Epistolae selectiores aliquot, [...] editae a Casparo Peucero

Autore: MELANCHTHON, Philipp (1497-1560)

Tipografo: Johannes Crato

Dati tipografici: Wittenberg, 1565

8vo. (8) leaves, 575, (1) pp., (8) leaves (the last two are blank). A-Z8, Aa-Pp8. Contemporary blindstamped pigskin. With the entry of ownership of Georgius Ammanus dated 1570.

Adams, M-1212; VD 16, M-3221; H.E. Bindseil, Bibliotheca Melanthoniana, (Halle, 1868), p. 27, no. 512; J. Hamel & M. Roebel, Bibliographie der gedruckten Werke Caspar Peucers, in: “Caspar Peucer 1525-1602. Wissenschaft, Glaube und Politik im konfessionellen Zeitalter”, H.-P. Hasse & G. Wartenberg, eds., (Leipzig, 2004), p. 340, no. 86.


FIRST EDITION edited by Melanchthon's son-in-law Caspar Peucer and rushed out in response to Manlius's Farrago epistolarum, published some months earlier. In his dedication to George Frederick of Brandenburg-Anhalt Peucer complains that Manlius's edition was “patched together most crudely”, that it disagreed “with histories both ancient and modern”, and that the letters in it were abbreviated and pulled together “without any judgement or selectiveness”, and published in a form that was “mutilated, imperfect, confused, alien to all Latinity - particularly in the case of those that contained matters of the greatest moment - so that it was impossible for anyone to follow the thought of the author”.

“Doch die Farrago des Manilius veranlasste ihn [Peucer] unverzüglich die ihm verfügbaren Briefe zum Druck zu geben, ebenfalls ohne Ordnung, doch mit einem Index der Adressaten und Briefanfänge. Im Gegensatz zu Manlius, der viel Privates brachte, hatte Peucer Zugang zu den inhaltsreichen Schreiben an Fürsten und Theologen. Daher sind die noch im Jahre 1565 bei Crato in Wittenberg erschienenen 144 Epistolae selectiores aliquot eine gehaltvolle Quelle zur Reformationsgeschichte. Doch hat sich Peucer Eingriffe in den Text erlaubt, der also kaum besser ist als der des Manlius” (H. Scheible, ed., Melanchthons Briefwechsel, Regesten (1514-1560), Stuttgart, 1977, I, p. 17-8).

Caspar Peucer was born in upper Lusatia, the son of an artisan. He began his education at a Latin school in Goldberg (Lower Silesia) under its rector Valentin Trotzendorf, a student of Philipp Melanchthon. He showed such remarkable talents that he began to attend the University of Wittenberg at the age of fifteen, living at the home of Melanchthon. He studied with the humanist mathematicians Erasmus Reinhold, Jakob Milich, and Joachim Rheticus, and pursued arithmetic privately with Johann Stifel, pastor at the nearby Holzdorf. In 1550 this informal relationship with the great Reformer was formalized when he married Magdalena, Melanchthon's youngest daughter. Peucer received his master of arts degree in 1545 and in 1554 became professor of mathematics succeeding Erasmus Reinhold. In 1559 he was named to the chair of medicine, and in 1560 he finally succeeded to the rectorate of the university upon the death of Melanchthon. He soon attracted the attention of the Saxon elector August and in 1563 moved to Dresden as court physician.

In this new post Peucer was in a powerful position from which to enforce and spread the teachings, especially the theological doctrines, of his father-in-law. The best way to do this, as he shrewdly recognized, was to give the principal chairs to the partisans of Melanchthon, or Philippists, as they were called, rather than to the more orthodox Lutherans. A lengthy power struggle ensued in which both sides attempted to curry the political support of the patron of the university, Augustus, the Elector of Saxony. The results were disastrous for Peucer. He was accused of being a crypto-Calvinist. Such charges were frequent during this period when there were increasing tensions among the different Protestant groups. Peucer, went to prison for 12 years for seeming to deny Christ's physical presence in the bread. Amidst this obsessive and rigidly intolerant atmosphere, Peucer was incarcerated at Pleissenburg, near Leipzig, in 1576, in spite of efforts to have him released by Wilhelm IV, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. When the widowed August remarried in 1586, his new father-in-law, Joachim Ernst of Anhalt, secured Peucer's release. He then served the princes of Anhalt as physician and adviser during his last years, remaining committed to Melanchthon's theology.

As a professor in the medical faculty, Peucer wrote several orations dealing with such topics as pleurisy and contagious diseases. Living in an age that connected the movement of the planets with disease, he also produced several lengthy works on astronomy, combining Ptolemy's theories with those of Copernicus. He also wrote works on mathematics and geography and in 1553 published an exhaustive work on the interpretation of omens. While in prison he wrote a lengthy poem in praise of his homeland, Lusatia, as well as several defenses of his position on the Lord's Supper (cf. J. Schilling, ed., Zwischen Katheder, Thron und Kerker: Leben und Werk des Humanisten Caspar Peucer, 1525-1602, Ausstellung 25. September bis 31. Dezember 2002, Bautzen, 2002, passim; and N. Kuropka, Caspar Peucer und Philipp Melanchthon. Biographische Einblicke in eine reformatorische Gehlehrtenfreundschaft, in: “Caspar Peucer 1525-1602. Wissenschaft, Glaube und Politik im konfessionellen Zeitalter”, H.-P. Hasse & G. Wartenberg, eds., Leipzig, 2004, pp. 237-257).


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Philipp Melanchthon (Schwarzterdt) was born in Bretten (Palatinate) on February 16, 1497. His mother was the niece of Johann Reuchlin, who later bestowed on him the Greek name of Melanchthon. Privately taught as a child by Johann Unger, in 1508 he attended the Latin school in Pforzheim, where the director Georg Simler introduced him to the study of Greek.

In 1509 he matriculated at the University of Heidelberg, where he met Jacob Wimpfeling, and two years later at the University of Tübingen, where he obtained his MA in 1514. Between 1514 and 1516 he taught some courses at the university and collaborated as a corrector at the press of Thomas Anshelm.

In 1518 he was appointed to the new chair of Greek at the University of Wittenberg. Already since his inaugural speech (De corrigenda adulescentiae studiis), he proposed a through reform program of education. Early on he also began to support Luther's theological reform and defend him in his publications. In 1523 Melanchthon was elected rector of the Wittenberg University, despite its statutes requested a celibate for that position, and in 1536, under the university's new constitution, he, like Luther, received the privilege to organize his courses independently of faculty regulations. His lectures formed the basis for those numerous commentaries and textbooks that, revised and rewritten many times, have earned him the title of ‘Praeceptor Germaniae'.

Besides his scholarly work, he was deeply involved in ecclesiastical politics: he prepared memoranda, undertook many journeys (in particular he attended the diet of Augsburg in 1530, the political meetings in Schmalkalden, and the colloquy of Worms in 1541), and composed milestone works as Loci communes rerum theologicarum and the Confessio Augustana. During the war of Schmalkalden (1546-1547), which led to the siege and occupation of Wittenberg, he fled to Nordhausen. In 1557 he attended in Worms his last religious colloquy and helped reorganize the University of Heidelberg. On a trip to Leipzig to an examination of candidates at the university he caught a cold from which he died in Wittenberg on April 19, 1560. He was laid to rest next to Luther in the castle church.

Melanchthon's importance for the Reformation lay essentially in the fact that he systematized Luther's ideas, defended them in public, and made them the basis of a religious education. These two, by complementing each other, could be said to have harmoniously achieved the results of the Reformation.

As a reformer, Melanchthon was characterized by moderation, conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace; but these qualities were sometimes said to only be lack of decision, consistence, and courage. Often, however, his actions are shown stemming not from anxiety for his own safety, but from regard for the welfare of the community and for the quiet development of the Church.

As a scholar Melanchthon embodied the entire spiritual culture of his age. At the same time he found the simplest, clearest, and most suitable form for his knowledge; therefore his manuals, even if they were not always original, were quickly introduced into schools and kept their place for more than a century. In ethics Melanchthon preserved and renewed the tradition of ancient morality and represented the Evangelical conception of life. His books bearing directly on morals were chiefly drawn from the classics, and were influenced not so much by Aristotle as by Cicero. Melanchthon's formulation of the authority of Scripture became the norm for the following time. The principle of his hermeneutics is expressed in his words: “Every theologian and faithful interpreter of the heavenly doctrine must necessarily be first a grammarian, then a dialectician, and finally a witness”.

In the sphere of historical theology the influence of Melanchthon may be traced until the seventeenth century, especially in the method of treating church history in connection with political history. His was the first Protestant attempt at a history of dogma.

As a philologist and pedagogue Melanchthon was the spiritual heir of the South German Humanists, of men like Reuchlin, Wimpheling, and Rudolph Agricola, who represented an ethical conception of the humanities. The liberal arts and a classical education were for him only a means to an ethical and religious end. The ancient classics were for him in the first place the sources of a purer knowledge, but they were also the best means of educating the youth both by their beauty of form and by their ethical content. By his organizing activity in the sphere of educational institutions and by his compilations of Latin and Greek grammars and commentaries, Melanchthon became the founder of the learned schools of Evangelical Germany, a combination of humanistic and Christian ideals. In philosophy also Melanchthon was the teacher of the whole German Protestant world (cf. H. Scheible, Melanchthon. Eine Biographie, München, 1997, passim).