Unravelling Luther’s House Postils, Part 1

Foreword to Volume 1 of the Second Edition of the Erlangen Edition of Luther’s Works
By Ernst Ludwig Enders
Preacher in Frankfurt am Main and editor of Luther’s sermons

Translator’s Preface

The process of working with Northwestern Publishing House to publish Luther’s 1531 Christmas sermon series on Isaiah 9:6 has been somewhat mind-boggling. Part of the problem is trying to unravel the mystery of the history of, and relationship between, the various publications of Luther’s sermons.

This mystery is not without consequence for the modern-day reader of Luther’s sermons. For instance, I found out that the 20 new volumes of Luther’s works being put out by Concordia Publishing House are not going to include Luther’s House Postil(s), in part because these have already been published in a three-volume series by Baker Books in 1996, edited by Eugene F. A. Klug.

Klug’s translation itself flows well. But it is not based on the more critical Weimar edition of Luther’s works, and so the content is often incorrect (e.g. §15 in 3:215, which Luther did not actually say) or incomplete (e.g. §20 in 3:228, which is incomplete because it does not take the Nuremberg copy of the sermon into account, where Luther refers to his health and leaves the completion of the series in doubt; and §1 in 3:229, which omits the entire first part of Luther’s sermon when he preached on the Gospel before continuing with his series on Isaiah).

Until someone undertakes a complete re-translation of what has been previously known as Luther’s House Postil(s), on the basis of the Weimar edition instead of just on the basis of one of the German editions, this treasure trove of sermons will be in large part closed to the English-speaking public.

Read for yourself and see how these German editions came into being. I will also include an Afterword about the Rörer edition.

Foreword to Volume 1 of the Second Edition of the Erlangen Edition of Luther’s Works

Concerning the origin of the House Postil,1 J. G. Plochmann, of blessed memory, imparts the following information in the foreword to the first edition:

This collection of sermons bears the name House Postil…because by and large it contains sermons that Luther delivered at home on Sundays and festivals. Luther writes in the foreword that he prepared for Dietrich’s edition, “I delivered these sermons in my house at various times, to the members of my household, so that as the head of the household I might do my part in instructing those under me how to lead a Christian life.” Veit Dietrich, about whom we will say more later, confirms this in his dedication when he says that Luther preached these sermons at home, in his house, to his children and the members of his household on Sundays when he could not preach in the church on account of frailty.

Unfortunately the sermons contained in the House Postil do not come from Luther’s quill, but from his mouth, through the faithful, though often unsuccessful, diligence of two of his listeners, Veit Dietrich and Georg Rörer. That’s why it is that two editions of the House Postil gradually appeared that vary so widely from each other, which people have attempted to unite into one under the name “Doubled House Postil.” Veit Dietrich stayed with Luther in Wittenberg for a long time, enjoyed his special confidence, was his table and traveling companion, and carefully copied his lectures and sermons. He later served the Church as an evangelical preacher at St. Sebald in Nuremberg, where he died in 1549.2 Georg Rörer was the first man Luther ordained as an evangelical preacher and deacon in Wittenberg in 1525. He was a faithful assistant and coworker of Luther who took a special interest in correct editions of Luther’s writings. He died in 1557 in Halle. Both men copied, among other things, the sermons that Luther delivered in his house from 1530 to 1534, and from their manuscripts the two widely differing editions of Luther’s House Postil have appeared.

Dietrich’s edition appeared first. He oversaw it himself and sent it to press in Nuremberg in 1544, with a dedicatory epistle to the mayor and council of Nuremberg. In that epistle he as the editor says that he had taken down these house postils in shorthand and had kept them to himself, but now he also wanted to share them with other Christians, being the precious treasure that they are. He especially hoped that both the uneducated pastors in the country and the heads of households would be able to use them with great benefit. For this edition Luther wrote a foreword, also included in our edition, in which he not only acknowledges the sermons copied by Dietrich as his own, but also praises the efforts and the enterprise of the editor. This edition by Dietrich was also printed in Leipzig the same year, again a year later in both Nuremberg and Wittenberg under Luther’s oversight, and then many more times in Wittenberg, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Lüneberg, and in other places after that. It was translated into Latin already in 1545 by Michael Roting, professor of Greek and Latin at the Aegidian Preparatory School in Nuremberg3 and a trusted friend of Veit Dietrich.

In the dedication to the Nuremberg council Veit Dietrich had said, among other things, that he had added many sermons that were omitted by him (Luther), especially on the festivals which were not observed in the Saxon Order. He did this so that the work would be complete for the entire year, and therefore that much more useful and beneficial for everyone. By making this statement, there was the chance that after Luther’s death the authenticity of Dietrich’s edition of the House Postil might be thrown into doubt, since people would feel constrained to conclude from Dietrich’s own admission that he had added his own sermons to Luther’s. Therefore in 1559 a new edition of Luther’s House Postil appeared, which a certain Andreas Poach prepared from the manuscripts that the late Georg Rörer had left behind. Poach had also been a student of Luther, then the deacon at Halle, archdeacon at Jena, pastor at Nordhausen, and professor at Erfurt. He died in 1585 while serving as pastor at Utenbach.4 For Poach’s edition the famous Nikolaus von Amsdorf wrote a foreword in which he explained that this new House Postil had been sent to press by command of the three brother dukes in Saxony, who had acquired the notebooks of Master Rörer at no small cost.5 It too was later reprinted many more times, namely in Jena in 1562 and 1579, in Torgau in 1601, and in Leipzig in 1655, 1679, and 1702. Johann Wanckel, professor of history in Wittenberg, translated it into Latin, and in 1567 it was translated into Dutch (printed in Oberursel).

In the introduction to this edition of Luther’s House Postil, prepared in Jena by Andreas Poach, Poach reproaches Dietrich for mixing his own sermons into Luther’s House Postil, for frequently combining two or three sermons which Luther had not even delivered in the same year, and especially for inserting other sermons for the festivals for which no sermons of Luther were available. He, on the other hand, claimed to have avoided all of this in his edition. He left out the foreign sermons that were not Luther’s work. When Luther preached three years in succession and sometimes preached several times on the same Gospel in his house, Poach presented all of the sermons delivered by him. And Poach left the sermons entirely in the condition in which they were delivered by Luther. “So whoever wants Dr. Luther’s sermons and nothing more, this book is at your service.”

Soon, however, a certain Christoph Walther came out against these reproaches directed at the Dietrich edition of Luther’s House Postil with a writing entitled “Reply to the Flacianistic Lies and False Report against the House Postil of Doctor Martin Luther” (Wittenberg, 1559, in quarto).6 Walther was a typesetter in the Luft Print Shop [Luft’schen Buchdruckerei] in Wittenberg. In this writing he attempted not only to defend and vindicate the Dietrich edition, but also to call the authenticity of the new Jena House Postil into doubt in the most forceful way. “The precious, learned man, Master Veit Dietrich,” he says in this writing, “has taken down the House Postil of Luther in shorthand from the mouth of the reverend father in Christ, Dr. Martin Luther. And when he became the pastor in Nuremberg, he had it printed by the allowance and permission of our dear father Luther. Several times Luther began to have it printed also in Wittenberg and entrusted Master Georg Rörer with the task of correcting it. Therefore, as an old servant in the print shop and as someone who, in addition to Master George Rörer, also often helped to read and correct this house postil in Wittenberg, I feel obligated to reply to such malicious information of the Flacianists.” He then went on to affirm that Veit Dietrich had added nothing of his own work, and that the passage in the dedicatory epistle to the Nuremberg council, where Dietrich says that he has added many sermons that were omitted by Luther, was to be understood as saying that in the place of such omitted house sermons Dietrich had inserted several church sermons delivered by Luther, which he had copied from Luther just as he had the house sermons. Therefore the Poach edition of the House Postil was inauthentic, Walther claimed, because Veit Dietrich was the only one who transcribed the blessed Luther when he preached at home, not also Georg Rörer, because Rörer was still deacon in Wittenberg at the time, and he generally did not have the gift especially of copying and getting everything down with shorthand.

Be that as it may, at the same time it cannot be denied that these two widely differing editions of Luther’s House Postil each have their peculiar advantages and disadvantages. The Dietrich edition has Luther’s own preface as its seal of certification – a decided advantage over the Rörer edition. But it definitely cannot avoid the reproach that a number of the sermons contained in it have grown to an extraordinary length, so that one has no choice but to conclude that they are melted together from two or three discourses of Luther that were delivered at different times. On the other hand, the sermons in Rörer’s collection are shorter, and for every Sunday there are usually two, or even three, sermons recorded, which very likely could have been delivered by Luther and collected by Georg Rörer. For in both content and style, they have absolutely nothing that would contradict this assumption.7 But in the sermons common to both editions there are variant readings, both in individual words and in entire sentences and sections, whose origin or reason cannot be ascertained with any certainty whatsoever.

Only the two most recent editions of Luther’s complete works, the Leipzig and the Walch, have included the Doubled House Postil. In the former it comprises the 15th and 16th parts, in the latter the 13th part. Dr. Börner, the editor of the Leipzig edition, had each of the two house postils printed separately – the Dietrich edition in the 15th part and the Rörer edition in the 16th part. Walch on the other hand drew both postils together and combined them into one work in such a way that the entire sermons which are missing from the Dietrich edition are inserted at the proper spot from the Rörer edition. Also, for the sermons that can be found in both editions, the places where they vary from each other were carefully noted. This method has a very cumbersome element to it for the person who wants to read Luther’s sermons devotionally, since he will keep running into endless repetitions, and will often have to read the same thought two or three times on one page, and with completely inconsequential variants for the most part. The reader cannot stay in the train of thought at all.

As far as this new edition is concerned, I have returned to the arrangement of the Leipzig edition by providing the Dietrich House Postil first, followed by the Rörer, so that the Rörer sermons which were missing in the first edition will also have a place here. The Dietrich postil makes up the first three volumes, the Rörer postil the next three. Even though this has naturally resulted in a different pagination, an excerpt from the index volumes (vols. 66 & 67 of the entire edition) embracing these six volumes will be added at the end of the sixth volume. This arrangement has likewise made these six volumes larger. In order to save some space, the life of Luther that was added to the first edition has been left out, considering that there have been plenty of writings on Luther’s life that have appeared since 1826, and the one that was provided in the first edition is now available in a separate publication (from Liesching in Stuttgart).

The text itself has also been painstakingly revised according to the oldest printings. For the text of the Dietrich postil, however, the only editions referred to were those that appeared while Veit Dietrich was still alive, and thus could have been improved or supplemented by his own hand or perhaps from his papers. The following editions were compared for this purpose:

  1. Houspostil || D. Martin || Luther. || Nürnberg. || M. D. XLIIII. 243 Blatt Fol. und 12 Blatt Register. (Die Winter- und Sommerpostille enthaltend.) — Hauspostil || D. Martin || Luther, von für- || nemsten Festen || durchs Jar. || Nürnberg. 80 Bl. u. 3 Bl. Register. Am Schlusse: Gedruckt zu Nürnberg, durch Johann vom Berg und Ulrich Neuber, wonhafft auff den Newenbaw, bei der Kalchhütten. 1544. Auf der letzten Seite ist die Verklärung Christi auf dem Berge abgebildet, mit der Unterschrift: Psal. LXXXIX. Wol dem volck das jauchtzen kan.

    House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther. Nuremberg. 1544. 243 pages in folio and a 12-page index. (Containing the winter and summer postils.) — House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther, on the chief festivals throughout the year. Nuremberg. 80 pages and a 3-page index. At the end: Printed in Nuremberg, by Johann vom Berg and Ulrich Neuber, residing in the new building by the lime kilns. 1544. On the last page the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain is portrayed, with the inscription: Psalm 89. Blessed are the people who can shout with joy.

  2. Haus- || postill || D. M. Luth. || Wittenberg. || M D XLIIII. 2 Bde. in 8. Der erste Band enthält auf 274 Blatt die Predigten vom ersten Advent bis zum Karfreitag, sowie auf 88 Blatt: Hauspostill || D. M. Luthers || auf die fürnemesten || Feste, vom Ad- || vent bis auff || Ostern. || Wittenberg. || M. D. XLIIII. Am Schlusse: Gedruckt zu Leipzig, durch Nickel Wolrab. 1544. — Der zweite Band enthält auf 395 Blatt die übrigen Sonntagspredigten, ebenfalls bei Wolrab gedruckt; sowie auf 141 Blatt: Hauspostill || D. M. Luthers || auff die fürnemesten || Feste, von Ostern || bis aufs Ad- || vent. || Wittenberg. || M. D. XLIIII. Am Schlusse: Gedruckt zu Leipzig durch Jacob Berwald.

    House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther. Wittenberg. 1544. 2 volumes in octavo. The first volume contains the sermons from the first Sunday in Advent to Good Friday on 274 pages, as well as the following on 88 pages: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther on the chief festivals, from Advent to Easter. Wittenberg. 1544. At the end: Printed in Leipzig, by Nickel Wolrab. 1544. — The second volume contains the remaining Sunday sermons on 395 pages, likewise printed by Wolrab, as well as the following on 141 pages: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther on the chief festivals, from Easter to Advent. Wittenberg. 1544. At the end: Printed in Leipzig by Jacob Berwald.

  3. Haußpostil D. Mar || tin Luthers, uber die || Sonntags und der fürnembsten || Fest Euangelia, durch || das gantze Jar. || Mit fleis von newem corrigirt || und gemeret mit XIII. Pre- || digen, von der Passio oder || histori des leidens Christi. || Nürmberg || M. D. XLV. — Nach der Vorrede 4 Blatt Register und auf 170 Blatt den Wintertheil, auf dem letzten Blatt 3 Errata und das Bild wie bei Nr. 1. — Ferner: Haußpostil || D. Martin || Luth. von Ostern || biß auffs Ad- || vent. || Nurmberg 1545. Auf 163 Blatt den Sommertheil enthaltend, am Schluss dasselbe Bild, und als Druckort: Gedruckt zu Nürmberg, durch Johann vom Berg, und Ulrich Newber, wonhafft auff dem Newenbaw, bey der Kalckhütten, Anno &c. M. D. XLV. — Und endlich auf 111 Blatt: Haußpostil || D. Martin || Luther, von für- || nembsten Festen || durchs Jahr. || Nurmberg 1545. Am Schlusse Bild und Druckort wie vorher.

    House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther, on the Gospels for the Sundays and chief festivals throughout the year. Diligently and newly corrected and enlarged with 13 sermons on the Passion or history of the suffering of Christ. Nuremberg 1545. — After the Foreword there is a 4-page index and the winter portion on 170 pages. On the last page are printed 3 errors and the picture as with #1 above. — After that: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther from Easter to Advent. Nuremberg 1545. Containing the summer portion on 163 pages, the same picture at the end, and the place of publication as follows: Printed in Nuremberg by Johann vom Berg and Ulrich Neuber, residing in the new building by the lime kilns. AD 1545. — And finally on 111 pages: House Postil of Dr. Martin Luther, on the chief festivals throughout the year. Nuremberg 1545. At the end the picture and place of publication as previously.

  4. Derselbe Titel wie bei Nr. 3, nur mit der Jahrszahl M. D. XLVII. Nach der Vorrede und 4 Blatt Register auf 175 Blatt den Winter-, auf 179 Blatt den Sommer- und auf 116 Blatt den Festtheil enthaltend. Auf dem letzten Blatt das Bild und der Druckort wie bei Nr. 3.

    The same title as with #3, except with the year 1547. After the Foreword and a 4-page index, contains the winter portion on 175 pages, the summer portion on 179 pages, and the festival portion on 116 pages. On the last page are printed the picture and the place of publication as with #3 above.

Edition #4 was chosen as the basic text since it is the last one to appear during Dietrich’s lifetime, as far as I know. The variants of the other three editions were noted under the text. There a. designated the 1544 Nuremberg edition, b. the 1544 Wittenberg edition, and c. the 1545 Nuremberg edition. Unfortunately the printing of the first volume had already begun when I obtained editions #1 and 2, so I had to relegate the variants for this volume to an appendix. Regarding the relationship of the individual editions to each other, generally speaking #1 and #2 agree with each other, and #3 and #4 agree with each other, but #2 and #3 have fuller forms than #1 and #4 (e.g. derselbige instead of derselbe, also instead of so, sondern instead of sonder, etc.).

For the Rörer edition of the postils the basic text chosen was:

Hauspostill || uber die Sontags und der für- || nemesten Feste Euangelien, durch das gantze Jar, || von D. Martino Luthero seligen gepredigt, aus M. Georgen Rö- || rers seligen geschriebenen Büchern, wie er die von jar zu jar aus sei- || nem des Doctors Mund auffgefasst und zusamen bracht, Trew- || lich on alle Enderung, Abbruch, oder Zusatz, auffs new || zugericht, und in Druck geben. || II. Petri I. || Wir haben ein festes Prophetisch Wort, Und jr thut wohl, das jr drauff achtet, als || auff ein Liecht, das da scheinet in einem tunckeln ort, bis der Tag anbreche, und der || Morgenstern auffgehe in ewren Hertzen. Und das soll jr für das erste wissen, Das || keine Weissagung in der Schrifft geschicht aus eigener Auslegung. Denn es ist noch || nie keine Weissagung aus menschlichem Willen erfür bracht, Sondern die heiligen || Menschen Gottes haben geredt, getrieben von dem heiligen Geist. || Gedruckt zu Jhena, durch Christian Rödingers Erben. || Anno M. D. LIX. — Nach der Vorrede von Niclas von Amsdorff auf 497 Blatt die 3 Theile enthaltend. Bl. 181. Titelblatt: Sommer Teil der Hauspostillen, Doctoris Martini Luther; ebenso Bl. 427: Das dritte Teil der Hauspostillen Doct. Martini Luther, von den fürnemesten Festen durchs Jar, nach der Wittenbergischen Kirchen ordnung. Sodann Bl. 498. ein Nachwort: „An den Christlichen Leser“, unterzeichnet: „Andreas Poach Prediger“, 6 Bl. Register und 1 Bl. Correctur. Am Schluß: Gedruckt zu Jhena durch Christian Rödingers Erben.

House Postil on the Gospels for the Sundays and chief festivals throughout the whole year, preached by Dr. Martin Luther of blessed memory, taken from the notebooks of Master Georg Rörer of blessed memory, as he took them down and collected them from year to year from his (the Doctor’s) mouth, newly and faithfully prepared and sent to press without any alterations, truncations, or additions. 2 Peter 1: We have a sure prophetic Word, and you do well to pay attention to it as to a light which shines in a dark place, until the Day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts. And you should know this above all, that no prophecy in Scripture happened from private interpretation. For there has never been a prophecy produced from human will, but the holy men of God have spoken, moved by the Holy Spirit. Printed in Jena by the heirs of Christian Rödinger. 1559. — After the Foreword by Nikolaus von Amsdorf, it contains the three portions on 497 pages. The title page on p. 181 reads: Summer portion of the house postils of Doctor Martin Luther. Likewise on p. 427 it reads: The third part of the house postils of Doctor Martin Luther, on the chief festivals throughout the year, according to the Wittenberg Church Order. Then on p. 498 there is an Afterword “To the Christian reader,” signed, “Andreas Poach, Preacher,” a 6-page index and 1 page of corrections. At the end: Printed in Jena by the heirs of Christian Rödinger.

Since Rörer had already died by the time this edition was printed, it seemed superfluous to compare any later editions.

In regard to orthography, etc., I refer to the principles laid down by [Dr. Johann Konrad] Irmischer of blessed memory in the Foreword to the first volume of the reformatory-historical writings (vol. 24 of the entire edition), which were also the standard for this new edition.

Let me conclude with the same wish which the editor of the first edition expressed and which was certainly fulfilled for many people: “May the reader of this House Postil have the same blessed experience that was had already by the highly praiseworthy elector, Duke Johann Friedrich of Saxony, which he expressed in these words: Dr. Martin Luther’s books strengthen the heart. They pass through marrow and bone, and there is more savor and strength, also more comfort, on one little page than in the entire vault of other writers!”

Frankfurt am Main, on the [first] Sunday of Advent, 1862.

The editor

Endnotes

1 A postil can denote either a published book of sermons, or an individual sermon in such a book. Throughout this foreword it usually refers to the former. In Klug’s 1996 English edition, the entire work is referred to as The House Postils, apparently in reference to the individual sermons. – trans.

2 For more on him, rf. Herzog’s theological Real-Encyclopädie, 3:389ff.

3 So-called because of its proximity to St. Aegidius Church. Today this is the Melanchthon-Gymnasium, one of the last preparatory schools in Bavaria with an exclusively humanistic course of study. – trans.

4 According to Johann Hundorph, Poach did not die until April 2, 1605.

5 The three brother dukes were Johann Friedrich (John Frederick) II, Johann Wilhelm (John William), and Johann Friedrich (John Frederick) III. – trans.

6 Included in the Foreword to vol. 15 of the Leipzig edition of Luther’s works.

7 With the possible exception of the Latin citations that frequently occur in them.

Afterword

I can also speak from experience that, in spite of Andreas Poach’s best intentions, he did not in fact publish an edition of Luther’s sermons “without any alterations, truncations, or additions.” (Refer, however, to Georg Buchwald’s remarks on Poach’s edition in Part 2.) While he is generally faithful to Rörer’s notes, and generally does an excellent job filling them out so that they read and sound more like sermons and less like shorthand lecture notes, the fact is that he does fill them out, and sometimes he takes liberties that are distasteful (e.g. making Luther a little more uncouth than Rörer has him in his notes) or even completely incorrect. This is why, if a translation is to be made of any of the House Postils – and really, any work of Luther – it must at the very least seriously consult and compare the more critical Weimar edition, which takes the reader back to the original notes, instead of to any editor’s publication and interpretation of those notes.

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the Midwest.

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