Between Humanism, the Reformation and Lutheranism: Philipp Melanchthon in the German Historiograhy of the Sixteenth – the second half of the Nineteenth centuries

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Petro Kotliarov


Introduction. The paper looks at evolution of Philipp Melanchthon’s image in the German historiography of the Sixteenth century – the first half of the Nineteenth centuries. It highlights main historiographical schools, currents, and outlines tendencies in evaluation of Melanchthon’s activities, which depended heavily on authors’ confessional or political biases.

Purpose. This paper aims at defining priority-driven issues in the research on Melanchthon’s humanistic and reformation activities in the Sixteenth – at the end of the Nineteenth centuries.

Results. The question of Melanchthon’s theological beliefs and their conformity to the Lutheran dogmatic raised as early as the second half of the Sixteenth century. First Melanchthon’s biographers J. Camerarius and P. Krell, his close friends and followers, tried to justify Melanchthon and display the orthodoxy of his beliefs. Systematic research of Melanchthon’s activities started at the end of the Eighteenth century. J. Tischer, J. Volbeding, L. Heid, G. Schuman outlined main research issues: Melanchthon’s role in the Reformation and Humanism, in Lutheran diplomacy and theology. J. Tischer highlighted Melanchthon’s ability to find compromises in the heated discussions. J. Volbeding as a Romantic scholar outlined Melanchthon’s love to the Fatherland rejecting predominant vision of the Humanism as a cosmopolite current. L. Heid compared ethics and upbringing of Marin Luther and Melanchthon. G. Schuman characterized Melanchthon as a “classically educated man” and a theologian who shaped Lutheranism.

At the beginning of the 30s of the 19th century appeared a new current in the German historiography – a political one, heavily influenced by Romanticism. Leopold von Ranke is supposed to be its founder. In several works, he focused on Melanchthon’s activities as a humanist and a reformer. For the first time Melanchthon was considered to be a Reformation “superstar”. Ranke also remarked Melanchthon’s efforts to draw the Lutheran teaching closer to the Catholic terms. F. Schlosser and W. Zimmerman also paid attention to political and humanistic aspects of Melanchthon’s activities.

Conclusion. Scholars from different fields and schools of historiography contributed significantly to our knowledge of the German Reformation. Nevertheless, their impact to research on Philipp Melanchthon’s reformation and humanistic activities has remained modest. Melanchthon’s ecumenical efforts and his role in proving and championing the new theological dogmas in split German Sixteenth century society have received only fragmented attention. We are sure that the next generation of scholars will fruitfully elaborate on these issues.

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