My soul doth magnify the Lord … He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; And he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

In 1521 Luther was writing an exposition of Mary’s Magnificat. He was extremely affected by the sharp contrasts that Mary put into her song. Luther’s fascination for the astounding contrasts is not very surprising, since his own day was also going through enormous shocks. He could perhaps read certain parallels from his own time into Mary’s song. In a time when everything seems suddenly uncertain, one is faced with the question of whether the great changes taking place auger a revolution against all that is worth while or a reformation of what has become evil, a revolt that in the end will curse the men who caused it or a reform that will bless the life of many. This was a question that faced Luther. Were the events in which Luther was leading the way simply a turning upside down of all values, only an “overthrow of values” as Nietzsche would later say? Luther must have asked the question, but history had to answer it.

Our concern here is not with the question of the Reformation, however, but with the “overthrow of values” that Mary sang about in her hymn. One could look at her Magnificat as a profound perspective on history. For history takes shockingly sudden turns so profound that history itself almost seems a perpetual “overthrow of values.” But, it is different with Mary’s vision. We have something entirely ...

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