PRINTING AND THE MIND OF MAN
An den Christlichen Adel Deutscher Nation: von des Christlichen Standes BesserungWittenberg, [Melchior Lotter], 1520
FIRST EDITION. 4to, 47 unnumbered ll., lacking final blank. Gothic letter, woodcut floriated initial. T-p a little bit dusty, slight age yellowing, slender ink splash to lower outer corner of two gatherings, intermittent oil stain at gutter, occasional marginal fingermarks. Contemporary marginalia in Latin and German (a few slightly cropped), in different hands. A good copy in early paper boards, upper cover and spine slightly rubbed in a few places. Stamps of the Göttingen University Library ‘Ex Bibliotheca Acad. Georgiae Augustae’ and ‘Duplum Bibliothecae Gotting’ on verso of t-p.
A good and very interesting copy of the first edition of this famous and influential pamphlet by Luther, the first of three great tracts which laid down the fundamental principles of the Reformation. The text, in the German vernacular, was published in August 1520 and four thousand copies were sold by the eighteenth of the month.
A professor of theology and monk, Luther (1483-1546) was the initiator of the protestant Reformation. In July 1519, during a theological disputation with the counterreformer Johann Eck (professor of theology at Ingolstadt, 1486-1543) in Liepizig, Luther denied the divine origin of the papacy, condemned the sale of indulgences and declared that scripture alone was the basis of Christian belief. After this crucial debate, Leo X promulgated the papal bull ‘Exurge domine’, censoring the reformer’s views and threatening him with excommunication. ‘To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation concerning the reformation of the Christian Commonwealth’ here constitutes Luther’s answer to the bull, a formal act of secession from the Catholic Church in which he defined for the first time the doctrines of the universal priesthood and of the two kingdoms.
The pamphlet attacks what Luther calls the ‘three walls of the Romanists’, metaphorical walls that the Church of Rome built in defence of its power. The first wall is that of the division between spiritual and temporal state, the second regards the authority to interpret scriptures, the third the authority to call a Council. Luther “claimed that spiritual power resided in the whole body of true believers, not in the ecclesiastical body alone; that Holy Scripture may be interpreted by all true Christians, not by Pope alone; and that the clergy are not a separate fraternity distinguished by some mystical ordination but are accountable to the worldly power. Luther advocated the complete abolition of the supremacy of the Pope over the State, attacking the theory of the two Estates and the two swords […] He called for the creation of a National German Church with a national ecclesiastical council […] ‘To the Christian Nobility’ […] was shortly followed by the two other revolutionary tracts: ‘Concerning Christian liberty (on justification by faith alone) and ‘On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’ (criticizing the sacramental system of the Church)” (PMM).