Help! Catholic would-be drowning in doctrine!


Two problems:

I have not got clarity on **what, for a convert, constitutes the core of belief for the Catholic Church ** - that is, what will make me a ‘Catholic’. In my studies I have found the following, with regard to the (absolutely vast) Teachings of the Church:

(2) Status: We have got various Church instructions with various degrees of importance – that is, the Vulgate, Old Testament as interpreted, New Testament as interpreted, Sacred Tradition, Catechism, Policy Statements, Vatican Decrees (Papal Bulls, Encyclicals, Pastoral Letters etc), Doctrine/Dogma, Canon Law, Councils (Niceae, Trent, Vatican I and II), Creeds, Liturgy, Beliefs, Old Covenant, New Covenant, Law of Moses, Beatitudes, Various Extraneous Manuscripts, Exemplars from the Life of Christ/Disciples/ Apostles/Saints and others, Theological Scholarship and Biblical Research, Constitutions, Decrees of Church Fathers, Reports of Vatican Commissions inter alia.

Some issues stand out in our contemporary era, and we pay a lot of attention to them in 2007. Dictats and interpretations made at various times (above) will speak to them and help us to obey.

But there are other standard beliefs (transubstantiation, baptism, confession). There are other issues that are less obvious; and it is possible that an individual Catholic might not know there is a belief he or she should know as a Catholic.

How does a Catholic know what to know? What takes priority in terms of knowing? By which interpretations/instructions are Catholics bound? It is clearly impossible for any one layperson to know the entirety of the faith, of Catholic dogma, of what is sin and what is error. Is Catholicism ultimately therefore an individual set of beliefs/doctrines picked up (perhaps rather randomly?) by the individual Catholic? (This is not meant to be provocative: it is a question.)

Ultimately I suppose, this comes down to how Catholicism differs from mainline protestantism, except in the wonderful sense that the Catholic Church has archived and disseminated the beliefs of the Christian Faith down through the centuries. This is of course not true of any other denomination.

(2) Extent of Application: To whom does the Church believe its Teachings apply? (Catholic Christians? All Christians? All faiths? Humanity?)


How are you approaching the Church? On your own? In a parish? How long have you been at it?

Do you have a copy of the Catechism?


I have a Catholic Church. I have three senior spiritual directors. I am doing my RCIA. I have been working virtually full time on this (after burnout) for one year.

Yes, I have CCC and three Bibles, a concordance, the Internet and my own library of materials, Catholic and non-Catholic (which can complicate the matter).

Mine is perhaps not a question that is answered by the CCC or I would not have asked it.


I don’t think it’s impossible for a layperson to know all of binding Catholic dogma; there isn’t a whole lot. A good summary of it is available at .

Apart from that, though, there are many Catholics who simply don’t know all those dogmas. What makes them Catholic (apart from their baptism, of course) is their simple affirmation of the authority of the Catholic Church to teach and to bind and to loose.

I can’t honestly say that I have every Catholic dogma memorized, but I can say that affirm the faith taught by the Catholic Church, and that, if I discover some dogma I’ve not formerly known of, or I discover that some teaching I formerly thought I had freedom in was, in fact, dogma, or if the Catholic Church proclaims some new dogma in response to heresy–what makes me Catholic in these cases is that I accept the authority of the Church to make dogma and bind it upon me to accept it.



My counsel would be to relax! The Catholic Church has been at this for 2000 years. THREE spiritual directors??? Maybe you’re on overload. You can be conscientious while taking one thing at a time, prayerfully, meditatively. As issues come up, rely on the Catechism for the teaching and on your spiritual direction for clarification – assuming your spiritual direction is sound. You might consider paring that team down to one.


Perhaps you’re trying to learn and comprehend too much too soon. Start with the two great commandments and consider everything else, both in the Bible and in Church teachings, to be aids to help you along in life’s journey. If you get the two basics in your head and in your heart, the rest will fall into place sooner or later. Rather than getting overwhelmed trying to analyze and understand it all at once, utilize what you do know. God will give you the rest of it, but in His time.


First thing - why do you have 3 spiritual directors? For a brief period I had 2, my old Anglican one and the Catholic priest I go to now, but once I was sure of my decision, I only have 1 SD. Even most priests or religious will have only 1 spiritual director.

There’s a difference between doctrine and theology. It took me a while to work that out, but basically the stuff in your other ‘library’ of materials, Church Fathers, theology books, etc. is probably mostly theology. The CCC is doctrine, and the Bible is the Word of God. You’re still allowed to just READ the Bible and let the Word speak to you directly, the practice of lectio divina helps here. Of course, we then have the Church to tell us if what you interpret the Bible to mean was in error, but the Church really only knows the wrong answers, not the right ones, as to know the fullness of truth is something we will never have this side of heaven. The words of doctrine themselves are just imperfect representations, infallible in that they are not wrong, but not perfect in that they don’t completely contain the ineffible mysteries of the faith. The CCC says so at the very beginning. Knowing doctrine is important, but it’s only a means to receive the Truth, it is not the Truth itself, because Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

I’m in pretty much the same boat as you, going through RCIA, have read and digested so much theology that I’m almost burned out. At the end of the day though, faith isn’t about knowing stuff, faith is about trusting Him. I have found that spending an hour a week in Adoration in front of the Blessed Host has helped me a lot to actually just listen to that ultimate Truth in His way.

This is just the advice of another rookie Catholic who was asking the same questions only a few weeks ago.


I agree with the previous two posters… take it easy.
Being “Catholic” means trusting the authority of the Church. It doesn’t mean you have to memorize every single nit-picking detail of canon law and dogma! If you have a particular question, seek answers within the authority of the church.

Remember… even little children can be considered “Catholic”… those little 7 year-olds that are receiving their first communion… make your faith like theirs and you should be just fine! :thumbsup:
They trust without question… and I can guarantee you they don’t have the “knowledge” that you’re assuming is required…

God bless…


What you have to accept is that the Catholic Church has been given authority by Jesus Christ to carry out the Great Commission:

“Go into the world and preach the Gospel, baptizing in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all I have commanded.”

Once you have embraced the Authority of the Catholic Church, then everything else falls into place. You accept all the doctrines, even those you haven’t heard yet.

My husband and I were evangelical Protestant for over 40 years. Once we accepted Authority of the Catholic Church, we accepted everything else. We trust in Jesus to keep His Church.


Looking for the minumum? Here are the precepts of the Church, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:

**2042 **The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.

**2043 **The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

The fifth precept (“You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church”) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.

This is the minimum you need to DO to be a Catholic. The minumum you need to BELIEVE is:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

That’s it. Everything else – practices, devotions, specific doctrines, dogmas, bulls, encyclicals, and other teaching – are all expansions and refinements of these. You don’t need to have in depth knowledge of them before you become a Catholic, and even as a Catholic many doctrines, rules, laws, etc, etc, will never even directly impact your life. If it does, then you can learn more about it when it happens.

Follow the advice if the other posters and take it easy. The main thing is to have confidence that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ established and that it’s teachings are true and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. Unless you grasp that key fact, all the rest means nothing.


It’s really no different from asking: Do you know your neighborhood covenants well?, How about your City laws, County laws, State laws, Federal laws, oh and let’s not forget International laws. Do you know all of them very well? Do you have them memorized? Probably not, but you are expected to follow and obey all of them all of the time. We learn what laws apply to us in certain situations as we need to know them. However all of them apply to us all of the time.

We need to look up and understand what the Church teaches about various things as we need to know them, and are expected to follow the teaching from then on.


Nerfherder, you got a good reply by Fidelis. The Creed is the minimum we must believe.

If you want the maximim - Get ahold of Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott. He lays it out pretty well. It’s not an easy read; it’s pretty dry - but it has a decent index.

I haven’t read mine through, but I’ve looked up lots of stuff. (I’m a recent convert.)

I’m blessed to be in an Archdiocese that has a lot of study courses available. See if yours does.

Another book I would recommend is by our own Karl Keating: Catholicism and Fundamentalism. It’s very readable. I learned a lot about my faith just by reading his refutations of some folks’ beliefs about our Church.

In fact, it was Catholic Answer’s tract about those dreadful “Chick tracts” that started me on my journey to Catholicism.


Kudos to Fidelis – great post.

I would add this: pay special attention to the part of the Creed that mentions belief in “one holy, Catholic, and apostolic church”. A lot of people say this in Mass when it’s time to recite the Creed, but they don’t think about what it means – that the Church has today the same authority Christ gave to Peter and the apostles, and is therefore Christ’s vessel of truth and salvation.



Read the dang old ***Catechism. ***:thumbsup:


I would advise you to cut down your study time and increase your praying time. You have already suffered from ‘burn-out’ once.

Set yourself a regular time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Bring a bible, some Catholic inspirational reading. Read a *little *bit and then ponder it. Try to spend an hour and ask the Spirit to guide you while you are there.

Slow down and spend some time with the Lord. Unless you receive from Him, all the study in the world will not bring you closer.


Bless you all for your insightful and supportive comments. You make it sound simple, and perhaps that is right at first.

The Bishop told me that I would have to work hard to make the long journey from the intellect (theology) to the heart (spirituality), and that is perhaps what is happening now. I am only very slowly learning that I must make the journey, never mind how to make it.

There were two things in Fidelis’s post that caught my thoughts.

First, protestants use the Nicene Creed just like Catholics: in my Canadian Convention Baptist Church it is commonly used. The Methodist Church uses it, as well as the Anglican/Episcopalian and the United Church of Canada. They also have social creeds which can be seen on the Internet.

So neither the Creed itself, nor the Apostles’ Creed in and of themselves distinguish me as a Catholic.

Second, thank you Fidelis for the quotation from the CCC. But there is a problem for me here too. Christ died for our salvation. We live in Him and He in us as His followers. My upbringing focused principally on living a Christian life, living life as a Christian, honouring my neighbour - and worrying about life everlasting when the time came.

I think that is the same focus as the Catholic Church, but it is not as manifest. Your quotation from the CCC emphasises, in terms of doing:

*]material support for the Church

Only very briefly, in this quotation and in other parts of the CCC, does it talk about faith and this life: ‘The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful **the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor’. **

In other words, more emphasis seems to be placed on the ritual of the Church, rather than on living daily as Christians. I am uneasy with this. Why? I see people zipping in for service, and racing out as soon as they have taken communion - because it is an obligation?

Finally, the question of Absolute Truth and the Teachings. The term AT is used randomly on the Forum. I am not sure what it means, or if there can be an Absolute Truth, or even if I - as a Catholic - can accept the concept of an absolutely truly true truth.

The more important question for me though is to whom the Church believes its Teachings (including Absolute Truth) apply? To only Catholic Christians? All Christians? All faiths? Humanity?

I have friends of all faiths, as a result of my career. I cannot say in conscience (my ‘informed conscience’ I hope) that I accept the proposition that I, as a Catholic believer will go to heaven, while my friends - as well as my moral non-Christian husband - will head straight for hell.

I am asking these questions of lay Catholics, who have lived through this - either as cradle Catholics, or as converts - because I think I will get a different perspective on things than I do from my beloved (and elderly) mentors (one Monsignor (jcd) - weekly, one retired Bishop - retreats, and one eminent SJ - at a distance).


*]Creeds don’t make me any more Catholic than protestant?
*]There seems to be a greater emphasis for Catholics on ritual than on works?
*]To whom does the vast corpus of Catholic Teaching apply?

Oh, and don’t give up on me yet!


Unless you take into account the important emphasis that Catholics place on the phrases in the creed “Catholic Church” and “Communion of Saints,” then yes, this creed shows how much we have in common with other Christians. But my point is that the Creed, understood from this Catholic viewpoint, is largely the basis upon which all other Catholic beliefs are based. As I said, everything else – practices, devotions, specific doctrines, dogmas, bulls, encyclicals, and other teaching – are all expansions and refinements of these.

Only very briefly, in this [CCC] quotation and in other parts of the CCC, does it talk about faith and this life: ‘The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful **the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor’. **

In other words, more emphasis seems to be placed on the ritual of the Church, rather than on living daily as Christians. I am uneasy with this. Why?

I don’t take this meaning from this passage at all, and you may be reading too much into it or taking it in isolation. What it is saying is that the Church offers these precepts, not because it wants people to be satisfied with the minimum, but so that there will at least be a bottom-line benchmark for those who don’t know where to start or even those who might feel they don’t have to do anything.

As you know the Church is a veritable treasure chest when it comes to providing opportunities and examples (through the Saints) for growing in faith and holiness through God’s grace. The Church in no way commends or promotes bare-bones minimalism or crass legalism as it would make 99.9999% of the Church’s teachings and practices entirely superfluous.


Three things I recommend to my RCIA participants (I lead an RCIA Inquiry group) are:

  1. Work your way through the Liguouri RCIA pamphlet series by completing one each week. Bring any questions you have about them to your sponsor and (if a time is set aside for random questions at your RCIA meetings) to your RCIA meeting. Sometimes the facilitator won’t have an answer for you straight away, but he or she will certainly help you find the resources that you need.

  2. Start reading your Catechism from the back, rather than from the front. Pick through the index of topics, and choose the topics that are of most interest to you right now. Cross reference it with the Compendium of the Catechism of the Church to see the “simple language” version of the teaching, as well.

  3. Attend Mass as often as possible - even during the week, if you can. Also participate in other prayer experiences such as Adoration, public recitation of the Rosary, the Divine Office (aka the Liturgy of the Hours), and the Divine Mercy chaplet. Don’t forget to go for coffee with the gang afterwards, and listen to their stories - which brings me to a fourth point - hang around with Catholics as much as you can. Make lots of friends - not just “important” people like Monsignors and Bishops, but also Rosary ladies and Sacristans, and even altar kids. :slight_smile:

These will expose you to the majority of what you will need to know as a practicing Catholic. The rest will come with practice and time.


Nerf, the Catholic Church does not teach that non-Catholics will necessarily go to Hell. Their Hell-status depends upon God’s grace and their moral actions.


The important difference being God doesn’t normally hold us responsible for ignorance (unless we deliberately neglect to learn church teaching on some matter). In that respect it’s easier than obeying the civil law :slight_smile:

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