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Theology of Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014).
Being completely unfamiliar with the work of a 16
century Reformer is not an unusual situation
in which to find oneself. If people have heard of Luther AND Calvin AND Zwingli they can be
considered fairly well read. If they have heard of Oecolampadius and Bucer and Bullinger they
must surely be among the very learned. But if they have heard of Flacius they must surely be
experts. Flacius is one of those peculiar characters who haunts the hallowed halls of history of
whom very few have ever heard. And that is a real and virulent tragedy, because Flacius is a
Ilic paints a complete mural and not simply a portrait of this curious man in a book that should
be engaged by generalists as well as specialists. Herein Ilic puts on display a combination of
erudition and the skill of a story teller. Herein Ilic tells the tale of Flacius the controversialist
who in many ways was the super-star of the Gnesio-Lutherans.
He describes the purpose of the book in these words:
One of the aims in this work is to try to challenge the stereotype held about these
two people, namely that Flacius and Melanchthon were bitter enemies at all times,
and to show that their relationship was much more nuanced and more complex
than that (p. 66).
No life is one dimensional and the life of Flacius certainly was not. His relationship to
Melancthon, Luther’s right hand man for so many years, was complex and if compared to a road
would have to be called a curvy mountain pass with steep drops and stunning ascents. Ilic shows
readers just how that is so, and more importantly, why it is so. But the core of the volume is
Ilic’s demonstration and description of the controversialist Flacius. Says he:
Flacius also disagreed fundamentally with those who tried to negotiate a way
around the Augsburg Interim by compromising in matters of adiaphora. This
topic was to emerge as a central issue in many of his publications during the
Magdeburg years. Flacius’ statement from 1549, »in the situation of confession
and scandal, there is no such thing as an indifferent practice« »nihil esse
in casu confessionis et scandali«), reflected his convictions clearly and
later became widely known and quoted by others. He was convinced that the very
heart of the Protestant message, justification by faith, would be compromised as a
result of the Saxon negotiations. In such a situation, he claimed, even normally
inconsequential issues surrounding the liturgy, church leadership, membership
and so on gain a notably more significant meaning either pointing to or away from
the Gospel. Therefore, they could no longer be regarded as adiaphora. Flacius
argued that under such circumstances the church should raise its voice in protest
to the political authorities of the day (p. 92).
Lest potential readers imagine that Flacius focused all of his attention on Melanchthon and his
views, Ilic also describes his frequent battles (on the theological field only) with others like
Osiander and Schwenckfeld. An entire section of the volume is devoted to each of Flacius’s
major interlocutors. For instance:
The Debate between Schwenckfeld and Flacius: The Question of Scriptural
Interpretation (p. 115).
The volume also includes several excurses. The most interesting, at least to the present reviewer,
is this one:
Excursus: Reception of Flacius’ Concept of Adiaphora in the Twentieth Century
When examining the history of the reception (Rezeptionsgeschichte) of Flacius’
theological ouvre, it can be noted that his notion of status confessionis received
fresh relevance in the twentieth century, at the time when National Socialism was
gaining strength in Germany. Most notably, Hans Christoph von Hase, Dietrich
Bonhoeffer’s first cousin, dedicated his Master of Sacred Theology thesis, The
status confessionis in the Polemical Literature Surrounding the Augsburg Interim
of 1548, written in 1934, to this topic (p. 131).
Ilic then goes into great detail in his description of the appropriation of various of Flacius’s ideas
during the Hitler years by theologians intent on standing against the Nazis. The discussion is
fascinating, it must be said and, again at least to the present reviewer, a highlight of the volume.
The above mentioned examples illustrate how Flacius’ ideas were received and
rediscovered at a time of turbulence and a noticeable growth of restric- tions on
the freedom of belief in Germany. The fact that Flacius’ ideas from the mid-
sixteenth century resonated with Protestant theologians almost four hundred years
later, suggests that they may have contained observations and theological
argumentation that rose above differences in time (p. 134).
One final excerpt will, I hope, provide sufficient information so that potential readers have a
sense of what the book is aiming to accomplish:
Flacius’ radicalization reached its full extent during this time period [i.e., while he
was in Jena. J.W.]. Not only was he adamant about holding on to his theological
positions by not showing any willingness to re-think or modify them but this
rigidity also began to rapidly influence his personal and professional relationships
in a negative manner. Through his statements and behavior he was polarizing an
ever growing circle of people. In the final phase of his radicalization during the
last years of his life he would have to face the consequences of the controversies
he was causing (p. 157).
The tale Ilic tells is one of what many would call – wrongly – a ‘minor’ 16
But Flacius was much more than that. He was a foe of every opinion not his own. Strong of will
and perfectly convinced of his own correctness, he was the twin of Luther in a different form and
substance. Who being interested in the Reformation wouldn’t find such a man a fascinating and
worthy topic of investigation?
Below (on the following pages) is the table of contents:
I think this a very, very fine volume. And I am happy to recommend it to you. If your interest is
Church History in general, you will want to read it. If your interest is Reformation history, you
will need to read it. And if your interest is Lutheran theology, you will have to read it.
Quartz Hill School of Theology
Philippines Baptist Theological Seminary