Silver medal of Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon
Germany, AD 1545
Two great reformers of the church
The reformation movement, formulated by the ideas of Martin Luther (1483-1546), began with an 'act of God' as the young student was struck by a bolt of lightning in 1505, promising to join a monastery if he survived. As a monk, Luther formed his concept of 'Justification by Faith' (the supremacy of God's will), which led to his criticism of the validity of the selling of indulgences by the Roman church (for time off in purgatory). He chose to display his thoughts publicly in 1517, by nailing his challenge to authority (known as the 'Ninety-Five Theses') to the door of his parish church in Wittenberg. Philip Melancthon (1497-1560), an academic in Wittenberg, supported Luther's position and employed his intellectual skills in the practical interpretation of his ideas into religious practice, as set out in the Augsburg Confession of 1530, advocating religious services in everyday language and the removal of unnecessary images from churches.
Printing disseminated Luther's radical thoughts in a short period and helped to spread his reputation as a heroic figure. It is ironic that such a strong critic of the cult of saints in fact became the subject of his own cult in the 1520s, represented in printed and medallic images. This medal, dated 1545, celebrates both men, with a bust portrait of Luther facing right on one side, and Melancthon on the other. Although a heroic figure to many, Luther was unwilling to lead the movement, leading to the fragmentation of types of Protestant worship and by the time of this medal the reformation had lost its impetus, under the challenge of a revived Catholic church.
R. Mackenney, Sixteenth-century Europe: expa (London, Macmillan, 1993)