The Friendship of Melanchthon and Calvin -- By: James T. Hickman

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 38:2 (Winter 1976)
Article: The Friendship of Melanchthon and Calvin
Author: James T. Hickman

The Friendship of Melanchthon and Calvin

James T. Hickman

That reliance upon caricature is hazardous is illustrated by the popular impressions of Philip Melanchthon and John Calvin. Calvin is portrayed as a dogmatic, unyielding theologian who could tolerate no variance of opinion. Calvin and Melanchthon disagreed on the crucial doctrine of free will, yet Calvin struggled to maintain their friendship during the crucial years 1550–1556. Melanchthon is described as a meek, mild-mannered, conciliatory scholar. Yet, when Luther hesitated in responding to the 1525 Peasants’ Revolt it was Melanchthon who persuaded him to instruct the princes to take the most severe action. Furthermore, while Melanchthon acknowledged that many Ana-baptists were peaceful, he insisted that all should be executed lest their churches breed the more radical variety.

Melanchthon was fifteen years older than Calvin; they represented two major modes of the continental reformation; they differed on important theological issues, yet they were intimate friends. The purpose of this article is to explore the background, sources, and course of this friendship and to evaluate its contribution to our understanding of the Reformation.

In August 1518, when Philip Melanchthon joined the faculty at the University of Wittenberg, his reputation as a scholar was already growing.1 After taking his master’s degree in 1514 from

the University of Tübingen, he remained there to teach and to write. “He did much to revive the classics at Tübingen. While there he edited editions of Terence (1516)’ and a Greek grammar.”2 Due to intrigue and jealousy on the part of his fellow faculty members Melanchthon decided to leave Tübingen. Through the efforts of his great-uncle Reuchlin, he was invited to teach Greek at the University of Wittenberg, where he would join other faculty members such as Caspar Borner, Andrew Bodenstein (Carlstadt), and Martin Luther.3 His arrival came less than a year before the decisive Leipzig debate.

The mutual admiration of Luther and Melanchthon began immediately. As Melanchthon embraced the cause of the Reformation it became evident that his nature and scholarship complemented those of Luther, although he was never Luther’s parrot. “The miner’s son drew forth the metal of faith out of the deep pit, the armourer’s son fashioned the metal for defiance and defense.”4 The constancy of Melanchthon’s devotion to Luther would later cause Calvin great distress.

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