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Kirchengeschichte: Reformationszeit


Melanchthon, Philipp


Heubtartikel Christlicher Lere.


Melanchthons deutsche Fassung der Loci theologici, nach dem Autograph und dem Originaldruck von 1553 hrsg. v. R. Jenett u. J. Schilling. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt 2002. 508 S. m. Abb. gr.8. Geb. Euro 24,00. ISBN 3-374-01950-1.


Timothy Wengert

Among the leading figures of the Renaissance and Reformation, Philipp Melanchthon has for at least the last century counted in modern scholarship as a poor, neglected cousin. For example, the work dedicated to studying Luther, Erasmus, or Calvin and to editing their uvres has far overshadowed any effort expended on Melanchthon. This despite the fact that, in his own day, Melanchthon's influence and the scope of his intellectual interests matched or even surpassed that of his contemporaries! With the remarkable exception of Melanchthons Briefwechsel, the critical edition of his correspondence that is still occasionally neglected by scholars who should know better, Melanchthon's contributions to sixteenth-century Christian thought remain largely ignored.

One of the chief drawbacks to the proper study of Melanchthon is the complete absence of a decent, critical edition of his works. Because the current economic situation and a concomitant cultural reluctance make such a vast undertaking unlikely, the scholarly world needs to applaud each smaller step that brings even a tiny portion of Melanchthon's opera to light. Such is the case with new edition of Melanchthon's own German translation of his chief theological textbook, the Loci communes (Heubtartikel Christlicher Lere). Not only do the editors furnish readers with the text of the original printed edition from 1553, but they also provide, for the first time ever, a transcription of Melanchthon's original manuscript, which he sent to his printer, Veit Creutzer, from 1552 to 1553. Even later variations and additions from subsequent printings (especially to the all-important locus "On God") are conveniently offered for modern readers.

With amazing attention to detail, the editors have crafted an introduction that could well stand as a model for this kind of work in coming years. First, they give an exhaustive description of Melanchthon's manuscript itself, rehearsing Melanchthon's and the printer's corrections (even providing a reproduction of the book's binding for the covers of their edition). Since it was sent to the printer in sections, there are even notes from Melanchthon to assure delivery of the material to him. Then, beginning with its first owner, Johannes Schelhamer, a former student in Wittenberg and later preacher in Nürnberg, the editors describe the subsequent owners of the manuscript and its long journey through a variety of libraries to its final resting place in Olmütz (Olomouci) in the Czech Republic. Finally, they also include photographs of the frontice pieces from all sixteenth-century printings of the work with lists of the libraries that own them. They have managed to track down 300 copies of this work in its various editions now housed in libraries worldwide. Creutzer's own table of important loci, indices of Bible passages, other citations and names, and a helpful glossary of Melanchthon's early new high German (matching the extensive comments explaining unfamiliar vocabulary throughout the text) round out the volume.

Melanchthon's manuscript provides the basic text for this edition, with the 1553 printing mined for all the important variations and changes and to fill in lacunae in the manuscript itself. This includes the material from "On Baptism" through "On Secular Authorities" (320-485), which Melanchthon himself admitted having not changed from his earlier, light revisions of Justus Jonas's translation, printed in 1550. (This, unfortunately, leaves readers [then and now] with a rather outdated version of his doctrine of the Lord's Supper. More useful in this regard are comments on the communicatio idiomatum [communication of attributes] appended to his discussion of Christ's two natures [122-125].)

Indeed, this new edition offers German readers a fresh glimpse into the remarkable theology of one of the most important (and most overlooked!) theologians of the Reformation. Here one has a complete sampling of Melanchthon's "catechetical" theology, as he calls it in his dedicatory epistle to Anna Camerarius, the wife of his best friend Joachim, a professor of rhetoric in Leipzig. In a relatively condensed form, Melanchthon offers an introduction to his own form of biblical theology- analyzing the chief topics of theology and citing a host of biblical passages and, as appropriate, church fathers to support his viewpoints. Yet, his work is interlaced with prayers, rhetorical devices of various kinds, and surprising insights into biblical text and evangelical theology. Twice (101 and 125 f.) he inserts prayers into his discussion of the Trinity - a discussion that, pace Hans Engelland and others, has next to nothing to do with later scholastic (or even Enlightenment!) speculation and everything to do with the mercy of God in Christ. (125: "Und in ernstlichem gebet soll mann die summa diser artikel betrachten.") He reshapes an Anselmian view of the atonement to center on God's mercy. He defends the unity of the person of Christ against all comers.

On every page, the reader also encounters a bountiful harvest of Melanchthon's mature theology. On free will, one can hear him struggling against the "Stoic" positions of contemporaries (most likely, Matthias Flacius and John Calvin), as he tries to reconcile God's unmerited mercy with his own fear of wild license. His definition of the third use of the law, a term invented by Melanchthon in 1534, shows not only his worry over an antinomian construal of Reformation theology but also a rejection of every form of legalism. This third use reveals God's will and continues to mortify the flesh for the Christian believer, but it never replaces the chief (second) use of the law that reveals sin and terrifies the conscience.

On justification by faith alone, the section most transformed over against the 1543 Latin edition, Melanchthon takes on Andreas Osiander and the Council of Trent by name. Here one encounters a splendid exposition of Melanchthon's understanding of "forensic justification" against the sanative, Platonic theories of Osiander. In a theological world often dominated by myths of theosis, transformation, infused habits of grace and joint declarations, Melanchthon's approach comes as a breath of fresh air. "Die exclusive sola oder gratis ist gantz nottig zu erhalden," he writes (276). "Und sie schleußt auß allen unsern verdienst." In a world addicted to the merit of the marketplace, this is still good news. Faith is not mere knowledge or human decision. Instead (275), "es ist ein liecht und freud, die der Son gottes wirkt durch das evangelium und heiligen geist." On righteousness itself, in expressed contrast to Osiander and Trient, he writes (280): "So soll mann nu unterschied halden zwischen gesetz reden von gerechtikeit und disen reden im evangelio, so es spricht: Wir sind gerecht umb des herrn Christi willen. Hie heißt gerechtikeit oder gerecht seyn vergebung der sunden haben und gott gefellig sein umb des herrn Christi willen durch glauben. ... So nu gerecht seyn were recht thun, so wurde das gewissen trostloß."

The only thing missing from this striking edition is a critical apparatus. So many of Melanchthon's opponents on these pages, such as John Calvin or Matthias Flacius Illyricus, are attacked without naming names. This anonymity matches Melanchthon's rules of theological engagement, where only sworn enemies, such as Johannes Cochlaeus or Andreas Osiander, merited direct attacks (e. g., 78). Without such an apparatus, only experienced Melanchthon scholars would know how often Melanchthon is defending himself against his cultured despisers. Moreover, the careful reader is still left with the task of tracing the important, subtle changes that Melanchthon made in the text after the publication of the final Latin edition in 1543 (the material on justification against Osiander being just one example). However, such an apparatus and, indeed, critical analysis of this work are now first possible because of the very existence of this fine text. Now that Messrs. Jenett and Schilling have placed this exquisite tool into our hands, let serious study and use of the Praeceptor Germaniae's mature theology begin!