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Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Strasbourg: Johann Schott, 1523
Second edition
BR332 S3 1523

A copy from one of only two editions of this collection of thirteen sermons by Martin Luther. The collection of sermons was a supplement to “Twenty Seven Sermons” (1523). These two collections, along with “Fourteen Fine Christian Sermons” (1522) were part of one of the most important projects of Luther’s career: the creation of a Postil for the reformed church.

Luther wrote his sermons in a piecemeal fashion. His Postil was printed a few pieces at a time. “Thirteen Sermons” is from the early period of his Postil composition. The early printed sermons represent Luther’s own vision for the Postil. Editorial changes were made by reform Lutheran leaders after his death.

“Postil” was originally a term used in Medieval Europe for biblical commentary, derived from the Latin term “post ill verba textus” (after these words). “Postil” later referred to homiletic exposition as opposed to thematic sermonizing. By the mid-fourteenth century, the term was applied to an annual cycle of homilies.

In early sixteenth century Roman Catholic preaching, especially in Germany, postils were commonly used. Luther began publishing his Postil (that is, his suggested annual series of homilies) in Wittenberg in 1521, as replacements for those used by the Roman Catholic Church.

This edition is illustrated with a historiated woodcut title-page border, thought to be by Hans Bauldung Grien, a student of Albrecht Dürer, which includes printer Schott’s monogram, putti, unicorns, lions, and stags. A full-page portrait of Luther by Grien faces the title-page. A small image of Christ appears on the title-page. The penultimate leaf has a four-part woodcut border, also attributed to Grien. The portrait of Luther is of particular interest.

The original portrait, first published by Schott in 1521, included a halo surrounding Luther’s head (signifying sainthood). The fact that the halo was removed in a second edition printed only two years later suggests the swiftness of Reformation theological departure from Roman Catholic notions of the spiritual power of church leaders.

Printer Johann Schott was famous for using excellent woodcuts by noted artists of the day, including students of Dürer. In 1533, he took another printer to court over the reprinting of one of his illustrated books (Otto Brunfels’s herbal). The case is the first reprint suit documented in the Holy Roman Empire, an example of how the commerce of printing changed notions of proprietary law, i.e. copyright, for the written word and for art; authors and artists; and, of course, publishers.