Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560): The Creator of Lutheranism

Part One: Melanchthon’s Climb to Fame

Part Two: Melanchthon the Preceptor of Germany

Part Three: Melanchthon’s Failure as a Reformer

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Part One: Melanchthon’s Climb to Fame

‘Big Names’ are often deceptive

     When studying the ‘Big Names’ of the Reformation in depth, one is led to suspect that such ‘Names’ are merely pronounced ‘Big’ because they have been highly illuminated by church historians with specific interests though equally ‘big’ men and women of God have been left unobserved. This is certainly the case with Philip Melanchthon, Heinrich Bullinger and Theodore Beza who have long been seen as mere successors and preservers of Luther’s, Zwingli’s and Calvin’s teaching respectively. Such European Reformers, however, were not junior disciples of the imagined ‘Big Three’ but contemporaries of equal or greater standing. They were also men who either took the Reformation further than their supposed mentors or along different paths. Sadly, today, there is an abundance of Reformed ‘Schoolmen’ who will not accept new research into these areas and stubbornly deny that their ‘heroes’ were ever overshadowed by other Reformers. In such circles it is still considered ‘unsound’ to suggest that Beza ever outpaced Calvin or that Bullinger, not Zwingli, was the main influence behind the Swiss Reformed Church, or even that the Augsburg and Wittenburg confessions, other than the Smalkaldian Confession, were the work of Melanchthon, not Luther. I have already published on the inter-relationship between Bullinger, Zwingli, Luther, Calvin and Beza and now I wish to illustrate the life and work of Philip Melanchthon, called by his fellow-Reformers the Preceptor of Germany and by modern church historians Midwife to the Birth of Luther’s Cause. 1

Fearing the fates

     Melanchthon did not always bear that name. He was born in 1497 as Philip Schwartzert, the first child of George and Barbara Schwartzert of Brettheim in present-day Baden Württemberg 2. George gained prominence as a famous maker of armoury and weapons and accompanied Emperor Maximillian and the Elector of the Palatine as advisor during their campaigns. Schwartzert means ‘black earth’, a name probably given to Philip’s family because they made moulds out of ‘black earth’ for casting the metal. Mastering this task meant the difference between defeat and victory for the warring nobility which helped successful George quickly to climb up the social ladder and though still in his early thirties was given the status of a nobleman and honoured with a coat of arms designed by the Emperor. George had no time to settle down and find a wife, so the Elector chose Barbara Reuter, the sixteen-year old daughter of the Bretten Mayor, for his spouse and had the couple married around 1492. After Philip, the Schwartzerts had four other children of whom George Schwartzert became a leading citizen and Lord Mayor. Following the scientific ideas of the age, George Schwartzert Sen. begged his friend John Vierding of Hassfurt, a skilled mathematician, to work out a horoscope for his eldest son. Philip never gave up the belief that God used the stars to reveal to him the plan of his life. After examining the heavens, he used to say, ‘I fear the fates, even though I am no Stoic.’ When students applied to be taught by Melanchthon, he demanded that they gave him not only the date of their birth but the name of the day so that Melanchthon could work out their horoscopes. Henry Bullinger sent his son of the same name to study under Melanchthon because of his expertise as a teacher but refused to tell him the day of his birth so that he would not be party to Melanchthon’s superstition. Because Melanchthon required examination candidates to sign the Augsburg Confession, Reformed parents such as Bullinger sent their sons to Heidelberg and after 1527 to Marburg to be examined and receive their degrees after being taught by Melanchthon.

Melanchthon becomes a successful scholar

     Philip’s father died in 1508 after a long illness due to drinking contaminated water on his military campaigns. John Reuter, his maternal grandfather had died just a few days before and Barbara Schwartzert sought the advice of her husband’s and her own wider family for someone to keep a fatherly eye on her children. The choice fell on a near relative John Reuchlin, a leading Humanist and Professor of Hebrew. Reuchlin had already placed Philip and George in a private school run by John Unger, a philologist of note. When Philip’s grandmother, Elizabeth Reuter, moved to her old home in Pforzheim after the death of her husband and son-in-law, Reuchlin suggested that the two brothers should be placed in the famous Latin School there. This school produced a number of stalwart men of humanistic and Reformed gifts, alongside Melanchthon, not the least of whom was Simon Grynaeus who, like Melanchthon, is being rediscovered by modern Reformed scholars. After a year at this school under the excellent tutelage of George Simler and drilled in academic procedures by Reuchlin, twelve-year-old Philip matriculated at Heidelberg University on October 14, 1509. Reuchlin now told his young protégé that he was all set to become a famous scholar and should thus drop his mundane name of Schwartzert. Instead, he should turn the name into the Greek for black earth, Melanchthon, which sounded much more learned. Philip was pleased to agree and from then onwards called himself Melanchthon.

From Heidelberg to Tübingen

     By the age of fourteen, Philip had gained his BA and applied to take an MA course. As Philip was undersized and had a babyish face, he was told to apply again when he was ‘grown up’. Philip took this as a personal affront and fully confident in his own abilities, turned his back on Heidelberg and was accepted at Tübingen as an MA candidate. Years later, when Melanchthon was famed throughout Europe as a great educator, the University of Heidelberg sent a deputation to him bearing a large silver cup and apologized profusely for their former foolishness and blindness in rejecting a man of such obvious talents.

     At Tübingen, Melanchthon was re-united with Simler, now a professor, and became friends with Ambrose Blaurer of Constance and John Husgen, better known under his academic name of Oecolampadius. The latter two were to join the Upper German and Swiss Reformation with which Melanchthon could rarely agree. His love for church unity and quite exaggerated respect for the Emperor stopped him from any radical break with the papal system, though he departed from their doctrines. Also at Tübingen, Melanchthon came under the influence of Henry Bebel, the Humanist, and began to read Erasmus with these friends both new and old. Soon Melanchthon was writing Latin verse in praise of Erasmus as a great philosopher and stylish writer.

     The gifted teenager gained his MA in the winter of 1513-14 and went on to study Theology after receiving his first Latin Bible as a gift from Reuchlin. Parallel to this, Melanchthon gave lectures in his college on Terence Virgil, Cicero and Livy. By 1516, Melanchthon was editing and publishing Terence’s works and took over Bebel’s Chair as Professor of Eloquence. During this time, Melanchthon brought out a Greek Grammar which became something of a best-seller and widely used for many years on the European Continent.

Melanchthon reinterprets Aristotle

     Melanchthon read Aristotle avidly and soon concluded that Rome had interpreted him incorrectly and had built her entire theology on her false interpretation. Thus, he became convinced that Rome needed reforming and that reformation could only ensue when Aristotle was correctly understood. He saw Aristotle first and foremost as an analytic, systematic and didactic genius who had laid down the correct scientific rules for Biblical interpretation on which all Christian doctrine was built. Melanchthon now viewed himself as a Reformer whose duty was to lead Christians from the errors of contemporary Rome. In reality, his self-imposed task was to lead both Rome and her critics back to a right understanding of Aristotle. Here, the German Protestant Church was not as radical as the English Reformers who gradually discarded the Aristotelian method of analysis whether applied to science, Scripture or doctrine. This was strengthened under the influence of Francis Bacon the Christian educator, scientist and philosopher. However, because Calvin favoured the old Roman Catholic method of analytical thought, Aristotelianism came back amongst the Ultra-Puritans during the Great Rebellion when the work of the English Reformers was rejected because of their establishment of the Reformed Church of England and the Reformed Prayer Book of 1552. Instead of looking to Jewel and Bullinger as did the Church of England for its theological teaching, the new churches of the Commonwealth turned to Calvin and Melanchthon thus putting the Reformation clock back to Roman Catholic times.

     Calvin let the Reformed side down in his first major battle with Rome against Pighius, Provost of St. John the Baptist’s at Utrecht, Holland in 1543 after Pighius had criticized Calvin’s 1536 and 1539 editions of his Institutes. The issue was on free will, a doctrine anathema to Calvin but Pigius teaching has been revived in modern pseudo-Calvinist teaching by such as Erroll Hulse of Reformation Today, in his The Great Invitation where he speaks of ‘undeniable tensions’ in coming to faith, such as ‘Only God can save me; I must save myself’; sinners need a new heart but they are ‘responsible themselves for making themselves such a new heart.’ This was Pighius in a nutshell. Calvin’s mistake was that he argued with Pighius from Aristotle rather than the Scriptures and stuck stubbornly to the philosopher’s methods as a means of defining and systematising salvation, besides concluding that irresistible grace was Aristotelian, therefore Scriptural, and therefore Christian. Thus Calvin strove to beat Pighius at his own game. Having departed from Sola Scriptura, Calvin quite lost his argument as Pighius proved to know Aristotle better than he and had also a deep Scriptural knowledge. Pighius thus demonstrated how near Calvin came thus to Melanchthon. Such facts led August Lang to classify the Institutes as the work of an ‘Upper German Lutheran’. Failing to deal with Pighius criticisms, Calvin lost his scholarly testimony by calling Pighius ‘raving’, ‘blinded by madness’, ‘too stupid,’ ‘arrogant’, one who ‘tempts those who have not much education,’ having ‘a raving passion for abuse’. His major mentor Henry Bullinger repeatedly reproved Calvin for his witness-destroying, below-the-belt punches, especially when he wrote to Lutheran leaders such as Westphal as ‘wretch’ instead of ‘Dear Colleague’.

     Pighius did not have it all his own way, however. Pighius thought sinners could sin or not sin at will. Calvin showed him that our wills had such freedom originally, but lost it in the fall. Now we sin of necessity. Pighius, like 18th century Andrew Fuller following him, claimed that the will was fallen enough to deserve condemnation but was not totally fallen as it was open to overtures of salvation. Thus sinners have what Fuller calls ‘a holy disposition’ to be exercised before God can speak to one’s soul. Calvin maintained that unless God’s prevenient grace steps in, there is no recognition of God’s salvation in man as all his faculties are fallen.

     Pighius pre-defined Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’: ‘I ought, therefore I can`. I ought to obey the law, therefore I can. Calvin denied that because one morally ought, one morally can. One ought to live a righteous life but because sin has intervened, one cannot. Pighius accused Calvin of not believing in human moral responsibility. Wrong, says, Calvin, the ‘ought’ is there but the will and awareness to do what is right is only found in Christ.

    To return to Melanchthon, he soon found that Reuchlin was eager to support his system of Biblical analysis and Simler, Capito and Oecolampadius assisted him in bringing out a new edition of Aristotle. The Tübingen traditionalists, however, reacted against Melanchthon’s reforms and he found himself most unpopular. Reuchlin told his grand-nephew that a prophet was not honoured in his own country and when Elector Frederick offered the aging man a professorship in Greek at Wittenberg University he recommended Melanchthon for the chair saying “I know of no one among the Germans who surpasses him except Master Erasmus.” Melanchthon gained the chair and departed from Tübingen with the blessing of Reuchlin from Genesis 12. First, he visited his mother and sisters in Bretten then paid his respects to the Elector at Augsburg after which he travelled via Nuremberg and Leipzig to Wittenberg on the Elbe. He took up his new duties on August 25, 1518.

Melanchthon and Luther at Wittenberg

     Luther was present at Melanchthon’s inaugural address in order to size up the new professor. Somewhat put off at first by Melanchthon’s rather negative appearance, stammer and grating voice, Luther was soon in raptures at what Melanchthon had to say. Melanchthon argued for a break with Scholasticism and a return to a scientific analysis of the Bible according to practical methods gained from his new interpretation of Aristotle. In reality, both Reformers were now basking in a new philosophy of religion which carried with it many of the snares of the old. Thus Luther listened with joy to the twenty-one year-old Melanchthon arguing that Rome had corrupted Aristotle, leading to a perversion of his metaphysics and a total neglect of his scientific research into didactics, rhetoric and derivative disciplines. Thus, the systematic methods of grammatical, contextual and historical analysis used by the ancient Greeks were adopted by the new Wittenberg professor as essential to a right understanding of God’s Word. Luther saw in Melanchthon the very scholar who could provide an academic apologia for his own work and resolved to support the highly criticised and critical young man who was thirteen years his junior with all his strength and influence.

The Word of God viewed through a revised Aristotelianism

     At this time, Luther was still unsure about the place and authority of the Word of God in matters of doctrine but now, through Melanchthon, he realized that no church traditions, dogmas or doctrines have any validity unless they squared up with Scripture, albeit seen through Aristotle’s eyes. Actually, there had been nothing really reformative about Luther’s 1517 position as these tenets had been held by leading scholars within the old church system for centuries and Luther was merely walking along the paths of Alcuin, Bradwardene, Grosseteste, Wycliffe, Hus, Jerome of Prague, the Bohemian Brethren, Lefevre and Heinrich Bullinger, the father of Bullinger of Zürich, though not yet going all the way with the bulk of them.

Soon Luther and Melanchthon became the best of friends.

     Luther saw in Melanchthon an academic and analytical mind that he felt he did not possess himself. Melanchthon saw in Luther a great and godly man and a church leader whom he was prepared to serve through thick and thin. Reuchlin, rather suspicious of Melanchthon’s friendship with Luther, began to tempt his favourite protégé to take up other posts but Melanchthon told him, ‘I will rather die than be torn from Luther’. Reuchlin took this very much amiss and now declared Melanchthon to be a person of no discretion. He now professed openly his opposition to the Wittenberg ‘heretics’ and told Melanchthon that he was breaking off all associations with him. Meanwhile, Melanchthon was instructing Luther in the importance of studying history and advising him in papal law so that he could challenge Rome with greater expertise. From now on, Melanchthon was to be Luther’s spokesman which helped him establish a new church system but served as a chain of restraint to Luther’s imaginative and innovating spontaneity. A common and just evaluation of the two men claims that though Luther was the greater preacher, Melanchthon was his greater teacher.

Melanchthon’s rapid success at Wittenberg University

     Students are often drawn to a professor who is famed for being something of a rebel. At the theological institution where this author was trained, the Principle warned his students against going to a particular local church where the minister excelled in preaching powers but whose theology was too tolerant for inward-looking denominationalism. Because he was quite different to the normal run-of-the-mill evangelical, this fine Christian preacher and pastor became a great attraction for young theological students who flocked to hear him, confident that their ‘Prin’, as he was fondly called, was mistaken. So Melanchthon soon found his lectures attended by a great crowd of eager young men, eager to hear all they could of Melanchthon’s new science and theology. Luther now took Melanchthon as his advisor and companion to the various disputations to which the worried pope had called him.

Melanchthon as Luther’s prompter at Leipzig

     Thus, we find Luther and Melanchthon riding side-by-side in a wagon taking them to the Leipzig Disputation of June 1519. It was to be a verbal battle between Luther and John Eck. The arch-papist found to his amazement that when he addressed Luther on an important topic, the Reformer would turn to Melanchthon who was only tolerated by the Elector as a spectator, and there would be a long pause filled with Melanchthon’s stammering whispers before Luther came up with an answer. Sophist Eck invariably found himself shaken by Melanchthon’s arguments. Melanchthon sent a report of the disputation to Oecolampadius who rather tactlessly published it and soon Melanchthon was ranked with Luther as an arch-heretic by Eck’s followers. Eck combatted Melanchthon’s report with arguments from tradition, obviously thinking that a young whipper-snapper like Melanchthon would not dare challenge the ‘Mother Church’. Melanchthon at once refuted Eck with a thesis on the Word of God as its own interpreter. Scripture could not possibly be explained by church traditions but only by sound grammatical and historical didactics.

     Melanchthon was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Divinity at Wittenberg on August 9, 1519 for his thesis on Pauline theology based mostly on the letter to the Romans. This work caused something of a sensation because Melanchthon argued that one could sweep away all the traditions of the Schoolmen and find pure theology, excellently argued and outlined in the words of Paul himself. Thus, the main doctrines of the church such as justification are plainly laid out in Scripture which must be taken at its word.

     Whilst Melanchthon was growing in prestige, Luther was busy pulling the strings of his vast influence in gaining audience for his younger friend in the courts of the leading nobility and the homes, churches and schoolrooms of leading Humanists and educators. On hearing Melanchthon lecturing on the Lord’s Supper. Luther wrote to John von Staupitz saying, ‘It was like a miracle to us all. He will become the mightiest enemy of the devil and of Scholastic theology.”

Speaking up for Luther

     Though he could have obtained high-paid posts in other universities, Melanchthon continued his lectures at Wittenberg for two whole years without pay as the university was bankrupt and now planned moves to Jena and then Marburg to ease their position. Luther, himself, lived on charity.

    Soon, however, it became most difficult to distinguish between what was Luther’s achievement and what was Melanchthon’s. Melanchthon worked over Luther’s commentaries on the Psalms and Galatians for publication, adding explanatory prefaces himself. More and more, Luther gave work he had to do to Melanchthon in order to tackle new problems and venture into new areas. At times, he could not agree with Melanchthon but let things go for the sake of peace and friendship. By now, Melanchthon had become indispensable to Luther, but the younger man never thought of viewing himself as Luther’s better or even equal but used all his talents to defend Luther from unfair attacks and to promote his works. When the pope excommunicated Luther, Melanchthon placed a notice in the university inviting all the students to attend a bull burning ceremony on December 10, 1520. On it, he had written the words, ‘Hurry pious students, and witness this holy and God-pleasing spectacle! Perhaps this is the time when the Antichrist will be revealed.’ 3 When Thomas Rhadius addressed the German princes, urging them to condemn Luther, Melanchthon wrote a fiery defence of his friend exhorting the princes to analyse the matter scientifically and use the Word of God in their investigation of Luther’s theology. His was the true catholic faith. Luther’s God-given task and that of the entire Reformation, was to correct the false novelties of the Schoolmen which had poisoned the wells of true Christian doctrine. He ended his defence with the startling words, ‘When I speak for Luther, I speak for my holiest treasure, for the doctrine of Christ.’ When, for instance, Luther’s works were pronounced heretical by the Paris University in 1521, Melanchthon responded with his work A Defence of Martin Luther Against the Furibund Decree of Parisian Theologasters.

Melanchthon’s first major Reformed work

     During 1520, Melanchthon began work on his Loci Communes, translated rather oddly as Common Place Book in English. The idea was to take out the common themes of the gospel and list them systematically in true Aristotelian fashion rather than expound a text verse for verse and outline the doctrines as they came. This method was not new but had long been the practice of the Roman Catholic Church. Many see Melanchthon’s Loci as a forerunner of Calvin’s Institutes and indeed, the similarities are obvious, This is perhaps because Calvin had not only used Melanchthon’s Loci but had had also studied his commentary on Romans carefully when compiling his own views of Pauline theology and most of the contents of Loci Communes are a systematizing of Paul’s great letter. Calvin was, indeed, accused of ‘odious rivalry’ with Melanchthon on this count but Calvin defended himself by saying that Melanchthon merely kept to essentials but left much out which Calvin added. Indeed, Calvin later used both Bucer and Zwingli extensively down to subject matter, introductory letters, headings and sub-headings in further compilations of his Institutes.

     This writer believes that this first, brief edition of Loci Communes, printed in 1521 is Melanchthon’s most reformed work. It is an excellent introduction to the Reformed faith with the works of grace displayed before man as a sign of God’s electing love and mercy as revealed in the gospel. It lacks, however, the practical divinity and evangelical fervor of Patrick Hamilton’s Loci Communes of 1527 known to English-speaking Christians as ‘Patrick’ Places’ 4. Nor can it rival Bullinger’s Loci known in English as The Decades, as Bullinger deals with scriptural exegesis in sermon form in outlining true covenant theology which he defined and expounded long before Calvin took up the theme in his Institutes. Melanchthon was to alter this teaching considerably in later editions showing that man-centred Humanism often triumphed over his God-centred theology. For instance, instead of writing as in his earlier days of a justification given feely and unilaterally because of God’s willingness, later editions of Loci Communes speak of God granting justification when man is willing to receive it. Similarly, too, in his original edition, Melanchthon claims that man does not obtain salvation through exercising his free-will but only according to God’s predestination. This idea is not only absent from later editions but disappears almost entirely from Melanchthon’s later works. Luther who read the original book sheet by sheet at the Wartburg as it came slowly from the press, pronounced it ‘canonical’, an exaggeration which, with hindsight, can well be excused as the Reformation up to that date had produced nothing like it. In four years, it went through eighteen editions.

Melanchthon asked to take over Luther’s pastoral duties

     When criticism came from both within the reforming parties and conservative Roman Catholicism, Luther fled to the Wartburg near Eisenach under an assumed name where Elector Friedrich the Wise protected him under the pretense of arresting him and letting him ‘disappear’. As he was uncertain whether he would ever be able to return to Wittenberg and as Melanchthon had not fled, he wrote to his friend saying, ‘Step forward as the servant of the Word; guard the walls of Jerusalem’ and asked Elector Fredrick’s chaplain George Spalatin to tell the Wittenberg town council to elect Melanchthon as preacher in Luther’s stead. Melanchthon was still only twenty-four but was now urged to take Luther’s place. Melanchthon refused point blank and said that he was no substitute for Luther and was called to the lecture room and not to the pulpit. Now Melanchthon continued his defence of Luther with added fervour, attacking the Sorbonne theological faculty for striving to prove that Luther had departed from ancient Christianity. He wrote condemning them for being ‘false theologians’ who knew neither Scripture nor the Church Fathers to whom they wrongly appealed. Luther received a Latin copy at Wartburg and translated the tract into German so that a non-academic public might read it. Elector Frederick now demanded that Melanchthon should give him a thorough-going report of what was going on at Wittenberg and Melanchthon used the opportunity to tell Frederick bravely that the mass must be replaced by the Biblical form of celebration so that the elector might not be rejected at the last day! Luther made a secret visit to Wittenberg to discuss further strategy in spreading the Reformation with Melanchthon. He felt like a useless prisoner at the Wartburg until Melanchthon suggested that he translate the Bible. This was a suggestion Luther eagerly put into practice.

The differences between Luther and Melanchthon

     It is now that we see the great difference between Luther and Melanchthon. The younger man’s love for lecturing rather than preaching was beginning to isolate him from what was going on outside of the university. The Erasmians with Wolfgang Capito as their spokesman, felt that Melanchthon was going too far. By way of defence, Melanchthon emphasized the doctrine of grace and the authority of Scripture over against their emphasis on free-will and Scholasticism. These discussions were carried out in a sober, academic atmosphere of give and take. Capito himself was becoming more and more Reformed in his thinking and soon became one of the pillars of the Upper German Reformation. At this time the Anabaptists and the Zwickau prophets were driving a wedge between the Reforming factions. They taught that the time of the Word had past and the time of immediate guidance by the Spirit had come. It was impossible to argue academically or biblically with these people as they believed that such arguments were not of the Spirit and therefore of the devil. Melanchthon had neither the ability to debate in the market place nor expound the Word from the pulpit. His emphasis on right didactics and rhetoric failed him when contending with people who professed to be the mouthpiece of the Spirit. Melanchthon’s initial answer was to ignore them and he did not even try to combat the more learned party in their midst such as Karlstadt and Zwilling as they now rejected any kind of academic debate. Militant Thomas Müntzer did attempt to come to terms with Melanchthon before condemning Luther but, in spite of writing a book about Müntzer 5, it is obvious that Melanchthon could find no level on which to debate with him. Indeed, Melanchthon grew frightened and feared ‘that the light which had risen in the world only a short time before would soon disappear again before our eyes.’ The Elector urged and even commanded Melanchthon to find a solution but he was helpless. In panic, Melanchthon appealed to Luther to return to Wittenberg, fully knowing that this could well lead to his friend’s arrest and worse. Luther gave up his hiding, disguise as bearded ‘Junker Jörg’, and returned to Wittenberg on March 3, 1522. Within days, Luther, the people’s preacher, who could talk like a farm-labourer or a market crier according to the necessity of the situation, restored order and sense in Wittenberg. The revolt ended and a new order of worship was introduced. Melanchthon took no part in these measures but used his academic skills to work through Luther’s German New Testament, polishing up Luther’s German and making the translation more reliant on the Greek rather than Latin. Professor Stupperich, the Melanchthon expert, says, ‘Besides suggesting the work, Master Philip also had a considerable part in shaping it.’ 6 Thus the famous ‘Luther Bible’ should really be called the ‘Luther and Melanchthon Bible’.

Relieved of duties external to his university life,

     Melanchthon wrote several Latin tracts against spiritualism and the Anabaptists’ scorn for regulated civil order and citizens’ duties. These were translated into German by Justus Jonas and other friends of the Reformation. Concerning those who reject the baptism of believer’s children, Melanchthon argues that baptism is a ‘testimony of promised grace’, and thus a gracious promise of God and not a human declaration of past mercies received. He rejects the Anabaptist argument that the Bible forbids infant baptism and asks them where in the Bible do they read that God’s promises are for believers only. God’s promises are for sinners that they might believe. Who would deny that children are also sinners?

Melanchthon’s marriage

     Luther, though still unmarried himself, urged his younger friend to marry, believing that he was becoming rather too isolated from normal life. Soon, Luther, Spalatin and Melanchthon’s married colleagues were scrutinising all the eligible young ladies who had a gracious Christian testimony with a view to introducing the most favourable one to Melanchthon. Their choice fell on Katherine Krapp, the daughter of Wittenberg’s Lord Mayor, Hans Krapp. Melanchthon protested, saying that he would have to neglect his studies if he had a wife. Melanchthon’s colleagues, Augustine Scheurl and Sebald Münster, who were also related to the Krapps, managed to convince Melanchthon that Katherine would be an ideal support for him both in a domestic way and in his studies. The marriage took place on November 25, 1520. Though Katherine was all that Melanchthon could hope for as a boon companion, it turned out that she could not cook, had no idea how to run a household and could not manage money so that the couple was always on the verge of bankruptcy. Melanchthon was then compelled to engage John Koch to help him organize his study material and help do the domestic chores. On Melanchthon’s wedding day, the university professor showed his humour. Without going into further details, he hung up a notice on his door, which said, ‘Today Philip will take a holiday from studies and will not lecture to you on Paul’s holy doctrines.’ By this time, Melanchthon, unrivalled by his teaching colleagues, had over one-thousand-five-hundred students attending his lectures.

 

Part Two: Melanchthon the Preceptor of Germany


Notes:

  1. So John R. Schneider in his essay, Melanchthon’s Rhetoric As a Context for Understanding His Theology, in Karen Maag’s Melanchthon in Europe, Paternoster/Baker Books, 1999.
  2. Now called ‘Bretten’.
  3. The Reformation in Its Own Words, p. 85.
  4. An exercise book or jotter containing brief notes was formerly called a ‘common place book’ which best translates the word ‘loci’. Hence also ‘Patrick’s Places’.
  5. The History of Thomas Müntzer.
  6. Melanchthon: The Enigma of the Reformation, p. 57.