On the 450th anniversary of the death of German reformer Phillip Melanchthon, Bishop Dr. Johannes Friedrich, presiding bishop of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany, commemorated Melanchthon's life.
Philipp Melanchthon, originally named Philipp Schwartzerd, was born in Bretten, Germany, on February 16, 1497. He was a philosopher, philologist, humanist, theologian, textbook author and poet. (His poetry was written in the new Latin language.) Like Martin Luther, Melanchthon was a driving force of the reformation in Germany and Europe. He was known as praeceptor Germaniae, a teacher of Germany. Melanchthon died in Wittenberg on April 19, 1560.
In his commemoration, Bishop Dr. Johannes Friedrich emphasized how the ideas of the reformer are a model for the present time. Melanchthon’s demand for education is fully up-to-date. Today, it is a fact that education is key to an intact society. “The social problems in our country, as well as those in developing countries, can only be solved by qualified and qualifying education. Social assistance does not solve the problems, which is why we need to invest in education, at an early age and not only at the university level,” Friedrich said. Melanchthon not only advocated for education in the spheres of natural sciences but also in the fields of humanities. He promoted character education and the formation of conscience as well as an attitude to a life committed to ethical standards. “It is not just about educating people but turning people into humans,” Friedrich added.
Melanchthon’s ideas focused on the question of how a gracious God would secure more humane people. Both humanism and Christian faith require and advocate for the appreciation of freedom and dignity of the individual. Humanity and education go together. “Nazi and Stalinist terror have shown where a society that does not teach freedom and individual dignity in its educational curriculum is led. Melanchthon wrote that as a result of their barbaric ways, people turn into monstrous beasts. Far from simply reinforcing previously unwritten laws, the Ten Commandments are meant to protect human life. They teach us to respect the individual rights of our fellowmen. “This respect is especially important in our interfaith and multicultural world,” Friedrich said.
It is also essential to retain Melanchthon’s complimentary concept of the spiritual and worldly spheres. Where religion is conceived as opposed to the “bad world”, fundamentalism will be the natural consequence. We can see this in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, when religion is used as a weapon against the secular world and dissidents. In the same way, the secular world, which declares religion as evil, leads to self-glorification, which adopts religious traits as was the case with national socialism and communism when those ideologies were turned into religion. To avoid such reversals, Melanchthon wrote that equal attention must be given the spiritual and secular spheres, especially in one’s own life.
Another of the reformer’s mottos was “back to the source!” “We have returned to the consumption mentality of the late Middle Ages when people were served second-hand information. Today, only those who have acquired a critical mind can discern if the media and other news information technologies report facts objectively or if the information is filtered and manipulated. One source is the Bible. “What Stern or Spiegel magazines write about Jesus Christ or issues of faith is not important. Go to the source,” encouraged Bishop Friedrich.
From 2000 to 2005, Bishop Friedrich was the “Catholic” representative of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany. Since then, he has been a member of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany. Bishop Friedrich is committed to ecumenism and advocates inter-religious dialogue.