Thursday, June 11, 2015

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity. . .

Perhaps that phrase is remembered because Pope John XXIII used it in his first encyclical, Ad Petri Cathedram (1959): “In things essential, unity; in things secondary, liberty; and in all things, charity” (In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas).  It was a quote attributed to St. Augustine but it has been impossible to locate that within the known Augustinian corpus.  It was famously used by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity who actually borrowed the phrase from the seventeenth-century Puritan divine Richard Baxter, who is largely responsible for its familiarity to English speaking folks.

What I find fascinating is that it seems the source of the quotation for Baxter was probably the Lutheran theologian Peter Meiderlin (AKA Rupertus Meldenius), who, in his Paraenesis votiva pro pace ecclesiae ad theologos Augustanae of 1626 had said, "Verbo dicam: Si nos servaremus in necessariis Unitatem, in non-necessariis Libertatem, in utrisque Charitatem, optimo certe loco essent res nostrae.", meaning "In a word, let me say: if we might keep in necessary things Unity, in unnecessary things Liberty, and in both Charity, our affairs would certainly be in the best condition".  It could have first used in 1617 by Archbishop of Split (Spalato) Marco Antonio de Dominis in his anti-Papal De Repubblica Ecclesiastica.

I always find curious the often intertwined history of good quotes and pithy sayings.  What is not merely curious, however, is how well this summed up early Lutheran descriptions of church unity and instructions for worship.  Lutherans famously retained as much of the ceremonial of the mass as they possibly could (which only highlights how uncomfortable modern day Lutherans are with the catholic ceremonial of the Divine Service).  The Lutheran liturgical principle was retain as much as you can without conflicting with the Gospel.  Today our Lutheran liturgical principle has forgotten this catholic principle and seems intent upon seeing everything -- including the Divine Service itself -- as adiaphora, that is, things indifferent and unimportant.  While the early Lutherans refused to make uniform ceremonies a requirement for unity, they certainly did not see church usages, ceremonies, or ritual as unimportant.

There is also a key missing here among modern day Lutherans.  That is the final words of the phrase -- in all things charity.  Here I would point out that Lutherans who retained the fuller ceremonial that has always been Lutheran and legitimate in the Divine Service practiced among Lutherans have frequently suffered the uncharitable attacks of those who have called them papist, romish, closet Catholics, etc. . .  Those whose ceremonial is decidedly less catholic are much less likely to find condemnation from their more liturgical Lutherans but the more liturgical are regularly viewed with suspicion and their usages spoken against by those less liturgical.

Perhaps that is because so much of this discussion has centered merely around preference or taste.  It is impossible to find substance in Lutheranism to support the anti-liturgical perspective of some among us and, lacking the theological wherewithal to challenge the fuller ceremonial, those who do not like or feel comfortable with it are left to ad hominem attacks, choose straw men over truth, and speaking unkindly and uncharitably against the fuller Lutheran liturgical piety that characterized Lutheran Divine Services consistently through the day of J. S. Bach and which the Saxon immigration found so objectionable when they arrive in their new homeland.

Where there are those who chose to argue less the merits than to falsely characterize their opponents in some manner, the call is clear.  Charity.  In things essential, unity; in things not essential, liberty; and in all things charity.

5 comments:

Jim Davis said...

" Those whose ceremonial is decidedly less catholic are much less likely to find condemnation from their more liturgical Lutherans but the more liturgical are regularly viewed with suspicion and their usages spoken against by those less liturgical."
I read blogs by Lutherans daily. This goes both ways.
I see some gripes about non-liturgical services; usually about the content, not so much about the style or format.
I understand that different people like or are comfortable with different styles, whether liturgical or not. As long as the proper theological content is included, the style should be left to the congregation (charity).

Anonymous said...

Ahhh but if the content is there, and people pay attention to it, the form will most likely be more liturgical than less.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but style isn't neutral.

Jim Davis said...

Anonymous #2:
I encourage you to worship God in the style that is most comfortable and meaningful to you. However, please do not insist that everyone worship your way.

Janis Williams said...

Mr. Davis, I encourage you to read the post for today, 6/13. We are not called to worship in a style that is comfortable. Worship should often be uncomfortable (Law). Worship will even sometimes be boring, as any routine in our lives can at times. Worshipping in the style most comfortable to you has no boundaries. The Baal worshippers at Mt. Carmel when Elijah proved who was the true God were very comfortable with their style of worship. Comfort or preference is a human thing; worship is a "God thing."