Letter and spirit of the law

Letter and spirit of the law

THESE two constituent elements of any human law should be together. That’s the ideal. In our earthly reality, of course, the letter of the law will always be found wanting in terms of capturing the whole spirit of the law.

This discrepancy between the letter and the spirit of the law has been referred to a number of times in the gospel. One example is when Christ told the Jews: “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” (Mk 7,9)

Another example was when Christ told the Pharisees and the lawyers of that time: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Lk 14,3)

That’s why any human law should always be a dynamic one, always in the process of refining, polishing and enriching itself. It should never be considered as static, or irreformable, unenrichable.

A lot of discernment is needed here. Prudence requires it. And the common good, which the law should always serve, can often present competing interests that need to be resolved as fairly as possible.

That’s simply because charity, truth, justice and mercy, which our laws should embody, have aspects that can be mysterious and that will always demand new requirements from us.

Let’s hope that the proper structures are made available to address this ongoing need with respect to continually polishing our laws. This is part of the political life of any nation. Let’s hope that a continuing study and research be made in this regard. Our law schools and other legal centers could be tapped for this purpose.

Let’s hope that our lawmakers are truly dedicated and focused on their work rather than wasting our time and resources by simply doing political maneuverings at the behest of their self-interest.

The task is definitely daunting. But rather than be daunted, it should challenge us to do it whatever it costs. We actually have the means. God, on his part, will always give us the grace for it. We just have to have the necessary attitude, will and skills to do it.

We have to understand that for this task to be properly undertaken, those involved should be vitally in contact with God, the source of all good things, of all truth, charity and justice. Being the creator, he is the foundation of reality and the supreme lawmaker and lawgiver.

This point is somehow articulated by Christ himself when he told the Pharisees and the law experts: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” (Mt 12,8) somehow insinuating that for any law to be properly interpreted, it has to be referred, first of all, to him.

Without this indispensable requirement, any effort to make and implement our laws will unavoidably get entangled in some anomalies and irregularities. It can even deteriorate as far as legalizing a clear injustice. Consider the case of the legalization of abortion.

We need to develop the proper sensitivity to update the letter of our laws to the spirit proper to them. Otherwise, we fall into what is called, legal positivism, a school of jurisprudence that is made up only of purely man-made laws with hardly any reference to God.