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Flacius Illyricus, Matthias


The Latinized name of Matthias Vlachich, Lutheran theologian; b. Albona, Istria, March 3, 1520; d. Frankfurt am Main, March 11, 1575. After his father's death he was placed under the tutelage of his uncle, Baldo Lupetino, provincial of the Francicans and a Lutheran sympathizer. Flacius studied for the priesthood at Venice, Basel, and Tübingen before he enrolled at the University of wittenberg. There he became a confirmed Lutheran and entered into a new period of his life, a period characterized by a violent hatred of the papacy and a passionate defense of what he considered to be the pure Lutheran doctrine. He held the chair of Hebrew at Wittenberg from 1544 to 1549 and in these years developed a violent aversion to the theological position of P. melanchthon. Flacius opposed Melanchthon's Augsburg and Leipzig interims on the grounds that they were compromises and concessions to the papacy. He became the leader of the gnesiolutheran party along with such other prominent Lutherans as Nikolaus amsdorf and Nikolaus Gallus. The Lutheran split originated over the question of nonessentials (adiaphora ).

Melanchthon argued that only theological essentials were important and concessions could be made on minor, i.e., nonessential points. Flacius bitterly opposed such views and began a vitriolic campaign against his opponents whom he regarded as traitors to luther. His assault began with the publication in 1549 of his Wider das Interim and continued in a series of personal attacks upon Melanchthon. In 1555 while at the University of Jena, Flacius produced his own version of Luther's works, and four years later he wrote the Book of Confutation, the most important statement of his position. He held that any ceremony, no matter how trivial, if commanded by God and germane to theology was important and could not be glossed over. His theological position and his violent nature were the reasons for his frequent moves, i.e., from Jena to Regensburg, Antwerp, Frankfurt, and Strassburg, and finally back to Frankfurt, where he was to remain.

Among his other works were the Biblical dictionary, Key to Sacred Scripture (1567), and the Glossary of the New Testament (1570). However, much of his fame rests upon the Ecclesiastica historia begun in 1559 and completed in 1574. This work, known since the third edition (Nuremberg 1757) as the Magdeburg Centuries, is the product of a group known as the centuriators. Written by centuries, and covering the period to 1400, it is polemical and propagandist in scope, designed to prove the validity of the Lutheran position and to attack the Catholic Church. Although the Centuries contains much that is erroneous and false, it forced Catholics and Protestants alike to reexamine their position. The most famous Catholic reply was the Annales ecclesiastici of Caesar baronius, the first volume of which appeared in 1588.

Flacius' position in Reformation history is important because he focused attention upon the interpretation of Lutheran theology. At the same time he created a serious rift between the strict and liberal interpreters of Martin Luther that has persisted until the present day.

Bibliography: w. preger, Matthias Flacius Illyricus und seine Zeit, 2 v. (Erlangen 185961). e. schaumkell, Beitrag zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Magdeburger Centurien (Ludwigslust 1898). p. polman, "Flacius Illyricus," Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 27 (1931) 2773. k. a. von schwartz, Die theologische Hermeneutik des Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Munich 1933). l. haikola, Gesetz und Evangelium bei Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Lund 1952). p. meinhold, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche (Freiburg 195765) 4:161162. g. moldaenke, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 2:971.

[c. l. hohl, jr.]

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