BBC News has reported that a “first edition of one of the most important works of the man who inspired the Protestant Reformation has been discovered in a library in France.
The publication by German theologian Martin Luther, called On the Freedom of a Christian, dates back to 1520. This was a year before he was excommunicated by the Pope for criticising the Catholic Church.
It includes around 50 notes written in red by Luther himself, indicating changes he wanted for a second edition. The American who made the discovery, James Hirsten, said it gave an important insight into Luther’s thinking at the time. The annotated edition was found in The Humanist Library in Selestat, in the north-east of France.
Martin Luther launched the Reformation in Germany five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the Church. But his works, which also included Christian Liberty, To the Christian Nobility and On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, turned him against many of the major teachings of the Catholic Church. After his excommunication by Pope Leo X in January 1521, Luther was declared an outlaw and a heretic by the Roman emperor at that time, Charles V. He later went on to publish a complete translation of the bible into German, which contributed to the spread and development of the German language.”
There are few figures in history as influential as Martin Luther. A German theologian, reformer, professor, and pastor, Luther would herald the Protestant Reformation with the publication of his Ninety-Five Theses on October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. His work would attack the Church’s sale of indulgences (the buying off of your sins to secure a place in heaven). Luther would be the spark that would initiate one of the most significant challenges to not only the Roman Catholic Church, but the Holy Roman Empire which had ruled for a thousand years. In the wake of the Reformation, Europe would be plunged into revolution, war and conflict that would reshape Western civilization, and lift it out of the Dark Ages. Excommunicated, Martin Luther would live out the remainder of his life largely in hiding, and died in 1546 at Eisleben, his hometown. The discovery of an important piece of this history at a library in France will strengthen and consolidate our understanding of one of history’s most influential moments of change. As history always does it reveals itself to us over time, perhaps allowing us to fully grasp its significance in our lives.