- Melancthon, Philip
- ( 149 7-1560 )leading theologian of the Lutheran ReformationAs professor of Greek at Wittenberg, Philip Melancthon became Martin Luther's intellectual right hand. It was Melancthon who formulated a systematic defense of the Lutheran position, and who wrote several of the Reformation's most important documents, especially the Augsburg Confession of Faith.Melancthon was born at Bretten, Unterpfalz (now Baden), on February 16, 1497. In 1507, he went to live with his grandmother Elizabeth, sister of the noted humanist Johann Reuchlin. While studying Greek and Latin, he corresponded with Reuchlin, who persuaded him to change his name from Schwarzerd to its Greek equivalent, Melanc-thon. Two years later, the 12-year-old Melancthon entered the university of Heidelberg. He won his baccalaureate in 1511, but the university refused him a master's degree in 1512 because of his youth. He continued his studies at Tübingen, where he learned jurisprudence, mathematics, and medicine. In 1514, he was granted his master's degree and became an instructor at the university. only then did he begin his systematic study of theology and the Bible. In 1518, the relatively new university of Wittenberg offered him the professorship in Greek, largely on the recommendation of Reuchlin.Melancthon arrived at Wittenberg just as the debates over Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses were beginning. Under Luther's guidance, he continued his study of theology, which became the focus of his most popular lectures. In spite of his leading role in the shaping of the Reformation, he never accepted ordination, nor was he known to preach. However, his first treatise on theology was reprinted more than 100 times during his lifetime.More conciliatory than Luther, Melancthon made an ideal coleader of the Lutheran movement, providing a diplomatic counterpart to Luther's blunt and often abrasive language. He participated in the 1529 Marburg CoLLOQUY,an attempt to unite Lutherans with Ulrich Zwingli and his Reformed Church followers from Switzerland, but he stood by Luther in defense of the lat-ter's stance on the Lord's Supper. In the wake of this failure to attain Protestant unity, Melancthon became the principal author of the Augsburg Confession, a concise statement of the Lutheran position presented to the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) at Augsburg in 1530. The statement stressed that Protestants believed in the Universal Church and did not want to leave the Catholic fold, and it refrained from specifying the many Roman Catholic beliefs that Protestants rejected. However, when the confession failed to win Catholic approbation, Melancthon became a more forceful apologist for the full Lutheran position. The confession became the defining document of the emerging Lutheran Church.Melancthon took the lead in introducing the Reformation to the states of Wurtemberg, Brandenburg, and Saxony. His role became even more central following Luther's death in 1546. He led the Lutheran opposition to the Augsburg Confession of Faith of 1548, when the diet at Augsburg tried to enact a temporary doctrinal settlement between Catholics and Protestants.Melancthon's more conciliatory posture led him to assert that many Catholic practices were adiaphorous (neither good nor bad) and hence permissible. For example, he did not oppose Roman Catholic episcopal authority. Such concessions turned many Protestants against him, and he spent the last years of his life in almost continuous controversy with his colleagues.Melancthon's early theological defense of the Lutheran position appeared in "Loci Communes," which was largely complete by the edition of 1535. By the end of his life, however, he had rejected some of Luther's important ideas, including con-substantiation in the elements of the Lord's Supper. in his final view, the elements facilitated a spiritual communion between Christ and the believer, a position not unlike that proposed by John Calvin. After more than four decades teaching at Wittenberg, Melancthon died on April 19, 1560.In the 1570s, there was a severe reaction against what was termed the Philippists or Crypto-Calvinists, and Luther's position on the Lord's Supper was reasserted in the Formula of Concord of 1580. Melancthon's approach was largely rejected, and his historical status declinedMelancthon's position as a great leader was once again recognized in the 18th century. Since then, he has been particularly remembered for his biblical studies, especially on Paul's epistles, and his assistance in Luther's translation of the Bible. He was also the first theologian to construct a history of dogma and the first Protestant to write on theological method. His significant intellectual accomplishments in a variety of fields modeled the ideal of the learned Lutheran minister that has survived to the present. Many Lutheran institutions and churches participated in the Melanchthon Quinquennial in 1997, celebrating the 500th anniversary of his birth.Further reading:■ Scott H. Hendrix and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., Philip Melanchthon Then and Now (1497-1997): Essays Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Birth of Philip Melanchthon, Theologian, Teacher, and Reformer (Columbia, S.C.: The Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries, 1999)■ Clyde Leonard Manschreck, Melanchthon, the Quiet Reformer (New York: Abingdon Press, 1958)■ Philip Melancthon, Melanchthon on Christian Doctrine: Loci Communes 1555, ed. and trans. by Clyde L. Manschreck (New York: oxford university Press, 1965)■ ----, A Melanchthon Reader, ed. and trans. by Ralph Keen (New York: Peter Lang, 1988).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.