In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (commonly translated as "unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things" or more literally as "in necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in everything compassion") is a Latin phrase.
Origins and history
It is often misattributed to St. 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 unnecessary 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 (note also that 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)]". But Lecler was reproducing the old consensus: that the maxim originated in proto-Pietistic rather than Catholic circles, i.e. the circle about Johann Arndt.
The maxim is widely quoted in defence of theological and religious freedom, even though it raises the essential question of which things are necessary and which are doubtful or unnecessary.
It is also the motto of the Moravian Church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church (United States), Cartellverband der katholischen deutschen Studentenverbindungen, ÖCV and CV, and Unitas-Verband der Wissenschaftlichen Katholischen Studentenvereine, UV and UVÖ, the associations of Catholic student fraternities of Austria and Germany.
- de Dominis, Marco Antonio (1617), "book 4, chapter 8", De republica ecclesiastica libri X 1, London, p. 676.books.google
- Nellen, HJM (1999), "De zinspreuk 'In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas'", Nederlands archief voor kerkgeschidenis (article) 79 (1): 99–106 (with abstract in English); an article that overturned a century or more of scholarly consensus.
- O'Donnell, James J. (2010). "A Common Quotation". Georgetown University. Archived from the original on 2014-09-12.
- Lecler, Joseph (1961), "À propos d'une maxime citée par le Pape Jean XXIII: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas" [On a quote cited by the Pope John XXIII: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas], Recherches de science religieuse (in French) 49: 549–60.
- Roncalli, Angelo Giuseppe, Ad Petri cathedram (encyclical) (in Latin), Rome, IT: Vatican
- "In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas", Liber locorum communium (Web log), Google, Mar 2010 — for the articles by Nellen and Lecler
- A common quotation from 'Augustine'?, Georgetown — a detailed history of the origin and interpretation of the phrase.
- "Did St. Augustine Write: In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas?" (Books), The Catholic University Bulletin (article) (Google) 10, January 1904: 416.