December 2015 Book of the Month: Tomus quartus omnium operum by Martin Luther (1552)


Title-page of Tomus quartus omnium operum with Rowland Heylin’s donation book label: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

This volume forms part of Martin Luther’s complete works, which collectively had a profound impact on the German Reformation. Published around the time of his death, the collection displays the range of genres Luther adopted: Biblical translation and commentary, sermons and catechisms, and polemics against the Catholic Church. In contrast to his seminal Bible translation and many of the controversial tracts printed during his lifetime, the texts in this imposing collection are in Latin rather than German. These volumes were produced by a number of printers, including Hans Lufft, whose trade in Lutheran Bibles made him the richest man in Wittenberg.


Back board showing use of a Latin manuscript as binding material: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

With unintentional irony, Luther’s diatribes on the Catholic Church were bound in pages of text and music from a dismembered monastic manuscript. This common binding practice was both economical and practical, as parchment was valued as a tough material. The hole in this binding is not a sign of neglect by its owners, but a flaw which dates back to the parchment’s preparation. This is shown by how the medieval scribe has carefully written around the tear and even tried to sew it together: although the thread has disappeared, the puncture holes of the needle are still visible.


Tear in manuscript binding with needle puncture holes: Fellows’ Library F.15.12 (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Emma Sillett (Library Assistant)

Sources and further reading:


After two years, this blog is taking a break from monthly books. See all 24 books displayed at

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2 Responses to December 2015 Book of the Month: Tomus quartus omnium operum by Martin Luther (1552)

  1. Sarah Cobbold says:

    Dear Owen & co,

    I’m intrigued to see that the MS pastedowns in the Luther volume contain music. I wonder – has this been recorded in RISM (Repertoire Internat. des Sources Musicales – hard copy/online)? I had a quick look online, but although Jesus College has a siglum, nothing is recorded online against it; however, I think transferring data from hard copy might still be work in progress. It might be worthwhile contacting Bodley’s Music Librarian Martin Holmes who’ll be able to check (if you do, please pass on my best regards – we go way back!).

    I do hope you’ll be reviving the Book of the Month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting some of the items, and coming across new stuff.

    All the very best,

    Sarah (Cobbold)


    • jesuslib says:

      Thank you for an excellent suggestion. I’ve asked Martin for his advice. In the meantime, we hope to have more to write on the blog next year, just a little less often! – Owen

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