This week, we’ll be celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by highlighting historical figures who were practicing ecumenism before it was cool, acting with charity and forbearance toward their fellow Christians.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was a German Lutheran philosopher, mathematician, logician, and polymath. He discovered the binary system of numbers early in his life and saw deep metaphysical and spiritual truths in mathematics. He also discovered differential and integral calculus (independently of Newton).
His fascination with the oneness of all things led him to an interest in ecumenism. His work in this area was sought-after, both for spiritual and political reasons. As Leibniz worked on a theological system to bridge the gaps between Protestants and Catholics, he moved away from a purely textualist approach to a more nuanced position that the understanding and application of scripture required the mediation of the church as the interpreter of scripture.
“Whether all things in which it is not possible to err without danger to one’s salvation, are held to be deﬁned in the Holy Scripture, is a great question: It seems to me that the ﬁrst undoubted point is that the authority of the Holy books themselves is received through the tradition of the Church, hence I am afraid that we cannot satisfactorily evince the Holy Trinity from the scriptures, without resorting to the tradition, but it is accounted for much more clearly by joining Scripture with the tradition.” – De Scriptura, Ecclesia, Trinitate, (A VI, 4 , 2288 ; VE, 433 )*
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* found in Antognazza, Maria Rosa. Leibniz on the Trinity and the Incarnation : Reason and Revelation in the Seventeenth Century, Yale University Press, 2008.
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