A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions | Edited by Denis R. Janz (Fortress Press, 2008, 453 Pages).
The 31st of October 2021 marked 504 years since Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation by challenging the church hierarchy of his day through the publication of his ’95 Theses’. While most Christians are very aware of this historical moment, I think it is fair to say that very few of them have actually read the ’95 Theses’. The same is true, probably even more so, for many other documents associated with the Reformation. This is an unfortunate situation. When reading history, at least some of our attention should be focussed on gaining insights from those who were closest to the events being described by reading their writing and thus ‘hearing things from the horse’s mouth’. In technical terms we refer to documents like this as primary sources. ‘A Reformation Reader’ by Denis Janz brings together a very impressive range of primary sources from both sides of the Reformation divide. The documents are grouped thematically, and each theme is supplied with a short and accessible introduction so that readers can gain a good understanding of the background to the documents and their importance. The book is also richly illustrated with contemporary sketches, woodcuts, and paintings. This visual element enhances the experience of stepping into a different time and place through hearing people describe their own views in their own words. We even get to see them looking back at us! Everyone you would expect to be in a volume like this (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Menno Simmons, Desiderius Erasmus, and several popes) have been included. There are also many hidden gems from people that are sometimes overlooked in standard treatments of the period, including several letters by women who were deeply impacted by the Reformation. A book like this could very easily blow out in size so the emphasis seems to have been on picking shorter documents or providing representative extracts from longer texts (e.g., Calvin’s Institutes). This keeps the reader moving at a good clip from theme to theme and author to author. Reading ‘A Reformation Reader’ will significantly enhance your understanding of the Reformation era and it is highly recommended.