There have been many believers, in modern times that have been apprehensive when it comes to the study of psychology. This has been with good reason since there have been theories and models have been antithetical and hostile to the teachings of sacred Scripture. One such person is Sigmund Freud, the creator of the psychoanalytic theory, who believed that religion (specifically Christianity) was just an invention of the mind to deal with the guilt that human beings experience.
There are many believers that state that the field of psychology has found its origins in Sigmund Freud. After detailing what a chaplain said regarding how “the religious approach” was no good in a mental health institution, one such person wrote the following sentence:
How has [this rejection of a religious approach] come about? What is its base? The answer lies in the fundamentals of Freudian theory and therapy.
Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 10.
This author even goes on to say that Sigmund Freud is the chief propagator for the justification of sinful behavior in modern times:
Freud has not made people irresponsible; but he has provided a philosophical and psudeoscientific rationale for irresponsible people to use to justify themselves. Freud is a cause of the ills in modern society only as a complicating factor and not a basic cause of those ills. The ultimate cause is sin
Adams. J., (1970). Compent To Counsel. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, MI. p. 17.
There is no doubt that Sigmund Freud and his ideas found in the psychoanalytic model have run against a biblical worldview. There are some who teach because Freud had a significant impact on this discipline that the origin of psychology began with him, and that a Christian who is serious about counseling should not engage with the field or study of psychology. However, what those who state this fail to observe is that the field of psychology may actually find its roots, not in Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic theory, but in the Protestant Reformation under a man by the name of Philip Melancthon.
October 31st, 1517 marked the start of the Reformation when Martin Luther took the 95 Theses, a treatise on some of the works of indulgences that were among the Roman Catholic Church, and nailed it on the door of the Wittenberg church in Germany. This act was the foundation for returning back to the Scriptures alone for life, doctrine, and practice rather than church tradition or ecclesiastical authority. It was a year later (1518) when Philip Melanchthon held the position of Chairman of Greek at the University of Wittenberg and became acquainted with Martin Luther. From this point Philip Melanchthon worked alongside Martin Luther and became extremely influential in the Reformation as an author comments below:
A valuable ally, who later supplemented Luther’s bold courage with his gentle reasonableness, came to Wittenberg as a professor of Greek in 1518. At the age ot twenty-one Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) was already well trained in the classical languages an Hebrew. While Luther became the great prophetic voice of the Reformation, Melanchthon became its theologian.
Cairns., E. (1967). Christianity through the centruies. Zondervan. Grand Rapids. p. 315.
Philip Melanchthon believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. He was a defender of sola Scriptura, rejecting the ecclesiastical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, the Magisterium, and canon law. Philip Melanchthon was also a major proponent of what became known as the Augsburg Confession, which was (and still is) the official creed of the Lutheran church.
Philip Melanchthon also desired to conform disciplines to the teaching of the Scriptures. He commented on the topic of psychology in his writings known as Loci Communes (1521), and Commentaruis de anima (1540) with each book having been revised many times. In his forward Commentaruis de anima (1553) Melanchthon wrote in the foreword to his book as follows, “…eam partem doctrinae, quae de anima agit” (i.e., “the part of the physical doctrine that deals with the soul.”) (cited by Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G, 1999). Historically Philip Melanchthon did not see psychology as a stand-alone discipline but as a discipline that was under the umbrella of philosophy, which an author notes below:
According to Melanchthon philosophy includes three branches: 1) artes dicendi (dialectics and rhetoric), 2) physiologia, which contains for example physics, psychology, and mathematics, and, 3) praecepta de civilibus moribus (ethics). Melanchthon assigned psychology to physiology-the scientific branch of philosophy. That is why he saw his treatise upon the soul as a part of a conception of physics.
Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.7
Philip Melanchthon rejected the ideas and the notions of a philosophy that did not have God at the center. He believed that God was the Creator of all things, was the Source of all truth, and that the Scriptures undergirded the basis for scientific rationale in the modern era. The ideas outlined in his books were taught in universities around Europe for over 150 years. His legacy left an impact not just in the area of theology, but also in the field of psychology found in philosophy.
However, despite the significant contributions to this field of study, and his central focus of sola scriptura, there was a limitation concerning his view. Even though he promoted the instruction of sola scriptura he looked to the philosophers of Aristotle to build and established his psychology:
Melanchthon structured the field of psychology following Aristotle, who differentiated between the soul of plants, animals, and humans.
Holzapfel, W & Eckardt, G., (1999) Philip Melanchthon’s psychological thinking under the influence of humanism, reformation, and empirical orientation. Vol. 20., num 4. p.8
In his attempt to build a God-centered approach to psychology he took most of his influence from a philosopher, not from sacred Scripture. It is clear through his works Loci Communes, and Commentaruis de anima he attempted to build and establish a cohesive approach that was God-glorifying. However, even though he was pursuing to harmonize the study of the soul with theology, due to his philosophical approach, he was inconsistent.
This is a brief study observing the life of Philip Melanchthon and his observation in the field of psychology, however, one thing is clear: Psychology, as a discipline, does not find its origin in Sigmund Freud or the Psychoanalytic theory. Philip Melanchthon who played a significant role in the Reformation sought to observe the discipline of philosophy and all of its “branches,” such as psychology, from a theological worldview desiring to establish the discipline in its proper place. Yet he failed in this endeavor due to the fact his psychology built on a theological/philosophical perspective, not from a Biblical perspective. Nevertheless, psychology (or pyschologia as he called it) has a history within the Protestant Reformation, and he sought to observe God’s truth in all areas and subjects of life.
There should be a healthy caution when approaching this discipline of psychology in light of its theories and concepts. As Christians who are pursuing the truth let us not be afraid of the discipline itself. In fact, let us take the passion of Martin Luther, and Philip Melanchthon in desiring to stay true to the Scriptures and continue the reformation not just in the area theology, but also in the field of psychology. The Reformation was established on challenging and reforming the ecclesiastical ideas and the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church back to Scripture alone, and believers in Christ should do the same with the ideas and concepts found in psychology.
Let us take up the challenge and continue the rich legacy of the Protestant Reformation, not to throw away the field of psychology, but to reform it, and continue to reform it in accordance with the Scriptures, all for the glory of God. Amen.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!