Whither Luther and the good book

January 26, 1996

Jennie Brookman (THES, January 12) reported on the discovery of an old Latin Bible that is supposed to be Martin Luther's personal copy, which he used at Wartburg to render the New Testament into the new high German written language. However, there are two inaccuracies.

First the Wartburg. Apart from the fact that there was an East German car of the same name a couple of centuries later, it is not and was not a "monastery". The Wartburg at which Luther was given protection by Frederic the Wise, the Saxon Elector who faced Rome as well as the emperor, is a castle that is situated high above Eisenach. The Wartburg was founded as a wooden fortress by Count Louis "der Springer" in 1067. The Luther House, where Martin Luther was accepted as a Latin pupil by Ursula Cotta from 1498 to 1501 is now a museum. However, the last monastery was built in Eisenach around 1380. It was a Carthusian cloister. Martin Luther had nothing to do with the Carthusians either. He was a monk before he became the Great Reformer and had joined the Augustinians in Erfurt.

Second, it is a matter of dispute whether Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg or whether he distributed them as handbills. However, that older controversy seems to be as unimportant as this latest debate on the question of whether the Latin Bible was Luther's own copy or belonged to somebody else.


Lawyer, Supreme Court of Schleswig-Holstein. Lecturer in German law, College of Public Administration, North Rhine-Westphalia

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