100 Bibliophiles History Reading & Writing

Martin Luther (1483 -1546)

The next bibliophile in our journey “100 Bibliophiles” series is the fiery scholar, the rebellious monk, and the bibliophile himself—Martin Luther.

Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in the small, picturesque mining town of Eisleben, in present-day Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. His insatiable love for literature shaped his beliefs and, in turn, the trajectory of Western society.

His early life was characterized by hard work and sincere devotion to religious studies, a path inspired by his pious parents, who wished for him to become a lawyer.

Luther’s father, Hans, was a successful miner and expected his son to ascend to a similar professional status. However, destiny had different plans for Luther.

Martin Luther Monument in Dresden, Germany

The seeds of Luther’s bibliophile tendencies were sown during his years at the University of Erfurt. He encountered the Renaissance ideals that encouraged broad learning and critical thought while studying here.

It was at this university that Luther was introduced to a new practice: reading for pleasure. And thus began his journey into the world of books.

He developed a voracious appetite for literature, reading both in Latin and Greek. He engrossed himself in the words of ancient philosophers, scholars, and theologists.

His deep understanding of the scriptures helped him develop a critical perspective. This perspective would later lead him to challenge the accepted beliefs of his time.

Martin Luther’s personal library was a testament to his deep respect for knowledge. His collection comprised a wealth of texts – from Latin and Greek classics to the most contentious theological treatises of his time. His library had a special place for Biblical texts underlining his devotion to Christian theology.

Despite the absence of detailed inventories, it’s estimated that his collection contained several hundreds of books, which was impressive given the times.

It is, however, his contribution to the world of literature that anchors Luther’s place in our series. He is most known for his Ninety-Five Theses, where he famously criticized the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences.

Original and rare Copy of one of the three editions of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (Image source: https://www.londonlibrary.co.uk/theses)

He also translated the New Testament from Greek into German, making it accessible to the layperson for the first time. This act democratized the Bible. He also standardized the German language through this translation. All this had a profound impact on German literature and culture.

It was Luther’s love for the written word that makes him a notable bibliophile. His writings, prolific and profound, not only questioned established norms but also inspired others to question, think, read, and believe.

Martin Luther’s legacy isn’t just theological or sociopolitical; it is deeply intertwined with literature. The world remembers him for his courageous critique of established norms, his pivotal role in making the Bible accessible to common people, and his immense love for reading and learning.

His life serves as a powerful reminder that books aren’t just vessels of entertainment, but powerful agents of change.

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