The Preceptor of Germany: Philip Melanchthon
Philip Melanchthon was born Philipp Schwartzerd in Brettan, Germany on February 15, 1497. His parents, Barbara Reuter and Georg Schwartzerd were deeply pious people who transmitted their faith to Philip. As a youth, he had a classical education and grew to show a love for classical and Latin literature. He entered the University of Heidelberg where he studied disciplines ranging from philosophy and rhetoric to astrology and astronomy. He distinguished himself, however, as a scholar of Greek. He then attended the University of Tubingen furthering his humanistic studies and attaining a Master’s degree. Then he began to study theology, and his thinking began to change. Melanchthon believed that true Christianity wasn’t something that was taught in the halls of the university, and he began to instruct younger scholars on his views. It was at Tubingen that he began to be considered a reformer.
Because of this, he accepted a call from Martin Luther to become a professor of Greek at the University of Wittenberg at the young age of 21. Only four days after his arrival, he lectured the university on “The Improvement of Studies,” calling on the university to improve education by returning to the Classical and Christian sources to rejuvenate both society and Christianity.
Melanchthon developed a deep friendship with Martin Luther. He taught Greek to Luther, who in turn, taught him the concepts of the Reformation. In 1521, Melanchthon published the Loci Communes rerum theologicarum, which was the first systematic treatment of Reformation thought. Original sin, law, justification by faith, and grace were the primary topics of this writing. This was such an important writing that it became required reading at the University of Cambridge, and Queen Elizabeth I memorized it so that she could converse about theology. Melanchthon also convinced Luther to translate the Bible into German, which he did. Luther’s translation is still the most widely read German translation to date.
Melanchthon was present when the protest against the majority Roman Catholic church was launched at the Second Diet of Speyer. In 1530 at the Diet of Augsburg, Melanchthon was the leading representative of the Reformation. It was he who penned the Augsburg Confession, one of the earliest creedal statements of the Protestant Reformation. This was followed in 1531 by the Apology of the Confession of Augsburg.
Even though there was a decree of death to anyone who supported Luther, Melanchthon fought back courageously by writing Against the Furious Decree of the Parisian Theologasters. When Luther was in hiding at Wartburg castle, Melanchthon took over his lectures and preaching schedule. Following Luther’s death, it was Melanchthon who led the German Reformation movement.
Melanchthon also played a prominent role in Christian education. He wrote a curriculum for the elementary grades incorporating Protestant thought. By act of law, this curriculum became the basis of the public school system in Saxony. This system was also later copied in Germany. He founded several universities and reformed several more. All of these actions earned him the moniker, “The Preceptor of Germany.”
In 1560, Philip Melanchthon died of chronic respiratory illness. He was buried beside Martin Luther in Wittenburg. This was completely fitting, as Melanchthon was Luther’s dear friend and the “right hand man” of the Protestant Reformation.
Suthee Thumasathit is a Thailand native who grew up in Iowa and is now practices internal medicine for Texas Health Resources. He is a leader in NorthPark's Thai Fellowship and a current NorthPark Presbyterian elder.
I could go on and on. Needless to say, I wholeheartedly agree.