Melancthon, Philip

, whom the common consent of all ecclesiastical historians has placed among the most eminent of the reformers, was born at Bretten, in the Palatinate upon the Rhine, Feb. 16, 1497. His family name, Schwartserd, in German, means literally black earth, which, according to the custom of the times (as in the case of Oecolampadius, Erasmus, Chytraeus, Reuchlin, c.), was exchanged for Melancthon, a compound Greek word of the same signification. His education was at first chiefly under the care of his maternal grandfather Reuter, as his father’s time was much engrossed by the affairs of the elector Palatine, whom he served as engineer, or commissary of artillery. He first studied at a school in Bretten, and partly under a private tutor, and gave very early proofs of capacity. He was afterwards sent to Pfortsheim, a city in the marquisate of Baden, where was a flourishing college, and here he became known to the celebrated Reuchlin, to whom it would appear he was distantly related, and who assisted him in learning the Greek language. Probably by his advice, Melancthon went to the university of Heidelberg, where he was matriculated on Oct. 13, 1509. Such was his improvement here that his biographers inform us he was admitted to his bachelor’s degree, although under fourteen years of age, and that he was intrusted to teach the sons of count Leonstein. Yet, notwithstanding his extraordinary proficiency, he was refused his degree of master on account of his youth; and, either disappointed in this, or because the air of Heidelberg did not agree with his constitution, he left that university in 1512, and went to Tubingen, where he resided six years. | Baillet has with much propriety classed Melancthon among the enfans celebres, or list of youths who became celebrated for early genius and knowledge. It is said that while at Heidelberg he was employed in composing the greatest part of the academical speeches, and Baillet adds, that at thirteen he wrote a comedy, and dedicated it to Reuchiin. With such capacity and application he could not fail to distinguish himself during his residence at Tubingen, where he studied divinity, law, and mathematics, and gave public lectures on the Latin classics, and on the sciences. About this time Reuchiin had made him a present of a small edition of the Bible, printed by Frobenius, in reading which, we are told, he took much delight. In 1513 he was created doctor in philosophy, or master of arts, and had attracted the notice of Erasmus, who conceived the highest hopes of him “What hopes, indeed,” he said about 1515, “may we not entertain of Philip Melancthon, who though as yet very young, and almost a boy, is equally to be admired for his knowledge in both languages What quickness of invention what purity of diction what powers of memory what variety of reading what modesty and gracefulness of behaviour!

In 1518, Frederic elector of Saxony, on the recommendation of Reuchiin, presented him to the Greek professorship in the university of Wittemberg; and his learned and elegant inauguration speech was highly applauded, and removed every prejudice which might be entertained against his youth. Here he read lectures upon Homer and part of the Greek Testament to a crowded audience, and here also he first formed that acquaintance with Luther, then divinity professor at Wittemberg, which was of so much importance in his future life. He became also known to Caroiostadt, one of Luther’s most zealous adherents in opposing the corruptions of popery, and who was at this time archdeacon of Wittemberg. Finding that, some of the sciences had been taught here in a very confused and imperfect manner for want of correct manuals, or text-books, he published in 1519 his “Rhetoric,” which was followed by similar works on “Logic” and “Grammar.” In the above-mentioned year (1519) he accompanied Luther to Leipsic, to witness that conference which Luther had with Eckius (see Luther, vol. XXL p. 507), andjoined so much in the debate as to give Eckius a very unpleasant specimen of his talents in controversy. From this time Melancthon | became an avowed supporter of the doctrines of the reformation.

In 1520, Meiancthon read lectures on St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, which were so much approved by. Luther, that he caused them to be printed for the good of the church, and introduced them by a preface. In the following year, hearing that the divines of Paris had condemned the works and doctrine of Luiher by a formal decree, Meiancthon opposed them with great zeal and force of argument, and affirmed Luther’s doctrine to be sound and orthodox. In 1527 he was appointed by the elector of Saxony, to visit all the churches within his dominions. He was next engaged to draw up, conjointly with Luther, a system of laws relating to church government, public worship, the ranks, offices, and revenues of the priesthood, and other matters of a similar nature, which the elector promulgated in his dominions, and which was adopted by the other princes of the empire, who had renounced the papal supremacy and jurisdiction. In 1529 he accompanied the elector to the diet at Spire, in which the princes and members of the reformed communion acquired the denomination of Protestants, in consequence of their protesting against a decree, which declared unlawful every change that should be introduced into the established religion, before the determination of a general council was known. He was next employed by the protestant princes assembled at Cobourg and Augsburgh to draw up the celebrated confession of faith, which did such honour to his acute judgment and eloquent pen, and is known by the name of the Confession of Augsburgh, because presented to the emperor and German princes at the diet held in that city in June 1530. The princes heard it with the deepest attention: it confirmed some in the principles they had embraced, and conciliated those who from prejudice or misrepresentation, had conceived more harshly of Luther’s sentiments than they deserved. The style of this confession is plain, elegant, grave, and perspicuous, such as becomes the nature of the subject, and such as might be expected from Melancthon’s pen. The matter was undoubtedly supplied by Luther, who, during the diet, resided at Cobourg; and even the form it received from the eloquent pen of his colleague, was authorized by his approbation and advice. This confession contains twentyeight chapters) of which twenty-one are employed in | representing the religions opinions of the protestants, and the other seven in pointing out the corruptions of the church of Rome. To the adherents of that church it could not therefore be acceptable, and John Faber, afterwards bishop of Vienne in Dauphine“, with Eckius and Cochlaeus, were selected to draw up a refutation, to which Melancthon replied. In the following year he enlarged his reply, and published it with the other pieces that related to the doctrine and discipline of the Lutheran church, under the title ofA Defence of the Confession of Augsburgh."

Melancthon made a very distinguished figure in the many conferences which followed this diet. It was in these that the spirit and character of Melancthon appeared in their true colours; and it was here that the votaries of Rome exhausted their efforts to gain over to their party this pillar of the reformation, whose abilities and virtues added a lustre to the cause in which he had embarked. His gentle spirit was apt to sink into a kind of yielding softness, under the influence of mild and generous treatment. Accordingly, while his adversaries soothed him with fair words and flattering promises, he seemed ready 1 to comply with their wishes; but, when they so far forgot themselves as to make use of threats, Melancthon appeared in a very different point of light, and showed a spirit of intrepidity, ardour, and independence. It was generally thought that he was not so averse to an accommodation with the church of Rome as Luther, which is grounded upon his saying that they “ought not to contend scrupulously about things indifferent, provided those rites and ceremonies had nothing of idolatry in them; and even to bear some hardships, if it could be done without impiety.” But there is no reason to think that there was any important difference between him and Luther, but what arose from the different tempers of the two men, which consisted in a greater degree of mildness on the part of Melancthon. It was, therefore, this moderation and pacific disposition which made him thought a proper person to settle the disputes about religion, which were then very violent in France; and for that purpose he was invited thither by Francis I. Francis had assisted at a famous procession, in Jan. 1535, and had caused some heretics to be burnt. Melancthon was exhorted to attempt a mitigation of the king’s anger; he wrote a letter therefore to John Sturmius, who was then in France, and another to | Du Bellai, bishop of Paris. A gentleman, whom Francis had sent into Germany, spoke to Melancthon of the journey to France; and assured him, that the king would write to him about it himself, and would furnish him with all the means of conducting him necessary for his safety. To this Melancthon consented, and the gentleman upon his return was immediately dispatched to him with a letter. It is dated from Guise, June 28, 1535, and declares the pleasure the king had, when he understood that Melancthon was disposed to conie into France, to put an end to their controversies. Melancthon wrote to the king, Sept. 28, and assured him of his good intentions; but was sorry, he could not as yet surmount the obstacles to his journey. The truth was, the duke of Saxony had reasons of state for not suffering this journey to the court of Francis I. and Melancthon could never obtain leave of him to go, although Luther had earnestly exhorted that elector to consent to it, by representing to him, that the hopes of seeing Melancthon had put a stop to the persecution of the protestants in France; and that there was reason to fear, they would renew the same cruelty, when they should know that he would not come. Henry VIII. king of England, had also a desire to see Melancthon, but neither he nor Francis I. ever saw him.

His time was now chiefly employed in conferences and disputes about religion. In 1539, there was an assembly of the protestant princes at Francfort, concerning a reformation; and another in 1541, at Worms, where there happened a warm dispute between Melancthon and Eckius respecting original sin. But, by the command of the emperor, it was immediately dissolved, and both of them appointed to meet at Reinspurg; where Eckius proposing a sophism somewhat puzzling, Melancthon paused a little, and said, “that he would give an answer to it the next day.” Upon which Eckius represented to him the disgrace of requiring so long a time; but Melancthon replied, that he sought not his own glory, but that of truth. In 1543 he went to the archbishop of Cologne, to assist him in introducing a reformation into his diocese but without effect. He attended at seven conferences in 1548 and was one of the deputies whom Maurice, elector of Saxony, was to send to the council of Trent, in 1552. His last conference with the doctors of the Romish communion was at Worms, in 1557. He died at Wittemberg, April | 19, 1560, in his sixty-third year; and was buried near Luther, in the church of the castle, two days after. Some days before he died, he wrote upon a piece of paper the reasons which made him look upon death as a happiness; and the chief of them was, that it “delivered him from theological persecutions.” Nature had given him a peaceable temper, which was but ill-suited for the time in which he lived. His moderation greatly augmented his uneasiness. He was like a lamb in the midst of wolves. Nobody liked his mildness it looked as if he was lukewarm and even Luther himself was sometimes angry at it. It was, indeed, considering his situation, very inconvenient; for it not only exposed him to all kinds of slander, but would not suffer him to “answer a fool according to his folly.” The only advantage it procured him, was to look upon death without fear, by considering, that it would secure him from the “odium theologicum,” the hatred of divines, and the discord of false brethren. He was never out of danger, but might truly be said, “through fear, to be all his life-time subject to bondage.” Thus he declared, in one of his works, that he “had held his professor’s place forty years without ever being sure that he should not be turned out of it before the end of the week.

He married a daughter of a burgomaster of Wittemberg in 1520, who lived with him till 1557. He had two sons and two daughters by her; and his eldest daughter Anne, in 1536, became the wife of George Sabinus, one of the best poets of his time. His other daughter was married, in 1550, to Caspar Peucer, who was an able physician, and very much persecuted. Melancthop was a very affectionate father; and there is an anecdote preserved of him, which perfectly agrees with his character for humility. A Frenchman, it is said, found him one day, holding a book in one hand, and rocking a child with the other; and upon his expressing some surprise, Melancthon made such a pious discourse to him about the duty of a father, and the state of grace in which the children are with God, “that this stranger went away,” says Bayle, “much more edified than he came.Melchior Adam relates a curious dialogue which passed between his son-in-law Sabinus, and cardinal Bembus, concerning Melancthon. When Sabinus went to see Italy, Melancthon wrote a letter to cardinal Bembus, to recommend him to his notice. The cardinal laid a great | stress upon the recommendation; for he loved Melancthort for his abilities and learning, however he might think himself obliged to speak of his religion. He was very civil therefore to Sabinus, invited him to dine with him, and in the time of dinner asked him a great many questions, particularly these three “Wliat salary Melancthon had what number of hearers and what he thought concerning the resurrection and a future state” To the first question Sabinus replied, “that his salary was not above 30O florins a year. 1” Upon hearing this, the cardinal cried out, “Ungrateful Germany to value at so low a price so many labours of so great a man.” The answer to the second was, “that he had usually 1500 hearers.” “I cannot believe it,” says the cardinal: “I do not know an university in Europe, except that of Paris, in which one professor has so many scholars.” To the third, Sabinus replied, “that Melancthon’s works were a full and sufficient proof of his belief in those two articles.”— “I should think him a wiser man,” said the cardinal, “if he did not believe any thing about them.

Melancthon was a man in whom many good as well as great qualities were wonderfully united. He had great abilities, great learning, great sweetness of temper, moderation, contentedness, and other qualities, which would have made him very happy in any other times but those in which he lived. He never affected dignities, honours, or riches, but was rather negligent of them too much so, in the opinion of some, considering he had a family and his son-in-law Sabinus, who was of a more ambitious disposition, was actually at variance with him upon this subject. Learning was infinitely obliged to him on many accounts; on none more than this, that he reduced almost all the sciences, which had been taught before in a vague irregular manner, into systems. We have mentioned that he compiled compendiums for the use of his scholars; and also a treatise “On the Soul, 11 the design of which was, to free the schools from the nugatory subtleties and idle labours of the scholastics, and to confine the attention of young men to useful studies. He industriously ransacked the writings of the ancients, to collect from them, in every branch of learning, whatever was most deserving of attention. Mathematical studies he held in high estimation, as appears from his declamation De Mathematicis Disciplinis,” On Mathematical Learning,“which will very well repay | the trouble of perusal. In philosophy he followed Aristotle as, in his judgment, the most scientific and methodical guide, but always in due subordination to Revelation, and only so far as was likely to answer some valuable purpose.I would have no one,“says he,” trifle in philosophising, lest he should at length even lose sight of common sense; rather let him be careful both in the study of physics and morals, to select the best things from the best sources."

If the particular cast of Melancthon’s mind be considered, it will not be thought surprising, that in philosophy he preferred a moderate attachment to a particular sect, to any bold attempt at perfect innovation. Though he possessed a sound understanding and amiable temper, he wanted that strength and hardiness of spirit, which might have enabled him to have done in philosophy, what Luther did in religion. He therefore chose rather to correct the established mode of philosophising, than to introduce a method entirely new. If it be a just occasion of regret, that in consequence of the natural gentleness, and perhaps timidity, of his temper, he proceeded no further, it ought not to be forgotten, that while religion was much indebted to his cool and temperate, but honest exertions, philosophy was not without obligation to him, for the pains which he took to correct its eccentricities, and adorn it with the graces of eloquence.

Melancthon made use of the extensive influence, which his high reputation, and the favour of the reigning elector of Saxony, gave him in the German schools, in which he was considered as a kind of common preceptor, to unite the study of the Aristotelian philosophy with that of ancient learning in general. And he was much assisted in the execution of this design, by the labours of many learned protestants of the Germanic schools from Italy and Great Britain, who brought with them an attachment to the Peripatetic system, and, wherever they were appointed public preceptors, made that system the basis of their philosophical instructions. From Wittemberg, Tubingen, Leipsic, and other seminaries, conducted after the manner which was introduced by Melancthon, many learned men arose, who, becoming themselves preceptors, adopted the same plan of instruction, which from Melancthon was called the Philippic method; and thus disseminated the Peripatetic doctrine, till at length it was almost every | where taught in the German protestants schools, under the sanction of civil and ecclesiastical authority. Considering the distractions of his life, and the infinity of disputes and tumults in which he was engaged, it is astonishing, how he could find leisure to write so many books. Their number is prodigious, insomuch that it was thought necessary to publish a chronological catalogue of them in 1582. They are theological, moral, and philosophical; some, however, relate to what is usually denominated the belles lettres, and others are illustrative of various classical authors. The most complete edition was published by the author’s son-in-law, Jasper Peucer, 1601, in 4 vols. fol. 1


Melchior Adatn. Life of Melancthon, by Camerarius. Brucker. We are happy to find that the public may soon expect a very elaborate life of this great reformer, from the rev. Aulay Macaulay, vicar of Rothley, co. Leicester.