and a good pastor knows that, because of their personality type, certain of his flock are going to need certainty, re-assurance and clarity of teaching. Instead of. marginalizing them, he will provide clarity of teaching while still challenging them not to rely on propositional statements alone or to take refuge in the seeming security of doctrinal statements and “clear moral teaching.”
While it is important for the Pope to exhibit Jesus’ way of ministering in the world, it is also part of the Pope’s job to define and defend the faith, and for Catholics part of this experience of encountering Christ is a clear and unambiguous definition of historic faith and morals.
Pope Francis is fond of criticizing the Catholics who are rigid and bound by a legalistic approach, but in my experience these sorts of Catholics are few and far between. The vast majority of Catholics I work with are ordinary folks who are not stupid even if they are not theologically educated. They understand the need for clear teaching in doctrine and morals, but they also understand that life is complicated and the work of the church is to minister Christ’s love in complex situations.
In fact, rather than the problem being an excess of legalistic, propositionally bound Catholics, in the USA the Catholic Church is besieged with the opposite problem. The majority of Catholics are poorly catechized and far from being bound by doctrine and moral teachings they are mostly ignorant of these things and what doctrine and moral teachings they have absorbed are largely ignored.
My own take on this, therefore, is that I understand the need for the “encounter with Christ” as opposed to a faith that is merely propositional, but I also believe that without a clear affirmation of the propositions of our faith, the “encounter with Christ” becomes no more than a subjective religious experience.
Both are needed, and an analogy I have often used is that of the vine and the trellis.
The vine is what matters. It is a living, growing, fruitful gift. A vine needs a trellis to grow and reach the sun and bear good fruit.
The vine is the faith–the encounter with Christ–the real experience and adventure of living the Christian life. The trellis is the doctrinal and moral propositions that support the vine, but the trellis, being a dead thing needs constant maintenance and repair if it is to support the vine.
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