Dogma vs Doctrine - What is the difference?

Can someone help me understand the difference between dogma & doctrine? If you can provide documentation through a reliable source I’d really appreciate it.


All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written or transmitted Word of God and which are proposed by the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, to be believed as having been divinely revealed.” Therefore the objects of Catholic faith - which **are called dogmas **. . . .

Declaration Mysterium Ecclesia

In 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith discussed the category of “all those doctrines of divine and catholic faith which the Church proposes as divinely and formally revealed. . .”

Examples given:

*]The articles of faith of the Creed
*]The various Christological dogmas and Marian dogmas
*]The doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace
*]The doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration
*]The foundation of the Church by the will of Christ
*]The doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff
*]The doctrine on the existence of original sin
*]The doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death
*]The absence of error in the inspired sacred texts
*]The doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.
Therefore, a dogma is a doctrine “to be believed by divine and Catholic Faith” that has been proposed by the Church to be “divinely and formally revealed.”

“Doctrine” appears to just mean “teaching”.

Thus, all dogmas are doctrines, but not all doctrines are dogmas.

It makes no difference if something is considered dogma or doctrine. We are obliged to believe and accept both.

Not quite true. There are levels of certitude that apply to doctrines. Some have room for reasoned debate.

I would recommed a book called “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma” by Ott. It’s a classic that has been used in seminaries for several decades

It lists the particular dogma or doctrine, it’s source in Revelation and the level of certitude it has. (all dogmas have the highest level of certitude)

I’m doing this from memory, so someone who has the book PLEASE correct my mistakes!

Re Scott Currie’s Born Fundamentalist, Born-again Catholic:

  1. Deposit of Faith: Holy Scripture AND Sacred Tradition, recognized and deliniated by the Magesterium. INFALLIBLE. Cannot be added to or subtracted from.

  2. Dogma: INFALLIBLE teaching of Faith or Morals, derived from the Deposit of Faith. Propagated by ex cathedra pronouncment of reigning Pontiff or by a ecumenical council of the Church’s bishops in turn ratified by reigning Pontiff. Cannot contradict Deposit of Faith or prior Dogma.

  3. Doctrine: NOT infallible teaching of the Church of Faith and Morals. Binding on all Catholics while propagated. Can be altered, modified, abandoned, even condemned. Doctrine RARELY becomes Dogma.

  4. Discipline: NOT infallible rules of behavior, binding on all Catholics while propagated, designed with the intent to keep believers “on the straight and narrow”. Includes Lenten rules of fasting & priestly celibacy. Can be relaxed, altered, or abolished.

  5. Devotions: Private practice of prayers, meditions, and disciplines, in accordance to Church approval. Includes 99% of Marian devotions, belief in approved apparitions or visions (Private Revelation), First Saturdays, Stations of the Cross, etc…


Here are list of the Dogma, FYI.

Having a very similar question, I will give you a reply from a friend,

A Catholic must believe in Purgatory, since it is a defined DOGMA of the Catholic Church. It is a dogma because it is both a de fide article of the Apostolic Deposit (the ancient and universal belief of the Church …not something new) and it was also dogmatically mandated by the Council of Ferrara-Florence and the Council of Trent. So, we do not have the freedom to reject Purgatory.
As for what a dogma is, as opposed to a doctrine … “Doctrine” is merely a formal (or informal) teaching of the Catholic Church. And, in Catholicism, we recognize three classifications of “doctrine”:

  1. Dogma
  2. Canon Law (or disciplines), and …
  3. Theolegoumena (or theological opinions).

Dogmas are those things which I must believe and must obey in order to be a Catholic (e.g. the Trinity or Purgatory).

Canon law are those things which I do not necessarily have to believe, but must obey in order to be a Catholic (e.g. the discipline of the celibate priesthood …a Catholic may believe that married men should be priests, but may not encourage his priest to marry, etc.).

And theolegoumena (or theological opinions) are those areas in which the Church has yet to take an official position, and so we have the freedom to choose between one position or another (e.g. the authorship of the Gospel of John, in which a Catholic is free to believe that John personally wrote it, or that it was dictated by John and someone else wrote it, or that John’s disciples wrote it, based on his oral traditions, after his death).

Most dogmas start out as theolegoumena (theological opinions) until the Church speaks formally on them. For example, the specific definition of the Trinity (that is, how to clearly state the organic and substantial belief of the Apostles) was a matter of debate in the Church until it was finalized, and dogmatized, at the Council of Nicaea.

As for Purgatory … Many English-speaking Christians (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are under the ridiculous impression that it is some kind of medieval invention of the Church and not the ancient and consistent belief of Apostolic Christians. So, here are some ancient Christians referring to it. Please note how they come from every part of the ancient Church, East and West, showing the universality of the doctrine:

(if any want the Early Church Fathers writings of Purgatory I will forward what I was given)

God bless,

I like the way Catholic Answers describes it:

Befo re trying to defend dogma, we should know what it is and is not. There should be a solid understanding of two terms: doctrine and dogma. While sometimes used interchangeably they are not, strictly speaking, identical. Doctrine is Church teaching in all of its forms. It can refer to the whole of revelation or the deposit of faith. The word dogma comes from the Greek word meaning “to seem.” A dogma is a doctrine that has been expressly taught by the magisterium––either by conciliar or papal definition––to have been divinely revealed and contained in the Word of God, therefore requiring the belief of all Catholics.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Church’s magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes in a definitive way truths having a necessary connection with them” (88). All dogma is doctrine, but not all doctrine is dogma.

Stated in a more general fashion, dogmas are infallible statements of truth given by the Church to guide the faithful in the Christian life. “There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas,” the Catechism explains. “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith” (89).

Here is what I have been taught about Doctrine:

: A Truth taught by the church which has not been solemnly defined but the authenticity of the teaching is guaranteed by the Magistarium

It is true and taught as truth.

Moral issues are not solemnly defined as dogma as it would be a scrupulous process
Abortion, pre-marital sex…etc but as a doctrine we must confirm and follow the stance of the Holy Father.

Therefore we cannot pick and choose what doctrines we ourselves will abide by, but rather we must be obedient to the doctrines of the church. It is for our own well being and protection that we are to do this as the Pope is our earthly Father and is looking out for us always.

“Catholics are to give a religious assent of mind and will to the manifest mind and will of the Pope even when he is not speaking with infallibility.” - John Paul 2

As an example, Pope John Paul 2 came out with Human Vitae back in 1968 which stated as a doctrine that artificial contraception is an intrinsic evil because of the separation of procreation and the act of sex, both gifts from God.

We must be careful to accept this as a truth, and understand and see it as a truth of great wisdom that is meant to uphold and protect the dignity of the human person.

If we refuse this doctrine, then we are separating ourselves from the Church and if we uphold and live by it, we will obtain many graces through being in union with the Church of Christ.

Doctrine may develop, may build or we may understand it differently, how it is applied to situations, but it is never abandoned or condemned.

Dogmas are those doctrines which are mysteries that are directly connected with the Deposit of Divine Revelation (e.g. Scripture and Apostolic Tradition). These demand an assent of faith. Dogmas are defined with great precision solemnly by an infallible exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium. They demand the assent of faith and are irreformable in the sense that they cannot be further developed but only clarified so as to be comprehensible as much as possible.

Doctrines are those teachings which are definitively taught but not as divinely revealed (cf. The Holy Spirit Assists the Roman Pontiff, General Audience, by Pope John Paul II). They require definitive assent. They are those things which are indirectly connected with the Deposit of Divine Revelation but are nevertheless necessary for faithfully guarding the Deposit of Faith. Such teachings would perhaps include the Church’s inerrant interpretation of the Natural Law which every individual can arrive at through human reason alone with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Examples would be the Church’s teachings against contraception, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, fornication, homosexual civil unions, etc. These would be morals which should already be plainly obvious to all, but due to concupiscence and an impaired conscience, it must be taught, restated, and proclaimed to man. Examples of doctrines of faith would be the fact of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s death prior to her glorious assumption, the fact that Mary had a role to play in her cooperation with her Son in our redemption, the canonization of specific saints, the teaching that only men can be ordained priests, etc. These teachings, though not dogmatic, are inerrant in themselves and are usually taught in an infallible exercise of the ordinary universal magisterium (bishops in communion with the Pope though scattered throughout the world and in different times in their particular churches teaching unanimously or the Pope teaching definitively in his singular office of universal ordinary magisterium). These teachings demand a definitive assent and not an assent of faith. This distinction does not take away from the inerrancy of the teaching. They can be reformed only in the sense that they can be further developed upon (e.g. added upon and re-formulated) but not completely discarded, retracted, detracted, or repudiated.

Then there are those teachings which come forth from the non-infallible exercise of the local ordinary (or authentic) magisterium (local bishop or Pope speaking in a normal non-definitive tone) which is a teaching that is not definitively taught and are not automatically considered inerrant though they could very well be correct if they express an already defined teaching or propose a new teaching which happens to be correct. These teachings demand merely religious assent of mind and will. That is that they are to be respected, given the benefit of the doubt, and are not to be criticized unless clearly proven erroneous by the ordinary universal magisterium, the more solemn extraordinary magisterium, or Scripture or Apostolic Tradition itself.

I thought Mary was assumed into heaven without dying! All these years, and I had it wrong… I guess I have more reading to do!

No, the Church has not spoken on if she experienced death or not. Just that she was assumed into Heaven body and soul. A person may hold either view.

Although Pope Pius XII decided to omitt the word “death” or “resurrection” from his solemn proclamation, he nevertheless did affirm the fact of Mary’s death in the same Encyclical. Also, in his Encyclical he quotes several passages from the Early Church Fathers who taught with virtual unanimity that Mary did in fact die prior to her assumption. You should read the encyclical “Munificentissimus Deus” very carefully.

Pope Pius XII quoted from several Church Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Saints affirming the fact of Mary’s death prior to her assumption. The reason why Pope Pius XII left it out of his solemn proclamation was because he did not see it necessary nor beneficial at the time to do so.

Pope John Paul II explains this fact:

Pope John Paul II then re-affirms it again here and here.

This teaching has been taught in virtual unanimity by the ordinary magisterium and consistently taught by several Popes. It cannot be dismissed, it demands at least religious assent of mind and will (Lumen Gentium, 25). I do not think this doctrine demands “definitive assent” nor “faith assent” since it does not appear to be taught in a definitive manner.

In other words the Church has not definitively defined in the Dogma of the Assumption that Mary did experience physical death, and that it is acceptable to continue to discuss this theologically and to hold the other view at least at this time.

I’m with you Roman_Army. :wink: I can’t help but think that the view that Mary never died is due mostly to poor catechesis, faulty theology and ignorance of the Eastern traditions. The view that Mary suffered death not only harmonizes more closely with ancient Western teaching and theology, but Eastern as well. :slight_smile:

Perhaps, I did err in my previous post about classifying it as a “definitive” doctrine. However, I am uncertain whether or not this is a “definitive” teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium, since I have not studied the teachings of the fathers thoroughly myself.

However, even if such teachings are not definitively taught, they are nevertheless very authoritative and demand religious assent of mind and will. It is not legitimate for one to entertain anything contrary to it. The Second Vatican Council explained clearly that such teachings had to be adhered to religiously both intellectually and in practice. It has expanded the obligation not only to Solemn pronouncements but also less solemn ordinary pronouncements of the magisterium as is the case with this particular doctrine. It is not legitimate to restrict one’s obligations only to solemn dogmatic decrees of the extraordinary magisterium. One is also subject to the ordinary magisterium. The differences between the different kinds of assents to a teaching has to do with the level of priority, respect, or certainty one is required to put on the doctrine, it does not mean one has license to reject it or ignore it.

From the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 752 Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

**Source **

This was a helpful answer to me, as I just did a google search for this very question. I clicked on the TAN link but the book is currently out of stock. I will look elsewhere and plan to purchase it when I find it. I think the distinction between the two concepts is very important when Catholics are discussing Church teachings.

A doctrine is a teaching of the Church. A dogma is an infallible teaching of the Church. All dogmas are doctrines. Not all doctrines are dogmas.

The infallible teachings of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are material dogmas. They are infallible even before they are taught by the Magisterium. Once material dogma is taught by the Magisterium infallibly, it becomes also a formal dogma, requiring the full assent of faith (divine and catholic faith).

The Magisterium teaches either infallibly (Papal infallibility, Conciliar infallibility, the ordinary and universal Magisterium), or non-infallibly (all other magisterial teachings). Non-infallible teachings require only the religious submission of will and intellect, not the full assent of faith.

A faithful Catholic can sometimes disagree with a particular non-infallible doctrine (licit theological dissent), but no faithful dissent is possible from infallible teachings (dogmas).

Doctrines are infallible? O’course teachings on faith and morals-10 commandments etc. can’t be changed like on contraception cannot be changed. Humanea Vitea was a infallible teaching against contraception because all the conditions where met. Faith and morals and intent to bind the Universal Church.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit