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Definition, Dogmatic


In the language of Catholicism, dogmatic definition is a technical expression used in connection with the object of faith either to signify that an object of faith is a dogma, revealed by God and proclaimed as such by the Church (e.g., the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility, H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer [Freiburg 1963] 3074), or to give precision to the formularization of a dogma (e.g., Chalcedon's definition of the Christological dogma, Enchiridion symbolorum 301303); dogmatic definition falls within the wider expression of the rule of faith (regula fidei ). This article deals with (1) the act by which a dogmatic definition comes into being, and (2) the nature of a dogmatic definition.

Act. A dogmatic definition is an act of the Church as the living instrument through which the word of god is operative in human history from the time when that Word became flesh in Jesus Christ until its final revelation in the parousia of the Lord Jesus. To enable the Church to function as the living instrument of the Word of God, there is within the Church the institution of the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church). Through this institution the Church is the prophetic instrument of the Word of God in that it gives testimony to that Word (see witness, christian).

By teaching this institution the Church is the pastoral instrument of the Word of God, and through this same institution the Church is the judicial instrument of the Word of God, proclaiming in an authoritative manner what must be believed as the Word of God. A dogmatic definition is an act of the Church through the institution of the magisterium acting in its judicial capacity; as such, it is an act of the supreme authority within the Church. This judicial act of the supreme authority of the Church is seen first in the ordinary functioning of the institution of the magisterium, the handing on of the apostolic tradi tion by the successors of the apostles. For in this preaching and teaching of the apostolic Church, there is not only the transmission of the Word of God but also the definition of dogma, of what is revealed by God.

Thus Origen writes [De prin. 4, 5 (praef.); Patrologia Graeca ed. J. P. Migne (Paris 185766) 11:118]: "quod manifestissime in ecclesiis praedicatur. Est et illud definitum in ecclesiastica praedicatione omnem animam rationabilem esse liberi arbitrii." Here the act of supreme authority by which dogmatic definition comes into being has the form of traditional or customary law (Scheeben, Handbuch der Katholischen Dogmatik 1:190). The various creeds and confessions of faith (Enchiridion symbolorum 1, 2, 7576,125126, 150, 525541, 680686, 800802) used by the Church, together with the professions of faith (Enchiridion symbolorum 186270, 198587, 353750), are the objectivization of this form of dogmatic definition representing a formulation of the Church's belief.

The judicial act of the supreme authority of the Church by which dogmatic definition comes into being also takes the form of statutory law. This involves the extraordinary intervention of the institution of the magisterium, a formal judgment of the supreme tribunal of the Church. Since this supreme tribunal has two juridical formsthe pope as head and representative of the apostolic college, and the pope together with the apostolic collegedogmatic definition in this form comes into being through an ex cathedra judgment of the pope (judicium plenum ) or through a judgment of a general council (judicium plenissimum ). Although on occasions, such as the Council of Trent, these judgments cover a wide area of dogma, the history of dogma shows that for the most part they are concerned with particular dogmas. They are expressed in various ways: by the condemnation, appended to the statement of creeds, of heretical belief (Enchiridion symbolorum 126, 151); by anathema (Enchiridion symbolorum 153); by canons (Enchiridion symbolorum 222,371); by dogmatic letters (Enchiridion symbolorum 546548); or by decrees (Enchiridion symbolorum 178180).

Whether it comes into being as an act of the ordinary or extraordinary intervention of the institution of the magisterium, dogmatic definition is to be interpreted according to the rules used in the interpretation of law. Concerning the act by which a dogmatic definition comes into being, the doctrinal statement of Vatican Council I (Enchiridion symbolorum 3011) is normative: "Furthermore, by divine and Catholic faith all must be believed that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition and that is set forth by the Church as a divinely revealed object of belief either in solemn decree or in ordinary, universal teaching."

Nature. The theological determination of the nature of dogmatic definition depends on a theology of the Word of God and on the scientific understanding of the phenomenon of human speech. Using modern developments in the field of speech-theory, theologians such as Edmund Schlink have begun to investigate the peculiarities of theological statements, the Church's response in faith to the actuality of the Word of God. This investigation shows that dogmatic definition is a form of theological statement rooted in the primary theological statement, the Church's confession of faith. In this confession (cf. Enchiridion symbolorum 265266) the Church, together with the Holy Spirit, testifies that response to the Word of God is the obedience of faith (Rom 1.5). Dogmatic definition, therefore, is not a rationalization of divine truth but the manifestation of the Church's faith as normative for the belief of members of the Church. Where other norms, such as the objectivization of the faith of the primitive Church in the corpus of New Testament writings, are concerned with the formation of dogma, dogmatic definition is concerned primarily with the formularization of dogma. The temporal and so changing character of the Church's human speech in which the Word of God is embodied postulates this normative role of the Church's faith. However, because it is the expression of the Church's faith, the content of dogmatic definition is divine truth, and in relation to this content dogmatic definition is irreformable. The thought patterns used to conceptualize this content and the words in which it is expressed are conditioned by factors, cultural and anthropological, subject to change.

See Also: article of faith; deposit of faith; doctrine; doctrine, development of; faith and morals; infallibility.

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., (Paris 190350) Tables générales 1:916917. m. j. scheeben, Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik, v.1 (Freiburg 1948) 187283. c. davis, "The Living Word," Theology for Today (New York 1962) 100113. w. pannenberg, "Was ist eine dogmatische Aussage?" Kerygma und Dogma 8 (1962) 8199. k. rahner, "Was ist eine dogmatische Aussage?" Schriften zur Theologie, v.5 (Einsiedeln 1962) 5481. e. schlink, "Die Struktur der dogmatischen Aussage als oekumenisches Problem," Kerygma and Dogma 3 (1957) 251306.

[e. g. hardwick]

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