In a recent biography of Luther, historian Heinz Schilling describes the devotion of the reformer to Mary the Mother of Jesus and his theological sensitivity to Marian themes that would later be neglected by his followers. Among the works finished in 1521, Schilling describes Luther’s commentary on the canticle of Mary: “He then completed his interpretation of the Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, the song of praise by the Mother of God that lay very close to his heart. While his successors would no longer hold Mary in such high regard, the reformer saw in Mary the epitome of the human being freely chosen through the grace of God, not in response to what she had done, but as a ‘lowly maid.’ Mary was the original biblical model of Protestant election through grace.”
It is well known that Protestants do not generally pray to or venerate the Mother of God, yet Luther wrote a commentary on the Magnificat and it is one of his masterpieces.
He translated it into German and illustrated it in 1520, a critical year in his life. In this period the programmatic texts of the Reformation were elaborated. During the dramatic year of 1520, Pope Leo X threatened Luther with the bull Exsurge Domine, demanding that he retract a series of his propositions from his writings within 60 days. Otherwise the monk would be brought to Rome for judgment. In response, on December 10, 1520, Luther publicly burned collections of canon law along with a copy of the papal bull.
Alas, the events connected to the threatened excommunication did not allow the reformer to conclude his commentary. The dedication is dated March 10, 1521; a few days later he left for the Diet of Worms.