Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Luther on the Immaculate Conception (2)

OK, James Swan and I have been going back and forth regarding Luther’s belief in the Immaculate Conception (IC).  Now, I have conceded that there IS ROOM for the anti-IC believer to believe that Luther in his later life rejected the IC - but there can be no denying in his earlier life as a Catholic and well into the time he schismed from the Catholic Faith - that he did indeed believe and profess a belief in the IC compatible with the 1854 dogmatic definition.  James includes in his commentary a link to a Lutheran pastor who echos what I've been saying here regarding Luther continuing to mention the Immaculate Conception right up till the time of his death.

      Now it seems we’re repeating ourselves, so unless something significant comes up, I expect this to be my last posting to him on this matter.   Swan accuses me of not looking at all the context he’s provided, which is a false accusation.  For this response I will quote everything from his recent comments which includes the context he believes I am either not seeing or ignoring.

 James Swan said...
sw: James, why make a point of how I have not resorted to calling you names - which is true, I have not done so - and then you have to throw in "Romanists" which you know to be a slur against Catholics?

Scott, I consider any people under the authority of Rome as Romanists. I've used this term for years, and never apologized for it. I reluctantly use the words "Roman Catholic," as that word "Catholic" no longer applies to the Roman sect.

My response to the above was posted in a comment at BA
When it comes to the True Christian Faith, it is truly the Catholic Faith which is universal (throughout the world) and is not a schismatic faith. You (James) can use what ever justifications you want - you're still deliberately using insulting terminology.

Now, on to the more on-topic responses:

sw: I have openly stated that Luther contradicts himself - and yes, I would say within this same context he does so. Even if, for the sake of argument, we give you the 1544 statement - in 1538, just six years prior, he's still affirming the possibility of his earlier "two conceptions" concept.

So you'll give me the 1544 statement from LW 7? LOL.

Context James, context!  I said “Even IF, for the sake of argument...” That “IF” is a pretty big word there.  

Let's now gain more years by comparing statements. In 1544, which you now will give me, Luther stated,

"But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin."

I still believe you have missed the point here... Luther speaks of “the Virgin’s conception” not of Jesus’ conception.  You seem to gloss over this point, repeatedly (though later in this series you do address it, or let someone else (TF) make an argument for you).  It is at “the Virgin’s conception” that the Holy Ghost purged and sanctified Mary.  This was my point for saying that even in 1544, where in the same document he makes seemingly contradictory remarks, he’s still affirming just, just two years prior to his death, that the Blessed Virgin was purified at HER conception.  I reiterate, I do not “give you” the 1544 statement, I said IF we gave you that one, then the 1538 statement still affirms that the Blessed Virgin is purified at some point prior to Jesus’ conception.

Now compare that to Luther in 1540:

"all that flesh and blood of Mary's has been purified in conception, so that nothing sinful remains."

I’d like to see more context here - but at face value Mr. Swan has just provided a 1540 affirmation of Mary being purified in what appears to be HER conception.  In our discussions I believe this is the first time a citation from 1540 has come up and it is not a validly cited source.

Now compare that to Luther in 1538:

"But though Mary has been conceived in sin, the Holy Spirit takes her flesh and blood and purifies them."

Again, this is not a denial of Luther’s earlier “two conceptions” theory and still allows for the concept of the Blessed Virgin being purified in the “second conception” (the infusion of the soul, that is when “life” begins - according to Luther).

Now, read LW 7:

The flesh of Christ comes forth from an incestuous union; likewise, the flesh of the Virgin, His mother, and of all the descendants of Judah, in such a way that the ineffable plan of God’s mercy may be pointed out, because He assumed the flesh or the human nature from flesh that was contaminated and horribly polluted.

Again, this statement does not deny the “two conceptions” theory Luther explicitly espoused earlier.  Even a 21st century Catholic can accept that the Blessed Virgin inherited Original Sin in her flesh (for she died, though some will argue she did not), as the 1854 definition does not say she did not inherit Original Sin, only that “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”  I repeat, Luther’s belief in “two conceptions” really does not detract from the 1854 definition.

The scholastic doctors argue about whether Christ was born from sinful or clean flesh, or whether from the foundation of the world God preserved a pure bit of flesh from which Christ was to be born. I reply, therefore, that Christ was truly born from true and natural flesh and human blood which was corrupted by original sin in Adam, but in such a way that it could be healed. Thus we, who are encompassed by sinful flesh, believe and hope that on the day of our redemption the flesh will be purged of and separated from all infirmities, from death, and from disgrace; for sin and death are separable evils. Accordingly, when it came to the Virgin and that drop of virginal blood, what the angel said was fulfilled: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). To be sure, the Messiah was not born by the power of flesh and blood, as is stated in John ( cf. 1:13): “Not of blood nor of the will of a man, etc.” Nevertheless, He wanted to be born from the mass of the flesh and from that corrupted blood. But in the moment of the Virgin’s conception the Holy Spirit purged and sanctified the sinful mass and wiped out the poison of the devil and death, which is sin. Although death remained in that flesh on our account, the leaven of sin was nevertheless purged out, and it became the purest flesh, purified by the Holy Spirit and united with the divine nature in one Person. Therefore it is truly human nature no different from what it is in us. And Christ is the Son of Adam and of his seed and flesh, but, as has been stated, with the Holy Spirit overshadowing it, active in it, and purging it, in order that it might be fit for this most innocent conception and the pure and holy birth by which we were to be purged and freed from sin. [LW 7:12]

Notice the ambiguity as to which conception is being referred to is no longer... an ambiguity! TurretinFan has rightly commented on this:

"As you can see, context is key. "Mary's conception," or "the conception of Mary" (or replace "Mary" with "Virgin") can refer to two very different things: it can refer to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, and it can refer to the conception of Jesus (or any of his ἀδελφοὶ - look up its etymology). In the latter case, Mary is doing the conceiving, in the former case she is receiving the conceiving. The difference in meaning is significant and - in English - the difference can only be determined by looking at the context." [source]

So now Mr. Swan, via the pseudonymic “TurretinFan” (TF) delves into the etymological fallacy.  IF the word in question were intended to mean what they say, then an ACCURATE translation would have been, “in the moment of the Virgin’s conception of the Son...” - so if Swan and TF are correct here, then every translator of this passage to English has it wrong.  Now, before continuing, let us also consider the fact that this word TF throws at us is a GREEK word... I am unaware of Luther’s Works being in Greek as he primarily wrote in German or Latin, not Greek.  Why the Greek here?

Now, the word he cites here is transliterated “adelphos” which is literally “a” (from) “delphus” (the womb) - and further means “a brother.” [source]   It is simply illogical that we’re talking about a “brother” here in “the Virgin’s conception.”  TF even states it COULD mean the conception of the Virgin - so we’ll take that argument and leave the irrational one behind.

Now add to the fact that the later Luther states, "Every man is corrupted by original sin, with the exception of Christ" (1540). "Christ alone is a son of the flesh without the sin of the flesh" (1544).

Again, this statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of the definition of the Immaculate Conception.  The definition does not say that the Blessed Virgin did not inherit the “sin of the flesh,” only that she was preserved from the STAIN of that sin in the moment of her conception.  Will Mr. Swan admit to this fact?

sw: "could it be" James that though he didn't speak of the IC in as forceful terms as he did earlier in his, that he still maintained a belief in it?

Again Scott, even what you consider Luther speaking in forecful terms wasn't so. But, you've never bothered to track down Luther's revised sermon, so how would you know? If you had some sort of similar statement about two conceptions from Luther, then you'd have something. I've never seen any such statement after the 1527 sermon. I have though seen Luther agree that the immaculate conception is a fraud, but the date is uncertain.

My use of “forceful” is a relevant term... in later works he may not have been as explicit as in his Catholic and early Protestant days - you’re missing the point.  The later works do not come out and say, “I was wrong in 1527 and earlier and I whole-heartedly renounce all belief in the Immaculate Conception.”  There is no such retraction that I am aware of, and I’m sure if one existed that you would quote it and validly cite your source.  Your statement that you have “seen” Luther agree that it is a fraud without quote and citation is meaningless to this debate.  Though I’m sure it has meaning in your mind, without valid documentation/citation it cannot be accepted.

sw: I said in one of my initial responses to you though that I could see how those who reject the IC could impute their belief into Luther's "thence."

Scott, you're reading Luther with immaculate conception glasses on. The context from the 1538 quote is about the conception of Christ, in fact each line is about the conception of Christ:

“In our Christian Creed we confess that Christ was conceived and became man or was incarnate (if I may so speak),that He became a real human being by assuming a body"- about the conception of Christ

"We confess that He assumed genuine flesh and blood from the Virgin Mary that He did not pass through her as the sun shines through a glass but brought her virgin flesh and blood with Him."- about the conception of Christ

"If this had taken place only with the co-operation of Mary, the Babe would not have been pure."- about the conception of Christ

But though Mary has been conceived in sin, the Holy Spirit takes her flesh and blood and purifies them; and thence He creates the body of the Son of God.- about the conception of Christ

This is why it is said that "He was conceived by the Holy Ghost."- about the conception of Christ

Thus He assumed a genuine body from His mother Mary, but this body was cleansed from sin by the Holy Spirit. If this were not the case, we could not be saved.”- about the conception of Christ

I will not deny that there are references to Jesus’ conception - that is wholly irrelevant to the FACT that “But though Mary has been conceived in sin, the Holy Spirit takes her flesh and blood and purifies them;”  is about MARY, not Jesus!  Why the smokescreen approach?  I have never denied that I am seeing the Immaculate Conception in places where one could possibly come up with a contrary opinion and as I stated above and Swan quotes, and even in this response from Swan, he’s responding to me saying “I said in one of my initial responses to you that though I could see how those who reject the IC could impute their belief into Luther’s ‘thence’.”  I have been quite up-front about my “glasses” - whereas Mr. Swan appears to think he’s not wearing anti-IC glasses and that his responses are wholly without bias (though I am impressed with his inclusion of his "By the way" comment at the end of this series).

sw: I am content to "let Luther be Luther," and accept his word that at Mary's second conception, at the infusion of her soul, that she was made clean from sin.

So, he has a section he may not haveeven written deteled, and you want to hold him to it? That's letting Luther be Luther? C'mon Scott, you can't really be serious.

Again, as you have already conceded, James, deletion of something is an argument from silence - the LACK of saying something cannot be equivocated to denying it, in fact in logic silence lends itself to consent - not negation.  I’m totally serious here, and again I do not negate your anti-IC glasses - you too have admitted that Luther is hard to pin down at times, and I agree with that!  I believe the IC is one of those times in his later life as he does, as I have agreed, say some contradictory things about it even while in the same context it can be read he’s not denying it.  

sw: Unless you have an explicit statement from Luther saying, "I was wrong in 1527, the Virgin Mary was not preserved from sin at her second conception, and while this did happen, it only happened at the conception of Jesus."

That's a shoddy way of doing history, and I stand by my statement that "this little interaction proves that Romanists read history the way they need it to be." I've given you evidence of Luther's later view, and he's not contradicting himself, even with his 1527 revised sermon (where' he leaves the "two conception stuff in the realm of speculation).

Well, again I beg to differ and here is where we’ll likely have to agree to disagree.  Making an argument from Luther’s silence or an unsubstantiated statement (essentially “hearsay” at this point) is “a shoddy way of doing history.”  You’re not “letting Luther be Luther.”  You’re assuming by his silence (the alleged removal of this from later works) that he negates his earlier statements, but you’re the one left making an assumption which is contrary to logic - remember, in logic silence lends itself to consent, not negation.

I still say Scott that you are a man of integrity. I've seen that you will look at evidence and change your mind, as you did with at least some of our recent exchanges. The excuse "Luther contradicts himself" doesn't work here. In his post 1527 writings, he says the same thing, over and over again.

Well, I’ve changed the wording of what was found on my website (not on the site itself just yet, I’m reformatting that page and making sure “all my ducks are in a row” before republishing it) but my “mind” was not “made up” on the earlier accounts.  As I said, I took someone else at their word.  What I am quite open to doing is correcting anything proven to be in error, and I believe we’ve found some errors - hence my site is changing.  As I also said, prior to this discussion between you and me, I would have to plead ignorance on Luther’s position on the Immaculate Conception.  I am still thankful for this discussion.  Now, I will say if you have explicit and verifiable evidence of Luther expressly denying the Immaculate Conception in any way at all, then I will change my mind on this matter.  Until such a time, I’m letting Luther be Luther in what HE SAID and not relying on what HE DIDN’T SAY.  

By the way, for the three people interested in Luther's Mariology (LOL)- here's a very interesting one year old discussion from a Lutheran blog:

There's a man commenting on this post, Carl Vehse, who mops up the place. I don't know who he is, but he appears to know the subject of Luther's Mariology.

Thank you for including this - the Lutheran pastor, Pastor Peters,  echos the very sentiment I have, that Luther refers to the Immaculate Conception right up to the end of his life.  He criticizes Catholics for over-honoring Mary but in the same breath condemns Protestantism in general and even somewhat Lutherans (who give lip-service to honoring Mary, but “don’t have their heart in it”) for not giving enough honor to Mary.
May each of us continue to seek wisdom and guidance in the spirit of the Holy Family (in JMJ),



  1. James Swan replied to this article in a combox on his blog (not sure why he didn't just say it here) with:
    With it being Christmas week, I'm not sure when I'll get to this.

    No rush.

    Despite my use of the word "Romanist" I don't have any problems with you personally Scott, and I stand by my other comments about you in our recent exchange.

    I appreciate what you're saying for the most part, not so much when you're questioning my motives and/or looking at context - when I have, and happen to see things a bit differently than you do, as yet.

    I do appreciate that you've at least looked at some of what I've written.

    Well, since you've literally written volumes, it would be rather difficult to look at ALL you've written - however, I have looked at ALL the links you've provided and ALL you've posted directly in this exchange. If there is other material you'd like to have me look at, you'll need to be more precise.

    That being said, I do think you are entirely misconstruing the contexts of the quotes in question.

    Well again, I disagree here. I'm not the one imputing something Luther DIDN'T SAY nor assuming by deletion (without direct denial) that he moved to a state of direct denial.

    I do think you're ignoring specific facts that don't fit your paradigm.

    Again, I must disagree. I've even acknowledged your paradigm and stated I can see how you have reached the conclusions you have. I believe the objective reader can see who has gone outside their paradigm and who refuses to do so.

    I do think we're doing history differently.

    Yes, I do not impose my paradigm upon Luther wholly without considering your paradigm. Are we coming at this from different perspectives? No doubt! As the Indian proverb goes, we're touching different parts of the same elephant.

    I do think you are not letting Luther be Luther.

    And that is my complaint about your paradigm/argument. You do not accept the IC and you're imposing that view on Luther because he allegedly omits statements about the IC in later works (and I have shown he doesn't totally omit comments on it - and you have posted a link to a Lutheran pastor who agrees with me on this point!)

    And, I do still wonder if our interaction on this will be fruitful.

    I am not holding a gun to your head. I have appreciated your insights and research - AND at least some of your "corrections."

    This tends to be a description of many of my other encounters with those from your ken (sic).

    I don't have and never had a "ken" but I did have a GI Joe when I was a kid. (ducking)

    That being said, I'll not reduce my comments to ad hominem regarding you and your kin.

    I'm sorry if you find any of this insulting.

    That's OK, like water on a duck's back or under a bridge... gone and forgiven.

    I do not hold grudges... they're not worth holding on to. Holding a grudge is like giving the other person free rent... in your brain.

    May God guide us all to all truth,
    In JMJ,

  2. I have also posted the chronology of this exchange to my "Indices" page, though I think I'm missing the opening salvo.


  3. I find James Swan's defense of the use of the derogatory word Romanist to be pathetic. If he was a negro, would he like being caled a n----r, a c--n, a s---k, a j----e b---y or any other racist slur word? I don't believe he would like it very much at all! But as long as he subscribes to the hateful creeds of Protestantism that denigrate the true Catholic faith as very anti-Christ, we can expect nothing less.

  4. Scotju,
    While I agree that he purposely uses "Romanist" as an epithet, you are only playing into his hands with such rants. In my experience the protestants who use such an epithet even after they've been told most Catholics find it offensive (and he has been told numerous times), do so with the justification in their own minds that we're not Christians, anyway. They are thus blinded to their own lack of Christian charity, but will accuse you of not being Christ-like with such a response.
    It is ironic but true. They wouldn't "witness" to non-Christians that way, at least we didn't when I was a protestant. But, it is okay to treat Catholics, who *are* fellow Christians, with as much disrespect as they like. And, believe me, I have been on the receiving end of the hateful name-calling. I try my best not to respond in kind. I prefer to show Christ's charity (love!) to my 'enemy' (that is how they see Catholics and *not* how I see fellow Christians) as well as my friends. Because, as G.K. Chesterton said, "...they (neighbors and enemies) are often the same people."

  5. CathMom5, I'm afraid I don't understand you why you called my statement a rant, and why it would play into Swan's hands. Could you please explain it to me? I might be missing something.

    I mentioned how Swan wouldn't like being called by any epiphet, well a got a funny story to tell on him. Earlier this year, I was in the comboxes at Begger's. In a light hearted moment, I called him Jimie and Swanee. He went ballistic and told me never to call him by those names again. I replied I wouldn't do it again, but I also told him that he made himself look petty by his action, because it should have been obvisous that I wasn't trying to do dirt to him. He went ballistic again, and shut down the thread! It just go to show you that insensitive bigots are hyper-sensitive when it comes to their own skin.

  6. Scotju said: "CathMom5, I'm afraid I don't understand you why you called my statement a rant, and why it would play into Swan's hands. Could you please explain it to me? I might be missing something."

    For one thing, bringing race into the mix is not a reasonable response. This is about defending His Church, the Catholic Church, and those who see His Church as their enemy, while calling themselves Christians.

    Next, it was completely unneccessary to use so many thinly disguised epithets for African Americans--one would have sufficed, especially since there was only one epithet (Romanist) used against Catholic Christians (I know, redundant but some people need reminding) in this incident.

    As I tried to say before, I completely understand the sentiment. They way in which you went about it, in my humble opinion, was a little over the top and in doing so, plays into his hands. He believes Catholics are not Christians, so provokes Catholics into un-Christian responses just so (IMO) he can say, 'See, they aren't Christians.'

    Third, I don't think an insignificant protestant 'apologist' calling Catholics names is in the same league as full scale institutional racism. Racial epithets should remain in the past. Only the intolerant and uneducated still use them. Religious epithets should also be in the past but one who uses such is ignorant on a whole different level.

    That juvenile dig at Catholics doesn't affect my real life or my faith. It is more like the bully on the playground trying to impress his bully friends about how bada** he can be. Like the 13 or 14 yo at McDonald's the other day who kept using the s-word. My 9yo daughter was shocked by his language in a public place where there are young children. I tried to explain to her that he thinks swearing makes him sound like a man. It is the same with protestants who use epithets against Catholics. Prots who call Catholics epithets make them seem more like Christians. In fact, just the opposite is true; it just makes them look petty and juvenile. If they took a step back from their own pride they might actually see it.

    One last point, when he can get Catholics bickering with each other he has 'won.' They like to claim that the Church is not ONE as Christ promised. In dividing us, they justify that lie and their disobedience of Christ Himself in their own mind also.

    As Spiderman said in 'Spiderman 2', "There's more happening here than me and you."

  7. CathMom5, thanks for the clarification. I had no intention of making my comment into a rant or what was perceived as a rant. I just wanted to make a comparison between a racist bigot's and an anti-Catholic's lack of sensitivity. Looking back at my post, you're right, I did overdo it. One would've been enough to get the point across.

    By the way CathMom5, sometimes race and religion are intertwined by bigots. The Irish were once not considered 'white' by the British. Their religion (our religion) was considered as proof of their racial inferiority. The Anglo-American establishment has done the same thing to every non-Northern European Catholic group that has immigrated to this country. If yo find this hard to believe, do a web seach on Irish were once considered black. It's fascinating history.

  8. I don't have and never had a "ken" but I did have a GI Joe when I was a kid. (ducking)

    "ken" noun:

    1: range of vision: sight

    2: range of understanding

    source The Merriam-Webster Dictionary I keep on my desk p.390

  9. Hi James,
    Regarding "ken" - that's cool, I've learned a new word. I've never heard "ken" used that way before. Thanks!

    Now, you have to admit, the GI Joe bit was funny!



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