Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen
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eLeUTHERia – Luther’s ‚Freiheitsschrift‘ as a Publishing Phenomenon

by Maximilian Krümpelmann

Luther Demands ‘Freedom’

When Luther stumbled upon the word ‘eleutheria’ in October 1517 – Greek for ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ – he changed his name from ‘Luder’ to ‘Luther’.[1] This is more than a pun: the change anticipates the central role that the concept of ‘freedom’ would play in his writing and thinking, most prominently in his treatise Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen – or: De Libertate Christiana in the Latin version. This was published in November 1520, shortly following on from his two other key texts of 1520, Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (August 1520) and On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (September 1520).[2] In Von der Freiheit, presented in the form of 30 paragraphs, he lays the foundation for his Reformation programme and his understanding of Christian internal freedom qua belief despite external physical or political captivity:

A Christian is a free lord over all things and subject to no-one.
A Christian is a bound servant of all things and subject to everyone.[3]

The publication of his Freiheitsschrift followed the promulgation of the papal bull Exsurge Domine by Pope Leo X in June, in which Luther was threatened with excommunication, and its dissemination by Johannes Eck in September 1520.[4] At the behest of Prince-elector Frederick III and with the help of the apostolic nuncio Karl von Militz, Luther agreed to try to reconcile with the Pope, whom he had officially described as Antichrist in his pamphlet An den christlichen Adel that summer. As a consequence, he produced “a booklet” (opusculum)[5] as well as a letter to the Pope in both Latin and German. The “booklet” that he mentions in a letter to Spalatin refers to his Freiheitsschrift, whose Latin and German version were both produced by Luther; the letter refers to the Sendbrief an Papst Leo X or the Epistola Lutheriana ad Leonem Decimum Summum Pontificem, in which Luther describes Leo as a captive of the Curia and which was issued both separately as well as in combination with the Latin De libertate Christiana.

The Freiheitsschrift as a Commercial Success

The publication of the Freiheitsschrift in the autumn of 1520 was an immediate commercial success: this success was – in part – made possible by the quick advancement of the printing technology, especially the rising popularity that the medium ‘pamphlet’ saw at the beginning of the sixteenth century – a short text usually consisting of less than 20 pages.[6] According to calculations by Hans-Joachim Köhler, 2,400 pamphlets with a total print-run of 2,4 million copies were produced in 1524 alone.[7]

When the editio princeps of the Freiheitsschrift was first issued by the Wittenberg workshop of Johannes Rhau-Grunenberg, who had already published Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, he produced 3,000 to 4,000 copies,[8] a large number compared to the average print-run of 500 to 1,500 of the period.[9] It is even more significant therefore that the German version of the pamphlet was reprinted five times in that year in three places – Wittenberg, Augsburg, and Strasbourg – and the Latin in Antwerp and Vienna.[10] Soon after, the texts were reissued in further cities such as Speyer, Nuremberg and Zürich. Additionally, the work was translated into several other national languages in the following decades: Czech (1521), French (1525), Italian (1547), Spanish (1540), and English (1579), making it an international success.[11]

The Taylor Institution Library houses copies of four different editions of the Freiheitsschrift, printed in Wittenberg and Speyer between 1520 and 1522. These copies constitute a case in point for the now widely accepted notion that printing played a major part in the dissemination of Luther’s theology.[12] Each of the four editions in the Taylorian tells a slightly different story of production and reception: the individual copies give information not only about how they were produced, but who their contemporary audience might have been and how the text was treated as a material object.

The Acquisition of the Taylorian Prints

Most of the significant amount of Reformation texts in the Taylorian were acquired in the nineteenth century with the help of its second Professor for Modern European Languages, Max Friedrich Müller (1823-1900). Many of these were procured by the librarian Heinrich Krebs (1844-1921), especially from Heidelberg in 1878.[13] This is most likely the case for all four copies,[14] evident in the range of the – obsolete and current – shelfmarks and dates noted on the bookplate of the Taylorian Library, which are located on the upper pastedown of the pamphlets and allow the identification of all four acquisition dates.

The editio princeps by Rhau-Grunenberg shows the date 1878 underneath an exlibris and therefore likely belonged to the Heidelberg collection that was purchased by Krebs; above the bookplate, two previous shelfmarks are crossed out: 92 b 25 and Arch II b 36.

Ill. 1: Taylorian, Arch.80.G.1520(25)
Ill. 1: Taylorian, Arch.80.G.1520(25)

The Speyer version Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14) was bought one year earlier from a private collection as the date 1877 and the entry W. O. Abel.1835 shows.

Ill. 2: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11)
Ill. 2: Taylorian, Arch. 8o.G.1519(11)

The Latin Freiheitsschrift, Arch.8o.G.1521(10) has also the old version of the Taylorian bookplate and two obsolete shelfmarks, 91 a 2e and Arch II b 47.

The earliest acquisition by the Taylorian has the newest binding: The German edition by Melchior Lotter the Younger, Arch.8o.G.1521(25), displays the modern bookplate of the Taylorian, which was introduced in 1975,[15] and only one old shelfmark on the pastedown, Arch II b 60. This was presumably done to give it a better protection than the blue paper cover from the 19th century could give it which is now bound in behind the pamphlet.

Ill. 3: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(25)
Ill. 3: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(25)

On this blue paper of a type used by German booksellers, a modern hand registered the title (Von dr Freyheit eines Christen Menschen), the holding library (Taylor Institution), and the acquisition date (15/5/1875), as well as the original shelfmark (91.a.2d). On the backside of the cover we can find yet another owner’s mark alongside the date 1856, testifying to the reuse of the pamphlet throughout the centuries.

Johannes Rhau-Grunenberg: Low-quality Printing?

Martin Luther, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen
[Wittenberg, Johannes Rhau-Grunenberg 1520]
Title: Uon der Freyheyt || eynisz Christen || menschen. || Martinus Luther. ||
Imprint: Uittembergae. || Anno Domini || 1520.
12 sheets in 4to. Quire signatures: Aij, Aiij, B, Bij, Biij, C, Cij, Ciij
Taylor Institution Library, Arch.80.G.1520(25)
Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder[16]
WA 7, 15, no A; Benzing/Claus, 87, no 734; Benzing, Buchdrucker, 465 (Rhau-Grunenberg);[17] VD16 L 7202

Unlike trade hubs such as Augsburg, Cologne, or Nuremberg, Wittenberg only began emerging as a centre for printing during the Reformation.[18] Apart from two academic in-house print shops established by two professors of the recently founded University Leucorea, Johannes Rhau-Grunenberg was the only printer in Wittenberg when he set up his workshop in 1508, the same year Luther was appointed to a professorship at the university.[19] For some time, Rhau-Grunenberg, who also published other reformatory pamphlets e.g. by Andreas Bodenstein and Heinrich von Kettenbach,[20] remained the only printer to issue Luther’s writings.

Although Luther later described Rhau-Grunenberg as a pious and commendable man (Erat pius homo et benedicebatur)[21] and continued to commission books from at his workshop throughout his life, he was dissatisfied with the quality of some of his output. In a letter addressed to Georg Spalatin, we find Luther complaining about Rhau-Grunenberg’s editio princeps of his sermon Von der Beicht (1521):

Sed mirum est, quam me peniteat & pigeat eius excusionis. vtinam nihil vernaculi misissem! ita sordide, ita negligenter, ita confuse excuduntur, vt typorum & papyri dissimulem sordes. Iohannes Calcographus est Iohannes in eodem tempore.[22]
[I can’t tell you how much I regret and resent this print. I should never have sent a German manuscript! So dirty, so careless, so disorderly is the print, not to mention the dirt of the types and the paper. The printer Johannes always stays the same, he is incorrigible.]

What exactly was the cause of Rhau-Grunenberg’s seeming lack in quality? One problem that he was facing might have been the growing demand for his relatively small workshop in the wake of the Reformation, especially since 1518.[23] Additionally, the typorum & papyri […] sordes, which Luther complains about, were a result of the increasingly worn-out typeset Rhau-Grunenberg was using, and which he had inherited from his predecessor, Nikolaus Marschalk, when settling in Wittenberg.[24] If so, it is possible that his edition of the Freiheitsschrift from November 1520 – a few months before Luther sent his disgruntled letter to Spalatin – already shows some of the defects that the reformer complained about later.

Indeed, a quick look at the text of Rhau-Grunenberg’s first edition of the German Freiheitsschrift already reveals some of the flaws which Luther bemoaned: compared to the crisply defined imprint by Melchior Lotter,

Ill. 4: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(25), A1v
Ill. 4: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(25), A1v

the edges of Rhau-Grunenberg’s letters seem blurry and smudged,

Ill. 5: Taylorian, Arch.80.G.1520(25), A2r
Ill. 5: Taylorian, Arch.80.G.1520(25), A2r

testifying to the poor quality of the types he was using. Additionally, the text block is not well aligned with the paper, as a result of which the text appears to be on a slant. The title-page conveys a similarly disorderly impression:

Ill. 6: Taylorian, Arch.80.G.1520(25)
Ill. 6: Taylorian, Arch.80.G.1520(25)

Even though the edition by Rhau-Grunenberg is the only one of the four Taylorian copies to include a woodcut, its quality is likewise evidence of the printer’s hasty execution: the bottom part of the woodcut title frame seems to have been sawn-off and not fully aligned when reattached in addition to a fold in the paper which now runs as a diagonal white line through the bottom left hand corner; this might have contributed to Luther’s frustration with Rhau-Grunenberg, especially when he became acquainted with the quality of other printers such as Melchior Lotter in 1519.

The original woodcut for the border came from the workshop of Lucas Cranach, a cachet for Luther’s Wittenberg production in general.[25] Rhau-Grunenberg continued to use the border e.g. in an edition of Luther’s pamphlet on marriage Uom Eelichen Leben.[26] In both cases, the typeset imprint comprises the title (Uon der Freyheyt || eynisz Christen || menschen.), author (Martinus Luther.), place and date (Uittembergae. || Anno Domini || 1520.), centred in large Gothic font. The border itself includes three coats of arms of the city of Wittenberg: at the centre of the top two crossed swords (Kur-Schwerter); at the centre of the bottom the city as a fortified place with two towers on either side, flanking a third, decidedly smaller coat of arms including a crancelin.

The rest of the border shows three sets of figures: at the top two semi-nude hybrid creatures; their figures emerge from a grapevine and flank the upper coat of arms. On the left border of the woodcut an old, bearded man wearing a hat and holding a rosary, while a squirrel is sitting on his right shoulder, his feet hidden by an ornamental basin which is part of the architectural framing. Opposite him, likewise emerging from a basin, Amor as honey-thief is shown reaching out for a hive; his naked body is surrounded by several bees. At the bottom border, two large hybrid sea-creatures are flanking the coat of arms.

The verso side of the title-page is left empty, followed by the dedication to the Zwickau mayor, Hermann Mühlpfordt, on a separate page; this text is only present in the German version of the Freiheitsschrift. The address to Mühlpfordt is centred in the middle of the page, with the first line printed in larger font size (Dem fursichtigen vnd weyszen hern) than the rest. The actual treatise follows on A2v and was used for the Weimar edition.[27] Again, the first line – as well as the centred invocatio Jhesus (A2v) – is presented in large font. After this, Luther begins to present his reform programme, each of the 30 passages being introduced by a new paragraph indicated by a pilcrow. The text finishes with the – once again centred – word AMEN (C4v) in capital letters and spaces in between each letter.

Rhau-Grunenberg’s editio princeps presents itself as a typical Reformation print from Wittenberg, which includes an ostentatious woodcut on the title-page. However, despite being free of spelling mistakes, the execution of the print is comparably poor. Perhaps it was the long acquaintance with Luther and the fact that for some time Rhau-Grunenberg remained the only printer to issue his works that led the reformer to continue commissioning books at his workshop until at least 1527, two years before Rhau-Grunenberg’s death in 1529.[28]

Melchior Lotter the Younger: The Better Printer?

Martin Luther, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen
[Wittenberg, Melchior Lotter the Younger 1521]
Title: Uon der Freyheyt eynis || Christen menschen. || Martinus Luther. ||
Imprint: Uittembergae. M.D.Xxi
14 sheets in 4to. Quire signatures: aij, aiij, b, bij, biij, c, cij, ciij, ciiij
Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8o.G.1521(25)
WA 7, 17, no L; Benzing/Claus, 88, no 744; Benzing, Buchdrucker, 466 (Lotter the Younger); VD16 L 7201

In the same letter addressed to Spalatin from August 1521, in which Luther complains about Rhau-Grunenberg’s slovenly print, he praises three sheets of paper in quarto form sent to him by Philip Melanchthon. They contain his pamphlet against Jacobus Latomus Rationis Latomiæ (1521), produced by another printer in Wittenberg;[29]  Luther shows himself delighted and remarks that the sample sheets “please him greatly” (qui valde placet)[30].

The printer Luther is referring to here is Melchior Lotter the Younger (ca 1490-1542). His father was Melchior Lotter the Elder, who established himself as one of the most influential printers of humanist and reformatory texts in Leipzig.[31] In a letter to Spalatin dating from 1519, Luther mentions a visit of the old Melchior Lotter to Wittenberg and praises his excellent Frobenian typeset.[32] The quality of his prints must have left an impression on the reformer, since shortly after he and four other professors at the university, who showed themselves displeased with the quality of Rhau-Grunenberg’s results, requested Lotter to settle in Wittenberg.[33] Even though Lotter the Elder did not relocate, he sent his son to establish a second printing press in Wittenberg in the same year.[34]

The Freiheitsschrift by Lotter the Younger preserved in the Taylorian is listed as edition L in the Weimarer Ausgabe (WA);[35] it was printed the following year in 1521, which is indicated on the title-page (Uittembergae. M.D.Xxi). Looking at the text, it is clearly visible that Lotter was using a better typeset;

ll. 4: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(25), A1v
Ill. 4: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(25), A1v

contrary to Rhau-Grunenberg, the text region also runs parallel to the four borders of the page and creates an elegant, easily legible text; additionally, Lotter reserves two more leaves for the treatise, as a consequence of which he is able to present the text more lavishly, even though he does not leave the back of the title-page empty as Rhau-Grunenberg does, but rather leaves C6v blank, which – along with the title-page – was used as protection of the text from external grime. It therefore comes as no surprise that both the title-page and C6v are besmeared with printing ink. A contributing factor might have been the fact that the print at one point was part of a larger collection, which the numbering of the sheets by a modern hand indicates (51r-64v); Lotter’s Freiheitsschrift seems to have been the third in the erstwhile collection.[36]

What sets apart his Freiheitsschrift from Rhau-Grunenberg’s most clearly, however, is the fact that Lotter’s does not include a woodcut on the title-page, but simply gives the title, author, and imprint in large Gothic font. This clearly renders edition L less ostentatious than Rhau-Grunenberg’s. Lotter had issued a previous edition of the Freiheitsschrift the year before which did include a woodcut by Cranach;[37] however, this earlier version – listed as B in the WA – reveals a greater deviance from the original text issued by Rhau-Grunenberg. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that – apart from the non-existent woodcut – in most other aspects Lotter’s later edition L is more indebted to Rhau-Grunenberg’s editio princeps than his earlier version B.

Both A and L use a quarto form as well as Gothic font. Even the font size of the two prints is identical for the corresponding text passages: thus, both printers present the first lines of the address to Mühlpfordt (Dem fursichtigen v] weyszen hern)[38] as well as the first lines of the treatise (Jhesus || Zum ersten. Das wyr grundlich) in the same large font centred in the middle of the page (cf. A1v, A1r in L). Additionally, both editions make use of pilcrows to indicate the beginning of a new passage. At the end, both A and L centre the last sentence of passage 30 as well as the last, capitalised word AMEN with spaces in between each letter (cf. C6r in L).

Despite the use of the same type face and the overall indebtedness of L’s to A’s text, the two versions show minor differences, such as the use of Roman numerals instead of Arabian ones for quoting Bible passages, the tendency towards hypotaxes, as well as a more thorough use of punctuation marks in Lotter’s edition. There are, however, other noticeable differences in L as well. One is the singular and perhaps accidental replacement of the noun reych[39] with recht in L: Darumb ist er ein kunig vnd priester / doch geystlich / denn sein recht ist nit yrdnisch noch in yrdnischen / szondernn ynn geistlichen guttern […] (B2v); another is the accidentally printed syllable te: […] das alte te testament (A4v).

Despite the overall better typeset he was using, the better alignment and legibility of the text, Lotter’s later edition L of the Freiheitsschrift is – in sum – not the best evidence for supporting Luther’s praise for Lotter’s craftsmanship, since it does include at least some spelling mistakes and lacks the ostentatious woodcuts of his other versions B from 1520[40] and O from 1523[41].

Melchior Lotter the Younger: An Edition Revised by Luther

Martin Luther, Epistola Lutheriana ad Leonem decimum summum pontificem. Tractatus de libertate christiana
[Wittenberg, Melchior Lotter the Younger 1521]
Title: EPISTOLA || LVTHERIANA AD LEONEM || DECIMVM SVMMUM || PONTIFICEM. || LIBER DE CHRISTIANA LIBER= || tate , continens summam Christianæ doctri= || næ,quo ad formandam mentem,& ad in || telligendam Euāgelii vim, nihil absolu||tius,nihil cōducibilius neq a veteri= || bus neq a recentioribus scriptori || bus perditum est. Tu Christiane || lector , relege iterum atq || iterum,& Christum || imbibe. ❧ || RECOGNITVS WITTEMBERGAE.
Imprint: ANNO DOMINI || M. D. XXI.
22 sheets in 4to, last page empty. Quire signatures: Aii, Aiii, B, Bii, Biii, C, Cii, Ciii, D, Dii, Diii, E, Eii, Eiii
Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8o.G.1521(10)
Woodcuts: letter F
WA 7, 41, no E; Benzing/Claus, 90, no 760; Benzing, Buchdrucker 466 (Lotter the Younger); VD16 L 4663

In the same year that Lotter published his German version of the Freiheitsschrift he also issued a Latin one; a colophon can be found at the end of the tract: ANNO DOMINI || M. D. XXI (E4v). Compared to the relatively similar format of A and L, the Latin version stands in greater contrast to the two German editions. Perhaps most striking is the fact that Luther’s Latin version is conceived as a textual unit with the Epistola Lutheriana ad Leonem. This is indicated clearly on the title-page.

Ill. 7: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(10)
Ill. 7: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1521(10)

Lotter prints the word EPISTOLA in large Roman font and the title of the Freiheitsschrift (LIBER DE CHRISTIANA LIBER= || tate) in capital letters. Unlike the German title and unlike earlier Latin versions by other printers, Lotter’s Latin edition also includes a summary of the treatise on the title-page (continens summam Christianæ doctri= || næ […]). Whereas Rhau-Grunenberg integrates a Cranach woodcut in order to make his product more appealing to his readership and consequently increase sales, Lotter resorts to verbal advertising in his Latin edition, proclaiming that “nothing is more beneficial of either the old or the more recent authors” (nihil cōducibilius neq a veteri= || bus neq a recentioribus scriptori || bus). He then adds: “You, Christian reader, should reread it time and time again and absorb Christ” (Tu Christiane || lector , relege iterum atq || iterum,& Christum || imbibe).[42]

The title-page is then followed by the Latin version of the Epistola, which takes up sheets A1v-B1v. The treatise itself begins on B2r and is introduced with a woodcut initial ‘F’ in Roman font, which includes floral elements and spans the first seven lines of the text. What is most striking when looking at the text is that Lotter includes printed marginalia throughout the treatise, which enable the reader a quick overview of a section’s content by giving the most important information in a poignant statement. Thus, the first two entries on B2r say Fides tribula || tionibus disci || tur (“Faith is learned in troubled times”) and Themata (“Topic”), the latter of which refers to Luther’s definition of man as master and servant.

What is perhaps most interesting about this is not so much the fact that Lotter includes explanatory notes in the margin, which was custom in many Latin prints at the time; rather, it comes as a surprise that Rhau-Grunenberg, who issued both the first German and Latin version, does not. Indeed, an attentive reader comparing both versions will quickly find that Rhau-Grunenberg’s edition differs from Lotter’s in many cases. A few examples can illustrate the case: already on the first page of the treatise we find several alterations: these include frequent changes in punctuation, such as the change from consecutum posseque (B1r) in Rhau-Grunenberg’s edition, listed as A in the WA, to consecutum, posseque (B2r) in Lotter’s version, listed as E.[43] There are also more prominent interventions, such as the replacement of individual words, e.g. nunquam gustauerunt (B1r) in A with unquam gustauerunt (B2r) in E or nimirum (B1r) in A with nimio (B2r) in E. On D3v in Rhau-Grunenberg’s edition it says: Sunt quam plurimi, qui hanc libertatem fidei audientes, mox eam in occasionem libertatis vertant. But Lotter omits the second use of the word libertas and instead inserts carnis (E3r):

Sunt quam plurimi, qui hanc libertatem fidei audientes, mox eam in occasionem libertatis uertunt.

[They are the overwhelming majority of those who, when they hear about this freedom obtained by faith, will then want to transform it into a pretext to indulge in the flesh.]

This passage of the Freiheitsschrift is only part of the Latin text, in which Luther attacks those who deliberately use Christian freedom as a pretext for indulging in licentiousness. By replacing the genitive libertatis with carnis, Lotter’s version specifies the word ‘freedom’ and narrows its meaning down to ‘carnal desire’.[44] This alteration is not grammatical or stylistic in nature; it substantially changes the meaning of the text.

Who can be held responsible for these changes? James Hirstein was lately able to untie the Gordian knot.[45] After coming across a personal pamphlet of Rhau-Grunenberg’s editio princeps in the Humanist Library of Sélestat (K 809o), which was formerly in the possession of Beatus Rhenanus, he was able to identify the hands of both Rhenanus himself and Luther as well as at least two other hands in the marginalia. According to Hirstein, the text exhibits at least 135 significant changes that were made to Rhau-Grunenberg’s version; 47 of these can be attributed to Luther himself, including the interpolation of carnis.[46] Hirstein asserts that the text in Sélestat served as a basis for the Basel print by Adam Petri that was produced in March 1521, listed as D in the WA.[47] In turn, the Basel print then served as a basis for Lotter’s edition in Wittenberg, which must have been produced some time between March and September that year.[48] Except for a few changes that can be attributed to Lotter’s own workshop, both the Basel and the Wittenberg print display the same text. The fact that Luther reworked his Latin Freiheitsschrift also accounts for the note on Lotter’s title-page: RECOGNITUS WITTENBERGAE (“Reviewed in Wittenberg”). However, unlike Adam Petri, Lotter does not add PER AU || TOREM; perhaps this can be taken as evidence that ‘Wittenberg’ had already become a cachet that was sufficiently associated with the increasingly popular reformer.[49] At the least, it displays the close communication that existed between the author, Luther, and his printers.

Johann Eckhart: A Personal Luther Collection

Martin Luther, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen
[Speyer, Johann Eckhart 1522?]
Title: Uon der Freiheyt Eyns || Christen menschen || Martinus Luther ||
12 sheets in 40. Quire signatures: aii, aiii, b, bii, biii, c, cii, ciii, ciiii
Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14)
Marginalia in red ink from one hand
WA 7, 16, no H; Benzing/Claus, 88, no 741; Benzing, Buchdrucker, 398 (Eckhart); VD16 L 7205

The pamphlets in the Taylorian Library, however, do not only display the differences in the production of the prints; what makes the print from Speyer stand out among the other three Taylorian versions is not so much the edition itself, but the history of reader- and ownership the print reveals. Unlike the three versions from Wittenberg, the Speyer one, likely produced in 1522, is not preserved as a single print, but is part of a larger, historic collection that includes nineteen German Luther texts, produced between 1519 and 1522; this is indicated by a modern hand on the spine of the book: 19 Luther- || Pamphlets. || 1519 u.

Ill. 8: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11)
Ill. 8: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11)

The cover still has the original brown calfskin binding with two metal clasps on the front cover and the corresponding catch-plates on the back.

Ill. 9: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11)
Ill. 9: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11)

Both front and back cover exhibit decorative elements, including a rectangular region created by four borders; these were produced by using a hot metal roll that was pressed onto the surface of the leather.[50] The design shows floral ornaments and faces as well as three coats of arms, including a lion, a double-headed eagle, as well as the coat of arms of Cologne, which figures three trident crowns over flames.[51] Inside the rectangle created by the borders, several blind stamps are visible, which illustrate a budding shrub with leaves extending to either side of its stem. Consulting the Einbanddatenbank (EBDB) reveals that the identical design was also used for another book whose otherwise unknown workshop is listed as ‘w007634’; it contains a print of Sebastian Brant’s historiographic work De origine et conversatione bonorum regum et de laude civitatis Hierosolymae (1495).[52] Even though the workshop cannot be identified, the coats of arms strongly suggest that both books were bound in or close to Cologne.

Opening up the Sammelband reveals annotations by several hands. On the pastedown, we find the bookplate of the Taylorian with the two old shelfmarks and the current one as well as the acquisition date noted down by three hands in pencil; above the bookplate, another hand has registered an owner’s mark: W.O.Abel.1835. Both on the front and back of the fly leaf, a fourth, modern hand has noted down an entry from a sales catalogue, which advertises the collection:

Von N. 1 sagt A. Strauß (s. dessen opera rariora quae latitant in Biblioth. Can. Reg. Colleg. eccles. ad S. Joh. Bapt. in Rebdorf), p. 136. “das Werkchen ist mit Lotherischen Schriften gedruckt, und wird vielfaeltig als die größste Seltenheit beschrieben. S. Fabricii Gentifol. P II.p.534.

The quote is taken from Andreas Strauß’ Opera Rariora, which was published in 1790 and provides a list of rare works from the library of Austin canons in Rebdorf.[53] “N. 1” refers to the first print in the collection, Luther’s tract Augustiners unterricht auff etlich artickell die im von seynen abgunnern auffgelegt und zu gewessen werden (1519).[54] The entry might already have led W. O. Abel to buy the collection in 1835, before it was resold to the Taylorian in 1877.

On the back of the fly leaf, the same hand started to register the contents of the collection; and on the back pastedown, yet another modern hand registered the titles of all the prints. These include eighteen German texts by Luther as well as one letter in defence of him (no 12). Many of the works are pamphlets against his antagonists Hieronymus Emser (nos 6, 7, 9, 13) and Johannes Eck (nos 8, 16); but the collection also includes Luther’s address An den christlichen Adel (no 19) as well as the German version of his Sendbrief an Papst Leo X (no 11).

All the pamphlets come from five different cities, namely Augsburg, Basel, Erfurt, Strasbourg, Wittenberg and Worms. Five of the prints were produced by the Wanderdrucker Hans von Erfurt (nos 3, 8, 10, 16, 19),[55] three by Adam Petri in Basel (nos 4, 17, 18),[56] two by Rhau-Grunenberg (nos 2, 9), Johann Schott (nos 6, 13),[57] and Johann Knobloch the Elder (nos 7, 15)[58] respectively; one print comes from Melchior Lotter (no 5) and another one from Johann Prüß the Younger (no 12);[59] finally, the collection contains one edition of Johann Eckhart’s Freiheitsschrift from Speyer (no 14).

Who was the owner of this exclusively vernacular collection, which shows such an avid interest in Luther’s oeuvre? One possible hint might be a contemporary owner’s mark by Bernhard Spiegel,

Ill. 10: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/2)
Ill. 10: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/2)

which can be found on four of the nineteen title-pages (nos 1, 2, 8, 9). He seems to have received at least one of the prints as a present, since another hand on the title-page of print eight notes down .pro. d]o. Bernardo Spigel.

Ill. 11: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/8)
Ill. 11: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/8)

The first print likewise has two entries on its title-page: one is the owner’s mark by Spiegel; the second one says: Reinhardt Graff zu Leinningen, her zu westerburg vnd schaummburgk vnd [one word illegible] in liebe [two words illegible]”[60];

Ill. 12: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/1)
Ill. 12: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/1)

whether Earl Reinhard I von Leiningen-Westerburg (1453-1522) donated the print to Bernhard Spiegel is not clear. Unfortunately, the fact that the prints Spiegel signed were produced in three different cities makes it difficult to locate him.[61] At the same time, this provides evidence for the ample circulation and reuse of prints within the Empire, which helped disseminate reformatory ideas.

Certainly one of the more interesting pamphlets in the collection is Johann Eckhart’s edition of Luther’s Freiheitsschrift. As in most of his prints, Eckhart, who is described by Benzing as a reprinter, did not include a colophon or imprint; [62] instead, the title-page only gives the author and title in Gothic font (cf. A1r). Other than Rhau-Grunenberg’s and Lotter’s objective, Eckhart’s seems to have been to provide a compact and economical presentation of the text: he neither includes a costly woodcut nor leaves the verso side of the title-page empty; instead, he prints the text of the treatise on the same page as the address to Mühlpfordt,

Ill. 13: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14), A1v
Ill. 13: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14), A1v

separates the two by simply indenting the first four lines, but then forgets to insert the woodcut initial ‘Z’ at the beginning of the treatise: [Z]Vm ersten […] (A1v). What is more, he frequently refrains from inserting spaces in between individual words (e.g. vndarff (B2r) instead of vn darff) in order to save space and overall shows less concern for punctuation than Rhau-Grunenberg and Lotter do (e.g. vnrecht Dan ein (C3r) or werck Daher (C3r). This gives the general impression that Eckhart was less careful in his presentation of the print.

Although Knaake asserts that “[a]us B stammen C, H”, the Speyer print exhibits several instances which cannot be found in B (or A and L) and therefore might be attributed to Eckhart himself: thus, he changes the order of words from gut und frum to frH vnd gut (B4r); and he also – probably mistakenly – prints noch dem scheinen im wasser schnapt (B2r) instead of schemen, which in a Gothic font looks similar since it has the same number of strokes.

Despite the fact that Eckhart’s print seems to be the one produced with the least care among the three Taylorian copies, it simultaneously proves to be the most interesting one as well, since it includes marginalia by a contemporary hand. This reader, who writes in red ink, exhibits an active engagement with Luther’s text, at least for the first thirteen passages (cf. A1r-B1r). Not only does (s)he number each of the thirteen passages; (s)he also adds pilcrows (cf. A1r, A4v) and tries to demarcate sentences where Eckhart refrained from doing so (e.g. on A2r: genennet [.] nach […]). Furthermore, (s)he underscores all the Bible passages for the first thirteen passages, which once again hints at an active engagement with the tract. Important passages in the treatise are likewise underscored; sometimes the hand additionally adds a manicule (cf. A2r, A4v) or writes Merck (A4v) in the margin. (S)he also marks Luther’s central definition of man as master and servant: Eyn Christen mensch ist ein freyer herr […] (A1v), after which (s)he notes down in the margin of A2r: Zweyerlei naturen ein mensch

Ill. 14: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14), A2r
Ill. 14: Taylorian, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14), A2r

and adds Verbum Dei & evangelii (A2v) on the following page.

Eckhart’s print from Speyer, which is included in a contemporary collection of Luther texts, thus provides an interesting history of reader- and ownership. It shows that there was an active readership engaging with the text and provides evidence for the reuse, circulation and collection of Reformation pamphlets in the early modern period. 

Printing as a Divine Gift

All four of the Taylorian editions together show the spectrum of printing at the time of the Reformation: the editions showcase different graphic designs (woodcut versus no woodcut in Rhau-Grunenberg’s and Lotter’s edition), advertising strategies (Lotter’s praise of Luther’s tract in the Latin edition), and a multilayered history of reader- and ownership (Eckhart’s print). At the same time, even though the text of the Freiheitsschrift proves to be relatively stable, it could still be altered or revised – either by the author or the printer – and therefore displays at least some degree of mouvance (Zumthor).[63]

In a Tischrede from 1532, Luther shows himself to be aware of the enormous influence that the printing revolution had on the Reformation, identifying it (“Calcographia”) as a divine gift (“summum et postremum donum”) from God, which helps spread the flame-like word of God: “Calcographia est summum et postremum donum, durch welche Gott die Sache [des Evangeliums] treibet. Es ist die letzte flame vor dem ausleschen der welt; sie ist Gott lob am ende.”[64] [Printing is the most excellent and last gift [from God], through which he helps to spread the word of God. It is the last flame before the extinction of the world].

Bibliography

Primary

Knaake, Karl and others (ed.), D. Martin Luthers Werke. 120 vols (Weimar: Metzler, 1883-2009).

Vulgata online, biblija.net.

Strauß, Andreas, Opera Rariora, Quae Latitant in Bibliotheca Canon. Reg. Collegiatae Ecclesiae Ad S. Ioannem Baptistam in Rebdorf (Eichstätt: Mathiae Caietani Schmid, 1790).

Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8o.G.1519(11/14).

Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8°.G.1520(25).

Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8o.G.1521(10).

Taylor Institution Library, Arch.8o.G.1521(25).

Secondary

Benzing, Josef, Die Buchdrucker des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts im deutschen Sprachgebiet (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1963).

Benzing, Josef, ‘Josef Eckhart, Ein Nachdrucker zu Speyer (1521?-1526)’, in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 1956, 184-192.

Benzing, Josef and Helmut Claus, Lutherbibliographie. Verzeichnis der gedruckten Schriften Martin Luthers bis zu dessen Tod. 1st ed. (Baden-Baden: Librairie Heitz, 1966).

Gaskell, Philip, A New Introduction to Bibliography. 2nd revised and reprinted ed. (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2015).

Gilmont, Jean-François (ed.), The Reformation and the Book, transl. by Karin Maag (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016). 

Heiles, Maco, ‘Beschreibung des Sammelbandes Arch. 8o.G.1519 (11) der Taylor Institution Library, Oxford’, https://www.academia.edu/10742571/Beschreibung_des_Sammelbandes_Arch._8o_G._1519_11_der_Taylor_Institution_Library_Oxford [accessed 26 March 2020].

Hirstein, James, ‘Corrections Autographes De Martin Luther. Le Tractatus de libertate christiana d’après les éditions de 1520 et de 1521. Des suggestions d’émendation’, in Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie religieuses, 95.2 (2015), 129-163.

Hirstein, James, ‘Des modes d’expression sublimes dans l’Epistola ad Leonem decimum et le Tractatus de libertate christiana corrigés par Martin Luther, par Beatus Rhenanus et par l’officine d’Adam Petri en vue de l’édition de 1521’, in Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses, 97.3 (2017), 385-422.

Hirstein, James, ‘Publizistische Netzwerke der Reformation. Die Schlettstädter Druckvorlage von Luthers Freiheitsschrift’, in Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017), 60-65.

Kaufmann, Thomas, ‘Luthers Traktat über die christliche Freiheit als publizistisches Phänomen und theologisches Programm’, in Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017), 43-59.

Köhler, Hans-Joachim, ‘Erste Schritte zu einem Meinungsprofil der frühen Reformationszeit’, in Martin Luther: Probleme seiner Zeit, ed. by Volker Press et al. (Stuttgart: 1986), 244-281 (256).

Molhuysen, P.C., ‘Een onuitgegeven brief von Frans von Sickingen’, in NAKG 3 (1905), 93-95.

Nieden, Marcel ‘Die Reformation als Medienereignis’, in Europäische Geschichte Online, http://ieg-ego.eu/de/threads/europaeische-medien/europaeische-medienereignisse/marcel-nieden-die-wittenberger-reformation-als-medienereignis [accessed 12 October 2020].

Reske, Christoph: ‘Die Anfänge des Buchdrucks im vorreformatorischen Wittenberg’, in Buchdruck und Buchkultur im Wittenberg der Reformationszeit, ed. by Stefan Oehmig (Leipzig, Evangelischer Verlag-Anst. S., 2015), 35-69.

Slenczka, Ruth, ‘Luthers Freiheitsverständnis’, in Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017), 26–41.

Slenczka, Ruth (ed.): Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017).

Taylor Editions Online, https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/topics/reformation.shtml [accessed 2 April 2020].

Thomas, David, ‘The Faithful Shephard and me. A Personal Odyssey. The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of II Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612). Part II. The Once and Future Guarinian’, on the Taylorian Blog http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylorian/.

Weber, Hanna-Christina, ‘Buchdrucker’, in Reformation. Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliches Handbuch, ed. by Helga Schnabel-Schüle (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2017), 93-108 (107).

Wenzel, Horst, ‘Botschaften und Briefe. Die Spur des Körpers in der Schrift’, in Spuren, Lektüren. Praktiken des Symbolischen, ed. by Gisela Fehrmann, Erika Linz, and Cornelia Epping-Jäger (München: Fink, 2005), 259-276.

Zumthor, Paul, Essai de poétique médiévale (Paris: Seuil, 1972).


[1] Cf. the header image for the blog post by Hannah and Dennis Clemens on “Freedom by Faith”.

[2] Thomas Kaufmann, ‘Luthers Traktat über die christliche Freiheit als publizistisches Phänomen und theologisches Programm’, in Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017), 43-59 (43).

[3] Translation by Anna Linton and Sharon Baker, taken from the new edition of the Freiheitsschrift as part of the Taylorian editions: https://editions.mml.ox.ac.uk/editions/freiheit-1520/

[4] Cf. Ruth Slenczka, ‘Luthers Freiheitsverständnis’, in Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017), 26–41 (26).

[5] [5] Luther’s writings (WA), letters (WA.Br), and Tischreden (WA.Tr) are quoted following D. Martin Luthers Werke. 120 vols (Weimar: Metzler, 1883-2009), here: WA.Br 2, 197: […] vt ego ad summum pontificem Epistolam edam vtraque lingua, praefixam paruulo alicui opusculo […].

[6] Cf. Marcel Nieden, ‘Die Reformation als Medienereignis’, in Europäische Geschichte Online.

[7] Cf. Hans-Joachim Köhler, ‘Erste Schritte zu einem Meinungsprofil der frühen Reformationszeit’, in Martin Luther: Probleme seiner Zeit, ed. by Volker Press et al. (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1986), 244-281 (256).

[8] Cf. Kaufmann, ‘Traktat’, 56.

[9] Cf. Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography. 2nd revised and reprinted ed. (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2015).

[10] Cf. Kaufmann, ‘Traktat’, 57.

[11] Cf. the overview on the inside cover of Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017).

[12] Cf. for example Gilmont, Jean-François (ed.), The Reformation and the Book, transl. by Karin Maag (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016). 

[13] Cf. Taylor Editions Online.

[14] Cf. Josef Benzing and Helmut Claus, Lutherbibliographie. Verzeichnis der gedruckten Schriften Martin Luthers bis zu dessen Tod. 1st ed. (Baden-Baden: Librairie Heitz, 1966), 87-91, nos 734-769, here nos 734, 741, 744, 760. For the online versions of the prints cf. the VD16, nos VD16 L 7202, L7201, L 4663, L 7205.

[15] Cf. David Thomas, ‘The Faithful Shephard and me. A Personal Odyssey. The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of II Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612). Part II. The Once and Future Guarinian’, http://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylorian/ [accessed 29March 2020].

[16] Rhau-Grunenberg used the woodcut again for other editions, e.g. VD16 L 7031.

[17] Cf. Josef Benzing, Die Buchdrucker des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts im deutschen Sprachgebiet (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1963).

[18] Cf. the number of printers in the respective cities at the time in Benzing, Buchdrucker.

[19] Cf. ibid., 465; cf. also Christoph Reske: ‘Die Anfänge des Buchdrucks im vorreformatorischen Wittenberg’, in Buchdruck und Buchkultur im Wittenberg der Reformationszeit, ed. by Stefan Oehmig (Leipzig: Evangelischer Verlag-Anst. S., 2015), 35-69.

[20] Cf. e.g. VD16 B 6121 (Bodenstein) and VD16 K 808 (Kettenbach).

[21] WA.Tr 2, 58 (Tischrede 1532).

[22] WA.Br 2, 380.

[23] Hanna-Christina Weber, ‘Buchdrucker’, in Reformation. Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftliches Handbuch, ed. by Helga Schnabel-Schüle (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2017), 93-108 (107).

[24] Cf. Benzing, Buchdrucker, 465.

[25] Kaufmann, ‘Traktat’, 56.

[26]  Cf. VD16 L 7031.

[27] Cf. WA 7, 15, no A.

[28] Cf. Weber, ‘Buchdrucker’, 107.

[29] WA 7, 41, no A.

[30] WA.Br 2, 380.

[31] Cf. Benzing, Buchdrucker, 261.

[32] Cf. WA.Br 1, 381.

[33] Cf. Kaufmann, ‘Traktat’, 55-56.

[34] Benzing, Buchdrucker, 466.

[35] Cf. WA 7, 17.

[36] Cf. the number “3” on A1r.

[37] Cf. WA 7, 16.

[38] Interestingly, Lotter interprets the date of the address to Mühlpfordt as an imprint. Instead of putting ‘Wittenberg 1520’ (as do Rhau-Grunenberg and Jacob Eckhart), he prints: Zu Wytten/ || berg. M D Xxi. (A1v). 

[39] WA 7, 27.

[40] Cf. WA 7, 16.

[41] Cf. ibid., 17.

[42] The metaphoric use of “imbibe” for ‘drinking’ the word of Christ is reminiscent of 1 Cor 10:4: et omnes eundem potum spiritalem biberunt bibebant autem de spiritali consequenti eos petra petra autem erat Christus, cf. the Vulgata online,   https://www.ub.uni-freiburg.de/fileadmin/ub/referate/04/nt-vg.htm#07 [accessed 30 March 2020].

[43] Cf. WA 7, 15-16.

[44] Cf. James Hirstein, ‘Corrections Autographes De Martin Luther. Le Tractatus de libertate christiana d’après les éditions de 1520 et de 1521. Des suggestions d’émendation’, in Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie religieuses, 95.2 (2015), 129-163 (141).

[45] Cf. ibid.; cf. James Hirstein, ‘Des modes d’expression sublimes dans l’Epistola ad Leonem decimum et le Tractatus de libertate christiana corrigés par Martin Luther, par Beatus Rhenanus et par l’officine d’Adam Petri en vue de l’édition de 1521’, in Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses, 97.3 (2017), 385-422; cf. James Hirstein, ‘Publizistische Netzwerke der Reformation. Die Schlettstädter Druckvorlage von Luthers Freiheitsschrift’, in Reformation und Freiheit. Luther und die Folgen für Preußen und Brandenburg, ed. by Ruth Slenczka (Potsdam: Michael Imhof, 2017), 60-65.

[46] Hirstein, ‘Des modes’, 411-412.

[47] Cf. WA 7, 40.

[48] Cf. Hirstein, ‘Corrections’, 133.

[49] Cf. Kaufmann, ‘Traktat’, 59.

[50] Cf. Gaskell, Bibliography, 149.

[51] Cf. Marco Heiles, ‘Beschreibung des Sammelbandes Arch. 8o.G.1519 (11) der Taylor Institution Library, Oxford’, https://www.academia.edu/10742571/Beschreibung_des_Sammelbandes_Arch._8o_G._1519_11_der_Taylor_Institution_Library_Oxford [accessed 26 March 2020].

[52] Unfortunately, the book, housed in the ‘Stadt- und Landesbibliothek Dortmund’, is not digitised; cf. the EBDB,  https://www.hist-einband.de/de/kulturobjektdokumente/?v=210658b&h=false&ex=false&faces-redirect=true [accessed 1 April 2020].

[53] Cf. Andreas Strauß, Opera Rariora, Quae Latitant in Bibliotheca Canon. Reg. Collegiatae Ecclesiae Ad S. Ioannem Baptistam in Rebdorf (Eichstädt: Mathiae Caietani Schmid, 1790), 136, listed as VD18 12185299.

[54] Cf. WA 2, 67, no E.

[55] Cf. Benzing, Buchdrucker, 15-16.

[56] Cf. ibid., 31.

[57] Cf. ibid., 412.

[58] Cf. ibid., 411.

[59] Cf. ibid., 413.

[60] Cf. Heiles, ‘Beschreibung’, 2.

[61] A pro-Lutheran priest called Bernhard Spiegel from Speyer is mentioned in a letter from Franz von Sickingen to Wolfgang Capito, cf. P.C. Molhuysen, ‘Een onuitgegeven brief von Frans von Sickingen’, in NAKG 3 (1905), 93-95.

[62] The following examples from Josef Benzing, ‘Josef Eckhart, Ein Nachdrucker zu Speyer (1521?-1526)’, in Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 1956, 184-192.

[63] Paul Zumthor, Essai de poétique médiévale (Paris: Seuil, 1972).

[64] WA.Tr 2, 650. Cf. also Horst Wenzel, ‘Botschaften und Briefe. Die Spur des Körpers in der Schrift’, in Spuren, Lektüren. Praktiken des Symbolischen, ed. by Gisela Fehrmann, Erika Linz, and Cornelia Epping-Jäger (München: Fink, 2005), 259-276 (270).

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