Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From the email bag: Doctrines and Dogmas of the Church

Where can I find the list of 300+ or so doctrines of the Catholic Church? I was told there are about 300. Would you let me know the difference between dogma and doctrine, if there is a difference? I was told that there are about eight "different levels" of doctrine/dogma or "methods of declaring" the doctrine/dogma. I am just looking for succint list (without elaborate exposition).

LOL There might or might not be 300 doctrines of the Church, but there certainly is no such list. Depending on how you slice them there may be thousands!

Perhaps someone once tried to count assertions in the catechism or something, but that would be a fool’s errand (or a very bored Medieval scribe). I doubt anyone since about 1320 has had the patience required for such a task. There is just no principle way to individuate doctrines. Is the doctrine of divine simplicity a distinct doctrine from the doctrine of aseity? It’s not clear to me whether it is or not. I doubt there is any clear criterion of individuation possible.

As for the difference between dogma and doctrine that’s also ambiguous. The word “doctrine” is from a Latin root and just means “a teaching” (a “doctor” is one who teaches, to be “docile” is to be teachable). The word “dogma” is from a Greek root which means little more that “belief”. The words have evolved many different uses in different contexts. In connotation “dogma” typically denotes (these days) a more substantive property. The Church teaches many things in many ways. The totality can be called the Magisterium, though that term is often used to denote the teaching authority of the Church (so it’s used as a kind of synecdoche). The broadest division is the Ordinary Magisterium—primarily the Fathers and Doctors of the Church especially as synodically organized but extending all the way down to the local ordinary in some degree—and the Extraordinary Magisterium—the canons of full Ecumenical Councils and Ex Cathedra statements of the Bishop of Rome. It is arguable that there are subtler distinctions, but this is the place to start. You might want to call the doctrines taught via the EM “dogmas” (the real Greek plural or its anglicized counterpart is probably “dogmata”) but that would just be a convention of language. It’s common but not exclusive for “doctrine” and “dogma” to be used this way, although “dogma” having a more stringent connotation is a fairly recent phenomenon.

One might conceivably count up the doctrines taught via the EM by counting up the number of the canons of the ecumenical councils—which typically are numbered, at least in the MSS we have, though the primary data for some can be sketchy, there’s be scholarly quibbles even here. But suppose you went with the most conventional numbering and added them up and they summed to n. You could then plausibly add 2 to that to get the total number of dogmas. The two others being the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (Pius the IX I think, 1954) and the Assumption of Mary (Pius XII, 1950). The dates are the dates of the *promulgation* as revealed doctrines. They were, arguably, part of the ordinary magisterium prior to that. Items can go from the ordinary magisterium to the extraordinary when a Council or ex cathedra statement by a Pope promulgates something that was taught previously, but not via those means. For example in the last decade there has been some stir about the term “Mediatrix” being elevated from the OM to the EM.

Some people will argue that there are other than these two methods of EM, for example there is a statement somewhere that “it is not permissible to disagree with all of the Fathers.” But plausibly all they agree on with total unanimity are items already in a Council. It’s debatable, it would make a good Historical Theology dissertation. The same goes for whether there have been more than two ex cathedra statements. Still, all the debatable points leave a core idea intact which I hope you will find useful.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for these posts on Catholic ultimates, Trent.


Vlastimil Vohánka

Thursday, March 27, 2008 11:26:00 AM  

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