Saturday, November 7, 2015

Andrew Pettegree's "Brand Luther"

Andrew Pettegree is a professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews, where he was the founding director of the St. Andrews Reformation Studies Institute. He currently serves as the vice president of the Royal Historical Society. His books include The Invention of News, The Book in the Renaissance, which was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010, and Emden and the Dutch Revolt.

Pettegree applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe--and Started the Protestant Reformation, and reported the following:
In 1517 Martin Luther was an unknown professor at one of Europe’s most obscure universities. He was living out his days, contentedly enough, in Wittenberg, a small settlement in north-east Germany. Yet within five years later he was one of the most famous men in Europe, the center of a whirlwind of controversy that would lead to the permanent division of his much-loved church. He was also Germany’s most published author – indeed, the most published author since the invention of printing.

Brand Luther is the story of this transformation: how an unknown monk from such an unpromising place found an audience for a new religious message of redemption and salvation. Part of that was down to Luther: his extraordinary courage and resilience, but also his astonishing facility with words. That Luther, a man who had published nothing before his thirty-fourth year, could discover such a talent for making complex theological ideas comprehensible to a wide public, was truly extraordinary. In the process he in effect invented a new form of theological writing.

This was unprecedented, but without a similar transformation in the German printing industry Luther would never have found his audience. Before Luther, Wittenberg had one, not very competent print shop. It quickly became clear that it was simply not up to the task of pleading Luther’s case in the ferment unleashed by his criticism of indulgences. So Luther took the matter in hand. He intervened personally to lure to Wittenberg a more competent printer, who transformed the quality of Wittenberg books. Critical too was Luther’s partnership with the painter Lucas Cranach, Wittenberg’s most innovative industrial entrepreneur. Cranach supplied the new woodcut title-pages that completely changed the look of the Book. This was Brand Luther, and it revolutionized the way the new movement presented itself to the outside world.

Page 99 finds Luther at a critical time in his relationship with the church hierarchy. He had gone to Augsburg to answer for his criticisms of indulgences. He expected a sympathetic hearing; but rather than debate, the Pope’s representative, Cardinal Cajetan, insisted he simply recant. Luther was devastated: after angry exchanges, he fled the city. This was a crucial moment in Luther’s progressive alienation from the church of which, in his own mind, he had always been a faithful son. He would now repudiate papal authority, denouncing the Pope himself as Antichrist. The Reformation had passed the point of no return.
Learn more about Brand Luther at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Book in the Renaissance.

The Page 99 Test: The Invention of News.

--Marshal Zeringue