The Breakdown Of A Reformation Friendship: John Oecolampadius And Philip Melanchthon -- By: Jeff Fisher

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 77:2 (Fall 2015)
Article: The Breakdown Of A Reformation Friendship: John Oecolampadius And Philip Melanchthon
Author: Jeff Fisher


The Breakdown Of A Reformation Friendship:
John Oecolampadius And Philip Melanchthon

Jeff Fisher

Jeff Fisher is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, MI, and an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

In October 1529, the Reformation took a significant turn following the events of the Marburg Colloquy. At that meeting, the Swiss Reformed and the Lutherans came together and agreed upon fourteen articles of faith, but could not reach agreement on the final article—the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The colloquy is famous for the boisterous exchanges between the two main figures, Luther and Zwingli. However, two other men played critical roles, not only at the colloquy, but also in the entire discussion over the Lord’s Supper and the broadening gap between the Lutherans and the Reformed. These two men were Luther’s main associate, Philip Melanchthon, and Zwingli’s colleague, Johannes Oecolampadius. Oecolampadius was the one who first debated with Luther at the colloquy, and it was his particular views on the Eucharist that received the greater attention and engagement from the Lutheran side. Although Oecolampadius and Melanchthon may best be known together for participating on opposite sides at the Marburg Colloquy, their relationship actually extended back far earlier and went far deeper than simply being on opposite sides of an important debate.

This article focuses on the development and breakdown of the relationship between Oecolampadius and Melanchthon in connection with events at the time of the Reformation. Despite the significance of both these figures, and the uniqueness of their friendship, there has been little exploration of this topic.1 This may be partly due to the inherent difficulties in labeling any two historical figures as friends, particularly when seeking to substantiate that friendship from letters of the Renaissance era. One must be careful not to allow the politeness of Renaissance letter-writing etiquette to skew the perception of a relationship

to appear more favorable than it was.2 With these cautions in mind, our analysis of the contexts in which the lives of these two men intersected and the correspondence they exchanged demonstrates that there was a genuine friendship between them. As we explore the extent of affection and appreciation these two Reformers held for each other, it will become apparent that their friendship was at first close, became complex, and eventually crumbled. In part, this examination challenges the claim of Wilhelm Maurer that Melanch...

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