Core principles

From a philosophical perspective, what would you say are the core principles or essential elements of Catholicism? I would think that these could be stated without reference to religious components. But that may reflect my intellectual bias, or a misunderstanding of Catholic philosophy. And may infact not be possible. But if you could sum up the essence of Catholic philosophy, what would you say it was?

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virign Mary, He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to the dead, on the third day He rose again, He will come again to judge the living and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints the forgiveness of sins, the ressurection of the body, and the life everlasting. Truly, this is the core of Catholicism.

This is all very nice, and I am sure true. But it is really not the sort of answer I was looking for. This is an entirely religiously based answer. It really does not answer the question.
For example, one might say that the idea of possiblility of redemption is a core principle. Or one might say obedience to church authortity as opposed to one individual thoughts is a core principle. Or one might say loving your neighbor. I am not saying these are core principles. They might be. But they are examples of what core principles might be. As much as believing in the Holy Spirit might be an essential part of Catholicism. It is really not what I am asking? I am asking for a more philosophical response. But thanks for replying.

Then again I must consider that there may in fact not be philosophical essence to Catholicism and only a religious one. Because your response may be the only one possible for Catholicism.


Probably Existential-Scholasticism or Scholastic-Existentialism, which ever way one primarily views the world.

**The core principles or essence of Catholicism probably cannot be summed up as briefly as you would like. The word “catholic” itself means “universal.” And so Catholicism is a universe of doctrines all of which hang together as essential to the whole. Any attempt to break that unity results in one brand of Protestantism or another.

The Nicene Creed was formulated as a response to a particular feud going on inside the Church during the 4th Century. It is based on revelation rather than philosophy. If (as it seems) you are really only interested in philosophical positions on various themes, the best place to go is to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where the philosophy is pretty well explained on virtually all issues.

The term “catholic” was first used to distinguish authentic Christians from those who had begun to pervert the ancient doctrines … such as the Arians, the Pelagians, the Nestorians, etc. (the earlier Protestants, in other words). The Church began to call itself “Catholic” (to distinguish itself from the others) because it believed in the universal unity of Christian doctrine John 17:21 … “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Here is Bishop Fulton Sheen’s take on defining the Catholic Church:

"There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. These millions can hardly be blamed for hating Catholics because Catholics “adore statues;” because they “put the Blessed Mother on the same level with God;” because they “say indulgence is a permission to commit sin;” because the Pope “is a Fascist;” because the Church “is the defender of Capitalism.” If the Church taught or believed any one of these things, it should be hated, but the fact is that the Church does not believe nor teach any one of them. It follows then that the hatred of the millions is directed against error and not against truth. As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because he called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. … the Catholic Church is the only Church existing today which goes back to the time of Christ. History is so very clear on this point, it is curious how many miss its obviousness…"**

Maybe this is more along the lines of what you are looking for:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Or maybe you would prefer the above to be stated simply as:


Or even more basic would be this:

God is love.

By the way, why do you think it is possible for a religion to state its core principles without reference to religious components?

From a strictly philosophical perspective the essential **fundamental **elements of Catholicism are:

  1. Trinitarian Theism

  2. The Divinity of Christ

  3. The Foundation of the Church

  4. The Reality of Free Will, Good and Evil

  5. The Efficacy of Prayer

  6. The Power of Love

  7. Cosmic Justice

In the case of Christianity it is impossible because the Redemption is the fundamental element of liberation from evil.

What makes a component a “religious” component?

Awesome! :thumbsup:

God bless,

Well I suppose I mean in part those ideas and principles that people who call themselves Catholic presume about each other. But also those that they might share with those that do not. For example, I referred earlier to belief in the possiblitlity of redemption as a possible Catholic value. An Athiest might also have a similar view that the bad are not without the capacity for becoming good. So in a sense they could be said to share that value.
One can assume that Catholics believe the things in the creed. Though some who call themselves Catholic might actually consider them symbolic and not actual.

I don’t deny the significance of religious components in defining Catholicism. It would be bazaar to do so. But being asked to define the essence of Catholicism without those references forces Catholics to think about what they believe and articulate it in a different way. I’d like if possible to separate the philosophical from the theological to the degree possible.
Also religious responses to the question tend to be self referential. Though true they often don’t sound very intelligent. “What are the values of America? “American values.”. " What do you believe in? I believe in the things I believe in”. Okay it’s hard to argue with that.

Just trying to get a sense of what Catholics here think Catholicism means out in the marketplace of ideas

It’s possible. The first axiom is “Good is to be done and evil avoided”. After that, there are different ways of organizing the other axioms and deductions therefrom, but the schedule I follow jumps right into the corollary, “It is possible to do good and avoid evil”, and continues laying the groundwork for a moral philosophy. Then on to “God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason”; the corollary there is “God exists”, and there follows a scheme of natural theology based only on what can be known through unaided human reason. The third part starts with “God can reveal truths not knowable through unaided human reason” and continues with a layout of divine revelation.

Unfortunately for your program, Catholicism is true, so it is not possible to extract its essence and isolate it as though it were a self-contained system.

Part of the problem I have with your question is that you don’t explain what you really mean by “philosophical”, “theological”, and “religious”. Echoing Ahimsa, I can’t separate them for you until and unless you tell me where you’re drawing the lines among them.


**Part of the problem I have with your question is that you don’t explain what you really mean by “philosophical”, “theological”, and “religious”. Echoing Ahimsa, I can’t separate them for you until and unless you tell me where you’re drawing the lines among them. **

I can’t speak for mcteague, but my impression is that he was trying to find out what the core philosophical elements of Catholicism would be without reference to revelation.

As I suggested above, Catholicism’s reach is for the same universal truth for all mankind. It opposes the relativism of truth so often advocated by secularists and the annihilation of unity which is spread by Protestantism. In philosophy I suppose you could say it poses a philosophical doctrine … natural law … which was prevalent up until the last 2-3 centuries. This natural law is consistent with God’s law since, of course, God created it. Any violation of the natural law in the moral realm is ipso facto a violation of God’s law.

As Bishop Sheen pointed out above, the modern secular world hates the Catholic Church because it stands for the natural law (God’s law). “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15-18) So Catholics are in good company. :thumbsup:

Part of the question is where Catholicism draws that line. Where I draw it is irrelevant. I have a hard time seeing why this is difficult. Probably because in the scholastic foundation of Catholic philosophy religion is more interwoven than in more modern thought. This by the way does not make it less valid.
I just trying to avoid answers and descriptions that are exclusively religious.

Let’s try an experiment
Try to describe the core principles of Catholicism without using any religious references. No God, no Jesus. No bible. If you must refer to the church, pope, or Vatican try calling them “the recognized authority” or " the seat of power" or something like that.
We will call these non religiously described elements philosophical.
Now may find that this artificial constraint does not allow us to accurately complete our task. We can include those core elements that require the use of religious terminology to describe them. Those elements may be philosophical also in some sense. But they cannot be described accurately without reference to religion.
We should now have a complete list of the essential elements of Catholicism, including both the religious and philosophical. Philosophical being defined broadly to include political, legal, social, or other non religious disciplines.
I am curious to observe a debate among Catholics about what is or is not essential.
I hope that helps

Catholicism is a religion, so I’m not sure how you can take religion out of the equation.

I’m not sure that I really understand the question.

Three essential assumptions that all Catholics share, that inform the Catholic world-view are:

  1. God created us.
  2. God is good.
  3. God loves us.

The rest has to do with God’s interventions in history, and our proper response to those interventions.

Excellent Question, my friend! One I consider greatly when attempting to understand the principles of the Catholic Faith.

Here are my thoughts:
The purpose and guiding philosophical principle of all Christianity as a whole: “To achieve the Greatest culmination of peace, happiness, and longevity, Love God and Others as Jesus Loved!”

There are 4 equal parts of the guiding principle that must be heavily studied and experimented with in order for the human mind to accept and give one’s self completely to God. I hope you can recognize the lack of religion, however, if you can’t, please let me know so I can improve my response.

  1. Love - Always be Patient and Kind
  2. Love God - Motivation of Voluntary Will
  3. Love Others - Encouraging Selflessness/Discouraging Natural Egoism
  4. Love as Jesus Loved - Unconditional Love Role Modeled Perfectly by another Human

Further Definition to each part of the principle:

  1. Love is Always Patient and Kind
    a. True Love is Unconditional, even in the face of Hatred.
    b. True Patience is the culmination of selflessness, consideration, honoring of free will, compassion, empathy, optimism, understanding, forbearance, forgiveness, humility and the absolute lack of envy, boasting, judgment, pride, arrogance, rude manner, selfishness, irritability, resentment, bitterness, glorified pessimism, anger, hatred and other factors I have yet to learn.
    c. True Kindness is the culmination of selflessness, willingness, helpfulness, initiative, respectful, gentleness, appreciation, hopefulness, rejoicing, endurance, giving, obedience, listening, thoughtfulness, enjoyment, encouragement, celebrating Godliness, accountability, reconciliation, and others I have yet to learn.
  2. Love God - Motivation of Voluntary Will: There are 3 types of motivation - personal, others, and God.
    *Please note, whether one believes there is simply free will, or the will is guided by chosen desire, beings have both will and choice of desire which yield voluntary will.
    a. When voluntary will is personally motivated, it seeks to do that which is best for oneself. Though this can appear seemingly gratifying to the person, it will most likely negatively affect others or ultimately cause strife in relationships and distress in the inner self.
    b. When voluntary will is extrinsically motivated by others, it seeks to do that which is best for others This motivation is seemingly righteous for its self-less approach. However, due to its selfless nature, this will likely become fatigued and feel under-appreciated.
    c. When voluntary will is motivated by God, it seeks to do that which is BEST for ALL. This motivation will lead to far greater peace(health), happiness, and longevity(energy) within the self and spread to others, than a person can imagine (Eternal Even)!
  3. Love Others - Recognizing that God’s Law is to Love All Beings!
  4. Love as Jesus Loved - We need a Perfect Role Model that shares the Human qualities of equality, voluntary will, desires, the initial lack of the complete understanding of God’s Word, and is not born into a world of seemingly royalty, That demonstrates how to practice unconditional patience and kindness, mainly in the face of unconditional impatience and cruelty, Which in turn reveals the amazing consequences of unconditional patience and kindness Which are complete inner peace while on the earth, amazing enjoyment of life, amazing amounts of energy (similar to the effects of adrenaline), massive spreading of peace and happiness to others, and eternal peace and happiness.

I have only heavily analyzed a few Catholic doctrines & sacrament practices alignment with this guiding philosophy:

  1. The Celebration of the Mass/Eucharist: Jesus told us to do this in memory of Him. It focuses the mind on His earthly Life’s Greatest Work: Crucifixion - The revealing of how to solely be completely patient in the face of Hatred, and its amazing consequences.
  2. Understanding of Punishment and Godly Punishments & How to properly Administer a Godly Punishment
    a. The Definition of Sin
    b. The Sacrament of Reconciliation
  3. The understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony (including why a Family of Husband, Wife, and Children should not be Head of the Religious Institution), including Priesthood and why Priests should refrain from seeking an additional wife alongside the Church.

I also to encourage you to take care to ensure you determine validity based on Jesus Christ and the Doctrines, and not “Christians” or “Catholics,” especially me for I am far from being Christ-Like.

I apologize for being redundant and incomplete. Thank you for the excellent Thought-Provoking Question! Please share your thoughts, considerations, and holes I may have missed.

May the peace of Christ be with you,
Jonathan Ochoa

*Your *question, *you *draw that line.

Seriously? You want us to describe the core principles of an integrated way of life without referencing religion? And what for you constitutes “religion”?

You wanna play philosophical hardball or do you just want a pleasant response?

I mean that seriously, not because I’m combative, but because it’s a worthwhile question.

Oh, and by the way, we are not going to fight amongst ourselves to entertain you.

Well I have stated several times that not referencing religion in regard to this question might be impossible. But I do think the attempt is worthwhile. What more do you want?

It also is not a issue of entertaining me. I think the question is simple, yet quite difficult. You want me to phrase it in a way that is easier. It is much easier to respond to a proposition than to make one yourself. It would be easy to correct or criticize some answer I would give. Since I am not a Catholic, or deeply trained in it’s intellectual tradition, my answer would almost certainly be incomplete or inaccurate.

Be that as it may. I suspect that if we were to do as I have suggested we might reach some conclusions. 1. We would discover that Christianity is indistinguishable from some other moral philosophies when we look exclusively at its non religious components. 2. We will discover that Catholicism is indistinguishable from other Christian religions when we separate out political and structural elements.
That is we may find that there is nothing to distinguish Catholicism beyond its tradition and structure, and a belief in the Christian God. In the process we will also come to understand what is meant by the universal nature of the Church. Assumptions some Catholics have about what being a Catholic means may be challenged. And their restrictive understanding of the faith may actually become universal.
I just thought it was an interesting question and an interesting exercise.

I think many of the responses have been excellent. Thank you all

I am curious to observe a debate among Catholics about what is or is not essential. **

No doubt you are, but are you also eager to provoke a debate among Catholics?

You see, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells it all … all the essential that you are seeking to know. It is indexed so that you can look up anything you want to know according to subject matter.

Dissident Catholics do not get to decide what the truth is. They either conform to the Catechism or are conscious that they are on the edge of heresy, if not fully in it.

Here is the website for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

You may also want to consult the Catholic Encyclopedia for more detailed and historical matters.

Catholicism has no unique essential philosophical principles. The Catholic religion is a supernatural religion, which means that its essentials are received from a supernatural source. Stripped of the supernatural, Catholicism becomes the natural religion, a paganism (not to imply that “paganism” constitutes one monolithic religion). But even to decide what parts of paganism are of divine provenance and which are merely of the light of natural reason is difficult, as they have retained some truths from when they originally drifted off from the religion of Adam, Seth, Abraham, Methuselah, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah.

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