Luther's Lives: Two Contemporary Accounts of Martin Luther

By Elizabeth Vandiver; Ralph Keen et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

We have only two substantial eyewitness accounts of the life of Martin Luther. Best known is a 9,000-word Latin memoir by Philip Melanchthon published in Latin at Heidelberg in 1548, two years after the Reformer's death.1 In 1561, 'Henry Bennet, Callesian' translated this pamphlet into English; the martyrologist John Foxe adopted Bennet's text into his Memorials verbatim, including a number of the Englisher's mistranslations. For example, where Melanchthon wrote that Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 'pridie festi omnium Sanctorum - that is, 'on the day before the feast of All Saints' (31 October 1517) - Bennet mistranslated pridie as 'after' and wrote, 'the morrowe after the feast of all Saynctes, the year. 1517.'2 Since every English church was obliged to own a copy of Foxe, Elizabethans – including William Shakespeare – believed Luther's Reformation began on 2 November. The present volume corrects this and other Bennet/Foxe errors, and provides an authoritative English edition of Melanchthon's Historia de Vita et Actis Reverendiss. Viri D. Mart. Lutheri, the first new translation in English to appear in print in many years.3

But the other substantial vita of Luther – at 175,000 words by far the longest and most detailed eyewitness account of the Reformer – has never been published in English. Recorded contemporaneously over the first twenty-five years of the Reformation by Luther's lifelong antagonist Johannes Cochlaeus, the Commentaria de Actis et Scriptis Martini Lutheri was published in Latin at Mainz in 1549. Perhaps because of Cochlaeus's unabashed antagonism for the Reformation – and his virulent attacks on Luther, his ideals, and his fellow reformers – the Commentary has remained untranslated for more than 450 years. In the present volume this colossal work makes its first appearance in print in English – and its debut is timely. At a moment of rapprochement among the divisions of Christianity, Cochlaeus's first-person account of Luther and the turbulent birth of Protestanism is a tale of profound and enduring interest both to the general reader and to students of the Reformation.

Johannes Cochlaeus (1479–1552) was born Johannes Dobeneck (or Dobneck) in Wendelstein in the region of Nuremberg, Germany. A thoroughly educated humanist and pedagogue, Cochlaeus was also an ordained Catholic priest. Conservative, zealous, and personally ambitious, he placed himself in the forefront of the early Catholic reaction against Luther and the reformers. In 1520, Cochlaeus entered the fray with responses to Luther's Address to the Nobility of the German Nation and The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. On 18 April 1521, Cochlaeus was present in the great hall at the Diet of Worms when Luther made his famous declaration before Emperor Charles V: 'Here I

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Luther's Lives: Two Contemporary Accounts of Martin Luther
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Scholars vi
  • Abbreviations vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: Philip Melanchthon and the Historical Luther 7
  • 2: Philip Melanchthon's History of the Life and Acts of Dr Martin Luther 15
  • 3: Johannes Cochlaeus 41
  • 4: The Deeds and Writings of Martin Luther from the Year of the Lord 1517 to the Year 1546 Related Chronologically to All Posterity by Johannes Cochlaeus 54
  • Translator's Note 356
  • Appendix 357
  • Works Cited 361
  • Notes 372
  • Index 406
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