Review of Melanchthon, The Quiet Reformer by Clyde L. Manschreck

Melanchthon, The Quiet Reformer by Clyde Leonard Manschreck, New York: Abingdon Press, 1958, 350 pp.
Melanchthon, The Quiet Reformer was an interesting read with no fluff. That is, Manschreck chose his words carefully. I found essentially every paragraph in the book to be meaningful, even if in some places his conclusions are doubtful.
Manschreck writes in general favor of Melanchthon working to rescue him from the critics of times past. He argues that Melanchthon was devoted to the evangelical cause, but did not slavishly follow Luther on all points. Also he contends that Melanchthon found much to appreciate in humanism, but did so without compromising his biblical faith.
The name Melanchthon we learn comes from the greek equivalent of his German family name Schwartzerd, “black earth.” This name was given to Philip at the age of twelve by his great-uncle Reuchlin.
There are certain interesting oddities about Melanchthon one learns from this book. For one, he had a strong interest in astrology. Manschreck argues that in this Melanchthon was a product of his times. And he was a palm-reader. (p. 303) Also I learned with considerable surprise that Melanchthon (and Luther alike) held that bigamy (being married to more than one person) might be acceptable in certain cases of “extreme necessity.”
Melanchton is to be remembered not just as a second to Luther, but as a prolific writer and an important figure in the formation of public schools in Germany. In some ways he was more central to the Reformation than even Luther. That is, it seems that Melanchthon was involved in more ecumenical meetings with other protestant leaders and more political meetings with princes, bishops, and kings than the more severe Luther ever was. And while Luther wrote more influential books, Melanchthon penned the most important evangelical confessions of their era.
Unfortunately in chapter 22, “The World, the Holy Spirit, and the Will,” Manschreck approves of Melanchthon’s basically Arminian confusion over justification. Manschreck even argues that Luther agreed with Melanchthon’s synergism! (p. 300) He bases this on the fact that Luther never objected to certain more synergistic statements of Melanchthon. Manschreck, it turns out, was a Methodist minister. The theological error both Manschrek and Melanchthon make is to think that responsibility implies ability. That is, like Arminians of all times, they falsely argue that God’s commanding man to live in certain ways means that man can in fact live in those ways. This is biblically unsupported, logically fallacious, and contradicted by experience.
There is one further observation I might make of my own interest. In traditional Lutheran churches like the one I grew up in—the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod—pastors are required to agree with Martin Luther’s view of the real physical presence of the Christ in the Lord’s supper (as expressed in the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord.) Philip Melanchthon however, as this biography shows, came to disagree with Luther’s view and believed, like Bucer and Calvin, in the real spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s supper. Thus Melanchthon, the very man who wrote the Augsburg Confession and the Apology to the Augsburg Confession which are contained in the Lutheran standards in the Book of Concord, would not himself be able to be ordained in such a Lutheran church!

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