Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find a phrase below, in one ancient language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.

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In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas


Unity in necessary things; freedom in doubtful things; love in all things

This phrase is often attributed to Augustine of Hippo, but the earliest proven use of the phrase dates to the 1600s. From Wiki:

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (commonly translated as “unity in necessary things; freedom in doubtful things; love in all things” or more literally as “in necessary things unity; in uncertain things liberty; in all things charity”) is a Latin phrase.

It is often misattributed to Augustine of Hippo, but seems to have been first used in 1617 by Archbishop of Split (Spalato) Marco Antonio de Dominis in his anti-Papal De Repubblica Ecclesiastica, where it appears in context as follows (emphasis added):

Quod si in ipsa radice, hoc est sede, vel potius solio Romani pontificis haec abominationis lues purgaretur et ex communi ecclesiae consilio consensuque auferretur hic metus, depressa scilicet hac petra scandali ac ad normae canonicae iustitiam complanata, haberemus ecclesiae atrium aequabile levigatum ac pulcherrimis sanctuarii gemmis splendidissimum. Omnesque mutuam amplecteremur unitatem in necessariis, in non necessariis libertatem, in omnibus caritatem. Ita sentio, ita opto, ita plane spero, in eo qui est spes nostra et non confundemur. Ita sentio, ita opto, ita plane spero, in eo qui est spes nostrae et non confundemur.

Before the 21st century, academic consensus was that the source of the quotation was probably Lutheran theologian Peter Meiderlin (known as 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 non-necessary things Freedom, and in both Charity, our affairs would certainly be in the best condition.” Henk Nellen’s 1999 article that showed the phrase had previously been used by De Dominis overturned over a century of academic consensus.

According to Joseph Lecler, the substitution of dubiis for non necessariis (omnibus occurs here, rather than, as in Meiderlin, utrisque) was made in largely Catholic circles, and had the effect of extending “the rule of Meldenius… to much more than just the necessaria [(for salvation)] and the non necessaria [(for salvation)]”, much more than just the “fundamental articles”: “the tripartite maxim… [thus] lost its original Protestant nuance, in order to extend liberty to the entire domain of questions debated, doubtful, and undefined [(non définies par l’Église)]”.

The phrase in its current form is found in Pope John XXIII‘s encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram of 29 June 1959, where he uses it favorably.

In the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, the phrase appears in the doctrinal history section as “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” A few lines later, the mandate is emphasized as “the crucial matter in religion is steadfast love for God and neighbor, empowered by the redeeming and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.”

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