Dogma and doctrine


What is the difference? And how do we treat each of them? And finally is there is an easy way of finding what doctrine has been dogmatically defined and what hasn’t?


A lot of people make a big deal out of the difference between “doctrine” and “dogma” as though those things that are “dogma” must be believed, while those things that are"doctrine" are optional. This is not the correct understanding of doctrine and dogma.

Try looking at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about doctrine and dogma. You might also look at the Catholic Encyclopedia under both doctrine and dogma.

If you want to know what Catholics ought to believe, the easiest place to go to is the Catechism. If you have questions about anything specific, you can ask them here and get a lot of responses :wink:


Thanks Joe - yes I do look in the Catechism. I was intersted in views here. Your view is that we should treat all doctrine and dogma the same?


I would say that both dogma and doctrine need to be accepted and believed, so in that way they should be treated the same. Of course, some truths of the faith are more central to our salvation than others, so I do not mean to imply that they are all equal in the sense of equal importance. The Church’s teaching on the Trinity is more important than the dogma of the Assumption, but I still accept them both as true.

Too often I have seen theologians (moral theologians in particular) engage in hair-splitting in trying to come up with “levels of assent” that we owe particular teachings (and they utilize this distinction between dogma and doctrine for that end). Almost always, they will classify the Church’s moral teaching on the lowest rung of the latter thereby requiring the lowest level of assent. IMO, all this does is confuse people and leave them with the impression that they can believe whatever they want to believe. It turns the Church into something that I can listen to and then ignore if I want to. That can lead into dangerous territory.

Honestly, though, I have yet to come across any statement from the Church that even says there is a difference between doctrine and dogma. The glossary to the Catechism lists them together in one entry as “Doctrine / Dogma”. (Technically, the Glossary is not part of the Catechism [nor is the index] in the sense that it is not subject of the formal promulgation by JPII as is text of the Catechism itself. But I find it telling nonetheless.)

From what I have read of those who discuss a difference, it seems the basic difference is that dogma is formally promulgated in an Ecumenical Council or by an ex cathedra statement of the Pope. Doctrine is viewed broader as any teaching of the Church. Thus, all dogma would be doctrine, but not all doctrine is dogma. Still, I’ve not come across anything from the Church that defines dogma and doctrine in this way. :shrug: (If you find anything, please let me know!)

To make a long story short, there simply is no list from the Church with Column A listing the “dogmas” and Column B listing the “doctrines”.


Thankyou very much for that very thoughtful reply Joe!


After the Catechism of the Catholic Church was written, the Church clarified that there are three levels of doctrine taught by the universal Church: (1) divine revelation or dogma, (2) infallible facts necessarily associated with divine revelation, and (3) non-infallible doctrine. Each of these levels of dogma/doctrine has a different level of belief/acceptance that is required.

The levels were added to church law in 1998 by Ad Tuendam Fidem (see here) and explained in the accompanying doctrinal commentary (see here).


Thanks for bringing these up, Just Lurking. These are great resources for the OP. Reading through them should be a great help. Paragraph 11 of the Commentary gives examples, which should be helpful.

However, I heartily disagree (respectfully) with Just Lurking’s summation of these documents. No where does it say that there are “three levels of doctrine”. The document (particularly the commentary) speaks of making distinctions in the order of truths. I think that is a very important difference.

I also disagree that each level has a different degree of assent owed to it. There is no difference between the first and second orders. From the Commentary:

  1. With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings.

It goes on to say that the difference is only in the source of the truth. For the first, the source of the truth is directly the Word of God. For the second, the source is the Holy Spirit who is guiding the Magisterium. This is the distinction between the first two. The level of assent is exactly the same.

As far as the third order, it is nowhere described as “non-infallible doctrine” (which I believe is an oxymoron). It describes the third order as “all those teachings on faith and morals - presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” No where are they called “non-infallible” and they still require the “religious submission of will and intellect.” Perhaps this is a different type of assent than the first two, but the bottom line is, you still have to believe them.

To speak in terms of “non-infallible doctrine” and speak of “levels of assent” leaves people with the impression that they are unimportant and unnecessary. That is not a correct. In practice, people use this to classify whatever they disagree with as “non-infallible doctrine” in order to justify their opposition to Church teaching. Ironically, this is exactly the type of attitude that Ad Tuendam Fidem was trying to counter.


I am happy to agree to disagree. However, I do have a few more links to share for anyone who might find them useful:

(See Here) Magisterial Documents and Public Dissent by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

(See Here) The Canonical Safeguarding of the Word of God by Jaime B. Achacoso, J.C.D., Philippine Canonical Forum, Volume II, January-December 2000.


Two more links:

(See Here) The Holy Spirit Assists the Roman Pontiff, General Audience, Pope John Paul II, March 24, 1993.

(See Here) Non-Infallible Teachings, Jimmy Akin, May 25, 2005.


DOCTRINE: Any truth taught by the Church as necessary for acceptance by the faithful. The truth may be either formally revealed (as the Real Presence), or a theological conclusion (as the canonization of a saint), or part of the natural law (as the sinfulness of contraception). In any case, what makes it doctrine is that the Church authority teaches that it is to be believed. This teaching may be done either solemnly in ex cathedra pronouncements or ordinarily in the perennial exercise of the Church’s magisterium or teaching authority. Dogmas are those doctrines which the Church proposes for belief as formally revealed by God. (Etym. Latin doctrina, teaching.)

DOGMA: Doctrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation. All dogmas, therefore, are formally revealed truths and promulgated as such by the Church. they are revealed either in Scripture or tradition, either explicitly (as the Incarnation) or implicitly (as the Assumption). Moreover, their acceptance by the faithful must be proposed as necessary for salvation. They may be taught by the Church in a solemn manner, as with the definition of the Immaculate Conception, or in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life. (Etym. Latin dogma; from Greek dogma, declaration, decree.)

Catholic Dictionary @ Catholic


Fair enough. :slight_smile:

Thanks for those links! That article by Cardinal Bertone is the best explanation that I have ever read of infallibility as it relates to the Ordinary and Extraordinary Magisterium! I’ve been looking for just such a clear explanation for a while. So thank you! :tiphat:


*]**Dogma - **teachings left to us by the Apostles. Dogmas includes both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. It is infallible, and it cannot be altered, changed, added to, or subtracted from.

*]**Doctrine - **This is a formally defined teaching which has been promulgated by an ecumenical council (like Nicaea or Trent) or declared an infallible teaching by a reigning Pontiff. Doctrine is also infallible, and also cannot be changed—but it likewise cannot contradict Scripture, Tradition, any previous infallible statement, or another doctrine. Examples include the Immaculate Conception and the Holy Trinity.

*]**Discipline - **This is an explanation of some aspect of the Faith. It is not infallible, and can be changed, evolved, condemned, or abandoned. Examples of this are limbo and Mary as Co-Redemptrix.

*]**Practice - **This is a rule established by the Church to help the believer walk the straight and narrow path; examples include clerical celibacy, not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

*]**Devotion - **The lowest level of Catholic belief; devotions are usually more or less up to the individual believer to practice or not. This category includes such things as the Rosary, First Friday devotions, first Saturday devotions, etc.[/LIST]


Just curious, where are you getting this from? The Immaculate Conception is most definitely a dogma. (CCC 491). Something that has been defined solemnly by a pope or an ecumenical council is a dogma.

Also, your definition of “practice” is what I have always heard as the definition of “discipline”. I don’t see how something that is essentially a teaching (like limbo or Co-redemptrix) could be labeled a discipline. I’ve never seen the Church use the term this way. I’ve only ever seen the word “discipline” used to describe actions or practices, like clerical celibacy (which is what the definition of “discipline” is).


It comes from Ludwig Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”.

[quote=Joe 5859;3628142The Immaculate Conception is most definitely a *dogma

. (CCC 491). Something that has been defined solemnly by a pope or an ecumenical council is a dogma.Then how does a doctrine differ from a dogma?

Well, if what you say is true, then it appears Ludwig is wrong.


I’ve heard great things about that book, though I’ve never read it. Did you quote Ott word-for-word, or just paraphrase? Are the examples you cited Ott’s or yours?

I think that the Cardinal Bertone article Just Lurking previously cited gives a good explanation. A doctrine is something that is part of Church teaching, but has never been formally or solemnly defined. For example, many of the Church’s moral stances are part of the Church’s teaching and are infallible, but they have never been formally or solemnly promulgated as such by a pope or ecumenical council.

Well, with all due respect, if Ott is saying that the Immaculate Conception is not a dogma, then, yes I would say he is wrong on that. (CCC 491 explicitly calls it a dogma, as Pius XII explicitly calls the Assumption a dogma in Munificentissimus Deus).

As far as his definition of “discipline” vs. “practice”, I cannot say that I am familiar enough with dogmatic theology to say that he is wrong. I simply have not found the terminology used that way in any Church documents that I have read. Of course, I have not read them all!

I’m sure Ott’s distinctions are very helpful and rooted in something in the Church’s tradition. I fully concede that he certainly knows more about dogma than I do. Of course, his book, as great as it is, is not a magisterial document but the work of a theologian (and I would say a very great one). I guess I really need to get around to picking up that book! :slight_smile:

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