1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Antinomians

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ANTINOMIANS (Gr. ἀντί, against, νόμος, law), a term apparently coined by Luther to stigmatize Johannes Agricola (q.v.) and his following, indicating an interpretation of the antithesis between law and gospel, recurrent from the earliest times. Christians being released, in important particulars, from conformity to the Old Testament polity as a whole, a real difficulty attended the settlement of the limits and the immediate authority of the remainder, known vaguely as the moral law. Indications are not wanting that St Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith was, in his own day, mistaken or perverted in the interests of immoral licence. Gnostic sects approached the question in two ways. Marcionites, named by Clement of Alexandria Antitactae (revolters against the Demiurge) held the Old Testament economy to be throughout tainted by its source; but they are not accused of licentiousness. Manichaeans, again, holding their spiritual being to be unaffected by the action of matter, regarded carnal sins as being, at worst, forms of bodily disease. Kindred to this latter view was the position of sundry sects of English fanatics during the Commonwealth, who denied that an elect person sinned, even when committing acts in themselves gross and evil. Different from either of these was the Antinomianism charged by Luther against Agricola. Its starting-point was a dispute with Melanchthon in 1527 as to the relation between repentance and faith. Melanchthon urged that repentance must precede faith, and that knowledge of the moral law is needed to produce repentance. Agricola gave the initial place to faith, maintaining that repentance is the work, not of law, but of the gospel-given knowledge of the love of God. The resulting Antinomian controversy (the only one within the Lutheran body in Luther’s lifetime) is not remarkable for the precision or the moderation of the combatants on either side. Agricola was apparently satisfied in conference with Luther and Melanchthon at Torgau, December 1527. His eighteen Positiones of 1537 revived the controversy and made it acute. Random as are some of his statements, he was consistent in two objects: (1) in the interest of solifidian doctrine, to place the rejection of the Catholic doctrine of good works on a sure ground; (2) in the interest of the New Testament, to find all needful guidance for Christian duty in its principles, if not in its precepts. From the latter part of the 17th century charges of Antinomianism have frequently been directed against Calvinists, on the ground of their disparagement of “deadly doing” and of “legal preaching.” The virulent controversy between Arminian and Calvinistic Methodists produced as its ablest outcome Fletcher’s Checks to Antinomianism (1771–1775).

See G. Kawerau, in A. Hauck’s Realencyklopädie (1896); Riess, in I. Goschler’s Dict. Encyclop. de la théol. cath. (1858); J. H. Blunt Dict. of Doct. and Hist. Theol. (1872); J. C. L. Gieseler, Ch. Hist. (New York ed. 1868, vol. iv.).