The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Luther’s Co-Reformers Stress Prophetic Interpretation

I. 1500 Tractates Empower 16th-Century Reformation

The whole throbbing story of the German Reformation is enfolded within the fifteen hundred treatises—though this includes numerous duplicates—issued from more than forty centers of Germany between the years 1511 and 1598—treatises for the first time emancipated from Latin as the classical medium of polemics. 1 These treatises are miscalled “tracts,” for some contain up to three hundred pages. Some of the academic disputes were printed as broadsides, that they might be posted where they could come under the notice of all at university centers, as with Luther’s theses in Wittenberg. PFF2 283.1


This was the first systematic use of the newly created printing press for controversial purposes. Comparatively speaking, the sheer number was phenomenal. And their influence was so great that soon it was recognized that upon the outcome of this battle of words rested the fate of Europe. These treatises verily made history. The battle was incessant and the language forthright. Pent-up forces capitalized upon the situation and sometimes carried matters beyond the control of the Reformation leaders. Political aspects injected themselves, and revolutionary symptoms appeared. There were occasional outbursts of violence, as well as the Peasants’ War. PFF2 283.2

The Earl of Crawford assembled this great list mentioned, and it is printed in a quarto volume of 280 pages, beginning with Reuchlin, precursor of the German Reformation. Prominent in the early listing was, of course, Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, the attack upon them and their defense, the subsequent bull of condemnation, and Luther’s defense after burning it, together with the speech before the Diet of Worms. Then, in addition to the discussions, there are the manifestos, credal declarations, and Biblical expositions, including the prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse. Almost every sermon or speech was immediately and inexpensively printed. PFF2 284.1


Old commentaries on Daniel and the Apocalypse were reprinted. The one attributed to John Purvey of England, republished by Luther in 1528, carried Luther’s comment that he was not thefirst to apply the antichristian kingdom to the Papacy, for many great men had done so many years before, and that frankly and openly, under the greatest persecution. 2 PFF2 284.2

Note the number, frequency, and continuity of treatises from Luther’s pen alone: 77 in 1520, 37 in 1521, 72 in 1522, 94 in 1523, 44 in 1524, 36 in 1525, and so on-a total of approximately 360, though not a few were duplicates. But there were some four hundred writers, in all, responsible for the fifteen hundred treatises, though some were anonymous. The people were thus kept in touch with every stage of the conflict. This tabulation represents the greatest doctrinal war ever waged among men over Bible truth to that time. And running all through this vast body of polemical literature was the basic conflict over the prophetic identity of the Papacy, and the predicted marks for its identification. PFF2 284.3


These tractates were often effectively illustrated with woodcuts—about one thousand such appearing 3 many of them designed by the great Reformation artists. They included portraits of the leading characters, illustrations of their teachings, together with powerful cartoons and satires. Such is the setting of the unfolding story of Reformation literature and prophetic interpretation that we now pursue. 4 There is growing clarity with the years. PFF2 285.1