Matthias Flacius Illyricus
Prominent Istrians


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atthias Flacius Illyricus is the Latinized name assumed by Mateo (or Matia) Vlacich / Matija Vlačić. He is also alternately known under the name Matia Flacio, Flach or Flak Francowitz. He was born on March 3, 1520 in Carpano, a part of Albona, Istria, which had been part of the ancient Illyricum, from which he later assumed the added surname of IIlyricus. His father was Andrea Vlacich alias Francovich, his mother was  Jacobea Luciani, daughter of a wealthy and powerful Albonian family and of possible Istro-Romanian family ties. His mother's uncle was Fra Baldo Lupetino who later was condemned to death in Venice for his faith.

Lutheran reformer and philologist 

born in Albona 

Losing his father in childhood, Matthias he was self-educated in his early years, but at the age of sixteen went to study in Venice where he was taught by the humanist Giambattista Cipelli (Baptista Aegnatius), friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam who was his teacher. At seventeen Matthias decided to join a monastic order, with a view to sacred learning. He wanted to be a Franciscan but his grand-uncle Fra Baldo Lupetina, a provincial superior of the Franciscan order who was sympathetic to the Reformation, induced him to go to Germany and study the works of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and to embark on a university career instead.

Matthias went first to Basel, where he enrolled on May 1, 1539 at the university as "Matheus de Franciscis de Albona Polensi Diocesi in Illyrico sub Venetorum dicione, pauper", the last word means that he did not have to pay any taxes because of his poverty. In 1540 he transferred to Tbingen and then to Wittenberg where in 1543 he obtained a Magister Degree in Greek and Hebrew languages. It was there that he met the German reformer Phillipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) and came under the influence of Martin Luther, to whom Melanchthon was a close associate.

In 1544 Flacius he was appointed professor of Hebrew at Wittenberg. He married in the autumn of 1545 with Luther taking part in the festivities. On February 24, 1546, he took his master's degree, ranking first among the graduates. His first work, De vocabulo fidei, published in 1549, is a linguistical interpretation of the definition of  faith, based on the Hebraic language. It became a supplement in the work De voce et re fidei (published in Basel 1555).

After Luther's death in 1546, Melanchthon became the acknowledged head of the Lutheran party, but on many questions he was inclined to disagree with the doctrine of his master. (Luther had called him the Leisetreter, i.e., the one who treads lightly [a pussyfooter!].) Anti-Catholic controversy tended to lose its dogmatic character and to become historical. Flacius' conception of original sin, which excluded the notion of free will, made him the subject of attack. Flacius was the chief opponent of Melanchthon, objecting strenuously tp the "Augsburg Interim" (1548), and Melanchthon's compromise with the Roman Catholic Church on non-essensions, known as the "Leipzig Interim" (see Adiaphorists). He said: "A Vittenberga sono giunto a riconoscere che la dottrina di queste chiese è la vera parola di Dio, ed io ho abbracciato quella con tutta l'anima mia. Per contro mi sta fermo adesso, che il papa in verità è l'anticristo ed io ho maledetto ed esecrato di tutto cuore lui, i suoi errori ed abusi". Da Ermanno Nacinovich. (Translation: At Wittenberg I came to realize that the doctrine of these churches were the true word of God, and I embraced that with my entire soul. Per contro mi sta fermo adesso that the pope is in truth the anti-Christ and I have cursed and abominated wholeheartedly him, his errors and abuses. From Ermanno Nacinovich.) Melanchthon wrote of him with venom and referred to him as a renegade (aluimus in sinu serpentem, "we have nourished a snake in our bosom"). Because Wittenberg became too stressful, Flacius moved to Magdburg on November 9, 1551, whereupon his feud with Melanchthon was patched up.

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Flacius critiqued the history of Catholicism, and in that spirit in Magdeburg he wrote his once famous and influential catalogue of anti-papal witnesses, the Catalogus testium veritatis, qui ante nostram aetatem reclamarunt Papae (Basel, 1556; enlarged ed., Strasburg, 1562; ed. by Dietericus, Frankfort, 1672). Some four hundred anti-papal witnesses were cited, Pope Gregory I and Thomas Aquinas being included in the number of those who had stood up for truth against "the Papal Antichrist". This work was the basis for his greatest work, the Ecclesiastica historia (1559-1574), a severely Lutheran, anti-papal history of the Christian church from its beginnings until the early 1400s, and which later became known as the Magdeburg Centuries.

On May 7, 1557 Flacius was appointed professor of New Testament theology at Jena but was soon involved in controversy with his colleague Strigel over his position on original sin and on the synergistic question (relating to the function of the will in conversion), defending Luther's doctrine "by faith alone" against those who claimed that good works following from faith are necessary for salvation. Affirming the natural inability of man, he unwittingly fell into expressions consonant with the Manichaean view of sin, as not an accident of human nature, but involved in its substance since the Fall. Most Lutherans rejected this position, and Flacius was dismissed.

In February 1562, resisting ecclesiastical censure Flacius left Jena to found an academy at Regensburg, working as a private teacher of the Hebrew and Greek lnaguages. There he also wrote his book Clavis Scripturae sacrae that was published in 1567. The academy project was not successful, and in October 1566 he accepted a call from the Lutheran community at Antwerp where he served briefly as pastor, then moved on to Strasbourg in 1567. He was well received there by the superintendent Marbach, and that is where he finished his great work the Glossa compendiaria in Novum Testamentum. Fu conosciuta da generazioni di grati pastori, come "la chiave d'oro". Fondò con essa una nuova disciplina: "l'ermeneutica storica", più tardi portata avanti da Scheyermacher, Dilthey e Gadamer.

But here again his religious views stood in his way. In 1573 he was accused of heresy and expelled from the city. He next fled to Frankfurt, where he found asylum in the 'Weifrauenkloster' (the convent of White Ladies) led by Katarina von Meerfeld. In 1574 he participated in several Colloquien in Berlin, Thringen, and Slesia but without success. He returned to Frankfurt and fell ill at the end of 1574. The city council ordered him to leave by May Day 1575, but he instead died on March 11, 1575 at the age of 55.

Flacius' first wife, with whom he had twelve children, died in 1564. He remarried that same year and then had an additional six (?) children with his second wife. His son Matthias was professor of philosophy and medicine at Rostock.

Monument to Mathias Flacius in Labin

With such a tumultuous life, the literary fruit of Mathias Flacius senior is rather remarkable. Overlooking his polemics, he still stands at the fountain-head of the scientific study of church history. The permanent and continuous value of his principles are embodied in his Catalogus testium veritatis and his Clavis scripturae sacrae (1567), followed by his Glossa N. Testamentum (1570). as are the Magdeburg Centuries, an interpretationi of the history of the Church that, in its extreme anti-papal stresses left a strong influence on Protestant thought of the future. His characteristic formula, "historia est fundamentum doctrinae," is better understood today than it was in his own day.

Besides his defense of a strict Lutheran position, Flacius is best known for his contribution to church history as an editor of the Historia Ecclesiae Christi. He is further known as a philologist for his hermeneutical work and great knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages.

Flacius' legacy is un respiro d'erudizione ed umanistico che sorpassa le frontiere di una semplice attività religiosa. Ricupera gran parte del retaggio bibliografico medioevale che altrimenti sarebbe andato perduto, raccogliendo "la più significativa collezione di testi stampati e scritti a mano che mai si fosse trovato nelle mani di privati nella Germania del suo tempo ... una delle più forti e chiare bibliografie del suo tempo".

Published works:

  • 1549: De vocabulo fidei 
  • 1555: De voce et re fidei 
  • 1556: Catalogus testium veritatis, qui ante nostram aetatem reclamarunt Papae 
  • 1558: Confessio Waldensium
  • 1559: Konfutationsbuch
  • 1559-1574: Ecclesiastica historia, integram Ecclesiae Christi ideam ... secundum singulas Centurias, perspicuo ordine complectens ... ex vetustissimis historicis ...congesta: Per aliquot studiosos et pios viros in urbe Magdeburgica 
  • 1567:  Clavis Scripturae Sacrae seu de Sermone Sacrarum literarum
  • 1570:  Glossa compendiaria in Novum Testamentum

The Magdeburg Centuries

Weave and translate the following paragraphs in red (Italian) into the English text below:

Le Centurie di Magdeburgo (Magdeburger Zenturien), un'interpretazione della storia della Chiesa che, nella sua estrema accentuazione antipapale, ebbe una forte influenza sul successivo pensiero protestante. La sua caratteristica formula,"historia est fundamentum doctrinae", è  meglio compresa ora di quanto non fosse ai suoi tempi.   La sua fama è dovuta alla sua opera Clavis [], cioè Clavis Scripturae Sacrae seu de Sermone Sacrarum literarum (Chiave alle Scritture), monumento della storia dell'ermeneutica, fornendo quindi preziosa assistenza agli interpreti della Bibbia, e al.

Oltre alla sua difesa di una stretta posizione luterana, Flacio è conosciuto in modo particolare per il suo contributo alla storia della chiesa come autore della Historia Ecclesia Christi. E' inoltre conosciuto come filologo per la sua opera ermeneutica e grande conoscenza della lingua greca ed ebraica.

Flacio lascia dietro di sé un respiro d'erudizione ed umanistico che sorpassa le frontiere di una semplice attività religiosa. Ricupera gran parte del retaggio bibliografico medioevale che altrimenti sarebbe andato perduto, raccogliendo "la più significativa collezione di testi stampati e scritti a mano che mai si fosse trovato nelle mani di privati nella Germania del suo tempo ... una delle più forti e chiare bibliografie del suo tempo".

The Magdenburg Centuries (Magdeburger Zenturien), the first general history of the Christian Church from a Protestant point of view. Flacius formulated the earliest proposal for such a history, As early as 1553 Flacius was seeking patrons whose financial support should enable him to carry out his comprehensive plan of a church history which was "to reveal the beginnings, the development and the ruthless designs of the Antichrist", and he intended to prepare and organize the project himself with the consultation and advice of friends and colleagues. At the planning stage in 1556, Flacius and his colleagues consulted with the Flemish jurist François Baudouin (1520-73). In the end, however, the research, compilation and composition of the work were carried out under the leadership of Johann Wigand. From an original staff of about fifteen, to a skeletal group twenty years later, the project was developed in the two decades after 1555. The authors surveyed the history of the early church in order to demonstrate how the Catholic Church had deviated from the beliefs and practices of the early church.  The history is divided into periods of one hundred years each. The church history, originally intended to begin with Christ and end with "the present time," was never completed as planned. As the Historia ecclesiae Christi, it was first published at Basel in seven volumes (1559-1574). The first thirteen centuries were published in seven volumes from 1559 to 1574; the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were partially prepared, but never printed.

The cost of the undertaking was borne by some of the German Protestant princes. The earlier part of it was translated into German (Jena, 1560-1565). Considering the time at which it was written it is a remarkable monument to the scholarship of its writers.

To combat the Magdeburg Centuries, Italian cardinal and church historian Cesare Baronius published from 1588 until 1607 Annales Ecclesiastici, a history of the church. In this twelve volume work, Baronius defended the supremacy of the papacy. His work was so popular that Baronius received many honors from popes and he was almost elected pope after the deaths of Clement VIII and Leo XI.

Obviously, both Baronius' work and the Protestant Centuries were biased.


pg. 421-22.

See also:


  • Note - Dizionario di opere anonime e pseudonime di scrittori italiani o come che sia aventi relazione all'Italia, by Gaetano Melzi, Giovanni Antonio Melzi, Gaetano Zardetti, published by Coi torchi di L. di Giacomo Pirola (Milano, 1848), p. 420-421.
  • Text - Opa Enciklopedija Jugoslavenkog Leksikografskog Zavoda.
  • Image - De Bruy
  • http://www.wikipedia/Matthias_Flacius
  • Ronald E. Diener. The Magdeburg Centuries, A Bibliothecal and Historiographical Study, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979 -


  • (English, Deutsch, Italiano and Hrvatski)
  • Flacius Illyricus Matthias -
  • Biblical Theology and the Analogy of Faith -
  • Paracelsianism as a religion, in conflict with the established churches -
  • Concordia Lutheran Conference, The Flacian Controversy -

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This page compliments of Michael Plass, Marisa Ciceran and Guido Villa

Created: Tuesday, June 20, 2000. Last Updated: Sunday August 13, 2017
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