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Philip Melanchthon and the English Reformation.

Philip Melanchthon and the English Reformation. By John Schofield. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006. xvi + 238 pp. $99.95 cloth.

This fine, clearly written study examines the relation of the Lutheran theologian Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) to the emerging Reformation in England. Schofield shows how the eminent, humanistically trained Melanchthon was viewed with admiration by King Henry VIII in the years after Henry's break with Rome. Henry's attraction to Lutheran doctrine was enhanced by Melanchthon's dedication of his Loci Communes to the English king. While Henry earlier thought that Luther's emphasis on justification by faith provided a license to sin, Henry read Melanchthon's Loci, which stated that good works are "necessary for eternal life since they ought necessarily to follow our reconciliation" (see 1 Corinthians 9:16), as "giving good works more dignity than previous Lutheran writings had done" (61).

When one read the Loci in context, it was clear that Melanchthon was not teaching that "good works are a necessary consequence of justification, but not a necessary cause or precondition" (62). Melanchthon repeatedly emphasized that "justification is through mercy alone, entirely independent of good works, and that God approves only the works of the righteous" (62). But, for Henry, "according good works a role of any kind in salvation--even a secondary, consequential role--was something new" (62). Yet Henry did not recognize this carefully nuanced distinction. The significance of this illustration emerged when, with the promulgation of the Ten Articles in 1536 (the brainchild of Thomas Cromwell). "Lutheranism," chiefly due to the influence of Melanchthon, became "acceptable, if not yet official" in England (81).

But within three years a theological quagmire developed, culminating in the Act of the Six Articles (1539). For several years, English and Lutheran divines held talks, but sticking points persisted. These included Communion in one kind or two, private masses, and the issue of clerical celibacy. Henry held strong views, in line with traditional Roman Catholicism. But the Lutheran theologians would not budge, and since membership in the Schmalkaldic League, which Henry wanted, depended on adherence to the Augsburg Confession, a full "reconciliation" became more and more unlikely.

This rift persisted with the propagation of The Six Articles, which turned out to be "neither Catholic nor Lutheran, not really anything confessionally recognizable." The reason, says Schofield, is that Henry "was carving out his own, independent theological path" (124). Henry wanted to build "a 'patristic' church, independent of both Rome and Wittenberg, based on the doctrine of the fathers in, broadly, the Nicean age" (126). But he did not succeed. His aim became a "theological jumble" (127).

Reaction among Luther and his followers ranged from Luther's regretting that Melanchthon had dedicated his Loci to "the worst of knaves" (128) to Melanchthon's huge disappointment. Henry had not understood justification. Henry now desired to divorce Anne to marry nineteen-year-old Catherine Howard and to be rid of Cromwell, who had advocated his German marriage and had constructed the Lutheran policy. So on July 28, 1540, Cromwell was beheaded and on the same day, Henry married Howard.

The events of the summer left English evangelical hopes in ruins and Melanchthon seething with criticism of the "English Nero," whom he regarded as beyond redemption. Now "Philip wished only that God may 'destroy that monster'" (145). Gone was any hope of Melanchthon visiting England to help establish, more firmly, an evangelical church. It took the death of Henry (1547) and an evangelical majority on the Council to open a "door to a Lutheran settlement in England" (151). The accession of the boy king, Edward VI, a Protestant, was encouraging news for Melanchthon, who was, at the same time, mourning the death of his much beloved daughter, Anna.

But those on whom Melanchthon counted in England--Peter Martyr, Thomas Cranmer, and Nicholas Ridley--who had supported a shift toward Lutheranism--had begun to modify toward a neo-Swiss view of the Eucharist. Melanchthon perceived the influence of Bucer here and, as Schofield comments, "it remains one of the ironies of the Reformation that the real reason why Lutheranism finally failed in England was not that King Henry rejected it, but that evangelicals like Thomas Cranmer found parts of it, on the Eucharist and images, spiritually uncongenial as well" (159). A further standoff was precipitated by the unwillingness of the Lutherans to accept the Zurich Agreement (Consensus Tigurinus, 1549) and the unwillingness of the Swiss Reformed to accept the Wittenberg Accord (an agreement between the Saxons and southern Germans on the Eucharist).

Melanchthon entertained a hope for evangelical unity based on the Nicene Creed, to emphasize the common aspects of Protestant faith. Somewhat naively, he hoped that "outstanding disagreements could yet be solved if only everyone would calm down and talk about them reasonably." To Schofield, this was "inspired, but sadly impracticable as well" (164). Cranmer repeatedly invited Melanchthon to England, but then King Edward died. Melanchthon saw this as a "wound for the entire church" (173).

The reign of Queen Mary restored Roman Catholicism to England. Melanchthon supported Protestant exiles who fled to Frankfurt and other places, bearing theological differences on issues such as the Eucharist, in the name of a broader unity. He saw the exiles and their Reformed churches as "brethren who were wrong on one or maybe two points, but not as heretics beyond the pale" (184).

The "English Deborah," Elizabeth I, came to the throne after Mary's death and began her movement toward a Protestantism that led her to commend the Augsburg Confession. But in less than eighteen months, on April 19, 1560, Melanchthon died. The Thirty-nine Articles emerged as the basis of the English church. Schofield suggests that the Protestantism of Elizabeth may be termed "Melanchthonian" or "Philippist" (204). While "it may not be an exact fit," it is "nearer than any other, at least in her early years as queen." He contends that "it is hard to think of a single issue on which they would have seriously disagreed." Schofield's unique and excellent study shows why. He concludes that "Philip Melanchthon and Queen Elizabeth I, the Preceptor of Germany and the English Deborah, were soulmates who never met" (204).

Donald K. McKim

Westminster John Knox Press
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Author:McKim, Donald K.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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