New Edition of Philip Melanchthon’s Loci
In honor of the 450th anniversary of Philip Melanchthon’s death in 1560, a second edition of his Loci Communes (“Commonplaces” or “Common Topics”) has been issued in hardback. Originally published by CPH in English under the name Loci Theologici 1543, this book is actually Melanchthon’s last Latin edition, published in 1559. Generations of Lutheran pastors learned theology from this book in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This revised English edition includes several new features: a new translation of the “Definitions of Terms That Have Been Used in the Church,” a new historical introduction, cross-references to the original Latin, Scripture index, and an index of persons.
You can read a sample from the book on the CPH web site where you can order it.
Martin Luther had high praise for Melanchthon’s Loci. In his preface to The Bondage of the Will (1525), he wrote, “Philip Melanchthon’s invincible little book on Loci Theologici [“Theological Topics”] … in my judgment is worthy not only of immortality but even of the Church’s canon.” And Luther’s praise of Melanchthon’s book did not stop there. A table talk from the winter of 1542–43 records Luther’s praise of Melanchthon’s Loci:
“If anybody wishes to become a theologian, he has a great advantage, first of all, in having the Bible. This is now so clear that he can read it without any trouble. Afterward he should read Philip’s Loci Communes. This he should read diligently and well, until he has its contents fixed in his head. If he has these two he is a theologian, and neither the devil nor a heretic can shake him. The whole of theology is open to him, and afterward he can read whatever he wishes for edification. …
“There’s no book under the sun in which the whole of theology is so compactly presented as in the Loci Communes. If you read all the fathers and sententiaries you have nothing. No better book has been written after the Holy Scriptures than Philip’s. He expresses himself more concisely than I do when he argues and instructs. I’m garrulous and more rhetorical.”
Thus, at least some of Luther’s friends and students continued to hear his praise of Melanchthon’s Loci at the beginning of the 1540’s, when the expanded and revised second “era” of Melanchthon’s work had been in public for several years. The Loci of 1521 and 1536 also had a profound impact on the method (at least) of John Calvin’s 1539 Institutes of the Christian Religion.
In the years after Luther’s death (1546), Melanchthon’s teaching in the later editions of the Loci and elsewhere led to controversy and division within the Lutheran Church until the majority of Lutherans settled their differences according to God’s Word by means of the Formula of Concord (1577, published in the Book of Concord in 1580). The controversies surrounding Melanchthon centered on human free choice in spiritual matters, the necessity of good works for salvation, the Lord’s Supper, and ceremonies neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture (adiaphora). The tinder for most of these fires can be seen in this present volume.
Despite the controversies that arose from Melanchthon’s teaching both within the Loci and outside of them, this text continued to be highly esteemed among Lutherans. One of the fathers of the Formula of Concord, Martin Chemnitz, lectured on this text. His successor, Polycarp Leyser, took care to print not only Chemnitz’s lectures but also the latest edition of Melanchthon’s Loci as well, even though Chemnitz clearly refuted Melanchthon’s position at certain points. The Loci continued to be used as a theology textbook in electoral Saxony until Leonhard Hutter’s Compendium locorum theologicorum (1610) replaced it, thirty years after the Book of Concord was published. Even in our day, Melanchthon has solid, biblical teaching, aimed at consoling Christian hearts and kindling in them the love of God and of their neighbor.
(From the new introduction.)
Melanchthon’s Loci communes theologici is one of the several most significant and influential compendia of theology written during the Reformation. This translation, which presents the final stage of its textual development, had an enormous impact on developing Lutheran and Reformed theology, whether in its content or its method. The new edition of Preus’s work with Mayes’s introduction is a welcome presence in Reformation studies.
Richard A. Muller
Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich.