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Question

Most Rev. Father Angelo,

about twenty years ago, at a Passionist vocational retreat, a seminarian of the aforementioned institute said that Martin Luther wrote the most beautiful commentary on the Magnificat.

Over the years, I have often heard this phrase repeated by other priests. I don’t know whether they have read it or not but it is very beautiful indeed, I read an excerpt from B. GHERARDINI, Protestant Spirituality, Studium Editions.

But I wonder, more beautiful than which other?

Isn’t there a risk for the repetition of this statement to become a cliche?

And then … especially in this particular year, in which those who follow Swiss tv stations (and not only) see a certain triumphalism in remembering a certain anniversary.

Thank you and greetings


The priest’s answer

Dear friend,

1. M. Luther, unlike his followers, praises Mary as the Mother of God.

He had promised a prince the Commentary on the Magnificat because in no passage of Scripture it is said so beautifully how much a prince must care about it as he is

the one who has the task of governing others.

Here is what he writes in the introduction: “Now I do not know in all the Scriptures anything that so well serves such a purpose as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords. Truly she sings in it most sweetly of the fear of God, what manner of lord He is, and especially what His dealings are with those of high and of low degree. Let another listen to his love singing a worldly ditty; this pure Virgin well deserves to be heard by a prince and lord, as she sings him her sacred, chaste and salutary song. It is a fine custom, too, that this canticle is sung in all the churches daily at vespers, and to a particular and appropriate setting that distinguishes it from the other chants. May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom, profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers, so that your Grace as well as we all may draw therefrom wholesome knowledge and a praiseworthy life, and thus come to chant and sing this Magnificat eternally in heaven. To this may God help us. Amen”.

2. As everyone can see, Luther not only praises Our Lady as Mother of God, but prays to her, begs her to grant him the ability “to expound this song of hers, so that your Grace as well as we all may draw therefrom wholesome knowledge”.

Here too, unlike his followers, he appeals to Our Lady, prays to Our Lady and asks Her for a singular grace.

3. In his comments on the initial words “My Soul doth Magnify the Lord” he writes: “These words express the strong ardor and exuberant joy whereby all her mind and life are inwardly exalted in the Spirit. Wherefore she does not say, “I exalt the Lord,” but, “My soul doth exalt Him.” It is as though she said, “My life and all my senses float in the love and praise of God and in lofty pleasures, so that I am no longer mistress of myself; I am exalted, more than I exalt myself, to praise the Lord.” That is the experience of all those through whom the divine sweetness and Spirit are poured; they cannot find words to utter what they feel. For to praise the Lord with gladness is not a work of man; it is rather a joyful suffering, and the work of God alone. It cannot be taught in words, but must be learned in one’s own experience. Even as David says, in Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is sweet: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” He puts tasting before seeing, because this sweetness cannot be known unless one has experienced and felt it for oneself; and no one can attain to such experience unless he trusts in God with his whole heart, when he is in the depths and in sore straits”.

4. Speaking of the “spirit of Mary” he also says that “In the tabernacle fashioned by Moses there were three separate compartments. The first was called the holy of holies: here was God’s dwelling-place, and in it there was no light The second was called the holy place: here stood a candlestick with seven arms and seven lamps. The third was called the outer court: this lay under the open sky and in the full light of the sun. In this tabernacle we have a figure of the Christian man. His spirit is the holy of holies, where God dwells in the darkness of faith, where no light is; for he believes that which he neither sees nor feels nor comprehends. His soul is the holy place, with its seven lamps, that is, all manner of reason, discrimination, knowledge and understanding of visible and bodily things. His body is the forecourt, open to all, so that men may see his works and manner of life.

5. M. Luther also says that Mary “finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and remains withal so simple and so calm and counts not any poor serving maid beneath her. O we poor mortals! if we come into a little wealth or might or honor, yea if we are a whit fairer than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to any one beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled, nor keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according as He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains at all times the same; she lets God have His will with her, and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy and trust in God”.

6. He also praises the humility of Mary who does not exalt herself to be elevated to the dignity of being Mother God:

“Such a spirit is manifested here by Mary the Mother of God. Standing in the midst of such exceeding great good things, she does not fall upon them nor seek her own enjoyment therein, but keeps her spirit pure in loving and praising the bare goodness of God, ready and willing to have God withdraw them from her and leave her spirit poor and naked and in want.

Now it is much more difficult to practice moderation in the midst of riches, honor and power than amid poverty, dishonor and weakness, since the former are mighty incentives to evildoing. Even so the wondrous pure spirit of Mary is worthy of the greater praise, because, having such overwhelming honors heaped upon her head, she does not suffer that to make her stumble, but acts as though she did not see it, remains “even and fight in the way,” clings only to God’s goodness which she neither sees nor feels, overlooks the good things she does feel, and neither takes pleasure nor seeks her own enjoyment therein. Thus she can truly sing, “My spirit rejoiceth in God my Savior.” It is indeed a spirit that exults only in faith, and rejoices not in the good things of God that she felt, but only in God, Whom she did not feel, and Who is her Salvation, known by her in faith alone. Such are the truly lowly, naked, hungry and God-fearing spirits, as we shall see below”.

7. So far so good. Actually, all beautiful.

But then it distorts Catholic doctrine by simply presenting good works as necessary deeds for the man to earn his salvation.

“From all this we may know and judge how full the world is nowadays of false preachers and false saints, who fill the ears of the people with preaching good works (…).

Alas! all the world, all monasteries, and all churches are now filled with such folk. They all walk in that false, perverted and uneven spirit, and urge and drive others to do the same. They exalt good works to such a height that they imagine they can merit heaven thereby. But the bare goodness of God is what ought rather to be preached and known above all else, and we ought to learn that, even as God saves us out of pure goodness, without any merit of works, so we in our turn should do the works without reward or selfseeking, for the sake of the bare goodness of God. We should desire nothing in them but His good pleasure, and not be anxious about a reward”.

8. As a matter of fact, the Catholic doctrine teaches that one is saved only by virtue of grace and without this white robe one cannot enter into Heaven.

Grace is then preserved by avoiding evil, sin, and doing good, that is, observing the commandments with good works.

The absence of good works is the same as speaking of empty faith or dead faith as the Lord said:

“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”. (Mt 7,21)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Lk 6,46).

9. As can be seen, after the Commentary on the Magnificat we see the Lutheran thesis that faith only would be enough to be saved even without good works,

and faith alone would save even when the most mortal sins are present.

After all Luther had written to Melanchthon: “Pecca fortirter sed credo fortius” (“sin greatly, but believe still more greatly”; Epistle 501).

But this is not what the Gospels teach.

10. Furthermore, Luther seems very zealous of pure love for the Lord.

But since this pure love is difficult to achieve, in the end it is easier for Luther to save himself by sinning while still having faith.

While St. Paul also speaks of capital to be earned for the future life.

Here are the precise words of St. Paul: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment.

Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life“. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Especially since the love of Heaven is not at all contrary to the love of God, but it is the Lord himself who infuses it in us and makes us desire it:

“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Mt 16,26).

11. Therefore, alongside the beautiful expressions for Our Lady, it is necessary to remember that in his Commentary on the Magnificat there are incorrect statements which are contrary to Catholic doctrine.

I stop here because if we read the commentary on the words He hath Scattered the Proud in the Imagination of their Hearts, all his hatred towards the Catholic Church and consecrated life comes out.

At this point it is not clear how a consecrated person can say: that it is the most beautiful commentary on the Magnificat.

Maybe he just read the first few pages.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify these points.

I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo