Monday, August 12, 2013

Latest Volume of Luther's Works (LW 75) and How Did Luther Preach?

The latest volume of Luther's Works in English arrived a few days ago: Luther’s Church Postil (LW 75, sermons for the church year). It's wonderful to finally have a contemporary critical English edition of the Church Postil. In my own dabblings in Reformation studies, using the older English translation of the Church Postil sometimes presents more questions than answers. The Church Postil went through various emendations and editions, some approved by Luther, some not. The previous version available in English compiled by John Nicholas Lenker "presents translations that, at more than a century in age, are often innacurate and stilted. In addition, it is difficult to start from Lenker and find one's place in the Weimar edition" (LW 75:xxviii). While I've enjoyed using Lenker over the years, LW 75 will bring needed clarity in researching Luther's writings for those of us using the English language.

One of the most frustrating things I've dealt with using Lenker is trying to determine the actual date of many of the sermons presented, and if a sermon underwent any editing and by who. For instance, I've noted that many Roman Catholic sources have taken quotes from Roth's version of the Church Postil. The introductory material in LW 75 documenting Luther's interaction with the shortcomings of Roth's version confirmed to me how carelessly Luther has been documented by some polemical Roman historians (and some Protestant researchers as well). In fairness to any historical figure, it would seem to me one would want to rely on the version of any particular writing that the author held to be the version they preferred. The editors of LW 75 chose to utilize the mature form of the Church Postil, noting the variants. The introductory material in LW 75 explaining the history of Church Postil was a helpful reminder that when someone says "Luther said..." one needs to use care and caution.  

I've noted in the past how much I enjoy reading Luther's sermons. Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes recently provided a short synopsis of  Luther's preaching style: Tools in Luther's Homiletical Toolbox. For those of you in the preaching ministry, take a moment to skim through the article, and then track down some of Luther's sermons online.

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