Martin Luther – An Early Tweeter?
In a world where one-year-old cellphones are prehistoric, it’s hard to wrap your mind around something over 400 years old. But in Concordia University St. Paul’s Special Collections archive is a leather-bound 1581 Book of Concord, a rare edition of the foundational texts of the Lutheran Church. For a limited time, this extraordinary piece of history is on display as the centerpiece of the Library Treasures display, located throughout the library.
In our modern context, the collections on display could be described as the Facebook and Twitter of the 1500’s. An abbreviated timeline proceeds as such: In the city of Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, a professor of the Bible named Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses concerning the Catholic Church. Luther argued that the sale of indulgences—monetarily attained forgiveness and absolution—was a violation of the process of confession and penance. The Theses sent a shock wave through Germany and traveled around Europe in two months-time—thanks in part to the “internet” of the time, the newly invented printing press.
“The spread of the Theses was like social media going viral,” explained Concordia Professor of Religion, Rev. Dr. Richard Carter.
The scene likely played out like this: Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church on October 31, 1517. An ink-covered pressman received the Theses and churned out copy after copy, which would be passed from one villager’s hand into another. The writings made their way from city to city at breakneck speed—at least by 16th century standards. Copies that Luther had mailed to friends were similarly copied, distributed and passed along.
Creation of a Lutheran Doctrine
Back to the amber-tinted pages of the Book of Concord resting on display at Concordia. In January 1521, as a result of his attacks on papal actions and teachings, Luther was labeled a heretic and excommunicated by Pope Leo X. In May of1521, Luther was declared an outlaw by the Emperor when he refused to recant his Theses and other writings. Nine years later, in 1530, after much study and conversation with Luther, his colleagues produced and presented to the Emperor the Augsburg Confession, a clear and concise statement of Lutheran beliefs that became the principle document of the Lutheran Church.
The Book of Concord was published in 1580 as Lutherans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. The book contains The Three Ecumenical creeds, The Augsburg Confession, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Martin Luther's Smalcald Articles, Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Martin Luther's Small Catechism, Martin Luther's Large Catechism, Epitome of the Formula of Concord, and The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. The Book of Concord that Concordia has in its possession is from just one year after the book’s original debut.
Unique Documents Owned by Concordia
But what is such a rare and old book—along with pamphlets—doing in our library? Concordia’s retired head librarian, Glenn Offermann, had the answers. “In the 1950’s and 1960’s there was a museum developed by Professor Overn in the Arndt Science Hall. It included a vast array of various historical items—from stuffed animals and birds to a mission bell. Included were these 16th Century publications.”
The main contributor to the museum’s Luther documents Concordia Professor William Dobberfuhl (1923-1954). In scrolling handwriting, the last name “Dobberfuhl” can be observed on the upper right corner of many pamphlets. Due to the disassembling of the Concordia Museum, the pamphlets and the Book of Concord now reside in the Special Collections room of the library.
Current Concordia librarian, Nathan Rinne, explained the considerations taken to preserve the 16th century book, “The temperature in [the Special Collections room] is generally the same as that of the library. Ideal conditions for documents are between 53-66 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures in the library might be a bit more than that from time to time, but don’t go below that. Generally, you want to keep things cool and dry.”
The only other consideration Rinne mentioned was that persons handling the book are to wear white cotton gloves.
The enrichment value added to campus by the presence of the documents and book is best put by Rinne stating, “Any time you get a chance to see, or better yet, hold old documents like this it is special because of the connection you experience with something that you know has a rich history.”
Story by Kristi Loobeek
and Concordia University Marketing and Communications staff