All the Glory to God

From “The Magnificat Put into German and Explained” (1521)

This holy song of the most blessed mother of God… here she sings most sweetly of the fear of God and of what kind of Lord God is, and above all how God deals with those of high and low degree… This modest virgin deserves to be heard by princes and lords as she sings her sacred, pure, and salutary song. It is also appropriate that this canticle is sung daily in all churches at vespers and in a special and appropriate setting that sets it apart from other chants…

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 insight and wisdom. God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but lower what is of high degree, briefly breaking what is whole and making whole what is broken….

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, run there, serve there gladly, be at their side, and share in their glory…

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, flees, shuns, and leaves them alone. No one thinks to help them, stand with them, or attempt to make something out of them…. Therefore, to God alone belongs the kind of seeing that looks into the depths… For this reason God cast the only and beloved Son into the depths of misery…

The tender mother of Christ does the same here, teaching us with her words and by the example of her experience how to know, love, and praise God. With a leaping and joyful spirit she boasts and praises God for regarding her, despite her low estate and her nothingness… God’s work and eyes reaches into the depths, while human eyes reach only into the heights… Therefore we must heed Mary’s last word, “God.” Mary does not say, “My soul makes itself great,” or “holds me in high regard.” She thought nothing of herself. God alone makes her great. She credits God with everything and hives all the glory to God, from whom she has received it.

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 Put into German and 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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