Doing so, we stumbled over this nice passage from a sermon by the Dean:
[Christian] Baptisme is to us Ianua Ecclesiae as S. Augustine calls it, The Doore of the Church, at that we enter, and Investitura Christianismi, the investing of Christianity as S. Bernard cals it, there we put on Christ Jesus, (and as he whom wee may be bold to match with these two floods of spirituall eloquence for his eloquence, that is Luther, expresses it) Puerpera regni Coelorum, the Church in Baptisme is as a woman delivered of child, and her child is the Kingdome of heaven, and that kingdome she delivers into his armes who is truly baptized. (John Donne, Sermon 41, Preached at S. Dunstan's, Trinity-Sunday 1624).The first are splendid, if familiar images: the Door of the Church, the Putting-On of Christianity. But that third image, from Luther, is less familiar: a woman giving birth to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We ourselves spend a fair amount of time with Uncle Marty, but the phrase rang no bells. So we Googled it, and discovered a couple of interesting things.
First, the phrase in question is quoted in several 17th-century Lutheran sources. To take them in reverse order:
- The estimable Johann Gerhard uses it, without attribution, in a commentary on 1 Peter, published at Jena in 1660. (As does Richard Baxter in his 1653 Plain Proof).
- It appears in a loci communes, or commonplace-book, taken from Luther's Latin writings in 1651. The citation there is to Tome 3, p. 157a. Presumably, this refers to the Jena edition, but we do not know for certain. (For those unfamiliar with commonplace-books, they were essentially indexed collections of other people's works, based in part on the older gradus ad classsicum -- essentially, a quick reference guide to some compendious body of work.)
- Christian Dauderstadt quotes it, in the section regarding the Ascension, in his multi-volume neo-Scholastic treatise on Church festivals, published at Jena in 1646.
- It appears in another 1617 commonplace published at Wittenberg and gathered by pastor and economist Christian Gilbert de Spaignart, and given the glorious title Stars of Lutheran Piety [Softly shining in the works of blessed Father Luther]. There it is given a different citation, which is 8.3.f.557.a
These are all trivial in themselves, but they do raise an interesting question about Donne's sermon preparation. His sermons are rich with references not only to the Scriptures but to the Fathers and, to a somewhat lesser degree, to medieval and Reformation-era writers, up to and including regular appearances by so unlikely a writer as Bellamine. But did he know them all with equal intimacy?
Donne's references to Bernard, in particular, are so frequent that one must assume a deep acquaintance. But Luther's name appears only a handful of times in the sermons, often in proximity to the catchword "paradox." It is quite possible that, rather than keeping a stack of Luther's works on hand, Donne consulted de Spaignart or some other commonplace book.
The second thing that a quick search teaches us about this phrase, and the reason it is likely not as well-known as it might be, is that its source is not one of Luther's major works.
The only source that we can find for the phrase in question is from a brief sermon (or "coniuncula") on John 3 preached on Trinity Sunday. It was published in volume 7 of the Wittenberg edition, in 1557. It is reprinted in Heinrich Schmidt's 1873 edition, volume 7, pp. 413ff. The phrase occurs in a longer sentence, which changes its grammar from the epigrammatic form in which it is otherwise cited:
Igitur statuendam est, hic aquam esse intelligendam veram aquam, et ut distingueretur ab aliis aquis veris sine verbo, additur: Et Spiritu, ut sciamus, baptismum esse puerperam regni coelorum, ubi aqua, non ut aqua sola, sed Spiritu coniuncto et cooperante, eduntur filii regni coelorum.
Very roughly: Let us be clear, that this water is to be understood as true water, and so that it will be distinguished from other waters without the Word, is added: And the Spirit (John 3:5), that we may know baptism to be a mother giving birth to the kingdom of Heaven, wherever water, not water alone, but rather joined to and working with the Spirit, the children of the kingdom of heaven are brought forth.The relative obscurity of the phrase may have a great deal to do with its source. The coniunculae (a rare word, and one not in our trusty little Latin dictionary) are sermons transcribed by Luther's friends. This limits their reliability, as they can be no more accurate than the notes or memories of the transcriptor. So a phrase like this must be treated with caution, as it may not be precisely what Luther said.
On the other hand, consider the customary sources of the "quotable Luther." Unless we are mistaken, the great majority of popular quotations from Luther come from three sources: (1) The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, an early essay on the sacraments which seems to be the most-assigned-in-class of Luther's works; (2) the Table-Talk, which like the coniunculae are transcriptions from memory, often by people who had been drinking; or (3) one's imagination, like the spurious remark about the apple-tree. A sermon transcript is at least as solid a source as any of the Table-Talk.
In any case: baptism is a mother giving birth to the Kingdom of Heaven. It's a lovely thought, and one we are a bit surprised has not been more widely taken up by the present era of female-positivity in matters of ecclesiastical imagery. Perhaps it will be, once the masses read this blog post and take heed.