Skip to main content

Melanchthon, Philipp


MELANCHTHON, PHILIPP (14971560), born Philipp Schwartzerd; German theologian and major sixteenth-century reformer, writer of Protestantism's first systematic theology, organizer of the Protestant public school system, and author of two statements of Lutheran belief: the Augsburg Confession and its apology. Although he was a close friend of Martin Luther for twenty-eight years, his humanism and stance on nonessentials brought charges of corrupting Lutheranism.

Born in Bretten, Germany, and orphaned at ten, Melanchthon received tutoring from his grandfather John Reuter and the linguist John Unger. He attended the Pforzheim Latin School where his granduncle John Reuchlin, the Hebraic scholar and humanist, supervised him for two years. For achievement in Latin and Greek, Reuchlin named his nephew MelanchthonGreek for Schwartzerd, meaning "black earth." He entered Heidelberg University in 1509, at the age of twelve, and was awarded the B.A. in 1511 but was rejected as too young to pursue the M.A. At Tübingen University he received the M.A. in 1514, edited for Thomas Anshelm's press, and published translations of Plutarch, Pythagoras, and Lycidas, comedies of Terence in verse, and his popular Rudiments of the Greek Language (1518). Called in 1518 to teach Greek at Wittenberg University, Melanchthon became Luther's lifelong colleague. While teaching, he studied theology and earned a bachelor's degree in 1519, his only theological degree. Thenceforth, Melanchthon taught classics and theology. In 1530 he married Katherine Krapp, who bore him four children.

In 1521 Melanchthon's Loci communes rerum theologicarum appeared, Protestantism's first systematic theology, which was highly lauded by Luther. It dealt with basic Reformation tenets on sin, law, and grace, and went through many enlarged editions. Besides maintaining an extensive correspondence, Melanchthon produced classical treatises, translations, commentaries, theological works, and numerous textbooks. He was called Germany's preceptor for reorganizing numerous schools and universities. The Augsburg Confession (1530), Lutheranism's basic statement of faith, was conciliatory toward Roman Catholicism without sacrificing evangelical views; the Apology for the Augsburg Confession (1531) was boldly assertive. Melanchthon encountered criticism when in the Variata of 1540 he changed the Augsburg Confession to allow a Calvinistic interpretation of the Eucharist. His ecumenical efforts brought temporary unity between Martin Bucer and Luther in 1536 on the real eucharistic presence of Christ. However, his irenic agreement with Cardinal Contarini on justification was rejected by Luther and the papacy. Fearful of antinomianism, Melanchthon, with Luther's support, insisted that good works follow faith, but this view seemed too Roman Catholic for some critics. Melanchthon's contention that the Word, the Holy Spirit, and the consenting human will have a part in conversion evoked charges of synergismcooperation between God and man. Melanchthon was accused by many of being too humanistic, though not by Luther.

Following Luther's death in 1546 and the Lutheran military defeat at Mühlenberg in 1547, Melanchthon accepted some Catholic views as nonessentials, or adiaphora, in the Augsburg-Leipzig Interim of 15481549, in order to avoid civil war and the destruction of Wittenberg. Although Melanchthon boldly rejected the Augsburg Interim as too contrary to Protestant views, he later reluctantly accepted the Leipzig Interim after securing justification by faith, clerical marriage, and confession without enumeration of all sins, though scriptural authority was left vague. Other provisionsepiscopal rule, baptism as in ancient times, confirmation, extreme unction, repentance, pictures, clerical dress, and numerous Catholic ceremonieshe agreed to as nonessentials. Strict Lutherans strongly objected. The Formula of Concord later asserted that nothing during persecution should be deemed nonessential. Melanchthon died in Wittenberg on April 19, 1560.


Manschreck, Clyde L. Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer. New York, 1958. Good, full, biographical study of Melanchthon.

Manschreck, Clyde L., trans. and ed. Melanchthon on Christian Doctrine (1965). Grand Rapids, Mich., 1982. Translation of Melanchthon's late Loci communes (1555).

Maxcey, Carl E. Bona Opera: A Study in the Development of the Doctrine in Philip Melanchthon. Neieuwkoop, Netherlands, 1980. Good study of Melanchthon's controversial views on good works.

Pauck, Wilhelm, ed. Melanchthon and Bucer. Philadelphia, 1969. Library of Christian Classics, vol. 19. Translation of Loci communes (1521).

Rogness, Michael. Philip Melanchthon: Reformer without Honor. Minneapolis, 1969. Short, good appraisal of Melanchthon's views.

Clyde L. Manschreck (1987)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Melanchthon, Philipp." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 14 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Melanchthon, Philipp." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (August 14, 2018).

"Melanchthon, Philipp." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved August 14, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.