“ …for to go against conscience is nether right nor safe.”
Martin Luther, Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521
Five hundred years ago, on January 3, 1521, the Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther, a German priest and professor of theology, due to the ideas expressed in his Ninety-five Theses (1517) and the content of some of his subsequent writings. While considered an outlaw in many regions of Europe after his excommunication, Luther’s beliefs served as a primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.
Original copies of some of Luther’s works can be viewed at Kenneth Spencer Research Library today. Two of the earliest are Von Kauffshandlung und Wucher (On Commerce and Usury) and Warnunge (Warnings), published in 1524 and 1531, respectively.
Both items are written in German and feature elaborate title pages with decorative woodcut borders. Warnunge also shows evidence of annotation throughout – including the use of a manicule, or a “little hand” to highlight aspects of the text.
Beyond these featured items, Spencer’s collections include a sizable number of materials related to the people and conflicts associated with the Protestant Reformation. While many of the library’s items are not printed in English, the value of these holdings is in their connection to this chaotic time in history and how the Reformation shaped the future of Europe and Christianity. Items include additional published writings by Martin Luther as well as writings and sermons in defense of both Protestantism and Catholicism.