Melanchthon, Philipp (Philipp Schwarzerdt; 1497–1560)

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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 .


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

Melanchthon, Philip

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Humanist, reformer with luther, and educator: b. Bretten, Feb. 16, 1497; d. Wittenberg, April 19, 1560. His father was Georg Schwarzerd, an armorer; his mother was a niece of Johann reuchlin. He studied under Georg Simler in the Pforzheim Latin school; at Heidelberg (150918), where the new humanistic learning was still weak, but ecclesiastical reform after the fashion of Wimpfeling was well represented by Pallas Spangel; and from 1512 to 1518 at Tübingen, where he received an M.A. degree (1514) and where he became wholly devoted to humanism, as evidenced by a plan to publish an error-free edition of Aristotle. At Tübingen he was influenced by

the writings of Rodolphus Agricola, and especially of erasmus. In 1518, he went to Wittenberg University where, with help from Reuchlin, he had been appointed to the chair of Greek. His inaugural address on curriculum reform won the hearty approval of Luther, who in turn won Melanchthon for his cause of reform. Thus he rejected Aristotle, helped in the Leipzig Disputation, and received a baccalaureate in theology. During the period 1523 to 1528 his earlier humanism reappeared, initially occasioned by the preaching of the Zwickau prophets. He sensed that ecclesiastical order, political stability, and culture were in danger. Therefore he began stressing the importance of divine law (by which he came to mean not only that law as the revealer of sin and the leader to Christ, but also the law of nature as the foundation of civil, social, and intellectual life). Melanchthon helped to design the system for primary education that Luther advocated and evangelical territorial rulers began to adopt in the second half of the 1520s, but his influence was most directly felt in the reform of the Lutheran universities' curriculum. These activities earned him the title "Preceptor of Germany." Although Luther had longed for a curriculum free of the influence of Aristotle, it was through Melanchthon's influence that the Greek philosopher came to play an important role in the evangelical universities, particularly in the natural philosophical curriculum. Melanchthon was also instrumental in shaping the fledgling Church's relationship with Germany's princes. His spirit was irenic and was evidenced in his ecumenical concerns. To Luther's Schmalkaldic Articles (1536) Melanchthon added a statement that allowed papal primacy over bishops (iure humano ); he sought a formula to bridge differences involving especially Bucer and Calvin concerning the Lord's Supper; against Matthias flacius illyricus in the Interim controvery, he defended Catholic usages as adiaphora (indifferent usages). Melanchthon's affirmation of the necessity of good works (from obedience and as verification but not as cause of justification) involved him in the majoristic controversy.

Melancthon remained loyal to Luther and his cause. His warm evangelical piety, clearly reflected in the augsburg confession (1530), cannot be doubted. His book of theological commonplaces, Loci communes (152021), was the first effort to systematize the evangelical faith. Succeeding editions broadened the Loci's rational framework. Melanchthon's writings influenced much of the systembuilding of later Protestantism, which characterized both the strictly orthodox and their opponents.

See also: humanism; justification; cryptocalvinism; synergism; gnesiolutheranism; confessions of faith, protestant.

Bibliography: Writings. Corpus reformatorum (Halle 183452; Braunschweig 185296; Berlin 190006; Leipzig 1906); Supplementum Melanchthonianum: Dogmatische Schriften Philipp Melanchthons, ed. o. clemen (Leipzig 1910); Melanchthons Werke in Auswahl , ed. r. stupperich et al. (Gütersloh 1961); Melanchthon: Selected Writings, ed. e. e. flack and l. j. satre, tr. c. l. hill (Minneapolis 1962); The Loci Communes of Philip Melanchthon, tr. c. l. hill (Boston 1944). Literature. c. l. manschreck, Melanchthon, the Quiet Reformer (New York 1958). v. vajta, ed., Luther and Melanchthon in the History and Theology of the Reformation (Philadelphia 1961). r. stupperich, Der Unbekannte Melanchthon (Stuttgart 1961). p. schwarzenau, Der Wandel im theologischen Ansatz bei Melanchthon (Gütersloh 1956). l. stern et al., Philipp Melanchthon: Humanist, Reformator, Praeceptor Germaniae (Halle 1960). w. maurer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 4:834841, bibliog. j. paquier, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 10.1:502513. g. frank, Die theologische philosophie Philipp Melanchthons 14971560 (Leipzig 1995). idem, ed., Der Theologe Melanchthon (Sigmaringen 1999). s. kusukawa, The Transformation of Natural Philosophy. The Case of Philip Melanchthon (Cambridge 1995). idem, ed., Philip Melanchthon: Orations on Philosophy and Education (Cambridge, 1999). K. Maag, ed., Melanchthon in Europe (Grand Rapids, MI 1999). c. maxcey, Bona opera. A Study in the Development of the Doctrine of Philipp Melanchthon (Nieuwkoop 1980). h. scheible, "Melanchthon" in Theologische Realenzyklopädie, (Berlin 1992), V. XXII, 371410. idem, Melanchthon und die Reformation (Mainz 1996). g. strauss, Luther's House of Learning (Baltimore 1978). t. wengert, Human Freedom, Christian Righteousness. Philipp Melanchthon's Exegetical Dispute with Erasmus of Rotterdam (Oxford 1998).

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Melanchthon, Philipp

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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)

Melanchthon, Philipp

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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.

Melanchthon, Philipp

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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.

Melanchthon, Philipp

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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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