Martin Luther in Print : The Reformation and the Printing Press

A display is on at the John Kinder Theological Library showcases 6 rare print examples relating to Martin Luther and the Reformation which is marking its 500th anniversary this year. 

The spread of the Reformation was in part facilitated by the recent invention of the printing press, which led to a growing volume of printed materials and increased the availability of the written word.

“[W]e haue great cause to geue thankes to the high providence of almighty God, for the excellent arte of Printing, most happily of late founde out, and now commonly practised euery where, to the singular benefite of Christes Churche … and especially to the furtheraunce of true Religion”—John Foxe, The whole works of W. Tyndall, John Firth, and Doct. Barnes, three worthy Martyrs, and principall teachers of this Church of England, collected and compiled in one Tome together, being before scattered & now in Print here exhibited to the Churches (London, John Day, 1573), Sig. A2r.

The Catholic Church recognised the impact of the Lutheran controversy and the rapid spread into the vernacular and on 14 May 1521, Cardinal Wolsey issued a legatine commission to all English and Welsh bishops denouncing Lutheran ‘heresies’ and commanded that it be read in every church at the time of mass (The Reformation and the book, edited by Jean-Francois Gilmont. Aldershot [England[, Ashgate, 1998, page 266-267).

“Who seeth not, that the penne of Luther, folowying after Erasmus and set forward by Printing, hath set the triple crowne so awrye on the Popes head, that is is like neuer to be set straight agayne”—John Foxe, The first volume of the ecclesiasticall history containing the actes & monuments (London, John Day, 1576), 672.

The first work of Martin Luther to be printed in England was in 1534. The Rare Books Collection at the John Kinder Theological Library houses 6 early works by Martin Luther. Come and check out the display in the library for more fascinating facts about the people behind these early print examples.


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