DOGMA . Dogma, in the strictest sense, whether embodied in the sacred scripture of the Old and New Testaments or in tradition, is understood by the Roman Catholic Church to be a truth revealed by God (directly and formally), which is presented by the church for belief, as revealed by God, either through a solemn decision of the extraordinary magisterium (pope or council) or through the ordinary and general magisterium of the church (episcopacy). It is to be accepted by the same faith that is due to the divine word itself (fides divina ) or to the church's tradition (fides catholica ).
This magisterial definition, as it was given by the First Vatican Council, has the following historical antecedents: (1) the ancient philosophical (Platonic-Stoic) use of the word dogma to designate that which seems right to all, as opinion or teaching, as foundation or decision, as decree or edict, as a rational judgment that is identical to a moral decision, or as a decree of a legitimate authority; (2) the New Testament use, in which Old Testament law is said to be the dogma of God and the decisions of the apostolic council are designated as dogmas in Acts 16:4; and (3) the patristic and medieval transmission of both these strains, the dogma of God in distinction to the teachings of human beings or of the philosophers. The close connection between the "dogmas of the Lord" and the "fidelity to the church" is already asserted in the regula fidei, the canon of truth. Finally, synodal decrees are also considered dogmas in opposition to the dogmas of the heretics. The content referred to by dogma also occurs in the patristic and scholastic tradition under equivalent designations, for instance, professio and confessio, or (Catholic) truth in general; fides, the correct doctrine handed down by the church; and, in Thomas Aquinas, over against the concept of dogma, the narrowed concept of articulus fidei. What led to an emphasis on the formal authority of dogma was, finally, the emphasis on the claim to the limitless autonomy of human reason in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The definition of the concept and function of dogma in the Eastern Orthodox churches, in spite of the multiplicity and differing historical development of these churches, can begin with their formal unity in terms of doctrine, law, and liturgy. Faith is based upon the dogmas that have been transmitted in part through scripture and in part through the oral paradosis ("handing down" of tradition) of the apostles and have then been interpreted by the councils and church fathers. Because and to the extent that the church speaks with the authority of the Holy Spirit, it is infallible in the same way as scripture. The believing acceptance of the revealed truth of faith is necessary for salvation. The dogma of the church is present and closed in the doctrinal decisions of the first seven ecumenical councils (325–787), whose formulations are considered the embodiment of dogma and the summary of the teachings of scripture. The further dogmatic development of the Latin church is rejected. Dogma in the Orthodox churches has not so much a doctrinaire-intellectual function as it does a doxological and life-defining one.
The relationship to dogma of the churches and communities produced by the Reformation is defined by the theology of the reformers, which, on the one hand, does not dispute that the church may have to make obligatory statements and that the truth of scripture may only be able to be revealed through a painstaking process. It therefore accepts at least the Trinitarian-Christological dogma of the old church as an appropriate expression of the matter of the gospel. But, on the other hand, through the principle of sola scriptura (over against an association of scripture and tradition), the theology of the reformers takes up a different position, scripture being for them no longer merely the source and norm of all Christian speech, teaching, and preaching, but, rather, the single final authority. All confessions and dogmas are to be measured against it. In this sense, dogmatic statements (even the Trinitarian-Christological) are only secondarily binding for Protestant theology, and then only when it has been demonstrated whether and to what extent dogmas open up an access to direct biblical instruction, where it is presupposed that scripture, on the basis of its transparency, is its own interpreter. In spite of all confessional-theological discussions among the churches and communities growing out of the Reformation, and in spite of the changing theological positions and the change in the functional definition of dogma connected with them (from orthodoxy through rationalism and Pietism and from the purely ethical and practical interpretation to dialectical and existential theology), they agree both negatively and positively. Negatively, they agree in their rejection of the Roman Catholic understanding of dogma and its function for faith and church as "doctrinal law." Positively, they agree in the conviction that God's word must not only be existentially recognized but also known as objective truth and reproduced in statements and doctrinal teachings, however these may then be interpreted and qualified with regard to their binding character.
In the question of the development of dogma, Roman Catholic theology must proceed from the fact that the church defines statements as revealed by God if they satisfy one of the following conditions: (1) Even if previously stated, they were not always expressly defined or bindingly taught as revealed. (2) They articulate the express contents of statements of the earlier tradition in very different or newly developed conceptual terms (by defending the always known meaning of the revealed statement more expressly against heretical misinterpretations, by setting off more clearly individual aspects of these statements, or by placing these aspects in a dialectical interplay of faith and reason or in a more explicit relationship to other truths of faith and of reason). (3) They refer to statements in the tradition that may not be immediately equivalent to them or explicitly capable of being traced back to the apostles or that cannot even be supposed with historical probability to have been once previously available. Thus not only theology but also revelation (to the extent that it is only present in proclamation, acceptance of faith, and practice) has a history, a "development," and a "progress" after Christ, even if this history is essentially different from the development of revelation before Christ.
The problem of the development of dogma and its solution consists in the task of demonstrating the fundamental possibility and the actuality, in individual cases, of the identity of the later, "developed" matter of faith with the apostolic matter given in Christ. The difficulty of the problem lies in the fact that, according to church doctrine, the entire "public" revelation, entrusted to the church and its teaching office and involving an obligation of belief, was closed with the death of the apostles, that is, that the church can only continue to bear witness to what it has heard about Christ in the apostolic generation and has recognized as belonging to the deposit of faith. Therefore an additional, later, ecclesial revelation is not possible, does not expand the old Christian revelation, and cannot undergo an epigenetic transformation in the sense that might be implied by modernism. Because the solution to the problem (formally speaking and in general) must be sought in the fact that a new dogma is contained "implicitly" in an old dogma or in the whole of what was previously believed, the problem and its solution may be formulated in the following way.
- What is the status of implicitness and what is the process of explication such that these can be recognized as factually given in the development of dogma? That is, how can the identity of faith, as expressed in an actual history of faith, and revelation after Christ be explained?
- What implications are sufficient so that the explicated can be considered as revealed by God (and not simply taught by the church with infallible authority)? Such an implication is obviously to be applied, however, in such a way that it can be said not only that the new dogma, as derivative in its truth and certainty upon the original revelation, could thus legitimately appeal to the witness of God (purely objective implication) but also that it, of itself (even if in a different form), has always been witnessed to by God's self and has always been believed by the church (subjective implication).
The problem, precisely posed, has only been clearly present since the nineteenth century, that is, since there has existed a history of dogma that not only (as still in the post-Tridentine period) doxographically collects the proofs from an earlier time for the doctrine of the present and thereby considers these proofs to be only different from the contemporary doctrine in their external form but also sees that the recognition of revelational truth has a real history after Christ.
The problem is stated differently in Protestant theology, because there is in evangelical theology no faith statement of the church that could be an absolutely binding norm for the private understanding of scripture, and thus there can actually be, from the start, only a history of theology, not really a history of dogma and faith after scripture. Behind this problem is, as its natural presupposition, the problem of the historicity of the (ever the same) recognition of truth in general and that of reconciling a present continuing immediacy of the divine revelation in the church (which is necessarily historically new) with the relegation of the present proclamation back to an earlier historical past, that is to say, back to the apostolic period.
The first three centuries of Christianity and perhaps the following one and a half centuries, which saw the development and culmination of the first three, present a history of Christian belief and dogma in a confrontational struggle with the simultaneous assimilation of a non-Christian spiritual and cultural (Hellenistic-Roman) environment. However, the second long period after the waning of antiquity, that is, from the early Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, was a time of unfolding and differentiation of the substance of faith from within its own center outward into even more systematized distinctions that, because of their one point of departure from within, could be considered without really major confrontation with external contradictions and as a more or less homogeneous abstraction presupposed by all to be self-evident. (This was so in spite of the continuing influence of Platonism and the medieval reception of Aristotelianism, and in spite of the crises that occurred with the split between the Eastern and Western churches and with the Reformation of the sixteenth century.) This was, therefore, a time for summae and simultaneously and for the same reasons a time (because the whole was taken for granted) when one threw oneself into theological questions with enormous passion and almost became lost in them. It was a time the effects of which are reflected in the great catechisms of the modern period. It was a time in which one could take for granted long papal encyclicals over relatively small questions of detail of the Christian faith; in which the magisterium reacted carefully and quickly to real or imagined attacks against individual doctrines of this detailed system; and in which one had the impression that the entire system was clear and could hardly be further developed, except in the case of individual questions, so that the major work of theology had to be turned backward upon its own history.
Today (after a long preparation since the Enlightenment, from which time also dates the defensive dialogue with liberalism and modernism) we have doubtless entered upon a new, third phase in the history of faith and thus also in the history of dogma and of theology. Today it is no longer a question of an ever more detailed unfolding of the basic substance of faith within a homogeneous environment that has a common horizon of understanding with the church. It is much more a question of winning a new understanding (naturally preserving the substance of faith which has been handed down) of the one totality of faith in a non-Christian environment, in a new epoch of a global world civilization in which world cultures that were never Christian have appeared. It is also a question of a history of faith and dogma in a new diaspora, with confrontation and assimilation to be simultaneously carried out in a radically new way that includes even the most divergent belief, that of atheism and the doubt as to whether religion in general will survive. To that extent, there is a formal similarity between the period of the history of dogma now beginning and the first period, even if the matter and the tasks of the first and the third periods are radically different.
The history of faith and dogma will probably develop in the future not in the style of the second period, as an evolutionary unfolding and systematizing differentiation of the basic substance of faith, but rather as the transposition of this lasting faith into new and pluralistic horizons of understanding. Because of the incommensurable and not synthesizable pluralism of contemporary and future horizons of understanding, transpositions of faith will have to occur by means of a plurality of theologies that, despite the necessary readiness for dialogue of these theologies among themselves, will not be able to be synthesized adequately for the preservation and rediscovery of the one faith.
The task of the magisterium in this incipient period will, therefore, hardly consist any more in the definition of "new" individual dogmas, no longer so much in the anxious monitoring of supposed or real deviations from individual traditional doctrines, but rather in the preservation of the one entirety of the faith in its basic substance and, in fact, not so much through a "censuring," but rather through the positive, constructive, collaborative work on this new interpretation of the old faith that is demanded today in a new and not necessarily Christian environment.
The history of faith and dogma will continue, but it will have a different character, not so much the history of individual, newly articulated statements of faith and of the theology that reflects upon them, but rather the history of the restatement of the old basic substance of faith in the confrontation with and assimilation of the future horizon of understanding. It is self-evident that this history will be then no longer merely the history of the formulation of early Christian and Western dogmas and their theology (including their export to other countries) but rather the history of the faith and dogma of a universal church, however little we can concretely imagine today what is materially and formally meant by that. This naturally does not exclude but rather includes the fact that the changing new conception of the one entirety of the Christian substance of faith will also have consequences for the interpretation of many or all individual doctrines.
A summary introduction to the history of the concept of dogma and the history of the problem of the development of dogma from a Catholic point of view can be found in Georg Söll's "Dogma und Dogmenentwicklung," in Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte, vol. 1, fasc. 5 (Freiburg, 1971), which includes an extensive bibliography. From the Protestant perspective the following articles in Theologische Realenzyklopädie, vol. 9 (Berlin and New York, 1982), pp. 26–125, should be consulted: "Dogma" by Ulrich Wickert and Carl H. Ratschow, "Dogmatik" by Gerhard Sauter, Anders Jeffner, Alasdair Heron, and Frederick Herzog, and "Dogmengeschichtsschreibung" by Wolf-Dieter Hauschild. See also Karlmann Beyschlag's Grundriss der Dogmengeschichte, vol. 1 (Darmstadt, 1982), pp. 1–54.
The relationship between kerygma and dogma (also in conversation with Protestant positions) is analyzed in Karl Rahner and Karl Lehmann's Kerygma and Dogma (New York, 1969), Walter Kasper's Dogma unter dem Wort Gottes (Mainz, 1965), and Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger's Offenbarung und Überlieferung (Freiburg, 1965).
The problem of the development of dogma from a theological-systematic perspective is treated by Karl Rahner and Karl Lehmann in Das Problem der Vermittlung, "Mysterium Salutis," vol. 1 (Einsiedeln, 1965), pp. 727–787; by Karl Rahner in "The Development of Dogma," in Theological Investigations, vol. 1 (New York, 1961), pp. 39–77; by Karl Rahner in "Considerations on the Development of Dogma," in Theological Investigations, vol. 4 (New York, 1966), pp. 3–35; by Joseph Ratzinger in Das Problem der Dogmengeschichte in der Sicht der katholischen Theologie (Cologne, 1966); and from an evangelical point of view by Gerhard Ebeling in Die Geschichtlichkeit der Kirche und ihrer Verkündigung als theologisches Problem (Tübingen, 1954). An instructive analysis of the more recent Catholic models of the development of dogma can be found in Herbert Hammans's Die neueren katholischen Erklärungen der Dogmenentwicklung (Essen, 1965). For the modernist theological-critical approach, the broadly based source study by Émile Poulat, Histoire, dogme et critique dans la crise moderniste, 2d ed., rev. (Paris, 1979), should be consulted. It is written, however, from a somewhat sociological perspective.
With regard to the theory and the history of the development of dogma (as well as of the historiography of dogma), the prolegomena of the classic handbooks and manuals of dogmatic history are to be consulted: for example, those by Harnack, Seeberg, Ritschl, Köhler, Schwane, Tixeront, et al. In addition, see, for Catholic theology, Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte, edited by Michael Schmaus et al. (Freiburg, 1971–), which is arranged according to treatises; for the Protestant perspective, see Alfred Adam's Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 2 vols. (Gütersloh, 1965–1968), and Handbuch der Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte, 3 vols., edited by Carl Andresen (Göttingen, 1980–1984). Recent positions can also be found in Avery Dulles's The Survival of Dogma (New York, 1971) and Gerald O'Collins's The Case against Dogma (New York, 1975).
Crowley, Paul G. In Ten Thousand Places: Dogma in a Pluralistic Church. New York, 1997.
Hines, Mary E. The Transformation of Dogma: An Introduction to Karl Rahner on Dogma. New York, 1989.
McGrath, Alister E. The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundations of Doctrinal Criticism. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1990.
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematische Theologie. 3 vols. Göttingen, 1988.
Segundo, Juan Luis. The Liberation of Dogma: Faith, Revelation, and Dogmatic Teaching Authority. Translated by Phillip Berryman. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1992.
Theissen, Gerd. Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach. Philadelphia, 1985.
Adolf Darlap (1987)
Karl Rahner (1987)
Translated from German by Charlotte Prather
The Greek word of which "dogma" is a transliteration means "that which seems good." It was applied by Greek authors to the decrees of public authorities and to the tenets of various philosophical schools. In English the word can be used for any fixed and firmly held belief on any subject, but it usually suggests that the belief is a condition, or at least a sign, of belonging to either a secular or (more frequently) a religious group. The word can also imply that the belief rests on a special—often divine—authority; that any member of the group who attenuates or changes the belief is thereby a "heretic"; and that heresy is a moral, and perhaps also legal, offense that merits the strongest condemnation (and perhaps also punishment).
The clearest example of religious dogma in ancient philosophy comes from Plato. In the Republic (376eff.) he lays down two "ways in which God is to be spoken of" (tupoi theologias ). The first is that God is good and the cause of good alone; the second is that God is true and incapable of change. In the Laws (887e–888d) he actually uses "dogma" to mean a correct "belief" about the gods. Everyone must believe that the gods are concerned with human affairs and that they cannot be appeased by sacrifice. Those who reject these beliefs must be duly punished by the state.
The primary sense of "dogma" is the one it has acquired in Christianity. Other religions have their distinctive tenets, but Christianity alone deserves attention on three grounds. First, its dogmas are far more numerous and complex than those of other faiths: Judaism requires only the recitation of the Shema, and Islam requires only assent to the Kalima. (Both these short creeds affirm the unity of God.) Second, Christian dogma has had many important points of contact with Western secular philosophy. Third, Christian theologians have given to the word dogma itself a technical, precise significance. (There is nothing that can properly be called dogma in the religions of the East. The eightfold path of Buddhism is a nontheistic way of salvation, not a creed. In Hinduism there are many divergent views of God and the Absolute, but none of them is "orthodox.")
All the main Christian bodies are agreed that dogma is essentially the formulation of belief on the basis of the Scriptures. God revealed himself both in the events to which the Bible testifies and in the biblical interpretation of them. The role of dogma is to express the meaning of this revelation in conceptual terms.
All would also agree that dogma does not add to the revelation that was complete with the apostles. Dogma merely makes explicit what is implicit in apostolic teaching. Hence, St. Vincent of Lérins affirms that the development of dogma is an "advance" (profectus ), not a change (permutatio ). Although a dogma can always be restated in a form that is either more exact per se or more comprehensible to a particular audience, its substance is immutable.
This point is clearly made by Hans Küng in his important book on the second Vatican Council, The Council and Reunion (London, 1961). On the one hand, "dogmatic definitions express the truth with infallible accuracy and are in this sense unalterable (as against Modernism)" (p. 163). On the other hand, "one and the same truth of faith can always be expressed in a still more complete, more adequate, better formula" (p. 163).
All Christian bodies, finally, would agree that the ultimate object of assent is not any statement about God, but God himself. Furthermore, dogmas do not render God intelligible; they symbolize a mystery that surpasses understanding. Therefore, we cannot assent to them without the gift of faith.
However, Christians differ in their views on both the number of and the authority for dogmatic definitions. Roman Catholic theologians hold that the definitions given by twenty ecumenical councils of the church are inerrant. They further hold that the pope alone, when he speaks ex cathedra, is infallible in matters of faith and morals. Finally, they hold that a dogma (for example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception) can be justified as a logical "development" even though it lacks any scriptural support.
Non-Roman Christians oppose these claims. The Orthodox church holds that only seven councils are ecumenical and inerrant. Both Martin Luther and the Anglican reformers said that all councils are capable of error. All Protestants and Anglicans agree in denying both the infallibility of the pope and the validity of dogmas that are not explicitly supported by the Bible.
From the beginning, dogma has been stated through the terms of secular philosophy. One need mention only the use made of "substance" and "relation" in the doctrine of the Trinity. Such philosophical expressions were required both to make the faith intelligible and to safeguard it against heresy. Even those Protestants who reject scholastic terminology are forced to substitute other concepts (for example, those of existentialism).
In the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and in conciliar definitions, philosophy is instrumental. The content and authority of dogma are derived wholly from revelation, although some theologians have attempted to place dogmas in the context of a speculative system that is alien to the basic principles of Christian theism. Inevitably, the dogmas then lose their original, distinctive, and (above all) supernatural significance. Thus G. W. F. Hegel and his disciples held that Christ merely exhibits in a supreme mode the natural coinherence of the finite and the infinite.
At the other extreme, some post-Kantian thinkers, while remaining in the church, have denied that dogmas state objective truths concerning God. But we are to act "as if" they were true, and in so acting we shall find that the moral life is given both a meaning and a power that it cannot otherwise possess. This reduction of dogmas to the status of pragmatic postulates is the twenty-sixth proposition condemned by the decree Lamentabili (1907).
Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 1947.
Brunner, Emil. The Christian Doctrine of God. Translated by Olive Wyon. London: Lutterworth, 1949. Chs. 1–11.
Journet, C. What Is Dogma? Translated by Mark Pontifex. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1946.
Newman, J. H. An Essay in Development. Several editions since 1845.
H. P. Owen (1967)
The Greek word dogma, also used in English, is found among classical authors. It is derived from the Greek δοκε[symbol omitted]ν, to seem. It can mean (1) a private opinion: what seems good to the individual; (2) a decree: what seems good to public authority; (3) the teaching of a philosopher, which was considered authoritative by his followers. In the Septuagint and New Testament the word is used of a decree of the state (Dn 2.13; 3.10; Lk 2.1). The ordinances of Moses (Eph 2.15; Col 2.14) are called dogmas, as also the decrees of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 16.4).
However, it is a derivation of the third sense indicated above that finds general acceptance among the Fathers and theologians. Dogma is used either of a particular belief, a tenet—for example, the Christian teaching on the immortality of the soul or on the unity of God—or it is used of the whole system of belief, i.e., Christian dogma as distinct from pagan dogma. In the first three centuries among Latin and Greek writers nearly everything related to Christian belief and practice is called dogma. With Saints Basil and John Chrysostom it takes on a more fully developed meaning, viz, a truth above reason but revealed by Christ to His Church. The scholastics did not use the term often; St. Thomas Aquinas preferred the expression article of faith.
Contemporary Usage. Today dogma is widely used in a strict sense, for all and only those truths that have been revealed by God and proposed as such by the Church for belief by the faithful, that is, those things that Vatican Council I (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3011) maintains have to be believed on divine and Catholic faith. Thus, denial of a dogma is heresy. To be a dogma in this strict technical sense, the truth in question has to be part of the public revelation. (Thus, truths privately revealed are not dogmas.) Moreover, it has to be declared by the Church's authority to be believed as revealed. Since dogma is proposed for men's belief as revealed, it is the object of divine faith and is to be distinguished from those other truths that the Church proposes but not precisely as revealed.
Development. As revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle, in enunciating a new dogma the Church does not add to revelation but simply declares or defines what has been revealed. The Church's task is to guard the deposit of faith; this involves expounding it to different ages so that it always remains a living thing. The Church does not create a new thing; it merely states what has been revealed. Many factors contribute to the development of dogma.
Controversy can help to a better formulation of what the faith demands, and the devotional life and piety of the faithful is a constant means of deeper penetration into the truths of the Catholic religion. However, dogma is to be found not only in the solemn definitions of pope or council but in the ordinary day-to-day teaching of the Church. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Church is continually uncovering the meaning and the riches of what has been revealed. This is the true meaning of the progress of dogma.
See Also: doctrine; definition, dogmatic; dogmatic theology, articles on; freedom, intellectual; notes, theological; relativism (theological aspect); rule of faith.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 1903–50) 1:1013–21. h. vorgrimler et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger (Freiburg 1930–38) 3:438–446. g. w. h. lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford 1961—). p. a. liÉgÉ, Catholicisme 3:951–962. j. r. geiselmann, Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, ed. h. fries, (Munich 1962–63) 1:225–241. k. rahner and h. vorgrimler, Kleines theologisches Wörterbuch (Freiburg 1961) 73–74. c. journet, What is Dogma? tr. m. pontifex (New York 1964). h. rondet, Do Dogmas Change? tr. m. pontifex (New York 1961).
[m. e. williams]
Dogma ★★½ 1999 (R)
Smith packs a lot into his brave, controversial comedy on Catholicism and, as a Catholic himself, illustrates that he has some issues about his religion. He vents with a film that's both devilishly funny and agonizingly boring. A great cast does his dirty work, including Affleck and Damon as two cast out angels with a plan to re-enter heaven. Rock plays an angry apostle, Hayek is a muse turned stripper, and Rickman is the voice of God informing an abortion worker (Fiorentino) that she's to stop the angels. Rounding out the motley crew is Carlin as a cardinal. The first half is loaded with on-target jokes, but laughs are hard to find in the second hour, which falls victim to excessive religious yakety-schmakety. Smith's a talented screenwriter, unfortunately this time out, it's his directing that's really a sin. 125m/C VHS, DVD . Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, George Carlin, Alan Rickman, Jason Mewes, Janeane Garofalo, Kevin Smith, Alanis Morissette, Bud Cort, Jeff Anderson, Guinevere Turner; D: Kevin Smith; W: Kevin Smith; C: Robert Yeoman; M: Howard Shore.
dog·ma / ˈdôgmə/ • n. a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true: the Christian dogma of the Trinity | the rejection of political dogma.