As a polemic is a sharp, often unachievable opinion. The term therefore means a controversy, which is partly caused by personal attacks. Polemic disputes take place at literary, scientific, religious, philosophical and also political levels. Originally, polemics meant the art of fighting, a scientific feud, which was carried out mainly between scholars. Polemic literature means all kinds of arguments.
The term goes back to the Greek noun pólemos (πόλεμος), which can be translated with war, but also dispute. Also the adjective polemikós (πολεμικός), which means hostile, is related to the term. According to this, the translation already refers to what is involved: for those who polemise, who argues and sometimes opposes his conversationalist very hostile.
The polemic tries to conquer his conversational partner in a rhetorical duel and thereby bring his own arguments for a cause. This is not primarily about finding the consensus, but rather about being the victor of a dispute. The polemic sometimes makes use of factual arguments, but very often focuses on the personality of his counterpart, whereby, for example, his credibility is called into question.
The goal of polemics is to present your own arguments, in which case sharp, pointed, and also direct statements are made, which are intended to unmask as well as expose the interlocutor or addressee. In rhetoric such a dispute is called a disputation (see Disput). In this dispute, Proponent and Opponent meet to present their arguments.
At the beginning of such a conversation, the proponent makes a statement (thesis), whereby the opponent tries to refute this argumentatively. The role of the polemic is thus often that of the opponent, that of the one who tries to disprove the thesis and to present his own arguments as correct. However, the rhetorical disputation is usually free from polemical utterances.
Note: As a result, polemics was originally understood as the art of fighting, which was also a matter of rhetoric. Consequently, a disputing disputant could be regarded as an eloquent orator. Nowadays, the term usually means a quarrel, which becomes personal, appears negligible, and has an attacking character. The term is now negatively connotated and was subject to a change of meaning.
Polemics and controversial theology
Many early Christian writers are known to us as controversial theologians. The controversial theology deals with substantive questions concerning the internal and external nature of the church and is a manifestation in both the Protestant and the Catholic Church.
Well-known controversial theologians are for example the church fathers Hieronymus (347 – 420) as well as Irenaeus (around 135 – 202). Both wrote numerous treatises which controversially discussed the heretical doctrines (doctrine contrary to the doctrine of a Christian church). Their writings often bore an adversion in the title, which indicates that they are directed against something (for example, Adversus haereses).
A synonym for the concept of controverstheology is also the concept of polemic in the context of Christian theology. This theological polemic was primarily directed against atheists and other groups outside a Christian worldview, such as heathen, naturalists, indifferentists and Jews, papists, or Calvinists, etc. In the eighteenth century, polemical writings in Christianity were elevated.
The polemic can thus be regarded as a carefully studied part of Christian theology between the Middle Ages and the eighteenth century. It had the declared objective of defending Christian principles and attacking their opponents. Nowadays one has distanced oneself from such a practice and tries to defend the boundaries and foundations of the faith rather by apologetics, that is, the scientific defense of beliefs, but also to defend them.
This defending of theological principles is, however, to be understood as integrative, ie as an integration into a larger whole. Apologetics, therefore, is not confrontational, as is the case with polemic, for example, which is the confrontation of disputes.
Short overview: The most important part of the term at a glance
The controversy of the polemic was originally the art of fighting, and it was a sharp expression of opinion, which was partly carried out on an unsophisticated, personal, and insulting level. Anyone who argues polemically argues confrontationally and thus seeks the linguistic debate to expose or unmask his counterpart.
Classical rhetoric describes such an approach as an argumentum ad hominem, that is, as an argument against man. An attempt is made to invalidate an argument by referring to personal circumstances or characteristics of the counterpart.
Polemic disputes take place on literary, scientific, religious, political and philosophical levels. Previously, they were also anchored in Christian theology and were supposed to create religious disputes from the world and defend their own views.
Note: Polemics can, of course, use numerous rhetorical stylistic devices. Often, however, irony and sarcasm are found in polemical writings and disputes.