Polemics (from πολεμικός, warlike) is the controversial branch of scientific theology. It is also sometimes called by German theologians elenchtics and differs from apologetics (q.v.) in that it is not simply intended to defend Christianity in general, but aims to attack a rival or disputed system in particular, and is the direct opposite of irenics (q.v.), which aims to establish peace within the Christian fold. This distinction has not always been observed in Christian theology, but is of rather recent (late. As a rule, the theologians of the Church mixed the polemical and apologetical elements in all theological controversy. In our own century, however, and especially since the days of Schleiermacher, theological encyclopaedists have insisted upon a strict severance of polemics from apologetics and symbolics (q.v.), and have dealt with it in an independent manner. In theory nothing can be more accurately defined and distinguished than apologetics and polemics; they bear the same relation to each other as in physical conflict the offensive and the defensive operations. In practice, however, it is impossible always to separate the apologetic and the polemical elements. See the art. SEE APOLOGY. In the ages of the Church fathers no great difficulty was encountered, because their object was to combat the Jewish or the heathen systems of religion, and their writings therefore bear a predominant polemical coloring. But it is one thing to combat a single religious system like paganism, and it is quite another to attack heresy within the Church, or to make war on religious systems claiming a like foundation. Polemics, then, narrowed down to its proper sphere, is the controversy within the Christian fold regarding the essentials of the Church faith. In the early Church the polemical activity was confined to heresies and schismatics. Indeed, from the death of Origen to John of Damascus (A.D. 254-730)— the time which elapsed between the Sabellian and the Monothelite controversies— the polemics of the Church were developed much more prominently than either the apologetic tendency, as in the preceding period, or the systematic tendency, as in the next period. The heresies which called out polemical activity from 730 till the outbreak of the Reformation differed in tendency from those of the preceding period in their opposition to the whole ecclesiastical system rather than to any particular doctrines, But with the establishment of Protestantism the polemical activity began in real earnest, and from that time to this has continued to develop and expand in strength both among Romanists and Protestants. Among the former it has been specially cultivated by the Jesuits, who, on account of the many methods which they have proposed for attack of Protestants, have been given the appellation "Methodists" (comp. Pelt, Theol. Encyklopädie, § 63, p. 386 sq.). They even published large works containing the modus operandi for controversies of a confessional nature, under the title Theologia Polemica (Vitus Pichler, 1753; Gazzaniga, 1778 sq.). The Protestants were not far behind, and provided material under the more appropriate title of a Synopsis Controversiarum (Abraham Calow, 1685; Musaeus, 1701), to which may be added Walch, Einleitung in die polemische Gottesgelahrtheit (Jena, 1752, 8vo), and his other writings; Schubert, Institutiones Theologies Polemical (1756-58); Baumgarten, Untersuchung theologischer Streitigkeiten (1762-64); Mosheim, Streittheologie (1763 sq.); Bock, Lehrb. fur die neueste Polemik (1782). No work of importance on the science of polemics appeared until Schleiermacher treated of it in his Dearstelluny des theol. Studiums (Berl. 1811); and his ideas found further and fuller elucidation by his disciples Sack in his Christliche Polemik (Bonn, 1838), and by Pelt in his Theol. Encyklopädie (1843); Hagenbach, Theol. Encyklop. (1864, and since); Hill, System of Divinity (N. Y. 1847, 8vo); McClintock, Encyclop. and Method of Theol. Science (N. Y. 1873). The literature of polemics is divided properly into:
I. Treatises on the Controversy between Protestants and Romanists.
1. General Treatises by writers of the Church of Rome. 2. General Treatises against Popery by Protestant Divines.
II. Treatises on the Arian Controversy.
III. Treatises on the Socinian Controversy.
IV. Treatises occasioned by the Controversies between the Church of England, and between them and Dissenters.
1. The Bangoriani Controversy. 2. Subscription to the 39 Articles. 3. Baptismal Regeneration Controversy. 4. Controversial Treatises on Dissent.
V. Treatises on Heresies.
The various publications on these divisions must be sought for under their respective headings. We will refer the reader here for general treatises to the works cited by Werner, Gesch. der apologet. u. polemischen Literatur, and to Spanheim, Controversiarum de Religione cums Dissidentibus Hodie Christianis Prolixe et cuan Judeis Elenchus Historico Theologicus, and Horneck, Summa Controversiarum; Clarisse, Encyklopèdie Theologicae Epitome (Lugd. 1835, 8vo). § 91. p. 499 sq. See, also, Mohler's Symbolik; Piper, Monumental- Theologie, § 135 sq.
The principles which should govern the Christian theological polemic are those of an honest offensive warfare. They may be condensed into the following points:
(1) The question is not about persons, but about things. Only when both stand and fall together may personalities be allowed.
(2) The attack must be directed to the point where the strength of the enemy is most formidable: as soon as the principles of the adversary have been refuted the hostility must cease.
(3) We must not impute to the adversary more wrong than he is really guilty of; or else the attack itself assumes the appearance of a wrong, and will be considered in that light by every third party, even if successful. Polemics, then, must take the cause of the adversary just as it is; they must not attribute to him any opinions which can only be made his own by exaggerating his expressions, or even by putting false constructions upon them.
(4) It is imprudent to think too little of an adversary. The reasons given by him must be recognized in all their force, and on the basis of full acknowledgment the proof must be given that they are not convincing.
(5) A struggle with unequal arms is not honorable. The polemic, then, will have to prove either that the weapons of his adversary are illegal, or, if this cannot be done, to inquire into his standpoint and his reasons and to prove in error the cause in its very principles.
(6) If the polemic thus succeeds in reducing his adversary ad abstordcum, i.e. to an illogical condition, which, by reason of its untenability, forces him hors de conmbat, the vanquished is turned into a friend and convert and the truth has indeed triumphed, as God would have it.