Reach Into the Depths

From “The Magnificat Explained” (1520-21).

When the Blessed Virgin herself experienced that God was working such great things in her, despite her insignificance, lowliness, poverty, and despised condition, the Holy Spirit taught her this valuable lesson and wisdom.  God is the king or lord who does nothing but lower what is of high degree, briefly breaking what is whole and making whole what is broken…. From now to the end of time, God will make what is insignificant, despised, suffering, and dead into something valuable, honorable, blessed, and alive.  On the other hand, everything that is valuable, honorable, blessed, and living, God will make to be nothing, worthless, despised, suffering, and dying… We experience daily how all strive after that which is above them: honor, power, riches, knowledge, the good life, and everything that is lofty and great.  Where such people are, everyone wants to hang around…. On the other hand, no one wants to peer into the depths, where poverty, humiliation, want, lamentation, and fear are; from this all avert their eyes.  Where such people are, everyone runs away…God’s work and eyes reach into the depths, while human eyes reach only into the heights.  

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German priest and theologian, a seminal figure of the Protestant Reformation. His teaching about justification by faith, revealed in his study of the Pauline Epistles, became the core of Protestant teaching about salvation, and inspired a wide-reaching series of reform in Christian ministry, worship, and spiritual practice. His treatise “The Magnificat Explained” was a letter of advice on the exercise of authority addressed to Prince John Frederick, son of the Elector of Saxony, who had intervened on his behalf after Luther was excommunicated by the pope. Martin Luther is commemorated on February 18 on the calendars of several Lutheran and Anglican Churches.  This translation of the text is from Luther’s Spirituality, trans and eds. Philip Krey, Peter Krey (New York: Paulist, 2007).


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