Do teachings need to be followed?


I’ve been told that the Catholic Church has its dogmas and its teachings. The few dogmas of the Church are non-negotiable and must be adhered to. The remainder of the Church’s instructions are merely teachings, though, and are open to debate and change. These teachings should be considered as guidelines for living and it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves if they are to be followed or not. Is this the proper way to think about the teachings of the Church?


No, this is not accurate.

I recommend reviewing the Catechism, especially the first section of the Creed “I Believe - We Believe” and the four marks of the Church and the Hierarchy.


I think you have this confused a bit. Dogma cannot and will not ever change. It could be clarified to be better understood, but never changed. The Teachings of our Church cannot and will not ever change; the practices may change.

For example, we will always believe that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. (Church Teaching)

We could be instructed to receive communion only while kneeling. (Practice)


The teachings is a broad term…
Dogma: that which must be believed
Doctrine: That which must be taught
general teaching: everything else

The Dogma does change, but only by addition to date. (The immaculate conception was doctrine for centuries, but has only been Dogmatized recently.)

The Doctrine is changeable, but does so SLOWLY… except by councils or papal action, where some changes occur surprisingly fast.

There is a great amount of general teaching.

Breaking with dogma is a mortal sin, in belief or in teaching
Teaching against doctrine is a mortal sin. Publicly espousing a position against the doctrine is a mortal sin.

Some elements, however, are neither Doctrine nor Dogma. Things such as Marian devotion.

I’m required to believe that Mary is the mother of God, and that she was assumed bodily into heaven, and that she was born without original sin. I’m not allowed to teach that she had other children, despite historians of the era claiming so, as the doctrine is that she was ever virgin and ever continent. I’m not, however, required to pray to Mary, aside from the few prayers in the liturgy. (It’s advisable, but not required. And such a change would send me screaming straight to the OCA!)

Anyone teaching against the doctrine (and most of the CCC is Doctrine, not Dogma) IS a heretic. Anyone not believing all the dogma is a heretic.


Thanks for the clarification. Is all of the CCC considered to be doctrine or is some of it teaching?


I other related questions. What about prudential judgments?

What about the opinions of cardinals and others in the hierarchy on, say, global warming? Are opinions to be viewed as more important when they come from the Church hierarchy?


We are to follow everything that the Church tells us to do.

Some things are disciplinary practices, which can change according to need. Examples of disciplinary practices include Friday penances and Holy Days of Obligation. In some parts of the world and at times in the Church’s history, people are required to abstain from warm-blooded meat on Fridays. In other parts of the world, they can choose a different penance to do, if they want to, and in yet other parts of the world (especially very poor countries) they don’t observe the Friday penance at all.

Holy Days of Obligation are different in different parts of the world, as well. Here in Canada, we have two - in the USA, I think there are six or seven.

But you still have to follow the rules of the place and time that you are in. You can’t say, “Oh, well, tomorrow they are going to change it, so I can do what I think they will say tomorrow.” This doesn’t work.

The Catechism is a handy reference guide to all of the general teachings of the Church. For local details, you can ask your local Bishop. :slight_smile:


It depends on what the opinions are about - we recognise the church’s authority in matters of faith and morals. They aren’t an authority on science, nor do they usually claim to be. So their opinions on the existence of global warming aren’t usually to be seen as authoritative.

Of course they did try to pronounce on science with Gallileo, but that was mainly because he presented his theory as indisputable fact rather than theory. In fact most of his work was sponsored by the Church itself, they didn’t really have anything against it per se.

On the other hand, there are areas, of course, where science intersects with faith and morals. For example, determining the beginning point of life, and the correct ethical behaviour in regard to issues of fertility and sexuality.

Usually the church will be guided at least somewhat by the independent knowledge of the scientific community in arriving at their conclusions - for example, evolution is a solidly-scientifically-supported theory as to the beginning of the universe. It isn’t incompatible with our core belief that God created the universe, so we are free to accept it.

So we can, for example, be required to believe that life begins at conception, and that God requires us to do all we can to allow his plans for it to unfold naturally. That means no artificial contraception or abortion.


Last I heard, the CCC was all doctrine; but since all Dogma is also doctrine…


Your bishop can define doctrine within the diocoese, so long as he does not contradict doctrine set forth by the church.

Your bishop can also simply advise. It’s his choice.

The issue is that this “local doctrine” is always subject to higher authority. In most cases, that includes the national conference for the local nation, and then the Grand Synods (of the Roman Church and of the Catholic Church) and the Pope, and the committees of the grand synod.

Even your Pastor has (very limited) doctrinal authority.

As to issues like global warming: Unless the bishop (and cardinals are “merely” bishop-electors for the Roman Patriarchate) is declaring doctrine for their own diocese, they are merely teaching-simple, not doctrine.

The Sacred Congregation on the ____ is a committee of the Grand Synod; their promulgations need the imprimatur of the papacy to have effect, but are teachings of the church until made doctrinal, by the synod or the pope. Since the synod seldom does much directly, once the pope authorizes it, it’s doctrinal to the romans.

Also, whilst dogma is universal in the Catholic Church (which has made certain recent declarations of dogmatic status on a few odd beliefs troublesome for the efforts at reunification with the Orthodox and some other churches), Doctrine can differ from Rite to Rite, but it seldom differs much. The role of lay ministers, the lesser orders of clerics, who may approach the altar… even the rules for communion.

Theology DOES differ from Rite to Rite; theology is the explanation and rationale that builds around the doctrine and dogma.


I thought doctrine was also unchangable, but could be clarified in understanding.

I am also under the impression that along with teaching against it, willfuly breaking in personal belief with doctrine is also sin


Dogma must be believed with a divine faith.

Doctrine must be held and obeyed.


Correct. Doctrine doesn’t change, but our understanding of it, and the words used to define it, become more refined and more clear over time.

I am also under the impression that along with teaching against it, willfuly breaking in personal belief with doctrine is also sin

This is also correct. :thumbsup:


My understanding is that the reformable teachings should be approached with “submission”/“docility” in terms of one’s general attitude to them as a child might approach a teaching from his father or mother. Let me link to a document from the magisterium itself (magisterium btw means “teacher”) on the subject you raise.

“The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed.(24)”


In my own understanding, there are some central dogmas such as the Trinity, the Incarnation and Divinity of Jesus, and others which are so central to Christian faith you can’t be a Christian without them. The main dogma I can think of in this case is that God is a Trinity; many of the worst heresies in Christian history came from those who denied God was triune, or that Jesus was not divine.

There are also some doctrines, such as Papal Infallibility, and others. A Catholic in my view is bound to believe absolutely in things like the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation of Jesus, and the material stated in the Nicene Creed. A Catholic in my view can question other doctrines or examine them more deeply to try and understand why the Church teaches them, if he feels they may be wrong. Faith in my view is not blind obedience and a suspension of one’s faculty of reason, as St Thomas says, God is Truth and cannot err, so whatever is true anywhere must come from God. If one feels something is false, then by conscience one should carefully examine the arguments and views and only judge it to be in error if it agrees with reason and with conscience.

For example, if a future Pope were to declare all Muslims were pagans and Catholics were bound, on pain of excommunication, to go on a Crusade against Muslims, and used his infallibility to endorse this belief, I would consider it acceptable to reject it even if I had to leave the Church, as such a pronouncement seems brutally against the sensible teaching of the Church as it is now as well as what scripture itself says about love and forgiveness. Or, if one for example believed the Inquisition and its torture of suspects was a grave evil and the Church was wrong to do it (as I very firmly do) in the past, I don’t believe this is grave sin. I also believe the condemnation of Galileo was a grave error and Pope John Paul the II himself admitted this.

However, it is another thing to disagree with some foundational teaching of the church, such as the grave immorality of murder and abortion. The Church’s magesterium, many Popes, and also many Saints and great Doctors of the Church have always through the ages regarded both unjustified homicide and abortion as grave evils. Even if abortion is held to be a grave evil by the church is not a binding dogma like the Holy Trinity, I don’t think Catholics should disobey or teach against this without very grave or good reasons. And if they do so, they should leave the Church. I would, if I could not accept a core part of the Church’s teaching.

A Catholic in my view can privately hope for reform in some areas, such as the role of the women in the ordained priesthood. But a Catholic should pray and wait patiently for reform to come to the Church. Vatican I and II for example brought many great reforms to the Church with no-one probably would have thought possible, and the Church is not a monolithic institution with no life or ability to adapt; it is much more a unity in great diversity, even in matters of theology and spirituality. But it is one thing to privately desire the Church reform in one way and publically denounce the Church or one of its teachings without good reason, and to bring scandal upon the Church does great damage to both it and the faith as a whole, which is why any Catholic needs to take these matters with great care and only dispute a teaching of the church only after considerable maturity, reflection, and with a clear and well informed conscience and mind which is familiar with the church and its heritage at a deep level.

In my experience Catholics are actually very flexible and open when it comes to theology, and are not afraid of having a good and open discussion. The Church must teach very firmly on some things in light of the widespread relativism which exists today, but at the same time there is a lot of beautiful variety in the Church, it’s teaching, its philosophy and theology, and its various traditions.


Are there any books or web sites that clearly distinguish what is dogma from what is doctrine from what is practice?


This is the Faith, by Canon Francis Ripley. :thumbsup:


If God is truth and he gives the fullness of truth to His Church, then doubts in doctrine (which I believe are all infalliable in the sense they must be held by all the faithfull, right? by the Ordinary Magisterium and so forth) would be doubt of God’s promise to the Church. Not having faith in some parts of the Church is akin to not having faith in God. This faith doesn’t have to be ‘blind’ or ‘irrational’. You can seek understanding in why the doctrines and dogmas are, and are even encouraged to do so. Willfully doubting them is something else though.

Meh, I wouldn’t ever say grave for that silly case. Don’t know if Pope John Paul II really said that though.

Now I am sure that you cannot publicly renounce doctrine, such as some aspects of the sacrament of ordination. So if you cannot stand against the teachings, what good would it do you to doubt them, except to remove trust in the Church (this is not assuming infallibility of doctrine). The Church can adapt and change, it is just that the Church is blessed with some truths, and truths do not change with time. Doctrine can have clarifications and so forth, but no change. To my understanding, it can even be defined infalliably as a dogma. I think ulitmately it comes to who one trusts more: God’s Church or themselves.


The Doctrines need to be followed, not of need believed, to avoid teaching by action.

The general teachings can, and often should, be questioned, in the same way that a child should ask why. Unlike a child, however, we are expected to apply our own common sense in the application of it.

“Why are we expected to stand from the kiss of peace until the reposition of the blessed sacrament?”
“Why do we see purple vestments during Lent and Advent?”
“Why must we fast?”
“Why are there almost no married priests in the Roman Rite?”

Each of these has solid theological answers. Each represents a change from what came before, and there are solid reasons. In the first of these, it’s a change to “Stand Aright, Stand in Awe” if I understood ABp Schweitz’s letter.
The second is that purple has specific meanings liturgically.
The third is that it is a church imposed discipline which shows our obedience to God and the Church, and also helps our spiritual growth. further, it is Tradition and tradition; Tradition in that Christ fasted; tradition in how we fast.
The last is a very complex one… better to ask “So where did the few married Roman RIte priests come from?” Usually, by conversion. Rev. Fr. Scott Medlock comes to mind. Used to be a protestant pastor, with a wife and 2 kids. Now, he’s an RC Priest, with a wife and 2 kids.

The example of Crusade is a good one. I agree with it. At some point, we must stand on the moral teachings of mother church, and do the right thing on our own. I hope that it never goes that far.


To sum up the official teaching of the Church:

l. If it is a teaching proclaimed by the extraordinary magisterium,
    a good Catholic must assent under pain of heresy.
2. If it is a teaching proclaimed by the ordinary magisterium, e.g.
    the 10 Commandments, a good Catholic must assent under pain of
    serious sin.
3. If it is a teaching seriously proclaimed by the magisterium in a
    non-infallible way, on a non-infallible topic, a good Catholic
    must assent under pain of sin, possibly mortal. Canon 752 covers
    this case, (see below).

Canon 752: While the assent of faith is not required, a
religious submission of intellect and will is to be given to any
doctrine which either the Supreme Pontiff or the college of
Bishops, exercising their authentic <magisterium,> declare upon
a matter of faith or morals, even though they do not intend to
proclaim that doctrine by definitive act. Christ’s faithful are
therefore to ensure that they avoid whatever does not accord with that doctrine.

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