Doctrinal but not doctrinaire PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 15 May 2017 10:30




THE distinction is very important. Especially to priests and others who are in a position to give advice and counsel to others, this distinction is indispensable. Knowing it and learning how to behave by it can spell the difference between genuine help and disastrous harm in our duties with others.

To be doctrinal is to have a proper concern for the doctrine of our faith. We cannot overemphasize this. We have to master the doctrine of our faith as much as possible, studying it thoroughly, mobilizing whatever philosophy, theology and other sciences and arts we can get our hands on for this purpose.

This is important so that we can handle the truths of our faith with great ease and versatility, especially given the need to adapt these truths to the varying conditions of the people.

This is always a big challenge because we need to present the truths in different ways and styles depending on how the people are without ever compromising these truths. And these days, the developments are in such dynamic state that we need to vary our tacks and styles in presenting these truths very often.

To be a doctrinaire is to impose a doctrine in all circumstances without regard to practical considerations. This can happen when the attitude toward the doctrine of our faith gets too literal as to sacrifice the true spirit behind it.

To be sure, the doctrine of our faith, if it truly expresses the truth of our faith, has a universal and absolute character. But that universality and absoluteness does not mean it has to be rigid. The exclusivity of its truth should not be at the expense of the inclusivity of charity.

This was the pitfall of the leading Jews in the times of Doctrinal but not doctrinair Christ. They interpreted the doctrine of faith too literally, or too focused on the letter while getting lost in the spirit, that the doctrine became rigid. And the people involved fell into an almost invincible state of self-righteousness, creating an exclusivity that compromised the inclusivity of God’s love for all men.

In this regard, it might be helpful to distinguish between the so-called ‘law of gradualness’ and the ‘gradualness of the law.’ The former is ok, the latter is not. The former says that “people improve their relationship with God and grow in the virtues gradually, and do not jump to perfection in a single step.”

This is simply because man grows by stages in his life and holiness. Thus, St. Paul said: “I could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it…” (1 Cor 3,1-3)

The latter, the ‘gradualness of the law,’ presumes that there are different degrees or forms of God’s law for different individuals and situations. In effect, this position holds that there cannot be absolute, objective and universal moral laws. It practically erases all possibilities of sin, since any situation can be rationalized by one’s subjective law.


We are in very tricky and complicated times. And it’s important that we make this basic distinction between being doctrinal and being a doctrinaire so we can move on with a clear sense of direction and purpose.