Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) was a scholar, theologian, reformer and Martin Luther’s “right-hand man” in the German Reformation. At the age of 15, Melanchthon received a master’s degree from the university at Tübingen and began teaching Greek at Wittenberg University in 1518, the year after Luther had posted his 95 theses and sparked the Reformation in Germany.
Melanchthon quickly voiced his agreement with Luther and began producing some of the more systematic, scholarly articulations of Reformation truth. His primary work, Loci Communes Theologici (Theological Common Places), was released in 1521 and was the first dogmatic theology of the Reformation. Melanchthon also helped to write other position papers and articulate the doctrines of the Reformation in a systematic and scholarly way.
One of Melanchthon’s primary practical concerns was educational reform. He advocated for classical learning in universities and helped to reorganize some existing universities in Germany and also establish new ones. He also proposed plans for free public education.
Luther was a passionate man of action with great leadership skills and the penchant for creating controversy, and Melanchthon balanced him. While firmly committed to the principles and doctrines of the Reformation, Melanchthon was more scholarly and even-tempered, seeking to unify various branches of the Reformation and even seeking common ground with Catholics when he felt that no crucial doctrine was at stake, and he hoped that reunion with the Catholic Church would ultimately be possible. For some of his efforts to find common ground with Catholics, he was accused of betraying the Reformation.
Melanchthon’s mild temperament was a good balance to Luther’s, and Luther heavily relied on Melanchthon’s academic and philosophical strengths to further the cause. After Luther’s death, the leadership of the German Reformation naturally fell to Melanchthon, but he lacked the decisive personality that leadership required, and he was not as successful in dealing with practical problems that arose. Still, Melanchthon was a key player in the German Reformation and left his mark on Lutheranism and on education. When he died, he was buried beside Martin Luther, his friend and co-worker for the cause of the gospel.