Our remembrance for Philip Melanchthon today prompts us to read a biographical devotion about him from The Lutheran Difference, Reformation Anniversary Edition.
Melanchthon’s writings profoundly contributed to the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions around the time of the Reformation. Today, we thank God especially for using Melanchthon to promote the teaching and sharing of the Gospel.
Second only to Luther in the reformation of the Church stood Philip Melanchthon. Related on his mother’s side to the great Hebrew scholar Reuchlin and drawn through his education to Erasmus, the foremost humanist of the day, Melanchthon became a classical scholar of great distinction. Reuchlin recommended him as professor of Greek and Hebrew at the new university in Wittenberg. Melanchthon’s biblical learning and humanistic spirit earned him the admiration of Luther, who proved himself a loyal friend through the many years they labored together at Wittenberg.
Melanchthon was a careful, cautious scholar. He lacked Luther’s depth, emotional power, and personal experience of faith. Yet he agreed with Luther’s concept of the Word as the final authority and tried to explain the contents of faith in clear and convincing style. In 1521, he produced the first theological textbook of the Reformation, the Theological Commonplaces (Loci Communes). As the events around him revealed the various ways the Reformation might go, Melanchthon became apprehensive. The Zwickau prophets and the Peasants’ War caused him to stress the necessity of order and obedience to government. He hoped a reform in the papal church would heal the divisions already evident, and even at Augsburg in 1530, when he drew up the Confession and the Apology, he thought in terms of reconciliation and restoration of unity. Scholars are still divided as to the real position of Melanchthon on several points of doctrine because it is hard to distinguish between his own thought and his official statements as spokesman of the Lutherans.
Melanchthon functioned as the schoolteacher of the Reformation. Despite his deficiencies as a leader, he rendered incalculable service at a critical period in the history of the Church. His pen framed the Augustana and the Apology, which gave the new movement solid ground to stand on in the battle. His textbook of theology, in many and enlarged editions, became the theology of generations of pastors and teachers. His methods became standard in the schools of Germany and beyond, and his reforms reshaped universities—Wittenberg, Leipzig, Tübingen, Greifswald, Rostock, Heidelberg, Marburg, Königsberg. His interest in the natural sciences gave them new importance, and his devotion to Aristotle was lifelong. It is impossible to conceive of the Reformation without Luther, but it is hard to imagine how the spiritual power of Luther’s teaching would have been conserved and channeled into permanent and fructifying streams of influence without the mental clarity of Melanchthon.
Devotional reading is from The Lutheran Difference, Reformation Anniversary Edition, pages 609–10 © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.