Today marks the 510th birthday of this great Protestant reformer.
Born Philipp Schwartzerd, he entered the University of Heidelberg at the tender age of 12, where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, and astronomy/astrology, and was known as a good Greek scholar. Refused the degree of master in 1512 on account of his youth, he went to Tübingen, where he pursued humanistic and philosophical studies, and later, theology. There he became convinced that true Christianity was something quite different from scholastic theology as it was taught at the university. With his reforms strongly opposed at Tübingen, he followed a call to Wittenberg as professor of Greek, where he aroused great admiration, including that of Martin Luther. Luther’s influence brought him to the study of Scripture, especially of Paul, and so to a Protestant understanding of salvation.
The Augsburg Confession (1530), a foundational document of Lutheranism, was largely his work. His importance for the Reformation lay essentially in the fact that he systematized Luther’s ideas, defended them in public, and made them the basis of a religious education. While Luther scattered the sparks among the people, Melanchthon by his scholarship and irenic spirit won the sympathy of educated people for the Reformation. Alongside Luther’s strength of faith, Melanchthon’s many-sidedness and calmness, his temperance and love of peace, had a share in the success of the movement.
As a Reformer Melanchthon was characterized by moderation, conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace. These qualities were sometimes dismissed as betraying a lack of decision, consistency, and courage. It can be shown, however, that his actions stemmed not not from anxiety for his own safety, but from regard for the welfare of the community, and for the quiet development of the Church.
His humility and modesty had their root in his personal piety. He laid great stress upon prayer, daily meditation on the Word, and attendance of public service. In Melanchthon is found not a great, impressive personality, winning its way by massive strength of resolution and energy, but a noble character hard to study without loving and respecting.
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