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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Centuries of Magdeburg
(Centuriae Madeburgenses), the name given to the first great work on Church History by Protestant writers. It was projected by Matthias Flacius, and prosecuted by him, in conjunction with Joh.Wigand, Matthew Judex, Basilius Faber, Andr. Corvinus, and Thom. Holzhuter, of Magdeburg. Several of the Protestant princes joined to defray the expense incurred in the preparation of the work. "The centuriators thus describe the process employed in the composition of their work. Five directors were appointed to manage the whole design, and ten paid agents supplied the necessary labor. Seven of these were well-informed students, who were employed in making collections from the various pieces set before them. Two others, more advanced in years, and of greater learning and judgment, arranged the matter thus collected, submitted it to the directors, and, if it were approved, employed it in the composition of the work. As fast as the various chapters were composed they were laid before certain inspectors, selected from the members of the directors, who carefully examined what had been done, and made the necessary alterations; and, finally, a regular amanuensis made a fair copy of the whole. At length, in the year 1559, appeared the first volume of their laborious undertaking. It was printed at Basle, where the thirteenth and final volume (fol.) appeared in 1574; but, as it was projected at Magdeburg, that name was to remain on its title; and the first great Protestant work on Church History has been always commonly known as the Magdeburg Centuries. It was in every point of view an extraordinary production.
Though the first modern attempt to illustrate the history of the Church, it was written upon a scale which has scarcely been exceeded. It brought to light a large quantity of unpublished materials, and cast thee whole subject into a fixed and regular form. One of its most remarkable features is the elaborate classification. This was strictly original, and, with all its inconveniences, undoubtedly tended to introduce scientific arrangement and minute accuracy into the study of Church History. Each century is treated separately, in sixteen heads or chapters. The first of these gives a general view of the history of the century; then follows, 2. The extent and propagation of the Church; 3. Persecution and tranquillity of the Church; 4. Doctrine; 5. Heresies; 6. Rites and Ceremonies; 7. Government; 8. Schisms; 9. Councils; 10. Lives of Bishops and Doctors; 11. Haeretics; 12. Martyrs; 13. Miracles; 14. Condition of the Jews; 15. Other religions not Christian; 16. Political changes of the world" (Hook, Church History, s.v.). "The work enlisted all the Protestant learning of the age. It was distinguished for its familiarity with original authorities, for its frequent citations, for a criticism which paid no deference to earlier writers on the same subject, and for its passionate style of controversy. For more than a century afterwards, nothing was published but text-books formed from the materials supplied by the Centuries, and written in the same spirit" (Hase, Church History, 10). As a whole, the work is controversial rather than purely historical; but its spirit, its thoroughness, and its method were far in advance of any book in the same field that had arisen in the Roman Church. The "Annals" of Baronius were undertaken in order to counteract the influence of this great work.
The "Centuries" do not reach beyond the 13th century. The best edition is the original one (Ecclesiastica Historia, etc. per aliquot Studiosos et pios viros in urbe Magqdeburgica (Basil, 1559-74, 13 vols. in 8, fol.) 2d edit. by Lucius, with alterations (Basel, 1624,13 vols. in 3); new edition, to be extended to 1500, commencedly Baumgarten and Semler, but reaching only the 6th century (N rnb. 1757-65, 6 vols.); Epitome up to 1600, by Osiander (Tab. 1592-1604, 9 vols.); Germ. trinsl. by Count Munnich (Hamburg, 1855). See Budddeus, Isagoge, bk. 2, chap. 6, 4. p. 787; Schaff, Ch. Hist. vol. 1, 7; Schaff, Apost. Church, 29, p. 66.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Centuries of Magdeburg'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/c/centuries-of-magdeburg.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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