Melanchthon Gets a Theology Degree

Philip Melanchthon is one of the most significant theologians not only in Lutheran history, but also in the history of Protestantism more broadly and, I would argue, the entire history of the church.

Given that that is so, it might seem odd that he never received an advanced degree in theology. He took only a Bachelor’s degree, the Baccalaureus biblicus, at Wittenberg; and he did so only after he had already completed advanced studies in the humanities at Tübingen.

In fact, we are close to the anniversary of Melanchthon’s degree: his disputation occurred on September 9, 1519, and he received his degree ten days later, on September 19.

We are fortunate to have the Latin text of the theses of the disputation. To my knowledge, they have not appeared in English before, though I may be wrong about that. I present them below without (at least for the time being) further comment, though they provide grounds for much, and many different kinds of, discussion.

For the translation, I have used the text as printed in Melanchthons Werke in Auswahl, Band 1, edited by Robert Stupperich (C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1951), 23-25.

Reverend Father Petrus Fontinus, Dean of Theology, will discuss the propositions listed below, and Philip Melanchthon will respond. 

1. Human nature loves itself in the highest degree on account of itself. 

2. Human nature cannot love God on account of himself.

3. Both divine and natural law decree that God is to be loved on account of himself.

4. Since we cannot do this, it is the law in the case that we fear God in a servile way.

5. We necessarily hate what we are afraid of.

6. Therefore, the effect of the law is that we also hate God.

7. Just as hatred is not the beginning of love, so also servile fear is not the beginning 

of filial fear.

8. It follows from this that servile fear is not the beginning of repentance.

9. Therefore, righteousness is a gift of Christ.

10. All our righteousness is a gratuitous imputation of God.

11. Therefore, the statement that even good works are sins is not unlike the truth.

12. The intellect cannot assent to any proposition apart from reason and experience.

13. Nor can the will by itself compel the intellect to assent by means of probabilities.

14. The will, carried along by love towards an object that is worthy of belief, commands the intellect to assent.

15. This assent is faith or wisdom.

16. It is not necessary for the catholic to believe other articles beyond those whose witness is Scripture.

17. The authority of councils is inferior to the authority of Scripture.

18. Therefore, not believing in the mark conferred by baptism, transubstantiation, and similar things is done without incurring the charge of heresy.

19. Acquired faith is opinion.

20. He who falls short in one thing is guilty of all.

21. Loving one’s enemy, not avenging oneself, not swearing, and the sharing of property are commandments.

22. The laws of nature are habits created together with the soul.

23. Nature pretends to be well more that it is well simpliciter.

24. God is one; in divine categories, he is the highest category of all.


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