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Kirchengeschichte: Reformationszeit


Kuropka, Nicole:


Philipp Melanchthon: Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft. Ein Gelehrter im Dienst der Kirche (1526- 1532).


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2002. XII, 324 S. gr.8 = Spätmittelalter und Reformation. Neue Reihe, 21. Lw. Euro 74,00. ISBN 3-16-147898-3.


Timothy Wengert

To comprehend how significantly this study of Philip Melanchthon's theological and philosophical writings during the 1520s and 30s contributes to our knowledge of the Reformation and its theology, the reader must appreciate the lengths to which scholars must go to analyze Melanchthon's writings successfully. With the works of John Calvin and Martin Luther, critical editions are readily available; with those of Erasmus of Rotterdam, a critical edition is now slowly being published. In contrast, almost none of the crucial documents by Melanchthon from the period that Kuropka studies has appeared in a critical edition. In some cases, she is the first modern scholar ever thoroughly to analyze this material. Der unbekannte Melanchthon, about whom Robert Stupperich wrote years ago in a book bearing that title, still remains relatively unknown today.

Unfortunately, scholars often have not taken the time or effort to reconstruct the printing and editing history of Melanchthon's writings and thereby have missed the opportunity accurately to track his intellectual development. K.'s work provides a welcomed exception. In this meticulous study of Melanchthon's work from 1526 to 1532, she manages - in a spirit reminiscent of Heiko Oberman, her "Doktorgroßvater" to whose memory she dedicates this work - to reconstruct how the Praeceptor Germaniae used his contributions to the humanities and theology in the service of church and society. Rather than struggle with grand (and often useless) theories about the origins or development of Melanchthon's thought, K. focuses instead on what Melanchthon actually thought and wrote, how he developed his method for reading and explaining texts, and how he applied what he learned to the problem of church disunity that confronted theologians and politicians alike before and shortly after the 1530 Diet of Augsburg. Her thesis, delicately woven throughout the work, proves how Melanchthon consistently approached both the humanities and theology as "applied sciences," so to speak, in service of unity in church and empire.

The first chapter investigates the development of Melanchthon's textbooks on rhetoric and dialectics. Especially from this first detailed analysis of his three handbooks on dialectics from 1527, 1528, and 1529, K. demonstrates that (41) "Die Suche nach der einen Wahrheit und der einen Kirche, die Melanchthon als Theologe auf der reichspolitischen Bühne betrieben hat, bewegen ihn genauso am Katheder der Universität. Erkenntnis und Handeln, Theologie und Kirchenleben hängen untrennbar zusammen." Melanchthon then combined this common search in his textbook on rhetoric of 1531. There he not only discussed the relation between dialectic and rhetoric but consistently used examples from the recently failed debates at Augsburg to demonstrate his case. The only weakness in this fresh and exciting look at these aspects of Melanchthon's intellectual activities arises from the fact that K. overlooks the very capstone of her argument. Just as the 1531 book on rhetoric leads the reader directly into the theological debates of the time, so the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, written and rewritten at the same time, shows in detail how the Christian scholar ought to shape those very debates using these tools (especially in arguments on articles IV and XII).

A second chapter demonstrates on the basis of the first biblical commentary seen through the presses by Melanchthon, the Colossians commentary of 1527, how Melanchthon used these rhetorical and dialectical tools to interpret Scripture for the church. Concentrating especially on his comments on Romans 13 (part of his interpretation of Colossians 2:23), the author shows how the political escapades of Philip of Hesse (especially sparked by the Pack Affair) shaped Melanchthon's comments. Similarly, a third chapter on Melanchthon's exegetical works from 1527-29 (on the Psalms and Proverbs) and the church visitation, which she splendidly describes, shows the limits of his readiness to enter into dialogue with his opponents. Against those who would psychologize Melanchthon's behavior during this period as too prone to compromise, K. shows at every turn how themes of unity and peace in church and empire were well-thought-out theological categories not psychological weaknesses.

A splendid fourth chapter shows again just how intricately Melanchthon connected his theological work and his political advice. While at the Diet of Speyers, Melanchthon wrote dedications: to Hermann von Neuenahr for a seemingly incomplete commentary on Romans and to the brother of Charles V, Ferdinand, for a never-written commentary on Daniel. In both cases, he tried to show the addressees the way to church unity. In Romans, characterized by Melanchthon as the methodus for the entire Scripture, he was using the latest humanist methods of interpreting texts to demonstrate how faithful the evangelicals were to Paul's gospel. Melanchthon's "scientific" approach to Scripture pointed the way to true unity.

The fifth chapter again breaks new ground by providing precise analyses of Melanchthon's dialectics and his commentaries on Aristotle. While dialectics provides the methodus for (the overall approach to) all disciplines, Romans offers the particular methodus for theology and Scripture as Aristotle does for political ethics. In political ethics, K. argues, Melanchthon began already in 1529 to move toward an understanding of the cura religionis for princes. At the same time, he continued his attacks on what he viewed as Erasmus's support for rebellion especially as this related to Saxon and Hessian attempts to form an alliance with the Swiss and others without first have established true doctrinal unity. K. shows how this "Bündnispolitik" of the evangelical princes drove Melanchthon to oppose Zwingli publicly.

Finally, in an all too brief chapter, the author uses the results of the preceding analysis to explain Melanchthon's behavior at the 1530 Diet of Augsburg. His commitment to establishing true doctrinal unity led him to attempt dialogue with a variety of opposition leaders (all with the approval of the Saxon elector). It also led him finally to criticize any political negotiation by the same Saxons that failed to comprehend how theological unity, based upon proper method, was the precondition to lasting peace.

Such an ambitious undertaking, a remarkable contribution by a beginner in Melanchthon studies, will always mean that occasionally connections will be overlooked and conclusions pressed too far. As already mentioned, the author could have used the Apology as the coup de grace for her arguments relating rhetorics and dialectics to the day's theological disputes. (She also failed to mention that Melanchthon's 1521 Institutiones rhetoricae already created a fourth genre of speech, the genus didaskalion [classroom rhetoric and dialectics].) An otherwise remarkable command of the secondary literature could have benefited from a more thorough use of Peter Fraenkel's brilliant investigation of Melanchthon's hermeneutics, Testimonia Patrum, which deals with far more than his approach to the church fathers.

The way she connects Melanchthon's designation of princes as vicarii Dei to his later view of the cura religionis fails to take into account the crucial distinction between civil and divine righteousness. To call a prince vicar of God in this world in no way implies Melanchthon's later view of the prince as overseer of true religion (cura religionis). Finally, the two instances where she fails to recognize material dated and described in Melanchthons Briefwechsel (p. 13 [MBW 2780] and p. 184 [MBW 854]), only highlights her otherwise flawless use of this irreplaceable source for Melanchthon studies - an example other scholars need to follow.

These are minor flaws in an otherwise exciting contribution to Reformation scholarship. Her careful analysis of developments in Melanchthon's dialectics, her links between Melanchthon's position and the reckless policies of Philip of Hesse, the description of the Saxon Visitation, her use of the dedicatory epistles from 1529 and their proposals for unity based upon proper theological method, her careful tracing of Melanchthon's public response to Zwingli, and her explanation of Melanchthon's behavior in Augsburg - all these things and more make this must reading for historians and evangelical theologians of the Reformation.