1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Flacius, Matthias
FLACIUS (Ger. Flach; Slav. Vlakich), MATTHIAS (1520–1575), surnamed Illyricus, Lutheran reformer, was born at Albona, in Illyria, on the 3rd of March 1520. Losing his father in childhood, he was in early years self-educated, and made himself able to profit by the instructions of the humanist, Baptista Egnatius in Venice. At the age of seventeen he decided to join a monastic order, with a view to sacred learning. His intention was diverted by his uncle, Baldo Lupetino, provincial of the Franciscans, in sympathy with the Reformation, who induced him to enter on a university career, from 1539, at Basel, Tübingen and Wittenberg. Here he was welcomed (1541) by Melanchthon, being well introduced from Tübingen, and here he came under the decisive influence of Luther. In 1544 he was appointed professor of Hebrew at Wittenberg. He married in the autumn of 1545, Luther taking part in the festivities. He took his master’s degree on the 24th of February 1546, ranking first among the graduates. Soon he was prominent in the theological discussions of the time, opposing strenuously the “Augsburg Interim,” and the compromise of Melanchthon known as the “Leipzig Interim” (see Adiaphorists). Melanchthon wrote of him with venom as a renegade (“aluimus in sinu serpentem”), and Wittenberg became too hot for him. He removed to Magdeburg (Nov. 9, 1551), where his feud with Melanchthon was patched up. On the 17th of May 1557 he was appointed professor of New Testament theology at Jena; but was soon involved in controversy with Strigel, his colleague, on the synergistic question (relating to the function of the will in conversion). 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. Resisting ecclesiastical censure, he left Jena (Feb. 1562) to found an academy at Regensburg. The project was not successful, and in October 1566 he accepted a call from the Lutheran community at Antwerp. Thence he was driven (Feb. 1567) by the exigencies of war, and betook himself to Frankfort, where the authorities set their faces against him. He proceeded to Strassburg, was well received by the superintendent Marbach, and hoped he had found an asylum. But here also his religious views stood in his way; the authorities eventually ordering him to leave the city by Mayday 1573. Again betaking himself to Frankfort, the prioress, Catharina von Meerfeld, of the convent of White Ladies, harboured him and his family in despite of the authorities. He fell ill at the end of 1574; the city council ordered him to leave by Mayday 1575; but death released him on the 11th of March 1575. His first wife, by whom he had twelve children, died in 1564; in the same year he remarried and had further issue. His son Matthias was professor of philosophy and medicine at Rostock. Of a life so tossed about the literary fruit was indeed remarkable. His polemics we may pass over; he stands at the fountain-head of the scientific study of church history, and—if we except, a great exception, the work of Laurentius Valla—of hermeneutics also. No doubt his impelling motive was to prove popery to be built on bad history and bad exegesis. Whether that be so or not, the extirpation of bad history and bad exegesis is now felt to be of equal interest to all religionists. Hence the permanent and continuous value of the principles embodied in Flacius’ Catalogus testium veritatis (1556; revised edition by J. C. Dietericus, 1672) and his Clavis scripturae sacrae (1567), followed by his Glossa compendiaria in N. Testamentum (1570). His characteristic formula, “historia est fundamentum doctrinae,” is better understood now than in his own day.
See J. B. Ritter, Flacius’s Leben u. Tod (1725); M. Twesten, M. Flacius Illyricus (1844); W. Preger, M. Flacius Illyricus u. seine Zeit (1859–1861); G. Kawerau, in Herzog-Hauck’s Realencyklopädie (1899). (A. Go.*)