- Melanchthon, Philipp
- (1497-1560)German humanist, Reformation leader, and educational reformer. He was born at Bretten in the Rhenish Palatinate. His original German name was Schwarzerd, hellenized to create his classical surname. He was the great-nephew of the famous humanist Johann Reuchlin, who closely supervised his education and prepared him for a scholarly career. A precocious youth, he attended the University of Heidel-berg and received his B.A. degree at age 14. He qualified for the M.A. degree but was deemed too young to be graduated and so moved too Tübingen, where he did receive the M.A. and taught for several years in the faculty of arts.In 1518 Melanchthon was appointed to the new professorship of Greek at the University of Wittenberg, largely because his uncle Reuchlin promoted his candidacy. His youthful appearance dismayed some of the faculty, including the rising theological star of the uni-versity, Martin Luther, but his inaugural lecture (De corrigendis adolescentiae studiis / On Reforming the Education of Youth) was such an eloquent plea for the value of a humanistic education that these doubts were resolved. Melanchthon, already widely regarded as the crown prince of German humanism on account of his relation to Reuchlin and his precocious academic success, soon became an aca-demic star in his own right. Although his uncle Reuchlin was hostile to the Reformation, Melanchthon became an enthusiastic supporter of Luther, commenced study in the faculty of theology, and in 1519 received the baccalaureate in that field. His main interest, however, was in humanistic studies. He offered occasional courses in theology but never attempted to gain the doctorate. He was at heart a gram-marian and rhetorician—a humanist—not a theologian. Yet his Loci communes (1521) was the first systematic statement of Lutheran the-ology and remained an influential book.As Luther became increasingly preoccupied with his own legal de-fense against charges of heresy, Melanchthon took over the ambitious program of reforming the university curriculum along humanist lines, in which the first step had been his own employment to teach Greek and the creation of a parallel professorship of Hebrew. Melanchthon spent his whole academic career in Wittenberg. In the face of many humanists' concerns about anti-intellectual tendencies in popular Protestantism, his presence and his tracts defending humanistic edu-cation as the basis for any sound reform of religion did much to relieve the worries of moderately conservative humanists that the Reformation movement would destroy the recent gains of humanis-tic education. Melanchthon himself became the author of many text-books in both humanistic and scientific subjects, and he prepared edi-tions of classical authors for use in universities and grammar schools. From the mid-1520s, he made frequent trips to other parts of Ger-many to advise rulers on the reform of existing schools and the founding of new schools aimed at providing pupils with a humanis-tic education. His work in promoting educational reform won for him the nickname Praeceptor Germaniae ("Preceptor of Germany").In Wittenberg itself, he led a second wave of academic reforms in the 1530s intended to make Wittenberg more clearly both a Lutheran and a humanistic university. After the disruption of the university by the defeat of Electoral Saxony in the Schmalkaldic War of 1546-1547, he led a further revision of the academic program that helped to preserve Wittenberg's role as a leading Protestant university.Melanchthon was also an important figure in questions of religious reform. Although more cautious and less outspoken than Luther, he firmly backed Luther against both Catholics and radical Protestants. He was a leader in the formal visitations of Saxon churches by com-missioners appointed by the Saxon ruler to survey the spiritual and fi-nancial condition of local parishes. He insisted that the churches must have well-educated and well-paid preachers to teach the ill-informed common folk the central doctrines of Christian religion. He supported Luther's recommendation that each city government had an obligation to provide sound elementary education to every boy—and every girl.In 1530, during the negotiations attempting to restore religious unity at the Diet of Augsburg, Luther, being under a legal sentence of outlawry, could not attend; Melanchthon took his place and drafted the fundamental summary of the Lutheran faith (the Augsburg Con-fession) laid before the emperor and the members of the Diet. Melanchthon was a temperamentally conciliatory person and retained friendly relations with many moderate and reform-minded Catholics, including the greatest figure of Northern humanism, Eras-mus. He opposed the more radical reform ideas of Huldrych Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius, especially their eucharistic theology. Yet he admitted that on many other doctrines they agreed with him and Luther, and during his later years, when Luther was dead and he was the principal successor to Luther's leadership, he remained so friendly with the Swiss Sacramentarians (followers of Zwingli) that other, more conservative Lutherans accused him of be-ing a Zwinglian heretic. After the victory of the Emperor Charles V in the Schmalkaldic War, Melanchthon favored a cautious and mod-erate policy. He regarded many of the ideas and practices that the em-peror was trying to enforce in Lutheran parts of the country as adi-aphora (non-essential matters) on which the Lutherans could make some concessions without betraying their basic doctrines. Thus he was frequently attacked both as too radical because of his lack of en-thusiasm for attacking Protestant "Sacramentarians" and as too close to the Catholics because he was recommending limited obedience to some of the imperial policies intended to bring Protestants back into the Roman Catholic church.In 1541-1542 Melanchthon was the principal Lutheran participant in a series of colloquies at which Lutheran, Catholic, and Reformed (Zwinglian) theologians attempted to define areas of agreement and reach compromises on areas of disagreement so that the Christian church could be reunited. Melanchthon and the papal representative signed an agreement on justification by faith that they hoped would provide a basis for reunion. This agreement (which left several other major issues unresolved) was rejected both by Luther and by the pope. Despite open attacks by self-proclaimed "real Lutherans," who regarded him as weak in dealing with both Catholics and Sacramen-tarians, Melanchthon remained the leading figure of Lutheranism fol-lowing Luther's death in 1546.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.