What Catholics Must Believe – Dogma, Doctrine or Discipline?

Simple Catholic Snapshots
  • In a Previous Post, I concluded that to be a true Catholic you must:
    1) Be Validly Baptized
    2) Believe the Required Teachings of the Catholic Church, and
    3) Live a Sacramental Life in Communion with the Body of Christ – The Church.
  • The Required Teachings (#2) of the Catholic Church are called Dogmas and Doctrines
  • Dogmas and Doctrines can not change
  • Dogmas and Doctrines only apply to issues of Faith and Morals
  • Disciplines are teachings and practices that can change
  • Belief in Disciplines is optional.

In this post I’ll explore what is meant by a Dogma, a Doctrine and a Discipline. I’ll describe in concept where they come from and how they are form our faith. Finally to get specific, I’ll present a list of the 258 Dogmas of the Catholic Church (that I could find) that all the faithful must believe.

Simple Catholic Truth

In the previous post entitled “What Does It Mean To Be Catholic?”, I concluded that there existed a set of core beliefs that all Catholics must believe in order to be considered Catholic. For lack of time and space, I deferred a more detailed examination of what these beliefs are and where they came from until now. I will address a final (optional) element of the Church’s teachings faith and that is called a Discipline.

Taken together, Dogmas, Doctrines and Disciplines compose the framework of teachings of the Catholic Church. In sequence, Dogmas, Doctrines and Disciplines form a sort of descending classification of Catholic Christian truths. As we descend down this taxonomy, the relative importance and certainty of the teaching(s) decreases. For example, at the top of the list (Dogmas) we have absolute theological truths directly revealed to mankind by God. Near the bottom (Disciplines) we have theological projections or opinions or practices that are useful but otherwise can still be open to debate and change.
In all cases we must remember that the sole objective of the Church and her teaching is to promote a relationship between God and mankind that eventually leads to the eternal salvation of the body of believers.

Definitions:

In this section, I’ll offer some definitions that will help us understand “Three Ds”. I’ve researched countless numbers of writings from Popes, Councils, Saints, Church Fathers, theologians and various blog sites trying to extract a simple way to describe Dogmas, Doctrines and Disciplines. The theological terminology is sometimes difficult to understand – much like a layperson reading a legal document saturated with “heretofores” and “torts” and “wobblers”. As always SimpleCatholicTruth strives to take the theological legalese and turn in into understandable English – I hope I’m successful.

Infallible / Infallibility:

At it’s most basic level, the term infallible means “without error.” In the context of our discussion of teaching the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, this term is used to describe the fact that in certain circumstances the Catholic Church is able to teach without error. This is not an intrinsic power of men that comprise the Church hierarchy, it is simply the result of a promise from Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit will protect His Church from teaching errors.

I know that many non-Catholics (and unfortunately Catholics also) struggle with the concept of infallibility. But let’s set aside our preconceptions for a moment and look at it logically. The Bible clearly shows us that Jesus came to earth to teach us about God’s plan for our salvation. It’s also clear that part of His mission was to carry the cross to Calvary, to redeem our sins and be the Savior of the entire world. He knew of His upcoming death and resurrection. Now with that in mind, lets look at what Jesus did in preparation for His departure. He commissioned his Apostles to go and spread the good news throughout the entire world. He didn’t give specific instructions on how to do this. He didn’t tell the Apostles to write down anything, or publish a new magazine called ‘The Jesus Story’ or start a blog site. No, he told them to go out and teach and promised to be with them always (Mt 28:18-20).

Also, keep in mind that the Apostles were a common mix – from fishermen to tax collectors. Certainly not the academic powerhouses of the age. Were the Apostles capable of teaching without getting confused at times or twisting the message? Could they always find the right words at the right time? Of course not – they were fallen men! So Jesus promised that when the Apostles spoke, that it was essentially Himself speaking (Lk 10:16) and when people heard them, they were hearing Jesus.
I’m sure we all agree that Jesus never taught with error. As I just pointed out, the Bible tells us that when the Apostles spoke, that Jesus Himself was essentially speaking. Therefore, the Bible is telling us that the Apostles also taught without error. [If A is true, and B equals A, then B must be true.]

Jesus knew they needed help to speak the truth in His absence and the help He gave was the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead them to the truth (Jn 16:13).

So you see, if emotions are put aside, we see that the concept of infallible teaching is a logical consequence of the promises Christ made to the Apostles. Infallible teaching was necessary to spread Jesus’ word throughout the world. Infallible teaching was necessary for the Church to endure forever (Mt 16:18).

A final comment is necessary. Infallibility is not universal to everything the Church says or does. This is a common misunderstanding even among Catholics and is an overused complaint and indictment against the Church. When speaking of the infallibility of the Pope (or the council of Bishops), how often have you heard that the Pope couldn’t possibly speak infallibly because ‘he is a sinner’ or ‘there have been bad Popes in history’? This is absolutely correct. The Pope is just a man, just like Peter and just like all of us. When he speaks about politics, or global warming, or sports he is prone to mistakes just like all of us. However, when formally speaking on theological issues of faith and morals (those that affect our salvation) he has the divine authority to teach without error because when the Pope formally speaks, Jesus is speaking.

Dogmas:

A dogma is a truth revealed by God.  Because they are revealed by God, Dogmas are essential elements of our faith and can not change. Dogmas are formally taught to us by the Church and as such are taught (infallibly) without error.

These Dogmas require the fullest and complete assent of theological faith by all members of the Catholic Church. In other (SCT) words, to be considered Catholic we must hold these to be true “beyond all doubt.”

The deliberate and obstinate denial of a dogma of the faith is called heresy because this person rejects the revealed Word of God.

Examples of Dogmas: Divinity of Christ, Immaculate Conception, Real Presence of the Eucharist, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Papal Infallibility

Doctrines:

Doctrines are also infallible teachings of the Church on matters of faith and morals but are not directly revealed by Christ. Doctrines are true but have been defined by Biblical, historical or logical extension of or connection to Dogmas.  Doctrines can develop over time as the Church comes to understand them better—but doctrines cannot change. No one—not even the Pope—has the authority to change doctrine.

Every believer is therefore required to give “firm and definitive assent” to these doctrinal truths. In other (SCT) words, to be considered Catholic we must hold these to be true “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Whoever rejects a Doctrine rejects the idea of the promise of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to protect the teaching authority of the Church.

Examples of Doctrines: Resurrection, The Incarnation, Heaven, Holy Trinity, Priesthood reserved for males.

Disciplines:

Disciplines are the liturgical and theological practices and customs of our faith. As with Dogmas and Doctrines, Disciplines are intended to further enhance the faith journey of the believer. Unlike Dogmas and Doctrines, however, Disciplines can be changed.

One quick comment here to emphasize the need for authoritative teaching. Even with the Bible, without the Church and its authoritative teaching it is difficult if not impossible to tell the difference between disciplines (optional practices such as fasting) and doctrines (those required for salvation such as Baptism). Even some practices mentioned in the Bible need arbitration (circumcision – Acts 15, or women speaking in Church – 1 Cor. 14:33-35) as to what is a required belief and what is and optional practice.

Examples of Disciplines: Priestly Celibacy, Lenten rules of Fasting, Mass celebrated in vernacular language, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue.

Conclusions:

Alright, I think that is enough of the academic theory. I’m sure all of you are looking for a complete and concise list for each category. Well there is good news and bad news on this front. The bad news is that I have been unable to discover or construct a list of all the official Dogmas, Doctrines and Disciplines. The good news is that I have found a such a compilation of Church Dogmas. The source of this list is an amazing book entitled “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” by Dr. Ludwig Ott. This book is more of a research source used by theologians or seminarians. It is 500+ pages of history, references, quotes etc etc for each of the Church’s formal Dogmas. I admit, this is not an official Vatican document but it does contain the Nihil Obstate (no errors) and Imprimature (Okay to publish) markings from the Church. From what I can determined it is consistent with Church history and teachings. It may not be perfect but it is extensive and has been very useful.

So far I have only extracted into a spread sheet a list of 258 Dogma Titles and I’m adding page references from this book. Little by little I hope to include facts such as references to Scripture, Papal letters, Ecumenical Council decrees and dates. It is a work in progress but I have included this spreadsheet list here DOGMA LIST for your use. It is included as a separate page in the main menu at SimpleCatholicTruth.com.

I encourage everyone to at least scan the list of Dogmas and try to understand what is being taught. Some are obvious (such as there is ONE God) but others are much more theologically nuanced and will required some additional thought. I was surprised how many I understood and believed. I guess my Catholic education was not as bad as once thought. In any event, I now have another go-to source for digging deeper into each dogma.

I hope this post and that spreadsheet list will also be helpful to you in understanding what we must believe to be considered Catholic.

If you have any questions or comments please add them at this blog. If you have any particular Dogma that interests you, let me know and I’ll focus on that as I fill in the spreadsheet. I intend to keep it updated and available on SCT so check back from time to time and see how it’s going.

 

5 thoughts on “What Catholics Must Believe – Dogma, Doctrine or Discipline?”

  1. I’m attempting to contact you to register and order two books for the upcoming class at St. Martin’s Church in Yorba Linda commencing on January 17, 2018, for my son and husband.

    Please contact me with information on how to register and order the workbooks.

  2. Hi! I’m wondering if Catholic wives are required to “submit”to their husbands and have to believe in this teaching from the Bible/ which of the D’s above is it?

  3. Hi Kate,

    When you mention “submit”, I think you are referring to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians Ch 5, v 21-33. We must keep in mind that Scripture is often multi-layered in it’s meaning and Paul’s writing is no exception. Here, Paul is giving general instructions on how we must live the Christian life in proper relationship with Christ as His Church and he is using marriage as an analogy. (Marriage used as a spiritual analogy is pervasive in the Bible). So in this context, yes we all must “submit” to Christ but note v21 calls husbands and wives to be subordinate to one another. The message is, that as Christ submits Himself to us in love, we also are to submit ourselves in love to Christ.

    In our modern culture, we often recoil at the notion of “submitting” to anyone or anything. We’ve all heard it, or even said it ourselves: “you can’t tell me what to do”, or “I’m my own person”, or “I’ll do it my way”, or “I’m a strong independent person” etc etc.
    Now don’t get me wrong, at one level there is something admirable to being convicted, strong and independent. However, as we become stronger and more independent we run the risk of no longer being able to properly love.

    Aquinas said something to the effect that ‘to love is to will the good of the other for the sake of the other’. As we become more independent we become less capable of willing the good of the other because like it or not, willing the good of the other involves “submitting” to them. It includes humbly putting that person first, ahead of our own status or desires.

    In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus showed us that out of love for the Father He completely submitted Himself to the Father’s will, even to the point of suffering and death (Mt 26:39).
    In Ephesians, Paul is teaching us that as Christian husbands and wives we are called to live our loving marital relationship imitating Christ, submitting to the other.
    Now keep in mind that this relationship is not a one-sided submission. Ephesians 5:21 is clearly teaching that the source and perfect expression of true love is one of mutual reciprocal submission.

    These are not easy words for us moderns to understand and embrace but truth is truth. IMHO, we have largely lost what it means to love. Many think marriage is only a social construct for financial advantage, convenience of sexual partnership or other forms of personal gain. Of course, a rich spiritual marriage results in incredible personal gain but only when the initial objectives are otherwise. Properly understood, to “submit” to the other is a blessing and honor and privilege, not a sign of weakness.

    Kate, I am not aware of any singular official Dogma or Doctrine that addresses directly and only this notion of love as an act of submission. However, the Doctrines of what the Sacrament of Marriage is, its permanence, and it’s role in our salvation are clear. We were created to love as God loves and it is through marriage, as husbands and wives acting in the manner I described above, that we are afforded an opportunity to imitate Christ in perfecting our agape love.

    A great question! Thanks for asking.

    [If you like to read, I would recommend a book for your consideration: ‘Men, Women and the Mystery of Love’ by Edward Sri, is an excellent treatment of Christian relationships (single and married) and the difficulties we encounter. He specifically addresses the differences between men and women and how “Submit” is a little different in the context of our natural differences.]

  4. Do you consider fasting and abstinence a discipline, if so, are required beliefs of a Catholic, are they not?

    1. Domenic,

      Yes, I consider fasting and abstinence a discipline (practice) but this practice is rooted in Scripture. As such the actual practice might change but the original goal and motivation has not.
      Consider Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the desert (Mk 1: 12,13) as a way to master the distractions of the body and improve His spiritual relationship with the Father. Also in Scripture we are called to penance and an imitation of Christ.
      From the earliest years, the Church has taught that fasting is such a way for us to also improve our spiritual relationship with God and as such the general practice is required.

      Regarding abstaining from meat, it is also true that the underlying Scriptural requirement to practice some sort of penance on Fridays has not changed: only the specific requirement of no meat has been relaxed. It remains a binding discipline, to practice penance on Fridays.
      If one doesn’t abstain from meat, it is still required that they practice some form of penance. I myself abstain from meat on all Fridays as my form of penance. I chose to retain year round abstinence as a form of solidarity to the Catholic tradition of the past. It seems like such a small sacrifice, but it serves me as a weekly reminder of the powerful sacrifice of our Lord on that horrific and wonderful Friday 2000 years ago.

      Hope this helps
      Tom

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