MELANCHTHON, Philip

(1497-1560)
Author of the Augsburg Confession and the subsequent Apology, Philip Melanchthon is regarded as one of the main leaders of the Reformation, and his theology served as the focal point for most strains of Protestantism emerging from that age. Melanchthon's early love of Latin and Greek led him to translate his birth name of Schwartzerd into its Greek equivalent, Melanchthon. Influ­enced by William of Occam, he came to doubt many of the traditional teachings of the Catholic church. As a professor at the University of Wittenberg, he be­came a close acquaintance of Martin Luther*; already an evangelical, Melanchthon readily accepted the idea of justification by faith alone and by 1519 had rejected the Catholic belief in transubstantiation.
Melanchthon grew even more convinced that Scripture was the basis for be­lief, and not church tradition. His relationship with Luther was a complementary one, and he was neither the spokesperson for his colleague nor his tool. Indeed, Melanchthon's humanist beliefs put him at odds with Luther in many respects. They did collaborate on several pamphlets, most notably Freedom of a Christian Man, and when Luther refused to recant his beliefs at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Melanchthon wrote a defense of his friend. Responding to Catholic criticism of the evangelicals, Melanchthon issued Loci communes in April 1521, which was a systematic exposition of Protestant thought up to that point.
Melanchthon also turned his energies in 1524 toward the establishment of a public school system in Germany based on evangelical principles and reorgan­ized the faculty at Wittenberg to train future teachers for that task; the university thus abandoned its Scholastically based curriculum in favor of one based on the humanities. Melanchthon believed that a lack of education led to a decline in piety, and that a humanities curriculum could more effectively weld education to true Christian doctrine. For his efforts, Melanchthon earned the title "Precep­tor" (teacher) of Germany.
The Protestants did not seem able to reach a consensus on the major doctrinal issues, and two diets at Speyer also failed to effect a conciliation with the Catholics, leading Emperor Charles V* to call the Diet of Augsburg in early 1530. Melanchthon headed up the Protestant delegation that found itself having to issue an unequivocal response concerning its doctrines. Drawn up by Me-lanchton, this statement, known as the Augsburg Confession, was essentially a Lutheran confession of faith. It was presented to the emperor in June and was refuted by Johann Eck, and it soon became clear that no compromise could be reached on the major issues, despite Melanchthon's conciliatory attitudes. Luther wanted the negotiations broken off, but Melanchthon wished to avoid a religious war, leading some of the evangelicals to question his devotion to the faith.
Falling to reach agreement, the German Lutheran princes formed the Schmalkaldic League to prepare for hostilities, and Melanchthon issued Apology, which was essentially a defense of the Augsburg Confession. The emperor's demand that the princes renounce their heretical beliefs by April 1531 meant the begin­nings of a cold war between the two sides, solidified by the Council of Trent in 1545. Melanchthon carried the pamphlet torch in the aftermath of Luther's death in 1546, and when the Schmalkaldic War broke out in 1547, he made further futile attempts to conciliate with the Catholics. When the Peace of Augs­burg ended the war in 1555 and allowed the German princes to determine the religion in each of their territories, Melanchthon was hopeful that a final reso­lution was in sight.
After the death of his wife in 1557, Melanchthon entered a period of physical decline and passed away in April 1560. Buried next to Luther, Melanchthon took his rightful place, in death as in life, as one of the primary leaders of the Reformation, whose theology provides the underpinnings for most evangelical Protestantism today.
Bibliography
C. L. Manschreck, Melanchthon, the Quiet Reformer, 1975.
Connie S. Evans

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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  • Melanchthon, Philipp — orig. Philipp Schwartzerd born Feb. 15, 1497, Bretten, Palatinate died April 19, 1560, probably Wittenberg, Saxony German Protestant reformer. His education in Germany was greatly influenced by humanist learning, and he was named professor of… …   Universalium

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