Originating from early Ancient Greek philosophy, where Aristotle (384–322 BCE) taught moderation, urging his students to follow the middle road between extremes, the via media was the dominant philosophical precept by which Ancient Roman civilisation and society was organised.
The term via media is frequently applied to the Anglican churches, though not without debate, as a term of apologetics. The idea of a middle way, between the Roman Catholics and the Magisterial Reformers, goes back to early in the Protestant Reformation, when theologians such as Martin Bucer, Thomas Cranmer and Heinrich Bullinger advocated a religious solution in which secular authority would hold the ring in the religious dispute, and ensure political stability.
A recent scholarly study points out that, while Richard Hooker's Law of Ecclesiastical Polity has a reputation as "the classic depiction of the English via media based upon the sound triumvirate of scripture, reason and tradition", the actual term via media nowhere appears in the work (written in English).
Three centuries later, the phrase was used by John Henry Newman in setting out his influential views on Anglicanism, as part of the argument he brought forward with the Tractarian movement. Via Media was the title of a series of the Tracts for Today, published by Newman around 1834. These tracts in particular used the title to pay homage to the inception of the Thirty-Nine Articles and in so doing claim that the Tractarian movement was of the same vein as early Church of England scholars and theologians. They examined the Elizabethan Settlement and reinterpreted it as a compromise between Rome and Reform.
The Tractarians promoted the idea of Anglicanism as a middle way between the extremes of Protestantism and Catholicism, which became later an idea of Anglicanism as a middle way between Rome and Protestantism itself.