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DOCTRINE . Most dictionaries record two related senses of the term doctrine: according to the first, it is the affirmation of a truth; according to the second, it is a teaching. The two are not mutually exclusive: to affirm something as true is a way of teaching it, and that which is taught is usually held to be true.

The denotation of the term is thus reasonably clear. However, the connotations (i.e., the feelings and attitudes associated with it), differ according to where the emphasis is placed in a given instance. As the statement of a truth, doctrine has a philosophical cast; as a teaching, it suggests something more practical. The first connotation prevails among the secular sciences. The doctrine of evolution, for example, comprises a body of knowledge that is appropriately characterized as a theory, but not a teaching. Philosophical discourse reveals more variation: according to the context, "the doctrine of the equality of man" may be taken either as a precise axiom belonging to a political theory, or as a practical maxim designed to guide political action.

Religious doctrines tend to be characterized by their practical intent. Even when a doctrine appears in the shape of an abstruse theoretical disquisition, it is usually the case that any speculative interest is strictly subordinated to the spiritual, which is the dominant concern. For example, the orientation of Judaism is toward practical obedience to the law of God, not speculative knowledge of his being. The doctrinal element in Judaism thus reveals an intimate connection with the notion of teaching. The most important figure is the rabbi ("teacher"); the most important word is torah ("instruction"), which refers to God's revelation in the Hebrew scriptures and, more specifically, to his law as presented in the five books of the Pentateuch. In a broader sense, torah encompasses the oral as well as the written law, together with the continuing tradition of rabbinical interpretations. The Talmud ("study") is an authoritative compilation of expositions of the law and applications of it to particular circumstances. It has been observed that the phrase "to read the Talmud," while grammatically correct, is a violation of the text's religious character, since the only appropriate response to the Talmud is to study it.

In Islam, the sharīʿah, or study of God's law, is of paramount importance. Here the doctrinal element is subordinated, of course, to judgments about moral and ritual behavior. The term kalām, however, indicates a kind of thought very close to that indicated by the English terms doctrine and theology. Kalām literally means "word" or "speech," and the Qurʾān is deemed kalām Allāh, the word of God. In the course of time, kalām has come to mean both a single truth and a system of truth (as is the case with the English term doctrine ), and has played an important role in the history of the Islamic tradition.

Christianity uses the terms doctrine and dogma to designate the teachings through which salvation is offered to all those who hear and respond. An early example of such a doctrinal affirmation is Paul's claim that Christians have been "reconciled to God by the death of his Son" and that "much more, being reconciled, [they are] saved by his life" (Rom. 5:10).

The development of Christian doctrine is closely allied with the task of instructing catechumens who are being prepared to receive the sacrament or rite of baptism. As late as the third century, Augustine, in De magistro (Concerning the teacher), reveals a major concern with doctrine in this sense. His specific tractate on Christian doctrine, De doctrina christiana, is not an exposition of the content of Christian doctrine but a discussion of the most effective way to teach it. Indeed, the immense Augustinian corpus contains no speculative overview of Christian knowledge; his most memorable works in the field of doctrine are devoted to specific themes that troubled the faith of Christians in his time: free will (De libero arbitrio ); divine providence (City of God); the Trinity (De Trinitate ). Even the great disquisitions on doctrine by Thomas Aquinas (the Summa theologiae and Summa contra gentiles ) are in the form of questions and answers that reveal an obvious affinity for the method of catechetical instruction. Luther's most important contribution to the area of doctrine is his Longer Catechism and Short Catechism; Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion is an expanded version of a small handbook he originally produced to assist Christians in understanding the teachings presented in Luther's catechisms.

The examples of such major Catholic and Protestant figures are evidence of the dominant focus of Christian doctrine on spiritual instruction. The teaching focus of doctrine has both a constructive and defensive thrust. It is, in part, an attempt to refute heresies within the church and false teachings without, as many historians of doctrine have pointed out. This polemical aspect offers a partial explanation for the greater emphasis on certain themes and the neglect of others at a particular time and place. Still, the refutation of error is not an end in itself, but a means through which to enhance the efficacy of the soteriological aspect of the teaching, which remains the paramount concern.

A Category of Comparative Religion

Doctrine is not restricted to Christianity. There are examples in each of the world's major religious traditions of affirmations that possess the same kind of authority and intent: in Judaism, the Shemaʿ ("Hear!") with its admonition "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one"; in Islam, the testimony of the Shahādah that "there is no god but God, and Muammad is his prophet." Examples of doctrine central to other religions include the doctrine of the permanent self, or ātman, in Hinduism; the doctrine of nonself, or anātman (Pali, anatta ), in Buddhism; the Confucian doctrine of "humanity" or jen; the Daoist doctrine of the efficacy of nonaction, or wu-wei; and the Shinto belief in kami, the presence of sacred power in things.

It is even more significant that each religion makes use of words that, though not exact synonyms for the terms doctrine or teaching, are very close to them in meaning: torah ("instruction") in Judaism and kalām ("doctrine, theology") in Islam; darśana ("school, viewpoint") in Hinduism; dharma ("teaching") in Buddhism; chiao ("teaching") in Confucianism and Daoism; Butsudo ("way of the Buddha") in Japanese Buddhism; kami no michi ("way of the Japanese divinities") in Shintō.

The prevalence of a doctrinal factor in all of the world's major religions suggests that it ought to be treated as a general category in the academic study of religion. This has, at times, not been recognized with sufficient clarity because of a romantic bias that exalts feeling over thought and deems "doctrine" an alien intrusion into a religious form of existence that is essentially nonrational in character.

However, the notion of a dichotomy between thought and feeling in the religious life is not tenable. Feelings, perceptions, and emotions require form and structure to become the content of human experience. By the same token, mysticism and rationalism reveal an intimate affinity, since most mystics become known to us through the discursive accounts of their ineffable experiences that they produce. Even the symbol systems of nonliterate societies have a doctrinal or rational aspect that gives religious shape to communal life.

Doctrine, then, is a category in the comparative study of religion that belongs with ritual, sacrament, mystical experience, and other factors whose importance has been recognized for some time. Like them, doctrine is designed to focus the mind, emotions, and will on the religious goal that the community has accepted as its ultimate concern.


Buddhism provides a striking example of the role played by doctrine in the realization of a religious goal. According to the Buddhist dharma, or teaching, the existence of man is determined by limitless craving (tā ) that produces anguish (dukha ) and a fundamental distortion of one's thoughts and feelings about the world. The teaching offers release from the tyranny of those disordered perceptions and a path of deliverance from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth (sasāra ) to which man's obsessive desires have bound him. The teaching consists of training in the control of thoughts and feelings, conscientious ethical behavior, and an intensive discipline of inner concentration and meditation. The doctrinal component supports the posture of mind and heart that is to be assumed throughout the various stages of the training.

However, in his present state of illusion, the seeker is never able to discern the true difference between the theoretical and the practical. He does not know what is a mere palliative and what truly heals. In this state he perceives Buddhist teachings as paradoxical: metaphysical reticence is advised in meditations that seem endlessly speculative; simplicity is advocated in arcane terms. These paradoxes are themselves symptoms of the ignorance of the seeker, who does not even know what constitutes the simplicity and healing that he seeks. The doctrine or teaching leads him along a path that, by both wakening and frustrating his speculative curiosity, brings about a transformation of thought and feeling that is the prerequisite for the authentic liberation that is his goal.

The doctrine of nirvāa (Pali, nibbāna ) is a striking case in point. The term literally means "blowing out," as when a candle is extinguished. It is used to indicate the final end of man. But what is it? Four possibilities have been suggested: (1) it is absolute nonexistence; (2) it is a positive state of bliss and tranquillity; (3) it is a state that can only be indicated in terms of what it is not; and (4) it is something ineffable, incapable of being rendered in either positive or negative terms. Depending upon the Buddhist text or school that is consulted, each of these options receives some sort of support. On what basis is one to choose among them?

The scholar-observer who, as a speculative venture, examines the doctrine from without, will probably make a choice based on historical grounds (which option is closest to the original teachings of the historical Buddha?) or on systematic considerations (which is most consistent with Buddhist thought as a totality?). On the other hand, a Buddhist will judge them according to their efficacy as religious vehicles. From this perspective, it may appear that each option makes a contribution according to changes in circumstance as the Buddhist seeker proceeds along his religious path.

The notion of nirvāa as extinction is as austere and forbidding to the average member of a Buddhist society as it is to a nonbeliever. Still, it may be effective as a means to separate the seeker from some of the distorted perceptions of "existence" that are one cause of his anguish. In different circumstances, the prospect of an end that includes bliss and tranquillity may be more therapeutic; at other times, the way of negations, or an even more intricate path of "spiritual agnosticism," eschewing both negations and affirmations, may be efficacious. While man remains in a state of bondage to his anguish and illusions, a definitive description of his final end is of little value. The authority of the doctrine of nirvāa lies rather in the therapeutic role it plays in the attainment of a goal that will only be truly known in the process of its concrete realization. When this takes place, it will become apparent that the "goal" was in the seeker's possession all the time. The doctrine has led him on an arduous journey to a destination that, once reached, coincides with the place of departure that he never left.

Theology and Doctrinal Form

At the present time, doctrine is frequently associated with systematic theology. For over a thousand years of church history, theology had diverse meanings, some of which were remote from those of Christian doctrine. Plato used the word theology to describe the stories about the gods told by poets; Aristotle used it to describe his doctrine of immutable substance. Augustine distinguished three senses: the theology of the poets, a civic theology based on public ceremonies, and a theology of nature. Sometimes the term was used in a narrow sense by Christian thinkers, who restricted it to the doctrine of God.

Muslim theologians such as al-Ghazālī (10581111 ce) participated in a golden age of theology devoted to the task of reconciling Greek philosophy with the faith of Islam. During the same period, Maimonides (Mosheh ben Maimon, 1135/81204) worked on the reconciliation of Greek thought with Judaism; Thomas Aquinas (12251274) undertook a similar task in respect to the Roman Catholic faith. Even more important is the fact that during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries revisions in medieval education were made that, among other things, introduced the notion of doctrinal theology as an academic discipline with a status similar to that of the secular subjects taught in the university curriculum.

Hugh of Saint-Victor (c. 10961141) developed an approach to theology that subsumed the two senses of the term theory (i.e., both intellectual endeavor and contemplation of God) under the complex notion of "speculation," which had previously been applied, for the most part, to religious meditation. Hugh characterized the method of theology as a kind of thought that is theoretical, both in the rational sense of submission to the norms of logic and in the contemplative sense of religious aspiration and vision. However, the delicate balance that he proposed is the prescription of an ideal and not what most works of systematic theology are, in fact, like. Theologians readily acknowledge that the norms of rational adequacy as a rule take precedence over a devotional focus. They deem it sufficient that theology provides rational support for the spiritual life without functioning as a direct expression of it.

The institutionalization of systematic and doctrinal theology in universities and seminaries has guaranteed for it a place of continuing importance in the history of the church from the time of the Renaissance to the present. However, it is evident that in the course of its long history the church has also made use of other forms (e.g., epistles, catechisms, creeds, tractates, and biblical commentaries) to express the concerns of doctrine. At the present time, there is some evidence that the essay is replacing the systematic tome as the preferred means for doctrinal discussions among both Catholic and Protestant thinkers.

The fourth book of Augustine's Christian Doctrine offers comments about doctrine that are still relevant to the contemporary scene. Augustine suggests that rhetoric is as important as logic in the communication of doctrine, though, like Plato in his attack on the Sophists, he is aware that the eloquence of rhetoric may deceive rather than enlighten. Augustine accepts, however, Aristotle's defense of the notion of a viable rhetoric that deals with the distinction between probative arguments and those based on a misuse of eloquence analogous to a formal logic that distinguishes between valid and invalid syllogisms. Augustine makes use of the rhetorical tradition derived from Aristotle to explore the capacity of Christian doctrine to teach, delight, and persuade. He recommends a subdued style for the task of careful instruction, a moderate style for condemnation and praise, and a grand style, forceful with the emotions and the spirit, for those moments when the need emerges to move the reader to action.

Contemporary experiments in the communication of doctrine through literature and other media are thus not unprecedented; they are, in fact, the continuation of a classical tradition of rhetoric toward which many thinkers, in both religious and secular disciplines, are at present showing a renewed respect.

See Also

Creeds; Dharma; Dogma; Jiao; Kalām; Theology; Torah; Truth.


The most up-to-date extended history of doctrine from a Protestant perspective is Jaroslav Pelikan's The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, 4 vols. (Chicago, 19711984). The work provides many revaluations of conventional historical judgments and includes an extensive bibliographical apparatus of primary and secondary sources. Nineteenth-century studies like Adolf von Harnack's History of Dogma, 7 vols. translated by Neil Buchanan (London, 18951900), and Reinhold Seeberg's Text-Book of the History of Doctrines, 2 vols. translated by Charles E. Hay (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1952), among others, remain indispensable in spite of inadequacies of interpretation corrected by later historians. Bernhard Lohse's A Short History of Christian Doctrine: From the First Century to the Present, translated by F. Ernest Stoeffer (Philadelphia, 1978) is a brief summary that is also a helpful essay of interpretation; George A. Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia, 1984) offers an approach to doctrine that makes use of the categories developed by philosophers of language. The Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, 15 vols., edited by Jean-Michel-Alfred Vacant et al. (Paris, 19031950), is important for an understanding of doctrine from a Catholic perspective. Also useful is the Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramentum Mundi, edited by Karl Rahner (New York, 1975). "Dogma," an essay by Rahner in this encyclopedia, together with his "Considerations on the Development of Dogma," in his Theological Investigations, translated by Kevin Smyth, vol. 4 (Baltimore, 1966), pp. 335, offer a sophisticated statement of the standard approach to Catholic doctrine and dogma. An informative account of the emergence of doctrinal theology as an academic discipline is G. R. Evans's Old Arts and New Technology: The Beginnings of Theology as an Academic Discipline (Oxford, 1980).

The following works offer useful discussions of rhetorical and literary genres other than systematic theology appropriate for contemporary statements of doctrine: Giles B. Gunn, The Interpretation of Otherness: Literature, Religion, and the American Imagination (Oxford, 1979); David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York, 1981); Nathan A. Scott, Jr., ed., The New Orpheus: Essays toward a Christian Poetic (New York, 1964).

The following are useful studies of the role of doctrine in religions other than Christianity. For Judaism: Judah Goldin, ed. The Living Talmud (New York, 1957); Jacob Neusner, The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism (Belmont, Calif., 1970); Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life (Belmont, Calif., 1982). For Islam: Charles J. Adams, "The Islamic Religious Tradition," in Religion and Man, edited by W. Richard Comstock (New York, 1971), pp. 553617; Fazlur Rahman, Islam, 2d ed. (Chicago, 1979). For the religions of India: Robert Baird, "Indian Religious Traditions," in Religion and Man (cited above), pp. 115250; Ninian Smart, Doctrine and Argument in Indian Philosophy (London, 1964). For Buddhism: Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development (Oxford, 1951); Melford E. Spiro, Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes, 2d ed., exp. (Berkeley, 1982). For the religions of China: Tu Weiming, Humanity and Self-Cultivation: Essays in Confucian Thought (Berkeley, 1978); C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese Society (Berkeley, 1961). For the religions of Japan: Alfred Bloom, "Far Eastern Religious Traditions," in Religion and Man (cited above), pp. 254396; H. Byron Earhart, Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity, 3d rev. ed. (Belmont, Calif., 1982). For the religions of preliterate societies: W. Richard Comstock, The Study of Religion and Primitive Religions (New York, 1972); Mary Douglas, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York, 1970); Clifford Geertz, "Religion as a Cultural System," in Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Michael Banton (New York, 1966), pp. 146.

W. Richard Comstock (1987)

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The word doctrine comes from the Latin doctrina, the Vulgate translation for διδασκαλία and διδαχή. It means teaching or instruction and is closely associated with the words catechesis and kerygma. It is used both in the active sense of the imparting of knowledge and in the passive sense of what is taught.

Christ was a teacher, and His teaching was what He had received from the Father (Jn 3.13; 5.17; 8.2527). This teaching had continuity with that of Moses and the Prophets, but it completed and added to it. Christ taught with power and authority (Mt 7.29), and man's eternal salvation depended on the way this teaching was accepted (Lk 9.26). After Christ's Resurrection and Ascension the apostles saw their task as that of handing on faithfully what they had received from Christ (Rom 16.17; Gal 1.8; Eph 4.14; Col 2.68; 1 Tm 1.3; 2 Timothy1.1314; 2.2; 3.14; Titus 1.9). The word doctrine was used not only of their teaching (1 Tm 4.6, 16) but also of the content of their preaching (Acts 2.42). It was the good news, the gospel, and from it stemmed the new way of life of the Christian. It was the message of salvation, the kerygma. Although acceptance of the good news was required before enrollment into the Church, and although the teaching of Christ soon became formulated into pro fessions of faith, it was never merely a theoretical communication of knowledge or information about certain salvific events. It was always directed beyond knowledge to a change of heart; it became effective in action. Just as the Apostles became changed men after Pentecost and proclaimed their belief in Christ, so were their hearers expected to change their lives and hand on the message they had received [see conversion ii (theology of)]. From the beginning the Church was a teaching Church that looked back to certain historical happenings but also forward to the future transformation of the world that these events heralded.

Preaching and Catechesis. This teaching office of the Church was exercised chiefly through preaching and instruction, or catechesis. Preaching was closely associated with the liturgy and was addressed to believers throughout the year as occasioned by the season or feast. Catechesis was a basic introduction to the faith and so gave a more general picture, but in both cases Christian teaching never considered knowledge as an end in itself. That was more the tendency among the Gnostics. Knowledge was a practical knowledge, a means of closer union with God. This is seen very clearly in the development of the catechumenate, the instruction given before reception into the Church. This consisted of an explanation of the creed and an instruction in the Bibleoften in the form of a narration of salvation history from the Fall to the Last Judgment. This was accompanied by a period of probation so that it was a moral as well as an intellectual preparation for Baptism. St. Augustine in his De catechizandis rudibus gives an account of the method to be adopted, and in St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Catecheses, written in 348, one has examples of the instructions given. In the ceremonies that took place during Lent one can see how in fact the catechumenate was closely associated with the liturgical worship of the Church.

Accommodation and Systematization. The Christian message cannot be proclaimed in isolation from human experience and thought. Indeed, the earliest statements of Christian doctrine were formulated in Semitic and Greek thought forms, for together with the task of preaching and catechizing there is the need to speak the message to man in the condition in which he is found (see accommodation). For this task a certain amount of reflection and systematization is necessary. In order to safeguard the kerygma and avoid the excesses and deficiencies of heresy, ideas have to be further clarified, and in order to appeal to the educated, revealed truths have to be related to those known naturally. Thus one has the work of such men as Origen, whose systematization arose from the needs of the catechetical school of Alexandria. Whenever the Church is confronted with a new situation, there is a need to re-present the Christian teaching. The Holy Spirit has been given to the Church to guide it in this so that it never departs from the message of Christ and hands on what is merely a human fabrication. A systematic exposition of Christianity is consequently demanded by the needs of instruction and preaching. Theological science deals with revelation primarily from the standpoint of truth, whereas catechetics stresses the goodness of the teaching, but the two cannot be divorced, and the theoretical has to be associated with the practical since there is a danger that doctrine may become isolated from vital problems [see methodology (theology)].

At some periods of history this has been the case. The Council of Trent realized the need for a greater instruction of the faithful, and the catechisms of the Counter Reform of Canisius, Bellarmine and others were marked by the way in which they set out a summary of Christian belief in all its fullness. The need for a better knowledge of the faith can also be seen in the widespread establishment of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, whose purpose is to deepen the knowledge of the ordinary faithful. This stress on the objective content of revelation was continued as a reaction against the excessive subjectivism of the Modernists, for whom doctrine was simply a way of expressing a religious sense with dogma differing from age to age. Consequently, since the Reformation, Catholics have more often understood the word doctrine of a body of truths and used other words to express the active teaching of the faith. But the liturgical movement and modern catechetics have helped to restore the balance, and once more the practical takes precedence over the theoretical aspect of doctrine.

Concerning the system of Christian doctrine, early summaries and creeds soon coalesced into the present form of the creed, where there is expressed: first, belief in God the Father of all; then belief in Christ the Redeemer, involving an account of salvation history especially as seen in the mysteries of His Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension; and finally, belief in the Holy Spirit and His work of sanctification in the Church, which will continue until the end of the world.

See Also: doctor of the church; doctrine, development of; dogma; dogmatic theology; notes, theological; teaching authority of the church (magisterium); theology.

Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) Tables générales 1:1012. y.m. j. congar, "Traditio und Sacra Doctrina bei Thomas von Aquin," in Kirche und Überlieferung, eds., j. betz and h. fries (Freiburg 1960) 170210. j. a. jungmann, Handing on the Faith, tr. and rev. a. n. fuerst (New York 1959). v. schÜrr, in Concilium, 3.1 (1965) 7881. g. van ackeren, Sacra doctrina: The Subject of the First Question of the Summa theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (Rome 1952).

[m. e. williams]

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In constitutional law as in other pursuits of revelation, initiates commonly refer to "doctrines": bodies of rules or principles either authoritatively declared or systematically advocated. Some such doctrines have been simple; the original package doctrine is an example. Others, such as the incorporation doctrine, may become shorthand references to larger and more complex creations of the legal mind. More inclusively, one may speak of a doctrine as the body of principles ruling any branch of law, including constitutional law: the doctrine governing prior restraints on speech, for example, or the doctrine governing discrimination based on illegitimacy. In any such use, "doctrine" refers to a body of judicial interpretations of a particular branch of law.

Even more generally, one may speak of constitutional "doctrine" in the abstract, referring to the whole body of rules and principles resulting from the judicial process of constitutional interpretation. Our constitutional law, apart from a few rules explicitly stated in the text of the Constitution (such as the requirement that a senator be thirty years old), consists almost entirely of doctrine made by judges in the tradition of the Anglo-American common law. Doctrine thus develops as precedents are made by decisions in particular cases. One branch of constitutional doctrine, in fact, is designed in part to assure that the federal courts' lawmaking is informed by the need to apply doctrine to concrete facts. (See cases and controversies.) There is therefore a human quality in nearly every constitutional case; a court's opinion normally begins with a recitation of actual facts touching the lives of named individuals. One danger in an era of class actions and institutional litigation is that those techniques carry some risk of squeezing the human flavor out of a case, with attendant costs to the process of keeping doctrine attuned to life. Yet implied in the idea of doctrine is the elaboration of principles transcending the concerns of particular individuals, to provide guidance—or comfort—to people in the aggregate.

Doctrinal formulas may outlive their usefulness, as the "original package doctrine" has. When they do, they fall into disuse or are explicitly abandoned. One of the paradoxes of law is that it strives to provide the security of enduring rules and principles yet is compelled to adjust to the demands of an evolving human society. Constitutional doctrine is rarely tidy and nearly always susceptible to manipulation; it is full of ambiguity and vagueness; "absolute" rules either give way to interest-balancing or serve as interest-balancing's disguises. Doctrine was ever history's handmaiden.

Yet constitutional doctrine has had generating force of its own. It is hard to imagine what this country would have been like but for the nation-building doctrinal contributions of the marshall court. And the doctrinal development begun by brown v. board of education (1954) has been a major influence in our twentieth-century social and political life. If constitutional doctrine sometimes seems no more than a chapter in a given era's political story, it is sometimes a chapter that advances the plot.

Kenneth L. Karst


Bickel, Alexander M. 1962 The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

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doc·trine / ˈdäktrin/ • n. a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group: the doctrine of predestination. ∎  a stated principle of government policy, mainly in foreign or military affairs: the Monroe Doctrine. ORIGIN: late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin doctrina ‘teaching, learning,’ from doctor ‘teacher,’ from docere ‘teach.’

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doctrine XIV. — (O)F. — L. doctrīna teaching, learning, f. doctor (see prec.).
So doctrinal XV.- late L. doctrīnālis; earlier sb. ‘text-book’ (XV) after OF. doctrinal, medL. doctrīnāle (sb. use of n. adj.). doctrinaire XIX (orig. one of a F. political party which aimed at an ideal of reconciliation of extremes).

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A legal rule, tenet, theory, or principle. A political policy.

Examples of common legal doctrines include the clean hands doctrine, the doctrine of false demonstration, and the doctrine of merger.

The monroe doctrine, enunciated by President james monroe on December 2, 1823, was an American policy to consider any aggression by a European country against any western hemisphere country to be a hostile act toward the United States.

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a body or set of principles or tenets; doctors collectively.

Examples: doctrine of comets, 1754; of instruments [laws], 1594; of doctorsBk. of St. Albans, 1486.