-old girl that God came to (as a gentleman) and asked her permission to save the world.

What he neglects to realize is that God knows in His providence how any person whom He chooses to involve in His plans will respond. Thus, His providence or sovereignty is not dependent upon that response, as Mr. Swan seems to imply that Catholics believe. This is a non-issue. But Calvinists cannot comprehend anyone working with God in a secondary function, entirely enabled by Him to do so. That is really the bottom line. One must understand theological presuppositions, which cause one to view Mariology in a certain way.

This is illustrated superbly in Mr. Swan’s footnote 69, which cited Vatican II:

“The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life. This is preeminently true of the Mother of Jesus, who gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and who was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.”“Rightly, therefore, the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St. Irenaeus says, she “being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.”

Mr. Swan provided the bolded words, because, for him, this assent of Mary is a scandal. For the Calvinist, such “assent” and “free cooperation” is impossible, due to their notions of “irresistible grace” and “unconditional election.” For them, whomever God grants His grace cannot resist it. So the categories above are meaningless and/or impossible for the Calvinist. But for Catholics, assent and predestination exist together in paradox (as in the first paragraph above): God causes, but man still cooperates, and gets credit for that cooperation insofar as he could have chosen not to do so. Man is free, and he has a free will, so that he can freely follow God, not just follow because he cannot resist when God calls him.

In any event, we see how Mr. Swan’s Calvinist premises affect his reasoning concerning Mary. One must take a step back and reveal the falsehood and unbiblical nature of these Calvinist notions, but that is beyond our purview here.

6. The Immaculate Conception and the Gospel According to James
V. The Immaculate Conception

A. Historical Documentation

The bulk of Mr. Armstrong’s response was in regard to the Immaculate Conception. I can only speculate the reason being is similar to that of other Catholic apologists: some argue that the Immaculate Conception is part of the very gospel of Jesus Christ.

The reason was described above. Mainly, it is simply an interesting historical study. As for the gospel, this depends on how it is defined. Strictly speaking, the Bible is clear on what the gospel is, and it seems to me that Protestants (if consistent) would want to rely on the Bible for their own definition of it. I shall cite several non-Catholic reference books as to its definition:

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Joseph H. Thayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1901, 257):

The term comprises the preaching of (concerning) Jesus Christ as having suffered death on the cross to procure eternal salvation for men in the kingdom of God, but as restored to life and exalted to the right hand of God in heaven . . . it may be more briefly defined as ‘the glad tidings of salvation through Christ; the proclamation of the grace of God manifested and pledged in Christ.’ (Rom. 1:16; 10:16; 11:28; I Cor. 4:15; II Cor. 8:18; Gal. 2:2; Eph. 3:6; Phil. 1:5, etc.).

New Bible Dictionary, Ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962, 484):

The gospel is the good news that God in Jesus Christ has fulfilled His promises to Israel, and that a way of salvation has been opened to all . . .  The use of ‘Gospels’ as a designation of the first four books of the N.T. is post-biblical (2nd century A. D.).

The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, general editor: J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1974, 424):

The message of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ, which lies at the heart of the NT and the church’s faith. In the NT it is, first, the proclamation by Jesus that the kingdom has drawn near and, then, the proclamation by His disciples that in His life, death, and resurrection the kingdom has been established and that salvation and forgiveness are offered to all who believe.

The trouble is that Mr. Swan does not accept the biblical definition of gospel (as one would expect a Protestant who goes by the formal principle of sola Scriptura to do). He wants to bring in the “man’s tradition” of Calvinism and hold that the gospel is actually not the Good News of the Redemption of Jesus Christ (see, e.g., Catechism of he Catholic Church, #571), but rather, the technical theological construct of Calvinist soteriology, or (briefly summarized), TULIP. This is simply not biblical, and it leads to absurdities, for Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all fully concur as to the facts recounted in the above three definitions. But since Mr. Swan falsely defines the gospel, he is led to the ludicrous position that the Catholic and Calvinist gospels are different. He has stated this in public forums:

I think you misunderstand the gospel in the protestant mind. With the sacraments in Lutheranism, they are not the way one in which one acquires righteousness for eventual salvation. Hence, it would be possible for the Lutheran to believe in a form of the “real presense” and still not deny the gospel, like Rome does. . . . One is saved by faith alone.

#51395, “RE: Quick reply”
In response to Reply #16
Edited on Fri Jun-13-03 02:13 AM by TertiumQuid

. . . Now in my case, I knowingly teach a different gospel than Rome.

TertiumQuid Sat Jun-14-03 06:50 AM
#51622, “RE: Oh Yes I Do”
In response to Reply #22

I know what Rome teaches, and I deliberately undermine Rome by “preaching” a different gospel than the Roman Catholic Church.

TertiumQuid Sat Jun-14-03 01:00 PM
#51656, “RE: TQ. I have little faith in anyone’s”
In response to Reply #33

What Mr. Armstrong fails to realize is that my paper was not a complete discussion of the development of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

This again illustrates that Mr. Swan fails to comprehend that my paper — while a reply to his in large part — is its own entity, where I explore issues that I find to be of interest. I am not bound to what Mr. Swan desires for me to research and write, according to his own criteria of the moment.

Mr. Swan proceeds to make a rather silly, non sequitur argument, writing, “Mr. Armstrong entertains tangents,” and “I can only speculate his intention was an attempt to make me look incompetent,” and “Armstrong needs to defend his Church’s dogma: the 1854 Immaculate Conception.”  Ironically, then, in his attempt to criticize me for engaging “tangents,” and straying from the subject of his paper, he implies that I ought to do a full-scale defense of the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception (which indeed I have done elsewhere, in several papers and book chapters), as if that had anything to do with the purely historical question of what Luther believed with regard to Mary and (particularly) the Immaculate Conception.

I have no desire to debate this issue. The theological development of the Immaculate Conception is far removed from the topic of my paper.

Nor do I; not in this context. So, alas, Mr. Swan and I agree on something. He then excuses me  “for raising a number of irrelevant tangents and straw men.” Likewise, I return this gracious thoughtfulness by excusing him for his non sequiturs, misunderstanding as to the purpose and scope of my paper, and his straw men of what he thinks are Catholic positions.

. . . my paper had only a brief discussion of Luther’s Position on the Immaculate Conception. My primary point was to note Luther shifted the emphasis from the mother to the Messiah.

That’s not at issue between us; however, it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that he thereby denied that Mary was immaculately conceived. The majority of scholars who have studied that particular issue affirmed that he did believe this his entire life. And that was the central subject of my paper.

Rather than discussing Mary’s sinlessness, Luther insisted Christ’s sinlessness was due entirely to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit during conception.

If indeed Luther stated this, it is virtually blasphemous. Jesus’ sinlessness is not “due entirely” to His Virgin Birth but “due entirely” to the fact that He is God and thus incapable of sinning, by nature. The contrary assertion is quasi-Nestorianism.

I hold that Luther abandoned this earlier position [on the Immaculate Conception].

Mr. Swan can hold any position he likes, but I showed in my previous paper how many Protestant scholars do not take this view. I am inclined to go with the scholars, rather than with Mr. Swan, just as I would give such scholarly consensus (or near-consensus) much more weight than my own opinion.

[Dave (4-29-24: I later modify my position on this, and agree that Luther did change is opinion to an extent later in life. See:

Luther & Mary’s Immaculate Conception: Lutheran Scholars’ Opinions [9-30-10]
Luther & the Immaculate Conception: More Non-Catholic Historians & Scholars [9-30-10]
Luther & the “Immaculate Purification” of Mary [10-2-10]

It remains true, however — as I contended and documented –, that many Lutheran scholars hold that he did not do so]



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Photo credit: Portrait of Martin Luther (1528), by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Summary: Part one of a dialogue with anti-Catholic Reformed apologist & polemicist James Swan, about Protestant founder Martin Luther’s view of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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