Early Life (§ 1).
In Wittenberg. Opposition to Melanchthon (§ 2).
In Magdeburg. The Adiaphoristic Controversy (§ 3).
The Majoristic, Osiandrian, and Schwenckfeldian Controversies (§ 4).
Fruitless Attempts at Reconciliation (§ 5).
Flacius Professor in Jena (§ 6).
The Synergistic Dispute (§ 7).
Flacius a Wanderer (§ 8).
Last Days at Frankfort (§ 9).
Flacius' Literary and Scholarly Work (§ 10).
1. Early Life.
Flacius (Latinized from Vlacich, or Francovich) was born at Albona (42 m. s.s.e. of Trieste), Istria, Mar. 3, 1520, and died at Frankfort-on-the-Main Mar. 11, 1575. From his birthplace he was surnamed Illyricus. His father, a prominent citizen of Albona, died when Flacius was a mere boy. He received his early education from the celebrated humanist Baptista Egnatius in Venice. Being a good Catholic he decided to become a monk, study theology, and preach, but his uncle, Baldo Lupetino, provincial of the Minorites, commended Luther to him as a restorer of the true Gospel and sent him to Germany in 1539. He now continued his studies at Basel, but went to Tübingen in 1540, and to Wittenberg in 1541, where he was favorably received and assisted by Melanchthon. After an inner conflict that lasted three years, Bugenhagen directed him to Luther and it was through him that Flacius attained peace of soul by accepting the free grace of God. He had personal experience of the consolation of the Evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone, and henceforth the defense of this doctrine in its purity and inviolability became the guiding star of his life.
2. In Wittenberg. Opposition to Melanchthon.
In 1544 he accepted the chair of Hebrew at the university, in 1545 he married, and in 1546 received the master's degree. His extraordinary gifts excited great expectations with Luther and Melanchthon. He lectured on the Old Testament, epistles of Paul and on Aristotle; but his activity was suddenly interrupted by the outbreak of the Schmalkald War. In 1547 he fled to Brunswick, where he lived by teaching. After a few months, however, he was able to return to Wittenberg, but the time of rest was now over for him. After the Augsburg Interim in 1548 the Elector Maurice of Saxony entered into negotiations with the theologians and estates of his realm which resulted in the Leipsic Interim (see INTERIM). It was then that Flacius as a strict Lutheran protested against the concessions of Melanchthon and the men who shared his views. From now on his relations with the head of the conciliatory party became more and more strained and his position at Wittenberg untenable. After a short sojourn at Hamburg he settled in 1549 at Magdeburg, where printing and publication were still free.
3. In Magdeburg. The Adiaphoristic Controversy.
In Magdeburg he developed a comprehensive literary activity against the Melanchthonians, and now those unfortunate and often petty quarrels arose which injured the Evangelical cause more than the opposition of the Roman Catholics. The fault was not altogether on one side. In Wittenberg Flacius’ departure was ascribed to the most unworthy motives. Flacius contributed not a little by his arrogant and obstinate character and by assuming the role of dictator. He published treatises against the Interim, and the Adiaphora (q.v.) and their defenders. His criticism was sweeping, and it was due to him more than to any one else that public protest made the execution of the Interim impossible, and thus Luther’s great work was saved. From that point of view he rendered inestimable services to the Evangelical Church; especially in his fight against the Adiaphora he proved himself to be on the right side and Melanchthon had to acknowledge his victory. When Magdeburg fell into the hands of the elector Maurice (1551) attempts were made to reconcile the two opposing parties, the Magdeburg and the Wittenberg circles. In the absence of Flacius, Gallus and his associates agreed to negotiate under the condition that no compromise with the pope should be made. Certain articles were drawn up, but Flacius, full of suspicion, declared them unsatisfactory and so the pacificatory work was disrupted.
4. The Majoristic, Osiandrian, and Schwenckfeldian Controversies.
The adiaphoristic dispute was followed by that concerning Georg Major (q.v.), who in a sermon preached at Eisleben had maintained the necessity of works for salvation. This controversy was carried on with the same relentless, cruel, and bitter personal insinuations. In 1552 the Osiandrian dispute arose (see OSIANDER, ANDREAS). Osiander taught that justification is attained by the indwelling of the essential justice of Christ through faith. In this case Flacius put himself on the side of the Melanchthonians, showing thereby that the fight against his former teachers was not personal. Again as a strict Lutheran, he developed clearly the doctrine of forensic satisfaction. In 1553 he attacked the mystic subjectivism of Caspar Schwenckfeld, who made a distinction between an inner word of God and the letter in Holy Scripture, and here also Flacius prepared the way for Lutheran orthodoxy as laid down in the Formula of Concord by maintaining the identity of the external word and the word of God.
5. Fruitless Attempts at Reconciliation.
In the mean time further attempts were made to assuage the dissensions of the Magdeburg and Wittenberg circles for the sake of concord in the Evangelical party. As early as 1553 Flacius and Gallus desired to have a committee of arbitration appointed, but Melanchthon was silent in the matter; then Duke Christopher of Wittenberg proposed a convention of theologians, but the Thuringian theologians Amsdorf and his associates were not in favor of it and requested the Wittenberg circle to condemn their heresies publicly. Jena in those days was the stronghold of Lutheran orthodoxy against the unionistic tendencies of Wittenberg. Several other attempts to unite the dissenting parties also failed. Now Flacius published his treatise Von der Einigkeit in which he addressed himself to the whole Church, attempting to justify his character against suspicions and indicating the necessary steps to be taken for the insurance of peace. Shortly afterward he wrote a letter to Melanchthon in spite of the fact that the latter had written some verses accompanying a picture which represented Flacius as an ass crowned by other asses. With relentless severity Flacius exposed in this letter his opponent’s shortcomings concerning Adiaphorism and admonished him to relieve his conscience by confession of defeat. This Melanchthon professed to be willing to do, yet he rejected the articles of peace proposed by Flacius. The latter was not satisfied with this informal confession; again and again he requested written statements, official declarations, common signatures of articles and public revocations. In this way the breach became irreparable. The friends of Flacius spoiled matters by treating Melanchthon as an impenitent sinner and the younger Philippists not less by their insolent treatises against Flacius.
6. Flacius Professor in Jena.
In 1557 Flacius was called to Jena as professor of the New Testament and superintendent. Shortly after his arrival a colloquy took place in Worms (see WORMS) at which it was proposed to array Melanchthon and his associates together with the Thuringian and other theologians of the stricter school against the Romanists, but nothing was achieved at this conference because the Evangelicals themselves did not agree. This was owing, of course, chiefly to Flacius. His conduct was generally criticized, and he incurred the displeasure of many who had hitherto aided him. The so-called Frankfort Recess (q.v.), convoked in 1558 by the leading Evangelical princes, was no more successful than the other attempts at unity. Then Flacius proposed a synod and fifty prominent theologians signed the Supplicatio pro libera, christiana et legitima synodo, but all was in vain. A similar outcome resulted from the Naumburg Convention (q.v.) of 1561.
7. The Synergistic Dispute.
In the mean time the Synergistic dispute had arisen in Jesus (see SYNERGISM). Victoriaus Strigel (q.v.) and Superintendent Hügel of Jena criticized Flacius’ doctrine concerning free will, and Duke John Frederic immediately imprisoned them. In 1560 a disputation between Flacius and Strigel took place at Weimar, the result of which was that the duke confirmed the orthodoxy of Flacius’ doctrine. John Frederic, however, becoming tired of these perpetual controversies, instituted a consistory which possessed the right of excommunication and of censorship in regard to theological treatises. Flacius protested against this procedure as an act of violence, and thereupon he was deposed together with others in 1561.
8. Flacius a Wanderer.
He left Jena in 1562 with the bold idea of founding a Lutheran academy of learned men at Regensburg. Gallus received him kindly. From here he continued with untiring zeal his fight against Strigel and the Calvinistic tendencies, against the arrogance of secular authorities in encroaching upon the rights of the Church, and many other antagonists. With these polemical treatises hatred against him grew and his travels began to become dangerous. The Elector Augustus of Saxony especially persecuted him, and the Council of Regensburg found it impossible to protect him longer. In Antwerp William of Orange had allowed at this time to the Lutherans as well as the Calvinists the public exercise of their religion. The Lutheran congregation, needing the counsel of experienced German theologians, called Flacius. He arrived in 1566, but the following year he had to leave the country before the progress of the Spanish army. He attempted now to settle at Frankfort-on-the-Main and then at Strasburg, but the cruel hatred of the Elector Augustus reached him even here; in 1569 the elector sent an envoy to Strasburg with the commission to capture Flacius. He fled to Basel, but was not allowed to remain, so he returned to Strasburg and in spite of the pressure exerted by the elector was tolerated. But now he spoiled his good relations with the Strasburg clergy by his opposition against the efforts at union made by Jacob Andreä (q.v.) and by his doctrine concerning, original sin; for he was accused of the Manichean heresy. In 1573 the Council of Strasburg decreed; his expulsion.
In a treatise De peccati originalis aut veteris Adami appellationibus et essentia Flacius maintained that original sin is the substance of man himself and not an accident as Strigel taught. This doctrine was chiefly aimed at the Synergists. Flacius was altogether orthodox on this point. The whole controversy amounted to nothing since he attached to the word substantia two different meanings, it was a mere quibble of words, and yet there were men like Hesshusen (q.v.) who absurdly believed that Flacius considered the devil as the creator of substance.
9. Last Days at Frankfort.
After his expulsion from Strasburg he settled at Frankfort, where he was ably protected by Catharina von Meerfeld, prioress of the nunnery Zu den weissen Frauen, although the Council of the city had not given him permission to remain. Thanks to entreaties and intercessions his order of banishment was deferred from time to time until his death.
10. Flacius' Literary and Scholarly Work.
In spite of all quarrels and turbulences of his life Flacius possessed such a tenacity and determination that he found time for scientific works which required the most extensive preparation and gradual ripening. He was not only the most learned Lutheran theologian, but also the promoter and founder of theological disciplines. He was chiefly prominent in the sphere of church history. In Magdeburg he conceived the great plan of two historical works in which he could deal heavy blows at Romanism. He undertook a catalogue of all those who before Luther had combated the heresies of the papacy, and in this way originated his Catalogus testium veritatis, qui ante nostram ætatem reclamarunt Papæ (Basel, 1556) and its complement Varia doctorum piorumque virorum de corrupto ecclesiæ statu poemata [(1557) in which for the first time was printed Bernard of Cluny's De contemptu mundi]. Still more important was his other plan to write a church history from the original sources which should show how the Church of Christ had deviated from her right course since the time of the apostles, and include a history of antichristianity from its beginning to the development of its highest power and to the restitution of true religion in its purity by Luther. The outcome of this plan was the so-called "Magdeburg Centuries" (Basel, 1562-74; see MAGDEBURG CENTURIES). Flacius found many patrons who aided his great undertaking financially and he also made extensive travels in Germany, searching for sources and documents. Many assistants helped him. Many manuscripts and books were bought or donated by patrons. The Magdeburg Centuries denotes a great progress in the science of Church history, not only on account of its extensive tracing of the sources, but also on account of its method. The anti-Roman interest had sharpened the vision and made it capable of critical achievements that marked a new epoch. [In reply Baronius produced his superior "Annals."] Finally Flacius produced two works of importance in the sphere of Biblical science: his Clavis scripturæ sacra seu de sermone sacrarum literarum (1567) and Glossacompendiaria in Novum Testamentum (1570).
Flacius compels admiration by his learning and extraordinary scholarly achievements, his indefatigable capacity for work, his indomitable zeal in defense of pure doctrine, but it is impossible to overlook certain grave defects in his nature, such as arrogance, obstinacy, and even malice--in fact an entire inability to appreciate the rights of others and their motives. [It is more charitable to suppose that he was mentally slightly unbalanced.]