ELCM Pastor, Rev. Mark D. Isaacs February 28, 2000

STM paper assignment:

Prepare a critical analysis of the writings of Luther Colleague and Co-worker, Prof. Philipp Melancthon. The synopsis is to present an evaluation the theological contributions of this major Reformation Scholar and to assess the value of those contributions for ministry in the Church today.

"It is almost as if Melanchthon were the Rodney Dangerfield of the Reformation, the man who cannot get respect."

-- Melanchthon scholar Dr. Timothy J. Wengert speaking in 1997 on the 500th birthday of Philip Melanchthon.

I. BIOGRAPHICAL DATA

The "significant theologian in the Reformation / Post Reformation Period" that I have selected is the remarkable Philip Melanchthon (February 16, 1497 - April 19, 1560). I selected Melanchthon because I wanted to learn more about this "quiet reformer" who has been variously accused of betraying Luther, saving Lutheranism, and of selling out "true Lutheranism" to Rome and/or Geneva

. Over the years Melanchthon has had many friends and supporters, as well as many enemies and critics. Indeed, Melanchthon is interesting because, as Melanchthon translator J.A.O. Preus writes, "He has been called a great and noble figure, a scholar, a Christian reformer, a Renaissance Humanist, an educator, a gentle and loving soul. He has also been called a villain, a syncretist, a unionist, a compromiser, and an irascible troublemaker. He had hosts of loving devotees and hosts of angry and frustrated enemies... to this day the man remains enigmatic and controversial."

I attended the Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary [LTS-G] receiving my M.Div. degree in 1992. At LTS-G I took many excellent Church History classes from Dr. Eric W. Gritsch --the famous Luther scholar and author of 17 books on Luther and the Reformation. Dr. Gritsch is a remarkable man, and I hold him in high esteem.

Through my recent Trinity Seminary readings on Melanchthon [and an S.T.M. class on the Lutheran Confessions that I took this summer at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (LTS-P) with Melanchthon scholar Dr. Timothy J. Wengert] I have discovered the whole new world of Melanchthon.

Prior to this summer about all that I knew about Philip Melanchthon was that Luther called him the Leisetreter, i.e., the one who treads lightly [a pussyfooter!]. Luther called him the Leisetreter because of Melanchthon's amazing diplomatic skills relating to the writing of the Augsburg Confession (1530). Melanchthon, as a classically trained Humanist scholar, had the ability to see all sides of a question and to forge compromise and consensus phrases.

Luther himself admitted that he was too much of a theological hot-head ["my books are very stormy and warlike..." ] to accomplish this task. Hence, as a Seminary follower of Luther scholar Dr. Gritsch, I never really gave Melanchthon a second thought. I preferred to gloss over Melanchthon and to focus instead on Luther --the German Hercules-- and his passionate and inflammatory writings.

To my amazement, with my Trinity readings, and with my LTS-P S.T.M. class with Dr. Timothy J. Wengert, I have discovered Melanchthon. In the end, reading Melanchthon has given me a deeper view of the complex movement called the Protestant Reformation.

Who was this interesting man? Philip Melanchthon was an important intellectual ally and coworker of Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546). Some have correctly said of Melanchthon that he was "Luther's right arm (and sometimes left) during the early years of the Reformation."

At the same time, in must be noted that Melanchthon was "no mere secretary to Luther, as it is commonly believed, [among other things] as a colleague at Wittenberg he performed path breaking service in forging a uniquely Protestant (Lutheran) method of reading Scripture."

Indeed, Melanchthon accomplished many remarkable things during his career. For example he wrote the first great Protestant confession of faith --The Augsburg Confession (1530); he worked with Luther to reshape the churches of Saxony to flesh out and incorporate many practical reforms [re-inventing the Church]; he helped create and direct an army of Protestant educators that brought fresh vision to the schools and universities of Germany [hence he is rightly called the Praeceptor Germaniae ]; and, he worked with Luther to "navigate the Lutheran ship of state through the deadly dangerous waters of negotiation between Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrinal factions during the first three fateful decades of the Reformation."

Indeed, the Reformation in Germany succeeded only through God's protection and through the direct political and military clout of the German princes.

Maintaining the political balance in the years after 1517 was a delicate task. When this political and religious balance broke down in the years leading up to 1618 the result was the disastrous Thirty Years War (1618-1630). Indeed, Melanchthon, as "the Leisetreter," was skilled and gifted in this area. Melanchthon was born on February 16, 1497. Thus, notes J.A.O. Preus, "he was about 14 years younger than Luther." He was born in the small Black Forest town on Bretten in the Palatinate [Germany]. He was the son of a famous armorer and ordinance maker named George Scharzerd ("black-earth" in German). This unusual name is probably due to the fact that the family had been ironworkers and blacksmiths. His father George worked for the Elector of the Palatinate [Philip the Upright]. Hence, Melanchthon's family had many powerful political and court connections.

When Philip was only eleven George Scharzerd died, "probably as a result of having drunk poisoned well water [while at war with the Hessians]."

After his father's death Philip was sent to the famous Latin school in Pforzheim, near Stuttgart, so that he might be near his granduncle [on his mother's side] John Reuchlin (1455-1522). At the time, John Reuchlin was the greatest living Humanist Hebrew scholar. Reuchlin was both the supervisor and inspiration for young Philip's scholarly career. His granduncle also gave young Philip the classical Greek name "Melanchthon" (meaning "black earth") signifying his baptism into that elite society of Humanists that was just beginning to form north of the Alps."

Melanchthon was a true prodigy. At age twelve, in 1509, he had matriculated at the University of Heidelberg. In less that two years, at the age of fourteen, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree (June 18, 1511). On January 25, 1514, in "an astonishingly short time," Melanchthon received an M.A. from Tübingen University. And, in 1515, the great Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536) even praised his style.

As a result, by this time, Philip Melanchthon had become widely known as a rising scholar with in the Humanist movement. As a Humanist he was interested in all branches of knowledge including mathematics, the natural sciences, philosophy and theology. Strangely, --from our modern perspective-- Melanchthon was also a life-long student of astrology. But most of all Melanchthon studied the ancient classical languages --especially Greek-- becoming a student of not only the language, by the thought and literature of the ancient Greeks. Like all Humanists of the period, Melanchthon hoped that a renewal of the old disciplines of dialectics and rhetoric --particularly the works of Aristotle-- would bring about a broad moral reform.

In May of 1518, when he was only 21 years old, Melanchthon published a Greek grammar that was to remain in constant demand as a textbook for many decades. Preus reports that this grammar was "subsequently used for 200 years, even in Catholic schools." In 1518, with Reuchlin's strong recommendation, Melanchthon was invited to come to Wittenberg University as professor of Greek. Melanchthon arrived at Wittenberg on August 25, 1518. At the time, Wittenberg was considered a second rate university (founded in 1502) in a back-country village with "mud streets and a severe climate." Despite many opportunities to serve at other universities, he was to call Wittenberg home for the remaining 42 years of his life.

Upon his arrival at Wittenberg Melanchthon quickly identified himself with his older colleague Dr. Martin Luther and with the Reformation struggle which had begun on October 31, 1517 with the posting of The 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church.

In 1519 Melanchthon, an ally of Luther and an enthusiastic supporter of the Evangelical cause, attended the Leipzig Disputation. After the disputation, young Melanchthon, as "spin artist," wrote an open letter defending the Lutheran cause to his Humanist friend John Oecolampadius (1482-1531) [at the Marburg Colloquy (1520) Oecolampadius defended the Eucharistic doctrine of Zwingli]. Catholic apologist at the Leipzig Disputation, John Eck, responded with a nasty tract which dismissed Melanchthon as "the grammarian [i.e., not a qualified theologian] from Wittenberg."

Melanchthon, in true Humanist fashion, retorted with an eloquent and biting defense of Luther's rejection of papal authority as well as a clear statement of the superiority of Scripture over all authorities of the Church, including the Fathers. In this treatise he coined the famous phrase, "Patribus enim credo, quia Scripturae credo," i.e., "For I believe the Fathers because I believe the Scripture." Thus, Melanchthon championed the supreme authority of Scripture [Sola Scriptura] over against that of popes and councils. Preus notes that, "some have asserted that Melanchthon actually preceded Luther in affirming the doctrine of Sola Scriptura." In 1520 he married Katherine Krapp --the daughter of the mayor of Wittenberg. The couple had four children.

At Wittenberg, despite the fact that he never took a doctor's degree, nor that he was ever ordained into the ministry, nor did he ever preach, Melanchthon studied and taught theology and other subjects including rhetoric and homiletics. During his career his popular lectures were attended by hundreds of students. At times, Melanchthon's lectures even outstripped Luther's in popularity. Melanchthon's lectures we so popular that his students copied them and published them. Hence, the first Protestant systematic theology text [the Loci] along with his commentaries on Romans, I and II Corinthians, Matthew and John "marked him as a convinced follower of Luther and a theological force in his own right." [Thus, Melanchthon's Romans Commentary --also on my reading list-- was first presented as lectures at Wittenberg University]. It is also interesting to note that starting in 1522 Melanchthon --as a Hebrew and Greek scholar-- worked with Luther (until 1546 when Luther died) on numerous editions of his famous German translation of the Bible. Luther's Bible is the German literary equivalent of the King James Bible (1611).

Again, unlike Luther --who was a ordained Roman Catholic priest and Doctor of Theology-- Melanchthon was a layman. Also, unlike the more colorful and outspoken Luther, Melanchthon has been described as timid with a strong dislike for controversy. Despite these differences, Luther had a deep love and respect for the younger Melanchthon praising his ability to state things in an orderly manner, his ability with classical languages, this literary talents, and his ability to articulate Evangelical theology. I agree with Timothy J. Wengert who writes that without a doubt Melanchthon was a true Renaissance man.

Ironically, in spite of his own desire for unity and harmony, Melanchthon --the Leisetreter-- could not avoid controversy. As early as 1522, while Luther was "exiled" at the Wartburg Castle, he had difficulties with Andreas Karlstadt (c.1480-1541) over the issue of the Zwickau Prophets. In 1540 he produced an revision of the Augsburg Confession --the Variata-- with alterations that offended many Gnesio-Lutherans and brought him under considerable criticism after Luther's death in 1546.

The defeat of the Smalcald League [Lutheran forces] in 1546, and the imposing of the interim agreements of Augsburg and Leipzig (1548) by Charles V caused further problems when Melanchthon recommended the acceptance of many papal practices on the ground they were indifferent or nonessential matters (adiaphora). In addition, in a series of intra-Lutheran controversies [ultimately leading to the Formula of Concord (1577)] Lutheran theologian Matthias Flacius (1520-1575) accused Melanchthon of "betraying the Reformation." His mediating views on predestination and the eucharistic concessions were thought to have supported the arguments of the opposing Swiss Calvinists.

Melanchthon's followers at Wittenberg and Leipzig were scornfully referred to as "Crypto-Calvinists" or "Philippists." Attacks such as these caused Melanchthon a good deal of mental stress during the closing years of his career. Melanchthon died before any of these controversies were resolved.

Despite these many controversies, in the context of history, Melanchthon's essential Lutheranism was vindicated. When he died in 1560 Melanchthon was honorably buried beside Luther in Wittenberg.

Today, Melanchthon is recognized as an important thinker and writer in the German Reformation and as a vital theologian associated with early Lutheranism. Lutheran Theologian and Historian Walter R. Bouman flatly states that, "Philip Melanchthon is without question the second most important figure in the Lutheran reform movement of the 16th century."

II. The Loci Communes Theologici

For this course I read the third edition of Melanchthon's Loci Communes Theologici, entitled "Loci Communes 1543," translated by J.A.O. Preus and published by Concordia, St. Louis. As I stated above, Melanchthon's Loci grew out of a series of theological lectures he had delivered at Wittenberg University. Once his students had transcribed his lectures for publication [a common practice during this time], Melanchthon felt obligated to proof and revise these lectures. As a result, Melanchthon's Loci Communes was a project that he worked on and revised during his entire academic career 1521-1555. The name Loci Communes, in Latin, literally means "theological common places," or "general theological topics."

Dr. Timothy Wengert explains that the Loci method was borrowed from Erasmus --and the Humanist way of doing rhetoric-- as a means of organizing complex bodies of material. For Melanchthon the Loci "were the fundamental topics of a subject that revealed its true meaning and structure. Employing the wrong topics to organize a subject distorted the entire matter and left a person uncertain."

Melanchthon's Loci is important because this book was the first systematic theological textbook of the Protestant Reformation. With this book Melanchthon literally invented the Protestant Loci form and method of doing systematic theology. Unlike Melanchthon, and later John Calvin, despite boldly leading the Reformation, Martin Luther could never have written a systematic theology such as this. Luther was an OT scholar, a Bible translator, a preacher, a pastor, and a hot-headed pamphleteer. Typically, when Luther would hear of a "pastoral problem" he would write a powerful short pamphlet designed to put out the fire. For example, Luther wrote, "Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants (1525);" "Why Jesus was born a Jew (1523);" or "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, (1526)."

In contrast, Melanchthon was a systematic thinker and a careful Humanist rhetorician. Thus, Melanchthon's chief theological text was carefully reworked, revised, and reissued in various editions during the course of several decades. When you read the Loci you know that a great and careful thinker is presenting the material.

The first edition of the Loci Communes was patterned after Paul's argument presented in Romans. For example Sin and Law (Romans 1-3); Gospel, Grace, Faith and Justification (Romans 3-5, 7-11); the Signs (Romans 6); Love (Romans 12); Magistrates (Romans 13; Scandal (Romans 14-15).

Again, the very structure of the Loci reflects Melanchthon's Humanist training and the Humanist motto Ad Fontes --back to the fountainhead. Humanists held the Classics --including the Greek NT-- to be superior to modern writings and methods. Humanists sought to recapture the golden age by building on the Classical foundation. Hence, in his Loci Melanchthon follows St. Paul's argument form. It is also vital to note that Melanchthon's important theological text was reissue in various editions during the next several decades. Later editions, such as the 1543 edition, were fine-tuned to include themes of God; Creation; The Fall; Free Will (the bondage of the will); Sin; Divine Law; Law and Gospel; Grace and Justification by faith; Good Works; The Church; the Sacraments; etc. In the 1543 edition there are a total of 24 Loci. When you read Melanchthon's Loci you are impressed by at least four things:

First, Melanchthon has a deep and broad knowledge of classical and patristic thinkers. For example, in one place, to prove a point, Melanchthon writes, "the examples of Palamedes, Thrasybulus, Demosthenes, Cicero, Pompey, and Caeser bear witness..."

As a Humanist scholar Melanchthon freely draws from the wisdom of the Classical tradition. He freely quotes a host of past thinkers [both pagan and Christian] to both support his arguments and to refute Roman errors.

As I worked with Melanchthon's Loci I was reminded of Calvin's Institute's. Modern readers --who tend to lack a grounding in the Classics-- could be intimidated, mystified, and baffled at these many references. Sadly, because of our progressive educational system, few Americans are qualified to read Melanchthon!

Second, Melanchthon is a detailed, careful, systematic, and orderly thinker. After reading modern theologians such as Paul Tillich or Robert Jenson Melanchthon is a breath of fresh air! Thus, because it is so well ordered --thanks to his Loci method-- Melanchthon is a delight to read [despite occasional difficulties with the Classical references].

Third, it is important to remember that Melanchthon was creating a whole new genre with his Loci. Typically, prior to Melanchthon, theologians followed the strict form outlined by Peter Lombard's Sentences (probably written 1155-1158). In contrast Melanchthon's Loci was more organic, functional, and biblical. Hence, it served the cause of the Reformers. In the process, with the Loci method, Melanchthon was literally inventing the discipline of Protestant systematic theology. In the years that followed Melanchthon's Loci set the standard for all subsequent Protestant systematic theology texts. To this day systematic theologians like Wayne Grudem, Millard J. Erickson, [or even Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson!] tend to follow Melanchthon's well ordered and systematic presentation pattern.

Fourth, for the sophisticated modern theological reader, Melanchthon's Loci reads like a cliché filled theology textbook. After years of seminary, we are tempted to claim that we have read and heard it all before.

Thus, when a modern reader reads the Loci we are tempted to react like the student who was forced to read Shakespeare's Hamlet. The student complained that the play was good, but that it was full of clichés.

With Melanchthon, it is not so much what he said and wrote that is important [his argument have been rehashed ad nauseum over the centuries], but how he presented this amazing material. Again, we must remember that Melanchthon --like Shakespeare-- came first.

Since Melanchthon is the one who literally invented Protestant dogmatics, he is also an important bridge figure that connects the Reformation to the Orthodoxy-Pietist era of Protestant theology. This point is important for me. I have a deep interest in Pietism and the work of Johann A. Bengel (1687-1752). With out Melanchthon there would have been no Pietist movement [Spener-Francke-Bengel, etc.].

III. Commentary on Romans from 1540

I read Melanchthon's Commentary on Romans (1540), translated by Fred Kramer, (Concordia, St. Louis, 1992). Romans was a very important book for the Reformers. The story of Luther's "tower experience" upon his reading Romans 1:17 is one of the great and standard tales of Reformation history. For the Reformers, Romans was the key to the NT and the Bible as a whole. Hence, we should not be surprised that Melanchthon spent years lecturing and working with Paul's great epistle.

Both Luther and Melanchthon "had a passion for the writings of St. Paul, particularity the epistle to the Romans, which he deemed the pass key into the treasure room of the Scripture." Melanchthon taught and wrote that the epistle of Romans was a "compendium of Christian doctrine" and it has in fact functioned as such for most of its long history. As we have learned above, the structure of the first edition of Melanchthon's Loci was pattered after Paul's argument in Romans.

In his Romans commentary Melanchthon expounded upon the great Reformation doctrine of justification by faith through the nonimputation of our sin and the imputed righteousness of Christ. Melanchthon, in a concept he repeatedly stresses in his Loci, makes the classic Lutheran case for the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. The Law binds us, convicts us, and drives us to an end of ourselves and to the foot the Cross of Christ. The Gospel proclaims repentance, the promise of grace, eternal life, and proclaims our liberty in Christ. For Melanchthon, this distinction is the most important Evangelical tool for the Protestant theologian.

Melanchthon's Romans commentary is a true theological classic that I am going to keep on my shelf and use and reuse during the course of my lectionary preaching cycle.

IV. The Book of Concord (1580)

I re-read the Book of Concord (1580): The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, translated by Theodore G. Tappert, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959) with a special focus on Melanchthon's writings in The Book of Concord: The Augsburg Confession (1530) and The Apology for the Augsburg Confession (1531). Also, I re-read Melanchthon's addition to Martin Luther's Smalcald Articles with an important discussion on The Power and the Primacy of the Papacy (1537). In a chapter called the "The Aborted Reformation," in his Introduction to Lutheranism, Eric W. Gritsch explains how Luther's reforms were ignored, rejected and condemned by the Roman Church of the 16th century. The high point of Rome's rejection was the Jesuit lead Council of Trent (1545-1563). Trent was a "formal refutation" of Luther and his fellow Reformer's and their call for serious internal Church reform. Trent marked the start of the Counter-Reformation in which Rome regained many of the territories which had previously sided with the Reformation.

Among the tools of the Counter-Reformation were the infamous "Index of Forbidden Books;" the Trentine Catechism; the concept of "theological extensions" of Scripture; the acceptance of the deuterocanonical scripture into the canon (the Apocrypha); and Catholic princes and other political leaders willing to enforce these rigorous counter-reforms.

The Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation posed a serious threat to the future of the Protestant Reformation in Germany and in Europe.

To further complicate the drama, Martin Luther died in 1546. Even his friends freely admit that Philip Melanchthon, who --as we have seen-- was a great thinker, lacked the charisma and leadership abilities of Luther. As a result, in the years leading up to --and after-- 1546, the Lutheran movement fragmented into a number of theological factions fueled by an assortment of internal theological controversies. Thus, the Reformation at this time was threatened by both internal and external forces.

Internally, in the 1530s, John Agricola (1494-1566) lead an antinomianist faction (i.e., faith needs no laws); Matthias Flacius (1520-1575) lead the "Gnesiolutherans" against the "crypto-Calvinists;" in the 1550s Georg Major (1502-1654) argued that "good works are necessary for salvation," while Nicholas von Amsdorf (1483-1565) took the opposite view.

The end result of these diverse controversies was the Formula of Concord (1577) and the Book of Concord [the collected Lutheran confessional statements (1580)]. These Lutheran confessions sought to define, refine, and unify Lutheran theology. Since 1580 --the fifth anniversary of the reading of the Augsburg Confession before Charles V-- The Book of Concord (agreement) had defined the boundaries and limits of Lutheran theology.

With Luther's help, the basic Lutheran statement of faith --the Augsburg Confession-- was written by Philip Melanchthon. As we have stated above, Melanchthon was known for his diplomatic skill and for his careful use of theological language. For this reason, and since Martin Luther was unable to attend the Diet of Augsburg because --since 1520-- he was under ban of empire, Luther selected his young friend to represent the Lutheran cause. Hence, the Augsburg Confession is Melanchthon's concise and classic statement of Lutheran theology.

Drawing on previously drafted statements such as the Schwabach Articles of 1529 and the statement from the Lutheran conclave at Torgau, Melanchthon tried to demonstrate that Lutherans held:

1.) a ecumenical stance, i.e., that Lutherans were not a new religion, sect, or a cult;

2.) a commitment to continuing reform, i.e., that the Reformation did not end with Luther's work or his death;

and 3.) a willingness to compromise, i.e., Melanchthon used hard logic and tough words, yet he always left room for Rome [and the left-wing of the Reformation] to compromise and reform itself.

The end result was the Augsburg Confession of 1530, a masterfully written confession signed by seven German territorial princes and two city councils, with Elector John Frederick of Saxony heading the list.

Luther, after reading Melanchthon's Augsburg Confession, admitted that he would have been unable to "tread so softly in these matters."

The Augsburg Confession was read before Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, in 1530. While diplomatic and generally conciliatory in tone, the Confession was adopted by Lutherans [and their political supporters] as a testimony against abuses prevalent in the Roman Church, the Turks [all Germans hated "the Turk" at this time], and against the errors of certain left-wing reformers [such as the radical Anabaptists] regarding such crucial doctrines as God, the Son of God, Justification, Original Sin, Confession, the Office of Ministry, Civil Government, and the Use of the Sacraments. Despite presents a host of topics, The Augsburg Confession is a fairly concise document. It makes the case for the Evangelical faith in 28 articles.

The Confession repeatedly makes the Evangelical case grounding their arguments in empirical evidence, the Scripture [multiple quotes and proofs], the Fathers, and in Church History. The point Melanchthon --and the others were making-- was that the Roman Church strayed from the teachings of the Scripture and of the catholic tradition.

An example is Article XXIII, The Marriage of Priests. In this single article Melanchthon gives empirical evidence that clerical celibacy has been a failure, i.e., ""there has been a loud complain throughout the world concerning the flagrant immorality and dissolute life of priests (AC.23.1); presents five Scripture quotes; rolls out some Church history [the rejection of German priests "only four hundred years ago (AC.23.12)" of the enforcement of the celibacy rule during the reign of Pope Gregory VII (1973-1085)]; quotes St. Cyprian, and argues that enforced clerical celibacy is ""contrary to all divine, natural and civil law (AC.XXIII.13)." Melanchthon certainly holds to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, yet he freely used every available rhetorical weapon in an effort to crush the Roman opposition on multiple levels.

For the modern day Christian apologist this multi-level tactic of the confessions would be a useful tool to adopt. How often have we Christians gotten caught up in the circular argument of "the Bible says..." No wonder that proof-texts to people who do not respect the authority of the Bible [or anything else for that matter] are not effective. Melanchthon's multi-level approach appeals the heart, soul, and mind of the reader. Hence, the whole person --the honest seeker of the truth-- is won over to the Evangelical cause.

One year later, in 1531, in response the Roman Confutation, Melanchthon wrote the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession. In point by point detailed arguments the Apology answers the Confutation's criticisms of the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon, who carefully penned the Augsburg Confession, was in a perfect position to refute the Confutation.

The Apology, perhaps because his Confession arguments were rejected, is much less conciliatory. For example, Melanchthon as a rhetorician charges, "in popular estimation the blessed Virgin Mary has completely replaced Christ (AP.XXI.28)."

In another place --with a classic Humanist maladictum-- Melanchthon charges that a certain argument in the Confutation is nothing more than "the dregs of Eck (AP.XXII.11)." John Eck was the leading opponent of the Lutherans at the Diet of Augsburg. The Apology follows the same outline and structure as the Augsburg Confession. Hence, the Apology can be read and used as a commentary on the shorter Confession. Interestingly, virtually half of the Apology is devoted to the Biblical doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Luther, and the other Reformers, held that justification is the central doctrine of the Reformation. In this section Melanchthon attacks Rome's semi-Pelagianism which leads to works-righteousness and a negation of justification by faith.

Like the Augsburg Confession, the Apology became a part of the official confession of faith among Lutherans. It was adoption at Smalcald, Germany in 1537.

In 1537 Melanchthon added to Martin Luther's "harsh" Smalcald Articles with an important and interesting discussion on The Power and the Primacy of the Papacy. Comparing Luther's inflammatory Smalcald Articles to the Primacy of the Pope is interesting and useful.

In the Smalcald Articles the course and blunt Reformer Martin Luther --who thought he was dying at the time he wrote these-- hammered the Roman position on a host of theological issues.

Again, in a sharp contrast to Luther, the soft Humanist Melanchthon rolls out his array of theological, biblical, philosophical and historical proofs to slam the Roman position. Luther's Smalcald Articles come across as a real emotional outburst, while Melanchthon's Treatise is food for serious thought and reflection. In the end, like Lutheran and Melanchthon themselves, The Smalcald Articles and the Treatise compliment each other. They for a powerful one-two punch defending the Reformation position.

CONCLUSION

Melanchthon died on 1560 at the age of 63. Melanchthon was buried next to Luther in the Castle Church in Wittenberg. To this day, Melanchthon is remembered as "the ablest classical scholar his nation has ever known."

Melanchthon was more the scholar and the reflective theologian than a leader or a man of action. Melanchthon's chief weakness was quickly revealed when decisive leadership was demanded. For example, in 1522 [during Luther's "Junker George" time at the Wartburg Castle], radical reformers threaten to destroy the progress of the Reformation. Melanchthon was simply unable to curb their excesses. Thankfully, Luther was able to return to restore the situation.

After Luther's death [1546], although he was Luther's natural successor, Melanchthon lacked the moral force to deal adequately with multiple practical and theological problems that arose. These many theological controversies lead to necessity of the Formal of Concord (agreement) in 1577.

As I have stated above, Melanchthon was the basic author of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Apology (1531). Despite this, in 1577, the six principle authors of the Formula of Concord --including the great Martin Chemnitz ["the Second Martin"] decided not to mention Melanchthon's name "either positively or negatively" in the Formula. Preus states that by 1577 Melanchthon "had become too hot to handle!"

At the same time, Melanchthon's sincerity, scholarship, and piety were beyond question.

Less vital and dramatic than Luther, Melanchthon must be regarded as a pivotal figure in the early days of the Reformation. He left his mark on Lutheranism, and he had a more extended influence on the German educational system and in the area of formal theology.

Reading Melanchthon was an interesting and valuable exercise.

Bibliography

Braaten, Carl E. and Robert W. Jenson, Editor. Christian Dogmatics. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Douglas, J. D., Philip W. Comfort, and Donald Mitchell, Editors. Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992.

Gritsch, Eric W. and Robert W. Jenson. Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.

Gritsch, Eric W. Fortress Introduction to Lutheranism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Hendrix, Scott H. and Timothy J. Wengert, Editors. Philip Melanchthon Then and Now (1497-1997): Essays Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Birth of Philip Melanchthon, Theologian, Teacher, and Reformer. Columbia, South Carolina: The Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries, 1999.

Luther, Martin. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1998.

McKim, Donald K., Editor. Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Mays, James Luther, Editor. Harper's Bible Commentary. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Melanchthon, Philip, translated by J.A.O. Preus. Loci Communes: 1543. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992.

Melanchthon, Philip, translated by Fred Kramer. Commentary on Romans (1540). St. Louis: Concordia, 1992.

Pauck, Wilhelm, Editor. The Library of Christian Classics: Melanchthon and Bucer. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969.

Tappert, Theodore G. Translator and Editor. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (1580). Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.

Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951, 1959, 1967.