Luther's Early Career, Revealed Through His Letters

Luther, Martin (1483-1546); Aurifaber, Johann, editor (1519-1575)

Epistolarum Reverendi Patris Domini D. Martini Lutheri, Tomus primus continens scripta viri Dei, ab anno millesimo quingentesimo septimo usque ad annum vicesimum secundum a Iohanne Aurifabro, aulae Vinariensis concionatore collectus.

Jena: Excudebat Christianus Rhodius, 1556


Quarto: 21.5 x 16.5 cm. A4, *4, *2, B-Z4, a-z4, AA-ZZ4, aa-zz4, AAA4 (AAA4 blank and present).

Bound in a contemporary binding of alum-tawed pigskin over beveled wooden boards, both brass claps and catches present. The boards are ruled in compartments and decorated in blind with acorns and images of King David, Saint Paul, Christ, and Martin Luther himself. Binding with light wear and light soiling. Aside from a few ink spatters the text is in excellent condition with wide margins. A contemporary reader has added annotations to 2 leaves. On the title page are two ownership inscriptions: the first is that of M. Johann Lysthenius (16th c.). The second is a gift inscription [Johann Michael Osthoffer?] dated 1696. The front pastedown and both sides of the free front endpaper have been used to compose a 3-page index of the book. An excellent copy of this scarce work.

First edition of this important group of Luther's letters, covering the years 1507 - 1521, from the celebration of his first Mass to his removal to Wartburg Castle after the Diet of Worms. A second volume of letters was not published until nine years later, in 1565, by Andreas Petri at Eiselben.

These letters offer a revealing view of Luther’s private and public thoughts on matters of pivotal importance to the early reformation. They include a "cover letter" to a copy of the 95 Theses, written on the very day (October 31st, 1517) that Luther nailed the Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. In this letter, addressed to Cardinal Albrecht, Archbishop of Magdeberg and Mainz, Luther requests that the indulgence traffic be halted. In a related letter, written as a dedication to his explanations of the 95 Theses, Luther gives an account of his understanding of penitence, which led him finally to the attack on indulgences.

The letters’ chronological arrangement allows the reader to follow the development of Luther’s thought and the political ramifications of his actions. Luther provides first-hand accounts of his efforts to avoid a trial in Rome, his negotiations with the Pope’s secretary, Charles von Miltitz, and the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan, and his eventual appearance before the Emperor at the Diet of Worms. Included are Luther’s letter to Cajetan (Oct., 1518), written as Luther fled to Augsburg to avoid being kidnapped and taken to Rome, and a letter of apology to Pope Leo X (Jan., 1519) in which Luther argues that he is now powerlessness to control the power of his own ideas: "The demand is made that I recant my Disputation. If such a revocation could accomplish what I was attempting to do with my theses, I would issue it without hesitation. Now, however, through the antagonism and pressure of my enemies, my writings are spread farther than I ever had expected and are so deeply rooted in the hearts of so many people that I am not in the position to revoke them." (Folio 153 recto).

Immediately following Luther’s appearance at Worms, Luther writes to the Emperor (folio 316 ff.) to express his gratitude and ask for continued protection. He also gives a vivid account of the proceedings and a critique of his own performance. "Your Sacred Majesty ordered that I be asked first whether I would acknowledge said little books as mine, and second whether or not I would be ready to revoke them, or would uphold the. When I had acknowledged that [these books] were mine...I pointed out with great reverence and submission that the following was my opinion: since I had fortified my books with clear and intelligible Scripture passages, it does not seem to me right or just to deny the Word of God and revoke my little books in this way, nor could I do it in any way. [...] In addition to all this, it was requested and demanded of me that I answer simply and plainly whether or not I was ready to recant. Again I answered as humbly as I could: since my conscience is bound by the Scripture passages which I have quoted in my little books, I could under no circumstances recant anything, unless I be better informed."

In a letter to Nicholas von Amsdorf (folio 326), Luther describes his capture and the ride to Wartburg Castle. The volume concludes with a series of letters to Melanchthon and others, written from the Wartburg, in which Luther discusses the volatile situation at Erfurt and Wittenberg and the actions of Karlstadt, in particular. In these letters, Luther discusses his ideas on clerical and monastic celibacy, communion, private mass, the dynamics of faith, etc.

This collection also includes Luther’s first letter to Erasmus, written at Wittenberg on March 28th, 1519 and several letters in which Luther discusses his opinions of Erasmus’ theology.

Included are letters to Johann von Staupitz (1460-1524), George Burkhardt Spalatin (1484-1545), Pope Leo X (1475-1521), Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), Erasmus (ca. 1466-1536), Frederick, Elector of Saxony (1463-1525), Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), Andreas Karlstadt (1486-1541), Cardinal Cajetan (1470-1534), Johann Lang (1486-1548) and others.

BM STC German p. 535; Adams L 1805; VD 16, L 4649; Kessler Collection no. 1325