Philip Melanchthon[a] (born Philipp Schwartzerdt;[b] 16 February 1497
– 19 April 1560) was a German
Lutheran reformer, collaborator with
Martin Luther, the first systematic theologian of the Protestant
Reformation, intellectual leader of the
Lutheran Reformation, and an
influential designer of educational systems. He stands next to Luther
John Calvin as a reformer, theologian, and molder of
Protestantism. After Luther himself, he is the primary founder of
Melanchthon along with Luther denounced what they believed was the
exaggerated cult of the saints, asserted justification by faith, and
denounced the coercion of the conscience in the sacrament of penance
by the Catholic Church, which they believed could not offer certainty
of salvation. Both rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, but
not the belief that the body and blood of
Christ are present with the
elements of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. The
Lutheran view of
sacramental union contrasts with the understanding of the Roman Church
that the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine at their
consecration (retaining the accidents of both). Melanchthon made the
distinction between law and gospel the central formula for Lutheran
evangelical insight. By the "law", he meant God's requirements both in
Old and New Testament; the "gospel" meant the free gift of grace
through faith in
1 Early life and education
2 Professor at Wittenberg
3 Theological disputes
4 Augsburg Confession
5 Discussions on Lord's Supper and justification
6 Controversies with Flacius
7 Disputes with Osiander and Flacius
8 Marian views
9 Views on natural philosophy
11 Estimation of his works and character
11.1 His work as reformer
11.2 As scholar
11.3 As theologian
11.4 As moralist
11.5 As exegete
11.6 As historian and preacher
11.7 As professor and philosopher
11.8 Personal appearance and character
12 See also
14.2 Works cited
15 Further reading
16 External links
Early life and education
He was born Philipp Schwartzerdt on 16 February 1497, at
his father Georg Schwarzerdt was armorer to Philip, Count Palatine of
the Rhine. His birthplace, along with almost the whole city of
Bretten, was burned in 1689 by French troops during the War of the
Palatinate Succession. The town's Melanchthonhaus was built on its
site in 1897.
In 1507 he was sent to the
Latin school at Pforzheim, where the
rector, Georg Simler of Wimpfen, introduced him to the
Latin and Greek
poets and to Aristotle. He was influenced by his great-uncle Johann
Reuchlin, a Renaissance humanist; it was Reuchlin who suggested
Philipp follow a custom common among humanists of the time and change
his surname from "Schwartzerdt" (literally "black earth"), into the
Greek equivalent "Melanchthon" (Μελάγχθων).
Philipp was only eleven when in 1508 both his grandfather (17 October)
and father (27 October) died within eleven days. He and a brother
were brought to
Pforzheim to live with his maternal grandmother,
Elizabeth Reuter, sister of Reuchlin.
The next year he entered the University of Heidelberg, where he
studied philosophy, rhetoric, and astronomy/astrology, and became
known as a scholar of Greek. Denied the master's
degree in 1512 on the grounds of his youth, he went to Tübingen,
where he continued humanistic studies but also worked on
jurisprudence, mathematics, and medicine. While there
he was also taught the technical aspects of astrology by Johannes
After gaining a master's degree in 1516 he began to study theology.
Under the influence of Reuchlin, Erasmus, and others, he became
convinced that true
Christianity was something different from the
scholastic theology as taught at the university. He became a conventor
(repentant) in the contubernium and instructed younger scholars. He
also lectured on oratory, on
Virgil and on Livy.
His first publications were a number of poems in a collection edited
Jakob Wimpfeling (c. 1511), the preface to Reuchlin's
Epistolae clarorum virorum (1514), an edition of
Terence (1516), and a
Greek grammar (1518).
Professor at Wittenberg
Melanchthon and Luther with
Christ crucified in the middle
Opposed as a reformer at Tübingen, he accepted a call to the
Martin Luther on the recommendation of
his great-uncle, and became professor of Greek there at the age of 21.
He studied the Scriptures, especially of Paul, and Evangelical
doctrine. Attending the disputation of
Leipzig (1519) as a spectator,
he nonetheless participated with his comments. After his views were
attacked by Johann Eck, Melanchthon replied based on the authority of
Scripture in his Defensio contra Johannem Eckium (Wittenberg, 1519).
Following lectures on the
Gospel of Matthew
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. He married Katharina Krapp, daughter of
Wittenberg's mayor, on 25 November 1520. They had four children:
Anna, Philipp, Georg, and Magdalen.
Loci Communes, 1521 edition
In the beginning of 1521 in his Didymi Faventini versus Thomam
Placentinum pro M. Luthero oratio (Wittenberg, n.d.), he defended
Luther. He argued that Luther rejected only papal and ecclesiastical
practises which were at variance with Scripture. But while Luther
was absent at
Wartburg Castle, during the disturbances caused by the
Zwickau prophets, Melanchthon wavered.
The appearance of Melanchthon's Loci communes rerum theologicarum seu
hypotyposes theologicae (
Wittenberg and Basel, 1521) was of subsequent
importance for Reformation. Melanchthon presented the new doctrine of
Christianity under the form of a discussion of the "leading thoughts"
of the Epistle to the Romans. Loci communes began the gradual rise of
Lutheran scholastic tradition, and the later theologians Martin
Chemnitz,[c] Mathias Haffenreffer, and
Leonhard Hutter expanded upon
it. Melanchthon continued to lecture on the classics.
On a journey in 1524 to his native town, he encountered the papal
legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, who tried to draw him from
Luther's cause. In his Unterricht der Visitatorn an die Pfarherrn im
Kurfürstentum zu Sachssen (1528) Melanchthon presented the
evangelical doctrine of salvation as well as regulations for churches
In 1529 he accompanied the elector to the Diet of Speyer. His hopes of
inducing the Imperial party to a recognition of the
not fulfilled. A friendly attitude towards the Swiss at the Diet was
something he later changed, calling Huldrych Zwingli's doctrine of the
Lord's Supper "an impious dogma".
Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1530–1535
The composition now known as the
Augsburg Confession was laid before
Diet of Augsburg
Diet of Augsburg in 1530, and would come to be considered perhaps
the most significant document of the Protestant Reformation. While the
confession was based on Luther's
Schwabach articles, it
was mainly the work of Melanchthon; although it was commonly thought
of as a unified statement of doctrine by the two reformers, Luther did
not conceal his dissatisfaction with its irenic tone. Indeed, some
would criticize Melanchthon's conduct at the Diet as unbecoming of the
principle he promoted, implying that faith in the truth of his cause
should logically have inspired Melanchthon to a firmer and more
dignified posture. Others point out that he had not sought the part of
a political leader, suggesting that he seemed to lack the requisite
energy and decision for such a role and may simply have been a
lackluster judge of human nature.
Melanchthon then settled into the comparative quiet of his academic
and literary labours. His most important theological work of this
period was the Commentarii in Epistolam Pauli ad Romanos (Wittenberg,
1532), noteworthy for introducing the idea that "to be justified"
means "to be accounted just", whereas the Apology had placed side by
side the meanings of "to be made just" and "to be accounted just".
Melanchthon's increasing fame gave occasion for several honourable
calls to Tübingen (September 1534), to France, and to England, but
consideration of the elector caused him to refuse them.
Discussions on Lord's Supper and justification
He took an important part in the discussions concerning the Lord's
Supper which began in 1531. He approved fully of the Wittenberg
Concord sent by Bucer to Wittenberg, and at the instigation of the
Hesse discussed the question with Bucer in Kassel, at the
end of 1534. He eagerly laboured for an agreement, for his patristic
studies and the Dialogue (1530) of
Johannes Oecolampadius had made him
doubt the correctness of Luther's doctrine. Moreover, after the death
of Zwingli and the change of the political situation his earlier
scruples in regard to a union lost their weight. Bucer did not go so
far as to believe with Luther that the true body of
Christ in the
Lord's Supper is bitten by the teeth, but admitted the offering of the
body and blood in the symbols of bread and wine. Melanchthon discussed
Bucer's views with the most prominent adherents of Luther; but Luther
himself would not agree to a mere veiling of the dispute.
Melanchthon's relation to Luther was not disturbed by his work as a
mediator, although Luther for a time suspected that Melanchthon was
"almost of the opinion of Zwingli"; nevertheless he desired to "share
his heart with him".
During his sojourn in Tübingen in 1536 Melanchthon was severely
attacked by Cordatus, preacher in Niemeck, because he had taught that
works are necessary for salvation. In the second edition of his Loci
(1535), he abandoned his earlier strict doctrine of determinism which
went even beyond that of Augustine of Hippo, and in its place taught
more clearly his so-called Synergism. He repulsed the attack of
Cordatus in a letter to Luther and his other colleagues by stating
that he had never departed from their common teachings on this
subject, and in the Antinomian Controversy of 1537 Melanchthon was in
harmony with Luther.
Controversies with Flacius
Portrait of Philip Melanchthon, 1537, by Lucas Cranach the Elder
The last eventful and sorrowful period of his life began with
controversies over the Interims and the
Adiaphora (1547). It is true,
Melanchthon rejected the Augsburg Interim, which the emperor tried to
force upon the defeated Protestants; but in the negotiations
concerning the so-called
Leipzig Interim he made concessions which
many feel can in no way be justified, even if one considers his
difficult position, opposed as he was to the elector and the
emperor.[POV? – discuss] In agreeing to various Roman usages,
Melanchthon started from the opinion that they are adiaphora if
nothing is changed in the pure doctrine and the sacraments which Jesus
instituted, but he disregarded the position that concessions made
under such circumstances have to be regarded as a denial of
Melanchthon himself perceived his faults in the course of time and
repented of them, perhaps having to suffer more than was just in the
displeasure of his friends and the hatred of his enemies. From now on
until his death he was full of trouble and suffering. After Luther's
death he became the "theological leader of the German Reformation",
not indisputably, however; for the
Gnesio-Lutherans with Matthias
Flacius at their head accused him and his followers of heresy and
apostasy. Melanchthon bore all accusations with patience, dignity, and
Disputes with Osiander and Flacius
Melanchton's house in Wittenberg
In his controversy on justification with
Andreas Osiander Melanchthon
satisfied all parties. Melanchthon took part also in a controversy
with Stancari, who held that
Christ was our justification only
according to his human nature.
He was also still a strong opponent of the Roman Catholics, for it was
by his advice that the Elector of Saxony declared himself ready to
send deputies to a council to be convened at Trent, but only under the
condition that the Protestants should have a share in the discussions,
and that the
Pope should not be considered as the presiding officer
and judge. As it was agreed upon to send a confession to Trent,
Melanchthon drew up the Confessio Saxonica which is a repetition of
the Augsburg Confession, discussing, however, in greater detail, but
with moderation, the points of controversy with Rome. Melanchthon on
his way to Trent at
Dresden saw the military preparations of Maurice
of Saxony, and after proceeding as far as Nuremberg, returned to
Wittenberg in March 1552, for Maurice had turned against the emperor.
Owing to his act, the condition of the Protestants became more
favourable and were still more so at the
Peace of Augsburg
Peace of Augsburg (1555), but
Melanchthon's labours and sufferings increased from that time.
The last years of his life were embittered by the disputes over the
Interim and the freshly started controversy on the Lord's Supper. As
the statement "good works are necessary for salvation" appeared in the
Leipzig Interim, its
Lutheran opponents attacked in 1551 Georg Major,
the friend and disciple of Melanchthon, so Melanchthon dropped the
formula altogether, seeing how easily it could be misunderstood.
But all his caution and reservation did not hinder his opponents from
continually working against him, accusing him of synergism and
Zwinglianism. At the Colloquy of Worms in 1557 which he attended only
reluctantly, the adherents of Flacius and the Saxon theologians tried
to avenge themselves by thoroughly humiliating Melanchthon, in
agreement with the malicious desire of the Roman Catholics to condemn
all heretics, especially those who had departed from the Augsburg
Confession, before the beginning of the conference. As this was
directed against Melanchthon himself, he protested, so that his
opponents left, greatly to the satisfaction of the Roman Catholics who
now broke off the colloquy, throwing all blame upon the Protestants.
Reformation in the sixteenth century did not experience a greater
Friedrich Nietzsche says. Nevertheless, Melanchthon
persevered in his efforts for the peace of the church, suggesting a
synod of the Evangelical party and drawing up for the same purpose the
Frankfurt Recess, which he defended later against the attacks of his
More than anything else the controversies on the Lord's Supper
embittered the last years of his life. The renewal of this dispute was
due to the victory in the Reformed Church of the Calvinistic doctrine
and its influence upon Germany. To its tenets Melanchthon never gave
his assent, nor did he use its characteristic formulas. The personal
presence and self-impartation of
Christ in the Lord's Supper were
especially important for Melanchthon; but he did not definitely state
how body and blood are related to this. Although rejecting the
physical act of mastication, he nevertheless assumed the real presence
of the body of
Christ and therefore also a real self-impartation.
Melanchthon differed from
John Calvin also in emphasizing the relation
of the Lord's Supper to justification.
Melanchthon viewed any veneration of saints rather critically but
developed positive commentaries about Mary. In his Annotations in
Evangelia commenting on Lk 2,52, he discusses the faith of Mary, "she
kept all things in her heart" which to Melanchthon is a call to the
church to follow her example. During the marriage at Cana,
Melanchthon points out that Mary went too far, asking for more wine,
misusing her position. But she was not upset, when
scolded her. Mary was negligent, when she lost her son in the
temple, but she did not sin. Mary was conceived with original sin
like every other human being, but she was spared the consequences of
it. Consequently, Melanchthon opposed the feast of the Immaculate
Conception, which in his days, although not dogma, was celebrated in
several cities and had been approved at the Council of
1439. He declared that the
Immaculate Conception was an invention
of monks. Mary is a representation (Typus) of the church and in
the Magnificat, Mary spoke for the whole church. Standing under the
cross, Mary suffered like no other human being. Consequently,
Christians have to unite with her under the cross, in order to become
Views on natural philosophy
In lecturing on the Librorum de judiciis astrologicis of
1535–1536, Melanchthon expressed to students his interest in Greek
mathematics, astronomy and astrology. He considered that a purposeful
God had reasons to exhibit comets and eclipses. He was the first
to print a paraphrased edition of Ptolemy's
Tetrabiblos in Basel,
1554. Natural philosophy, in his view, was directly linked to
Providence, a point of view that was influential in curriculum change
after the Protestant
Reformation in Germany. In the period
1536–1539 he was involved in three academic innovations: the
Wittenberg along Protestant lines, the reorganization
at Tübingen, and the foundation of the University of Leipzig.
But before these and other theological dissensions were ended, he
died. A few days before his death he committed to writing his reasons
for not fearing it. On the left were the words, "Thou shalt be
delivered from sins, and be freed from the acrimony and fury of
theologians"; on the right, "Thou shalt go to the light, see God, look
upon his Son, learn those wonderful mysteries which thou hast not been
able to understand in this life." The immediate cause of death was a
severe cold which he had contracted on a journey to
Leipzig in March
1560, followed by a fever that consumed his strength, weakened by many
sufferings. On 19 April 1560 he was pronounced dead.
The only care that occupied him until his last moment was the desolate
condition of the church. He strengthened himself in almost
uninterrupted prayer, and in listening to passages of Scripture.
Especially significant did the words seem to him, "His own received
him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become
the sons of God." When Caspar Peucer, his son-in-law, asked him if he
wanted anything, he replied, "Nothing but heaven." His body was buried
beside Luther's in the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg.
He is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran
Synod on February 16 (the date of his birth) and of
Lutheran Church in America on June 25 (the date of the
presentation of the Augsburg Confession).
Estimation of his works and character
Melanchthon's importance for the
Reformation lay essentially in the
fact that he systematized Luther's ideas, defended them in public, and
made them the basis of a religious education. These two, by
complementing each other, could be said to have harmoniously achieved
the results of the Reformation. Melanchthon was impelled by Luther to
work for the Reformation; his own inclinations would have kept him a
student. Without Luther's influence Melanchthon would have been "a
second Erasmus", although his heart was filled with a deep religious
interest in the Reformation. While Luther scattered the sparks among
the people, Melanchthon by his humanistic studies won the sympathy of
educated people and scholars for the Reformation. Besides Luther's
strength of faith, Melanchthon's many-sidedness and calmness, as well
as his temperance and love of peace, had a share in the success of the
Both were aware of their mutual position and they thought of it as a
divine necessity of their common calling. Melanchthon wrote in 1520,
"I would rather die than be separated from Luther", whom he afterward
compared to Elijah, and called "the man full of the Holy Ghost". In
spite of the strained relations between them in the last years of
Luther's life, Melanchthon exclaimed at Luther's death, "Dead is the
horseman and chariot of Israel who ruled the church in this last age
of the world!"
On the other hand, Luther wrote of Melanchthon, in the preface to
Melanchthon's Commentary on the Galatians (1529), "I had to fight with
rabble and devils, for which reason my books are very warlike. I am
the rough pioneer who must break the road; but Master Philip comes
along softly and gently, sows and waters heartily, since
richly endowed him with gifts." Luther also did justice to
Melanchthon's teachings, praising one year before his death in the
preface to his own writings Melanchthon's revised Loci above them and
calling Melanchthon "a divine instrument which has achieved the very
best in the department of theology to the great rage of the devil and
his scabby tribe." It is remarkable that Luther, who vehemently
attacked men like
Erasmus and Bucer, when he thought that truth was at
stake, never spoke directly against Melanchthon, and even during his
melancholy last years conquered his temper.
The strained relation between these two men never came from external
things, such as human rank and fame, much less from other advantages,
but always from matters of church and doctrine, and chiefly from the
fundamental difference of their individualities; they repelled and
attracted each other "because nature had not formed out of them one
man." It cannot be denied, however, that Luther was the more
magnanimous, for however much he was at times dissatisfied with
Melanchthon's actions, he never uttered a word against his private
character; however Melanchthon sometimes evinced a lack of confidence
in Luther. In a letter to Carlowitz, before the Diet of Augsburg,
he protested that Luther on account of his hot-headed nature exercised
a personally humiliating pressure upon him.
His work as reformer
As a reformer, Melanchthon was characterized by moderation,
conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace; but these qualities
were sometimes said to only be lack of decision, consistence, and
courage. Often, however, his actions are shown stemming not from
anxiety for his own safety, but from regard for the welfare of the
community and for the quiet development of the church. Melanchthon was
not said to lack personal courage, but rather he was said to be less
of an aggressive than of a passive nature. When he was reminded how
much power and strength Luther drew from his trust in God, he
answered, "If I myself do not do my part, I can not expect anything
God in prayer." His nature was seen to be inclined to suffer with
God that he would be released from every evil rather than to
act valiantly with his aid. The distinction between Luther and
Melanchthon is well brought out in Luther's letters to the latter
To your great anxiety by which you are made weak, I am a cordial foe;
for the cause is not ours. It is your philosophy, and not your
theology, which tortures you so, – as though you could accomplish
anything by your useless anxieties. So far as the public cause is
concerned, I am well content and satisfied; for I know that it is
right and true, and, what is more, it is the cause of
Christ and God
himself. For that reason, I am merely a spectator. If we fall, Christ
will likewise fall; and if he fall, I would rather fall with Christ
than stand with the emperor.
The Melanchthon window attributed to the Quaker City Stained Glass
Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at St. Matthew's German
Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina
Another trait of his character was his love of peace. He had an innate
aversion to quarrels and discord; yet, often he was very irritable.
His irenical character often led him to adapt himself to the views of
others, as may be seen from his correspondence with
Erasmus and from
his public attitude from the
Diet of Augsburg
Diet of Augsburg to the Interim. It was
said not to be merely a personal desire for peace, but his
conservative religious nature that guided him in his acts of
conciliation. He never could forget that his father on his death-bed
had besought his family "never to leave the church." He stood toward
the history of the church in an attitude of piety and reverence that
made it much more difficult for him than for Luther to be content with
the thought of the impossibility of a reconciliation with the Roman
Catholic Church. He laid stress upon the authority of the Fathers, not
only of Augustine, but also of the Greek Fathers.
His attitude in matters of worship was conservative, and in the
Leipsic Interim he was said by Cordatus and Schenk even to be
Crypto-Catholic. He never strove for a reconciliation with Roman
Catholicism at the price of pure doctrine. He attributed more value to
the external appearance and organization of the Church than Luther
did, as can be seen from his whole treatment of the "doctrine of the
church". The ideal conception of the church, which the reformers
opposed to the organization of the Roman Church, which was expressed
in his Loci of 1535, lost for him after 1537 its former prominence,
when he began to emphasize the conception of the true visible church
as it may be found among the Protestants.
He believed that the relation of the church to
God was that the church
held the divine office of the ministry of the Gospel. The universal
priesthood was for Melanchthon as for Luther no principle of an
ecclesiastical constitution, but a purely religious principle. In
accordance with this idea Melanchthon tried to keep the traditional
church constitution and government, including the bishops. He did not
want, however, a church altogether independent of the state, but
rather, in agreement with Luther, he believed it the duty of the
secular authorities to protect religion and the church. He looked upon
the consistories as ecclesiastical courts which therefore should be
composed of spiritual and secular judges, for to him the official
authority of the church did not lie in a special class of priests, but
rather in the whole congregation, to be represented therefore not only
by ecclesiastics, but also by laymen. Melanchthon in advocating church
union did not overlook differences in doctrine for the sake of common
The older he grew, the less he distinguished between the Gospel as the
announcement of the will of God, and right doctrine as the human
knowledge of it. Therefore, he took pains to safeguard unity in
doctrine by theological formulas of union, but these were made as
broad as possible and were restricted to the needs of practical
Detail from Unterricht der Visitatorn, an die Pfarherrn in Hertzog
Heinrichs zu Sachsen Fürstenthum, Gleicher form der Visitation im
Kurfürstenthum gestellet, woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Younger,
As a scholar Melanchthon embodied the entire spiritual culture of his
age. At the same time he found the simplest, clearest, and most
suitable form for his knowledge; therefore his manuals, even if they
were not always original, were quickly introduced into schools and
kept their place for more than a century. Knowledge had for him no
purpose of its own; it existed only for the service of moral and
religious education, and so the teacher of
Germany prepared the way
for the religious thoughts of the Reformation. He is the father of
Christian humanism, which has exerted a lasting influence upon
scientific life in Germany. (But it is
Erasmus who is called, "The
Prince of the Humanists".) His works were not always
new and original, but they were clear, intelligible, and answered
their purpose. His style is natural and plain, better, however, in
Latin and Greek than in German. He was not without natural eloquence,
although his voice was weak.
Melanchthon wrote numerous treatises dealing with education and
learning that present some of his key thoughts on learning, including
his views on the basis, method, and goal of reformed education. In his
Book of Visitation", Melanchthon outlines a school plan that
recommends schools to teach
Latin only. Here he suggests children
should be broken up into three distinct groups: children who are
learning to read, children who know how to read and are ready to learn
grammar, and children who are well-trained in grammar and syntax.
Melanchthon also believed that the disciplinary system of the
classical "seven liberal arts", and the sciences studied in the higher
faculties could not encompass the new revolutionary discoveries of the
age in terms of either content or method. He expanded the traditional
categorization of science in several directions, incorporating not
only history, geography and poetry but also the new natural sciences
in his system of scholarly disciplines.
As a theologian, Melanchthon did not show so much creative ability,
but rather a genius for collecting and systematizing the ideas of
others, especially of Luther, for the purpose of instruction. He kept
to the practical, and cared little for connection of the parts, so his
Loci were in the form of isolated paragraphs. The fundamental
difference between Luther and Melanchthon lies not so much in the
latter's ethical conception, as in his humanistic mode of thought
which formed the basis of his theology and made him ready not only to
acknowledge moral and religious truths outside of Christianity, but
also to bring Christian truth into closer contact with them, and thus
to mediate between Christian revelation and ancient philosophy.
Melanchthon's views differed from Luther's only in some modifications
of ideas. Melanchthon looked upon the law as not only the correlate of
the Gospel, by which its effect of salvation is prepared, but as the
unchangeable order of the spiritual world which has its basis in God
himself. He furthermore reduced Luther's much richer view of
redemption to that of legal satisfaction. He did not draw from the
vein of mysticism running through Luther's theology, but emphasized
the ethical and intellectual elements.
After giving up determinism and absolute predestination and ascribing
to man a certain moral freedom, he tried to ascertain the share of
free will in conversion, naming three causes as concurring in the work
of conversion, the Word, the Spirit, and the human will, not passive,
but resisting its own weakness. Since 1548 he used the definition of
freedom formulated by Erasmus, "the capability of applying oneself to
His definition of faith lacks the mystical depth of Luther. In
dividing faith into knowledge, assent, and trust, he made the
participation of the heart subsequent to that of the intellect, and so
gave rise to the view of the later orthodoxy that the establishment
and acceptation of pure doctrine should precede the personal attitude
of faith. To his intellectual conception of faith corresponded also
his view that the Church also is only the communion of those who
adhere to the true belief and that her visible existence depends upon
the consent of her unregenerated members to her teachings.
Finally, Melanchthon's doctrine of the Lord's Supper, lacking the
profound mysticism of faith by which Luther united the sensual
elements and supersensual realities, demanded at least their formal
The development of Melanchthon's beliefs may be seen from the history
of the Loci. In the beginning Melanchthon intended only a development
of the leading ideas representing the Evangelical conception of
salvation, while the later editions approach more and more the plan of
a text-book of dogma. At first he uncompromisingly insisted on the
necessity of every event, energetically rejected the philosophy of
Aristotle, and had not fully developed his doctrine of the sacraments.
In 1535 he treated for the first time the doctrine of
God and that of
the Trinity; rejected the doctrine of the necessity of every event and
named free will as a concurring cause in conversion. The doctrine of
justification received its forensic form and the necessity of good
works was emphasized in the interest of moral discipline. The last
editions are distinguished from the earlier ones by the prominence
given to the theoretical and rational element.
In ethics Melanchthon preserved and renewed the tradition of ancient
morality and represented the Protestant conception of life. His books
bearing directly on morals were chiefly drawn from the classics, and
were influenced not so much by
Aristotle as by Cicero. His principal
works in this line were Prolegomena to Cicero's
De officiis (1525);
Enarrationes librorum Ethicorum Aristotelis (1529); Epitome
philosophiae moralis (1538); and Ethicae doctrinae elementa
In his Epitome philosophiae moralis Melanchthon treats first the
relation of philosophy to the law of
God and the Gospel. Moral
philosophy, it is true, does not know anything of the promise of grace
as revealed in the Gospel, but it is the development of the natural
law implanted by
God in the heart of man, and therefore representing a
part of the divine law. The revealed law, necessitated because of sin,
is distinguished from natural law only by its greater completeness and
clearness. The fundamental order of moral life can be grasped also by
reason; therefore the development of moral philosophy from natural
principles must not be neglected. Melanchthon therefore made no sharp
distinction between natural and revealed morals.
His contribution to Christian ethics in the proper sense must be
sought in the
Augsburg Confession and its Apology as well as in his
Loci, where he followed Luther in depicting the Protestant ideal of
life, the free realization of the divine law by a personality blessed
in faith and filled with the spirit of God.
Melanchthon's formulation of the authority of Scripture became the
norm for the following time. The principle of his hermeneutics is
expressed in his words: "Every theologian and faithful interpreter of
the heavenly doctrine must necessarily be first a grammarian, then a
dialectician, and finally a witness." By "grammarian" he meant the
philologist in the modern sense who is master of history, archaeology,
and ancient geography. As to the method of interpretation, he insisted
with great emphasis upon the unity of the sense, upon the literal
sense in contrast to the four senses of the scholastics. He further
stated that whatever is looked for in the words of Scripture, outside
of the literal sense, is only dogmatic or practical application.
His commentaries, however, are not grammatical, but are full of
theological and practical matter, confirming the doctrines of the
Reformation, and edifying believers. The most important of them are
those on Genesis, Proverbs, Daniel, the Psalms, and especially those
on the New Testament, on Romans (edited in 1522 against his will by
Colossians (1527), and John (1523). Melanchthon was the
constant assistant of Luther in his translation of the Bible, and both
the books of the
Maccabees in Luther's
Bible are ascribed to him. A
Bible published in 1529 at
Wittenberg is designated as a common
work of Melanchthon and Luther.
As historian and preacher
Melanchthon's room in Wittenberg
In the sphere of historical theology the influence of Melanchthon may
be traced until the seventeenth century, especially in the method of
treating church history in connection with political history. His was
the first Protestant attempt at a history of dogma, Sententiae veterum
aliquot patrum de caena domini (1530) and especially De ecclesia et
auctoritate verbi Dei (1539).
Melanchthon exerted a wide influence in the department of homiletics,
and has been regarded as the author, in the Protestant church, of the
methodical style of preaching. He himself keeps entirely aloof from
all mere dogmatizing or rhetoric in the Annotationes in Evangelia
(1544), the Conciones in Evangelium Matthaei (1558), and in his German
sermons prepared for George of Anhalt. He never preached from the
pulpit; and his
Latin sermons (Postilla) were prepared for the
Hungarian students at
Wittenberg who did not understand German. In
this connection may be mentioned also his Catechesis puerilis (1532),
a religious manual for younger students, and a German catechism
(1549), following closely Luther's arrangement.
From Melanchthon came also the first Protestant work on the method of
theological study, so that it may safely be said that by his influence
every department of theology was advanced even if he was not always a
As professor and philosopher
Further information: Melanchthon Circle
Head of Melanchton statue at Lessing-Gymnasium (Frankfurt), whose
founder had been influenced by personal contacts with Melanchton
As a philologist and pedagogue Melanchthon was the spiritual heir of
the South German Humanists, of men like Reuchlin, Jakob Wimpfeling,
and Rodolphus Agricola, who represented an ethical conception of the
humanities. The liberal arts and a classical education were for him
only a means to an ethical and religious end. The ancient classics
were for him in the first place the sources of a purer knowledge, but
they were also the best means of educating the youth both by their
beauty of form and by their ethical content. By his organizing
activity in the sphere of educational institutions and by his
Latin and Greek grammars and commentaries, Melanchthon
became the founder of the learned schools of Evangelical Germany, a
combination of humanistic and Christian ideals. In philosophy also
Melanchthon was the teacher of the whole German Protestant world. The
influence of his philosophical compendia ended only with the rule of
the Leibniz-Wolff school.
He started from scholasticism; but with the contempt of an
enthusiastic Humanist he turned away from it and came to Wittenberg
with the plan of editing the complete works of Aristotle. Under the
dominating religious influence of Luther his interest abated for a
time, but in 1519 he edited the
Rhetoric and in 1520 the
The relation of philosophy to theology is characterized, according to
him, by the distinction between law and Gospel. The former, as a light
of nature, is innate; it also contains the elements of the natural
God which, however, have been obscured and weakened by
sin. Therefore, renewed promulgation of the law by revelation became
necessary and was furnished in the Decalogue; and all law, including
that in the scientific form of philosophy, contains only demands,
shadowings; its fulfilment is given only in the Gospel, the object of
certainty in theology, by which also the philosophical elements of
knowledge – experience, principles of reason, and syllogism –
receive only their final confirmation. As the law is a divinely
ordered pedagogue that leads to Christ, philosophy, its interpreter,
is subject to revealed truth as the principal standard of opinions and
Dialectic he published De dialecta
libri iv (1528), Erotemata dialectices (1547), Liber de anima (1540),
Initia doctrinae physicae (1549), and Ethicae doctrinae elementa
Personal appearance and character
Engraving of Melanchthon in 1526 by
Albrecht Dürer captioned, "Dürer
was able to draw the living Philip's face, but the learned hand could
not paint his spirit" (translated from Latin)
There have been preserved original portraits of Melanchthon by three
famous painters of his time – by
Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger in various
versions, one of them in the Royal Gallery of
Albrecht Dürer (made in 1526, meant to convey a spiritual
rather than physical likeness and said to be eminently successful in
doing so), and by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Melanchthon was dwarfish, misshapen, and physically weak,[citation
needed] although he is said to have had a bright and sparkling eye,
which kept its colour till the day of his death.
He was never in perfectly sound health, and managed to perform as much
work as he did only by reason of the extraordinary regularity of his
habits and his great temperance. He set no great value on money and
possessions; his liberality and hospitality were often misused in such
a way that his old faithful Swabian servant had sometimes difficulty
in managing the household. His domestic life was happy. He called his
home "a little church of God", always found peace there, and showed a
tender solicitude for his wife and children. To his great astonishment
a French scholar found him rocking the cradle with one hand, and
holding a book in the other.
His noble soul showed itself also in his friendship for many of his
contemporaries; "there is nothing sweeter nor lovelier than mutual
intercourse with friends", he used to say. His most intimate friend
was Joachim Camerarius, whom he called the half of his soul. His
extensive correspondence was for him not only a duty, but a need and
an enjoyment. His letters form a valuable commentary on his whole
life, as he spoke out his mind in them more unreservedly than he was
wont to do in public life. A peculiar example of his sacrificing
friendship is furnished by the fact that he wrote speeches and
scientific treatises for others, permitting them to use their own
signature. But in the kindness of his heart he was said to be ready to
serve and assist not only his friends, but everybody. His whole nature
adapted him especially to the intercourse with scholars and men of
higher rank, while it was more difficult for him to deal with the
people of lower station. He never allowed himself or others to exceed
the bounds of nobility, honesty, and decency. He was very sincere in
the judgment of his own person, acknowledging his faults even to
opponents like Flacius, and was open to the criticism even of such as
stood far below him. In his public career he sought not honour or
fame, but earnestly endeavoured to serve the church and the cause of
truth. His humility and modesty had their root in his personal piety.
He laid great stress upon prayer, daily meditation on the Bible, and
attendance of public service.
Gottlob Frege, notable descendant of Melanchthon
List of Erasmus's correspondents
^ /məˈlæŋkθən/; Latin: Philippus Melanchthon.
^ German: [ˈʃvaɐ̯ts.eːɐt].
^ For an example of this from Chemnitz, see Chemnitz 2004, which is
excerpted from his Loci Theologici.
^ Richard 1898, p. 379.
^ Richard 1898, p. 3.
^ Richard 1898, p. 11.
^ a b Manschreck 2011.
^ Löffler 1911, p. 151; Pauck 1969, p. 4.
^ Brosseder 2005.
^ Rupp 1996.
^ Richard 1898, pp. 57–58.
^ Lohrmann 2012, p. 432; Manschreck 2011; Schofield 2006,
^ Richard 1898, p. 71.
^ Jacobs 1899.
^ a b Kirn 1910, p. 280.
^ a b c d e f Kirn 1910, p. 281.
^ Kirn 1910, pp. 281–282.
^ a b c Bäumer 1992, p. 424.
^ a b Bäumer 1992, p. 425.
^ Heal 2007, p. 25.
^ Billeskov Jansen 1991, pp. 107–108.
^ Heilen 2010, p. 70.
^ Kusukawa 1995, pp. 185–186.
^ Kusukawa 1999, p. xxxiii.
^ a b c d e f g Kirn 1910, p. 282.
^ Kolb 2012, p. 142.
^ Kirn 1910, pp. 282–283.
^ a b c d e f g h Kirn 1910, p. 283.
^ Eby 1931.
^ Kirn 1910, pp. 283–284.
^ a b c d e f g h i j Kirn 1910, p. 284.
^ Kirn 1910, pp. 284–285.
^ a b c d e f g Kirn 1910, p. 285.
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The Responsiones ad articulos Bavaricae inquisitionis as His Final
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Wengert, Timothy J. Philip Melanchthon:
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——— (1999). "Chronology". Orations on
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della filosofia pratica di Aristotele: Girolamo Savonarola, Pietro
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Works by or about
Philip Melanchthon at Internet Archive
Philip Melanchthon at Project Gutenberg
Philip Melanchthon at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
Works at Open Library
Philip Melanchthon at Post-
Reformation Digital Library
Philip Melanchthon at the
Mathematics Genealogy Project
Examen eorum, qui oudiuntur ante ritum publicae ordinotionis, qua
commendatur eis ministerium EVANGELLI: Traditum Vuitebergae, Anno
1554, at Opolska Biblioteka Cyfrowa
Issues / people / publications involved
Descent into Hell
Descent into Hell
Nicolaus von Amsdorf
On the Bondage of the Will
Augsburg Confession Variata
The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ
a According to the
Formula of Concord
Formula of Concord articles identified (I–XII).
Ninety-five Theses (1517)
Sermon on Indulgences and Grace
Sermon on Indulgences and Grace (1518)
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)
On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church
On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520)
On the Freedom of a Christian (1520)
Against Henry, King of the English (1522)
Bible (1522, 1534)
The Adoration of the Sacrament (1523)
Formula missae (1523)
Lutheran hymnal (1524)
Erfurt Enchiridion (1524)
Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn
Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn (1524)
Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525)
On the Bondage of the Will
On the Bondage of the Will (1525)
The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ—Against the Fanatics
Deutsche Messe (1526)
Confession Concerning Christ's Supper (1528)
On War Against the Turk (1529)
"Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (1529)
Smalcald Articles (1537)
On the Councils and the Church (1539)
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" (1543)
On the Jews and Their Lies
On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)
Vom Schem Hamphoras
Vom Schem Hamphoras (1543)
List of hymns by Martin Luther
Weimar edition of Luther's works
Heidelberg Disputation, 1518
Leipzig Debate, 1519
Exsurge Domine, 1520
Diet of Worms, 1521
Decet Romanum Pontificem, 1521
Marburg Colloquy, 1529
Augsburg Confession, 1530
Theology of Martin Luther
Theology of the Cross
Law and Gospel
Eucharist in Lutheranism
Words of Institution
Propaganda during the Reformation
Die Lügend von S. Johanne Chrysostomo (1537 edition)
Hans and Margarethe Luther (parents)
Katharina von Bora
Katharina von Bora (wife)
Magdalena Luther (daughter)
Paul Luther (son)
Albert of Brandenburg
Johann von Staupitz
Karl von Miltitz
Pope Leo X
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick the Wise
All Saints' Church, Wittenberg
Martin Luther's Birth House
Martin Luther's Death House
St. Augustine's Monastery
Veste Coburg (Fortress)
Film and theatre
Martin Luther (1923 film)
Luther (1928 film)
Luther (1964 film)
Martin Luther (1953 film)
Luther (1973 film)
Martin Luther, Heretic (1983 film)
Luther (2003 film)
Luther (1961 play)
Martin Luther bibliography
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