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: www.donaldprout.com

Karl Hugo Hahn Labours in South West Africa

Karl Hugo Hahn died on November 24, 1895, as the most famous German missionary to Africa, after faithfully labouring among the Herero of Damaraland.

Born in Riga, Latvia on October 18, 1818, Hahn became a Rheinish (Lutheran) missionary to Africa and worked industriously to elevate the tribal people of South West Africa (now Namibia), but ultimately with limited success.

Hahn was sent into Damaraland by the Rheinish Missionary Society of Africa in 1841, as the second missionary to the interior. His mission was to make links with the Herero people if he could. Traveling to “the place of the big spring” where the Herero tribe was last located Hahn arrived to find that they had moved on in search of better grazing for their herds. Hahn built his mission station on the spot, nonetheless, and named is Gross Barmen. This was to be Hahn’s mission base for many years. He later brought his bride, English born Emma Hone (over four years his senior), to join him there.

Tribal tensions were a major problem at the time as the Herero migrated south and met other tribes migrating north. The southern tribes enlisted help from the well armed Jonker Afrikaner, and his Oerlom, who violently attacked the Herero people, killing, maiming and robbing them freely.

In 1851 many Herero had resorted to Hahn for some protection but a massacre occurred at Moordkoppie (Murder Hill) in which a large number of Herero were killed. Women had their feet cut off to get the metal bands around their ankles.

After spending almost ten years in Namibia (1857), Emma wrote to her mother in England: “All is very dull here. To the missionaries it is peculiarly a waiting time, a time for the full exercise of patience, and that is sometimes on the wane, when they see that the Word [of God] is, so to say, daily preached to them in their own language, the people still are as ‘deaf adder that stoppeth her ear’.”

Hahn and Emma enjoyed a four year furlough in Germany and returned in 1863 with a new project in mind. Since the Herero were resistant to the gospel the missionaries would create a western style community which could educate the choicest candidates for future leadership in their own nation. So they established the first production centre in Namibia.

Rather than reach out to the poor and marginalised, Hahn planned to train the sons of chieftains, so they could be preachers and maintain a productive lifestyle. Hahn despised European materialism and sought to raise African Nations which could be free from the evils of the west. However, he did not count on the sheer power of those European nations in their claim upon Africa.

In 1866 Hahn commenced his school, to train men to lead, preach and teach their own people. The project had some impact but was not supported by the mission societies and also could not successfully attract enough of the right candidates. It may have been because of the schooling venture that Hahn broke from the Rheinish Missionary Society in 1873

Among his successes was a young Herero lady who worked as domestic servant to Carl and Helen. She initially came to the mission school and learned sewing, but was soon teaching classes. She became fluent in English, Dutch and German and translated materials into Herero and travelled with the Hahn’s to Europe as an example of their impact.

Hahn had nine books published in Germany in the early 1860’s. And he also wrote a Grammar for the Herero language.

After quitting with the Missionary Society Hahn pastored St Martins German Lutheran Church in Cape Town from 1874 to 1884.

His Gross Barman mission station and school was disbanded in 1902. The German colonialists did not want to give quality education to the tribal people, even though they knew they were just as intelligent as any European. They wanted labourers for the mines and farms, not educated people who might not fit in with their plans.

Carl’s children followed his religious convictions and some returned to Germany, while others served in the armed forces and suffered under the Nazis for doing so. Their daughter Emma married a pastor and moved to New York, where Emma died in 1906.

Karl Hugo Hahn ceased his labours on November 24, 1895.

Christian Friedrich Swartz Impacts Southern India

This is the day that Christian Friedrich Swartz was born in Prussia (now Poland), in 1726.

He has been described as “one of the most energetic and successful missionaries of the 18th century (Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 2131).

His youth was spent at Halle, the centre of German pietism. Founded by Jacob Spener, this was a movement that sought to add spiritual life to a moribund Lutheranism. Young Swartz here studied the Indian dialect, Tamil, that he might superintend the translation of a Bible in that tongue.

Lutheran Missions to India had seen success under several missionaries, notably two eminent Germans, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1678-1747). Both of these men had preceded Swartz at Halle. Ziegenbalg’s work in southern India was an inspiration to William Carey for the latter’s later work in northern India.

In 1750 Swartz sailed for India, where he lived for the next 48 years, and where he died. When Schwartz arrived in south India, the Tamil-speaking Christian community established by Ziegenbalg and others was close to 2,000 persons.

Swartz threw himself into the missionary work. “His passion to save men made all labour and sacrifice seem little. He studied the habits, modes of thought and idioms of speech, and even the mazes of mythology, which are the paths to the hearts of the Hindus” (New Acts of the Apostles, by A.T. Pierson, page 91).

In 1768, the East India Company appointed Schwartz as a chaplain in Trichonopoly. Ten years later in 1778, Schwartz moved to Tanjore where he lived the rest of his life. During his service with the British, Schwartz was known as a peacemaker (i.e., diplomat) during times of war caused by the East India Company’s aggressive policies in India. Schwartz’s linguistic abilities became legendary as he related easily among Germans, English, Portuguese, and many different Indian peoples. Schwartz learned Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindustani, Marathi, and Portuguese.

He established many schools for native Indians and orphaned Indian children, which greatly endeared him to the Indian people.

Swartz never married; indeed he was critical of fellow missionaries who did! (Christian Missionaries, by O. Milton, page 33.) Rajahs, governors-general, haughty Brahmins, English military officers, all seemed to look upon him as a man of God.

It was Wednesday, 13 February, 1798, that he lay upon his deathbed and, “with clear and melodious voice”, joined with the friends gathered around him, singing, “Only to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Rajah’s son, Serfojee, acted as chief mourner a few days later.

It is estimated that Swartz was responsible for the conversion of over 6,000 Hindus and Moslems during his years in India.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.