Latin phrase translated as “middle way” or the “way between two extremes.” It is from the philosophy of Aristotle. In his Nicomachean Ethics, he found the virtues such as justice and courage to be the middle way between the extremes of either side. “Courage” was thus the via media between foolhardiness and cowardice. The via media came into religious usage when Anglicans began to refer to the Church of England as a middle way between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Puritanism.
Under Queen Elizabeth I, the via media of the Elizabethan Settlement retained much of the traditional catholic practice but without submission to papal authority. Uniformity of worship was required, but considerable latitude was allowed for individual conscience. Richard Hooker was the great apologist for the Elizabethan Settlement against both Puritanism and Roman Catholicism.
Via media is often misunderstood in a negative way to mean compromise or unwillingness to take a firm position. However, for Aristotle and those Anglicans who have used it, the term refers to the “golden mean” which is recognized as a more adequate expression of truth between the weaknesses of extreme positions. See Elizabethan Settlement; see Hooker, Richard.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.