Matthias Flacius Illyricus
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Magdeburg Centuries

Ex libris from a now-lost copy of the Centuries

Bookplate (a.ka. Ex libris) from a now-lost copy of the Centuries.

The Magdeburg Centuries is a celebrated ecclesiastical history, divided into thirteen centuries, covering thirteen hundred years, ending in 1298; it was first published from 1559 to 1574. It was compiled by several Lutheran scholars in Magdeburg, known as the Centuriators of Magdeburg. The chief of the Centuriators was Matthias Flacius. Examples of controversial claims made in the Centuries, in their effort to discredit the papacy, include identifying the pope as the Anti-Christ, and the legend of Pope Joan.

The full title of the work is Ecclesiastica Historia, integram Ecclesiae Christi ideam, quantum ad Locum, Propagationem, Persecutionem, Tranquillitatem, Doctrinam, Hæreses, Ceremonias, Gubernationem, Schismata, Synodos, Personas, Miracula, Martyria, Religiones extra Ecclesiam, & statum Imperii politicum attinet, secundum singulas Centurias, perspicuo ordine complectens: singulari diligentia & fide ex vetustissimis & optimis historicis, patribus, & aliis scriptoribus congesta: Per aliquot studiosos & pios viros in urbe Magdeburgicâ.

Origin and composition

The first three folio volumes of the work appeared in 1559 at Basel. It was the work of a group of Lutheran scholars who had gathered at Magdeburg, and who are now known to history as the Centuriators of Magdeburg because of the way in which they divided their work (century by century) and the place in which the first five volumes were written; most of the others were written at Wismar or elsewhere, but the subtitle in Urbe Magdeburgicâ was retained.

The originator of the idea and the moving spirit of the organization which produced the work was Matthias Vlacich (latinized Flacius), also known as Francovich, and, from the country of his birth (Istria), Illyricus. Born in 1520, the influence of his uncle Baldo Lupertino, an apostate friar, prevented him from becoming a monk and directed his steps in 1539 to Germany, where, at Augsburg, Basle, Tübingen, and Wittenberg, he became fanatically anti-Roman. The Augsburg Interim of 1548 led to the Adiaphoristic controversy, in the course of which he wrote numerous harsh criticisms of the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon; the bitter feeling generated gave rise to the hostile parties of Philippists and Flacians. All attempts to restore peace failed, and the University of Jena, where Flacius was appointed professor of theology in 1557, became a centre of rigid Lutheranism in strong opposition to Melachthon. His wanderings after 1562, and the numerous domestic controversies between the Reformers, in which Flacius took part until his death (11 March, 1575), did not prevent him from becoming the most learned Lutheran theologian of his day, while, in addition to numerous minor controversial works, his untiring energy led him to devise the vast historical work known as "The Centuries".

After Luther's death in 1546, anti-Catholic controversy tended to lose its dogmatic character and to become historical. Flacius critiqued the history of Catholicism, and in that spirit wrote his once famous and influential catalogue of anti-papal witnesses, 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". As early as 1553, Flacius was seeking patrons whose financial support should enable him to carry out his plan of a comprehensive church history which was "to reveal the beginnings, the development and the ruthless designs of the Antichrist." The German princes, and the burghers particularly of Augsburg and Nuremberg, helped him generously, but no support was forthcoming from the followers of Melanchthon. He travelled through Germany in search of material while his co-worker, Marcus Wagner (from Weimar near Gotha), searched the libraries of Austria, Bavaria, Scotland, and Denmark for the same purpose.

Research has emphasized the importance of the assistance given by the crypto-Protestant, Caspar von Nydbruck, imperial counselor, and head of the Imperial Library of Vienna, whose influence was exerted throughout Europe on behalf of the work. The editorial board, Gubernatores et Inspectores institut historiæ Ecclesiasticæ, was composed of Flacius, John Wigand (1523–1587), superintendent at Magdeburg, Matthew Judex (1528–1576), preacher at Magdeburg, Basil Faber (1525–1576), humanist, who collaborated in the first four Centuries, Martin Copus, a physician who acted as treasurer, and Eblinek Alman, a burgher of Magdeburg, each of whom had his own assistants. Seven junior assistants were appointed to compile extracts from early Christian writers and historians in accordance with a fixed plan; two more mature scholars acted as "architects", grouped the material, and submitted it to the editors. When approved, the materials were worked up into chapters and again submitted before the final form was fair-copied.

This method was applied only to the first thirteen centuries, which were published separately in folio volumes at Basel; I–III in 1559; IV in 1560; V and VI in 1562; VII and VIII in 1564; IX in 1566; X and XI in 1567; XII in 1569; and XIII in 1574. The three remaining centuries were completed in manuscript by Wigand (who was largely responsible for all the work done between 1564-74), but never published, and the various attempts made in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to continue the work came to naught. In 1624 a complete edition of the Centuries in six folio volumes was issued at Basel by Louis Lucius, who omitted the authors' names and dedications, and introduced various modifications of the text in a Calvinistic sense. A third edition appeared at Nuremburg 1757-1765, but did not get beyond the fifth century.


Even when at Jena, and during his subsequent wanderings, Flacius retained the direction of the work. Each century was systematically treated under sixteen headings bearing uniform titles in the various volumes.

An analysis of the Quarta Centuria, which appeared in 1560, will give an idea of the contents:

  • Title page
  • dedication to Queen Elizabeth (co. 3-12)
    1. brief statement of the chief events of the century (col.13)
    2. spread of the Church: where and how (13-35)
    3. persecution and peace of the Church under Diocletian and Maximian (35-159)
    4. the Church's teaching and its history (160-312)
    5. heresies (312-406)
    6. rites and ceremonies (406 -483)
    7. Church discipline and government (483-582)
    8. schisms and controversies (583-609)
    9. councils (609-880)
    10. leading bishops and doctors (880-1337)
    11. leading heretics (1338-1403)
    12. the martyrs (1403-1432)
    13. miracles and miraculous occurrences (1433-1456)
    14. political relations of the Jews (1456-1462)
    15. other non-Christian religions (1462-1560)
    16. political changes (1560-1574)
  • Scriptural index (8 cols.)
  • general index (92 pages of four columns)


  • It is said that Baronius undertook his Annales Ecclesiastici purely to oppose the Magdeburg Centuriators.


  • 1728 Cyclopaedia, a publication in the public domain.
  • This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • Donald R Kelley. Faces of History. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07558-8. 1999. p 173.

Also see:

  • Baudouin, Flacius, and the Plan for the Magdeburg Centuries - Journal of the History of Ideas - Volume 64, Number 2, April 2003, pp. 253-272, University of Pennsylvania Press -


    The Lutheran theologian and polemicist Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520-75) organized an unprecedented collaborative project to write an encyclopedic Protestant church history, known as the Magdeburg Centuries (1559-74). At the planning stage in 1556, Flacius and his colleagues consulted with the Flemish jurist François Baudouin (1520-73). This article shows how, in this correspondence, ecclesiastical history became the workshop where legal and theological humanism met and interacted over issues of historical methodology. Two innovations are traced through the correspondence and into the finished history: Flacius's organization of the material by commonplaces.

    An Ecclesiastical History, embracing the whole idea of the Church of Christ, pertaining to as much as the Place, Propogation, Persecution, Tranquility, Doctrine, Heresies, Ceremonies, Government, Schisms, Synods, People, Miracles, Martyrs, Rites outside of the Church, and the political situation of the empire, [sorted] in clearly visible order by single centuries: having been compiled with remarkable diligence and faith from the most ancient and best historians, patriarchs, and other writers: By some dedicated and pious men in the city of Magdeburg."


  • Wikipedia Encyclopedia - Magdenburg Centuries -

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Created: Friday, October 06, 2006;. Last Updated: Friday November 09, 2012
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