Melanchthon's 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. These two, by complementing each other, could be said to have harmoniously achieved the results of the Reformation. Melanchthon was impelled by Luther to work for the Reformation; his own inclinations would have kept him a student. Without Luther's influence Melanchthon would have been "a second Erasmus," although his heart was filled with a deep religious interest in the Reformation. While Luther scattered the sparks among the people, Melanchthon by his humanistic studies won the sympathy of educated people and scholars for the Reformation.
As a Reformer Melanchthon was characterized by moderation, conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace; but these qualities were sometimes said to only be lack of decision, consistence, and courage. Often, however, his actions are shown steming not anxiety for his own safety, but from regard for the welfare of the community, and for the quiet development of the Church.
A trait of his character was his love of peace. He had an innate aversion to quarrels and discord; yet, often he was very irritable. His irenical character often led him to adapt himself to the views of others, as may be seen from his correspondence with Erasmus and from his public attitude from the Diet of Augsburg to the Interim. It was said not to be merely a personal desire for peace, but his conservative religious nature, that guided him in his acts of conciliation. He never could forget that his father on his death-bed had besought his family "never to leave the Church." He stood toward the history of the Church in an attitude of piety and reverence that made it much more difficult for him than for Luther to be content with the thought of the impossibility of a reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church. He laid stress upon the authority of the Fathers, not only of Augustine, but also of the Greeks.
As a scholar Melanchthon embodied the entire spiritual culture of his age. At the same time he found the simplest, clearest, and most suitable form for his knowledge; therefore his manuals, even if they were not always original, were quickly introduced into schools and kept their place for more than a century.
Knowledge had for him no purpose of its own; it existed only for the service of moral and religious education, and so the teacher of Germany prepared the way for the religious thoughts of the Reformation. He is the father of Christian humanism, which has exerted a lasting influence upon scientific life in Germany.
As a theologian, Melanchthon did not show so much creative ability, but rather a genius for collecting and systematizing the ideas of others, especially of Luther, for the purpose of instruction. He kept to the practical, and cared little for connection of the parts, so his Loci were in the form of isolated paragraphs.
Melanchthon's formulation of the authority of Scripture became the norm for the following time. The principle of his hermeneutics is expressed in his words: "Every theologian and faithful interpreter of the heavenly doctrine must necessarily be first a grammarian, then a dialectician, and finally a witness." By "grammarian" he meant the philologist in the modern sense who is master of history, archaeology, and ancient geography. As to the method of interpretation, he insisted with great emphasis upon the unity of the sense, upon the literal sense in contrast to the four senses of the scholastics. He further stated that whatever is looked for in the words of Scripture, outside of the literal sense, is only dogmatic or practical application.
Melanchthon's 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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