[Early Printing - Germany - Wittenberg] [Holy Bible - New Testament - Epistle to the Romans - Exegesis and Commentary] [History of the Reformation]


Dispositio orationis, in epistola Pauli ad Romanos

Wittenberg, by Josef Klug, [February] 1530.

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Text in Latin (with some passages in Greek).

RARE First Complete Edition of Melanchthon's important rhetorical analysis of St Paul's Epistle to the Romans, published at the cradle of Reformation - in Wittenberg. (The first edition, published in Hagenau the previous year (1529) contained an unfinished work: it went only as far as chapter 5, verse 11.)

"Melanchthon founded an entirely new way of reading Pauline letters: not simply as sources for theology but as rhetorically sound pieces of literature. Paul intentionally shaped his letters to bring about a particular effect in his hearers. Part of this effect was rhetorical and part was logical. Thus, in the case of Romans, Melanchthon could in 1529 and 1530 provide an entirely separate commentary on simply the rhetorical and dialectical organization of the book. No one had ever done that before." (R. Ward Holder, A Companion to Paul in the Reformation, p.134)

"According to Melanchthon, the church needed a methodologically certain and linguistically precise theology. The fundamental method for such a theology is to be found in the book of Romans. [...] He also spoke out against an anti-rational theology and against theologians who did not properly interpret the Bible and neither argued precisely nor judged accurately. [...] For Melanchthon it was without question that whoever properly interpreted Romans would come inexorably to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Melanchthon first delivered lectures on this textual analysis of Romans in 1529 ('Dispositio orationis in epistola Pauli ad Romanos' [1529/1530]). [...] In February 1530, as the Diet of Augsburg was approaching, a complete version of his Dispositio appeared." (Irene Dingel, et al.: Philip Melanchthon: Theologian in Classroom, Confession, and Controversy, p.22-23)

"Melanchthon's various lectures on Romans, begun in the early 1520s, laid out in meticulous detail the rhetorical contours of Paul's letter. Melanchthon described, using standard language of classical rhetoric the letter's dispositio (shape). Romans has, he said, an epigraph (address), an exordium (a main body of arguments and answers to objections), and a conclusion. This shape was so important to Melanchthon that he devoted an entire work to this in 1529/30, the Dispositio orationis in Epistolam Pauli ad Romanos (The Shape of the Oration in Paul's Epistle to the Romans). [...] He also demonstrated how Paul used other kinds of rhetorical turns of phrase and figures of speech." (A. J. Hauser & D. F. Watson (eds.), A History of Biblical Interpretation, Vol. II, p.322)

In 1518 Melanchthon accepted a call to the University of Wittenberg from Martin Luther, and became professor of Greek there at the young age of 21. He studied the Scriptures, especially of Paul, and Evangelical doctrine. Following lectures on the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistle to the Romans, together with his investigations into Pauline doctrine, he was granted the degree of Bachelor of Theology, and transferred to the theological faculty.

Melanchthon's Lectures on Romans & Corinthians greatly impressed Luther who thought they should be published for everyone to read. When Melanchthon insisted that the word of man should not impede the Word of God, and that his commentary might mislead people, Luther simply stole a copy of the lectures and published them (as 'Annotationes Philippi Melanchthonis in Epistola Pauli ad Romanos') in 1522 with a preface addressed to Melanchthon. Although the "Annotationes" became immediately popular,

"Seven years later, in 1528, Melanchthon returned to lecturing on Romans. By now he was directly involved in the publication of his exegesis. From his correspondence we know that Melanchthon was in Wittenberg for the summer semester, 1528, during which time he must have started lectures on Romans. These lectures focused primarily upon the dispositio, that is, the structure and outline of the text. [...] On 20 February 1529 he left to attend the second diet of Speyer, where he remained until 25 April. During this period Melanchthon gave the ever eager John Setzer a manuscript on Romans, containing material on Romans 1 - 5. Rather than wait for the rest, Setzer published it in May under the title 'Dispositio orationis in epistolam Pauli ad Romanos' with an epistle dedicatory addressed by Melanchthon to Baron Herman von Neuenahr. Back in Wittenberg for the summer semester 1529, Melanchthon returned to lectures on Romans' dispositio. [...] Thereafter he gave the completed outline to Joseph Klug, who published it with an expanded preface in February 1530." (Dingel, Op. cit., p.64-5)

Philip Melanchthon (1497 - 1560), was a German church reformer, humanist scholar and an influential educational theorist. He was the first systematic theologian and the intellectual leader of the Protestant Reformation, who stands next to Luther and Calvin as a founder of Protestantism.

Melanchthon dedicated this important commentary on Romans to Graf Hermann von Neuenahr (1492 - 1530), a German humanist theologian, statesman, natural scientist, and the chancellor of the University of Cologne. "Count Herman of Neuenahr was a representative of the new learning who shared Melanchthon's belief that humanist rhetoric and dialectic were the indispensable tools for the fruitful analysis of texts in their original languages. He was also provost of the cathedral in Cologne, which meant that he was head of the cathedral chapter as well as chancellor of the University of Cologne and thus a man with influence at the electoral court." (James M. Estes, Peace, Order and the Glory of God: Secular Authority and the Church in the Thought of Luther and Melanchthon, p.87)

The work concludes with Melanchthon's verses titled 'Ad Ionam' (beginning "Visa obscura prius multis oratio Pauli est...") addressed to Justus Jonas (1493 - 1555) , a German Lutheran theologian, religious reformer, and hymn writer. Jonas, who was a canon lawyer and legal scholar at the outset of the Reformation, became a trusted confidant of the Wittenberg reformers. He is best known for his translations of the Latin writings of Luther and Melanchthon into German so they could be read by the general populace. Jonas accompanied Martin Luther in his final moments.

Physical description:

Octavo; text block measures 15.5 cm x 10 cm; rebound in modern quarter leather over marbled boards with a printed paper label affixed to front cover; marbled endpapers.

44 unnumbered leaves (forming 88 pages).
signatures A-E8 F4 (F4 blank, present).
Complete, including the final blank.

Title-page within a woodcut border of putti, cornucopia and grotesques. Two decorative woodcut initials. Text printed mainly in italic, with some use of Greek type.

Includes dedicatory epistle by Melanchthon to Hermann von Neuenahr (leaves A2r-3v) dated 'Speyer, 1529'.

The final printed page (F3v) contains a conclusion in verse by addressed to Justus Jonas, followed by a colophon ("Impressum Witebergae per Iosephum Clug. Anno. XXX").


Very Good antiquarian condition. Complete. Moderate marginal damp-staining: in the inner corner of the bottom margin, and occasionally near the top edge, all quite harmless and entirely confined to blank margins. Final blank has a small piece torn off in the bottom inner corner. Else, a very clean, genuine, well-margined example of this rare edition.

Bibliographic references:

Supplementa Melanchthoniana, Vol 5, Issue 2, p.LXVI; Bindseil, Bibliotheca Melanthoniana, p.3; Panzer IX, 95: 267; Renaissance Rhetoric STC, p.304.

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