Learn More About Martin Luther’s Church Postils – Sermons for the Entire Church Year – Gospels and Epistles
This is a fantastic blog post from our Academic and Professional blog, which you really should be following. Good stuff! Here’s a link to it. This was prepared by Dawn Weinstock.
Concordia Publishing House has released LW 76: Church Postils II, the second of five volumes of Martin Luther’s Church Postil. The Church Postil consists of Luther’s sermons for the church year. Luther began working on it while hiding out at the Wartburg in 1521. Alongside his translation of the New Testament into German, he intended that the Church Postil should bring the reformational, Gospel message to ordinary pastors and laypeople. Aside from his Catechisms, Luther’s sermons for the church year, the postils, were his most influential writings for the common people. What follows here is Dr. Benjamin Mayes’s introduction to LW 75, explaining how the Church Postil developed, was perfected by Luther, corrupted later, and only now has been restored to the form that Luther intended.
Introduction to the Luther-Cruciger Church Postil (1540–1544)
Luther’s sermons were among his most influential writings, especially the collection of sermons known as the Church Postil. From 1525 to 1529, some twenty-five editions of Luther’s postil were published, while in the next half-decade the number rose to more than fifty, and publication remained strong for the remainder of Luther’s life and long after his death in 1546. The title Church Postil includes the various homiletical writings of Luther that developed in different ways and at various times during his career. Beginning in 1521 and continuing throughout his life, Luther referred to his published collections of sermons for the church year as “postils” [postillae]. This word, deriving from the Latin post illa [verba] (“after these [words]”), had been used in the Middle Ages to introduce a section-by-section exposition of a biblical text, and by Luther’s time it commonly meant a collection of sermons on the annually recurring Epistle and Gospel texts of the church year. But what is now known as Luther’s Church Postil was not so called until 1544, after Veit Dietrich’s (1506–49) edition of the House Postil was published. Previous to the publication of the House Postil, there was no need to differentiate the two postils of Luther. What we now call the Church Postil was instead usually called Explanation of the Epistles and Gospels from Advent until Easter or from Easter until Advent, since the work was typically printed in two parts. The Church Postil developed throughout the course of Luther’s career, growing piece by piece. The following outline shows its constituent parts.
The Church Postil (1544ff.) consists of:
I. Winter Postil (1525/1540) [Aland 376, Po 9–64], that is, the sermons from Advent to Easter. This postil consists of:
A. Wartburg Postil (1522), which consists of:
1. Christmas Postil (1522) [Aland 758, Po 17–33]
2. Advent Postil (1522) [Aland 9, Po 9–16]
B. Lent Postil (1525) [Aland 216, Po 34–64], and
II. Summer Postil, Cruciger edition (1544) [Aland 688, Po 218–305], that is, the sermons from Easter to Advent
Stephan Roth’s edition of Luther’s Explanation of the Gospels (sometimes anachronistically called “Roth’s Edition of the Church Postil”) included only sermons on the Gospel texts of the church year. It included:
I. Summer Postil, Roth edition (1526) [Aland 689, Po 65–114]
II. Festival Postil, Roth edition (1527) [Aland 219, Po 116–166], that is, sermons on the festival and saint days of the church year
III. Winter Postil, Roth edition (1528) [Aland 773, Po 167–217], which was produced in competition with Luther’s own Winter Postil of 1525
Because of the large number of different editions—which varied considerably with regard to their contents, Luther’s involvement in their production, and the time of their publication—there has been some confusion about the publication history of Luther’s Church Postil.
The 1521 Latin Advent Postil and 1522 Wartburg Postil
Before setting off for the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther finished a short, Latin explanation of the Epistles and Gospels for the four Sundays of Advent and sent his manuscript to the printer. In his preface to the short work, Luther reflects on his struggles against his papistic opponents and his effort to cleanse the Word of God from human filth. While in hiding at the Wartburg after the Diet of Worms, Luther’s plan changed. Now he wanted to prepare a postil in German, and for that he initially intended to translate his previous Latin Advent Postil. But Luther had misplaced his notes, so while he awaited a printed copy of the Latin postil, he began work on the sermons for the Christmas season. However, it became obvious to him that his earlier Advent sermons would not fit into his new plan because his Latin sermons were of a completely different style than the German material for Christmas. Thus Luther abandoned his intention to translate the 1521 Latin Advent Postil and instead composed new Advent sermons in German. The Christmas sermons, known as the Christmas Postil (1522) in the literature, were printed separately once. The German sermons for Advent, the so-called Advent Postil (1522), were printed separately twice. More commonly, these two parts were published together and are now known as the Wartburg Postil (1522).
The 1525 Lent Postil and Winter Postil
No more of the postil appeared in print for the next few years, but market demand for Luther’s church year sermons did not abate. Realizing the need to present shorter sermons, Luther began writing and revising sermons on the Epistles and Gospels of the Sundays after Epiphany, but before he could finish the sermons for Lent, a copy of his work was stolen and printed in Regensburg, though with “Wittemberg” as the place of publication on the title page. Luther continued working on these sermons, known now as the Lent Postil, and had them published in 1525, along with a “Preface and Admonition to the Printers” reproving his anonymous thieves. Soon the Lent Postil was added to the Wartburg Postil and printed under the subtitle: “corrected for the second time [anderweyt] by Martin Luther,” indicating that the Wartburg Postil sermons were in their second revised edition. For the first time, Luther’s sermons on the entire winter half of the church year were available to the public in what is now known as the Winter Postil (1525). It was this Winter Postil (consisting of the Advent, Christmas, and Lent Postils) that Luther in 1527 called “the best book I ever wrote,” though of course he made similar statements about others of his works as well. This was the end of Luther’s own, independent work on the postils. After the 1525 Winter Postil, editors took the postils in hand, sometimes with Luther’s approval and sometimes without.
Stephan Roth’s Postil Editions
Stephan Roth’s editorial work on Luther’s postil was not commissioned by Luther, though for a while Luther gave his consent. Roth (1492–1546) was not a theologian but a schoolteacher. At the age of 25 he was leading the school of his hometown, Zwickau, and later he led the Latin school in Joachimsthal (Bohemia). In 1523, however, he enrolled at Wittenberg and struck up a friendship with Luther, Johann Bugenhagen (1485–1558), and others. During this time, Roth translated writings of Luther and Bugenhagen and also took notes while Luther preached. Later, Roth added other early Luther sermons to these notes. In 1527 he returned to Zwickau to serve as the city secretary. But Roth had already recognized the market’s demand for sermons of Luther for the summer half of the church year. Although not commissioned by Luther to do so, Roth edited and published Explanation of the Gospels from Easter to Advent, now known as Roth’s edition of the Summer Postil (1526), and he succeeded in obtaining a preface from Luther to include with the volume. In the preface, Luther (with the theft and publication of part of the Lent Postil likely still in mind) viewed the publication of the Summer Postil as unnecessary, but at least better than shoddy, unauthorized publications under his name. Unlike Luther’s 1525 Winter Postil, which had sermons on the Epistle and Gospel texts, Roth’s collection contained sermons only on the Gospel texts. Also, Roth’s work was not of the highest quality. In many ways, Roth was not a theologically competent editor of the reformer’s sermons—a task that required a certain amount of editorial contribution to supplement and smooth out the rough stenographic notes of his preaching. Instead, Roth was a collector and publisher of Luther’s homiletical fragments. And wherever Roth could not find the sermons he needed from Luther, he proceeded to gather material from other sources and publish it among Luther’s sermons.
Encouraged by the success of the Summer Postil, Roth undertook a sequel: Explanation of the Gospels for the Chief Festivals in the Whole Year—now called the Festival Postil (1527)—consisting of sermons on the Gospel texts appointed for the festival and saint days of the church year. Roth set himself a difficult task, however, since there were many saint and festival days for which there were no sermons of Luther. For these days Roth improvised by printing the text of the Gospel reading and a summary by Bugenhagen. Often Roth proceeded in a wholly arbitrary manner, for example, constructing a sermon for St. Andrew’s Day from Luther’s Lectures on Galatians and a sermon for St. Barbara’s Day from a sermon Luther preached in 1524 for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity. The sermon for St. Thomas’ Day was primarily Roth’s own work. The sermons for SS. Philip and James and for St. Michael are translations from Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560). Again, Luther provided a preface (without having examined the volume), stating that the publication of the Festival Postil was undertaken completely under his supervision and direction in order to prevent people from adding to his sermons “whatever they want” and marring his preaching so that he himself could not recognize what is affixed under his name. The irony is that this is precisely what Roth’s edition did.
Once he was at work, Roth was unable to stop. After the success of the Summer Postil and Festival Postil, Roth proceeded to produce an edition of the Winter Postil completely different from, and in competition with, the one that Luther had prepared. Known now as Roth’s edition of the Winter Postil (1528), this Explanation of the Gospels from Advent to Easter may be considered an attempt to abridge Luther’s 1525 Winter Postil. Roth eliminated the sermons on Epistle texts and edited down or replaced the Gospel sermons, resulting in a Winter Postil much more compact than Luther’s own.
Roth’s printers urged him to obtain a preface from Luther for the new Winter Postil. At Roth’s request, Georg Rörer (1492–1557) showed Luther the printer’s pages, and then reported to Roth on July 9, 1528:
I urged the Doctor to write a preface as soon as possible, but, being occupied with other matters, he was unable. He invited me to supper, then said, “At supper I will write it for you.” However, at his first look at the postils, he became quite enraged, saying, “Why are these postils being published, when they were previously written and published more diligently and more amply by me?” Then immediately Philip and Jonas calmed him down, [saying] that the labor was in vain, but he should just acknowledge them as his own. As for me, I added that this labor of yours was not displeasing to Bugenhagen, though he likes the sermons preached by Dr. Martin more than the ones prepared and written by him. Then the Doctor was displeased that you added in the title: “Sermons of Luther When He Returned from His Patmos.” Again, he was offended accidentally while reading “the Gospel must sound bad”; Latin: male audit.
Rörer concluded his letter:
You will not believe how difficult—indeed, extremely difficult—it was for Luther to write the preface. The more he read in the [printer’s] copy, the less he was inclined to write the preface. Surely all good men sympathize with you, which their letters will testify. Send the polished copy to the Doctor’s wife and to me.
One might expect the opposite, yet in his very brief preface Luther stated that he was pleased with his friend Stephan Roth’s efforts to clean up his sermons and put them in order. Yet discontent toward Roth grew among Luther’s friends, especially when it was made known that Roth was profiting financially from publishing Luther’s postils and as the poor quality of Roth’s work became clear. On August 5, 1528, Rörer wrote to Roth:
I asked Cruciger to write to you. He promised that he would do so. But when I wanted to ask for the letter, he was not at home. He is not very pleased with your work in assembling the sermons for the summer Sundays and saints’ days. He says that you were very careless in correcting them, and they were very careless in printing them, so that sometimes he does not know what words and entire orations mean when he is supposed to correct them. This is what I think he himself will tell you when he writes to you. Bartholomaeus the bookseller is very angry with that other man. I wanted to calm him down recently. What does he say? “I gave that man (if you recall) 14 gulden, and Moritz [gave him] the same or a little less, and promised that he would keep the trust with us.” When I heard him mentioning money, what could I say? How could I excuse you? You did not mention a word to me about this money, or if you did mention it, since it is not known to me, you certainly did not mention an amount so great.
Finally, Rörer wrote a harsh letter to Roth on October 15, 1528, reproaching Roth’s entire postil edition and asking him to cease publishing Luther’s sermons.
I made sure that the book you intended for Dr. M.’s wife would be bound. It would not have been at all proper to have given her the book before it was prepared. Many interpret this labor of yours in heaping up sermons in a way of which I do not now want to speak. I have not yet heard the Doctor’s judgment. This is what I am advising you: Do not fool yourself and seek your own profit more than that of the readers. Enough and more than enough sermons have now been printed. I do not approve of the fact that you are having the first and oldest sermons of Dr. M. printed. If they were being printed with the consent of the author, or if he himself were having them printed, he would have found quite a few things that he would have either changed or completely erased, following the example of Augustine. But you, without discrimination—as long as the book grows beyond bounds—are scraping together all the sermons, and you have praise; you also have your profit. Look, I say, do not deceive yourself. God has sharper eyes than you do. If you want to aid the Christian cause with your labor, why do you not ask me for the sermons preached last year and this year? Here, surely, I would have spurred you on, and would have loved one sermon more than even half of this book. I know you will not like this judgment of mine at all, but as for me, I know what I am saying. Someday in an argument those excessive commentaries will be sought, with the result that Scripture will be neglected. What do you think will happen then? “But the commentaries of former times were impure; the commentaries of our times are godly.” That is true. But even before now enough of those godly commentaries have been published. You see, this is why godly men publish their explanations: not that we may cling to them forever but that they may be like pointers for us, showing the way to the fountain itself—not to mention the blasphemy of the fanatics [Schwermologorum], who laugh at us who spend our time even on Holy Scripture. But this blasphemy of theirs is from Satan, not the good Spirit. . . . I have been asked, even almost begged by some, to tell you these things and admonish you to suppress those sermons, especially if they are from those that were preached about eight, nine, or ten years ago, which you are promising to publish with your scant attention and effort. I have not yet presented the book to the Doctor’s wife, because it has not yet been prepared. If it had been prepared, I doubtlessly would have heard what judgment Dr. Martin would pass on your work. I will state this in another way: I did my part when I sent the preface. At that time Dr. M. said, among other things: “It would have been better advised for me myself to publish the rest of the Gospels and Epistles through the whole year with my annotations, and surely it would have been an easy thing to do,” he said, “since there was no need for such a lengthy explanation of the Gospels and Epistles in this latter postil as there was in the first. Much could have been understood from that former [postil].”
Thus, on the basis of Rörer’s testimony, Luther was displeased with Roth’s edition, and the team of scholars around Luther recognized that Luther’s rough sermons required revising before being released to the public and that his earlier sermons were not fit for publication without extensive editing.
Beginning in 1531, tension between Luther and Roth increased as a result of the Zwickau city council’s endeavor to dismiss a pastor without just cause. Finally, Luther considered Roth, who was the secretary for the city council, as being separated from his fellowship—that is, excommunicated—and this ban was never lifted. In a letter of November 27, 1535, Luther told Nicolaus Gerbel (ca. 1485–1560) of Strassburg that he wanted Roth’s edition of the postil to be totally eradicated.
Concerning the postil, you have more respect for it than I do. I would like the whole book to be destroyed. And this is what I am doing: I am entrusting to Dr. Caspar Cruciger the work of re-editing the whole into a new and better form, which would be of benefit to the whole Church everywhere. He is the sort of man, unless love deceives me, who will correspond to Elisha, if I were Elijah (if one may compare small things with great), a man of peace and quiet, to whom I shall commend the church after [I depart]; Philip does this too.
Despite the displeasure of Luther, Rörer, and Cruciger behind the scenes, Roth’s edition of the Winter Postil continued to be published and sold alongside Luther’s edition, yet then ceased to be published after Luther’s own revision of his Winter Postil came out in 1540. Roth’s edition of the Summer Postil, likewise, ceased to be published after Cruciger’s edition appeared in 1540. Roth’s Festival Postil, however, was never replaced by Luther, and thus continued to be published throughout the sixteenth century.
Luther’s 1540 Edition of the Winter Postil and Cruciger’s 1544 Edition of the Summer Postil
In 1540 a revised edition of Luther’s Winter Postil was published under the title Explanation of the Epistles and Gospels from Advent to Easter, by Dr. Martin Luther, Corrected Anew. Luther’s biggest change was an update of the biblical citations to reflect the latest version of the German Bible. Yet he also made many significant changes to his sermons. He removed sections in which he had previously tolerated Roman Catholic fasts and the cult of saints. Some omissions were made to streamline his argument. More significant, some of Luther’s changes demonstrate greater kindness toward Aristotle, the universities, and the schools (e.g., the Epistle sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent). He also removed or qualified a number of reproaches of “the clergy,” since by 1540 an Evangelical clergy had been established. In short, the establishment of the Church of the Augsburg Confession called for a different, less disestablishmentarian, tone. This is not to say that Luther was consistent in revising his unqualified attacks on the universities, the clergy, and Aristotle. Rather, it appears that Luther began with a thorough edit of the Advent sermons, then worked hastily, with the exception of those places where he excised lengthy sections and the complete replacement of the Gospel sermon for the First Sunday after Epiphany.
As mentioned above, as early as 1535 Luther planned to entrust the revision of the Summer Postil to Caspar Cruciger. Like Roth and Rörer, Cruciger came to Wittenberg from the University of Leipzig and was, among the three, the preeminent intellect. After participating in the organization of the Magdeburg school system, he was called back to Wittenberg to fill in for absent professors. Cruciger had earned Luther’s full trust by editing and publishing sermons of Luther on the basis of stenographic notes. Cruciger took up the work on the Summer Postil, but from the middle of 1539 did not make progress. In July 1541, Luther himself began to work on the Summer Postil but soon gave the work back to Cruciger. The Summer Postil was published shortly after Christmas 1543 under the title Explanation of the Epistles and Gospels from Easter to Advent, by Dr. Martin Luther, Prepared Anew. It bore the date 1544 on the title page, since the new year was reckoned as beginning on Christmas Day.
Luther provided an ample preface to the work, addressing preachers of the Gospel. He writes that God has blessed Germans by providing His Word in the German language, the preaching of the catechism, the Sacraments, the Keys, and instruction in godly vocations and estates—all of which stands in stark contrast to the blindness they experienced under the papacy. Luther continues:
Beyond that, we have the postils, and especially this one, which my lord and good friend Dr. Caspar Cruciger has improved and expanded. In it the Epistles and Gospels through the year have been clearly and pleasantly prepared and, as I may say, “pre-chewed,” as a mother chews the porridge before giving it to her baby.
Luther continues by reviewing other literary blessings of God: the purified legends of the saints, Christian hymns, the Psalter, the German Bible. Luther also admonishes his readers to repent and emphasizes the necessity for pastors and preachers to rebuke sin and to excommunicate unrepentant sinners. Although Germany and the world in general are apparently becoming worse and worse, Luther states his confidence that Christ will ultimately triumph over the world and the devil.
Cruciger replaced many of the Gospel sermons that Roth had selected, and he provided Epistle sermons for the summer half of the church year for the first time. His editorial approach does not correspond to modern historical principles of editing; he was quite free with his sources. Whereas Roth’s edition presented the contents of his stenographic notes from Luther’s preached sermons with little emendation, Cruciger’s edition shaped his sources into a uniform whole, which Luther was able to claim as his own intellectual property. Luther’s desire and intention was not at all to present to the reading public a literal transcript of his pulpit utterances. Therefore, while Luther disapproved of Roth’s slavishly exact publication of his sermons, he was fully satisfied with Cruciger’s revisions and acknowledged the latter’s work as his own. Luther saw in Cruciger someone who understood how to communicate his thoughts faithfully without being bound to his extemporaneous homiletical word choice. That is to say, Roth catches better what Luther said; Cruciger catches better what Luther meant to say. Of course, in most cases one can now read the stenographic notes themselves as edited in the Weimar edition, obviating the necessity for Roth’s edition except where the notes have not survived.
The Purpose of the Church Postil
With the publication of Veit Dietrich’s edition of the House Postil in 1544, Luther’s Winter Postil and Cruciger’s edition of the Summer Postil, printed together, began to be called the Church Postil and became established as the definitive form of this work. Roth’s edition, except for the Festival Postil, went out of print. When the Formula of Concord (1577/1580) cited the Church Postil, the references in both cases are to Cruciger’s Summer Postil.
From the beginning of his work on the postils, Luther had stated that they were supposed to serve “common pastors and people,” and thus were to be the great devotional book of the Reformation. In 1526 Luther suggested that less-capable preachers could occasionally recite one of his postils as their sermon, though in 1543 he did not want preachers to use postils as a crutch for their own laziness.
Although it was popular, Luther’s Church Postil found some critique. The sermons of the Summer Postil were actually preached by Luther, recorded by a stenographer, and revised by an editor to a lesser (Roth) or greater extent (Cruciger). The sermons of the Winter Postil were written by Luther as “explanations” and were not really sermons, so most were far too long to be preached, even by sixteenth-century standards. Roth’s solution to Luther’s lengthy Winter Postil sermons has been mentioned above. In addition to the length, criticism was leveled at the Winter Postil’s decidedly one-sided attacks against Luther’s Papist opponents, though the sects and Sacramentarians also needed to be opposed. Also, many of Luther’s digressions in the Winter Postil did not remain as relevant, such as the long excursus against monasticism in the Gospel sermon for Epiphany (which Luther excluded in his 1540 revision). Finally, Luther did not stick to the main points but drifted far afield. Antonius Corvinus (1501–53), another of Luther’s contemporaries, recognized various deficiencies in Luther’s Winter Postil and sought a remedy by providing a postil of his own. Whether or not Luther agreed with these perceived problems, he did acknowledge the need for more practical postils and so supported Corvinus’ postils with prefaces. Writing in 1613, Johann Gerhard (1582–1637) described Luther’s preaching style as both “catechetical,” which he advised his readers to imitate, and “heroic.” This “heroic” style was found especially in Luther’s Church Postil and House Postil and involved wandering far from the biblical text that served as the focus of the sermon, but then in a pleasant way returning to the same. Gerhard advised his readers not to attempt to imitate this.
After the late 1560s, the popularity of Luther’s Church Postil waned. While the two House Postils were printed at least ten times from 1569 to 1584, the Church Postil was reprinted only once, in 1575. It was printed again in 1584, and then not again until 1598 and 1617. In contrast, between 1555 and 1568, a complete set of the House Postil was published every eighteen months. Indeed, from the moment Dietrich’s edition of the House Postil was published, it became more popular than the Church Postil. The latter was not included in the first “complete” editions of Luther’s works (the Wittenberg and Jena editions), probably because of its widespread circulation in former years. In the same period of time, a significant number of Luther’s students published their own postils, among which the postils of Johann Spangenberg (1484–1550) and Corvinus were especially popular. Indeed, from Luther’s death until the end of the sixteenth century, one or more new Lutheran postils were published nearly every year.
Philipp Jacob Spener’s Edition of the Church Postil and Tradition
The first attempt at a critical edition of Luther’s Church Postil was made in 1700 by Philipp Jacob Spener (1635–1705). Spener stated that he wanted to set forth an edition that was as complete as possible, and to do this, he used three editions: from 1528 (Hans Lufft [1495–1584] in Wittenberg), 1532 (Melchior Lotter [ca. 1490–after 1544] in Magdeburg), and from 1543. The title page of Spener’s edition claims that these were the three main editions of Luther’s lifetime, yet actually these editions were the only ones Spener happened to have on hand. The first of his foundational texts presents Luther’s 1525 Winter Postil, and the second text presents the same, with the addition of Roth’s 1526 edition of the Summer Postil and 1527 edition of the Festival Postil. Spener’s third text is Luther’s 1540 Winter Postil and Cruciger’s 1544 (i.e., 1543) edition of the Summer Postil. Not surprisingly, there were barely any variations between Spener’s first two texts, aside from the Bible quotations that had been updated to the latest version of the German Bible in the second of his basis texts.
Yet Spener noticed significant differences between his first two texts and his third text. He recognized that the “1543  edition” was the last published during Luther’s lifetime and was approved by him, even the major changes undertaken by Cruciger in the Summer Postil. Nevertheless, Spener may not have known of Luther’s disappointment with Roth’s edition, and so Spener did not approve of Cruciger’s Summer Postil and also noted the changes that had been made to the Winter Postil. Spener’s argument against Cruciger’s edition is that, though he was loyal, trustworthy, and approved by Luther, his editing changed too much and was not Luther’s very words; Luther himself probably had no time to review Cruciger’s work. Spener wanted only the words from Luther’s own hand and mind. And since Spener mistakenly thought Cruciger was responsible for both halves of the 1543  edition, including Luther’s 1540 Winter Postil, this half of the Church Postil was suspect to him as well.
As a result, for the first time since Luther’s death, the earlier 1525 Luther edition of the Winter Postil together with the 1526 Roth edition of the Summer Postil with the 1527 Roth Festival Postil served as the basis of Spener’s edition. This meant that in the winter half of the year, Luther’s unqualified, anti-institutional rhetoric returned as the primary reading, though Spener, as an honest editor, used brackets and asterisks to show what had been changed or omitted in the later edition. In the summer half of the postil, the sermons edited by Roth were given pride of place as the first sermon for each Sunday, while the sermons edited by Cruciger were listed in second or third place.
Despite its flaws, Spener’s edition represented a revolution in the publication of the Church Postil and soon established itself as the predominant tradition for publishing this postil. Gottfried Arnold (1666–1714) republished Spener’s edition in 1710 with additional sermons of Luther. Johann Georg Walch (1693–1775) accepted Spener’s approach to the Church Postil and incorporated this preference for Roth’s Summer Postil and Luther’s 1525 Winter Postil into his own edition of Luther’s collected works, though Walch also divided the Epistle sermons from the Gospel sermons, further distancing the Church Postil from the form in which Luther had shaped it.
The St. Louis German edition of Luther’s works followed Walch’s approach, separating the Gospel and Epistles sermons, preferring Roth’s work to Cruciger’s, and preferring Luther’s earlier 1525 Winter Postil to his mature 1540 edition. However, the St. Louis edition did pay closer attention to the superior critical apparatus available in the second series of the Erlangen edition.
The St. Louis edition served as the basis for the English translation of John Nicholas Lenker (1858–1929), which is the only version of the Church Postil that the English-speaking world has known (first published from 1904–9). Lenker’s translation carries on the Spener tradition. Besides this, Lenker presents translations that, at more than a century in age, are often inaccurate and stilted. In addition, it is difficult to start from Lenker and find one’s place in the Weimar edition.
Returning to Luther’s Form of the Church Postil
When a text has developed over the course of an author’s lifetime, editors are faced with the choice of whether to set forth as the basis the earliest form of the text or the latest, most mature, form. For the Winter Postil, Luther was responsible for the form of the text from beginning to end. Which form of the Winter Postil should be preferred? The Weimar edition set forth the earliest form of the text as the basis and presented exhaustive footnotes, detailing all later variants. On the other hand, Ernst Ludwig Enders in the second series of the Erlangen edition set forth Luther’s 1540 revision as the base text for the Winter Postil. For the reasons stated above, our edition will set forth the mature version of the Winter Postil, with significant variants in the earlier editions indicated in the footnotes. As a result, for the Winter Postil, our edition has revised the translation of Lenker thoroughly on the basis of the Erlangen edition with consultation of the Weimar edition. References to both editions are given in the running heads at the top of the page. Volume 52 of the American edition included a partial translation of the 1522 Christmas Postil. Since we are publishing the entire Church Postil, these sermons are repeated here and in LW 76 and are revised from Lenker’s edition. Also, we have included the Gospel sermon for St. John’s Day and all the Epistle sermons, which were omitted in volume 52. Therefore, in volumes 75 and 76 of the American edition, the reader will encounter Luther’s mature, final version of the Winter Postil.
For the Summer Postil, though Roth’s edition comes closest to the stenographic notes of Luther’s sermons, Luther himself approved of Cruciger’s work, not Roth’s. Given a choice between Roth and Cruciger, some scholars would reject both as a source of Luther’s actual thought, since he did not write the sermons himself. Recently, however, scholars have become increasingly interested in how Luther was known to the public and how he worked as part of a team of reformers. Because his Summer Postil was so widespread, it was a primary means by which sixteenth-century people encountered Luther’s ideas. As Robert Kolb has written: “Without teams, no Reformation. . . . The Wittenberg Reformation certainly revolved around the professor who sparked it, Martin Luther, but Luther would not have been able to change the face and heart of the church in Germany and beyond without his team. He and his movement were dependent on the collegial academic partnership that formed around him from the time of Philip Melanchthon’s arrival in Wittenberg” (“The Theology of Justus Jonas,” in Justus Jonas [1493–1555] und seine Bedeutung für die Wittenberger Reformation, ed. Irene Dingel et al. [Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2009], p. 103). So, faced with the choice between the editorial work of two of Luther’s colleagues, our edition chooses the editor whom Luther approved: Cruciger. Readers interested in the sermons set forth by Roth can find them as the first Gospel sermon for the Sundays from Easter to the end of the church year in Lenker’s version. Our version of the Summer Postil will follow the Weimar edition, which presents the best text of Cruciger’s work on Luther’s summer sermons.
Our footnotes do not aim to be exhaustive in listing variants (for that we refer readers to the Weimar edition). Rather, we intend to set forth only variants that we recognize as historically and theologically significant. In the footnotes:
“1522” refers to the Wittenberg Advent Postil and Christmas Postil printings
“1525” refers to the Wittenberg Lent Postil printing
“1528” refers to Luther’s 1525 Winter Postil, in a 1528 printing by Hans Lufft in Wittenberg
“1532” refers to the 1532 printing of this same edition by the same printer
As noted above, the basis text is Luther’s 1540 Winter Postil, printed again by Lufft in Wittenberg. The St. Louis edition and Lenker include paragraph numbers for the Church Postil. We have chosen to include these paragraph numbers in our edition, since they are useful for making comparisons among editions and for locating specific passages. Locating the individual sermons of Luther’s postils in other editions can be difficult. To help readers locate the sermons from this volume in Lenker and various German editions, we have included a cross-reference chart.
Luther’s citation of the Bible in the Winter Postil differs from contemporary standards for citing Scripture. Luther referred to Scripture texts only by chapter, not by chapter and verse, so all verse references are editorial conjectures. Because Luther referred to Scripture texts by chapter, he often felt free to combine various parts of the chapter without indicating what had been left out. Our edition has translated the Bible text as Luther presented it, rather than adding ellipses for every omission that Luther made. In the Winter Postil, Luther’s Bible quotations are often translations from the Latin Vulgate—a fact which helps to explain why his quotations so often differ from modern Bible translations. As noted above, the biggest change in Luther’s 1540 edition of the Winter Postil was the updating of most, but not all, of the Bible text to match the latest edition of the German Bible. We have not usually noted these changes to the Bible text in our footnotes, since the changes do not usually show a change in Luther’s theological outlook and they can be better reviewed in the German of the Erlangen edition.
Translating and publishing Luther is a team effort. Christopher Boyd Brown, the general editor for the new series of the American edition of Luther’s works, first brought to my attention the changes that Spener made to Luther’s Church Postil. Dr. Brown’s oversight of the project has made the new volumes of the American edition possible. James Langebartels served as assistant editor for this volume, updating and correcting the Lenker translation and contributing to the annotations. Margaret Arnold contributed to the annotations as well. Dawn Mirly Weinstock was the production editor and brought the volume together. Countless other colleagues at Concordia Publishing House contributed to make this volume possible. The undersigned bears responsibility for any errors in the final form of the translation and annotations. To God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be glory.
Benjamin T. G. Mayes
The complete text of this introduction, including the detailed annotations not included here, is available in LW 75: Church Postil I. This volume is part of the expansion of the American Edition of Luther’s Works. Learn more at cph.org/luthersworks.
- See more at: http://academic.cphblogs.com/new/the-history-of-luthers-church-postil/#sthash.VhPxbEod.dpuf