Source: Works of Martin Luther vol. I (Philadelphia edition) pp.v-x
No historical study of current issues — in politics or social science or theology — can far proceed without bringing the student face to face with the principles asserted by the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century and its great leader, Martin Luther. He has had many critics and many champions, but neither his critics nor his champions feel that the last word concerning him has been spoken, for scarcely a year passes that does not witness the publication of a new biography.
Had Luther been nothing more than a man of his own time and his own nation the task of estimating him would long since have been completed. A few exhaustive treatises would have answered all demands. But the Catalogue of the British Museum, published in 1894, contains over two hundred folio pages, averaging about thirty-five titles to the page, of books and pamphlets written either by or about him, that have been gathered into this single collection, in a land foreign to the sphere of his labors, and this list has been greatly augmented since 1894. Above all other historical characters that have appeared since the first years of Christianity, he is a man of the present day no less than of the day in which he lived.
But Luther can be properly known and estimated only when he is allowed to speak for himself. He should be seen not through the eyes of others, but through our own. In order to judge the man we must know all fides of the man, and read the heaviest as well as the lightest of his works, the more scientific and theological as well as the more practical and popular, his informal letters as well as his formal treatises. We must take account of the time of each writing and the circumstances under which it was composed, of the adversaries against whom he was contending, and of the progress which he made in his opinions as time went on. The great fund of primary sources which the historical methods of the last generation have made available should also be laid under contribution to shed light upon his statements and his attitude toward the various questions involved in his life-struggles.
As long as a writer can be read only in the language or languages in which he wrote, this necessary closer contact with his personality can be enjoyed only by a very limited circle of advanced scholars. But many of these will be grateful for a translation into their vernacular for more rapid reading, from which they may turn to the standard text when a question of more minute criticism is at stake. Even advanced students appreciate accurately rendered and scholarly annotated translations, by which the range of the leaders of human thought, with whom it is possible for them to be occupied, may be greatly enlarged. Such series of translations as those comprised in the well-edited Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene Libraries of the Fathers have served a most excellent purpose.
In the series introduced by this volume the attempt is made to render a similar service with respect to Luther. This is no ambitious project to reproduce in English all that he wrote or that fell from his lips in the lecture-room or in the pulpit. The plan has been to furnish within the Space of ten volumes a selection of such treatises as are either of most permanent value, or supply the best means for obtaining a true view of his many-sided literary activity and the sources of his abiding influence. The aim is not to popularize the writer, but to make the English, as far as possible, a faithful reproduction of the German or Latin. The work has been done by a small group of scholarly Lutheran pastors, residing near each other, and jointly preparing the copy for the printer. The first draft of each translation was thoroughly discussed and revised in a joint conference of the translators before fired approval. Representative scholars, who have given more or less special study to Luther, have been called in to prepare some of the introductions. While the part contributed by each individual is credited at the proper place, it must yet be added that my former colleague, the late Rev. Prof. Adolph Spaeth, D.D., LL.D. (died June 25, 1910), was actively engaged as the Chairman of the Committee that organized the work, determined the plan, and, with the undersigned, made the first selection of the material to be included.
The other members of the Committee are the Rev. T.E. Schmauk, D.D., LL.D., the Rev. L.D. Reed, D.D., the Rev. W.A. Lambert, J.J. Schindel, A.
Steimle, A.T.W. Steinhaeuser, and C.M. Jacobs, D.D.; upon the five last named the burden of preparing the translations and notes has rested.
Their work has been laborious and difficult. Luther’s complaints concerning the seriousness of his task in attempting to teach the patriarch Job to speak idiomatic German might doubtless have found an echo in the experience of this corps of scholars in forcing Luther into idiomatic English.. We are confident, however, that, as in Luther’s case, so also here, the general verdict of readers will be that they have been eminently successful. It should also be known that it has been purely a labor of love, performed in the midst of the exacting duties of large pastorates, and to serve the Church, to whose ministry they have consecrated their lives.
The approaching jubilee of the Reformation in 1917 will call renewed attention to the author of these treatises. These volumes have been prepared with especial reference to the discussions which, we have every reason to believe, will then occur.
HENRY EYSTER JACOBS.
LUTHERAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, MT. AIRY, PHILADELPHIA.
THE languages from which the following translations have been made are the Latin and the German, — the Latin of the German Universities, the German of the people, and both distinctively Luther’s. In the Latin there is added to the imperfection of the form, when measured by classical standards, the difficulty of expressing in an old language the new thoughts of the Reformation. German was regarded even by Gibbon, two hundred and fifty years later, as a barbarous idiom. Luther, especially in his earlier writings, struggled to give form to a language and to express the highest thoughts in it. Where Luther thus struggled with two languages, it is evident that they have no easy task who attempt to reproduce the two in a third.
Modern Germans find it convenient to read Luther’s German in a modernized text, sometimes rather hastily and uncritically constructed, and altogether unsafe as a basis for translation. Where the Germans have had to modify, a translator meets double difficulties. It may be puzzling for him to know Luther’s exact meaning; it is even more puzzling to find the exact English equivalent.
In order to overcome these difficulties, in part at least, and present a translation both accurate and readable, the present group of translators have not simply distributed the work among themselves, but have together revised each translation as it was made. The original translator, at a meeting of the group, has submitted his work to the rest for criticism and correction, amounting at times to retranslation. No doubtful point, whether in sense or in sound, has been passed by unchallenged. Even with such care, the translation is not perfect. In places a variant reading is possible, a variant interpretation plausible. We can only claim that an honest effort has been made to be both accurate and clear, and submit the result of our labors to a fair and scholarly criticism. Critics can hardly be more severe than we have been to one another. If they find errors, it may be that we have seen them, and preferred the seeming error to the suggested correction; if not, we can accept criticism from others as gracefully as from each other.
The sources from which our translations have been made are the best texts available in each case. In general, these are found in the Weimar Edition (D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesammtausgabe. Weimar. Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolger, 1883 ff.), so far as this is completed. A more complete and fairly satisfactory edition is that known as the Erlangen Edition, in which the German and Latin works are published in separate series, 1826ff. The text of the Berlin Edition (Luthers Werke, herausgegeben von Pfarrer D. Dr.BUCHWALD, etc., Berlin, C.A.
Schwetschke und Sohn, third edition, 1905, ten volumes) is modernized, and where it has been used it has been carefully compared with the more critical texts. The two editions ofWALCH — the original, published 1740- 1753, in twenty-four volumes, at Halle, and the modern edition, known as the St. Louis, Mo., edition, 1880 ff. — are entirely German, and somewhat modernized. For our purpose they could be used only as helps in the interpretation, and not as standard texts for translation. A very convenient and satisfactory critical text of selected treatises is to be found in OTTO CLEMEN, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Bonn, 4 vols., of which two volumes appeared in 1912.