We're not just talking about passion here, either, but a real form of (usually temporary) madness which descends into irrational personal attack and animosity (the ad hominem attack is regarded by some as the best form of defence, especially if their arguments are weak). I've seen examples of it at seminary and pastors' conferences, where I've certainly been on the receiving end of it, which may account for my sensitivity to it. Karl Barth, whose early theological method was called "combative theology" famously succumbed to it in his ongoing debate with Emil Brunner (they were eventually reconciled). Hermann Sasse and his Erlangen colleague Hermann Strathmann carried on a ferocious public display of it through the church newspapers of 1930s Bavaria that came to be known by others, somewhat humourously, as Die Hermannsschlacht (a reference to a famous German play by von Kleist, "Hermann's Battle").
Melanchthon once gave thanks that death would finally deliver him from it, and we fellow sensitives can well relate to that. Luther was infected by it, as indeed were most medieval theologians, and many of the theologians of the period of 17th century orthodoxy - this was one of the factors that led to Pietism. It's rife now on the internet, especially, but not always, from behind the mask of anonymity, and I've some pretty good examples of it in the correspondence files of my blogs (that's why I moderate the combox). I know I've succumbed to it, certainly in thought if not in word or deed, as I expect have most of us for whom theology is a passion. It's probably as good an argument for a radical doctrine of original sin as there is (see the post below on Lancelot Andrewes for more on that).
So often, it seems that it is displayed in discussion on issues which are secondary or tertiary in the theological encyclopedia (one could almost forgive instances of the rabies theologorum where articles of faith are at stake). Of course, everything in theology is important, but there is a hierarchy of truths. For Lutherans that hierarchy is structured by the Gospel. Which brings me to the following quote from Pieper's dogmatics, most of which Pieper has actually taken from Luther (my Greek NT teacher and mentor Dr Greg Lockwood held that the best thing about Pieper was the Luther quotes):
Now, since Scripture furnishes no information on these open questions and theological problems, it is foolish to spend much time and energy on them. We surely have enough to do if we study and teach what is clearly revealed in Holy Writ. If we do not make that our sole business, but take time to discuss useless questions, we are, as Luther points out, “hindering the Gospel”. The great matters which should be man’s sole concern are pushed into the background. And experience shows that the interest of the crowd os too easily won for human speculations.; it will have its curiosity satisfied. Luther adduces the example of the Jews, who bothered about the genealogies, and of the Papists, among whom there was endless wrangling about useless fables and empty trifles, and everyone wanted to be in the right. Let us heed Luther’s warning: There are two hindrances to the Gospel: the first is teaching false doctrine, driving the consciences into the Law and works. And the second is the trick of the devil: when he finds that he cannot subvert the faith by directly denying the Gospel, he sneaks in from the rear; raises useless questions and gets them to contend about dead saints and departed souls, where they abide, whether they sleep, and the like. One question follows another in endless succession. Wretched curiosity busies itself about unnecessary and useless things that are neither commanded nor serve any purpose. Thus Satan comes in the back way, people gape with wide-open mouth at these things and lose the chief things.
Franz Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, V1, pp95-96.
Anyway, this is all a round about way of indicating here that I've pulled out of a discussion on whether the perpetual virginity of Mary is a dogma of the Lutheran Church over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia because I do not want to place myself in a situation where I might succumb to the rabies theologorum and thus "hinder the Gospel" and be inflicted with a bad conscience. I should be devoting my time to "the great matters".
The irony in all of this is that I have always been inclined to believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That may very well be because I have a very strong historical consciousness, even to the point of romanticism about the past. But what I do not believe is that the semper virgo is an article of faith for the Lutheran Church (amazing how quickly that question got side-tracked over at Sentire as the personal attacks started). It is, rather, an open question because it is not decided by scripture (the quia or quatenus question is a red herring here - what we're talking about is not confessional subscription but whether the perpetual virginity of Mary actually forms part of the doctrine which the confessions teach). I'll happily take my stand on that with the three men who were probably the greatest conservative confessional scholars of the 20th century: Sasse, Piepkorn, and Robert Preus (OK, I know invoking authorities is a fallacy, but check out their arguments).