Melanchthon’s legacy

Restoration of Church Unity

The political and religious divisions hardened in Europe after 1555. The majority of the princes hoped for confessional homogeneity in their own territory. King Louis XIV claimed in France : “king, law, faith” ! The Christians of the other confessions were considered as “heretics”, converted by strength, hunted down or forced into the exile. The humanist inheritance was denied. Freedom of conscience and Tolerance receded. Even Lutheranism considered that the homogeneity of the Church in a given territory was indispensable.

The commitment of Melanchthon to preserving Church unity was soon forgotten. History remembers him as Luther’s co-worker. The Age of Reason rediscovered him. He was then considered as a theologian holding in high respect reason and culture, which therefore helped to open up ways to overcome ecclesial dissensions.

During the 19th century Lutheran and Reformed Churches constituted Unified Churches in numerous German regions. Melanchthon is often considered as their spiritual father. The first methodical publishing of his works and letters became part of the Corpus Reformatorum . The 400 th anniversary of its death in 1960 led to the creation of the Centre of Melanchthon Studies in Heidelberg, which oversaw the publication of his letters.

Today the originality of this follower of Luther is underlined : he always endeavoured to hold together reformation and humanism, culture and faith. His bias to Church unity is considered as an ecumenical commitment.

Engraving from 1717 © Maison de Melanchthon Bretten
Engraving- Jan Luyken (1696) © Collection privée
Portrait of Melanchthon

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Associated notes

  • Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560)

    Melanchton was a humanist and a theologian who adapted Luther’s ideas. His attempts to reconcile the different reformation trends failed.
  • The Melanchthon House in Bretten (Germany)

    The great humanist and famous reformer Philipp Melanchthon, born in Bretten in 1497, was an intimate friend and collaborator, of Luther. A museum in Bretten bears his name, it was...