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Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions
by F. Bente
XV. The Flacian Controversy.
167. Flacius Entrapped by Strigel.
Matthias Flacius Illyricus, one of the most learned and capable theologians of his day and the most faithful, devoted, staunch, zealous, and able exponent and defender of genuine Lutheranism, was the author of the malignant controversy which bears his name. Flacius was born March 3, 1520, in Illyria hence called Illyricus. He studied in Basel, Tuebingen, and Wittenberg. At Wittenberg he was convinced that the doctrine of the Lutheran Church is in complete agreement with the Word of God.Here, too, he was appointed Professor of Hebrew in 1544. In April, 1549, he left the city on account of the Interim. He removed to Magdeburg where he became the energetic and successful leader of the opponents of the Interimists and Adiaphorists. He was appointed professor at the University of Jena, founded 1547, partly in opposition to Philippism. In December 1561, he and his adherents were banished from Jena.When the latter returned in 1567, he was not recalled. Persecuted by his enemies (especially Elector August of Saxony) and forsaken by his friends, he now moved from one place to another: from Jena to Regensburg, thence to Antwerp, to Frankfort-on-the- Main, to Strassburg (from where he was expelled in the spring of 1573), and again to Frankfort-on-the-Main, where he found a last asylum for himself and his family (wife and eight children), and where he also died in a hospital,March 11, 1575.
In the Adiaphoristic Controversy Flacius had time and again urged the Lutherans to die rather than deny and surrender the truth. And when in the controversy about original sin all shunned him and turned against him he gave ample proof of the fact that he himself was imbued with the spirit he had endeavored to kindle in others, being willing to suffer and to be banished and persecuted rather than sacrifice what he believed to be the truth.-The most important of his numerous books are: Catalogus Testium Veritatis, qui ante nostram aetatem reclamarunt Papae, 1556; Ecclesiastica Historia, or the so-called Magdeburg Centuries (Centuriones), comprising the history of the first thirteen centuries, and published 1559-1574; Clavis Scripturae, of 1567; and Glossa Novi Testamenti.Walther remarks: "It was a great pity that Flacius, who had hitherto been such a faithful champion of the pure doctrine, exposed himself to the enemies in such a manner.Henceforth the errorists were accustomed to brand all those as Flacianists who were zealous in defending the pure doctrine of Luther." (Kern und Stern, 34.)
The Flacian Controversy sprang from, and must be regarded as an episode of, the Synergistic Controversy, in which also some champions of Luther's theology (Amsdorf,Wigand, Hesshusius, and others) had occasionally employed unguarded, extreme, and inadequate expressions. Following are some of the immoderate and extravagant statements made by Flacius: God alone converts man, the Adamic free will not only not cooperating, "but also raging and roaring against it (sed etiam contra furente ac fremente)." (Preger 2, 212.) The malice of our free will is a "diabolical malice (nostra diabolica malitia carnis aut liberi arbitrii)." By original sin man is "transformed into the image of Satan (ad imaginem Satanae transformatus, eiusque charactere [foeda Satanae imagine] signatus)."(Gieseler 3, 2, 245.) By original sin "the substance of man is destroyed (substantiam hominis ablatam esse);" after the Fall original sin is the substance of man; man's nature is identical with sin; in conversion a new substance is created by God. In particular, the assertions concerning the substantiality of original sin gave rise to the so-called Flacian Controversy. After Strigel, at the second session of the disputation in Weimar,had dilated on the philosophical definitions of the terms "substance" and "accident" ("accidens, quod adest vel abest praeter subiecti corruptionem"), and had declared that original sin was an accident which merely impeded free will in its activity, Flacius, in the heat of the controversy, exclaimed: "Originale peccatum non est accidens.Original sin is not an accident, for the Scriptures call it flesh, the evil heart," etc. Thus he fell into the pitfall which the wily Strigel had adroitly laid for him. Though Flacius seemed to be loath to enter upon the matter any further, and protested against the use of philosophical definitions in theology, Strigel now was eager to entangle him still further, plying him with the question: "An negas peccatum originis esse accidens? Do you deny that original sin is an accident?" Flacius answered: "Lutherus diserte negat esse accidens. Luther expressly denies that it is an accident." Strigel: "Visne negare peccatum esse accidens? Do you mean to deny that sin is an accident?" Flacius: "Quod sit substantia, dixi Scripturam et Lutherum affirmare. I have said that Scripture and Luther affirm that it is a substance." (Luthardt, 213. 216.)
After the session in which the fatal phrase had fallen from his lips, Wigand and Musaeus expostulated with Flacius, designating (according to later reports of theirs) his statement as "this new, perilous, and blasphemous proposition of the ancient Manicheans (haec nova, periculosa et blasphema veterum Manichaeorum propositio)." (Planck 4, 611.) Flacius declared that, "in the sudden and pressing exigency, in the interest of truth, and against Pelagian enthusiasm, he had taken this expression [concerning the substantiality of original sin] from Luther's doctrine and books." (Preger 2, 324.) In the following (third) session, however, he repeated his error, declaring: I must stand by my statement that original sin is not an accident, but a substance, "because the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures which employ terms denoting substance (quae verbis substantialibus utuntur) are so numerous." (Planck 4, 610; Luthardt, 216.) Also later on Flacius always maintained that his doctrine was nothing but the teaching of the Bible and of Luther. As to Scripture-proofs, he referred to passages in which the Scriptures designate sin as "flesh," "stony heart," etc. Regarding the teaching of Luther, he quoted statements in which he describes original sin as "man's nature," "essence," "substantial sin,""all that is born of father and mother," etc. (Preger 2, 318.)
However, the palpable mistake of Flacius was that he took the substantial terms on which he based his theory in their original and proper sense, while the Bible and Luther employ them in a figurative meaning, as the Formula of Concord carefully explains in its first article, which decided and settled this controversy. (875, 50.) Here we read: "Also to avoid strife about words, aequivocationes vocabulorum, that is, words and expressions which are applied and used in various meanings, should be carefully and distinctly explained, as when it is said: God creates the nature of men, there by the term nature the essence, body, and soul of men are understood. But often the disposition or vicious quality of a thing is called its nature, as when it is said: It is the nature of the serpent to bite and poison. Thus Luther says that sin and sinning are the disposition and nature of corrupt man. Therefore original sin properly signifies the deep corruption of our nature as it is described in the Smalcald Articles.But sometimes the concrete person or the subject that is, man himself with body and soul in which sin is and inheres, is also comprised under this term, for the reason that man is corrupted by sin, poisoned and sinful, as when Luther says: "'Thy birth, thy nature, and thy entire essence is sin,' that is, sinful and unclean. Luther himself explains that by nature-sin, person-sin, essential sin he means that not only the words, thoughts, and works are sin, but that the entire nature, person and essence of man are altogether corrupted from the root by original sin." (875, 51f.)
168.Context in which Statement was Made.
In making his statement concerning the substantiality of original sin, the purpose of Flacius was to wipe out the last vestige of spiritual powers ascribed to natural man by Strigel, and to emphasize the doctrine of total corruption,which Strigel denied.His fatal blunder was that he did so in terms which were universally regarded as savoring of Manicheism. As was fully explained in the chapter of the Synergistic Controversy Strigel taught that free will, which belongs to the substance and essence of man, and hence cannot be lost without the annihilation of man himself, always includes the capacity to choose in both directions, that also with respect to divine grace and the operations of the Holy Spirit man is and always remains a liberum agens in the sense that he is able to decide in utramque partem; that this ability, constituting the very essence of free will,may be weakened and impeded in its activity, but never lost entirely. If it were lost, Strigel argued, the very substance of man and free will as such would have to be regarded as annihilated. But now man, also after the Fall, is still a real man, possessed of intellect and will. Hence original sin cannot have despoiled him of this liberty of choosing pro or con also in matters spiritual. The loss of original righteousness does not according to Strigel, involve the total spiritual disability of the will and its sole tendency and activity toward what is spiritually evil. Moreover, despite original corruption, it is and remains an indestructible property of man to be able, at least in a measure, to assent to and to admit, the operations of the Holy Spirit, and therefore and in this sense to be converted "aliquo modo volens." (Planck 4, 667. 675. 681.)
It was in opposition to this Semi-Pelagian teaching that Flacius declared original sin to be not a mere accident, but the substance of man. Entering upon the train of thought and the phraseology suggested by his opponent, he called substance what in reality was an accident, though not an accident such as Strigel contended. From his own standpoint it was therefore a shrewd move to hide his own synergism and to entrap his opponent, when Strigel plied Flacius with the question whether he denied that original sin was an accident. For in the context and the sense in which it was proposed the question involved a vicious dilemma. Answering with yes or no, Flacius was compelled either to affirm Strigel's synergism or to expose himself to the charge of Manicheism. Instead of replying as he did, Flacius should have cleared the sophistical atmosphere by explaining: "If I say, 'Original sin is an accident,' you [Strigel] will infer what I reject, viz., that the corrupt will of man retains the power to decide also in favor of the operations of the Holy Spirit. And if I answer that original sin is not an accident (such as you have in mind), you will again infer what I disavow, viz., that man, who by the Fall has lost the ability to will in the spiritual direction, has eo ipso lost the will and its freedom entirely and as such."As it was, however, Flacius instead of adhering strictly to the real issue-the question concerning man's cooperation in conversion-and exposing the sophistry implied in the question put by Strigel, most unfortunately suffered himself to be caught on the horns of the dilemma. He blindly walked into the trap set for him by Strigel, from which also later on he never succeeded in fully extricating himself.
With all his soul Flacius rejected the synergism involved in Strigel's question.His blunder was, as stated, that he did so in terms universally regarded as Manichean. He was right when he maintained that original sin is the inherited tendency and motion of the human mind, will, and heart, not toward, but against God,-a direction, too, which man is utterly unable to change. But he erred fatally by identifying this inborn evil tendency with the substance of fallen man and the essence of his will as such. It will always be regarded as a redeeming feature that it was in antagonizing synergism and championing the Lutheran sola gratia that Flacius coined his unhappy proposition. And in properly estimating his error, it must not be overlooked that he, as will be shown in the following employed the terms "substance"and "accident" not in their generally accepted meaning but in a sense, and according to a philosophical terminology, of his own.
169. Formal and Material Substance.
The terms "substance"and "accident" are defined in Melanchthon's Erotemata Dialectices as follows: "Substantia est ens, quod revera proprium esse habet, nec est in alio, ut habens esse a subiecto. Substance is something which in reality has a being of its own and is not in another as having its being from the subject." (C. R. 13, 528.) "Accidens est quod non per sese subsistit, nec est pars substantiae, sed in alio est mutabiliter. Accident is something which does not exist as such nor is a part of the substance, but is changeable in something else." (522.) Melanchthon continues: "Accidentium alia sunt separabilia ut frigus ab aqua, notitia a mente, laetitia, tristitia a corde. Alia accidentia sunt inseparabilia, ut quantitas seu magnitudo a substantia corporea, calor ab igni, humiditas ab aqua, non separantur ... Et quia separabilia accidentia magis conspicua sunt, ideo inde sumpta est puerilis descriptio: Accidens est, quod adest et abest praeter subiecti corruptionem. Whatever is present or absent without the corruption of the subject is an accident." (C. R. 13, 523; Preger 2, 396. 407; Seeberg 4, 494.)
Evidently this last definition, which was employed also by Strigel, is ambiguous, inasmuch as the word "corruption" may signify an annihilation, or merely a perversion, or a corruption in the ordinary meaning of the word. In the latter sense the term applied to original sin would be tantamount to a denial of the Lutheran doctrine of total corruption. When Jacob Andreae, in his disputation with Flacius, 1571, at Strassburg, declared that accident is something which is present or absent without corruption of the subject, he employed the term in the sense of destruction or annihilation. In the same year Hesshusius stated that by original sin "the whole nature body and soul, substance as well as accidents, are defiled, corrupted, and dead," of course, spiritually. And what he understood by substance appears from his assertion: "The being itself, the substance and nature itself, in as far as it is nature, is not an evil conflicting with the Law of God ...Not even in the devil the substance itself, in as far as it is substance, is a bad thing, i.e., a thing conflicting with the Law." (Preger 2, 397.)
The Formula of Concord carefully and correctly defines: "Everything that is must be either substantia, that is, a self-existent essence, or accidens, that is, an accidental matter, which does not exist by itself essentially but is in another self-existent essence and can be distinguished from it." "Now, then, since it is the indisputable truth that everything that is, is either a substance or an accidens that is, either a self-existing essence or something accidental in it (as has just been shown and proved by testimonies of the church-teachers, and no truly intelligent man has ever had any doubts concerning this), necessity here constrains, and no one can evade it if the question be asked whether original sin is a substance, that is, such a thing as exists by itself, and is not in another, or whether it is an accidens, that is, such a thing as does not exist by itself, but is in another, and cannot exist or be by itself, he must confess straight and pat that original sin is no substance, but an accident." (877, 54; 57.)
Flacius, however, took the words "substance" and "accident" in a different sense. He distinguished between the material and formal substance, and the latter he regarded as man's true original essence. This essence he explained, consisted in the original righteousness and holiness of man, in the image of God or the will as truly free and in proper relation toward God. He said:"Ipsum hominem essentialiter sic esse formatum, ut recta voluntas esset imago Dei, non tantum eius accidens." (Seeberg 4, 494.) He drew the conclusion that original sin, by which the image of God (not the human understanding and will as such) is lost, cannot be a mere accident, but constitutes the very essence and substance of fallen man. He argued: The image of God is the formal essence of man,or the soul itself according to its best part,by original sin this image is changed into its opposite: hence the change wrought by original sin is not accidental, but substantial,-just as substantial and essential as when wine is changed into vinegar or fire into frost.What man has lost, said Flacius, is not indeed his material substance (substantia rnaterialis), but his true formal substance or substantial form (substantia formalis or forma substantialis).Hence also original sin, or the corruption resulting from the Fall, in reality is, and must be designated, the formal substance or substantial form of natural man. Not all gifts of creation were lost to man by his Fall; the most essential boon, however, the image of God, was destroyed and changed into the image of Satan. "In homine," said Flacius, "et mansit aliquid, et tamen quod optimum in ratione et essentia fuit, nempe imago Dei, non tantum evanuit, sed etiam in contrarium, nempe in imaginem diaboli, commutatum est." The devil, Flacius continued, has robbed man of his original form (forma), the image of God, and stamped him with his own diabolical form and nature. (Luthardt 215; Gieseler 3, 2, 253.)
170. Further Explanations of Flacius.
The manner in which Flacius distinguished between material and formal substance appears from the tract on original sin (De Peccati Originalis aut Veteris Adami Appellationibus et Essentia), which he appended to his Clavis Scripturae of 1567. There we read: "In this disputation concerning the corruption of man I do not deny that this meaner matter (illam viliorem materiam) or mass of man created in the beginning has indeed remained until now, although it is exceedingly vitiated, as when in wine or aromas the spirituous (airy) or fiery substance escapes, and nothing remains but the earthy and watery substance but I hold that the substantial form or the formal substance (formam substantialem aut substantiam formalem) has been lost, yea, changed into its opposite.But I do not speak of that external and coarse form (although it too, is corrupted and weakened very much) which a girl admires in a youth, or philosophy also in the entire man, according to which he consists of body and soul, has an erect stature two feet, hands, eyes, ears, and the like, is an animal laughing, counting, reasoning, etc.; but I speak of that most noble substantial form (nobilissima substantialis forma) according to which especially the heart itself or rather the rational soul, was formed in such a manner that his very essence might be the image of God and represent Him, and that his substantial powers, intellect and will, and his affections might be conformed to the properties of God, represent, truly acknowledge, and most willingly embrace Him." (Preger 2, 314; Gieseler 3, 2, 254.)
Again: "In this manner, therefore, I believe and assert that original sin is a substance, because the rational soul (as united with God) and especially its noblest substantial powers, namely, the intellect and will which before had been formed so gloriously that they were the true image of God and the fountain of all justice, uprightness, and piety, and altogether essentially like unto gold and gems, are now, by deceit of Satan, so utterly perverted that they are the true and living image of Satan, and, as it were, filthy or rather consisting of an infernal flame, not otherwise than when the sweetest and purest mass, infected with the most venomous ferment, is altogether and substantially changed and transformed into a lump of the same ferment." (Gieseler 3, 2, 254.) Original sin "is not a mere accident in man, but his inverted and transformed essence or new form itself, just as when a most wholesome medicine is changed into the most baneful poison.""The matter remains, but it receives a new form, namely, the image of Satan." "Man, who in his essential form was the image of God, has in his essential form become the image of Satan." "This change may be compared to the change which the golden image of a beautiful man undergoes when it is transformed into the image of a dragon, the matter at the same time being corrupted." (Preger 2, 214. 217. 325.)
Dilating on the substantiality of original sin, Flacius furthermore declared: "Original malice in man is not something different from the evil mind or stony heart itself, not something that destroys him spiritually as a disease consumes him bodily, but it is ruined and destroyed nature itself (sed est tantum ipsa perditissima et iam destructissima natura). Original malice was not, as many now think infused from without into Adam in such a way as when poison or some other bad substance is thrown or poured into good liquor, so that by reason of the added bad substance also the rest becomes noxious, but in such a way as when good liquor or bread itself is perverted so that now it is bad as such and poisonous or rather poison (ut illud per se iam malum ac venenatum aut potius venenum sit)." (Preger 2, 313.)
Also concerning the body and soul of fallen man Flacius does not hesitate to affirm that, since they are permeated and corrupted by original sin, "these parts themselves are sin eas ipsas [partes, corpus et animam] esse illud nativum malum, quod cum Deo pugnat." "Some object," says Flacius, "that the creature of God must be distinguished from sin, which is not of God. I answer: now do separate, if you can, the devil from his inherent wickedness! ...How can the same thing be separated from itself! We therefore can not distinguish them in any other way than by stating that with respect to his first creation and also his present preservation man, even as the devil himself, is of God, but that with respect to this horrible transformation (ratione istius horrendae metamorphoseos) he is of the devil, who, by the force of the efficacious sentence and punishment of angry God: ˇĄThou shalt die,' not only captured us to be his vilest slaves, but also recast, rebaked, and changed, or, so to speak,metamorphosed us into another man, as the Scripture says, even as he [the devil] himself is inverted." All parts, talents, and abilities of man, Flacius contends, are "evil and mere sins," because they all oppose God. "What else are they than armed unrighteousness!" he exclaims. Even the natural knowledge of God "is nothing but the abominable source of idolatry and of all superstitions." (Preger 316f.; Gieseler 3, 2, 255.)
That the fundamental view of Flacius,however, was much farther apart from Manicheism than some of his radical phrases imply, appears from his "Gnw'qi seautovn, De Essentia Originalis Institutiae," of 1568. After admitting that Augustine, Luther, and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession are correct when they define original sin as an inordinate disposition, a disorder (ajtaxiva), perversion, and confusion of the parts of man, Flacius proceeds: "The substantial form of a certain thing for the most part, consists in the right position and disposition of the parts; as, for example, if a human body were born which had its eyes, ears, and mouth on the belly or feet, and, vice versa, the toes on the head, no one would say that it was properly a man, but rather a monster ... It appears, therefore, that the inordinate disposition of the parts produces an altogether new body or thing. Thus, forsooth, the horrible perturbation of the soul has also produced, as it were a new kind of monster fighting against God." (Preger 2, 409.) Accordingly, it was not man's body and soul as such, but the alteration of the relation of his powers toward one another and the consequent corruption of these powers, that Flacius had in mind when he designated original sin as the new substantial form, or substance, of sinful man.
Flacius expressly denied that the fall of man or his conversion involved a physical change."I do not teach a physical regeneration," he declared, "nor do I say that two hearts are created, but I say that this most excellent part of the soul or of man is once more established, or that the image of God is recast and transformed out of the image of Satan, even as before the image of God was transformed into the image of Satan. Physicam renascentiam non assero nec dico duo corda creari, sed dico istam praestantissimam animae aut hominis partem denuo condi aut ex imagine Satanae refundi aut transformari imaginem Dei, sicut antea imago Dei fuit transformata in imaginem Satanae." (Seeberg 4, 495.) Gieseler pertinently remarks: "It is apparent that Flacius did not deviate from the common concept of original sin, but from the concepts of substance and accident, but that here, too, he was uncertain, inasmuch as he employed the terms substantia, forma substantialis, and substantia formalis promiscuously." (3, 2, 255.)
If not necessarily involved in, it was at least in keeping with his extreme position and extravagant phraseology concerning original sin when Flacius, in his De Primo et Secundo Capite ad Romanos, quatenus Libero Arbitrio Patrocinari Videntur, rejected the doctrine of an inborn idea of God and of His Law inscribed in the heart of natural man. On Rom. 1, 19 he comments: It is only from the effects in the world that man infers the existence of a supreme cause.And with respect to Rom. 2, 15 he maintains that Paul's statements were to be understood, not of a law written in the heart of man, but of a knowledge which the heathen had derived by inference, from experience, or from tradition of the fathers. On this point Strigel, no doubt was correct when he objected: If the knowledge of God's existence were really extinguished from the heart, there could be no discipline among men; and if man had no inborn knowledge of the Law, then there could be no such thing as conscience which condemns him when he sins. The fact that man fears punishments even when there is no government to fear, as was the case with Alexander when he had murdered Clitus, proves that in the heart there is a certain knowledge both of God and of His Law. (Preger 2, 213.) However, Flacius did not, as Strigel seems to insinuate, deny that natural man has an obscure knowledge of God's existence and Law, but merely maintained that this knowledge was not inborn or inherited, but acquired from without.
171.Controversy Precipitated by Flacius.
Though Flacius, when he first made his statement concerning the substantiality of original sin may not have felt absolutely sure of the exact meaning, bearing, and correctness of his position, yet the facts do not warrant the assumption that afterwards he was in any way diffident or wavering in his attitude.Whatever his views on this subject may have been before 1560-after the fatal phrase had fallen from his lips, he never flinched nor flagged in zealously defending it. Nor was he ever disposed to compromise the matter as far as the substance of his doctrine was concerned. In 1570 Spangenberg of Mansfeld, who sided with Flacius, suggested that he retain his meaning, but change his language: "Teneat Illyricus mentem,mutet linguam."To this Flacius consented. On September 28 1570, he published his Brief Confession, in which he agreed to abstain from the use of the term "substance."However, what he suggested as a substitute, viz., that original sin be defined as the nature of man (the word "nature," as he particularly emphasized, to be taken not in a figurative, but in its proper meaning), was in reality but another way of repeating his error.
The same was the case in 1572, when Flacius, opposed and sorely pressed by the ministerium of Strassburg (whence he was banished the following year), offered to substitute for the word "substance" the phrase "essential powers." (Preger 2, 371.) Two years later, at the public disputation in Langenau, Silesia, where Flacius defended his doctrine with favorable results for himself against Jacob Coler [born 1537; studied in Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1564 pastor in Lauban, Upper Lausatia (Oberlausitz); 1573 in Neukirch; 1574 he opposed Leonard Crentzheim and Flacius; 1575 professor in Frankfort; afterwards active first as Praepositus in Berlin and later on as Superintendent in Mecklenburg, published Disputatio De Libero Arbitrio; died March 7, 1612], he declared that he did not insist on his phrase as long as the doctrine itself was adopted and original sin was not declared to be a mere accident. But this, too, was no real retraction of his error. (Preger 2, 387.) In a similar way Flacius repeatedly declared himself willing to abstain from the use of the word "substance" in connection with his doctrine concerning original sin, but with conditions and limitations which made his concessions illusory, and neither did nor could satisfy his opponents.
At the disputation in Weimar, 1560, Wigand and Musaeus, as stated, warned Flacius immediately after the session in which he had made his statement. Schluesselburg relates: "Immediately during the disputation, as I frequently heard from their own lips, Dr. Wigand, Dr. Simon Musaeus, and other colleagues of his who attended the disputation ... admonished Illyricus in a brotherly and faithful manner to abstain from this new, perilous and blasphemous proposition of the ancient Manicheans, which would cause great turmoil in the Church of God, and to refute the error of Victorin [Strigel] concerning free will not by means of a false proposition, but with the Word of God. However, intoxicated with ambition, and relying, in the heat of the conflict, too much on the acumen and sagacity of his own mind, Illyricus haughtily spurned the brotherly and faithful admonitions of all his colleagues." (Catalogus 2, 4.) In his book De Manichaeismo Renovato Wigand himself reports: "Illyricus answered [to the admonition of his colleagues to abstain from the Manichean phrase] that he had been drawn into this discussion by his opponent against his own will. But what happened? Contrary to the expectations of his colleagues, Illyricus in the following session continued, as he had begun, to defend this insanity." (Preger 2, 324; Planck 4, 611.) However, it does not appear that after the disputation his friends pressed the matter any further, or that they made any efforts publicly to disavow the Flacian proposition.
In 1567 Flacius published his tract De Peccati Originalis aut Veteris Adami Appellationibus et Essentia, "On the Appellations and Essence of Original Sin or the Old Adam," appending it to his famous Clavis Scripturae of the same year. He had written this tract probably even before 1564. In 1566 he sent it to Simon Musaeus, requesting his opinion and the opinion of Hesshusius, who at that time was celebrating his marriage with the daughter of Musaeus. In his answer, Musaeus approved the tract, but desired that the term "substance"be explained as meaning not the matter,but the form of the substance to which Hesshusius also agreed. After the tract had appeared, Musaeus again wrote to Flacius, June 21, 1568, saying that he agreed with his presentation of original sin. At the same time, however, he expressed the fear that the bold statement which Flacius had retained,"Sin is substance,"would be dangerously misinterpreted. (Preger 2, 327.) And before long a storm was brewing, in which animosity registered its highest point, and a veritable flood of controversial literature (one publication following the other in rapid succession) was poured out upon the Church, which was already distracted and divided by numerous and serious theological conflicts.
By the publication of this treatise Flacius who before long also was harassed and ostracized everywhere, had himself made a public controversy unavoidable. In the conflict which it precipitated, he was opposed by all parties, not only by his old enemies, the Philippists, but also by his former friends.According to the maxim: Amicus Plato, amicus Socrates, sed magis amica veritas, they now felt constrained, in the interest of truth, to turn their weapons against their former comrade and leader. Flacius himself had made it impossible for his friends to spare him any longer.Nor did he deceive himself as to the real situation. In a letter written to Wigand he reveals his fear that the Lutherans and Philippists, then assembled at the Colloquium in Altenburg (held from October 21, 1568, to March, 1569, between the theologians of Thuringia and those of Electoral Saxony), would unite in a public declaration against his teaching. Wigand whose warning Flacius had disregarded at Weimar,wrote to Gallus: Flacius has forfeited the right to request that nothing be published against him, because he himself has already spread his views in print. And before long Wigand began to denounce publicly the Flacian doctrine as "new and prolific monsters, monstra nova et fecunda."
172. Publications Pro and Con.
According to Preger the first decided opposition to the Flacian teaching came from Moerlin and Chemnitz, in Brunswick, to whom Flacius had also submitted his tract for approval. Chemnitz closed his criticism by saying: It is enough if we are able to retain what Luther has won (parta tueri), let us abandon all desires to go beyond (ulterius quaerere) and to improve upon him. (Preger 2, 328.) Moerlin characterized Flacius as a vain man, and dangerous in many respects. Flacius answered in an objective manner, betraying no irritation whatever. (332.) In a letter of August 10, 1568,Hesshusius,who now had read the tract more carefully charged Flacius with teaching that Satan was a creator of substance, and before long refused to treat with him any further. In September of the same year Flacius published his Gnw'qi seautovn against the attacks of the Synergists and Philippists, notably Christopher Lasius [who studied at Strassburg and Wittenberg, was active in Goerlitz, Greussen Spandau,Kuestrin,Cottbus, and Senftenberg, wrote his theory as "a new alchemistic theology." (Planck 4. 257.)onversione; died 1572]. In the same year Hesshusius prepared his Analysis, which was approved by Gallus and the Jena theologians.
Realizing that all his former friends had broken with him entirely, Flacius, in January 1570, published his Demonstrations Concerning the Essence of the Image of God and the Devil, in which he attacked his opponents, but without mentioning their names.His request for a private discussion was bluntly rejected by the Jena theologians.Wigand, in his Propositions on Sin of May 5, 1570, was the first publicly to attack Flacius by name. About the same time Moerlin's Themata de Imagine Dei and Chemnitz's Resolutio appeared. The former was directed "against the impious and absurd proposition that sin is a substance", the latter, against the assertion "that original sin is the very substance of man, and that the soul of man itself is original sin." Hesshusius also published his Letter to M. Flacius Illyricus in the Controversy whether Original Sin is a Substance. Flacius answered in his Defense of the Sound Doctrine Concerning Original Righteousness and Unrighteousness, or Sin, of September 1, 1570. Hesshusius published his Analysis, in which he repeated the charge that Flacius made the devil a creator of substance.
In his Brief Confession, of September 28 1570, Flacius now offered to abstain from the use of the term "substance" in the manner indicated above. A colloquium, however, requested by Flacius and his friends on the basis of this Confession, was declined by the theologians of Jena. Moreover, in answer to the Brief Confession, Hesshusius published (April 21, 1571) his True Counter-Report, in which he again repeated his accusation that Flacius made the devil a creator of substance. He summarized his arguments as follows: "I have therefore proved from one book [Flacius's tract of 1567] more than six times that Illyricus says: Satan condidit, fabricavit, transformavit veterem hominem, Satan est figulus, that is: The devil created and made man, the devil is man's potter."The idea of a creation out of nothing, however, was not taught in the statements to which Hesshusius referred. (Preger 2, 348.) Further publications by Andrew Schoppe [died after 1615], Wigand, Moerlin, Hesshusius, and Chemnitz, which destroyed all hopes of a peaceful settlement, caused Flacius to write his Orthodox Confession Concerning Original Sin. In this comprehensive answer, which appeared August 1, 1571, he declares "that either image, the image of God as well as of Satan, is an essence, and that the opposite opinion diminishes the merit of Christ." At the same time he complained that his statements were garbled and misinterpreted by his opponents, that his was the position of the man who asked concerning garlic and received an answer concerning onions, that his opponents were but disputing with imaginations of their own. (349f.)
In the same year, 1571,Wigand published a voluminous book, On Original Sin, in which he charged Flacius with teaching that original sin is the entire carnal substance of man according to both his body and soul. In his description of the Flacian doctrine we read: "Original sin is a substance, as they teach. Accordingly, original sin is an animal, and that, too, an intelligent animal. You must also add ears, eyes, mouth, nose, arms, belly, and feet. Original sin laughs, talks, sews, sows, works, reads, writes, preaches, baptizes, administers the Lord's Supper, etc. For it is the substance of man that does such things. Behold, where such men end!" Flacius replied in his Christian and Reliable Answer to All manner of Sophistries of the Pelagian Accident, 1572, protesting that the doctrine ascribed to him was a misrepresentation of his teaching. In the same year Wigand published Reasons Why This Proposition, in Controversy with the Manicheans: "Original Sin Is the Corrupt Nature," Cannot Stand.Here Wigand truly says: "Evil of the substance and evil substance are not identical.Malum substantiae et mala substantia non sunt idem." (Preger 2, 353. 410.)
In several publications of the same year Hesshusius asserted (quoting testimonies to this effect from Augustine), that the Flacian doctrine was identical with the tenets of the Manicheans, in substance as well as terms. Flacius answered in De Augustini et Manichaeorum Sententia, in Controversia Peccati, 1572, in which he declared: "I most solemnly condemn the Manichean insanity concerning two creators. I have always denied that original sin is something, or has ever been something outside of man; I have never ascribed to this sin any materiality of its own." (355.) This book was followed by another attack by Hesshusius and an answer, in turn, by Flacius.
In the same year Hesshusius, in order to prevent further accessions to Flacianism, published his Antidote (Antidoton) against the Impious and Blasphemous Dogma of Matthias Flacius Illyricus by which He Asserts that Original Sin Is Substance. In this book, which was republished in 1576 and again in 1579,Hesshusius correctly argued:"If original sin is the substance of the soul, then we are compelled to assert one of two things, viz. either that Satan is the creator of substances or that God is the creator and preserver of sin. Si substantia animae est peccatum originis, alterum a duobus necesse est poni, videlicet, aut Satanam esse conditorem substantiarum, aut Deum esse peccati creatorem et sustentatorem." (Gieseler 3, 2, 256.) At this late hour, 1572, Simon Musaeus, too, entered the arena with his Opinion Concerning Original Sin, Sententia de Peccato Originali. In it he taught "that original sin is not a substance, but the utmost corruption of it, in matter as well as form," and that therefore "Pelagianism no less than Manicheism is to be excluded and condemned."
When the ministerium of Strassburg turned against Flacius, he again published several books defending his position on the controverted ques-tions, which resulted in his expulsion from the city. In 1573 Flacius published an answer to Hesshu-sius's Antidote entitled, Solid Refutation of the Groundless Sophistries, Calumnies, and Fig-ments, as also of the Most Corrupt Errors of the "Antidote" and of Other Neopelagian Writers. Flacius charged Hesshusius with misrepresentation, and demanded that he swear whether he really believed to have found the alleged errors in his writings. (Preger 2, 364ff.)
Till his death, on March 11, 1575, at Frankfort-onthe- Main, Flacius consistently adhered to his false terminology as well as teaching, apparently never for a moment doubting that he was but defending Luther's doctrine. One of his last books was entitled, Some Clear and Splendid Testimonies of Martin Luther Concerning the Evil Essence, Image, Form, or Shape (Wesen, essentia, Bild, Form oder Gestalt) of the Earthly Dead Adam and Concerning the Essential Transformation of Man. (389.) As stated above, the mistake of Flacius was that he took literally terms denoting substance which the Bible and Luther employ in a figurative sense.
173.Adherents of Flacius.
The chief supporters of Flacius were the Mansfeldians, Count Vollrath and Cyriacus Spangenberg [born 1528; studied in Wittenberg; served in Eisleben, then in Mansfeld; died in Strassburg February 10, 1604]. In the serious dissensions which arose in Mansfeld in consequence of the controversy on original sin, the Count and Spangenberg were opposed by the Jena theologians and Superintendent Menzel [Jerome Menzel, born 1517; studied in Wittenberg; wrote against Spangenberg; died 1590].As stated above, it was Spangenberg who endeavored to bring about an understanding between the contending parties on the principle: "Teneat Illyricus mentem, mutet linguam." A colloquy was held 1572 at Castle Mansfeld, in which Flacius and his adherents were pitted against Menzel, Rhode, Fabricius, and others.When Fabricius declared in the discussions:"Only in so far as our nature is not in conformity with the Law of God is it corrupt," Flacius exclaimed:"Non quantum, not in as far; but I say it is not in conformity because it is corrupt, quia corrupta est." (Preger 2, 375.) Count Vollrath and his adviser, Caspar Pflug gave Flacius a written testimony that at the colloquy he had not been convinced, but found to be correct in the controversy on original sin. The publication of this testimony by Flacius as also of the minutes of the Colloquy by Count Vollrath, in 1573, resulted in a number of further publications by Flacius and his friends as well as his opponents. At Mansfeld the animosity against the Flacians did not subside even after the death of Flacius in 1575. They were punished with excommunication, incarceration, and the refusal of a Christian burial. Count Vollrath left 1577, and died at Strassburg 1578. Spangenberg, who also had secretly fled from Mansfeld, defended the doctrine of Flacius in a tract,De Peccato Originali, Concerning Original Sin, which he published 1586 under a pseudonym. He died without retracting or changing his views. Another adherent of Flacius was F. Coelestinus, professor at Jena. After his suspension he left the city and participated in the controversy. He published Colloquium inter Se et Tilem. Hesshusium. He died 1572. In August, 1571, Courtpreacher Christopher Irenaeus and Pastors Guenther and Reinecker were dismissed in Weimar because of Flacianism. Irenaeus published Examen Libri Concordiae and many other books, in which he contends that original sin is a substance. Pastors Wolf in Kahla, Schneider in Altendorf, and Franke in Oberrosla were dismissed in 1572 for the same reason. They, too, entered the public arena in favor of Flacius. At Lindau four preachers, who had identified themselves with Flacius, were also deposed. One of them, Tobias Rupp, held a public disputation with Andreae. In Antwerp the elders forbade their ministers to indulge in any public polemics against Flacius. Among the supporters of Flacius were also his son,Matthias Flacius, and Caspar Heldelin. It may be noted here that Saliger (Beatus) and Fredeland, who were deposed at Luebeck in 1568 also taught "that original sin is the very substance of the body and soul of man," and that Christ had assumed "the flesh of another species" than ours. (Gieseler 3, 2, 257.)
In Regensburg four adherents of Flacius were dismissed in 1574, among them Joshua Opitz [born 1543; died 1585]. These and others emigrated to the Archduchy of Austria, where the Lutherans were numerous and influential, Opitz frequently preaching to an audience of 7,000.No less than 40 of the Lutheran ministers of Austria are said to have shared the views of Flacius. (Preger 2 393.) Only a few of them revealed symptoms of fanaticism, which resulted in their dismissal. Among the latter was Joachim Magdeburgius, then an exile at Efferding.He taught "that the bodies of believing Christians after their death were still essential original sin, and that God's wrath remained over them till the Day of Judgment."(Joecher, Lexicon 3, 32.) At the same time he branded as errorists Spangenberg, Opitz, and Irenaeus, who declared their dissent. In 1581 the Flacians in Austria issued a declaration against the Formula of Concord, charging its teaching to be inconsistent with Luther's doctrine on original sin. As late as 1604 there were numerous Flacianists in German Austria.
174. Decision of Formula of Concord.
Seeberg remarks: "Flacius was not a heretic, but in the wrangle of his day he was branded as such, and this has been frequently repeated." (4, 2, 495.) A similar verdict is passed by Gieseler and other historians. But whatever may be said in extenuation of his error, it cannot be disputed that the unfortunate phrases of Flacius produced, and were bound to produce, most serious religious offense, as well as theological strife, and hopeless doctrinal confusion. Even when viewed in the light of his distinction between formal substance (man as endowed with the image of God) and material substance (man as possessed of body and soul, together with will and intellect), the odiousness of his terminology is not entirely removed. It was and remained a form of doctrine and trope or mode of teaching which the Lutherans were no more minded to tolerate than the error of Strigel.
Accordingly, the first article of the Formula of Concord rejects both the synergistic as well as the Manichean aberrations in the doctrine of original sin. In its Thorough Declaration we read: "Now this doctrine [of original sin] must be so maintained and guarded that it may not deflect either to the Pelagian or the Manichean side. For this reason the contrary doctrine ... should also be briefly stated." (865, 16.) Accordingly, in a series of arguments, the Flacian error is thoroughly refuted and decidedly rejected. At the same time the Formula of Concord points out the offensiveness of the Flacian phraseology. It refers to the controversy regarding this question as "scandalous and very mischievous," and declares:"Therefore it is unchristian and horrible to hear that original sin is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, sanctified, and saved, and other similar expres- sions found in the writings of the recent Manicheans, with which we will not offend simple-minded people." (873, 45. 59.)
On the other hand, the Formula of Concord is just as determined in opposing every effort at extenuating the corruption wrought by original sin. It is solicitous to explain that in designating original sin as an accident, its corruption is not minimized in the least, if the answer concerning the nature of this accident is not derived from philosophy or human reason, but from the Holy Scriptures."For the Scriptures," says the Formula,"testify that original sin is an unspeakable evil and such an entire corruption of human nature that in it and all its internal and external powers nothing pure or good remains, but everything is entirely corrupt, so that on account of original sin man in God's sight is truly spiritually dead (plane sit emortuus), with all his powers dead to that which is good." (879, 60.)
Accordingly, the Formula of Concord rejects the errors of Strigel and the Semi-Pelagians, "that original sin is only external, a slight, insignificant spot sprinkled, or a stain dashed, upon the nature of man ... along with and beneath which the nature nevertheless possesses and retains its integrity and power even in spiritual things. Or that original sin is not a despoliation or deficiency, but only an external impediment to these spiritual good powers ... They are rebuked and rejected likewise who teach that the nature has indeed been greatly weakened and corrupted through the Fall, but that nevertheless it has not entirely lost all good with respect to divine, spiritual things, and that what is sung in our churches,ˇĄThrough Adam's fall is all corrupt, nature and essence human,' is not true, but from natural birth it still has something good, small, little, and inconsiderable though it be, namely, capacity, skill, aptness, or ability to begin, to effect, or to help effect something in spiritual things." (865, 21ff.)
While the Formula of Concord does not deny the capacity of fallen man for salvation, it is careful in defining that this is not an active, but a passive capacity. That is to say:Man is utterly incapable of qualifying himself for, or of contributing in the least toward, his own spiritual restoration; but what is impossible for man is not impossible with God who, indeed, is able to convert man, endow him with new spiritual powers, and lead him to eternal salvation,-a goal for the attainment of which, in contradistinction from inanimate and other creatures, man, being a rational creature, endowed with intellect and will, was created by God and redeemed by Christ. In the Formula of Concord we read: "And although God, according to His just, strict sentence, has utterly cast away the fallen evil spirits forever, He has nevertheless, out of special, pure mercy,willed that poor fallen human nature might again become and be capable and participant of conversion, the grace of God, and eternal life; not from its own natural, active [or effective] skill, aptness, or capacity (for the nature of man is obstinate enmity against God), but from pure grace, through the gracious efficacious working of the Holy Ghost.And this Dr. Luther calls capacitatem(non activam, sed passivam), which he explains thus: Quando patres liberum arbitrium defendunt, capacitatem libertatis eius praedicant, quod scilicet verti potest ad bonum per gratiam Dei et fieri revera liberum, ad quod creatum est. That is: When the Fathers defend the free will, they are speaking of this, that it is capable of freedom in this sense, that by God's grace it can be converted to good, and become truly free, for which it was created in the beginning." (889, 20.)
This accords with Luther's words in De Servo Arbitrio: "It would be correct if we should designate as the power of free will that [power] by which man, who is created for life or eternal death, is apt to be moved by the Spirit and imbued with the grace of God. For we, too, confess this power, i.e. aptitude or, as the Sophists [Scholastic theologians] say, disposition and passive aptitude. And who does not know that trees and animals are not endowed with it? For, as the saying goes, heaven is not created for geese. Hanc enim vim, hoc est, aptitudinem, seu, ut Sophistae loquuntur, dispositivam qualitatem et passivam aptitudinem, et nos confitemur; quam non arboribus neque bestiis inditam esse, quis est, qui nesciat? Neque enim pro anseribus, ut dicitur, coelum creavit." (E. v. a. 158: St. L. 18. 1720.)
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