Works of Martin Luther, with introductions and notes, Volume 1/Introduction

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No historical study of current issues—in politics or social science or theology—can far proceed without bringing the student face to face with the principles asserted by the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century and its great leader, Martin Luther. He has had many critics and many champions, but neither his critics nor his champions feel that the last word concerning him has been spoken, for scarcely a year passes that does not witness the publication of a new biography.

Had Luther been nothing more than a man of his own time and his own nation the task of estimating him would long since have been completed. A few exhaustive treatises would have answered all demands. But the Catalogue of the British Museum, published in 1894, contains over two hundred folio pages, averaging about thirty-five titles to the page, of books and pamphlets written either by or about him, that have been gathered into this single collection, in a land foreign to the sphere of his labors, and this list has been greatly augmented since 1894. Above all other historical characters that have appeared since the first years of Christianity, he is a man of the present day no less than of the day in which he lived.

But Luther can be properly known and estimated only when he is allowed to speak for himself. He should be seen not through the eyes of others, but through our own. In order to judge the man we must know all sides of the man, and read the heaviest as well as the lightest of his works, the more scientific and theological as well as the more practical and popular, his informal letters as well as his formal treatises. We must take account of the time of each writing and the circumstances under which it was composed, of the adversaries against whom he was contending, and of the progress which he made in his opinions as time went on. The great fund of primary sources which the historical methods of the last generation have made available should also be laid under contribution to shed light upon his statements and his attitude toward the various questions involved in his life-struggles.

As long as a writer can be read only in the language or languages in which he wrote, this necessary closer contact with his personality can be enjoyed only by a very limited circle of advanced scholars. But many of these will be grateful for a translation into their vernacular for more rapid reading, from which they may turn to the standard text when a question of more minute criticism is at stake. Even advanced students appreciate accurately rendered and scholarly annotated translations, by which the range of the leaders of human thought, with whom it is possible for them to be occupied, may be greatly enlarged. Such series of translations as those comprised in the well-edited Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Libraries of the Fathers have served a most excellent purpose.

In the series introduced by this volume the attempt is made to render a similar service with respect to Luther. This is no ambitious project to reproduce in English all that he wrote or that fell from his lips in the lecture-room or in the pulpit. The plan has been to furnish within the space of ten volumes a selection of such treatises as are either of most permanent value, or supply the best means for obtaining a true view of his many-sided literary activity and the sources of his abiding influence. The aim is not to popularize the writer, but to make the English, as far as possible, a faithful reproduction of the German or Latin. The work has been done by a small group of scholarly Lutheran pastors, residing near each other, and jointly preparing the copy for the printer. The first draft of each translation was thoroughly discussed and revised in a joint conference of the translators before final approval. Representative scholars, who have given more or less special study to Luther, have been called in to prepare some of the introductions. While the part contributed by each individual is credited at the proper place, it must yet be added that my former colleague, the late Rev. Prof. Adolph Spaeth, D.D., LL.D. (died June 25, 1910), was actively engaged as the Chairman of the Committee that organized the work, determined the plan, and, with the undersigned, made the first selection of the material to be included.

The other members of the Committee are the Rev. T. E. Schmauk, D.D., LL.D., the Rev. L. D. Reed, D.D., the Rev. W. A. Lambert, J. J. Schindel, A. Steimle, A. T. W. Steinhaeuser, and C. M. Jacobs, D.D.; upon the five last named the burden of preparing the translations and notes has rested.

Their work has been laborious and difficult. Luther's complaints concerning the seriousness of his task in attempting to teach the patriarch Job to speak idiomatic German might doubtless have found an echo in the experience of this corps of scholars in forcing Luther into idiomatic English. We are confident, however, that, as in Luther's case, so also here, the general verdict of readers will be that they have been eminently successful. It should also be known that it has been purely a labor of love, performed in the midst of the exacting duties of large pastorates, and to serve the Church, to whose ministry they have consecrated their lives.

The approaching jubilee of the Reformation in 1917 will call renewed attention to the author of these treatises. These volumes have been prepared with especial reference to the discussions which, we have every reason to believe, will then occur.

Henry Eyster Jacobs.        

Lutheran Theological Seminary,
Mt. Airy, Philadelphia.

Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.