This exhibition presents 14 objects, which document the beginning and early development of the Wittenberg Reformation that Martin Luther set in motion. These documents were accepted as part of the “Memory of the World” of UNESCO in October 2015. The application was submitted by the Leibniz-Institute for European History in Mainz (IEG), a member of the Leibniz-Association. The documents belong to the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Sächsische – Landesbibliothek-Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, the Anhaltische Landesbücherei Dessau, the Staatsbibliothek Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, the Herzogin Anna Bibliothek – Klassik Stiftung Weimar, the Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, the Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, the Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt – Lutherhaus Wittenberg, the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, the Stadtbibliothek Worms, and the Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena.
In these theses Martin Luther expressed his thoughts which were characteristic for the Reformation: he contrasted the indulgences won through payment of money or the exercise of pious activities with true remorse in the heart and repentance and thus denounced the dominant practice of indulgences. He also cast doubt on the existence of purgatory because of a lack of biblical evidence for it.
Luther’s theses were spread like wild-fire – at first in manuscript and then in printed form. During the last two months of 1517 at least three editions appeared, in Nuremberg and Leipzig as a poster, in Basel as a pamphlet of seven pages. Here is shown the printing from Nuremberg, one of three extant copies in the world.
Luther’s treatise on Christian freedom experienced a tremendous success in print. Just in the six weeks after printing at least ten further editions in German and Latin appeared. Translations in other European vernaculars followed. No other single writing of the Reformer is read as much as this one to the present day. In it Luther gathered, as he himself said, “the entire summary of a Christian life.”
The draft of Luther’s speech on April 18 before the Imperial Diet, in his own hand, was written down after his first presentation to the Diet, probably on the evening of April 17, 1521. It served as a jog for his memory for the statement, he was required to give the next day in an extemporaneous speech. He summarized briefly the events of the first hearing on that day. However, something must have interrupted him since his notes break off in the middle of a sentence.
The letter did not reach the Emperor. On the envelope Georg Spalatin, court chaplain and a trusted advisor of Elector Frederick the Wise, noted that no one in Charles’ entourage wanted to accept the letter. It was, however, translated into German, reformulated as an address to the Estates of the Empire, and immediately distributed in print. With this action – perhaps so intended by Luther – a depiction of what he had experienced in Worms from his own pen won recognition.
The original of the letter made its way through various private collections until in 1911 it reached the auction block. It was sold to the American magnate J. Pierpont Morgan for the record sum of 102,000 Gold Marks. He gave it as a gift to Emperor Wilhelm II, who in turn gave it to the Lutherhaus, called at that time Lutherhalle. Today it is in the possession of the Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt.
The volume was printed, and enhanced by twenty-one full-page woodcuts by Lucas Cranach. It was available at the Leipzig autumn fair in an edition of 3,000 copies. Therefore, it is called the “September Testament.” Within two months, it was necessary to print a new edition. We see here an illustration for Revelation 13 and 14.
The Revelation of John, chapter 17, begins with the illustration pictured here. In this chapter, the appearance of the whore of Babylon on a seven-headed animal at the end of time is predicted. Luther identified the whore of Babylon with the papacy, as it had fallen into ruin over the centuries. Therefore, she is wearing the papal tiara in Cranach’s illustration.
Luther himself composed a number of hymns and urged friends to do the same. Along with rhyming versions of some psalms and translations of medieval hymns used in worship, the catechetical hymns and the narrative hymns carried the evangelical message to many. Notes were added. Beginning in 1524, reformational hymns were combined into small hymnals.
It was Luther’s concern that instruction should convey the necessary tools for understanding the Holy Scripture. Therefore, he repudiated streams of thought opposed to general education, both those who wanted to retain schooling only for the spiritual elite, or those who generally deprecated education. The goal of instruction should also be the education of learned people with a consciousness of their public responsibilities, for leadership in the state and society. With this appeal to those responsible for political leadership, Luther laid a foundation for a new order in the system of education.
That the Stadtbibliothek Worms is today in possession of a copy of this widely distributed publication is due to a context which is typical for the acquisition and preservation of the heritage of the Reformation. In the course of the destruction of Worms during the War of Palatinate Succession in 1689, the entire holdings of the city library were lost. In the 19th century, a financially well-off magnate collected some five hundred printings of works by Luther. With his donation he laid the foundations for the current collection of the library, in which is found a copy of Luther’ treatise.
Luther’s “German Mass” served not only to unify reformational liturgical practice, but also made it clear that reading, singing, sermon and prayer should not be limited to ritual action but should serve the active, understandable participation of individuals on what happens in worship. To this day, Lutheran spirituality is shaped by the German Mass.
The first complete Luther Bible in German was adorned with lavish woodcuts for title pages and initial letters. The edition was supplied with a copyright privilege from Elector Johann Friedrich I of Saxony on the title page. His coat of arms was depicted on banners held by little angels in armour. The Weimar copy is graced with rich coloration and golden and engraved decorations on the edge of the pages.
Repeatedly, revised editions of the translation of the Bible were published. The final that appeared before Luther’s death was the Bible of 1545. Its text was used, almost with change, into the twentieth century. Only then did newer revisions of the translation appear.
The Bible was and is a bestseller. Up to Luther’s death in 1546 the total production of his translation of the Bible may have reached a million copies in High German and Low German. It became a model for translations of the Bible in other European languages.
An exhibition of the Leibniz-Institute for European History Mainz, a member of the Leibniz Association.
Production: Irene Dingel/Henning P. Jürgens (content), Hanno Dannenfeldt, buerominimalBerlin (design), Robert Kolb, St. Louis, USA (translation)
Luther-Dokumente im Weltdokumentenerbe der UNESCO „Memory of the world“
Luthers Psalter-Vorlesung 1513/15 Psalterdruck mit Marginalien und Glossen, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Signatur: 71.4 Theol. 4°
Luthers Psalter-Vorlesung 1513/15 Scholienheft, Sächsische Landesbibliothek – Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden, Signatur: Mscr. Dresd. A 138
Luthers Römerbrief-Vorlesung 1515/16; Studentische Mitschrift, Anhaltische Landesbücherei Dessau, Signatur: Georg 1049a
Handexemplar Luthers der Hebräischen Bibelausgabe, Brescia 1494, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Signatur: Inc. 2840
Plakatdruck der 95 Ablassthesen (Nürnberg, Hieronymus Höltzel, vor Ende 1517), Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Signatur: gr. 2° Luth. 54
Luthers Schrift „Ein Sermon von Ablass und Gnade“, (Wittenberg, Johann Grunenberg,1518), Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek – Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Signatur: Auth. Luth. 1518 (9)
Luthers Schrift „Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen“ (Wittenberg, Johannes Grunenberg, 1520), Forschungsbibliothek Gotha, Signatur: Theol. 4° 00224/08 (08)
Eigenhändiger Entwurf Martin Luthers für seine Rede am 18. April 1521 vor dem Reichstag in Worms, 17./18. April 1521, Thüringisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Weimar, Ernestinisches Gesamtarchiv, Signatur: Reg. E 81
Eigenhändiger Brief Luthers an Karl V., 28. 4. 1521, Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt, Lutherhaus Wittenberg, Signatur: I5/1387
Das Newe Testament Deutzsch, Wittenberg, Melchior Lotter, 1522, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Signatur: Bibel-S. 4° 257
Lied-Einblattdruck „Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein“, Augsburg, Philipp Ulhart, 1524, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Signatur: Cod. Pal. Germ. 793
Luthers Schrift „An die Radherrn aller stedte deutsches lands: das sie Christliche schulen auffrichten vnd hallten sollen“, Wittenberg, Lukas Cranach und Christian Döring, 1524, Stadtbibliothek Worms, Signatur: Mag- LB 181
Luthers Schrift „Deudsche Messe vnd ordnung Gottis diensts“, Wittenberg, Michael Lotter, 1526, Thüringer Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Jena, Signatur: 4 Bud. Var. 635 (8).
Biblia das ist die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch. Mart. Luth., Wittenberg, Hans Lufft, 1534, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek – Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Signatur: Cl I : 58 (b)