Philip Melanchthon Anchors Reformation Theology

Philip Melanchthon was born February 16, 1497 in Bretten, Western Germany. His birth name was Philip Schwartzerd, meaning ‘black earth’, but he changed his surname to Melanchthon, the Greek equivalent, during his education.

He was a brilliant student who excelled in his humanist studies so well (here humanist means – non-theological) that he entered Heidelberg University at age 13 and was deemed too young to receive the B.A. degree he earned in just 2 years. He went on to earn an M.A. at Tuebingen University by age 17, whereupon he was put to lecturing to the students, much to the displeasure of his peers.

He considered humanistic learning to be a “wonderful gift of God” and went on to lecture at the new university in Wittenberg. This brought him into contact with Martin Luther.

Europe’s Renaissance humanists were offended by Luther’s suggestion that human achievement plays no part in salvation, but Melanchthon embraced both the reality of faith and the value of secular understanding.

In 1524 Melanchthon began establishing public schools, reorganising Universities, organising teacher training and writing multiple textbooks.

Both colleague and companion of the impetuous Martin Luther, the gentle and scholarly spirit of Melanchthon did much to keep the Reformation true to its theological moorings.

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It was he who drew up the “Confession of Augsburg”, a modified version now being the creed of the Lutheran faith, and it was his commentary on Romans that was held in such high regard that it soon found its way onto the Romish index of banned books.

This commentary, with its ‘divisions and arrangements, became the stereo-typed method followed by all Protestant writers on doctrine’ (Cyclopaedia of Modern Religious Biographies, page 336).

One writer describes Melanchthon as being the only Reformer “who had the scraggy look of an intellectual” (Bamber Gascoigne, in The Christians, page 167).

After Luther’s death, Melanchthon became the acknowledged leader of the Lutheran cause.

His workday started at 2am and continued, tirelessly until 9pm. He and his wife, Katharine, adopted the orphaned children of his sister-in-law, then later added five more children when his daughter died. Katharine died when Melanchthon was 60.

14 years after Luther’s death Melanchthon came to his end. He cut short a lecture on April 9, after staggering to the class. He then languished for another ten days and died on 19 April, 1560.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

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