A friend of this blog wrote me an email a few weeks ago with some encouraging words. He said he was struck by my overall irenic tone, calling it “winsome.” I’m charmed and flattered by the praise, and obviously I’m proud enough to repeat it here. (If anyone comes to this blog looking for true humility, he will be disappointed! Out of Sleep ego knows no bounds, me pretties.)
But, as I wrote back to my friend, I didn’t actually know the word irenic until he used it. I looked it up and followed the etymology, thanks to the wonder of the internet. The Oxford Dictionary definition of irenic is here. Oxford calls it “formal,” and gives the primary definition as “aiming or aimed at peace.” The secondary definition is “a part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects.”
The Greek word eirēnēi means “peace.” Interestingly, the most prominent human who ever had a name based on this word is St. Irenaeus, an early church father from Gaul. Irenaeus is best known for a treatise called Against Heresies, an anti-Gnostic work of Christian theology. I have not read St. Irenaeus’s work, for the record. But it’s funny how irenic means “finding points of agreement” when Irenaeus himself was intent on rooting out heresy. By the way, I don’t mean to say there’s a contradiction here. One can be open-minded and peace-seeking without also being automatically non-judgmental. It is characteristic of the modern mind to say that any form of value judgment is heinous. Obviously I reject this modern tendency. The true spirit of “ireny” seeks after truth with a peaceful and open-minded demeanor, but does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. Some things are just plain evil. I would not want my head to be so open that my brain fell right out!
[My friend also notes that he has always considered “Irene” to be among the most beautiful of names. I agree. Americans know that we recently had a very destructive hurricane strike the U. S. that was named Hurricane Irene. As a matter of fact, I had to go to Puerto Rico for work the very day that Hurricane Irene was striking the eastern Caribbean. I ended up stranded in Atlanta at a God-forsaken airport hotel where I made friends with other stranded travelers at the bar. The next day I was able to get a connection to San Juan, but when I got there the entire island was without power, and some parts were without water, and all the major roads were closed due to fallen trees and power lines. I spent three days doing basically nothing in my hotel (which had a generator with enough power to electrify about a third of the place, my own room thankfully included). It’s a curious thing, how we give beautiful names to storms which we will only remember if they become truly destructive. I have an acquaintance named Katrina, a stunningly beautiful and sweet-hearted young woman, who cannot give her name to strangers without them asking about the famous storm that devastated New Orleans, with which, of course, she has absolutely no connection. Strange. I myself am named Daniel, and I have no problem when someone asks me about Daniel in the lion’s den. It gives me strength to remember the story of my namesake. I can imagine that if some future Hurricane Daniel caused deaths in Florida (or wherever), it would make me feel strange.]
In any case, all flattery aside, I do indeed intend this blog to be irenic in tone. The fact that I only recently learned the word does not change the underlying intent. There are synonyms that might be more common, but they are usually also more loaded, due to to long use. For example, I mentioned “syncretists” in a recent post. Commenter Peter S. pointed out how I was using the word inaccurately, at least in reference to certain writers (René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon). Another word that might be used is “ecumenical.” Ecumenism is a hotly debated topic among Christians, and it means many things to many people. Some view it as the highest possible goal of the earthly church; and others view it is a dangerous pipe dream. And ecumenism means something different to Catholics, to Protestants, and to Orthodox Christians (obviously).
So in embracing the mantle of my coined word ireny, I am careful not to involve myself in any of the debates (ancient or otherwise) about syncretism or ecumenism. I do not discount the importance of these discussions, and I do not mean to imply that right and wrong answers don’t exist. They may exist or they may not. It might, in fact, be a matter of (eternal) life or death to get these questions right. But, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I am eminently unqualified to speak on such important issues.
Neither, however, do I mean to imply that I’m willing to stop thinking about such issues. In embracing ireny, I want to embrace all the best there is to embrace about peacefulness, love and inquiry, without embracing that hideous zombie-skeleton, relativism.
I realize it’s very close to splitting hairs, but that’s why I’ve bothered to write an entire post about it, and even gone to the extent of attempting to coin a new word.
So then, ireny. As long as it’s winsome, useful, and leads me closer to the truth, I want to be irenic. If it becomes a burden or a crutch or an excuse, I pray that I can recognize it and move on. In the meantime, I can think of worse guiding principles.
So ireny it is. Once more unto the breach, my friends.