Melanchthon's idea of biblical authority as it developed under the influence of his rhetorical theory to 1521
Ever since Melanchthon assumed the historical role of spokesman for the Lutheran movement in the sixteenth century, debates have raged over his manner of relating human reason to biblical faith. Since the pioneering critical work of H. Heppe in 1854, until quite recently, it was generally agreed upon in the historiographical tradition that Melanchthon was to blame for an excessive and damaging use of humanistic values in developing his Protestant theological position. It has been commonly held that his systematic methods had the result of petrifying the creative, vibrant insights of Luther, that he was, hence, the forerunner of a too rationalistic Protestant scholasticism, that he stressed human realities at the cost of attention to the divine, and finally, that he failed adequately to uphold Luther's crucial principle of sola scriptua in reference to philosophy. The present dissertation has arisen in part from concerns which have been brought forward by a body of research published mainly during the last twenty-five years. It is now a growing interpretative view that the central subject of faith and reason in Melanchthon cannot be accurately assessed apart from thorough knowledge of his pre-Lutheran rhetorical theory, the values and thought-forms of which nearly governed his initial, formative interpretation and expression of Luther's theological teaching. These recent studies have called for more work on the subject of Melanchthon's pre-Lutheran rhetorical doctrines and their influence upon the rise and development of his early Lutheran theology; they have also shown the pressing need for research into the subject of Melanchthon's theoretical understanding of Scripture and of the hermeneutical principles which he applied in forming his theological doctrines. Thus the primary aim of the dissertation is to show how the values and thought-forms of Melanchthon's rhetorical system influenced the idea of biblical authority which he cultivated during his first years at Wittenberg up to the publication of his deeply influential Loci communes of 1521. The main thesis is that the rhetorical thought-forms of the pre-Lutheran period directly and decisively shaped his emerging concepts of Scripture as a diverse but coherent canonical whole, and of biblical perspicuity, efficacy, truthfulness, and inspiration as the unequalled Word of God. Using a mainly chronological method of presentation, the author first discusses the development of Melanchthon's pre-Lutheran system at Heidelberg and Tubingen, secondly, seeks to show how the rhetorical thought-forms influenced each of these several levels of biblical authority in Melanchthon, and, finally, defends the view that a detailed understanding of Melanchthon's idiosyncratic forms of expression will lead eventually to substantial revisions of the aforementioned historiographical traditions.