Memorialising the most reverend Doctor Luther

This 1549 Latin text, the History of the Life and Acts of the Most Reverend Doctor Martin Luther, reveals the ways in which the memory of the famous theologian and religious leader Martin Luther [1483–1546] was promulgated and shaped by some of his many followers after his death in 1546. The little book begins with an account written by the scholar Philip Melanchthon [1497–1560], one of Luther’s closest friends and colleagues. It is accompanied by other texts, including Melanchthon’s funeral oration for Luther and a life of Luther in verse by the poet and reformer Johannes Policarius. This calls Luther a ‘divine prophet’ and declares 1517, the date of Luther’s famous declaration against indulgences, ‘the year of restoring religion’. In the years after Luther’s death the movement he had created faced many challenges including both external military threats and internal divisions. In this context, the memory of Luther became an important emblem and resource for Melanchthon and those around him: a touchstone of their own identity, and a defence against their many critics. Printed in Wittenberg, the town most associated with Luther, and emblazoned with a portrait of ‘the most reverend doctor’, this collection of tributes was one small part of a much larger process of creating and reifying the Luther legend. CL

Historia de vita et actis reuerendiss. viri D. Mart. Lutheri verae theologiae doctoris (Wittenberg: Johannis Luft, 1549), title page.

CUL: F*.12.44 (F), item 5

Further Reading

Irene Backus, Life Writing in Reformation Europe: Lives of Reformers by Friends, Disciples and Foes (Aldershot, 2008), ch. 1.

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ralph Keen and Thomas D. Frazel (ed. and trans.), Luther’s Lives: Two Contemporary Accounts of Martin Luther (Manchester, 2002).

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