October 31, 2013
Artifact: Bound Collection of 16th Century Tracts
Date: binding date unknown
Significance: Happy Reformation Day! In recognition of the anniversary of this important date in Lutheran history, the featured artifact is a bound volume of various tracts from the 1500s. There are roughly thirty different tracts in the volume from various authors, including Martin Luther. One of the included tracts is one of the earliest prints of Luther’s “Of the Freedom of a Christian Man,” dated about 1521. The leather front cover of the volume has an image of Luther in relief, while the back cover had a relief of Philip Melanchthon. Some of the tracts include beautiful, intricate printed artwork, such as the example shown here.
About “Of the Freedom of a Christian Man”: This tract was the third treatise Luther wrote and issued in 1520. The first two were “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate” and “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” Luther’s argument in this treatise involved two basic concepts: that “a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none,” and that “a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.” This argument asserted the spiritual freedom of a Christian (that salvation is through faith, not works), but that Christians also have a duty under Christ to serve their fellow human beings.