Profit-Hungry Printers

Martin Luther may not have secured the printing for most of his works. But he certainly reviewed, and sometimes bemoaned, what had been printed. His letter to friend Georg Spalatin in August 1521 reveals Luther’s exasperation that his crafted Sermon on Confession had been hastily hacked at the press by a profit-hungry publisher:

“I cannot say how sorry and disgusted I am with the printing. I wish I had sent nothing in German, because they print it so poorly, carelessly, and confusedly, to say nothing of bad types and paper. John the printer is always the same old Johnny. Please do not let him print any of my German homilies, but return them for me to send elsewhere...”

“I shall forward no more until I learn that these sordid mercenaries care less for their profits than for the public. Such printers seem to think: ‘It is enough for me to get the money; let the readers look out for the matter.’”

But in spite of sporadic poor printing, and a kingdom-wide ban on the books of this “notorious and stiff-necked heretic,” Luther’s works gained enormous popularity, far more than anything printed up to that time.

By Perry Brown

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #34 in 1992]

Perry Brown is editorial director for the American Tract society in Garland, Texas.
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