by The Rev. William Cwirla
Philipp Melanchthon was born this day in the year 1497 at Bretten near Karlsruhe, the son of Georg Schwarzerd, armorer to Count Palatine Philip. At the age of ten he was sent to the Latin school of Pforzheim where he studied the Latin and Greek poets and the philosophy of Aristotle. At the age of 13, he entered the University of Heidelberg where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, and astronomy. Refused the master’s degree on account of his tender age, Philipp went to the University of Tübingen where he studied law, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. After receiving his master’s in 1516, he began to study theology under Reuchlin and Erasmus. He went on to the University of Wittenberg where he taught alongside Martin Luther.
In 1521, at the age of 24, Melanchthon published his Loci communes, a collection and commentary on Scripture texts under various topical headings. He was the author of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and its Apology (1531), which became the chief confession of the Reformation and the pillar of the Book of Concord. Though later vilified for his “variata” edition of the Augsburg Confession (1540), his compromised views on the Lord’s Supper, and his concessions in the Leipzig Interim, Melanchthon remains one of the chief architects of the Lutheran confessions and one of its most articulate spokesmen and scholars.
Of Melanchthon, Luther wrote, “I had to fight with rabble and devils, for which reason my books are very warlike. I am the rough pioneer who must break the road; but Master Philipp comes along softly and gently, sows and water heartily, since God has richly endowed him with gifts.” Luther called Phlipp “a divine instrument which has acheived the very best in the department of theology to the great rage of the devil and his scabby tribe.” It is well known that the quarrelsome Luther and irenic Melanchthon did not always agree or get along personally. Melanchthon described his stormy relationship with Luther as “Promethius chained to the Caucasus.” In spite of his strong attacks against Erasmus and Bucer, however, Luther never spoke directly against Melanchthon.
Melanchthon is described and depicted as a small and frail man, of poor health and subject to episodes of melancholy. He was a devoted family man, calling his home “a little church of God.” A visiting French scholar once observed him rocking the cradle of his child with one hand and holding a book with the other. To a fault, Philip was a quiet, peaceable man who despised jealousy, envy, slander, and sarcasm. He was a true academic, more comfortable in the company of scholars than the rough common people of his day, yet a man of prayer and deep personal piety. Though he never preached from a pulpit, he did teach homiletics and wrote sermons for his classes. He said, “Every theologian and faithful interpreter of the heavenly doctrine must necessarily be first a grammarian, then a dialectician, and finally a witness.”
For Thy servant Philipp, scholar, teacher, humanist, theologian, confessor, whose fluid pen set down the great confession of the Reformation and its defense before the the church and the world, we give Thee thanks and praise, O Father through Your Son in the Holy Spirit. Amen.