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In Faith, Unity;
In Opinion, Liberty;
In All Things, Love.
By Richard J. Cherok

People and movements frequently search for pithy statements to encapsulate ideas they
deem worthy of remembering. Within United States history, for instance, citizens were
once called upon to “Remember the Alamo” or vote for “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.”
Whatever the slogan or motto, it is meant to strike an emotional chord and evoke a
precise belief or action.

One such statement within the Restoration Movement goes something like this: “In
essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Though often expressed
with variant wording, this slogan has become one of the movement’s most enduring
mottoes. Surprisingly, however, this long-standing statement of Restoration Movement
principles did not originate within the Stone-Campbell tradition. Moreover, there are
many other Christian groups—the Moravians, Quakers, and Evangelical Presbyterians,
to name a few—who have also adopted this phrase as an expression of their convictions.

While this slogan predates the Restoration Movement by several centuries, its origin has
been somewhat elusive. Many have attributed the motto to Augustine of Hippo, the fifth-
century theologian from North Africa, but it isn’t found in his writings and it certainly
isn’t of Augustinian origin. Nineteenth-century historian Philip Schaff, in his eight-
volume History of the Christian Church, relied on the research of German theologian
Friedrich Lücke to identify Rupertus Meldenius as the famous dictum’s author.
Meldenius, a German Lutheran who would later be identified as theologian Peter
Meiderlin, produced a small pamphlet around 1626 admonishing the warring Protestant
leaders of his day to show love and forbearance to one another amid the difficulties of
the Thirty Years’ War. Toward the latter half of his writing, Meiderlin included the
Latin phrase, “In necessariis unitem, in non-necessariis libertatem, in utrisque
charitatem” as the plea for a greater spirit of unity and cooperation.1

For more than a century scholars agreed that the noteworthy statement emanated from
the irenic pen and spirit of Meiderlin. In 1999, however, Dutch historian Henk J. M.
Nellen revealed that Marco Antonio de Dominis, a rogue Jesuit priest who served for a
brief time as the Archbishop of Spalato, produced the phrase in 1617—nearly a decade
prior to Meiderlin’s implementation of it. De Dominis, a Roman Catholic apostate,
wrote a book that was highly critical of the authority of the papacy. If the papal powers
could be tempered, he suggested, it would allow all to embrace “unitatem in necessariis,
in non necessariis libertatem, in omnibus caritatem” (“unity in things necessary; in
things not necessary liberty; in all things charity”).2

Into English

The individual most responsible for translating the phrase into English and advancing it
among English speakers was Richard Baxter, a 17th-century English Puritan. During
the religious tensions of the Cromwellian period and its aftermath, Baxter put forth the
maxim as a petition for tolerance among the embattled Christian factions. For Baxter,
the phrase became something of a personal motto that he included in a number of his
writings, as well as in his autobiography.3
While the spirit of the slogan was a pivotal aspect of the early Restoration Movement’s
thought, it seems that the first publication of the motto did not appear until after the
movement was well established.4 In an 1866 memorial sermon delivered upon the
occasion of Alexander Campbell’s death, Joseph King used the famous statement to
describe Campbell’s thought regarding human creeds and biblical truths. King, a friend
and former student of Campbell, said his mentor “never had a controversy with any man
about what is in the Bible,” but found his greatest difficulties with those who add
human creeds to the demands of the Scripture. Thus, he summarized Campbell’s
thought as, “In matters of faith, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things charity.”5

True Source

Perhaps the true source for the slogan within the Stone-Campbell Movement, however, is
Charles L. Loos, another student and associate of Alexander Campbell. Loos’s essay
“Christian Union,” which appeared as a two-part article in the April and May 1866
editions of the Millennial Harbinger, put forth the celebrated slogan at the same time as
King used it to memorialize Campbell. “We accept cordially as our motto in this
respect,” Loos wrote, “the sentiment of a great Christian man in the past,—In necessary
things, unity; in doubtful things, (opinions,) liberty; in all things, charity.”6

Shortly thereafter, the slogan became a widely accepted statement among Stone-
Campbell adherents when Isaac Errett, the editor of Christian Standard and a close
friend of Loos, incorporated the motto into his pamphlet, Our Position. In his discussion
of Christian unity, Errett wrote, “In essentials—in that which is plainly taught and
ordained as the will of God, we must be one; in non-essentials—in all that Christ has
not taught and enjoined—we must be left free, guided only by that law of love which will
ever lead us to seek the things that make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify

Throughout its history and the various forms in which it has been expressed, “In
essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity” has been a consistent
denunciation of extremist positions and an appeal for the middle ground of restraint and

1 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 7, Modern Christianity: The German
Reformation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1910).
2 H.J.M. Nellen, “De Zinspreuk ‘In necessariis unitas, in non necessariis libertas, in utrisque
caritas,’” Nederlands archief voor Kerkgeschidenis 79, No. 1 (1999).
3 Hans Rollmann, “In Essentials Unity: The Pre-history of a Restoration Movement Slogan,”
Restoration Quarterly 39, No. 2 (1997).
4 Because the corpus of Restoration Movement literature is extensively large, it is difficult to
state with absolute certainty that this slogan did not appear at some earlier point in a
magazine, book, or sermon. But, it most certainly was not widely used before the second
generation of Stone-Campbell adherents.
5 Joseph King, “A Memorial Sermon on the Occasion of the Death of Alexander Campbell,”
Millennial Harbinger, May 1866.
6 C.L. Loos, “Christian Union,” Millennial Harbinger, May 1866. In an 1868 essay in which he
again used the famed motto, Loos made it clear that he erroneously thought “the great
Christian man in the past” who developed this phrase was Augustine. See C.L. Loos, “Evils
of Sectarianism,” Millennial Harbinger, February 1868.
7 Isaac Errett, Our Position: A Brief Statement of the Distinctive Features of the Plea for
Reformation Urged by the People Known as the Disciples of Christ (1872); reprinted in
Charles Alexander Young, Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union (Chicago:
Christian Century, 1904).

Richard J. Cherok serves as professor of church history at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian

Jesus Prayed for Unity

John 17:10-11
John 17:20-23

Paul Pleaded for Unity

1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Romans 12:16-17
Romans 15:5-6
2 Corinthians 13:11
Philippians 2:1-3
Philippians 3:13-16
1 Peter 3:8-11

The idea of unity is one of standing together, shoulder-to-shoulder, for
the same ideal. It does not indicate a lack of individuality, but neither
does it allow for universal diversity.

Romans 12:3-5
1 Corinthians 12:12-27