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Lutheran Aardvark

Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education, and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer

15 August 2005
  Luther Bigger than Oprah?
Imagine the New York Times best seller list of 1521.

Ponder today's "Lutheran Tidbit" from Old Lutheran:

LUTHER'S LIFE — Of all the books published in Germany during the first ten years of the Reformation, Luther wrote one-quarter of them.

These days, when Oprah speaks favorably of a book, copies fly off the shelves. Think what it was like back in the 1520s. From the very beginning, the demand for Luther, Luther, and more Luther kept German presses busy and put plenty of beer and wine in the glasses of German printers.

Of course, from the very beginning, Luther didn't authorize everything that was published — the "Ninety-five Theses," for example, were translated and printed without his permission. Still, Luther was the darling of the budding publishing world, and if Luther was cranking it out like this, his opponents weren't just sitting around, hoping it would all go away. So we should figure that a fair number of the remaining books were written against Luther. The opposition had its points to make and their publishers their florins and guilders to bank.

We know that many of his friends and fellow reformers, following the path Luther blazed, also found their way into print. Add in the more radical reformers' works (also triggered at least in part by Luther's example). Finally, factor in all that was written from the Roman side against these other Evangelical or Radical reformers, the publications launched back and forth between various branches of the Reformation, and we're left to wonder, "What was left?" The answer, of course, is, "Not much."

Imagine a best seller list dominated by theology and critical thinking, leavened with brusque (sometimes childish or violent) outbursts, coarse humor, religio-political cartooning, and appeals to God, conscience, and reason. Even most of the "goofy" stuff was considerably more solid and substantial than the bulk of what's published today.

No bodice-ripping romances … no sleazy porn … no Ten Steps to This or Forty Days to That … just epistles and broadsides and tomes, oh, my!

Of course, as all this began, most "ordinary people" had little access to many of these books. Church and goverment regulations could hinder printing and distribution of undesired content. Literacy was only beginning to make deep inroads among the lower classes. And costs per book were considerably higher at a time when "mass production" was still largely human-engined. Yet this veritable torrent of books, coupled with the ideas they contained, probably served to build a new reading class. Volume increased, costs decreased, people tired of second-hand reports, and wanted to bring the sources into their own homes. The schools, especially in Evangelical Lutheran regions, fed a desire for the printed word and the printed word enhanced dreams of literacy.

If I were part of today's culture of victimhood, I'd probably be blaming my biblioholism on misguided TV stars' emotionalism and narrow thinking. But I'm not, so I'll merely say, "Thanks, brother Martin, for hooking me on my literary jones!"
 
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