Friday, March 23, 2012

March 23, 2012

In referring to Martin Luther as the Father of the Protestant Reformation, we sometimes forget Philipp Melanchthon, a second German reformer whose contributions were quite striking. Most Protestants know the name but might not have a solid idea of what exactly Melanchthon accomplished. First of all, Melanchthon was not even the name he was born with. He was christened Philipp Schwartzerdt, "black earth," in 1497. This made him over thirteen years younger than Luther. He and Martin Luther shared many theological ideas such as the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, and, like Luther, he was in disagreement with many of the established Catholic teachings.
So who was Philipp Schwartzerdt-turned-Melanchthon? He was born in Bretten, Germany, and his father worked for Philip, Count Palatine. Like many boys of the era, he was hurried away to learn Latin and other important classes when he reached a "proper" age (in this case, he was only ten). Germans were often looked down upon despite their firm grasp of classical knowledge, and it was considered ideal that Philipp should take the name "Melanchthon," with meant "black earth" in Greek. At the age of nineteen he became an avid student of theology. He was handy as a teacher of the Roman classics and he further expounded his knowledge on such subjects. Eventually he was invited to the University of Wittenberg. Here he met Martin Luther face-to-face . . . and soon discovered they would have a great deal in common.

Philipp Melanchton as he looked in 1526

Their backgrounds could not have been more different. Melanchthon was born to a fairly well-off family and sent to school to become an expert in theology and Greek and Latin grammar, while Luther was born to a hard-working family, expected to become a lawyer and yet joined an Augustinian monastery until his discovery of "the just shall live by faith" caused him to break free. The men had very different personalities. But they shared this newfound "Protestant" faith (though the term was not yet coined) and together they would protect it.
In 1520, at the age of twenty-three, Melanchthon wed Katharina Krapp. Her family was of high standing in Wittenberg. I wonder if it was an arranged marriage as so many were in the sixteenth century. One of Philipp Melanchthon’s most important projects was the Augsburg Confession, which laid out the tenets of Lutheranism and paved the way for Protestant thought in Germany and beyond. It is believed that he had a strong hand in its construction. Around this time Luther and Melanchthon suffered a few fallings-out, and though their faith remained united, there were various points and situations on which they disagreed.
It is believed in some circles that Melanchthon was a bitterer adversary of Catholicism than Martin Luther, most likely judging from the strong stance he took against the Roman doctrine of the day. Did he know he was living in a time of prophecy? For the world was beginning to pay notice to this newfound Christian faith and to realize that for the first time in over a thousand years, there were men, scholars no less, who upheld a new belief system. The bloodshed, however, was yet to come.  
One of Philipp Melanchthon’s greatest arguments was against those who had a differing view of Communion. This was made worse by John Calvin’s ideas that Christ was not literally present in the bread and wine and instead Communion was taken only as a symbol. Lutherans have historically believed in the "Real Presence," a stance between Catholic transubstantiation and Calvinist symbolism, and so Melanchthon and Calvin could never reconcile such differences.
Some of Melanchthon’s last thoughts were penned in a letter and read: "Thou shalt be delivered from sins, and be freed from the acrimony and fury of theologians," a tongue-in-cheek admittance of how his life had become so full of argument and debate. Philipp Melanchthon died of a fever in 1560 at the age of sixty-three. He showed no fear of things unknown and up until the last moment was occupied with Scripture studies. When he was asked what he might want or need, Melanchthon’s answer was "Nothing but heaven."
He had a great eternal security in the faith he had grown and established with Martin Luther. Unafraid of accusations of heresy or of doctrinal differences, he simply believed. He was a Christian and a Reformer of the highest caliber. Even in such uncertain times when death was around every corner and the powers that be threatened to choke off the first buds of the Protestant faith, he held to his tenets and refused to let go. This morning I received a "verse of the day," James 1:12, that greatly reminded me of Melanchthon and his dogged persistence in following the truth: "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him."

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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