Dogma vs Doctrine vs Personal Views


I’m hoping this question has been asked many times (if so bear with me please!) and someone has a good reference at their fingertips.

Is there someplace that identifies everything that has been defined as doctrine, and what’s dogma? A nice succinct list would be wonderful.:slight_smile:

My understanding is as Catholics we are required to believe both. If this is true, what is then the difference between the two?

I also understand that things like Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus is considered neither since he didn’t issue it as part of the magisterium, but rather are his personal views. But sometimes that line seems blurry to me. For example, John Paul II gave this talk on Purgatory, Heaven and Hell. Which of the 3 is it considered to be?


Hoping if I send this back to the top somebody will have an answer.:tiphat:


David Currie’s book, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic has this handy list of definitions:

Deposit: “…the body of truth originally given to the apostles. In time, some of it was written into Scripture, while some of it remained in its original form of oral tradition. Protecting this deposit is the major responsibility of the bishops. The Church teaches that nothing can be added to or contradicted within the deposit.”
Dogma:** “…that body of truth that has been affirmed by the councils of the church and the Holy See of Rome. The further explanation, definition, and development of the concepts within the deposit, as well as the deposit itself, are contained within dogma. Once dogma has been declared by the bishops, it can be further developed but never contradicted…”

Doctrine: “… the development of truth on the basis of the deposit and dogma. Doctrine can develop and even contradict itself over time, because it is largely the thoughts of people. It has not been officially declared true or false by the Church.” He goes on to say that, “…good, careful Evangelical scholars make the mistake of taking doctrine as the unchangeable teaching of the Church.”

Disciplines: “… those rules that govern the everyday life of faithful Catholics. This area has seen the most change (contradiction)… and it is this very visible area that people usually point to when they accuse the Church of having changed…” He goes on to say, “Disciplines by there very nature are going to be developed and contradicted over time – bound when the need arises and loosed when appropriate.”

Devotions: “… are those activities by which an individual Christian may enhance his walk with God. The Catholic use of “devotion” is much broader than the Evangelical use of the word. It means much more than Bible study and prayer. Devotions are never mandatory for a Catholic layman…”

The JPII link is the transcript of 3 talks he gave, which are explanations for the Church’s teachings on those things. He was not presenting anything new or declaring any new dogma. You can see that older Church documents are cited frequently.


Dogma /Doctrine
A Dogma is a Doctrine infallibly taught by the Pope,using Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as the source, and are irreversible.

The “Fundamentals” of Catholic *“Dogma” ( each one of these are broken down if you go to the link below)
1.The Unity and Trinity of God
2.God the Creator
3.God the Redeemer
4.The Mother of the Redeemer
5.God the Sanctifier
6.The Catholic Church
7.The Communion of Saints
8.The Sacraments
11.Holy Eucharist
13.Holy Orders
15.Extreme Unction
16.The Last Things

A Doctrine is a Catholic truth, that may *or may *not **be infallibly taught,( “Dogmas” are infallibly taught) using any of three sources;

Christ’s public revelation
(example: the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.)

Theological conclusion
(example: the canonization of a particular saint.)

Natural law
(example: the sinfulness of contraception.)

*All *the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are “doctrines” and must be accepted with a religious submission of intellect and will, by all believers, including those parts *not *formally defined as dogma.

Any truth, taught by the Church ,“as necessary for acceptance by the Faithful” is “doctrine”.


Very helpful, thank you. :slight_smile:


Dogmas can also be teachings by the bishops in union with the Holy Father, such as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.


Hello Narnia59,

Denzinger’s is probably the best source to see a list of the doctrines and dogmas. Father William Most put out an interesting list a few years back and I have a copy somewhere but couldn’t put my finger on it right now. You might search the web using his name and maybe you could find it.



All of the above answers to the original poster’s question are substantially incorrect.

A doctrine is a teaching of the Church. Doctrines are either infallible or non-infallible. The infallible doctrines are dogmas. So a dogma is a type of doctrine. The teaching authority of the Church teaches infallible in any of three ways:

  1. solemn definitions of the Pope (papal infallibility)
  2. solemn definitions of an Ecumenical Council
  3. the ordinary and universal Magisterium

All other teachings of the Magisterium are non-infallible and subject to a limited possibility of error.

Theological opinion (pious opinion) is fallible.

The spiritual (teaching) authority of the Church issues doctrines; the temporal authority of the Church issues disciplines (rules, rulings, norms, judgments, etc.). The decisions of the temporal authority are fallible.

The Magisterium teaches from Divine Revelation (the Deposit of Faith), which consists solely of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Tradition is “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation.” (Dei Verbum, n. 2). Tradition is transmitted by the spoken and written words, but more so by the deeds, of all the faithful.

The Magisterium can also teach from natural law, but all that is taught by natural law is also found in the Deposit of Faith, at least implicitly.

There is no authoritative and comprehensive list of the infallible teachings of the Church. It is often not clear if a teaching is infallible or non-infallible. It is often not clear if an idea is a non-infallible teaching or a theological opinion.


After much study and reflection on this complicated matter, as I understand it, a dogma is an infallible doctrine that is directly connected with Divine Revelation itself. It is a belief or mystery directly revealed by God. It is Divine Faith and demands the assent of Faith. A doctrine if taught definitively by the magisterium is of Catholic Faith and is an infallible secondary teaching that is indirectly connected with Divine Revelation and is primarily intended to safely guard and faithfully expound the dogmas within the Deposit of Faith. As Pope John Paul II taught in his audience concerning Papal Infallibility, they are doctrines definitively taught but not as divinely revealed. These doctrines are infallible because if they were rejected or perceived to be in error, then it would open the door to an attack against the dogmas in the deposit of faith that it intends to protect or expound. Most of the time a doctrine is non-infallible because it is usually taught non-definitively in homilies, audiences, pastoral letters of local bishops, theological books, etc. These non-infallible doctrines are intended merely to help people understand the faith and most of the time not intended to be binding and perhaps not critical to defending or expounding the deposit of faith. They can be in error or they could be correct. But, there are times when the Magisterium definitively teaches a doctrine it deems critical or important in order to defend the deposit of faith and therefore it is infallible and demands a third class of assent called “definitive assent.” It is higher than a mere “religious assent” but lower than an “assent of faith.” These infallible doctrines are of a secondary nature and lower than dogmas, but they are still important and necessary to protect and expound a dogma.


Ron Conte:

We all know that the Church's doctrine concerning the immorality of contraception is infallible, right? Now, it seems to me that according to your above post this teaching would be a dogma? I don't think every infallible doctrine is necessarily a dogma. Personally, I think dogmas are up on a pedestal above infallible doctrines of this kind. Could you clarify or elaborate on what you mean and can you comment on whether or not you think my previous post is correct or not and why? Thank you.



If you want a list of dogmas and doctrines, that is precisely why Pope John Paul II commissioned the publication of “the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” It was because the bishops at a General Synod in Rome asked for a compendium of Catholic doctrine to help them know the teachings of the Church. It was primarily intended to instruct bishops. Keep in mind that not all bishops are as knowledgeable as you’d expect. Unfortunately, in some countries there might be poor training due to lack of resources. So, the Catechism would come in handy in such situations. Then certainly it was also recommended that priests, religious, catechists, and lay people use it.

In regards to Pope John Paul II’s audiences about Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. They are not ex cathedra in nature. However, they do demand religious assent of mind and will. They are certainly very reasonable, I personally believe in what the Pope expressed. It seems absurd to suggest that God who is infinite and beyond measure dwells in a finite place that has limits and can be measured. All the talk about a place with the physical attributes of a tropical island paradise in the clouds with pearly gates or a kingdom with big extravagant palaces or temple are just figurative language that we use to describe the indescribable.


The above description is not at all correct.


Your conclusions on this topic contain numerous serious doctrinal errors. As Catholics, we are not permitted to believe whatever we think seems right, not if the Church has definitive teachings on the subject. Nothing even remotely like what you are saying is found in Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. You should abandon these foolish ideas, and go back to studying Church teaching and sound theology on this subject.

Like so very many persons in this discussion group, you are forming personal opinions on serious matters of faith and morals without sufficient knowledge and study, and you are acting as if you were a theologian, developing a theological opinion, yet on a topic where the Church has definitive teachings (of which you seem to be entirely unaware). A theologian does not develop a theological opinion on a topic without first studying thoroughly the teaching of the Church on that topic.


Ron Conte:

This is in reply to your last two posts. First of all, I do not at all claim to be a "theologian" as you do. I made it clear that I was merely expressing my fallible understanding of what the Church teaches. Now to my knowledge, there are no official Magisterial documents explicitly and clearly explaining the distinctions between dogma and doctrine in detail. So, therefore, I am left to my personal understanding of what the distinctions are based on certain vaguely worded Magisterial documents and the authoritative opinions of theologians. Theologians themselves do not exactly divorce their personal opinions from their theology, at times the Church's teachings are not at all clear, and therefore they are free to express their personal opinion on the matter.

Now, I believe that my personal opinion on this matter are not without foundation. I did my research with the help of the references cited in Fr. Brian W. Harrison S.T.D's article titled "The Infallibility of Humanae Vitae." According to him, the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas clearly said in more than one occassion: "Now a thing may be of the faith in two ways, as stated above (I, 32, 4; I-II, 1, 6, ad 1; I-II, 2, 5), in one way, directly and principally, e.g. the articles of faith; in another way, indirectly and secondarily, e.g. those matters, the denial of which leads to the corruption of some article of faith; and there may be heresy in either way, even as there can be faith. ** " (Summa Theologica II, 11:2). **

From this we see that there are doctrines that are articles of faith (e.g. the dogmas) and there are doctrines that are not articles of faith, but are indirectly and secondarily connected with the articles of faith in order to safeguard or expound them. This is Fr. Harrison's reasoning and also that of the majority of theologians. To explain this St. Thomas gave the example of the dogma of Biblical Inerrancy. It is an article of faith that the Bible is inerrant in all matters, however it is not an article of faith that Samuel was the son of Elcana (Cf. Summa Theologica I, 32:4). The latter is a secondary indirect teaching. If we denied the doctrinal fact that Samuel was the son of Elcana, then eventually we will find ourselves denying the very dogma of total inerrancy of scripture which is an article of faith. Now, this was vigorously debated at the First Vatican Council concerning the dilemma of precisely when the Pope spoke infallibly. Those who were in the minority argued that the Pope was infallible only in the realm of those direct and principle doctrines in the articles of faith (e.g. dogmas), but that he was not infallible in the secondary doctrines necessary to defending and expounding those articles of faith (e.g. Immorality of Contraception). This view was rejected in favor of including the secondary doctrines as infallible as well, which is why we see in the council: "The Roman pontiffs, too, as the circumstances of the time or the state of affairs suggested,...defined as doctrines to be held those things which, by God's help, they knew to be in keeping with Sacred Scripture and the apostolic traditions. ...For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might ** religiously guard and faithfully expound** the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles*..." (Vatican I, Session 4, Chapter 4, Nos. 5-6 [Emphasis added]). **This means that not only do those solemn dogmas in the deposit of faith that he pronounces ex cathedra are infallible, but also those secondary doctrines that are necessary to religiously guard and faithfully expound the dogmas found int he deposit of faith. The Second Vatican Council also included the phrase "religiously guard and faithfully expound" in its formulation of papal infallibility and referenced Bishop Gasser's relatio explaining the meaning of the word "define" as including those secondary doctrines. Pope John Paul II said in one of his audiences: *"In this regard the First Vatican Council said that the object of the infallible Magisterium is the 'doctrine on faith and morals to be held by the whole Church' (DS 3074). In the new formula of the profession of faith recently approved (cf. AAS 81 [1989]: 105, 1169), a distinction was made between divinely revealed truths and truths **definitively taught but not as divinely revealed, which therefore require a definitive assent that nevertheless is not an assent of faith*," (Cf. The Holy Spirit Assists the Roman Pontif)*. Pope John Paul II is referring to the most recent version of the Oath of Fidelity published by the CDF that all college professors and clergy have to recite and also the change in the Code of Canon Law (cf. Motu Propio: "Ad Tuendam Fidem") to reflect the new understanding of the distinctions made to certain Papal teachings. Pope John Paul II and the CDF further clarified the vague wording of the Councils and introduced the new "definitive assent" which is different from "assent of faith" and "religious assent."

I hope this helps to understand my position.

May God bless you.



You have very substantially misunderstood all of the sources that you cite in theology and in magisterial documents. Your claims are theologically incoherent, and your numerous assertions are not tenable, even as speculative theological opinion. If the same truth is taught in two different sources, with different wording, you mistake the different wording for a different truth, thereby inventing new specious doctrines.

{1:6} I wonder that you have been so quickly transferred, from him who called you into the grace of Christ, over to another gospel.
{1:7} For there is no other, except that there are some persons who disturb you and who want to overturn the Gospel of Christ.
{1:8} But if anyone, even we ourselves or an Angel from Heaven, were to preach to you a gospel other than the one that we have preached to you, let him be anathema.
{1:9} Just as we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone has preached a gospel to you, other than that which you have received, let him be anathema.

I will not give any further reply to your posts, which are filled with serious doctrinal errors and absurd claims.


Ron Conte:

I’m honestly trying to learn, please provide an adequate correction with sources rather than arrogantly dismissing what I’m saying labeling me as “anathema” when I’m not.

I would refer you to the Catholic Encyclopedia articles titled: “Dogma” and “Dogmatic Facts,” which explain my position in greater detail. Here is a sample:

[quote=Dogma, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5:]**

The three classes of revealed truths**

Theologians distinguish three classes of revealed truths: truths formally and *explicitly *revealed; truths revealed formally, but only implicitly; and truths only virtually revealed.
… And a truth is said to be revealed only virtually, when it is not formally guaranteed by the word of the speaker, but is inferred from something formally revealed.
Now, truths formally and explicitly revealed by God are certainly dogmas in the strict sense when they are proposed or defined by the Church…Similarly, truths revealed by God formally, but only implicitly, are dogmas in the strict sense when proposed or defined by the ChurchThere is a diversity of opinion about virtually revealed truths, which has its roots in a diversity of opinion about the material object of faith (see FAITH).… and, according to others, they do not belong to the material object of Divine faith at all, nor become dogmas in the strict sense when defined, but may be called mediately-Divine or ecclesiastical dogmas…

As you can see, there are formally revealed explicit truths, formally revealed implicit truths, and merely virtually revealed truths. Formally revealed truths (whether explicit or implicit) are dogmas in the strict sense. Virtually revealed truths (e.g. dogmatic facts) are not dogmas in the strict sense, yet they are still infallible. These virtually revealed truths are those truths which are not explicitly nor implicitly found in revelation, but are necessarily connected to them in order to safeguard them and expound them. As Pope John Paul II said they are “truths definitively taught but not as divinely revealed, which therefore require a definitive assent that nevertheless is not an assent of faith,”** (Cf. The Holy Spirit Assists the Roman Pontif)**. If you read Canon 750, there is a distinction made between these truths as is evident in its section 2.


Catholics really need to understand infallibility.

“Infallible” is not used for anything but what is irreformable, whether dogma or doctrine.

As has been cited Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus, Chap 4, #9, an infallible dogma) is the basis for understanding infallibility.
So The Pope’s ‘ex cathedra’ definitions may be either of revealed dogma, to be believed with divine faith, or of other truths necessary for guarding and expounding revealed truth. Vatican Council II and the post-conciliar Magisterium have explicitly affirmed that both ecclesial and papal infallibility extend to the secondary doctrinal truths necessary for guarding and expounding revelation. Thus Humanae Vitae (Encyclical against contraception) and *Ordinatio Sacerdotalis *(Apostolic Epistle on male only priesthood) contain infallible doctrinal definitions, to remove all doubt.

The CCC #88 (1997) clearly combines exactly with Pope John Paul’s* Motu Proprio *(= on his own authority) Apostolic Letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, 1998 (ATF), which requires the assent of divine and Catholic faith to believe (credenda sunt) dogmas (a category one truth) (Canon #750.1); and a category 2 truth requires the assent of ecclesial faith, as a secondary truth, “proposed definitively” (definitive proponuntur) to be “firmly embraced and held” (now Canon 750.2). In fact, the 1983 revision of Canon Law had replaced in #749.3 “dogmatically declared or defined” with “infallibly defined”, thus NOT expressing a limitation of infallibility to dogmas. ATF better enables Canon Law to apply to the understanding of infallibility including the Profession of Faith covering the two categories of infallible doctrine.

Vatican II, reiterated the teaching of Vatican I on papal infallibility, and its documents are readily available [from the EWTN Library ( or the Vatican Library] for anyone with the will to know what Christ’s Church is teaching, like most of the documents of Vatican I, and the papal documents before and since Vatican II. Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I would add if worth knowing, is worth knowing well. Two papal dogmas are infallible – The dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.


After reviewing this thread, readers will note the essentials of doctrine, and the following two quotes should be corrected

Pixie Dust
Quoting from David Currie's book, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic “Doctrine can develop and even contradict itself over time, because it is largely the thoughts of people. It has not been officially declared true or false by the Church." He goes on to say that, "...good, careful Evangelical scholars make the mistake of taking doctrine as the unchangeable teaching of the Church."

We should be careful not to accept everything from anyone, even a faithful convert, without ensuring that it is true, especially on the vital importance of dogma and doctrine. We have seen the meaning of doctrine from Vatican I, and defined doctrine is infallible; it CANNOT change in meaning.

This is what Pope John XXIII declared in Opening Vatican II: “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council" was that "this certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which the obedience of Faith must be given, be studied thoroughly and explained in the way for which our times are calling...but nevertheless with the same meaning and the same sense."

Ron Conte
The infallible doctrines are dogmas.

There are DOGMAS which have to be believed on divine and Catholic faith and which are infallible.
There are defined DOCTRINES which have to be held on the faith of the Church and which are infallible. They are certainly not dogmas.
There are DOCTRINES which are not defined and which are to be given a submission of will and intellect to the teaching authority of the Church as divinely instituted. The faithful are required to give religious assent, which is not as certain as theological assent, but yet morally obligatory. [See Vatican II, *Lumen Gentium #25).

Infallibility is far too important to be left to "the long-standing confusion (even amongst orthodox theologians)....and the resulting widespread (though clearly false) impression that it [the Vatican I dogma] guarantees infallibility only for ‘de fide' definitions of revealed truth, or of heresies which directly oppose it." [Fr Brian Harrison, O.S., *The Ex Cathedra Status of Humanae Vitae, 1992, p 42]. Thus there are several infallible papal definitions of doctrine.

Answer by David Gregson of EWTN to me on Nov-22-2002:
“You are correct in stating that the Pope exercises his charism of infallibility not only in dogmatic definitions issued, ex cathedra, as divinely revealed (of which there have been only two), but also in doctrines definitively proposed by him, also ex cathedra, which would include canonizations (that they are in fact Saints, enjoying the Beatific Vision in heaven), moral teachings (such as contained in Humanae vitae), and other doctrines he has taught as necessarily connected with truths divinely revealed, such as that priestly ordination is reserved to men. Further details on levels of certainty with which the teachings of the Magisterium (either the Pope alone, or in company with his Bishops) may be found in Summary of Categories of Belief.”

Hope this helps.


I’m guessing by now that narnia is as confused as I am. I’m no theologian myself, but just by browsing through this thread I see a gross lack of charity between two seemingly knowledgeable Catholics. Is there not enough division among non-Catholics? Must it also creep in from within? :shrug:

Now, that I have vented (and thank you for allowing me that), I am seriously inquiring, though I don’t know what kind of response I will receive.

I had somehow had the impression during my journey to the Catholic Church that the Church recognizes three levels of teaching (for lack of a better term); Defined Dogma, Popular Teaching, and Theological Opinion. Of course heresy can creep in easily with the last one, but not necessarily so. As I understand it Defined Dogma is the most binding. However, given the discussion here (and I’m using that term loosely :rolleyes: ), the confusion for me lies in what constitutes Defined Dogma vs. Popular Teaching. For instance, can we say with confidence that the Trinity, Hypostatic Union, Virgin Birth…all fall under the category of Defined Dogma and are absolutely binding? If so, what kinds of doctrines would fall under the category of Popular Teaching? Perhaps abortion, contraception, etc.? Btw, I’m not questioning the fact that those teachings are absolutely binding for the faithful as well.

A regular member in another forum said that ALL doctrine is binding and requires assent of the faithful. I asked him if that includes theological opinion and have yet to hear back. Perhaps I am confused as to the term “doctrine” and maybe am mistakingly using it synonymously with “teaching”?

Anyway…can somebody charitably help? :blush:

So far I have tried muddling through the posts here, and not being very educated, it is confusing. Can you please simplify it for me and for other possible lurkers? Thank you. :thumbsup:


i love this in his book. He calls it the “5 Ds” —it would be a great teaching tool!

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