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Personalities & Contemporary Witnesses

Philipp Melanchthon


Philipp Melanchthon

Philipp Melanchthon was born 16 February 1497 in the town of Bretten near Karlsruhe. After completing Latin School in Pforzheim, he then enrolled at the age of twelve at the University of Heidelberg from where he transferred only a short time later to study astronomy, music, arithmetic and geometry at Tübingen. After the Elector Frederick the Wise endowed the University of Wittenberg with a chair for ancient Greek, Melanchthon moved there in 1518 to take up the professorship. He met Martin Luther there and a close friendship developed between the two men. In 1520, Melanchthon married Katharina Krapp, the daughter of Wittenberg’s mayor at that time. Luther introduced Melanchthon to Reformation theology. In return, Melanchthon taught Luther Greek. It was Melanchthon who gave Luther the idea of translating the Bible into a German that could be understood by the common people.

Philipp Melanchthon would eventually become Luther's most important collaborator. He represented Luther on various occasions for example at the Imperial Diet of Augsburg in 1530, as Luther was unable to leave the Electorate of Saxony after his excommunication. Melanchthon wrote the Protestant Reformation’s first great confession of faith, the so-called Augsburg confession (Confessio Augustana). To this very day, evangelical priests are ordained on the basis of this text. A university scholar engaged with philosophy, history, medicine and even physics, Melanchthon was the most widely-read author by the students of his time. His works continued to be part of both school and university curricula up until 1800. After Luther's death, Melanchthon was the Reformation’s leading spokesman. He died on 19 April 1560 in Wittenberg and found his final resting place beside Martin Luther in the Castle Church.

“I experienced Luther for the first time in 1518 during his disputation at the University of Heidelberg. His 95 Theses and his Reformation thinking immediately aroused my interest. In the same year I was appointed as a new professor for Greek at the University of Wittenberg. A deep friendship grew between me and Martin. We could sit together for hours discussing things. Luther gave me instruction in Reformation theology. In return I taught him Greek. I was finally able to convince Luther to translate the Bible into a German which people could understand. When he returned from Wartburg Castle to Wittenberg with his translation, we spent many hours working on the most apt formulations.
By the way, it was Luther who arranged my marriage to my wife Katharina, the daughter of the mayor of Wittenberg. At first, I wasn’t very taken by the thought of marrying, for if you have a family you have less time to spend on your studies. Luther was able to combine both studying and partying. One particular situation has stuck in my memory. I was working at my desk when Luther came in, took the quill from my hand and said: ‘You can serve God not only by working but also by partying and resting’. But Martin was also a hard worker. When he was lost in thought or working on his manuscripts, he hardly ate at all, just some bread with salt and beer. He would then say, that strenuous activity makes you healthy and strong.”


Born on 16 February 1497 in Bretten
Died on 19 April 1560 in Wittenberg
Renaissance man and Luther's closest confidante

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