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Irenical Theology

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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is a term (from εἰρήνη , peace) used to designate the art or science of conciliating any differences which arise in religion and in the Church from one-sided theories or misapprehension. Making peace implies a previous warfare, hence irenical theology is closely allied to polemics (q.v.), which, in its true character, should be but a struggle for peace. For the σύνδεσμος τῆς εἰρήνης, or "bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3), embraces all Christians, and the ἀληθεύειν ἐν ἀγάπῃ , or "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), contains two commandments which cannot be separated. Hence we find in the Christian Church, from her earliest days up to our own times, attempts to secure peace and unity by conciliating all differences and by reuniting those who had separated from each other. Such was particularly the case when schism occurred first between the Latin and the Greek churches, then between the Romish and the Protestant, and, again, between the Lutheran and the Reformed. Irenical attempts accompanied each of these separations, as is evinced by the large number of works known as Irenicum, Unio, Concordier, etc.

But the labor of dogmatical peace-makers, or, as some call them, the angels of peace upon earth, is so profoundly, so quietly, and unostentatiously done, that the general mass of professional theologians hardly become aware of it. As a regular science, however, or systematic theory, these efforts at peaceful agreement on the points of difference could only spring from a well defined and developed state of Christian doctrine, and Christian life and its theory. Hence irenical theology is comparatively modern, and its system but little developed as yet. No one can deny that in the N.T., in the works of the apologists, apostles, and fathers, and down through a long series of ecclesiastical writings, and particularly in those of the mystics and pious ascetics, there are many pacificatory elements which might serve as material for an irenical system. After. the Reformation we find such fragments side by side with the most violent polemical works.

We might mention in this connection Erasmus (De amabili ecclesice concordia), George Wicel, H. Cassander, Fr. Junius, besides Melancthon, Martin Bucer, etc. It was against one of these peace-makers, David Paraeus (t 1615) that Leonhard Hutter wrote his Irenicum vere Christianum (2nd edit. Rostock, 1619), in which, however, he admits that the attainment of ultimate unity and peace is problematical. Among the most active in the cause of union we find, in the Reformed Church, Hugo Grotius ( 1645), and, in the Lutheran, George Calixtus ( 1656). The Jesuits, however, managed to interfere in all these attempts, and to render them abortive by proposing sophistical and impossible bases of union. On the other hand, untimely propositions on both sides, dictated either by fear or worldly motives, threw discredit on the cause itself. It was now decried as Babelianism, Samaritanism, neutralism, syncretism, etc. Still there continued to appear persons who believed, in the possibility of union, and labored zealously for it. Among them were John Fabricius of Helmstadt ( 1729), a disciple of Calixtus, and the Scotch divine, John Dury, or Dureeus (1630-78), who, knowing the relation between the Protestant confessions, labored with a truly Christian spirit to secure this end. His principal work, Irenicorum tractatuenum Prodromuns (Amstelod. 1662, 8vo), is in itself a sort of irenical theory, as it treats of the manner of removing the obstacles to union, of the grounds sufficient for evangelical unity, of the causes and means of religious reconciliation, and of the true method of accomplishing that result. Similar works, like the vice ad pacern, etc., appeared in the Reformed Church, and also, though not so numerously, in the Lutheran.

Among she Romanists even, we find some earnest peacemakers, but their efforts met with little success. Among the most prominent was the Spaniard, Christopher Roja de Spinola appointed bishop in Austria in 1668; he made great efforts towards reconciling the churches, and was countenanced by the emperor Leopold and pope Innocent XI, but was afterwards disowned by the latter, and Spener himself was obliged to caution all against holding secret intercourse with him. He gained to his views the Lutheran abbot Molanus, of Loccum, in Hanover, who, in turn, found a zealous and distinguished advocate of unity in Leibnitz. Correspondence was be gun with Bossuet on this subject, and Leibnitz wrote a very ingenious Systenma Theologia, which was only published in 1819, at Paris, and afterwards in German by the Roman Catholic Lorenz Doller (Mayence, 1820), with a preface, in which he asserts that Leibnitz was at heart a Romanist. This brought an. answer of G. E, Schulze, Ueber die E'ntdeckung das. Leibzitz ein Katholik gewoesen (Getting. 1827).

The negotiations in the mean time proved unsuccessful, and matters remained unchanged; but still the irenical tendency was clearly gaining ground. Soon after the impulse towards a living faith given by Spener and his school, there appeared a large number of works for and against the union of the Protestant churches, which finally led, in Prussia, to some practical results. These, however, we shall not dwell upon here, our present object being only to show the development of irenical theology. John Christopher Kocher ( 1772) published a Bibliotheca theologice irenicae (Jeene, 1764), which, though short, is valuable. He defines irenical theology (§ 3) as being "that part of controversial theology which inquires into the import of such doctrines and religious ceremonies as either whole ecclesiastical bodies or personal members contend about, with a view to preserve the peace and unity of the Church of God, or to restore them to the position which they first held." The tendency to unity now gradually became transformed into a general toleration; nothing was done towards the actual settlement of the differences, though much preparation was made in that direction by the humanistic tendency, and the spirit of inquiry into all religious systems. (On the literature of the subject in that period, see Winer, landbuch der theol. Literaturg. 1, 356-60.) Among the works which advocated a union of the churches, but rather from a practical than a scientific point of view, are to be mentioned first those of Joseph Planck ( 1833) and Marheineke ( 1845); then those of J. A. Stark ( 1816); Theoduls Gastmahl, the crypto- catholic Protestant court-preacher of Darmstadt (7th edit. 1828, 8vo); the Christliche Henotikon of Dr. C. F. Bohme (Halle, 1827); and Ideen 2. d. innern Zusammenhang v. Glaubenseinigung u. Glaubenseinigung in d. Evangel. Kirche, by Daniel of Cologne (Leipzig, 1823).

In Germany, Marheineke; who, in imitation of Planck, transformed symbolics into a comparison of the different Christian confessions, greatly advanced the I real scientific character of irenical theology, partly as the general union of the churches, partly as that of the different confessions. The same spirit, though joined to much partiality, pervades also the Roman Catholic Symbolik of Adam Mohler, and in a more liberal tone Leopold Schmid's Geist des Katholicisnus oder Grundlegung der christlzchen Irenik (1848). On the contrary, such works as Dr. F. A. Staudenmaier's (t 1856) Zum religiosen Frieden d. Zukunft (1846, 2 vols. 8vo) disfigure Protestantism to such an extent, and are written in so illiberal a tone. that, if such were more abundant, they would kindle again the fiercest strife. Yet the scientific basis of religious and denominational peace has made much progress since Schleiermacher gave a scientific development to polemics and apologetics. This is especially evident in J. Peter Lange's Christliche Dogmatik,' the third part of which (Heidelberg, 1852) contains a clever sketch of practical dogmatics, or of polemics and irenical theology. According to him, it is the province of irenical theology to bring out of the different religious opinions those which coincide with the Christian dogma, to free them from all errors and excesses, and to bring them into the life and consciousness of the Church, or to submit them to the Christian dogmas (§ 5). It has therefore to search out the hidden efforts of truth in,all religious manifestations. All distortions of truth are evidences of the existence of an original truth. Irenical theology is again divided into elementary, i.e. an exposition of the struggles of truth and of the means of assisting it; and concrete, i.e. an exposition of the organic liberation and development of truth in humanity until the completion of the Church. Sin, however, will always remain an obstacle to absolute peace till it is finally abolished in the kingdom of God. For this we must prepare ourselves by adhering to Meldenius's maxim: "In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas." See Dr. F. J. Liicke, Ueber d. Alter dieses kirchlichen Friedensspruches (Gott. 1850). Herzog, Real- Encyyklopadie, 7:60; Ersch u. Gruber's Encylclopadie, 2, 23.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Irenical Theology'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​i/irenical-theology.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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