The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 2


II. Melanchthon Holds Prophetic Views Similar to Luther

PHILIPP MELANCHTHON (1497-1560), second leader in the German Reformation and the “Protestant Preceptor of Germany,” was born at Bretten. His mother was the niece of the celebrated Hebraist Reuchlin (Capnion). Because the father died during the lad’s childhood, Reuchlin took charge of Philipp, and as friend and patron gave him the Greek name Melanchthon. Also he presented him with a rare, early Latin Bible, 5 and several Greek and Latin grammars and lexicons. Reuchlin sent him to the Latin school at Pforzheim in 1507, and to the University of Heidelberg in 1509. There he studied philosophy, mathematics, science, law, and medicine, as well as the Greek and Latin classics, which languages he wrote and spoke better than his native German. He was a precocious student, but modest and amiable in character. (His portrait appears on page 303.) PFF2 285.2

Melanchthon received his B.A. in 1511, and his M.A. in 1514. Erasmus paid extraordinary tribute to his classical learning. Melanchthon began public life at the University of Tubingen as lecturer on ancient literature. In 1518 he published a Greek grammar that lived through many editions. Upon the recommendation of Reuchlin, Elector Frederick the Wise called Melanchthon to a professorship at Wittenberg. Melanchthon declined calls to Ingolstadt and Leipzig, but accepted that of the University of Wittenberg, to become its first professor of Greek, arriving there August 25, 1518, when only twenty-one-nearly a year after the publication of Luther’s theses, and two years before burning the pope’s bull. PFF2 285.3


Although he was small of stature and extremely diffident, his learning was nevertheless conceded by all, and his high character was above suspicion. He fostered the revival of Biblical languages, which did much to promote the success of the Reformation. 6 He was the creator of the Protestant educational system of Germany. 7 Shortly after his arrival in Wittenberg, Melanchthon delivered a remarkable oration on reforming the studies of youth, attacking the prevailing Scholasticism and announcing a plan of reform, particularly regarding “sacred studies” and Biblical languages, that set the pattern for the Reformation emphasis. 8 PFF2 286.1

There were stormy days, however, in the early Reformation. In 1521 many monks left the monastery, fiercely attacking the mass, the adoration of the host, and monasticism. Some priests married, and turbulent students interrupted the mass. Melanchthon celebrated the Lord’s supper, in both kinds, with his students, Carlstadt following his example and employing the German language. During Luther’s confinement in the Wartburg, Melanchthon carried on as head of the Reformed cause. Fanaticism, led by Storch and Stiibner, as well as Miinzer from Zwickau, arose to plague them in 1522. Miinzer sent forth twelve apostles and set apart seventy-two evangelists. He went to Prague, and Storch came to Wittenberg. Melanchthon scarcely knew how to handle him and his visionary “prophetic” predictions, as Carlstadt, rector of the university, accepted some of his views. PFF2 286.2


In 1519 Melanchthon had received a B.D. degree, but later declined a preferred degree of Doctor, as he did not especially approve of higher degrees. 9 A member of the theological faculty, he taught ethics, logic, and Greek literature. In later life he devoted him self exclusively to sacred learning. He was never ordained, 10 and never ascended the pulpit, but every Sunday in his lecture room he gave a Latin discourse on the Scripture lesson. He was, nevertheless, the theologian of the Lutheran Church. His complete works (Opera Omnia) fill the first twenty-eight volumes of the Corpus Reformatorum. 11 His greatest work was the composing of the Augsburg Confession, the most important and generally received creed of the Lutheran Church, and foundation of the German Lutheran faith. This he drew up during the Diet of 1530, and revised it in 1540, in order to make it acceptable to the Reformed groups. This latter has often been subscribed to by the German Reformed Churches. 12 PFF2 287.1

Melanchthon was the most popular teacher in Wittenberg; sometimes as high as fifteen hundred to two thousand 13 of the three thousand students were recorded in attendance. Among his hearers were princes, knights, and barons from all parts of Europe-France, England, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Bohemia, Italy, and Greece. The strong personal attachment between Luther and Melanchthon was based on mutual esteem. A highly gifted scholar of untiring industry-a man of order and method—he was the complement to Luther, affording the appeal to the scholars; whereas Luther captivated the masses. Both were prolific writers, but neither he nor Luther received any remuneration for their books. 14 PFF2 287.2


Melanchthon lacked the bold spirit of Luther, but shared most of his sentiments. He leaned, however, toward compromise. Composing the celebrated Confession of Augsburg, in 1530, which was intended to be read publicly to. the hostile Roman Catholic emperor Charles V in the presence of princes and ecclesiastical dignitaries, Melanchthon toned it down as far as possible, avoiding statements concerning the Roman Catholic Church that would cause offense. Luther complained of this omission: PFF2 288.1

“Satan sees clearly ... that your Apology has passed lightly over the articles of purgatory, the worship of saints, and above all, of the Pope and of Antichrist.” 15 PFF2 288.2


Melanchthon was clear personally, however, in his conviction that Rome is the Babylon of the Apocalypse and the pope the Man of Sin. In his disputation on marriage, based on First Timothy, he says: PFF2 288.3

“18. Since it is certain that the pontiffs and the monks have forbidden marriage, it is most manifest, and true without any doubt, that the Roman Pontiff, with his whole order and kingdom, is very Antichrist.” 16 PFF2 288.4

“19. Likewise in 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul clearly says that the man of sin will rule in the church exalting himself above the worship of God, etc. PFF2 288.5

“20. But it is certain that the popes do rule in the church, and under the title of the church in defending idols. PFF2 288.6

“21. Wherefore I affirm that no heresy hath arisen, nor indeed shall be, with which these descriptions of Paul can more truly and certainly accord and agree than with this pontifical kingdom.... PFF2 288.7

“25. The prophet Daniel also attributes these two things to Antichrist; namely, that he shall place an idol in the temple, and worship [it] with gold and silver; and that he shall not honor women. PFF2 288.8

“26. That both of them belong to the Roman Pontiff, who does not clearly see? The idols are clearly the impious masses, the worship of saints, and the statues which are exhibited in gold and silver that they may be worshiped.” 17 PFF2 288.9


Melanch thon’s Latin commentary on Daniel (1543) urges earnestly at the outset that the reader should be interested not merely in the historical fulfillment but in entering the eternal kingdom portrayed as the climax of prophecy. Enumerating the four empires of Daniel 2 as the kingdoms of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, of the Medes and Persians, of Alexander and his successors, of the Roman Empire, it sets forth the feet and the toes as the later kingdoms-Frankish, Germanic, Spanish, Saracenic, and Turkish, and the stone as the Messianic kingdom, soon to be set up. PFF2 288.10

“Finally, it benefits all to know that the time of the world is a short period, that the day of judgment is already upon [us] and is at the doors, just as also God wished to warn this Babylonian king of the shortness of the times of the world, of the judgment to come, of the salvation of the pious, of the eternal punishments of the wicked.... PFF2 289.1

“The stone means Christ, who from the mountain, that is, from the people of Israel, was born.... This signifies that the kingdom of Christ will not be political, but spiritual, because it will be administered through the Word.” 18 PFF2 289.2


The same four kingdoms, Melanchthon holds, are portrayed by the four beasts of Daniel 7. The four heads of the leopard are the four divisions of Alexander’s empire, and the ten horns of the fourth, or Roman beast, are the divisions of the Roman Empire-ten may indicate merely a large number, or, if anyone wants to be specific: Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Illyricum, Grecia, Africa, Egypt, Asia, and Syria. But the Little Horn, Melanchthon conceives to be the Mohammedan Saracens and Turks, rising when Rome fell. 19 The question of the time, times, and half a time, Melanchthon maintains, is rather difficult. He interprets this “dark passage” as a long time and says that the Turkish Empire will suddenly come to an end, but after its fall, the blessed day of the Lord will soon arrive. 20 PFF2 289.3


The Persian ram is followed by the Grecian goat, Alexander, and this in turn by the four horns-the four divisions of Alexander’s empire. Then comes the Little Horn, which Melanchthon applies to Antiochus as a type of the papal Antichrist. According to the common interpretation of his day, he makes the 2300 days literal, in the time of the oppression of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, but the other characteristics he applies not only to Antiochus but to Paul’s Antichrist, who, Melanchthon feels, includes both Mohammedanism and the Papacy. The breaking “without hand” is the gospel triumph over the Papacy before the day of judgment. 21 PFF2 289.4


He interprets the seventy weeks as 490 literal years, on the year-day principle. He explains two computations, extending from the second year of “Darius Artaxerxes Longimanus” to the baptism of Christ, or from the first year of Cyrus to the birth of Christ. And even if these computations were not absolutely exact, it suffices pious hearts to know that this period of 490 years agrees with the time that elapsed between the return from Babylon and the coming of the Messiah. But he personally prefers another reckoning of sixty-nine weeks to the baptism of Christ, beginning with the second year of Longimanus, with Jesus crucified in the midst of the seventieth week, three and a half years after his baptism. 22 PFF2 290.1


Declaring that “the history of Antiochus is a type and figure of Antichrist,” Melanchthon stresses the Mohammedan and papal perversions of the true worship, and says that Daniel 11:45 may refer to the Turk, who has his seat between the two seas, as well as to the seat of the Roman pope, likewise located between two seas-the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian. 23 PFF2 290.2

10. THE 1290 AND 1335 DAYS

Melanchthon conceives Daniel’s numbers of 1290 and 1335 to be year-days, which he combines as 2625 years, extending to the end. The first he places from Daniel’s time (somewhere near 600 B.C.) to the rise of Mohammedanism, and of the apostasy in the church in the seventh century after Christ; the second, to the end of the world at the end of the sixth millennium, allowing for a shortening of the time. 24 PFF2 290.3


Declaring that the great day of God will soon come, and adverting to the 6,000-year theory—2,000 without law, 2,000 under law, and 2,000 under the Messiah-Melanchthon adds: “It is settled that Christ was born about the close of the fourth millennium, and now 1545 years have passed. Therefore we are not far from the end.” 25 PFF2 291.1


Sotheby gives a photographic reproduction of Melanchthon’s own hand written calculation of the 666, but first citing and tabulating the numerical equivalent given by Irenaeus to the Greek Lateinos, and then his own calculation of the Hebrew Romith (Roman kingdom), signing his initials “P. M.” 26 PFF2 291.2