Dogma vs. Discipline

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A dogma is a proposition that expresses a truth revealed to us by God. Dogmas are irreversible Church teachings about faith and morals; they define the boundaries of the faith and guidelines for acting rightly and must be accepted by all assenting Catholics.

Catholics may question dogma in the sense of wondering how a particular teaching fits in with all of the rest of the creed, natural theology, philosophy, and our life experience.

Catholics may not question dogma in the sense of doubting the truth of what the Church has taught.

Disciplines are practical decisions made by the Church about how to act in particular circumstances. The discipline imposed by the prudential judgments of the stewards of the Church may be changed by subsequent stewards. Discipline is not dogma. Changes in discipline do not justify changes in doctrine.

Scriptural View of Tradition

"Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you." (1 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV)

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NKJV)

"But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NKJV)

Hebrews 1: Jesus is the last and definitive Word of God.

Deposit of Faith

The Deposit of Faith is all that God has revealed to us, both in the time of the Old Testament and in the New. In neither era was revelation limited to the written word. What was written was the fruit of what was revealed to and by inspired human beings. In the New Testament, it is God Himself who speaks to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Church is obliged to preserve the Deposit of Faith in its entirety. We may neither add to nor subtract from what God has revealed to us. Like St. Paul, we must "hand on what was handed on" to us.

1 Cor 15:1-8

1 Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand.

2 Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;

4 that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures;

5 that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7 After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

8 Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

2 Thessalonians 2:15
"Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours."
1 Tim. 6:20
Ὦ Τιμόθεε τὴν παραθήκην φύλαξον ἐκτρεπόμενος τὰς βεβήλους κενοφωνίας καὶ ἀντιθέσεις τῆς ψευδωνύμου γνώσεως 21 ἥν τινες ἐπαγγελλόμενοι περὶ τὴν πίστιν ἠστόχησαν Ἡ χάρις μεθ’ ὑμῶν ⧼Ἀμήν⧽
"O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge."
2 Tim 1:12
Δι’ ἣν αἰτίαν καὶ ταῦτα πάσχω ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐπαισχύνομαι οἶδα γὰρ ᾧ πεπίστευκα καὶ πέπεισμαι ὅτι δυνατός ἐστιν τὴν παραθήκην μου φυλάξαι εἰς ἐκείνην τὴν ἡμέραν
"On this account I am suffering these things; but I am not ashamed, for I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day."
2 Tim 1:14
τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην φύλαξον διὰ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν
"Guard this rich trust with the help of the holy Spirit that dwells within us."

Development of Doctrine

  • John Henry Newman
  • Emergence and articulation of faith: Trinity, Incarnation, dogma, Magisterium, sacraments, Real Presence, etc.
  • "No salvation outside the Church."

Examples of Dogmas

  • Trinity
  • Incarnation
  • Atonement
    • Original Sin
    • Monogenism
  • Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
  • Virginal Conception of Jesus
  • Seven sacraments
  • Natural theology: reason can recognize that there is a God.
  • Natural law: reason can recognize the essential difference between good and evil.
  • Canon of the Old and New Testaments

Dogmatically defined scripture passages

Trent Horn, "What Bible passages has the magisterium infallibly interpreted?"
Romans 5:12 as teaching the doctrine of Original Sin.
John 3:5 -- necessity of water in the sacrament of Baptism.
Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:23 -- Real Presence in the Eucharist.
John 20:22-23 -- the apostles received the power to forgive and retain sin in the sacrament of confession.
James 5:14 -- the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
Luke 22:19 and 1 Cor 11:24 -- the apostles were made priests and the Mass is a sacrifice

All of the dogmas listed in the section above set boundaries on the interpretation of the Scriptures.

Rejection of Heresies

  • Origenism (preexistence of souls and apokatastasis)
  • pantheism
  • gnosticism
  • Pelagianism
  • Quietism
  • Patripassianism
  • Modalism
  • Unitarianism (a Trinitarian doctrine, not the American church by that name)
  • Iconoclasm
  • Nestorianism
  • Apollinarianism
  • Docetism
  • Jansenism (Catholic Puritanism)
  • Monotheletism
  • Monophysitism
  • Modernism
  • Indifferentism
  • Relativism (implicit in Church teaching; not solemnly defined)
  • Atheistic interpretations of reality, especially atheistic interpretations of science
  • Protestant controversies
    • Private judgment ("The Bible means what I think it means. No one can tell me otherwise.")
    • Sola Scriptura
    • Sola Fide and Sola Gratiae
    • Invisible Church

Examples of Discipline

  • Sunday obligation
  • Friday penance
  • Liturgy:
    • Language
    • Vestments
    • Rituals
      • Scripts for celebrants and people
      • Prescribed gestures
      • Prescribed postures (standing, sitting, kneeling, prostrate)
    • Architecture
    • Calendar
  • Advice to slaves (adaptation to culture)
  • Support for monarchies and royal houses
  • Mandatory celibacy for Latin rite priests; ordination of married priests in the Eastern Churches
  • Tonsure, berettas, zuchettoes, religious and clerical garments
  • Election of bishops
  • Obligation of bishops to reside in their diocese
  • Use of candles, holy water, bells, incense, statues, murals, icons
  • Music
  • Restrictions of sacraments by age
  • Norms for a licit marriage
  • Norms for identifying the sin of usury
  • Conditions for creation of a new religious order
  • Establishment of due process for resolving canonical disputes

Straw men

Many antagonists of Catholicism attribute ideas to the Church that are not now and never have been official Church teachings. Our opponents then make a great show of demolishing these straw men that they have created.

  • "The world is flat."
  • "The earth is the center of the universe."
  • "The world was created in six days."
  • "Faith and science are incompatible. Either you are a believer or you are an intelligent human being. You can't be both."
  • "Faith is a leap in the dark. Faith is based on the act of faith. Faith is irrational."