Philip Melanchthon and His Friendship with Luther

He was, for example, the indecisive companion Luther chided with his often misquoted “Sin boldly!”

In reality, he had a major impact on both the history and theology of the Protestant Reformations. His search for fair and middle ground caused him to be appreciated as official representative of Protestantism in several European meetings, and his proven clarity as writer of religious confessions gained him an invitation to England to compose a similar document. Melanchthon declined this invitation, apparently because a horoscope told him he would die during sea travel. In any case, Queen Mary came to the throne the same year.

 

Philip Melanchthon was a brilliant scholar (one of the greatest Greek interpreters of his day), an insightful theologian, and Martin Luther’s right-hand man. Today, his memory is often limited to his mention in some of Luther’s most famous quotations.

He was, for example, the indecisive companion Luther chided with his often misquoted “Sin boldly!” He was also one of the drinking buddies in Luther’s notorious quote, “While I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip [Melanchthon] and my Amsdorf [Nicholaus von], the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it.”

In reality, he had a major impact on both the history and theology of the Protestant Reformations. His search for fair and middle ground caused him to be appreciated as official representative of Protestantism in several European meetings, and his proven clarity as writer of religious confessions gained him an invitation to England to compose a similar document. Melanchthon declined this invitation, apparently because a horoscope told him he would die during sea travel. In any case, Queen Mary came to the throne the same year.

The same search for middle ground brought Melanchthon some criticism in both Reformed and Lutheran circles. Interestingly, however, Luther continued to hold his friend in high esteem, even when their views differed.

Melanchthon’s Life

Melanchthon was born as Philip Schwarzerdt on 16 February 1497 in Bretten (Baden, Germany), home of his mother Barbara. His father Georg, one of the best armor-makers in the country, died nine years later, allegedly poisoned by a rival of the Elector Philip the Upright (one of his clients). To weaken a prince, kill his armorer.

Barbara sent Philip and his brother Georg Jr. to school in nearby Pforzheim. Philip’s propensity for academic studies was clear. Since it was common for scholars to translate their last names in Latin or Greek, a distant relative, Johann Reuchlin, gave him the name Melanchthon as Greek equivalent of Schwarzerdt (“black earth”).

After further studies, Melanchthon’s proficiency in Greek earned him a position of professor of that language at the University of Wittenberg, where he met Luther. Immediately, a strong bond formed between the two Reformers.

It was Luther who persuaded Melanchthon to marry Catherine Krapp, daughter of Wittenberg’s burgomaster. Catherine was described as pious and devoted, even if not as efficient as Luther’s wife Katharina. Together, Catherine and Philip had four children.

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