Melanchthon’s Deathbed List

This past Friday (April 19) was the anniversary of Blessed Philip Melanchthon’s death in 1560. Shortly before he died, he made a list of reasons why he should not be afraid to do so. I translated it back in 2016 on the old Calvinist International site, but it’s difficult to access now. (You can find it through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.) So I’m reposting the text (which, I now realize, didn’t match on the original post because I put in a screenshot of the wrong column in Corpus Reformatorum) and my translation (slightly revised). I’ve also included some remarks on his list (revised from the previous version).

Text and Translation

Caussae cur minus abhorreas a morte, scriptae a Philippo Melanthone in pagella, paucis diebus ante obitum.

A sinistris.A dextris.
Discedes a peccatis.Venies in lucem.
Liberaberis ab aerumnis, et a rabie Theologorum.Videbis Deum.
Intueberis filium Dei.
Disces illa mira arcana, quae in hac vita intelligere non potuisti.
Cur sic simus conditi.
Qualis sit copulatio duarum naturarum in Christo.

The reasons why you should not shrink back from death, written by Philip Melanchthon on a small piece of paper a few days before his death.

On the left.On the right.
You will depart from sins.You will come into the light.
You will be freed from tribulations, and from the mad rage of the theologians.You will see God.
You will behold the Son of God.
You will learn the wondrous secrets that you could not understand in this life: 
Why we were created as we were.
What the union of the two natures in Christ is.


  1. The gain of heaven, it seems, provided more encouragement to Melanchthon not to be afraid to die than did the ills from which he would depart. Notice the difference in length between the two lists, where the left is (as is customary) associated with what is bad and the right with what is good.
  2. This idea of “movement from/movement to” is encapsulated in the first reason on each list: departure from sins, arrival in the light.
  3. Melanchthon had been involved in disputes and strife for most of his life, and these did not abate as his death approached. As he entered his 64th year, he was, it seems, tired: theological controversy, notwithstanding the demands of Christian charity that ought to prevail, can be nasty; and it often was. This is not to say there is never a time or place for controversy, even for sharp controversy. There most certainly is. But years of it will take their toll. Thus Melanchthon looked forward to escaping the rabies Theologorum. In the heavenly life, there would be no such thing.
  4. Indeed, the rabies Theologorum would be replaced by the beatific vision and solid knowledge; the chaos of rage would be replaced by the supremely ordered peace of contemplative vision.
  5. Melanchthon devotes two caussae, in fact, to such sight: “You will see God”; “You will behold the Son of God.” This indicates that Christ, for Melanchthon, is the beatific vision. There is presumably some significance to his change from videbis to intueberis. Both verbs can mean “seeing,” both physically and mentally; in the physical sense, intueri is the stronger, more intense verb (“to look closely at, gaze at, behold”), and that perhaps explains its use here, as the third caussa specifies and sharpens the second: the visio Dei is at its most basic and most concrete the visio Christi.
  6. The latter of the two blessings mentioned in (4)–that is, knowledge–relates to things too hard for pilgrims, for Christians who are in via, to understand adequately. Melanchthon was confident that the heavenly life would bring about a change in the way in which he was able to learn of and comprehend such great mysteries as creation and the hypostatic union. Are they related? Does the vision of God, and of God in Christ, somehow of itself answer the question of the relation of the human and the divine, of the created and the uncreated? In any case, it is fascinating that Melanchthon’s last words in this document, and therefore almost the last words in his life as far as the historical record is concerned, are essentially an expression of his hope to better grasp Christology, best summarized in the Chalcedonian Definition but still a subject of earthly controversy even in Melanchthon’s own day. Once again, isn’t such controversy important? Yes, it absolutely can be. But earthly conflict is someday to be replaced by the vision of the truth that is beyond all argument. It is this that Melanchthon anticipates here.
  7. What we see in these final thoughts of Melanchthon’s, then, is the willingness to depart from this life in order to see and know God in Christ. His destination of beatitude will, he believes, account for his origin, even as it consummates it.


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