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Title: Philippists  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Philip Melanchthon, Johannes Agricola, Lutheran Church, Nicolaus von Amsdorf, Invisible church
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Philippists formed a party in early Lutheranism. Their opponents were called Gnesio-Lutherans.

Before Luther's death

Philippists was the designation usually applied in the latter half of the sixteenth century to the followers of Johann Stössel, and others, to work for a union of all the Protestant forces, as a means to which end they attempted to break down by this attitude the barriers which separated Lutherans and Calvinists. Melanchthon had won, by his eminent abilities as a teacher and his clear, scholastic formulation of doctrine, a large number of disciples among whom were included some of the most zealous Lutherans, such as Matthias Flacius and Tilemann Heshusius, afterward to be numbered among the vehement opponents of Philippism; both of whom formally and materially received the forms of doctrine shaped by Melanchthon. As long as Luther lived, the conflict with external foes and the work of building up the Evangelical Church so absorbed the Reformers that the internal differences which had already begun to show themselves were kept in the background.

Opposition to Melanchthon

Melanchthon as an old man by Lucas Cranach the Elder

But no sooner was Luther dead than did the internal, as well as the external, peace of the Justus Menius, Johann Pfeffinger, Paul Eber, Caspar Cruciger the Elder, Victorinus Strigel, and others saw in the self-styled genuine Lutherans nothing but a narrow and contentious class, which, ignoring the inherent teaching of Luther, sought to domineer over the church by letter and name, and in addition to assert its own ambitious self. On the other hand, the Philippists regarded themselves as the faithful guardians of learning over against the alleged "barbarism," and as the mean between the extremes. The genuine Lutherans also claimed to be representatives of the pure doctrine, defenders of orthodoxy, and heirs of the spirit of Martin Luther. Personal, political, and ecclesiastical animosities widened the breach; such as the rivalry between the Ernestine branch of the Saxon house (now extruded from the electoral dignity) and the Albertine branch; the jealousy between the new Ernestine University of Jena and the electoral universities of Wittenberg and Leipzig, in both of which the Philippists had the majority; and the bitter personal antagonism felt at Wittenberg for Flacius, who assailed his former teachers harshly and made all reconciliation impossible.

Open conflict

The actual conflict began with the controversy over the Interim and the question of Formula of Concord closed the controversy by avoiding both extremes, but failed to offer a final solution of the question demanded by the original motive of the controversy. The synergistic controversy, breaking out about the same time, also sprang out of the ethical interest which had induced Melanchthon to enunciate the doctrine of free will in opposition to his previous predestinarianism. After the clash in 1555 between Pfeffinger (who in his Propositiones de libero arbitrio had held closely to the formula of Melanchthon) and Amsdorf and Flacius, Strigel went deeper into the matter in 1559 and insisted that grace worked upon sinful men as upon personalities, not natural objects without a will; and that in the position that there was a spontaneous cooperation of human powers released by grace there was an actual lapse into the Roman Catholic view. The suspicions now entertained against Melanchthon and his school were quickened by the renewed outbreak of the sacramentarian controversy in 1552. Joachim Westphal accused Melanchthon of agreement with John Calvin, and from this time the Philippists rested under the suspicion of Crypto-Calvinism. The more the German Lutherans entertained a dread of the invasion of Calvinism, the more they mistrusted every announcement of a formula of the Lord's Supper after the form of Luther's doctrine yet obscure. The controversy on this subject, in which Melanchthon's friend Albert Rizaeus Hardenberg of Bremen was involved with Johann Timann and then with Heshusius, leading to his deposition in 1561, elevated the doctrine of ubiquity to an essential of Lutheran teaching. The Wittenberg pronouncement on the subject prudently confined itself to Biblical expressions and forewarned itself against unnecessary disputations, which only strengthened the suspicion of unavowed sympathy with Calvin.

Lutheran strictures

The Paul Eber and Caspar Cruciger the younger, and of the other side Wigand, Cölestin, and Kirchner. It led to no result, although it continued until the following March. The Philippists asserted the Augsburg Confession of 1540, the loci of Melanchthon of the later editions, and of the Corpus Philippicum, met by the challenge from the other side that these were an attack upon the pure teaching and authority of Luther. Both sides claimed the victory, and the Leipsic and Wittenberg Philippists issued a justification of their position in the Endlicher Bericht of 1571, with which is connected the protest of the Hessian theologians in conference at Ziegenhain in 1570 against Flacian Lutheranism and in favor of Philippism.


Pure Lutheranism was now fortified in a number of local churches by Corpora doctrinæ of a strict nature, and the work for concord went on more and more definitely along the lines of eliminating Melanchthonism. The Philippists, fully alarmed, attempted not only to consolidate in Electoral Saxony but to gain ascendency over the entire German Evangelical Church. They met their downfall first in Electoral Saxony. The conclusion of the Altenburg Colloquy prompted the elector, in Aug., 1569, to issue orders that all the ministers in his domains should hold to the Corpus doctrinæ Philippicum, intending thus to avoid Flacian exaggerations and guard the pure original doctrine of Luther and Melanchthon in the days of their union. But the Wittenberg men interpreted it as an approval of their

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