Between allies and adversaries: Philipp melanchthon’s activities at the imperial diet of Regensburg

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Petro Kotliarov


Introduction. Philipp Melanchthon was raised in the humanistic circle focused on education and teaching. Thus, political activities were out of his schedule. Despite Melanchthon’s unwillingness to meddle in the political process, he was frequently forced to act as theologian-politician.

Purpose. This study aims to reconstruct Philipp Melanchthon’s religious and political practices during the Imperial Diet of Regensburg (1541), based on his private correspondence. We strive to evaluate Melanchthon’s activities and to define boundaries of compromise for him.

Results. Charles V Habsburg convened the Imperial Diet at Regensburg in 1541 to overcome religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and to consolidate his Empire in the face of the Ottoman menace. As a part of the Diet, the dispute of theologians from the both sides had to eliminate religious controversies. Philipp Melanchthon, who avoided all kinds of political activities before, headed the delegation of Lutheran theologians. When Melanchthon had arrived at Regensburg, he understood that there was no unanimity in the Protestant camp – neither among political leaders, nor among theologians. In his letters, Melanchthon expressed deep regret and disappointment with insincerity of politicians, disrespect of imperial and local authorities, and quarrels among fellow theologians.

The Prince-elector of Saxony aggravated the whole deal by his non-attendance of the Imperial Diet and severe control, which he tried to exercise over the Protestant theologians. He appreciated Melanchthon’s erudition, but doubted his steadfastness. In the Prince’s opinion, Melanchthon as an Erasmian humanist could sacrify controversial statements from the Apology in order to find compromise with Catholics. Thus, the Prince-elector had written detailed instructions for theologians. In several paragraphs, he explained how to handle Melanchthon: the reformer had to be all the time under surveillance; Prince also limited access to him. Working under such conditions, Melanchthon was left with no illusions concerning the outcomes of the dispute. He felt himself alienated and isolated among the Protestant theologians and could not manage to unite Schmalkalden allies.

Conclusion. The study rejects the stereotype of Melanchthon as a reformer always aiming at compromise at any price, which was previously widely promoted in the historiography. Melanchthon’s letters written before and during the Imperial Diet convince that the reformer was aware of boundaries of permissible diplomatic maneuvers. In his correspondence, Melanchthon harshly criticized religious leaders and politicians, used unusual for him figures of speech and repeatedly underlined his own position. Thus, we see the Erasmian humanist in the new light as a firm and even adamant reformer, who never crosses the line of the admissible compromise.

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