Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Preface

Doing some searching on my Kindle for free books to download, I came across Selections from the Table Talk of Martin Luther. It was free, and I downloaded it.

The family still in bed, I decided to read the introductory material right away while I was in the mood for introductory material. Sitting in my pajamas, a blanket over my cold, bare feet, the soothing sound of soft rain serving as background, I was whisked into a world far different than my own.

*****

Written by the translator, Capt. Henry Bell of England, Bell explains how a copy of Luther’s Table Talk came into his possession.

After Luther’s death many of his works were published for the German people, to their great delight. But events took a turn when a certain pope, Gregory XIII, felt that Luther had done far too much damage to the Roman Church. Using his considerable power, he persuaded the German emperor of the time, Rudolphus II, to rid Germany of Luther’s writings. Thus it became illegal and dangerous to possess Luther’s books, and some 80,000 of his writings were burned.

Some time later, a copy of Luther’s Table Talks was found at a home in a deep hole in the ground. The new owner of the home, Casparus Van Sparr, rebuilding on the old foundation, had occasion to dig deep under the foundation, where he found this work. The volume was perfectly preserved, having been wrapped in a strong linen cloth which had a thick layer of beeswax about it.

A different emperor reigned at the time, Ferdinandus II, but he also persecuted Protestants, and so Van Sparr sent the uncovered book to Henry Bell in England. He had met Bell when Bell was in Germany, and he knew him to be proficient in German. In the letter that accompanied the book, he urged Bell to not only keep the book safe but also to translate it for the advancement of God’s glory and Christ’s church.

Bell attempted to work on the translation several times, but work prevented him from giving it serious attention. “Then, about six weeks after I had received the said book, it fell out that I being in bed with my wife one night, between twelve and one of the clock, she being asleep, but myself yet awake, there appeared unto me an ancient man, standing at my bedside, arrayed all in white, having a long and broad white beard hanging down to his girdle-stead, who, taking me by my right ear, spake these words following unto me:--‘Sirrah! will not you take time to translate that book which is sent unto you out of Germany? I will shortly provide for you both place and time to do it;’ and then he vanished away out of my sight.”

Bell was shaken, but since he didn’t usually heed visions and dreams, he didn’t take it seriously. Two weeks later, upon coming home from church, he was arrested and imprisoned for ten years. He spent five of those years translating the book.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, one Dr. Laud, sent round to the particular prison to collect both the original and the translation from Bell, who refused to give it up at first. Later he was persuaded to do so, and the Archbishop loved it and kept it, both German and English, for a few years, kindly refusing to return them when asked by Bell. Eventually, however they were returned with the promise of aid in mass publishing and distribution.

When the king of England authorized Bell’s release, Dr. Laud was not the help he had promised, for he himself “fell into his troubles, and was by the Parliament sent unto the Tower, and afterwards beheaded.” But the House of Commons heard of the work, had the translation evaluated to make sure it was a good translation, and then had it published, giving Capt. Henry Bell copyright privileges for the next fourteen years, beginning from the date Feb. 24, 1646, 100 years and 1 week after the death of Martin Luther.

*****

Not your typical introduction. After reading about the intrigue and political mayhem and personal tragedies accompanying this book, how can I not but read it?

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