Faithful Through the Ages - Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Philip Melanchton - Gentleman German Reformer
The body of Philip Melanchthon (1497 - 1560) appropriately lies buried beside that of Martin Luther in Wittenberg. He is considered the second man—the gentleman—of the German Reformation, faithfully working alongside Luther for nearly three decades. Orphaned at ten, Melanchthon lived with his grandmother until he enrolled at the University of Heidelberg at age twelve to study philosophy, astronomy, and rhetoric. At sixteen he pursued graduate studies in theology at the University of Tübingen. A student of Erasmus, he was a published author by the time Luther (fourteen years his senior) was posting his Ninety-five Theses.
Melanchthon's opposition to scholastic theology prompted him to question Catholic dogma and traditions. At the same time he learned of Luther's insights. In 1518 he accepted a post at the University of Wittenberg, and the two scholars became life-long partners. Brilliant and popular, Melanchthon drew students much like Abelard did four centuries earlier. He was courted by other academic institutions, but with Luther and others playing cupid, he married Katharina Krapp, daughter of the Wittenberg mayor.
One of Melanchthon's most important achievements was his contribution, at the behest of Luther, to the Augsburg Confession. These twenty-eight articles, written in both Latin and German, were presented to Emperor Charles V, who summoned a Diet at Augsburg in 1530 to settle the religious differences among the German princes and people. Melanchthon began with his usual conciliatory style, affirming twenty-one statements accepted by both Catholics and Reformers. The remaining seven articles focused on matters disputed with Catholics, all supported with Scripture. The Augsburg Confession established the German Reformation on justification by faith alone and serves today as a foundational document of Lutheran belief.
In the remaining years of his life, Melanchthon was embroiled in family and religious difficulties. Although he was considered by many to be Luther's successor, opponents challenged his loyalty to the Reformation cause, insisting he was too eager to compromise with Catholics. Harshly criticized in his own day, he has been admired in recent generations for his keen intellect and his careful scholarship as well as for his efforts to foster unity among Christians. He was ever the patient and kind Reformer, generous to a fault.