Free Online Bible Library | Philip Melanchthon

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Philip Melanchthon

1497-1560. German Reformer. Born in Bretten, Baden, the son of George Scharzerd, he was given the Greek-derived name “Melanchthon” by his great-uncle, Johannes Reuchlin,* because of his aptitude in languages and humanistic interests. He attended the grammar school at Pforzheim and went on to graduate from the universities of Heidelberg, Tübingen, and Wittenberg. In Tübingen he was a member of a humanistically oriented circle of friends and came to the attention of Erasmus.* Reuchlin recommended him to the elector Frederick the Wise* as professor of Greek at the University of Wittenberg, where he soon embraced Luther's* cause. In his inaugural address at Wittenberg in 1518 he made a strong plea for the classics and the reform of studies. In his B.D. thesis of the following year he defended the proposition that the Scriptures alone are authoritative, not the decrees of popes and councils. In that same year he accompanied Luther to the Leipzig Disputation.* He published Luther's early commentaries on Galatians and the Psalms and under the pseudonym “Didymus Faventinus” defended Luther against the Parisian theologians. In 1519 Melanchthon lectured on the epistle to the Romans. In that year his Rhetoric appeared and in the following year his Dialetics. Melanchthon occupied a position on the faculty of liberal arts and on the theological faculty at Wittenberg. By 1519 his concept of justification, the forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation was already fashioned, a concept to which Melanchthon clung throughout his life.

During Luther's stay at Wartburg Castle after the Diet of Worms* (1521) Melanchthon was called on for theological leadership in the Lutheran movement. He and Andreas Carlstadt were not always in agreement, and Melanchthon was not positive what steps were to be taken in regard to the Zwickau Prophets.* Luther's return to Wittenberg (March 1522) arrested the radical movement. The first edition of Melanchthon's Loci Communes, the first systematic treatment of Lutheran theology, was published in 1521. In it Melanchthon treated the doctrines of the bondage of the will, the Law-Gospel dichotomy, justification by grace through faith. Scholasticism* was repudiated.

Melanchthon drew up the Visitation Articles (1528), the Augsburg Confession* (1530) and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Confessio Saxonica (1551), and the Responsio to the Questions of the Bavarians (1558). He has been criticized for altering the Augsburg Confession, in the so-called Variata (1540), but Luther did not fault him. His Wittenberg Articles were the basis of the discussion with the English theologians in 1536. He formulated the Wittenburg Concord* (1536) in which Luther and Martin Bucer* reconciled their views on the Lord's Supper and which was embodied in the Formula of Concord* (1577). He participated widely in the negotiations between the Lutherans and Roman Catholics, notably in the Ratisbon Colloquy* (1541).

He was the foremost humanist among the Lutheran Reformers. He became the center of religious controversies because of his stand on the Interim in 1548 and the more extreme statements of some of his followers on free will, conversion, and the Lord's Supper. Recent scholarship has asserted Melanchthon's integrity as a Lutheran theologian against those who fault him for deviations.

Bibliography: Melanchthon's Opera (ed. K. Bretschneider and E. Bindseil, 28 vols., 1834-60); Supplementa Melanchthonis (6 vols., 1910-26); Melanchthons Werke (ed. R. Stupperich, 1951-

Bibliography of works by and about Melanchthon in W. Hammer, Melanchthon im Wandel der Jahrhunderte (3 vols., 1967- ). See also K. Hartfelder, Melanchthon als praeceptor Germaniae (1889); C.L. Manschreck, Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer (1958); V. Vatja (ed.), Luther and Melanchthon (1961); R. Stupperich, Melanchthon (1965); M. Rogness, Melanchthon: Reformer without Honor (1969).

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