This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16 -- Feast of Saint Philipp Melanchthon

Melanchthon, as painted by Young Cranach
The purpose of this whole blog is to enjoy the lives and legends of the saints.  There's a perverse pleasure, therefore, in recognizing Philipp Melanchthon, who criticized the Catholic Church for its veneration of the saints.  Tough luck, Phil, you're not here to decline the honor. 

And speaking of things to decline, check out that portrait that Lucas Cranach the Younger painted of him.  Cranch the Younger was every bit as good a painted as Cranach the Elder, which is to say that Melanchthon did not have to look as bad as that on canvas, no matter what he looked like in the flesh.  It is to his credit that he chose accuracy over vanity. 

Melanchthon is the Greek translation of Schwartzerdt, Phil's original surname -- literally, black earth.  Being a classical scholar, he adopted a classical name, even though he taught at the universities in Tübingen and Wittenberg.  Melanchthon's mom's uncle, Johann Reuchlin, suggested the change.  Problem blending the families or just a passion for Greek? I didn't look too deeply because family drama can be so unhealthy. Melanchthon himself married Katharina Krapp, the daughter of the mayor of Wittenberg.  Her family was obviously unimpeachable, but she couldn't have been too unhappy about trading her dad's name for her husband's, even if the consonants were piled up in the middle. 

A guiding light of the Reformation, Melanchthon was all caught up in the debates about the Lord's Supper (which is known to some of us as the Eucharistic Sacrament, or maybe just Communion), papal infallibility, and good works versus faith alone.  His was an evolving theology, which is understandable given all that was fomenting then, but one might think that one revolutionary might be tolerant of another revolutionary's ideas.  Not so Melanchthon, who denounced Zwingli's views on the Lord's Supper as an impious dogma.  

Holbein saw him as a more dashing and rakish fellow
Oddly enough, he had no problem with astrology. That comets and meteors were signs from God made sense to him.  He had made a deep study of astrology as well as astronomy with Johannes Stöffler early in his career.  Biblically, the story of the magi would have confirmed the validity of this science.  The thought that it would later get labeled superstitious nonsense at best and witchcraft at worst brings back a little of that perverse pleasure I felt at the beginning. 

I want to celebrate this saint.  He staked life and limb for his beliefs and poured all his energy into discovering and propagating the Truth of God.  It can be hard to sympathize with the zealous, the sanctimonious, and the humorless, but perhaps that's why they ought to be celebrated.  Maybe in our compassion -- not pity, but sympathy in the sense of briefly glimpsing their views -- we can value their contributions without fearing their condemnations. 

But God help us to keep them away from authority over any but themselves. 

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