“In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.”
These words translated variously as “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity,” or “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things,” have often been assigned to St. Augustine and used as sort of a pious sounding get-out-of-debate free card for many theological difficulties.
Several articles on the Internet have tried to ascertain the authorship of these words.
Some have felt it was St. Augustine, while others have recently cited Peter Meiderlin (Rupertus Meldeniu), a German Lutheran theologian. Even more enlightened researchers have attributed it to the 17th Century writing of Marco Antonio de Dominis.
De Dominis was educated by the Jesuits and was the Catholic Archbishop of Spalato. Due to political problems with the Roman Church, he ended up researching Church history and concluded that the papal system was not part of the true Catholic Church. Fearing the Inquisition, he apostatized and left for England in 1616. His vanity, avarice, and irascibility soon lost him his English friends so he decided to return to Rome. Once out of England his attacks upon the English Church were as violent as had been those on the Papacy and reflected uncompromising advocacy of the supremacy of the pope. He ended up recanting all he had written against the papacy – even declaring that he had deliberately lied in all that he had said against the Catholic Church. Back in Rome, he lived on a pension assigned him by the pope, but when the Pope died and his pension ceased, De Dominis again came into conflict with the Inquisition was declared a relapsed heretic.
So, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity” is not of Catholic origin via Augustine, nor is it a Protestant idea originating in Meiderlin. Instead, it is a quote from one of the most untrustworthy theologians in Church history: a twice-declared heretic who could not seem to unify with anybody! Douglas Beaumont “The Origin of “In Essentials Unity….”
In reality, although unity is important, this particular unity position is not even biblical.
The fact is we are commanded in Jude 3 to "contend earnestly for the faith."
In other words, church leadership and all believers must take a stand on all the various doctrinal positions and teach them as the truths of the Bible. Even the hard ones. Even when some don’t agree.
This doesn’t mean we hide opposing positions, but it does hold that multiple positions can’t all be correct. Church leadership is to lead to the best of their prayerful understanding and beliefs.
No Biblical verses directly support the “in essentials unity…” phrase, so most churches resort to Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8 – 10. But, these passages pertain to unsubstantiated beliefs of weaker brothers. For example, not eating meat offered to idols. The concept is for the stronger brother not to offend the weaker brother and tolerate their position out of love.
However, it is important to note that this should not apply to doctrines.
Truth trumps unity when it concerns the doctrines of the Bible.
Without this commitment, one easily resorts to 2 Timothy 4:3, whereby "many will not endure sound doctrine, and wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate teachers in accordance to their own desires."
Is unity worth the cost of ignoring the truths of the Bible?
I would submit that this is a false unity that can easily lead to a false gospel.
And no, it’s not worth it!