Philip Melanchthon

gigatos | June 23, 2022


Along with Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon († April 19, 1560 in Wittenberg) was the most important church-political player and theological author of the Wittenberg Reformation.

Recommended by Johannes Reuchlin, the young humanist from Tübingen was offered the chair of ancient Greek at the University of Wittenberg in 1518. He presented himself there with a program for university reform. As one of the best experts on Greek at the time, he saw the study of the three ancient languages as a way of forming his personality. In the 1520s he was able to realize his reform plans as rector in Wittenberg as well as founder of a school. He made the rules of rhetoric fruitful for the understanding of ancient texts, and the ability to present a topic in context and in an appealing form was practiced by the Wittenberg students instead of the traditional scholastic disputations.

Melanchthon accompanied Luther to the Leipzig Disputation in 1519 and subsequently distinguished himself as Luther”s partisan. With the Loci communes, he presented a Protestant dogmatics in 1521. Since Luther, as an outlaw, was limited in his travel opportunities, Melanchthon represented the Wittenberg positions at imperial congresses and religious discussions. With the Confessio Augustana and the accompanying Apology, he wrote in 1530

Although Melanchthon was called Praeceptor Germaniae (“Teacher of Germany”) from 1560, his work also had a Europe-wide impact: Melanchthon”s students shaped the Lutheran churches in Scandinavia and southeastern Europe. Melanchthon was in extensive correspondence with other reformers, including John Calvin in Geneva and Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. Melanchthon”s influence on the Reformed Church is primarily through the Heidelberg Catechism, whose principal author, Zacharias Ursinus, was his student.

For a long time, Melanchthon was regarded primarily as a collaborator of Luther. More recent research is more aware of the independence of his thought. As an educational reformer, Melanchthon contributed to the establishment of today”s natural sciences at universities. He always saw progress in the development of ancient source texts. He considered the heliocentric worldview of Nicolaus Copernicus a gimmick, but reluctantly accepted it as a model of thought. He followed with interest the new anatomical knowledge that Andreas Vesalius had achieved through corpse openings, but also connected it with the findings of the scholar and physician Galenos of Pergamon (2nd century AD).

Parental home and childhood

Philipp Melanchthon”s father, the armorer Georg Schwartzerdt (c. 1459-1508), came from Heidelberg and held the office of electoral armorer. His mother Barbara Reuter (1476

Philipp Schwartzerdt grew up in Brettheim, as Bretten was called at the time. His grandfather engaged the tutor Johannes Unger from Pforzheim. The boy owed his very good knowledge of Latin to him and thus the basis of his success at school and university.

In the Landshut War of Succession 1504

In Melanchthon”s parental home, an intensive lay piety was lived according to the monastic model. With great temporal distance, Melanchthon recalled in a letter in 1554 that his father called him to him two days before his death, exhorted him to live a religious life, and prayed that Philip might be guided by God in future political changes. Then he had been sent to Speyer so as not to witness his father”s death on October 27, 1508. Shortly before, on October 17, his grandfather had already died. The eleven-year-old Philipp and his younger brother Georg were taken to Pforzheim to a distant relative: to Elisabeth Reuter, Johannes Reuchlin”s sister.


In Pforzheim, the Schwartzerdt brothers attended the Latin school, known for its then modern pedagogy. Through the rector Georg Simler from Wimpfen and Johannes Hiltebrant from Schwetzingen, this school had a high reputation and large attendance. Among the classmates were some later well-known personalities: Simon Grynaeus, Kaspar Hedio, Berchtold Haller and Franciscus Irenicus.

Georg Simler, a student of Reuchlin, promoted the teaching of Greek, which, however, was not part of the normal teaching program, but was a privilege for particularly gifted students. Philipp Schwartzerdt belonged to this circle, who was taught by Simler after school hours. Reuchlin, who lived in Stuttgart and served as one of the chief judges of the Swabian League in Tübingen, observed the twelve-year-old”s progress and rewarded her with a copy of Konstantinos Laskaris” Greek grammar. In this book he pasted the coat of arms from his own Hebrew grammar and wrote a Latin dedication underneath (photo), which translated into German reads:

Thus, on March 15, 1509, Reuchlin bestowed on Philipp Schwartzerdt the humanist name Melanchthon, a Greekization of his last name:

After barely a year in Pforzheim, Philipp Melanchthon was enrolled at the University of Heidelberg on October 14, 1509. He lived with the theology professor Pallas Spangel, where Jakob Wimpfeling also occasionally visited. In 1511, Wimpfeling published Melanchthon”s first Latin poems in his own books. Among fellow students, Melanchthon made contact with Theobald Billicanus, Johannes Brenz, and Erhard Schnepf. Melanchthon easily mastered the study program and earned the lowest academic degree of baccalaureus artium on June 10, 1511, at the earliest possible date.

After Spangel”s death, Melanchthon moved to the University of Tübingen, where he matriculated on September 17, 1512. There he studied arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy (Quadrivium). At the same time he studied Greek, Hebrew and Latin. He read ancient authors as well as humanistic poets and got acquainted with new teaching methods. Thus he also became acquainted with the writings of Rudolf Agricola on logic and took from them a new understanding of dialectics. From the beginning of his time in Tübingen, Melanchthon was a close friend of Ambrosius Blarer.

When Reuchlin became involved in a lawsuit due to an expert opinion on Hebrew literature (Judenbücherstreit), Melanchthon stood up for his patron in publicity. In the satirical Dunkelmännerbriefe, he was therefore called the worst Tübingen Reuchlin supporter (which, of course, was a praise). On January 25, 1514, Melanchthon graduated from the Faculty of Arts with a master”s degree. He was then required to teach at the university for two years. As was customary, Melanchthon also attended lectures at the theological and the artistic faculties. Johannes Stöffler aroused Melanchthon”s interest in mathematics through his astronomy lectures. Already in Tübingen, he was a tutor to two of the count”s sons and acted as a Greek teacher. Thus, Melanchthon”s transition from learner to teacher was smooth.

Professor in Wittenberg (from 1518)

In 1518, Elector Frederick the Wise endowed a chair of Greek at his University of Wittenberg, founded in 1502. The most famous Greek scholar of the time, Johannes Reuchlin, declined the call to Wittenberg for reasons of age and recommended Melanchthon, his “sippten Freund,” for the position. The appointment of the 21-year-old Melanchthon was at the request of the Elector; Martin Luther preferred Petrus Mosellanus of Leipzig. Melanchthon arrived in Wittenberg on August 25, 1518. The lanky humanist from Tübingen, who was about 1.50 meters tall, had a thin voice and a slight speech impediment, and initially aroused alienation there. However, with his inaugural address (De corrigendis adolescentiae studiis, “On the Reorganization of the Study of Youth”), which he delivered on Saturday, August 28, in the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Melanchthon was able to dispel the unfavorable first impression and earned great applause.

Melanchthon”s educational program, which he presented at this speech, was based on grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. If these subjects were of better quality, and if the Greek language were also taught, this would promote “genuine piety instead of human statutes and scholastic illiteracy. This was not new, but it fit extremely well with the plans for academic reform in Wittenberg at the time. Luther was very appreciative of the “little Greek” (Graeculus), as he called Melanchthon. This fascination was mutual and subsequently became one of the most important collaborations of the Reformation, which ended only with Luther”s death.

The students also quickly recognized Melanchthon”s potential; he was therefore an extremely popular university teacher. He taught Greek grammar, read about ancient authors, explained biblical books, and combined this with knowledge formation in numerous fields. Students flocked to his lectures because they appreciated his precise language, the abundance of examples, and the clear structure of his explanations. In December 1518, Georg Spalatin counted 400 listeners at Melanchthon”s lecture, and in the winter semester of 1520

In the summer of 1519, Melanchthon accompanied Luther to the Leipzig disputation. Johann Eck actually decided this academic dispute in his favor. Luther, however, appeared in the judgment of the humanist public as the moral victor. Melanchthon played a significant role in this success. In his letter to Johannes Oekolampad, which he himself had printed, he portrayed Eck as a typical scholastic who accumulated meaningless quantities of quotations; Luther, on the other hand, received the highest praise: “In Luther … I admire his fresh spirit, erudite education and gift of oratory.”

In his publications he now clearly emerged as a theologian and partisan of Luther. This corresponds to the coat of arms seal that Melanchthon wore since 1519: it shows the brazen serpent (Num 21:8-9 LUT), which Melanchthon interpreted according to Jn 3:14-17 LUT as a prefiguration of the crucifixion of Jesus. With Luther, Melanchthon advocated a theology of the cross.

At Luther”s suggestion, Melanchthon earned the academic degree of baccalaureus biblicus on September 19, 1519. His set of theses, which he defended at this examination, pitted the authority of the Bible against the authority of the papal magisterium; he formulated this position more radically than Luther at the time. The top sentence was, “It is not necessary for a Catholic to believe any other things beyond those which are testified to him by Scripture.” Luther responded impressed, saying Melanchthon”s theses were “bold but very true.”

Although Melanchthon subsequently studied the most important theological textbook of the time, the Sententiae of Petrus Lombardus, he never earned the next academic degree of Sententiarius. Nevertheless, the Lombardus studies were important preliminary work for his own main theological work, the Loci communes (1521). This provided the first dogmatics of the Wittenberg Reformation, which was revised and adapted in 1535, 1543, and 1559.

As humanists, Philipp Melanchthon and Erasmus of Rotterdam had been in correspondence since 1519, and even when, between Luther and Erasmus in 1524

The relationship with his mentor Johannes Reuchlin developed differently: In order to remove him from Luther”s influence, Reuchlin tried to bring Melanchthon to the University of Ingolstadt. Melanchthon refused. Apparently annoyed, Reuchlin did not bequeath him his precious library, as he had promised earlier, but rather its core collection went to the Michaelisstift in Pforzheim after Reuchlin”s death in 1522.

In March 1523, Melanchthon formulated concrete points of a study reform, which he put into effect the following winter semester as rector of the university:

Declamations and orations established themselves in the Wittenberg study and examination program, but the introduction of tutorials failed because neither professors nor students shared Melanchthon”s principle that unstructured study was counterproductive.

When Elector John the Steadfast succeeded his brother in 1525, he reorganized the payment of professors at Wittenberg University and created a special status for Luther and Melanchthon. Melanchthon could lecture at both the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Theology and choose their topics at will. The Greek professorship was filled anew. Now Melanchthon taught half at each of the two faculties, which also meant that he could not earn a doctorate in theology, because then he would have had to leave the Faculty of Arts, and teaching there was still important to him.

Church reformer in Electoral Saxony (from 1521)

After the Edict of Worms in 1521, Frederick the Wise placed Luther in Wartburg Castle for his protection, which temporarily prevented him from publicly advocating the causes of the Reformation. Luther appointed Melanchthon as his deputy, but Melanchthon could only fulfill this role in the university sphere. He lacked ordination to the priesthood. Justus Jonas dared not appoint a married layman as preacher at the Wittenberg city church-which also did not suit Melanchthon”s own inclinations. But in doing so, other Wittenberg theologians stepped into the gap left by Luther and implemented liturgical reforms: Andreas Bodenstein called Karlstadt and Gabriel Zwilling. On Michaelmas Day, September 29, 1521, a communion service with lay chalice (i.e., “under both forms”) was celebrated in the city church, attended by Melanchthon and his students. Since it was a time of liturgical break with tradition and experimentation, it is not certain whether an ordained priest presided over this celebration. Melanchthon contributed to the Wittenberg Church Order, completed on January 24, 1522, which would codify the Reformation changes.

In December 1521, the Elector requested a statement from Melanchthon on the “Zwickau prophets”. According to Thomas Kaufmann, this was an old heterodox group that sharply criticized church rituals, but outwardly participated in them. Thus it had survived in the underground. Now, encouraged by the Wittenberg criticism of the papal church, some of the Zwickauers openly promoted their views. In conversation with Nikolaus Storch, Marcus Thomae called Stübner, and an anonymous squire, Melanchthon was impressed by the arguments of the lay theologians against infant baptism and asked Luther for his judgment. Luther rejected the arguments of the Zwickauers as well as Melanchthon”s doubts in his reply letter from the Wartburg (January 13, 1522). “In his opinion, the unanimous baptismal practice of the church spoke for itself.” Melanchthon”s uncertainty is interesting in view of his later anti-baptismal positioning; however, no church planting or alternative baptismal practice is known from the Zwickauers either.

At the end of the 1520s, Melanchthon visited churches and schools on behalf of the elector. He examined the school situation and responded to grievances with suggestions for improvement. The experience of the visitation in Thuringia (summer 1527) led to the compendium Unterricht der Visitatoren, printed in 1528. Since the plague had broken out in Wittenberg during Melanchthon”s absence, the university had been moved to Jena. Melanchthon lived with his family in Jena until the spring of 1528. Later visitation trips led him in 1528

Since the visitation in Thuringia, Melanchthon had become aware of the Anabaptist movement, but there is no indication that he had ever read Anabaptist writings. Melanchthon began his anti-Baptist publicity with a handout for clergy (Argumentum, quod parvulis sit adhibendum baptismus, 1527), further elaborated in 1528 into the “Gutachten gegen die Wiedertäufer” (Adversus anabaptistas iudicium). In addition to the biblical justification of infant baptism, the warning against the socio-political ideas of the Anabaptists is given here. A life directly oriented to the Bible inevitably undermined public order; for Melanchthon, this was particularly blatant in the community of goods and the refusal to assume civic offices. The persecution of Anabaptists was therefore the duty of the secular authorities. Anabaptist missionaries and persons who gave them shelter were to be punished by death; those who were persuaded and repented were to be treated mercifully. “Melanchthon … generally made do with the construction that the state did not have to evaluate the faith and religious views of its subjects, but rather their outward practice. That this … was an artificial distinction was not taken into account by him.”

In 1530, when the Gotha reformer Friedrich Myconius wrote to Melanchthon with his concerns about the persecution of Anabaptists, the latter justified the ongoing persecutions. In the same year, Melanchthon also wrote the Confessio Augustana, which condemned Anabaptists as heretics. A year later, at the request of the Elector of Saxony, Melanchthon formulated a detailed opinion on the use of the death penalty against Anabaptists. In the winter of 1535

Melanchthon also participated in the founding of Latin schools (in Magdeburg in 1524, in Eisleben in 1525, and in Nuremberg in 1526) and drafted their school regulations. His principles were:

Melanchthon was not alone with these reform ideas. What is special is that he incorporated the so-called Electoral Saxon School Regulations into the Compendium of Instruction of the Visitators (1528), which had the force of law in Electoral Saxony.

Melanchthon was particularly closely associated with the Nuremberg Latin School (Aegidianum). Although he did not fulfill the wish of the Nuremberg council to take over the management of the school, he arranged for his colleague Joachim Camerarius to become principal, as well as other teachers, drafted the school regulations, and gave the ceremonial address at the opening of the new school on May 26, 1526.

Religious discussions in Speyer, Marburg and Augsburg (1529-1531)

In March

In October 1529, Melanchthon was part of the Wittenberg delegation at the Marburg Religious Discussion, to which Ulrich Zwingli traveled from Zurich. The Landgrave Philip of Hesse had invited him. Melanchthon had already met him personally in 1524, on his way back from a vacation in Bretten. It was the beginning of a long-lasting good relationship between the two. With a meeting of theologians, Philip of Hesse now wanted to bring about a compromise on doctrinal issues in order to consolidate the planned political alliance. However, his expectations were not fulfilled. While agreement was found in many areas, such as baptism or confession, the question of whether Christ was really or symbolically present in bread and wine remained open. From the Swiss point of view, Melanchthon was not responsible for the failure of the negotiations. It was still assumed that he was more amenable to the symbolic understanding of the Lord”s Supper than his “shyness” made him appear in his Wittenberg environment.

Melanchthon wrote the Torgau Articles in preparation for the Diet of Augsburg (April 3 to October 11, 1530). From May 2, Melanchthon was also in Augsburg himself, where he was mainly engaged in drafting the Confessio Augustana. Originally, the Wittenbergers had intended to present their reforms as the elimination of grievances. But that was no longer possible after Johann Eck published his 404 articles, a collection of incoherent quotations from the writings of Luther, Melanchthon, and Zwinglian and Anabaptist authors – with the offer to refute them as heresies in a disputation before the emperor. The only way to deal with this was for the Wittenberg theologians to present their own teachings in context. Melanchthon set about this work. He was in correspondence with Luther, who had to stay behind at Veste Coburg, still on Electoral Saxon territory. When the Confessio Augustana was read before the emperor on June 26, Melanchthon, as the principal author of the text, was not authorized to be present. He stayed at the inn together with Johannes Brenz. The pressure on him made itself felt through psychosomatic illnesses.

Prominent committees searched for a compromise solution from August 16 to 28. Melanchthon saw the Zwinglians as a danger against which a union with the Old Believers made sense. He made very far-reaching concessions in letters, so that the question arises as to who had authorized him to do so:

According to Heinz Scheible, although Melanchthon wrote very politely to the high-ranking addressees, he stuck to the core Reformation demands: Lay chalice, permission for clerics to marry and for religious to leave the monasteries, worship reforms.

The talks ultimately failed due to the resistance of the imperial cities, especially Nuremberg, which did not want to accommodate the Old Believers so far. Equipped with transcripts of the Confutatio read out on August 3, Melanchthon then set about drafting an apologia of the Confessio Augustana, supported by Justus Jonas, Johannes Brenz and Georg Spalatin. Emperor Charles V did not accept this document (September 22, 1530). Melanchthon revised the text of the Apology again after his return to Wittenberg and published it in May 1531 together with the Confessio Augustana. Both works were later included in the corpus of confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. From Melanchthon”s point of view, they were his own texts to which he later made changes, as he did, for example, with his Loci communes.

Melanchthon never again had as much influence on imperial politics as he did in Augsburg in 1530, but how he handled it, his communication behavior and his psychosomatic problems, contributed significantly to the negative Melanchthon image of posterity. Criticism of Melanchthon”s “soft-spokenness” could supposedly refer to Luther himself. He wrote on a preliminary draft of the Confessio Augustana that he liked it “almost well” and that he had nothing to improve on it, especially since he could not “tread so softly and quietly. Scheible sees in this a humorously friendly remark, because according to all contemporary statements Luther was really satisfied with Melanchthon”s text. But overall, according to Scheible, the correspondence between Luther and Melanchthon is characterized by Luther”s forced inactivity and consequent displeasure, which Melanchthon felt in the form of aggression and condescension – if only because the so-called “comfort letters” were also read by third parties. In them, Luther dismissed his colleague”s concerns as petty faith, without contributing anything to clarify the factual issues that were troubling Melanchthon.

Activity for the Schmalkaldic League (1531-1546)

Until the Torgau Conference (October 1530), Luther and Melanchthon had rejected a right of resistance of the princes against the emperor. But now they were convinced by the jurists present that this right of resistance was founded in the imperial constitution. When the Schmalkaldic League was founded, Melanchthon, together with Martin Bucer, was committed to stabilizing the political alliance through a common confession of faith. The fact that Melanchthon had grown into the role of the leading Lutheran theologian since the Diet of Augsburg caused him to become more independent of Luther. When he could not assert his positions in the drafting of the Schmalkaldic Articles, he signed off with the following commentary:

Beginning in 1535, Melanchthon repeatedly wrote to good friends that he felt badly treated by the electoral court and that theologians from the Reformation camp claimed he was falsifying Luther”s doctrine of justification. Melanchthon repeatedly assured Luther that he approved of his theological positions, but the rumors persisted. This resistance had something incomprehensible for Melanchthon; finally, in a letter to Veit Dietrich (June 22, 1537), he found the explanation for it that Luther grossly exaggerated facts and thus had the applause of the uneducated, who did not understand the meaning of factual and linguistic differentiations. Melanchthon worked out the Wittenberg Concord, and he ensured that the Schmalkaldic Articles formulated by Luther, which had conflict potential, remained ineffective at the Schmalkaldic League meeting in 1537. The Confederation continued to profess the Confessio Augustana, expanded by a treatise on the power and primacy of the pope with a treatise on the jurisdiction of the bishops, texts that Melanchthon wrote on behalf of the Confederation in February 1537.

As the theological advisor to the Elector, Melanchthon traveled to Frankfurt am Main in February 1539. At the Diet of Princes there, the Frankfurter Anstand was adopted, a temporary religious peace. Here in Frankfurt, Melanchthon met with both John Calvin and Josel von Rosheim, the representative of the Jews in the empire:

Melanchthon, together with Martin Bucer, was a witness at the secret marriage of Philip of Hesse to Margarethe of the Saale in Rotenburg an der Fulda on March 5, 1540. The Reformers had granted the landgrave a strictly secret double marriage; Bucer and Melanchthon were horrified that the landgrave made the marriage public, because bigamy could be punished by death. The rumors of Philip”s marriage accompanied Melanchthon as he traveled to Hagenau for the religious discussion, and on the way, in Weimar, led to his physical and psychological collapse. He returned to Wittenberg via Eisenach to recuperate.

The religious discussion in Worms took place at the turn of the year 1540.

Back in Wittenberg, Melanchthon had to leave shortly thereafter for the Regensburg Religious Discussion (1541). On the way, he had an accident. A severe sprain of the right hand, which was even treated by the imperial personal physician in Regensburg, impaired his writing for a long time. The discussions were based on the Worms book. There were some results, but ultimately the disagreement over the sacraments of Eucharist and confession could not be bridged. Here Melanchthon developed a dynamic doctrine of the Lord”s Supper that was important for his further theology: Christ was effectively present in the celebration of the Lord”s Supper (actual presence).

In April 1543, Melanchthon traveled to Bonn. Together with Bucer, he supported the Cologne Reformation attempt. The two theologians wrote the Einfaltigs bedencken (Bucer was the main author of this church order, and Melanchthon contributed chapters on the Trinity, creation, justification, the church and repentance. Hermann von Wied”s reform project failed due to the opposition of the cathedral chapter. Emperor Charles V ended the Reformation attempt on the Rhine, and Melanchthon returned to Wittenberg in August 1543. Here a conflict arose with Luther, who disapproved of the theology of the Lord”s Supper in Bedencken – according to Christine Mundhenk, the “only serious crisis” between Luther and Melanchthon. Luther”s anger was actually directed at Bucer, but Melanchthon also felt attacked. He reckoned on being overrun with the latter”s dreaded polemics in the Communion treatise on which Luther was working (which did not happen). In this case, he planned his departure from Wittenberg.

With his “Brief Confession of the Holy Sacrament,” published in September 1544, Luther terminated the church fellowship of the Zurich reformers because of differences over the question of the Lord”s Supper. Melanchthon did not want to go along with this escalation and contacted Heinrich Bullinger at the end of August. On September 3, 1544, Bullinger offered Melanchthon to move to Zurich, where he would be welcome and could have a well-paid position. But Ambrosius Blarer, who was a friend of both Melanchthon and Bullinger, correctly surmised in a letter to Bullinger: the storm his departure from Wittenberg would have caused was not Melanchthon”s cup of tea. Bullinger received no response to his offer.

In 1545, Melanchthon wrote a systematic exposition of important Reformation themes for the Diet of Worms. This text, the so-called “Wittenberg Reformation,” was the template for the Mecklenburg Church Order of 1552 and, following its model, for other church orders.

Schmalkaldic War and Interim (1546-1549)

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546, and Melanchthon delivered the Latin funeral oration. He also wrote a much-received biography of the reformer (Historia Lutheri), “a tribute to Luther”s achievements written in humanistic elegance.” In the summer of the same year, the Schmalkaldic War began.

Melanchthon supported the League after the war began, even though he was critical of the Saxon elector”s actions against Naumburg and Wurzen and the Danube campaign. After Moritz of Saxony”s invasion of Electoral Saxon territory, the University of Wittenberg was closed on November 6, 1546. Melanchthon and his family had initially gone to neutral Anhalt, to Zerbst; but after the Protestant defeat at the Battle of Mühlberg (April 24, 1547), they moved on to Magdeburg, Brunswick, Gifhorn, and south again to Nordhausen, the imperial city in the foothills of the Harz Mountains, with whose mayor, Michael Meyenburg, Melanchthon was a friend. Meanwhile, the imperial occupation had left Wittenberg, and the new Elector Moritz assured the Leipzig Diet (July 20, 1547) that he would support the University of Wittenberg financially and that Lutheran theology could be taught there without cutbacks – the result of intense negotiations. As a result, Melanchthon returned to Wittenberg on July 25, 1547, and resumed his lecturing activities.

When the Imperial Diet convened in Augsburg after the Emperor”s victory over the Schmalkaldic League (1547

The key term is ancient Greek φιλονεικία philoneikía, belligerence. Melanchthon often interspersed pointed remarks in Greek in his Latin correspondence. If one adds Melanchthon”s other use of language, one can paraphrase: “When Luther was convinced of something, he held to it belligerently and sought to enforce it, even if in the process he himself came into a crooked light and threatened to break the evangelical cause.” In the context of the letter, Melanchthon wanted to portray himself as particularly loyal, just as he had been to Luther during his lifetime, so now also for reasons of political responsibility. But he had to reckon with the fact that the diplomat Carlowitz did not keep the private letter to himself. Soon the text circulated among the envoys of the Reichstag and had a shocking effect on Lutherans who assumed an intimate friendship between Luther and Melanchthon: “the Confessionists read it with horror and heartbreak, the Catholics with inexpressible joy,” wrote the Pomeranian delegate Bartholomäus Sastrow. It was a humiliation that cost Melanchthon many sympathies.

Since Electoral Saxony did not accept the Augsburg Interim after the negative vote of Melanchthon and other theologians, but Moritz of Saxony could not snub the emperor, a search for new compromise solutions began, in which Melanchthon played a decisive role. For example, he exchanged letters with the Naumburg bishop Julius von Pflug about the sacrifice of the Mass. This preliminary work resulted in a Protestant church order, which was agreed upon with Elector Brandenburg in December and then presented to the 1548

Hans-Otto Schneider believes that Melanchthon and Flacius had largely the same view of the situation created by the Augsburg Interim and drew opposing conclusions from it. Melanchthon, too, had been aware that Lutheran doctrine could not be secured in the medium term, but by “acting and maneuvering behind the scenes” he had hoped to preserve the church until times improved again. Flacius, who was never involved in secret diplomacy, called for resistance to the authorities and readiness for martyrdom. The group around Flacius attacked Melanchthon”s personal integrity; attempts at reconciliation failed in the summer of 1556. The dispute was not resolved until after Melanchthon”s death – and against him (Formula of Concord).

In 1551, it seemed possible that a Protestant delegation could participate in the Tridentine Council. For this purpose, Melanchthon wrote the Confessio Saxonica in Dessau, which was signed by 31 theologians from the Electorate of Saxony on July 10. According to Heinz Scheible, this conference was “the most gratifying for Melanchthon in his entire life.” The Saxonica, he said, was the most mature confessional document Melanchthon ever wrote, and no criticism was voiced either at the signing or afterwards. Brandenburg-Küstrin, Mansfeld, Strasbourg, Württemberg, and other Protestant players also joined in. With the document, Melanchthon set out on his journey in January 1552, but only got as far as Nuremberg because of the princely revolt. The military success of the Protestants led to the Treaty of Passau (August 1552) and finally to the Imperial and Religious Peace of Augsburg. When this was adopted at the Diet of Augsburg in 1555, Melanchthon was not present.

Transition to the Confessional Age (from 1546)

After Luther”s death in 1546, there was a vacuum of authority. The militarily inferior Protestants had been under great political pressure since 1547. Many actors thought they were living in the end times: It was all or nothing, and the papal church was seen as a force for evil (the relatively open, diverse Wittenberg Reformation became confessional Lutheranism. This happened with the means of the culture of dispute of the time and was often traumatic for those involved. Recent research distinguishes eight “circles of dispute,” i.e., groups of writings and counter-writings on a common theme. If one divides the actors, as is customary, into two “camps” – here Luther”s heirs (Gnesiolutherans), there Melanchthon and his disciples (Philippists) – one thereby simplifies the confusing muddle. In the Osiandrian controversy, even Flacius defended Melanchthon”s doctrine of justification, and the Gnesiolutherans largely settled the antinomian controversy among themselves.

Beginning in 1552, Joachim Westphal and John Calvin engaged in a dispute over the understanding of the Lord”s Supper, with discussion partners from several European countries speaking on Calvin”s side. Melanchthon remained silent. Calvin urged him to take a stand, and when that did not work, he claimed on January 5, 1556, that Melanchthon shared his position. Westphal also invoked Melanchthon, and both sides could do so with some justification: Westphal meant the Melanchthon of 1529

In March 1556, the Zurich reformer Heinrich Bullinger approached Melanchthon with the wish to grant his son (also Heinrich), who was studying in Wittenberg, room and board in return for payment. Melanchthon agreed. The presence of Bullinger”s son in Melanchthon”s household fostered communication between the reformers. Bullinger and Melanchthon wrote to each other for about a year; the latter complained about his oppressive living situation in Wittenberg; Bullinger invited him back to Zurich, but also made sure that this became known and that rumors of Melanchthon”s imminent move circulated in Upper Germany. In the course of 1557 it became apparent that Melanchthon would remain in Wittenberg, and for Bullinger this exchange ended abruptly and unexpectedly with Melanchthon signing the condemnation of the Zurich doctrine of the Lord”s Supper in Worms on October 21, 1557. The reason for Melanchthon”s stay there was a new religious discussion, which remained without results because of the disagreement in the Protestant camp and confirmed Melanchthon”s meanwhile negative opinion about such events. Ottheinrich of the Palatinate invited him from Worms to Heidelberg to collaborate in a university reform. In the city where he had once studied, Melanchthon was received with honor on October 22, 1557. Here Joachim Camerarius brought him the news of his wife”s death on October 27.


Among the four leading Wittenberg reformers, Philipp Melanchthon was the only layman. Like Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas and Martin Luther, he was not bound to celibacy by ordination to the priesthood and was the first of this circle to marry. Of course, the initiative for this did not come from Melanchthon himself, but from Luther.

After his arrival in Wittenberg, Melanchthon lived at first for rent, at the latest since 1519 in a kind of shared apartment with some students. Luther thought that Melanchthon”s health was endangered by overwork. In addition, the young humanist from Tübingen apparently did not feel comfortable in his new place of residence. To improve Melanchthon”s living conditions, but also to keep him in Wittenberg, Luther sought a wife for Melanchthon in 1520. An arranged marriage was common at the time. Melanchthon was not interested at first, fearing for the progress of his studies. However, Luther then appeared, probably on Melanchthon”s behalf, as a suitor in the house of Krapp, an upper-class family in Wittenberg. The cloth merchant and mayor Hans Krapp had already died, but his widow Katharina, née Müntzer, lived until 1548. In August 1520, the marriage negotiations led to the engagement between the 23-year-old Philipp Melanchthon and Katharina Krapp, who was the same age. The bride was relatively old for the time; probably for this reason, the family agreed to the marriage with a penniless, albeit socially sophisticated, partner. The couple was married on the evening of November 26, 1520, probably by Luther, and after going to church the following morning, the wedding feast took place. In addition to the bride”s family, this was attended by dignitaries from the city and university, some friends of Melanchthon, and since the latter”s relatives could not travel from southern Germany, they were represented by Luther”s family from Mansfeld.

They moved into a small old house, which Katharina perhaps brought into the marriage as a dowry. The first years of marriage were economically very modest, until Melanchthon”s professorial salary was raised several times starting in 1525. The household also included Johannes Koch, Melanchthon”s famulus and close confidant, who had far-reaching powers of attorney. Katharina gave birth to four children, the first three of which were life-threatening for her. Two daughters and one son reached adulthood:

Melanchthon received numerous offers from other universities. Elector Johann Friedrich I, however, wanted to keep him in Wittenberg. In 1536, he gave him the land behind the old house occupied by the Melanchthon family and had this adobe half-timbered building replaced by a prestigious new stone house with a Renaissance gable, today”s Melanchthon House. The family moved in there in October, but it was not finished until 1539.

Melanchthon took a great interest in the development of his children. Immediately after birth, he drew up the horoscope for them. Childhood illnesses could cause him to postpone a trip. The education of the children was important to the parents and was supplemented by daily table readings, including Greek and Latin classics in addition to religious literature.

The eldest daughter Anna received a particularly good education. At the age of 14, she married Melanchthon”s former student Georg Sabinus, a classical philologist and jurist who later became the founding rector of the University of Königsberg. The marriage lasted ten years and was decidedly unhappy, for which Melanchthon shared responsibility. When Anna Sabinus died at the age of 24 during her sixth birth, the parents were deeply affected, but then took responsibility for Anna”s children, of whom the daughter Katharina (* 1538) lived permanently with them in Wittenberg from 1544.

The son Philipp entered into a secret engagement at the age of 18, but this was broken off under pressure from his parents. The youngest daughter Magdalena married the mathematician and physician Caspar Peucer in 1550; the Peucer family lived in the back house belonging to the Melanchthon house, so that there was close contact between father-in-law and son-in-law.

Although his wife came from the Wittenberg upper class and Melanchthon earned well as a professor at the university, there was never any greater prosperity in the Melanchthon household. Constant visits from university members who gathered at the house during discussion table rounds, young students whom Melanchthon taught and cared for in his schola domestica as a personal mentor, reduced the household”s budget. Katharina Melanchthon died on October 11, 1557, while her husband was in Worms for religious discussions. When the news of his death reached him, he remained composed, and despite great grief, he did not stand at his wife”s grave until ten weeks later. For two and a half years he lived as a widower, cared for by the Peucer family, and lived to see the marriages of Anna Sabinus” two eldest daughters.

Diseases and death

Melanchthon reacted to stressful life situations with psychosomatic disorders. For example, in the summer of 1530, during the Augsburg Diet, while working on the Confessio Augustana, he suffered from coughing and insomnia, and finally from such severe pain in his limbs that he could no longer walk. Worries about the marital problems of his daughter Anna also caused psychosomatic illnesses and depressive phases, even death wishes. From his letters it is clear that he often needed a light diet.

The 63-year-old Melanchthon returned from a business trip to Leipzig at the end of March 1560 on April 4, frozen through. During the night of April 7-8, he developed a fever and a severe cough. Despite his illness, he still performed most of his usual activities on the following days, but from Holy Saturday, April 13, he was bedridden. On Easter Sunday, April 14, Melanchthon wrote his last letters in the morning, including a farewell letter to his “master student” Jacob Runge in Greifswald (photo). It says: “This I wrote laboriously with a trembling hand, because a catarrh … now caused me a fever … And the conjunction of Saturn and Mars in a deadly place is hostile to me.” The family departed for Easter services, with only Joachim Camerarius remaining as a friend at Melanchthon”s bedside. Co-workers and friends visited him on the following days, and Melanchthon prayed for them. On April 19, family and friends gathered around Melanchthon”s deathbed. He moved his lips frequently in his last hours, which was interpreted as silent prayer; he passed away between six and seven in the evening.

The body was laid out in the study, and Wittenberg citizens as well as university members took leave of him. There is also a note from Melanchthon, as from Luther, with last notes. In it, Melanchthon gave reasons why one should not fear death: “You will be delivered from sin. You will be freed from all toil and the rage of theologians (rabies theologorum). You will come into the light, you will see God and his Son. You will know the wonderful mysteries that you could not understand in this life…” Martin H. Jung comments: Melanchthon”s afterlife was a kind of “heavenly academy.”


Melanchthon stood with his person for the continuity with the beginnings of the Reformation. Thus, his death meant a deep uncertainty, which was met with a particularly solemn mourning ceremony. The funeral service took place in the town church of St. Mary in the afternoon of April 21, 1560. The German funeral oration was delivered by Paul Eber. The procession of Wittenberg and university members moved from there to the castle church. The coffin was set down next to Luther”s grave, and Veit Winsheim, a professor of medicine, delivered the Latin funeral oration. He evoked the “myth of Wittenberg” and the harmony between Luther and Melanchthon. Now the coffin was lowered into the grave, ending the event, which lasted more than three hours.

The bronze slab over Melanchthon”s grave is of the same design as Luther”s and bears the following Latin inscription: “In this place is buried the body of the worthy man Philipp Melanchthon, who died in the year of Christ 1560 on April 19, after having lived 63 years, 2 months and 2 days.” The sandstone base does not correspond to the original condition. Thus, the bronze plate was raised during renovation work in 1892.

Reactions to Melanchthon”s death

Melanchthon commemorations took place in various places, for example a funeral service at the University of Tübingen (the commemorative address was given by Jakob Heerbrand. With obituaries of the master, some of them lyrical, many scholars professed to be Philippists; the opposite side did not use Melanchthon”s death for vituperation, but there was an eloquent silence, for example in Magdeburg and in Switzerland.

Joachim Camerarius, who had sat at Melanchthon”s deathbed as a close friend, wrote a biography that appeared in Leipzig in 1566 and was reprinted until the 18th century: Philipp Melanchthons Herkunft, ganzer Lebenslauf und Tod (De Philippi Melanchthonis ortu, totius vitae curriculo et morte). Camerarius knew Melanchthon”s private life very well, but he chose what was suitable to secure an honorable memory for the dead man. Thus, he emphasized Melanchthon”s agreement with Luther and his steadfast, honest, and wise behavior in negotiations.

Grammar, rhetoric, dialectics

In 1516, Melanchthon”s first scholarly work appeared in print: an edition of the Roman comedy poet Terence, including an introduction on the history of ancient comedy, and in 1518 a Greek grammar, which in the following decades became a standard work with over forty editions. What made this book so successful was the combination of language acquisition and introduction to the ancient classics and, associated with this, personality formation.

Humanists developed the keyword collection as a method for systematizing the material. In the Methodus (1516), Erasmus of Rotterdam compiled Bible quotations arranged by keywords (loci), which were then to be learned. Melanchthon went a step further in the Loci communes: the keywords should be raised from the biblical text itself, not brought to it from outside. The procedure for obtaining these loci is to analyze the Letter to the Romans with the tools of late humanist rhetoric. That Melanchthon as a theologian would proceed in this way was to be expected, for he was strongly influenced by Rudolf Agricola”s rhetorical dialectic. “It was almost inevitable: insofar as Melanchthon was concerned with theology, given his educational structure, only a rhetorical-philosophical, precisely topical theology could emerge.”

Rhetoric previously divided its field of activity into genus demonstrativum (presentation of evidence), genus deliberativum (Melanchthon added a genus didascalicum new, the plausible presentation of contexts. Melanchthon wrote numerous speeches in which he delivered samples of what the genus didascalicum entails: Topics from different fields of knowledge are presented briefly, clearly structured, and easy to learn.

Neo-Latin poetry

Over 600 Neo-Latin epigrams by Melanchthon have survived. A humanist of the 16th century was always also a poet. It was part of these social networks to receive poems that were supposedly only fleetingly thrown down, but in reality were very well crafted. Typically, the author modestly questions his poetic talent and can count on the audience to attribute it to him. Melanchthon”s epigrams are such occasional poems, always in witty reference to ancient authors, though this is often only hinted at. The reader must therefore have an appropriate background to enter into this game. Melanchthon”s poems often have religious content.


Melanchthon emphasized the value of historiography from his inaugural lecture in Wittenberg. He wrote speeches on historical topics and, as an old-age work, a universal history from the creation of the world to Charlemagne under the title Chronicon Carionis. His son-in-law Caspar Peucer continued the work until the eve of the Reformation, incorporating texts by Melanchthon. Melanchthon, in keeping with the two realms doctrine, emphasized the difference between political history and church history. The interventions of medieval popes in imperial politics were therefore illegitimate. Charlemagne was an ideal ruler for Melanchthon, who had also been exemplary through his piety and education.


Melanchthon was fascinated by Johannes Stöffler”s lectures during his student days in Tübingen. They aroused his interest in natural sciences and mathematics on the one hand, astronomy and astrology on the other. Later, he was particularly interested in astrology, which required a solid basic knowledge of arithmetic and geometry. Melanchthon promoted this knowledge as part of his study and school reform. He wrote prefaces to Latin textbooks, for example to the Basel Latin Euclid edition of 1537 and to Michael Stifel”s Arithmetica Integra (1544). From 1521 on, he worked to ensure that the University of Wittenberg received two chairs for “lower” and “higher” mathematics, which was not achieved until 1536; he played a significant role in the appointments of Georg Joachim Rheticus and Erasmus Reinhold. While he was in correspondence with the mathematician Nikolaus Medler, no contact of Melanchthon with masters of arithmetic such as Adam Ries or Johann Albert is known. Since Albert worked as a sexton at the city church in Wittenberg, he must have met Melanchthon frequently in everyday life; possibly this made the exchange of letters unnecessary.

Astronomy and astrology

Melanchthon rejected the heliocentric worldview of Nicolaus Copernicus because the geocentric worldview corresponded to the Bible. He was strongly interested in improving astronomy and saw the way to do so in returning to ancient sources, in this case to Claudius Ptolemy, whose Tetrabiblos he translated into Latin. Melanchthon avoided polemicizing against Copernicus and instead singled out Aristarchus of Samos as an opponent.

Rheticus, one of the two Wittenberg professors of mathematics, was convinced of Copernicus. When he moved from Wittenberg to Nuremberg in 1542 to have Copernicus” works printed there, Melanchthon gave him a letter of recommendation. Melanchthon himself worked out lectures on natural science (physics), which were also printed as a textbook in 1549. In it, he defamed Copernicus without mentioning him by name:

Since the new edition of 1550 Melanchthon allowed the heliocentric world view at least as a model of thought. Erasmus Reinhold, the second Wittenberg mathematician, worked out tables since 1544 that showed the position of the planets in relation to the fixed stars (ephemerides). Together with Caspar Peucer, Melanchthon”s son-in-law and close collaborator, he developed the so-called “Wittenberg interpretation,” which Melanchthon eventually subscribed to: the question of the earth”s motion receded in favor of the uniformity of circular motion, and Copernicus was received insofar as his calculations confirmed the principle of uniformity. In this way, it was possible to use the practical advantages of Copernicus” De revolutionibus and still, at least theoretically, hold on to the geocentric world view.

Melanchthon was fascinated by astrology, which is reflected in his writings. In this he disagreed with Martin Luther, who rejected any non-biblical prophecy (such as mantic arts) and occult sciences as branches of knowledge caused by the devil. Lynn Thorndike assumed in 1941 that Melanchthon gathered around himself a circle of astrologers who were in correspondence with each other. Among them were Simon Grynaeus, Joachim Cureus, Johannes Carion, Hieronymus Wolf, Johannes Schöner and Melanchthon”s son-in-law Peucer. In fact, many German astrologers of the late 16th century were associated with Wittenberg University, which had a special emphasis on mathematics and astrology in its curriculum. However, to consider Melanchton as central to this would probably be an exaggeration.

Applied astrology had an influence on Melanchthon”s life planning. A horoscope that the Palatine court astrologer Johannes Virdung had drawn up for him had a particularly strong effect: the way north was dangerous for him, and he was threatened with shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Consequently, Melanchthon turned down all invitations to Denmark and England, despite the opportunities that would have been offered to him there.


The Luther Bible is a collaborative work in which Melanchthon played a major role. In Greek, he was far superior to Luther, who took lessons from him. His knowledge of Hebrew, acquired in Tübingen, qualified him for a vacancy in the Wittenberg Hebrew chair. He worked out the translation of the coin denominations found in the New Testament by the names of contemporary coins corresponding to them in value, and in 1529 published a treatise on ancient measurement and coin denominations. Melanchthon translated in the Apocrypha probably the 1st book of the Maccabees.

Melanchthon revised his writings on systematic theology several times; his theology is presented below in its mature form, in which it was also most widely received. According to Melanchthon, theology is as certain as mathematics, but it is not based on reason but on revelation; the proper way to understand this revelation is through knowledge of the languages in which it exists: Hebrew and Greek. For Melanchthon, the dogmas of the early church, for example the doctrine of the Trinity, were also derivable from the Bible. He defended this against the anti-Trinitarians since 1530. The purposeless study of nature enables the knowledge of God from his creation (cf. Natural Theology), which, of course, must be supplemented by revelation. God created man in such a way that he can do evil of his own will. This is Melanchthon”s answer to the problem of theodicy. Man cannot achieve salvation of his own free will, but he is created by God in such a way that he can refuse his consent to salvation: with this argumentation Melanchthon rejected the double predestination advocated by Calvinists.

In his ethics, Melanchthon distinguishes between law and gospel. The divine moral and moral law summarized in the Decalogue is known in various cultures and enables human society to live together. This usus civilis concerns subjects such as work, property, authority, family. Not only outwardly followed, but radically understood, the law exposes doubts and evil inclinations and thus convicts man in conscience of his sinfulness (usus theologicus or elenchticus). The Gospel reveals man”s reconciliation with God, which is given through Jesus Christ; the Law, on the other hand, gives man nothing, but demands fulfillment of its commandments. In contrast to Johannes Agricola and Matthias Flacius, Melanchthon does not assign the sermon on repentance to the law, but to the gospel. The repentant person therefore does not have to despair; he receives forgiveness sola gratia. This does not remain an external promise: the Holy Spirit helps man to confidently appropriate reconciliation with God. Melanchthon defines justification forensically as a judgment of God that is to be thought simultaneously with the renewal brought about by the Holy Spirit. Thus renewed, man can understand the law in a deeper way (tertius usus legis).

Melanchthon”s ecclesiology rejects the idea that the true church is invisible: church is the visible “assembly of all believers … where the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel (congregatio sanctorum, in qua evangelium pure docetur et recte administrantur sacramenta).” The study of church history promoted by Melanchthon serves to prove that such a church always existed. Episcopal succession is not one of the marks of the church, but respect is due to the spiritual office. In the doctrine of the sacraments, Melanchthon elevates from the New Testament three signs of grace: baptism (and specifically infant baptism according to the custom of the early church), the Lord”s Supper, and absolution. Melanchthon can also call ordination to the ministry a sacrament. Confirmation is rejected, confirmation is recommended. In the Lord”s Supper, according to Melanchthon, Christ is truly present, but he does not specify how Christ”s body and blood relate to the bread and wine of the celebration. Between a real presence, as taught by Joachim Westphal and others, and the spiritualistic understanding of the Lord”s Supper of John Calvin, Melanchthon tried to keep a middle course with Martin Bucer. The compromise formula found in the Wittenberg Concord, that Christ was present “with bread and wine” (cum pane et vino), he subsequently entered into the Confessio Augustana in 1540 (CA Variata).


Unlike Luther, Melanchthon was interested in legal topics; one can see in this the influence of his mentor, the jurist Johannes Reuchlin. In Wittenberg, he was friends with the jurist Hieronymus Schurff. Melanchthon joined Luther”s rejection of canon law. This raised the pressing question of what could take its place, for example, in marriage law, procedural law, and many other areas. After a brief biblical attempt with the Pentateuch as a source of law, Melanchthon decided on Roman law. The collection of the Corpus iuris civilis came closest to natural law as ratio scripta. From the Nicomachean Ethics (the mitigation (mitigatio) of the law (ius strictum) corresponded to the mercy of God. In Cicero, Melanchthon found the anthropocentric and subjectivist accentuation characteristic of his own natural law doctrine. He thus emphasized the Stoic, rational derivation over the Aristotelian derivation from man”s affective inclinations. This ability to distinguish good from evil, together with the knowledge of God and the ability to conform with the will to what is known to be good, constitutes the essence of the image of God. The difference with the scholastic doctrine of natural law is clear: “Natural law … is anchored entirely in the subjective human mind. The scholastic derivation of natural law from the lex aeterna is pushed into the background…, as is the … substantiation of concrete natural laws from the natural inclinations….”


Melanchthon advocated a revival of ancient Greek medicine and especially recommended the writings of Hippocrates and Galen. He understood medicine primarily as a book science and was suspicious of pure empiricism. Therefore, he demanded that non-academically educated physicians be placed under the control of university-trained physicians. Beyond its practical value in treating disease, he valued medicine as a science dedicated to the order of creation. His widely read “Book on the Soul” (Liber de anima, 1552) is unusual for the genre in that more than half the text deals with anatomy and physiology. The authority is Galen. Melanchthon owned a copy of Andreas Vesalius”s De humani corporis fabrica and used its insights gained through necropsy for corrections. While he brought the reader up to date with the latest knowledge, he left the contradictions between Vesalius and Galen in the background as much as possible. An important correction concerns the “reticular plexus” that Galen described at the base of the brain, the existence of which “one” (i.e. Vesalius) now denied.

Melanchthon tried to make the study of human anatomy useful for anthropology by locating the mind in the brain, the affects in the heart, and the drives in the liver, following Galen. Perfect harmony was disturbed by the Fall, but God, for the salvation of man, acted on the mind with the Gospel and on the affects with the Holy Spirit. The anatomically trained person can understand how the organs work together and is thus supported in the choice of the right way of life, piety included.

From 16th to 18th century

“Melanchthon, in the diversity of his receptions, became an important factor in the theological pluralization of Protestantism.” (Walter Sparn). The Formula of Concord, negotiated in the 1570s in a complex process of discussion, was an attempt to end intra-Lutheran disputes; it is a commentary or reading guide to the older confessional writings, including two documents from Melanchthon”s pen: the Confessio Augustana and the Apology. In the preface, she approvingly mentioned Melanchthon”s name, but in content the document is a departure from Melanchthon”s approaches in many subject areas: Anthropology, Doctrine of Justification, Christology, Ethics, and Doctrine of the Lord”s Supper. The Philippists were thus outnumbered. That Melanchthonian ideas were nevertheless preserved, for example in the doctrine of the will, was due to Martin Chemnitz and David Chyträus.

While the image of Melanchthon was very critical in large parts of the old Lutheran orthodoxy, this did not continue in ecclesiastical Pietism. In Philipp Jacob Spener, August Hermann Francke, Johann Albrecht Bengel, and Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the positive image of Melanchthon of the Enlightenment was being prepared. Radical Pietism, on the other hand, took the orthodox criticism of Melanchthon to the extreme, with one difference: While for the old Lutheran orthodoxy the person of Melanchthon was the problem, whose errors had only marginally damaged the church, Gottfried Arnold in the Unparteiische Kirchen- und Ketzerhistorie (1700

The appreciation of Melanchthon can be considered a hallmark of Enlightenment theology. In the mid-18th century, Johann Lorenz von Mosheim referred to the “good and mild” Melanchthon; like him, he saw church history as an orientation guide for the present. Later Enlightenment thinkers valued Melanchthon above all as an ethicist, although their own ethics were admittedly not Melanchthonic.

In 1560, the year of Melanchthon”s death, a collection of poems was published in his honor in Frankfurt am Main. Here the term Praeceptor Germaniae is encountered for the first time. This common title of Melanchthon”s is misleading because it narrows down the Europe-wide effects that emanated from his work to Germany.

Melanchthon promoted the teaching of Greek, but apparently at an intermediate level; no significant Greek scholar is to be found in his circle of students. Melanchthon”s loci method became obsolete by the end of the 16th century, as Ramism was now considered didactically superior. The University of Altdorf and the University of Helmstedt, both influenced by Melanchthon, banned Ramism, but did not return to Melanchthon”s loci, but used the methodology of Paduan Reform Aristotelianism (Jacopo Zabarella). In contrast, Melanchthon”s rhetoric was more widely received, and his natural philosophy (mathematics, physics, astronomy, medicine) was carried on by a circle of students, including Jakob Milich, Nikolaus Selnecker, Paul Eber, Caspar Peucer, and Bartholomäus Schönborn. Melanchthon”s Liber de anima was prescribed by the Wittenberg statutes in 1572 as an anatomical-medical textbook, but his doctrine of the soul was already no longer recommended around 1600, as were his ethical and political theoretical writings. Although Melanchthon was invoked, Jean Bodin, Francisco Suárez or Hugo Grotius were discussed. When Samuel von Pufendorf replaced natural law with the idea of the image of God and the Decalogue in 1672, Melanchthon had passed, as contemporaries noted.

Numerous Scandinavian students were enrolled in Wittenberg in the 1520s and 1530s, who then spread the Lutheran Reformation in their countries of origin. Melanchthon”s student Niels Hemmingsen had a special significance for Melanchthon”s reception in the Kingdom of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen, which was run on the Wittenberg model. A corresponding university reform did not succeed in Uppsala, so that Swedish and Finnish theology students continued to travel to Wittenberg until the University of Rostock advanced to become the preferred place of study; Melanchthon”s student David Chyträus worked here.

Melanchthon”s educational impulses were also taken up, for example Herluf Trolle founded the Danish elite school Herlufsholm, modeled on Schulpforta and Meissen. Georg Norman came to Stockholm in 1539 with letters of recommendation from Luther and Melanchthon and conveyed the latter”s impulses both to the Swedish church and to the educational system, e.g. Melanchthon”s Sächsische Schulordnung (1528) and the Loci communes, which were also available in a Swedish edition for pastor training from 1558. Melanchthon”s influence was particularly strong both as a theologian and as a humanist in Iceland. For example, in 1558 Gísli Jónsson wrote an Icelandic textbook for pastors based largely on the loci communes, and the first Icelandic textbook ever was a Latin grammar that adapted Melanchthon”s Grammatica latina and formed the basis for Latin instruction until the 18th century. In the second grade, Melanchthon”s Textbook of Logic was required reading by school regulations.

The Lutheran Reformation in Southeastern Europe was also influenced by him. The Hungarian students in Wittenberg usually did not know German, but knew Latin very well, which is why they preferred to stay with Melanchthon. Matthias Dévai, the reformer of Hungary, was a student of Melanchthon. Melanchthon writings were frequently printed in Hungary, in addition to theological works, his Greek and Latin grammar, a study order and a collection of poems.

There were about a hundred Swiss students in Wittenberg during Melanchthon”s lifetime, but a dissemination of his impulses through these persons is not documented. In contrast, his theological and pedagogical works were printed especially in Basel and influenced didactics and teaching at Wolfgang Musculus in Bern, as well as Conrad Gesner, Ludwig Lavater and Rudolf Gwalter at the University of Zurich. The Swiss reformers Johannes Oekolampad in Basel, Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich and Johannes Calvin in Geneva were in correspondence with Melanchthon for a long time, because it was assumed that they could win him over for their own positions. These expectations were disappointed. Thereafter, already in the late 16th century, Swiss Reformed theology turned primarily to the work of its own reformers.

Since the followers of John Calvin in the Holy Roman Empire endeavored to place themselves under the protection of the Confessio Augustana, Melanchthon”s reception was particularly intensive here. In the Electoral Palatinate (University of Heidelberg), his theology, which combined Luther and Calvin, was appreciated. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) shows a strong influence of Melanchthon in its structure and terminology:

Melanchthonian is the covenant theology, which emphasizes the promise of salvation. Predestination is not an independent topic. One of the main authors, Zacharias Ursinus, was a student of Melanchthon and always closely associated with his teacher. The Heidelberg Catechism, however, underwent later revisions that bear more of the mark of Western European, Calvinist refugee communities. It owes its decidedly anti-Trinitarian profile to them (Question 80: The mass is a “vermaledeite Abgötterei”) and shifts in emphasis in the doctrine of the sacraments.

In the Reformed Netherlands, Melanchthon could be appealed to if one held a different doctrine of predestination than Calvin. Provincial synods approved his views as well Reformed, but the tension between them and Calvin”s teaching was increasingly felt. At the Synod of Dordrecht (since they were defeated and their doctrine condemned, the name of Melanchthon thereafter had a negative connotation in the Netherlands, and the direct impact of his theology broke off.

From 19th to 21st century

Mediation and union theologians of the 19th century found points of contact with Melanchthon. In the case of Friedrich Schleiermacher, there was also the fact that, like the Wittenberg polymath, he taught at both the theological and philosophical faculties and promoted school and university reforms. In 1850, Heinrich Heppe argued that Melanchthon had founded a third type of denomination alongside Lutheranism and Calvinism, the German Protestant Reformed Church.

Theologians of the Luther Renaissance were fascinated by Luther”s early work, as it had become newly accessible since 1908 in the transcript of the Lecture on the Epistle to the Romans. They compared the old Melanchthon with the young Luther, to his detriment; much received was Karl Holl”s judgment: “Melanchthon corrupted the Lutheran doctrine of justification by weakening the doctrine of divine sole efficacy.” After Karl Barth”s verdict in his 1922 Göttingen Calvin Lecture that Melanchthon”s loci were a “pile of rubble,” no more detailed study of Melanchthon took place in dialectical theology. The two main currents of German Protestant theology in the early 20th century consequently devalued Melanchthon. After 1945, according to Thomas Kaufmann, there was a renewed interest in humanistically influenced reformers: “Humanism – that promised tolerance and Europeanism, affinity to the ”West” and turning away from ”Lutheran-German” narrowness, and signaled readiness for ecumenical discussion.” In relation to Melanchthon, this new departure becomes clear in the commemorative address given by Wolfgang Trillhaas on the occasion of Melanchthon”s 450th birthday in Göttingen on February 19, 1947: To be sure, Melanchthon was often more reproducing than original and merely referred to the “basic Reformation experience” in the loci, albeit in an ingenious way. But he had taken up the great task of the “synthesis of Humanum and Christianum”.

The inner-Protestant ecumenism owed an important impulse to Melanchthon in the second half of the 20th century: His formula that Christ is present in the Lord”s Supper “with bread and wine” (cum pane et vino) now proved productive for the ecumenical conversation between Lutherans and Reformed and was received both in the Arnoldshain Communion Theses (1957) and in the Leuenberg Agreement (1973).

The 500th anniversary of his birth in 1997 brought a surge in popularity, thanks in part to Stefan Rhein, then curator of the Melanchthon House in Bretten. Among the new publications of this anniversary year, the biography of the reformer presented by Heinz Scheible, founder and director of the Melanchthon Research Center in Heidelberg, deserves special mention. As the editor of Melanchthon”s extensive correspondence, particularly familiar with this corpus of sources, Scheible describes the events in which Melanchthon was involved from his perspective; this is new. The focus on Melanchthon the theologian necessitates that other aspects of his multifaceted life”s work be treated more concisely. Scheible also refrains from an overall appreciation of the personality and its placement in the history of the Reformation.

Founded in 2004 with the support of the city of Bretten and the Baden State Church, the European Melanchthon Academy Bretten is dedicated to research on the Reformation and the early modern period as well as to interconfessional and interreligious dialogue in the present.

Until the 1960s, Catholic research on the history of the Reformation focused on Martin Luther; Melanchthon appeared as a minor figure of little interest. For Ignaz von Döllinger, the dishonesty he attributed to Melanchthon and his humanistic irenicism devalued the ecumenical potential of his compromise efforts. Joseph Lortz contrasted the irrationally faithful Luther with the pedagogically moralistic Melanchthon. By bringing the effervescence and contradictions of Lutheran thought into a dogmatic system, he at the same time took away much of its power.

A new impulse for Catholic research came from two of Joseph Ratzinger”s seminars on the Confessio Augustana in 1958

During Melanchthon”s stay in Nuremberg in 1526, Albrecht Dürer made a silverpoint drawing with the portrait of the reformer. The copperplate engraving (photo) created on the basis of this drawing bears the Latin signature: “The face of the learned Philip, not his spiritual soul Dürer was able to paint with a learned hand.” The form of the depiction adopts conventions of ancient funerary culture and thus refers to a humanistic context: shoulder piece, three-quarter profile to the right, in the open air with a stone tablet in the foreground. The signature is to be understood as a paradoxical artist”s praise. It parallels Dürer”s “learned hand” with Melanchthon”s learned mind, thus opening up to the viewer the possibility of “renewing the memoria of the sitter in figure and activity as well as the implicit one of the artist in the permanently living presence of Melanchthon in the picture with every act of contemplation.” Dürer”s pictorial invention was highly praised by contemporaries; the sheet with Melanchthon”s portrait was a popular friendship gift in humanist circles.

An engraving by the monogramist I.B. (probably Georg Pencz) in 1530 shows a bust of Melanchthon in three-quarter profile looking to the right with an open hood and a slanted, wide-brimmed hat. Here, too, it can be assumed that a study after life was used. An inscription cartouche with the Latin motto Rom 8,31 LUT identifies Melanchthon as a reformer, and by creating a portrait of Luther looking to the left, the same engraver anticipated the double portraits of reformers, which the Cranach workshop did not achieve until later.

Hans Holbein the Younger produced the capsule portrait of Melanchthon (today Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover) around 1535, probably for an English client. It refers to Dürer”s copperplate engraving, but uses color to visualize both Melanchthon”s outward appearance and his world of thought. Since Holbein and Melanchthon never met, Holbein apparently used Melanchthon portraits by other artists as models. When a group of Holbein drawings was found in London”s Kensington Palace in the 18th century, someone subsequently inscribed Melanchthon”s name on the portrait of a young man wearing a beret. The facial features of this man were also used in the Melanchthon portraits of the 18th century.

Melanchthon portraits of the Cranach workshop are known only from 1532 on. The panel paintings follow different types. Melanchthon can be seen in a black hood, i.e. in the professor”s costume, initially bareheaded, then in the 1540s with a beret. In his hands he sometimes holds a scroll (the Confessio Augustana) or an open book. The old Melanchthon is characterized by the fact that the goatee has become a full beard and he now wears a white shirt, red doublet and over it the open, sometimes fur-trimmed hood. Probably all of these paintings, which were produced in series, were connected to a Luther painting as double portraits.

Heinrich Aldegrever”s engraving from 1540 depicts Melanchthon as a humanist scholar in bust format; Aldegrever and Melanchthon have also not met. Melanchthon can be seen behind a parapet whose Latin inscription translates as: “You, who read the numerous works of the scholar Philip, see here also what he looks like. He was 42 years old when he looked like this. Philippus Melanchthon 1540.”

During Melanchthon”s stay in Cologne in 1543, Friedrich Hagenauer produced two high-quality medal portraits. They show the reformer in profile facing left. On the reverse you can read a psalm verse (Ps 37,37 LUT). Reformation anniversaries since the 18th century offered occasions to mint Melanchthon medals after Hagenauer”s model.


After Melanchthon had been depicted, albeit rarely, in churches as a relief, the changed culture of remembrance of the 19th century produced round sculptural monuments of the reformer. The Reformation anniversary in 1817 marked the beginning: Johann Gottfried Schadow created bronze busts of Luther and Melanchthon for the Andreaskirche in Eisleben. In the same year, an obelisk was erected in Bretten, the top of which was a bust of Melanchthon. For the 300th anniversary of the Nuremberg grammar school founded by Melanchthon, Jacob Daniel Burgschmiet created a full-figure statue in sandstone in 1826, which was based on the Melanchthon depiction of the Cranach workshop. Following this model, Melanchthon monuments were erected in front of other schools. The foundation stone for the bronze statue of Melanchthon on the Wittenberg market square was laid on the occasion of Melanchthon”s 300th death anniversary as a counterpart to an already existing statue of Luther; the work by Johann Friedrich Drake was erected in 1865. It shows the reformer with the scroll of the Confessio Augustana in his hand. The qualitative comparison of the two neighboring monuments, Luther by Schadow and Melanchthon by Drake, is to Drake”s disadvantage.

On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the Confessio Augustana in 1930, Gerhard Marcks created two bronze busts of Luther and Melanchthon for the University of Halle (Aula of the MLU”s Löwengebäude). Marcks studied the representations of Cranach and Dürer. The facial features and the strongly accentuated forehead of Melanchthon therefore appear familiar, the mouth is distorted “as if into an ironic smile”.

Theme Year 2010: “Reformation and Education

Within the Luther Decade, it made sense to link the 2010 theme year with the 450th anniversary of Philipp Melanchthon”s death on April 19, 2010. On Reformation Day 2009, the festive opening of the theme year “Reformation and Education” took place in Melanchthon”s birthplace Bretten. The ecumenical service in the collegiate church was broadcast nationwide. Freiburg Archbishop Robert Zollitsch preached; the Bishop of Baden, Ulrich Fischer, gave a welcoming address. A commemorative academy in the Roman Catholic Laurentiuskirche followed, at which Minister President Günther Oettinger praised Melanchthon as a “man of balance.” Among the numerous events of the 2010 theme year, a festive weekend on April 16-19 in Wittenberg was another highlight. At the ceremony in Wittenberg”s Castle Church on April 19, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as chairman of the Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops” Conference and Praeses Nikolaus Schneider as chairman of the EKD Council spoke. Merkel characterized Melanchthon as “one of the greatest educational reformers in our history,” in which she also saw his current significance. Müller paid tribute to Melanchthon the theologian and highlighted as an interesting aspect that Melanchthon counted ordination among the sacraments and that the ecumenical conversation of the present has a focus on the question of ministry. Schneider emphasized that the Reformation had been an educational movement. An international scholarly conference on “Melanchthon and the Reformed Tradition (sic!)” was held Nov. 10-12, 2010, at the Johannes a Lasco Library in Emden. Although Calvin”s appreciation of Melanchthon and Melanchthonian elements in the Heidelberg Catechism have long been known, the reception of Melanchthon in the Reformed churches of Europe has been a desideratum of research.

Individual aspects


  1. Philipp Melanchthon
  2. Philip Melanchthon
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.