« Adeodatus Adiaphora, and the Adiaphoristic Controversies Adler, Cyrus »

Adiaphora, and the Adiaphoristic Controversies

ADIAPHORA, ad´´i-af´o-rɑ, AND THE ADIAPHORISTIC CONTROVERSIES.

Classical Greek Usage (§ 1).

Christ’s Usage (§ 2).

Paul’s Usage (§ 3).

Patristic and Medieval Usage (§ 4).

Luther’s Usage (§ 5).

First Adiaphoristic Controversy (§ 6).

Flacius’s Restriction of Adiaphora (§ 7).

Second Controversy (§ 8).

Recent Discussion (§ 9).

1. Classical Greek Usage

In the history of Christian ethics the term “adiaphora” (pl. of Gk., adiaphoron, “indifferent”) signifies actions which God neither bids nor forbids, the performance or omission of which is accordingly left as a matter of indifference. The term was employed by the Cynics, and borrowed by the Stoics. To the latter that only was good or evil which was always so and which man could control. Such matters as health, riches, etc., and their opposites were classed as adiaphora, being regarded for this purpose, not as actions, but as things or conditions. Adiaphora were divided into absolute and relative; the former being such as had to do with meaningless distinctions, while the latter involved preference, as in the case of sickness versus health. The Stoics did not, however, from the adiaphoristic nature of external things deduce that of the actions connected therewith.

2. Christ’s Usage.

Jesus’s ideal of righteousness as devotion of the entire person to God revealed as perfect moral character, signified, on the one side, freedom from every obligation to a statutory law, particularly precepts concerning worship. He regarded the observance of external rites as a matter of indifference so far as real personal purity was concerned, and, with his disciples observed the Jewish rites as a means to the fulfilment of his mission to Israel when they did not interfere with doing good (Mark iii. 4). Yet this ideal involved such a sharpening of moral obligation that in the presence of its unqualified earnestness and comprehensive scope there was no room for the question, so important to legalistic Judaism, how much one might do or leave undone without transgressing the Law. The slightest act, like the individual word, had the highest ethical significance to the extent that it was an expression of the “abundance of the heart” (Matt. xii. 25-37).

3. Paul’s Usage.

Paul emphasizes, on the one hand, the comprehensive character of Christian ethics and, on the other, the freedom which is the Christian’s; and he concludes that the observance or disregard of dicta pertaining to external things is a matter of 42 indifference in its bearing on the kingdom of God (Rom. xiv. 17; I Cor. vi. 12, viii. 8; Gal. v. 6; Col. ii. 20). He recognizes, with the exception of the Lord’s Supper, no forms for Christian worship, but merely counsels that “all things be done decently and in order” (I Cor. xiv. 40). From the fact that the Christian belongs to God, the Lord of the world, Paul deduces the authority (Gk. exousia) of Christians over all things (I Cor. iii. 21-23), especially the right freely to make use of the free gifts of God (I Cor. x. 23, 26; Rom. xiv. 14, 20). Ability to return thanks for them is made the subjective criterion of their purity (Rom. xiv. 6; I Cor. x. 30). Those things also are permissible which are left free by implication in the ordinances of the Church, or are expressly allowed. But action in the domain of the permissible is restricted for the individual by ethical principles according to which he must be bound (Rom. xiv. 2 sqq.; I Cor. vi. 12, viii. 9, x. 23). Concrete action in all such cases he regards as not at the pleasure of the individual, but as bidden or forbidden for the sake of God.

4. Patristic and Medieval Usage.

In place of this view of freedom, combining obligation with unconstraint, there soon arose one of a more legal cast. At the time of Tertullian there was in connection with concrete questions a conflict between the two principles (1) that what is not expressly permitted by Scripture is forbidden; and (2) that what is not expressly forbidden is permitted. The restriction of the idea of duty by that of the permissible, and the recognition of an adiaphoristic sphere were further confirmed by the distinction between præcepta and consilia and by the doctrine of supererogatory merits. The question of adiaphora was argued by the schoolmen. Thomas Aquinas and his followers held that there were certain actions which, so far as being intrinsically capable of subserving a good or an ill purpose, were matters of indifference; but they recognized no act proceeding from conscious consideration which was not either disposed toward a fitting end or not so disposed, and hence good or bad. Duns Scotus and his adherents recognized actions indifferent in individuo, i.e., those not to be deemed wrong though without reference, actual or virtual, to God. The early Church at first appropriated the Cynic and Stoic opposition to culture, holding that it interfered with the contemplation of God and divine things. But with large heathen accessions, this attitude was no longer maintained. The primitive Christian ideal was, to be sure, preserved; but its complete fulfilment was required of only those bound thereto by the nature of their calling.

5. Luther’s Usage.

Luther based his position on that of Paul. He appears, indeed, to determine the idea of adiaphora (the expression does not occur in his works) according to a legalizing criterion when he distinguishes between things or works which are clearly bidden or forbidden by God in the New Testament and those which are left free—to neglect which is no wrong; to observe, no piety. But he further says in the same connection that under the rule of faith the conscience is free, and Christians are superior to all things, particularly externals and precepts in connection therewith. In accordance with this view he considers that an external form of divine worship is nowhere enjoined (the Lord’s Supper is a beneficium, not an officium); and he distinguishes between the necessary and the free in churchly forms by their effects. Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and preaching are necessary to edification; but the time, place, and mode have no part in edification, and are free. His standpoint, then, was not simply that there were certain things left free, but that the assertion of freedom (or adiaphorism) applied to the whole realm of externals. In individual cases, however, a limitation was imposed by ethical aims and rules. Christians were to take part in the external worship of God to fulfil the duty of public confession and that they might “communicate” (Heb. xiii. 16). Ceremonial forms served to perpetuate certain effective modes of observance; but they were not to be idolatrous, superstitious, or pompous. Luther, in opposition to Carlstadt, urged that in the forms of worship for the sake of avoiding offense to some, whatever was not positively objectionable should be suffered to remain. He was ready to concede the episcopal form of church government and other matters, if urged not as necessary to salvation, but as conducive to order and peace. He wished, also, to maintain Christian freedom against stubborn adherents of the Law.

6. First Adiaphoristic Controversy.

The churchly adiaphora formed the subject of the first adiaphoristic controversy. The Wittenberg theologians believed that the concessions on the basis of which the Leipsic interim was concluded could be justified by the principles enunciated and exemplified at the outset of the Reformation. They held that, despite formal modifications, they had surrendered only traditional points of church government and worship, and even then only such as were unopposed by Scripture, had been so recognized in the primitive Church, and had seemed to themselves excellent arrangements, conducive to order and discipline. Further, they maintained that every idolatrous usage had been discountenanced, and that from what was retained idolatrous significance had been excluded. It may be mentioned, by way of example, that the Latin liturgy of the mass was admitted, with lights, canonicals, etc., though with communion and some German hymns; also confirmation, Corpus Christi day, extreme unction, fasting, and the jurisdiction of bishops.

7. Flacius’s Restriction of Adiaphora.

Before the interim had been authentically published there arose a controversy in which the attack was led by Flacius. In his De veris et falsis adiaphoris (1549), he raised the question by not only maintaining that preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution had been commanded by God, but even by concluding from I Cor. xiv. 40 that the ceremonial usages connected therewith had been divinely ordained in genere. He also sought to limit the Lutheran indifference to detail by insisting on what he deemed seriousness and 43 dignity in the liturgy, as opposed to the canonicals, music, and spectacles of the Catholic Church. In addition he protested that what might be called the individual character of the Church was to be conserved, and that existing means of edification should be altered only in favor of better ones. Under the circumstances obtaining at the time, he said, even a matter in itself unessential could not be treated as permissible, and the concessions of the interim were an act of treachery: they were occasioned by the endeavors of the emperor to restore the Catholic Church, the promulgators being moved by fear, or at best by lack of faith; and in effect they were an admission of past errors, strengthening their opponents, while the rank and file, looking at externals only, would see in the restoration of discarded usages a reversion to the old conditions. The dispute continued after the peace of Augsburg; and the Formula Concordiæ not only drew the distinction (art. X.) that in time of persecution, when confession was necessary, there should be no concession to the enemies of the Gospel, even in adiaphora, since truth and Christian freedom were at stake, but to some extent appropriated Flacius’s restriction of the idea of adiaphora.

8. Second Controversy.

In the so-called second adiaphoristic controversy the Lutheran and Calvinistic systems came into conflict. Luther had maintained the right of temperate enjoyment of secular amusements. Calvin, on the other hand, stood for fundamentally different principles, in accordance with which he enforced his Genevan code of discipline. Voetius carried these principles still further. On the Lutheran side was Meisner, who is in this respect the classic opponent of the Calvinists. He puts secular amusements under the head of adiaphora as being actions neither right nor wrong per se but per aliud,—the person and the purpose especially to be considered,—and in concrete instances becoming always either right or wrong. The controversy began at the close of the seventeenth century, when secular amusements were attacked per se by several writers, such as Reiser and Winkler, the Pietistic theologians of Hamburg, Vockerodt, Lange, and Zierold. Lange, for example, contended that in the light of revealed law there are no indifferent acts. Those actions alone are right which are under the influence of the Holy Spirit for the honor of God in the faith and name of Christ; and he holds that the divine will exercises a direct and immediate control. Hence actions not bidden of God are necessarily actions which profit not and are therefore collectively wrong. He enumerates nineteen separate reasons why Christians should take no part in secular amusements and would exclude from the Lord’s Supper those who do. He regards the defense of adiaphora as a heresy which abrogates all evangelical doctrine. Spener’s theory was equally severe, but his practise was wisely modified. He counseled that those who participated in secular amusements should be dissuaded therefrom not harshly, but by indirect exhortations to follow Christ; and he would not refuse absolution to such, since many of them did not really appreciate the wrong of those things. Rothe, Warnsdorf, and Schelwig were the principal champions of the previously existing Lutheran teaching; but their defense was far less resolute than the attack.

9. Recent Discussion.

The question of adiaphora has subsequently been a subject of discussion. The first to introduce a new point of view of any considerable value was Schleiermacher (Kritik der bisherigen Sittenlehre, 2d ed.; Werke zur Philosophie, ii.), who contested the ethical right of adiaphora on the basis of the necessity in the moral life of unity and stability. Only in the realm of civil law, and in the moral judgment of others whose actions must frequently, for lack of evidence, remain unexplained, does he admit of adiaphora. Most later evangelical authorities, for example Martensen, Pfleiderer, Wuttke, and, most closely, Rothe, are in substantial agreement with this position, though introducing some variations and modifications.

(J. Gottschick.)

Among British and American Christians no adiaphoristic controversy has found place; but the types of religious and ethical thought that underlay the opposing forces in the controversies above considered have been in conflict at all times and everywhere. English Puritanism and early Scottish Presbyterianism, as well as New England Puritanism, either rejected adiaphora wholly or reduced them to the smallest proportions. The English Tractarians in seeking to overcome the difficulties involved in uniting with the Church of Rome gave earnest attention to adiaphora. A sign of the times is the watchword of the Evangelical Alliance, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The Lambeth articles proposing the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, the two sacraments, the open Bible, and the historic episcopate as the basis of union with non-conforming Churches treated as adiaphora the Athanasian Creed, uniformity of worship, and use of the Prayer Book. The Protestant Episcopal Church in America has settled the chief point in dispute between Churchman and Puritan by eliminating the State from necessary union with the Church. In the union of religious bodies both in Great Britain and America, for which there is a growing tendency, minor differences are ignored in favor of essential principles. In all Churches some dogmas once deemed essential to the integrity of truth are laid aside never to regain their former position (cf. the Westminster Confession with the “Brief Statement of Faith” published by authority of the Presbyterian Church in the United States). With reference to conduct prescribed by ecclesiastical bodies or recognized as belonging to personal responsibility—the “personal instance”—two diametrically opposite tendencies are evident. In the first case, the spirit of democracy and of enlightened public sentiment is rapidly withdrawing many actions once regarded as legitimately under church jurisdiction, as amusements and the like, from such supervision. In the second case, if life is to be ruled by moral 44 maxims, many actions must be left morally indeterminate, yet when every deed is seen to be not atomistic but an integral part of self-realization, then all actions take their organic place in the serious or happy fulfilment of life’s aim. In both instances alike, however, the moral adiaphora disappear.

C. A. B.

Bibliography: For the ethical and theological treatment of Adiaphora consult in general: the treatises on ethics, casuistry, dogmatics, and the history of philosophy. Special treatment will be found in C. C. E. Schmid, Adiaphora, wissenschaftlich und historisch untersucht, Leipsic, 1809; J. Schiller, Probleme der christlichen Ethik, Berlin, 1888; J.H. Blunt, Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, . . . s.v., Philadelphia, 1874; KL, i. 223-232. On the Adiaphoristic Controversy consult: Schmid, Controversia de adiaphoris, Jena, 1807; J. L. v. Mosheim, Institutes of Eccl. Hist., ed. W. Stubbs, ii. 574-576, London, 1863; KL, i. 232-235, 769; iv. 1528; v. 769; xii. 1568, 1719.

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