A New Edition by Martin Luther

By Drew Thomas


One reason often credited for the quick spread of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation was his embrace of writing in the German vernacular. In 1522 Luther published his German translation of the New Testament, one of his greatest accomplishments. Although writing in German was central to his movement, many of Luther’s works were translated from German into Latin.

The University of St Andrews Library Special Collections, one of our partnering libraries and our home institution, has a great example. They have a 1529 edition of Luther’s preface to the Psalter, Praefatio nova, D, Martini Lvte. in Psalterium, latine reddita per IVSTUM IONAM (TypGW.B29XL), translated into Latin by his colleague Justus Jonas. Interestingly, this 1529 translation only included the preface; the actual Psalter text was not included. There are no other known editions of the preface printed by itself during Luther’s lifetime and the St Andrews copy is the only extant copy. It is not listed in the German national catalogue, VD16, nor in any of the major bibliographies, such as Josef Benzing’s Lutherbibliographie or Knaake and Aland’s Hilfsbuch zum Lutherstudium.

Praefatio nova title page
Praefatio nova (TypGW.B29XL).

A 1537 Latin edition of the Psalter, printed in Wittenberg by Hans Lufft, advertises a ‘nova praefatio’ like the St Andrews edition: Psalterium translationis veteris. Cum nova praefatione D. Martini Lutheri (USTC 688397). After examining the copy held by the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, it is clear the prefaces are the same text with only minor differences. However, the 1537 edition was printed with the Psalter text, whereas the 1529 edition only included the preface. One might think the St Andrews copy could have originally included the Psalter, but the layout of the text suggests otherwise. The title page clearly states this is the preface, rather than the Psalter with a preface, and the last two leaves of the gathering are blank, which would be unusual if the Psalter was expected to follow.

Unfortunately, the 1529 preface does not mention the printer. The title page lists Wittenberg, but this must be treated with caution, as false Wittenberg imprints were very common. However, the Wittenberg printer Hans Lufft published a Latin edition of the Psalter in 1529: Psalterium translationis veteris, correctum (USTC 688052). In 1533 Lufft published a catalogue of Luther’s works which lists a Præfatio in Psalterium, uersa a Jona (USTC 619696). Perhaps this was the St Andrews preface and it was printed by Lufft?

Closer inspection suggests otherwise. The italic typeface used for the body text is larger than any Lufft was using at the time. It does, however, match an italic typeface used by the Wittenberg printer Josef Klug. Furthermore, the woodcut title page border is the same one Klug used only a year later in 1530 in a book by Philipp Melanchthon, Sentenciae veterum aliquot scriptorum, de coena domini, bona fide recitatae (USTC 693184). The University of St Andrews also possesses a copy of this edition. The Sentenciae veterum begins with an ornate woodcut initial M. It is the same initial used in the Psalter preface and also used in a 1526 edition of Eusebius (USTC 662748). In both of these other editions, Klug is named in the colophon. Thus, we can be fairly certain that Klug was the printer of the 1529 preface.


Sentenciae veterum by Melanchthon
Sentenciae veterum aliquot scriptorum (TypGW.B31RA, USTC 693184)


woodcut initials
A woodcut initial M, used in both the Praefatio nova and Sentenciae veterum.


The colophon from the Sentenciae veterum.

The Praefatio nova in St Andrews is the earliest known edition of Justus Jonas’ Latin translation of Luther’s preface. Although it does not list a printer, by comparing aspects of its material bibliography, we are able to identify it as the work of Josef Klug, one of the leading printers in Reformation Wittenberg.


Drew Thomas is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant for Preserving the World’s Rarest Books. He received his PhD from the University of St Andrews, focusing on the rise of the Wittenberg printing industry during Martin Luther’s Reformation. He is currently the Technical Editor for Pubs & Publications and the Project Manager of the Caroline Minuscule Mapping Project hosted by the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow him on Twitter at @DrewBThomas or on Academia.edu.


All images by Drew Thomas, used with the permission of the University of St Andrews Special Collections.

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