Sunday, July 22, 2007

Research Tools: What Luther Says

I’ve often thought of doing a blog entry on the primary tools of research I use when researching the Protestant Reformation. But I realized, I use everything I can get my hands on! So, every so often I’m going to highlight a resource I find particularly useful.

One of the most fascinating and helpful resources is What Luther Says by Ewald Plass (though the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church was the mastermind behind this book). The book contains 1700 pages of quotes by Martin Luther arranged topically. This book is a masterful topical arrangement of Luther’s opinion on a myriad of subjects: everything from practical matters to in-depth theological issues. There are 5,100 quotations on more than 200 subjects. A thorough index though links to hundreds of other subjects.

I have found this volume very reliable. Even within a topic where Luther’s opinion my shift or vary, this information will be included. Also included within the topics are many historical contexts and clarifying footnotes. In other words, the quotations are not left hanging in the air (like many of my Catholic apologist friends like to do). My only criticism (and not a real criticism), would be that the quotations are taken from German and Latin editions of Luther’s Works, so there will be no references to the 55-volume English set. The quotes though usually contain reference to the treatise in which they come from. Often, I’ve been able to cross-reference the quote to the English set.

The recent published copies are one volume. Amazon has some new and used copies. The book is a wonderful gift for a pastor (I gave one to my pastor as a “pastor appreciation gift”). My 1959 version of this book is broken up into three volumes, hardback, in a slip case. I specifically purchased this set because I find it easier to use. These were the volumes I used to take out of the Westminster library. I got used to them, so I specifically sought out this older set. I’ve been told the one complete volume has small type-set. As one Amazon review notes, “…the size of this text, at times, can be unwieldy, but what a trove of quotations!” My 3-volume set has larger type, and is extremely user-friendly.

For those of you with a limited income, there is a smaller volume similar in nature to What Luther Says. Before What Luther Says, there was a much smaller work called A Compend Of Luther's Theolgy by Hugh Kerr. If you read the introduction to What Luther Says, Plass says of this book:

“In 1948 Hugh Thomas Kerr of Princeton Theological Seminary published A Compend Of Luther's Theolgy compiled largely from the Holman (Philadelphia) edition of works of Martin Luther. This 250-page book also presents its selections without dates and context Its arrangement follows the pattern of systematic theology. Although it professes to be ‘elementary in character and method,’ it has to a degree filled a need in English theological literature.”

This book is still available via used book stores, and is usually under $20 (in fact, if you act now, you can get the book for under 5 bucks, depending on the used availability in the previous link). This book is a good basic overiview to Luther's theology.


Carrie said...

I had to laugh when I read your first sentence because I was tempted the other day to email you and request a blog post on how you do all your research. I find some great articles written online by others, but I prefer to check their source quotes when possible.

I went to my local library yesterday to look up something, but it is woefully inadequate. I'm wondering if there are more online research methods that are easier.

Anyway, thanks for sharing the Luther reference. I saw a Kung book at the library and thought of you, but decided it wasn't worth checking out.

James Swan said...


I use multiple libraries- I'm blessed to have access to some hard-to-find theological writings. I also have a fairly in-depth Libronix collection, as well as a good personal library.

In terms of Luther research, I will be listing sources in the future. There are thousands of books on Luther- some are more helpful than others.

Carrie said...

I live in the Philadelphia area so I have alot of academic libraries available. Finding the time to get there is the problem.

John said...

The Plass book is superb. It is very easy to research, very throughly indexed. Quite a bit of the Luther quotes are not to be found in the American "Luthers Works" and that makes it all the nore valuable. It is my favorite source for Luther's ideas and thoughts.