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Anonymous wrote:

Hi, guys —

I had a question about the Church's view on Dogma versus Doctrine.

I have searched on several Catholic blogs and forums but still cannot get a straight answer.

From what I understand all dogmas are doctrine, but not all doctrines are dogma.

  • Is this correct?
  • If so, is it required that Catholics faithfully believe in (non-dogmatic) doctrines to remain in good standing with the Church?
  • Can the Church change or even reject (non-dogmatic) doctrines?

For example in the CCC paragraph 969 it states that:

"The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”

I know that Marian dogmas do not include her being Mediatrix, yet the Catechism alludes to this very concept as doctrine.

  • So, as a Catholic, am I obligated to believe Mary is a Mediatrix? or
  • Am I allowed to doubt or question the Church on this teaching? finally
  • Am I, as a Catholic, allowed to question the Church on any (non-dogmatic) doctrines?

The reason why I ask these questions is because usually I hear Protestants make the argument that Catholics are no different from all the broken denominations when it comes to having total agreement of all doctrines put forth by the Church.

  • How can I answer them if I am approached with such a statement?

Thank you for your time and God bless.

Anonymous

  { Can you explain the difference between dogmas and doctrines and what is required by each? }

Eric replied:

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for the question.

You wrote:
I had a question about the Church's view on Dogma versus Doctrine.

I have searched on several Catholic blogs and forums but still cannot get a straight answer.

From what I understand all dogmas are doctrine, but not all doctrines are dogma.

  • Is this correct

Correct.

You wrote:

  • If so, is it required that Catholics faithfully believe in (non-dogmatic) doctrines to remain in good standing with the Church?

Not exactly.

Canon law puts down a few principles:

Canon 212  §1. The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.

Canon 753: Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a religious assent of soul.

Canon 754: All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and proscribe erroneous opinions; this is especially true of the constitutions and decrees issued by the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops.

Canon 750: All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, must be believed with divine and Catholic faith; it is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths.

Canon 752: A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.

So there are two or three different levels of assent mentioned here:

  1. There is belief with divine and Catholic faith. This pertains to dogmas. You must believe these things are true as a matter of faith.
  2. There is religious respect of intellect and will, which does not require the assent of faith. This pertains to doctrines which are not dogmas. Basically, this means you can't openly dissent from them or oppose them, but you don't have to give them the assent of faith.
  3. Then there is religious assent of soul rendered to the teaching of bishops; I am not a canonist and I'm not sure what this mean but it must be something like religious respect of intellect and will.

    Then there is simple external obedience.

You said:

  • Can the Church change or even reject (non-dogmatic) doctrines?

They can develop, but in general they cannot be reversed or contradicted. For example,
the doctrine on the Trinity developed slowly over time.

You said:
For example in the CCC paragraph 969 it states that:

"The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”

I know that the Marian dogmas does not include her being Mediatrix, yet the Catechism alludes to this very concept as doctrine.

  • So, as a Catholic, am I obligated to believe Mary is a Mediatrix?

I am not sure if it would be classified as doctrine, per se; it's an established teaching, to be sure. You are obligated to give doctrines intellectual assent, but not to believe them as a matter of faith, as divinely revealed by God.

You said:

  • Am I allowed to doubt or question the Church on this teaching?

My personal feeling is that on this issue, you could express some reservations and openly discuss the question. Whether you could doubt it depends on your reasons, I suppose.

You said:

  • Am I, as a Catholic, allowed to question the Church on any (non-dogmatic) doctrines?

You ought not to. Practically speaking though, a lot of dissent is tolerated, and often discussing the issue is what's needed to clarify it and bring you to assent. I would not, however, launch a public campaign against them.

In other words, if you were to go to a church Bible study and say,

"You know, I don't think I buy this Mary as Mediatrix issue, because Jesus is our one Mediator according to Scripture, yadda, yadda, yadda."

that's one thing. Then perhaps the others could reason with you and help you understand it. If you start an organization called Catholics Against Mary as Mediatrix, and publicly work against the Church on the issue, or publish a book refuting it, that's another thing.

Basically, if you are not sure you can accept a teaching, and sincerely want to discuss it, make sure you do so with all humility, docility, and openness. Always examine yourself and your motivations, paying particular attention to pride. If you've made up your mind to dissent, though, and you know it's a doctrine, then keep your mouth shut. If it's a dogma, well then, consider whether you can still be Catholic.

By the way, the key to understanding Mary as Mediatrix is that when Scripture says that there is one Mediator between God and man, it means God the Father and man.

Mary is not a mediatrix between God the Father and man; she is a mediatrix between God the Son, Jesus Christ, and man, as indeed, all of us are. Anyone who prays for someone else or attempts to lead someone to faith in Christ is operating as a mediator. She leads us to Christ, and Christ leads us to the Father.

You said:
The reason why I ask these questions is because usually I hear Protestants make the argument that Catholics are no different from all the broken denominations when it comes to having total agreement of all doctrines put forth by the Church.

  • How can I answer them if I am approached with such a statement?

Thank you for your time and God bless.

I am not sure what you mean. I've never heard this argument, but I think what you are saying is that we demand complete assent like everyone else.

This is a gross oversimplification for a few reasons but let's suppose it's true.

  • So what?

So we enforce orthodoxy, and other churches do, too.

  • Why does that prove anything?

We believe that God exists, and so do the broken denominations. That doesn't prove anything. Maybe if you think that enforcing orthodoxy is a bad thing, it proves that we are bad, but then what you would need to do is disprove the notion that enforcing orthodoxy is bad. You might quote St. Paul in 1 Timothy 4:15f:

"Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:15f)

Or St. Peter:

"[Paul's] letters contain some things which are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)

Hope this answers most of your question.

Eric

Mike replied:

Hi Anonymous,

I searched our knowledge base for you and found these web postings that may help, especially the first one:

Mike

Anonymous replied:

Hi Mike,

Thank you for the quick response.

Yes, those articles did help out.


Hello Eric,

Thank you very much for your response. I think I am beginning to understand, but let me dig a little deeper and see if I got it straight.

So, you are saying that there is some level of dissent the faithful can have with non-dogmatic doctrines, so long as the reason for the difference in opinion is accompanied with humility, and not incredulity or obstinate doubt.

  • Does that make sense?

In other words I can say,

“I don't really understand the doctrine of (fill in the blank) so can't really say
I believe it, but I trust the Church's teachings.”

But can't say,

“I find the doctrine of (fill in the blank) hard to believe, therefore cannot accept the Church's teaching of this.”

I think Canon 752 was most helpful when it stated that,

“therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.”

So even though assent on a particular teaching cannot be achieved, the difference in opinion must still remain in harmony and not stray from the teaching.

  • Not to get off track or anything, but what would you say about the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)?

My knowledge about the SSPX is very limited, but from what I understand, this society rejects several decrees or doctrines from the Second Vatican Council.

  • Were they going against the Church by flat out rejecting the teachings of Vatican II?

This whole business with the SSPX is probably under its own category.

I just want some idea of how to explain to my separated brethren and fundamentalists I come across, that having a certain level of disagreement within the Catholic Church is not the same as what has plagued the Protestant churches since day one resulting in having the 25,000 plus groups all claiming to go by the bible alone, yet rejecting each others interpretations on essential teachings.

Let me know what you think.

Thanks again.

-Anonymous

Eric replied:

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for the reply.

You said:
Hello Eric,

Thank you very much for your response. I think I am beginning to understand, but let me dig a little deeper and see if I got it straight.

So, you are saying that there is some level of dissent the faithful can have with non-dogmatic doctrines, so long as the reason for the difference in opinion is accompanied with humility, and not incredulity or obstinate doubt.

  • Does that make sense?

Formally speaking, you must assent (assent of intellect and will, not of faith) to doctrines which are not dogmatic. This obviously means that there is no right to dissent, in the sense of openly opposing or contradicting a doctrine.

On a practical level, no one is going to hale you before a tribunal if you are sincerely espousing error and acting with humility in good faith. This doesn't mean it's morally and objectively right, only that you can get away with it.

You said:
In other words I can say,

“I don't really understand the doctrine of (fill in the blank) so can't really say I believe it, but I trust the Church's teachings.”

That's saying something different (in my mind). To me this is saying that you don't give it the assent of faith, but you give it the assent of will, which is all that is required for non-dogmatic doctrines.

You said:
But can't say,

“I find the doctrine of (fill in the blank) hard to believe, therefore cannot accept the Church's teaching of this.”

Correct.

You said:
I think Canon 752 was most helpful when it stated that,

“therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.”

So even though assent on a particular teaching cannot be achieved, the difference in opinion must still remain in harmony and not stray from the teaching.

  • Not to get off track or anything, but what would you say about the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)?

My knowledge about the SSPX is very limited, but from what I understand, this society rejects several decrees or doctrines from the Second Vatican Council.

  • Were they going against the Church by flat out rejecting the teachings of Vatican II?

Technically Vatican II was a pastoral and not a dogmatic council. That means that there were no anathemas or dogmatic condemnations of heresy.

Consequently there is some wiggle room. So they aren't denying dogmas of the faith. Possibly they are denying doctrine. At the very least they are being contumacious.

You said:
This whole business with the SSPX is probably under its own category.

I just want some idea of how to explain to my separated brethren and fundamentalists I come across, that having a certain level of disagreement within the Catholic Church is not the same as what has plagued the Protestant churches since day one resulting in having the 25,000 plus groups all claiming to go by the bible alone, yet rejecting each others interpretations on essential teachings.

Let me know what you think.

Thanks again.

Well, I think I'd frame it this way.

There are people who, for some reason, essentially embrace paganism in the Catholic Church so, in a sense, there is a range of beliefs in both Catholicism and Protestantism. There is a lot of dissent far a field of orthodoxy within the Catholic Church today. Such dissent has always existed in the Church, to some degree or another. None of it is legitimate of course, and herein lies the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism:

Protestantism legitimizes dissent, and what plagues the Protestant churches pertains to the nature of Protestantism, whereas Catholicism condemns dissent and has a well-defined orthodoxy, even if people disobey and don't follow it. There is a unity within Catholicism where if you want to know the truth, you can ascertain it, but with Protestantism, there is no sound arbiter of Truth, except, formally, the Bible, [...] but anyone can interpret it however he wishes, so in the end there is still no sound arbiter of Truth.

The Catholics who have a serious disagreement with the Catholic Church (enough to resemble the differences within Protestantism) are dissenters, and their position is not legitimate within the Catholic Church.

Protestants who differ to the same degree with other Protestants are ... well, legitimate Protestants. One can argue that Catholicism should be judged on its orthodox position, not by those who dissent from it.

Eric

Anonymous replied:

Greetings Eric and Mike.

Thank you both for your responses on the Dogma versus Doctrine questions. Your answers and web inks were very helpful.

I'm glad you guys are out there spreading the truth about our faith and clarifying the many misconceptions people have during these decadent times. Being an apologetic junkie myself,
I continued to research my question on-line and came across a Dave Armstrong article which shed some more light on my question. I wanted to share it with you just in case someone else has the same confusion on Catholic unity and orthodoxy.

God Bless.

Anonymous

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