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Philipp (Schwarzerd) Melanchthon PDF Print E-mail

(Bretten, 16 February 1497 – Wittenberg, 19 April 1560)

German humanist, professor and theologian at the University of Wittenberg. The most significant follower of Luther and his unofficial heir. Because of his works, Melanchthon was also known as Praeceptor Germaniae (The Teacher of Germany). He wrote the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana), which became the official statement of faith for the Lutheran Church and Loci Communes, the first compendium for systematic theology.
He was Flacius’ professor, friend and patron. After the Augsburg and Leipzig Interims, Flacius started to publicly criticize Melanchthon as they disagreed about what constitutes adiaphora (indifferent matters) in church life.

Melanchthon and Flacius

The association between Flacius and Melanchthon went through phases of both friendship and enmity. Flacius was at first Melanchthon’s student in Wittenberg and later on the two became colleagues. Flacius was welcomed at Wittenberg in 1541 by Philipp Melanchthon on account of his references. According to Croatian Flacius biographer Mijo Mirković, in the beginning Melanchthon helped Matthias financially from his own funds because Flacius was poor. During this time a friendship evolved between them, which Melanchthon referred to in 1557: “I used to enjoy friendship and familiarity with Illyricus”. 

The beginning of the Schmalkaldic War deeply impacted Wittenberg: on 6 November 1546 the university closed because the troops of Duke Mauritz of Saxony (1521-53), occupied the city. Matthias and his wife Elisabeth moved immediately to Braunschweig as refugees, where Melanchthon helped secure a post for Flacius through a personal recommendation to Dr. Nikolaus Medler (1502-1551), the superintendent of Braunschweig. His letter of reference dated November 22 affirmingly stated, “The learned M. Illyricus is coming to you, who surpasses Epiphanius of Salamis  who spoke five languages, not only in his knowledge of languages but also in scientific skills.”  As a result, Flacius was able to lecture at the Braunschweig Paedagogium during his exile from Wittenberg. It was there that the first Flacius offspring, Matthias Junior, was born in September 1547.

Flacius’ first published theological work, De vocabulo fidei  (about the word ‘faith’), contained a 14-page recommendatory foreword written by Melanchthon himself for his young colleague, dated 1 March 1549.  Later that same year, in a letter written in August, Melanchthon complains to Fabricius that Flacius is not thankful for the kindness showed to him by the University and Melanchthon himself and that he has left the city because he was not appointed as Cruciger’s successor. 

Flacius admired Praeceptor Germaniae as a teacher and considered his work Loci communes to be of outstanding scholarship. Later, however, their relationship turned sour as praise by Flacius was replaced by disagreement and criticism, which was expressed in his publications as well.

Even though Master Philipp and the Illyrian disagreed concerning the Interims and what constituted adiaphora as well as the role of free will in salvation, their agreement on the central Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith was remarkable. They stood in the same camp in the battle against the heretical views of Andreas Osiander (1498-1552) and the Prussian fraction of the church. Flacius, in the episode related to the Osiandrian controversy, was much more of an ally to Melanchthon than a foe. Particularly when it came to justification by faith, the doctrine “on which the church stands of falls,” as later Lutherans would put it, we discover an important example in which two of the leading Lutheran theologians of the 1550s were in remarkable agreement over against what they perceived to be a common enemy.

The connection between Melanchthon and Flacius could best be described as turbulent. Their decades-long association took many different forms: academic, theological, personal and that of writer/apologist and publisher. While during much of that time there was disagreement and ensuing enmity between them, positive elements in their relationship were also present, which included (sometimes clandestine) admiration for each other’s selected theological works, or their periods of agreement and cooperation. This is illustrated by Melanchthon’s following words:

A sweet friendship and intimacy substituted between Flacius and myself in former days, and I should like to discuss the whole system of doctrine with him. But he circulated matters about me which I never uttered, and which never entered into my thoughts. Therefore, I fear treacherous intentions in all this. Oh! That he would act toward me with the same sincerity with which I should like to approach him.