Word of the Month: Irenic

David Zapatka

Friend, fellow bridge enthusiast, and reader Maria Davis wrote, “I came across this word today as I was flying to Miami. I rarely get five hours of uninterrupted reading time! I was reading Essays on Ethics by Jonathan Sacks, so he used the British spelling “eirenic,” which is closer to the original Greek word. His usage could not be lifted out of context without some further explanations, but there are some more accessible examples in this link.” www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/irenic

Irenic adjective ire·nic | ī-ˈre-nik , -ˈrē- : favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation

Origin and Etymology: From Ancient Greek είρηνικος (eirēnikos), from εἰρήνη (eirēnē, “peace”).

First Used: 1864

Irenic used in a sentence:

An irenic victory is not so much about victory but resolution for both sides. It strives not to have winners or losers.

Always willing to engage in serious, even fierce, political debate, he was as well an irenic man and a hospitable one.

Obviously, these claims do not make for irenic relations with adherents to those religions they have improved and replaced.

Irenic in the news:

In Kennedy’s postwar America, Catholics were viewed more favorably, thanks partly to the irenic pontificate of John XXIII.—The Salt Lake Tribune, April 20, 2021

Despite his talk of unity and his irenic tone, gratitude hasn’t been a Biden strong suit.—Rich Lowry, National Review, March 16, 2021

But what, specifically, do these conservatives want, besides a sense of thrill-in-combat that French’s irenic style denies them?—Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, June 7, 2019

Germany has enjoyed a long summer living well and gladly under Mrs. Merkel’s irenic inaction.—The Economist,  Sept. 9, 2017

In Greek mythology, Eirene was one of the Horae, the goddesses of the seasons and natural order. In the Iliad, the Horae are the custodians of the gates of Olympus. According to Hesiod, the Horae were the daughters of Zeus and a Titaness named Themis and their names indicate their function and relation to human life. Eirene was the goddess of peace. Her name is also the Greek word for “peace,” and it gave rise to irenic and other peaceable terms including irenics (a theological term for advocacy of Christian unity), Irena (the genus name of two species of birds found in southern Asia and the Philippines), and the name Irene. (I have always been fond of the name Irene and have fond memories of Irene Lewandowski who was a dear friend in the Chicago area when I attended Maine West High School.)

  1. Modern usage:

Irenical has become a commonly used adjective to design an idealist and pacific conception, such as the democratic peace theory.

False irenicism is an expression used in certain 20th-century documents of the Catholic Church to criticize attempts at ecumenism that would allow Catholic doctrine to be distorted or clouded.

Please submit any irenical experiences or any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments, to [email protected].