Philipp Melanchthon: German Reformer Page 5 | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Foundations of the Faith

Portrait of Philipp Melanchthon from Théodore de Bèze's Icones, 1580. [CR GU4 B46i]

In 1518, Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) became a professor of classics and philosophy at the University of Wittenberg, where he was influenced by Martin Luther. Though he was born Philipp Schwartzerdt in Bretten, Germany, his uncle and teacher called him “Melanchthon”--the Greek version of his last name, translated as “black earth,” for his achievement in Latin and Greek. He authored numerous treatises, biblical commentaries, and translations, including a revision of Luther’s translation of the New Testament. While Luther was confined in the Wartburg in 1521, Melanchthon headed the Reformation in Germany.

Title page of Melanchthon's Corpus doctrinae Christianae, 1572. Click for full image.

During the controversy on Eucharistic doctrine, from 1525 to 1536, he was a solid supporter of Luther against the followers of Ulrich Zwingli. The chief architect of both the Augsburg Confession (1530) and Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), Melanchthon was often criticized for his conciliatory views towards Roman Catholicism. He was hailed as a major innovator in German education and seen by some as the primary organizer of the German public school system. His teachings on free will, known as synergism—cooperation between God and man—caused many to accuse him of being too humanistic. He faced strong objections from strict Lutherans due to his continued work to create areas of agreement with some Catholic views. He died in Wittenberg on April 19, 1560.

1888 edition of the Augsburg Confession. Translated into English by Richard Taverner. Edited by Henry E. Jacobs. From Internet Archive via Princeton Theological Seminary Library.