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Melanchthon, Philipp (Philipp Schwarzerdt; 1497–1560)

MELANCHTHON, PHILIPP (Philipp Schwarzerdt; 14971560)

MELANCHTHON, PHILIPP (Philipp Schwarzerdt; 14971560), Lutheran reformer. Raised in Palatinate court circles, the son of an accomplished armorer, Melanchthon was later mentored by a distant relative, the humanist Johannes Reuchlin. He absorbed elements of the rival medieval philosophical approaches called the via antiqua and the via moderna during studies at Heidelberg and Tübingen, but the primary influence in his early development came from Erasmian humanism. Hailed by Erasmus and others as a wunder-kind, he accepted a position as professor of Greek at the new University of Wittenberg in 1518. There he and Martin Luther formed a close working relationship at the heart of a team that propagated Luther's reform program. The two influenced each other's thought profoundly. Luther appropriated Melanchthon's philological insights into his translation of Scripture and his theology. Melanchthon in turn expressed Luther's thought in his Loci Communes Rerum Theologicarum (1521; Common topics in theology), an introduction to the study of theology, based on Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Completely revamped later editions (1535, 1543) presented a survey of all theological topics.

Although he held a second professorship in theology after 1526, Melanchthon was foremost an instructor in the arts, particularly rhetoric and dialectic. His innovative blend of the two, based on principles of Cicero, Quintilian, Aristotle, and recent humanists, became standard for European learning. Especially important was his concept of organizing learning by "commonplaces" (loci communes, 'topics'). He lectured and wrote on Aristotle's physics, politics, and ethics as well as history, astronomy, and ancient Greek literature. His encouragement and support of educational reform led to the establishment of many secondary schools and the universities at Königsberg, Jena, and Marburg.

Not only did Melanchthon lay the groundwork for subsequent Lutheran dogmatic instruction; his biblical commentaries employed humanist exegesis and provided sermonic and teaching helps for pastors. He led in producing a series of New Testament expositions (early 1520s), the "Wittenberg Commentary" with his own works on the Gospels of Matthew and John, followed by commentaries on Paul's Epistles to the Romans and the Colossians, as well as other biblical books.

At Luther's side Melanchthon helped spread the Reformation, for example in his organization of the Saxon visitation (1527/1528) and the composition of defining documents for Lutheran teaching, the Augsburg Confession (1530), its Apology (1531), and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537), later authoring the Saxon Confession (1551). As chief ecclesiastical diplomat of electoral Saxony and other Lutheran governments, he attempted to forge plans for reform based on the Augsburg Confession for the French and English kings. Through correspondence and memoranda on ecclesiastical problems, often composed for his Wittenberg colleagues, he exercised widespread influence. He led Evangelical representatives at the Augsburg Diet of 1530 and in colloquies with Roman Catholics at Hagenau/Worms/Regensburg (1540/1541) and again at Worms in 1557.

After the defeat of the Evangelical Schmalkaldic League by Emperor Charles V in 1547, Melanchthon strove to preserve the integrity of Wittenberg University and to stave off imperial occupation of Saxony. Under his new prince, Elector Maurice, he sought to placate Charles's demands by forging a religious policy, the so-called Leipzig Interim, that reinstituted some medieval practices while seeking to retain Luther's teaching. Melanchthon considered such rites neutral or adiaphora, but some of his best students considered these concessions to the papacy a betrayal of the Reformation. Melanchthon in turn felt betrayed by these students; their criticism embittered him. His former student and colleague, Matthias Flacius, and his "Gnesio-Lutheran" associates, who claimed to be adhering to Luther's teachings, also accused him of synergism and a focus on the law in the Christian life that turned believers back to reliance on good works. His writings show, however, that throughout his life he continued to center his theology on God's justification of sinners on the basis of his gracious favor alone, which created trust in the promise of forgiveness of sin and life through Christ. The hermeneutical guide to his teaching lay in the distinction of God's law (God's expectation for human creatures that condemns them when they sin) from God's gospel (the message of forgiveness in Christ that liberates people from evil for service to God). His functional interpretation of the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper also elicited the critique of former students.

Forced by Luther's death into a position of leadership for which he was not completely suited, Melanchthon suffered distress in the decade before his death (19 April 1560) because of these controversies, increasing Roman Catholic persecution of Evangelicals, and the deaths of a married daughter (one of his four children) and of his wife, Katharina Krapp, the daughter of a leading Wittenberg burgher. As the "Preceptor of Germany" his contributions to the intellectual life of Europe continued to determine elements of learning for more than two centuries, and his theology remains influential into the twenty-first century.

See also Erasmus, Desiderius ; Humanists and Humanism ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Reformation, Protestant .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Melanchthon, Philipp. Commentary on Romans. Translated by Fred Kramer. St. Louis, 1992.

. Loci Communes. Translated by J. A. O. Preus. St. Louis, 1992.

Philippi Melanthonis Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia. Edited by Carolus Gottlieb Bretschneider and H. E. Bindseil. Corpus Reformatorum. 28 vols. Halle and Braunschweig, 18341860.

Secondary Sources

Scheible, Heinz. Melanchthon, eine Biographie. Munich, 1997.

Wengert, Timothy J. Human Freedom, Christian Righteousness: Philipp Melanchthon's Exegetical Dispute with Erasmus of Rotterdam. Oxford and New York, 1998.

. Law and Gospel: Philipp Melanchthon's Debate with John Agricola of Eisleben over Poenitentia. Carlisle, U.K., and Grand Rapids, Mich., 1997.

Robert Kolb

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Melanchthon, Philip

Philip Melanchthon (məlăngk´thən), 1497–1560, German scholar and humanist. He was second only to Martin Luther as a figure in the Lutheran Reformation. His original name was Schwarzerd [Ger.,=black earth; "melanchthon" is the Greek rendering of "black earth" ]. A man of great intellect and wide learning, he was professor of Greek at the Univ. of Wittenberg when he met Luther, and they soon became intimate friends and associates. Melanchthon's influence on the Lutheran movement had many sides. In Loci communes (1521) he made the first systematic presentation of the principles of the Reformation and so clarified the new gospel to those outside the movement. He served as mediator between Luther and the humanists, tempering the Protestant disapproval of worldly culture. He represented Luther at many conferences. At the Marburg Conference he opposed Huldreich Zwingli, and at the Diet of Augsburg (1530) he wrote and presented the Augsburg Confession (see creed). Melanchthon was more conciliatory than Luther, as evidenced by his friendship with John Calvin after Luther's death and by his willingness to compromise on doctrinal issues. Luther had great confidence in Melanchthon as his successor, but Melanchthon was ill-suited for leadership. For his powerful role in creating the German schools, Melanchthon is known as preceptor of Germany. His Loci communes appeared in a modern critical edition and translation by Charles Leander Hall (1944).

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Melanchthon, Philipp

Melanchthon, Philipp (1497–1560). German Reformer. After studying at Heidelberg, Tübingen, and Wittenberg, he was appointed Wittenberg's Professor of Greek at the age of 21, becoming Luther's keen follower and closest friend. In 1519 he participated in the Leipzig Disputation and also defended in his Wittenberg BD thesis the conviction that the Bible alone is authoritative, not papal decrees or conciliar decisions (see COUNCILS). During Luther's 1521 confinement in the Wartburg he led the Reformation movement and in the same year published his Loci Communes, the first systematic exposition of Reformed doctrine and its repudiation of scholasticism. Occasionally too hesitant for Luther, he was a man of conciliatory spirit whose skill as a negotiator and influential writings were an outstanding contribution to the Reformation.

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Melanchthon, Philipp

Melanchthon, Philipp

German theologian, ally of Martin Luther, and early leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Born in the town of Bretten in the Palatine, Melanchthon studied the Latin and Greek classics and, at the age of thirteen, was admitted to the University of Heidelberg. Too young to earn a degree, he moved to the University of Tubingen in 1512, and took up the study of philosophy, astrology, and mathematics. He became a lecturer in rhetoric and poetry. He became a professor of Greek at the University of Wittenberg, where he inspired a large following and won the friendship of Martin Luther. He defended Luther's challenge to the Catholic hierarchy, at the risk of his own life, and helped to write the Augsburg Confession, which Luther presented at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530.

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Melanchthon, Philipp

Melanchthon, Philipp (1497–1560) German theologian and educator, considered with Martin Luther as a founder of Protestantism. Melanchthon wrote the Confessions of Augsburg (1530), a statement of Protestant beliefs.

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