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Centuriators of Magdeburg


The Centuries, 16th-century Lutheran account of Church history, were conceived by Matthias flacius illyricus, a devout and strict follower of Martin Luther. The work was begun in 1559 and completed in 1574. It was originally published under the title Ecclesiastica historia , but the third edition printed at Nürnberg in 1757 entitled the work Centuriae Magdeburgenses, and it has been known by that title ever since. Flacius was aided by a number of prominent Protestants, among whom were Aleman, Wigand, Judex, and Copus. This group conceived their project to be a treatment of Church history that would prove the veracity of the Lutheran Church and disprove the theological claims of Rome. As a result the Centuries are passionate Lutheran polemics. The work consists of 13 volumes, each representing a century of ecclesiastical history. Flacius rejected the humanistic view of history as an all encompassing study of the phenomena of man and concentrated upon Church affairs. In the Augustinian manner, the Centuries view history as the eternal struggle between the forces of good and evil, of God and the devil. History is consequently the story of God's will.

A central theme runs throughout the work: the pure, pristine doctrines of Apostolic Christianity have been perverted by the Romanists, while the Lutherans have rediscovered the true doctrines of God. Many critical and uncomplimentary anecdotes are used to undermine Catholic doctrine and worship. As an example, the legend of Pope Joan is accepted as historically accurate. The papacy consistently appears as the anti-Christ, which has diverted God's teachings.

The role of the Centuries in historiography in general, and in Reformation historiography in particular, is

most important. The Centuries, with their obvious Lutheran tone, passed into the stream of ecclesiastical literature many legends that persist to the present day. The uncritical use of spurious sources beclouded the true sources of Church history. Many miracles, at least those that proved Flacius's thesis, were presented as historically verified. Historical writing became a tool that could be utilized for partisan causes and for a prolonged mechanical and chronological study of facts. However, the very purpose of the work was indirectly to aid the cause of sound ecclesiastical scholarship. Flacius's attack upon the sources and documents of the Catholic Church forced her to return to the very same sources and documents to verify her position. The Catholic historians were required to use profane history in their own defense. Thus ecclesiastical history became historically minded. Research, always the most valuable method in any intellectual confrontation, assumed new proportions and importance.

Each century was assigned a volume divided into 16 basic titles and subjects under such headings as rites, Church doctrine, schisms, heresies, and political changesall of which had taken place within that century. Thirteen volumes were printed by 1574; the three remaining volumes appeared in MS but were never published. The most effective Catholic response to the Centuriators was written by Cardinal Caesar baronius in his famous Annales Ecclesiastici (15881607).

Bibliography: w. preger, Matthias Flacius Illyricus und seine Zeit, 2 v. (Erlangen 185961). r. bÄumer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 6:1274.

[c. l. hohl, jr.]

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