Sources of Catholic Dogma

The New Testament

Sources of Catholic Dogma

Roman Catholic dogma

A dogma is an article of faith revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church presents to be believed. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basic truth from which salvation and life is derived for Christians. Dogmata regulate the language, how the truth of the resurrection is to be believed and communicated. One dogma is only a small particle of the living Christian faith, from which it derives its meaning. Roman Catholic Dogma is thus: "a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these."

The faithful are required to accept with the divine and Catholic faith all which the Church presents either as solemn decision or as general teaching. Yet not all teachings are dogma. The faithful are only required to accept those teachings as dogma, if the Church clearly and specifically identifies them as infallible dogmata. Not all truths are dogmata. The Bible contains many sacred truths, which the faithful recognize and agree with, but which the Church has not defined as dogma. Most Church teachings are not dogma.

Elements: Scripture and Tradition

The concept of dogma has two elements: Immediate divine revelation from Scripture or Tradition, and, a proposition of the Church, which not only announces the dogma but also declares it binding for the faith. This may occur through an ex-cathedra decision by a Pope, or by an Ecumenical Council.

The Holy Scripture is not identical with divine revelation, but a part of it. Jesus Christ taught only orally and instructed his disciples to teach orally. Early Christians lived from oral traditions, as scriptures did not yet exist. "Keep as your pattern the sound teaching you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." Scriptures were written later by apostles and evangelists, who knew Jesus. They give infallible testimony of his teachings. Scripture thus belongs to Tradition in the larger sense, where it has an absolute priority, because it is the Word of God, and because it is the unchangeable testimony of the apostles of Christ, whose fullness the Church preserves with its tradition.

Dogma is considered to be both divine and Catholic faith. Divine, because of its believed origin and Catholic because of belief in the infallible teaching binding for all. At the turn of the 20th century, a group of theologians called modernists stated that dogmata did not fall from heaven but are historical manifestations at a given time. Pope Pius X condemned this teaching as heresy in 1907. The Catholic position is that the content of a dogma has truly divine origin. It is considered an expression of an objective truth and does not change. The truth of God, revealed by God, does not change, as God himself does not change; Heaven and earth will disappear but my words will not disappear.

However, new dogmata can be declared through the ages. For instance, the 20th century witnessed the introduction of the dogma of Assumption of Mary by Pope Pius XII in 1950. However, these beliefs were already held in some form or another within the Church before their elevation to the dogmatic level.