Matthias Flacius

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Matthias Flacius taught a strong view of what later theologians would call total depravity.

Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Latin; Croatian Matija Vlačić/Vlachich, German Matthias Flach) (March 3, 1520 - March 11, 1575) was a Lutheran reformer.

He was born at Albona (today Labin) in Istria to a Slavic father and Italic mother. Losing his father in childhood, in his early years he was self-educated, and taught himself from the instructions of the humanist Baptista Egnatius in Venice. At the age of seventeen, he intended to join a monastic order, with a view to sacred learning. His intention was diverted by his uncle, Baldo Lupetino, provincial of the Franciscans and sympathetic to the Reformation cause, who convinced him to start a university career. He lectured starting in 1539, at Basel, Tübingen and Wittenberg. In (1541) he was welcomed by Melanchthon. Well prepared from Tübingen, he came under the influence of Martin Luther and, in 1544, Flacius was appointed professor of Hebrew at Wittenberg.

He married in 1545. He finished his master’s degree on February 24, 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. Melanchthon wrote of him with venom as a renegade (aluimus in sinu serpentem, "we have nourished a snake in our bosom."). Because Wittenberg became too stressful, Flacius moved to Magdeburg (November 9, 1551), where his feud with Melanchthon was patched up. On May 7, 1557 he was appointed professor of New Testament theology at Jena but was soon involved in controversy with his colleague Strigel 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. Holding to a strong view of what Calvinists later called total depravity, Flacius insisted that human nature was entirely transformed by original sin, human beings were transformed from goodness and almost wholly corrupted with evil, making them kin to the Devil in his view, so that within them, without divine assistance, there lies no power even to cooperate with the Gospel when they hear it preached. Human acts of piety are valueless in themselves, and humans are entirely dependent on the grace of God for salvation. Resisting ecclesiastical censure, he left Jena (Feb. 1562) to found an academy at Regensburg.

That assignment was not successful, so 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 stood against him. He proceeded to Strassburg where he was well received by the superintendent Marbach, and he hoped he had found an asylum. Here again, his religious views were unique and controversial. The authorities ordered him to leave the city by May Day 1573. The prioress Catharina von Meerfeld of the convent of White Ladies secretly harboured him and his family in Frankfort where he fell ill and died on March 11th, 1575.

He had twelve children with his first wife, who died in 1564. He remarried the same year. His son Matthias was professor of philosophy and medicine at Rostock.

His life 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.


  • De vocabulo fidei (1549)
  • De voce et re fidei (1555)
  • Catalogus testium veritatis, qui ante nostram aetatem reclamarunt Papae (1556)
  • Confessio Waldensium (1558)
  • Konfutationsbuch (1559)
  • 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 (1559-1574)
  • Clavis Scripturae Sacrae seu de Sermone Sacrarum literarum (1567)
  • Glossa compendiaria in Novum Testamentum (1570)


  • Oliver K. Olson, Matthias Flacius and the Survival of Luther's Reform (2000)
  • Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Leben & Werk: Internationales Symposium, Mannheim, February 1991
  • 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 Realencyklopadie (1899)

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