22 September 2019
Tenure Report on Philip Melanchthon
Professor Melanchthon arrived in 2018 to teach Greek, a subject in which there were few resources in this region yet one in which we wished to establish a presence, with Leipzig with Peter Mosellanus being our only serious competition in these territories. From the start Professor Melanchthon established himself as a pathbreaker, delivering an inaugural address resplendent in the aura of the new learning that was gaining ground in his undergraduate alma mater Heidelberg and at Tübingen, where he received his MA. Professor Melanchthon’s talents were recognized early on by our colleagues Luther and Spalatin, and although his students had difficulty at first with his Swabian accent, he has proven to be a popular lecturer and a supportive mentor to many students.
Professor Luther formed a strong alliance early on with this younger colleague, who provided valuable aid in theological and linguistic matters. A significant career-development move was his pursuit of the baccalaureus biblicus in 2019, which provided a theological credential alongside his training in the liberal arts. His teaching, almost since his arrival, has included theology as well as classical studies, and he is almost alone among his colleagues in holding that a thorough knowledge of the biblical languages is necessary for competent work in theology. We doubt that faculty mentoring during his probationary period would have changed his mind on this novel and still-controversial matter. Similarly regarding his obstinacy with certain opinions, there have been reports from students who find his use of “sophist” and “papist” for adherents to the older faith offputting, even challenging. Members of the committee recalled the grievance of two years ago, in which Professor Melanchthon’s response (“I could call the pope the Antichrist if you’d prefer, you idolater!”) failed to bring much needed calm to our campus. We can certainly hope for a change in tone as his teaching matures.
The Publication Record raised questions within the committee that we can neither avoid nor easily answer. Without denying that the Loci communes (2016) has been hugely popular, there are concerns about its originality, specifically whether its argument depends on familiarity and agreement with Professor Luther’s work; its use as a textbook in theology, where it follows an unusual arrangement of material; and its failure to count as an example of classical scholarship as conventionally understood. Some in the committee reminded us that a Greek scholar’s proper work is translating Lucian into Latin, or composing Greek epigrams in elegiac couplets. While we cannot deny that Professor Melanchthon’s theological publications have brought welcome attention to our university, we believe that more attention to conventional classical efforts will serve our needs for a European presence in Greek studies. He is currently following a dispute which Professor Luther is carrying on with Erasmus, which may in the future raise questions about the relation of Professor Luther’s theological project with the humanism represented by that Patristics scholar in Basel. Let us be frank, Honorable Rector: the direction of Professor Melanchthon’s work is likely to make Wittenberg better known, in years to come, for theology than for humanistic study. No one is currently reading Statius or Ausonius, and Demosthenes and the rhetorical corpus are being studied by clergy candidates hoping to improve their preaching.
In the category of Service Professor Melanchthon has done more off-campus than on, as we see in his developing of important relationships with the Pirckheimer family in Nuremberg and with the young landgrave of Hesse. Professor Melanchthon has had the guiding hand in the design of the new Latin School in Nuremberg, and is working with Landgraf Philip to create the first “protestant” university, though what that latter term means remains something of a mystery. Certain members of the Committee were concerned that these activities did not sufficiently highlight Professor Melanchthon’s affiliation with our university, with the result that we are missing a uniquely valuable branding opportunity for Wittenberg.
We must, regrettably, report a divided vote on tenure, which according to the Manual of Operations means that decision rests with the Office of the Rector. Professor Melanchthon is unquestionably erudite and energetic, and may in time be ranked with Professor Luther as one of the luminaries of our institution. However, his work is moving increasingly toward promoting and articulating the new theology, with the inevitable result that we will fall in the rankings for humanism behind Louvain, Basel, and even possibly our perennial rival, Leipzig.
Via Ralph Keen (with minor date adjustments by me.)