What are authoritative sources on Catholic teaching?

I made a topic before on “What does it mean to be a Real Catholic” and I later realized that’s not my core issue with various claims I have seen on CAF about “what the Church teaches”.

The issue is, what do people actually mean when they say that? What source are they using for Church teaching? Since I know the Bible by itself is not considered authoritative for Catholics.

Do they mean, “it’s in the Catechism”? Okay, but which Catechism, as I have seen posters argue that “the YouCat is wrong about masturbation” or that “I prefer the Baltimore Catechism, it was never abrogated” or even “I prefer the Catechism of Trent”.

Do they mean, “my priest told me”? Okay, but which priest? An “orthodox” one who I can trust? Or a “liberal” one who might say ABC is fine?

Since there certainly are such priests around. But it seems most people recommend “ask your priest” anyway. I wonder if some think, “if the priest says something, even if it seems to contradict Church teaching, all I need to do is obey what the priest tells me, if he’s wrong, then any sin is on the priest, I’m scot-free”.

Do they mean, “my bishop said it”? Okay, but which bishop? When it comes to the issue of “can divorced and remarried Catholics receive Communion”, the answer will be very different based on which bishop you ask.

Or do they mean, “Saint X said it” or “Jesus said it to Saint Y” or “Mary said it in an apparition” or “Apologist Z said it on CAF”?

The Pope. The Pope is the authoritative source on Catholic teaching. Just follow what he says, and you will do well.

“There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the Apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Cœlestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place.”

  • The Council of Ephesus, 431 AD


Your best bet is the catechism. It’s true there are different versions, and I am not 100% familiar with all the differences. The Youth Cat is geared toward younger people so they can better understand. I have heard the Baltimore version is a little more streamlined. The one I own is just the regular old Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a white, inexpensive paperback book. You can also view it on the Vatican’s website.

The bottom line is - I do not believe you will find differences in doctrine, rather, you will find differences in layout or style. This is considered the official and best source of the official dogma doctrine of the faith. It incorporates scripture and apostolic tradition

Priests are great for advice, and I have great respect for our priests. However, they are not necessarily theologians or apologists, and they do not create or privately interpret doctrine.

The magisterium - including the bishops, are considered the actual successors of the apostles of Christ, with the pope being the successor to Peter. While the decisions of councils of bishops may be binding (e.g. Trent, Nicea) individual bishops do not form or clarify doctrine. Generally, councils clarify doctrines.

When the pope issues statements “ex cathedra” from the chair of Peter with the support of the cardinals and to the whole church, they are considered binding. They usually do not create doctrines but rather clarify or solidify issues in light of doctrine.

Currently, it is true there is some confusion over communion for the remarried. In the past, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI reiterated and clarified the traditional teaching of the church with little room for differentiation. The current pope’s style is a little more theoretical and less practical. While that may provide for confusion, until there is further clarification, I would stick with what you find in the catechism which seems to include the traditional teaching.

Cardinals can correct the pope, as the pope does not issue binding statements without the “whole church”.

Writings of various saints and revelations, like Saint Faustina or Padre Pio, while very helpful for providing examples to live by and giving spiritual advice, are not sources of dogma and doctrine.

The writings of the apostles and church fathers, such as Augustine, John Chrysostom, etc., and other bishops who are considered doctors of the church, are considered part of the apostolic tradition. This early tradition (e.g. within a few hundred years of the apostles) is used as a context to view how the church as always viewed its interpretation of scripture and the teachings of the apostles.

Who told you that? The Bible, specifically the New Testament, is certainly authoritative on doctrinal issues.

Do they mean, “it’s in the Catechism”? Okay, but which Catechism, as I have seen posters argue that “the YouCat is wrong about masturbation” or that “I prefer the Baltimore Catechism, it was never abrogated” or even “I prefer the Catechism of Trent”.

The 1990’s era Catechism of the Catholic Church is the best source of Catholic teaching. The old Baltimore Catechism is still correct on doctrinal issues but some disciplines have changed. The Catechism of Trent is also accurate on doctrine but is very dated in terms of language.

Do you see some conflict between the Bible and the Catechism(s)? I would bet that you are mistaken, if you do.

Yes, indeed. If the Pope says invade the Holy Land in a bloody campaign of ruthless conquest, don’t ask questions, just do it. If the Pope orders public executions of Protestants and other inconvenient Christians try this at home if you can. Also, if the Pope instructs you to convert American Indians away from religions that have served them perfectly well since long before the emergence of Christianity, don’t ask questions, just march in to their villages with your guns and small pox infected blankets, steal their land, and solve the problem. If the Pope hires Bishops who sweep child rape by priests under the rug thus endangering more children, know that you can’t go wrong following whatever the Pope says and does. If the Pope gets mired in some behind the scenes scandal that forces him to resign quietly rather than be forced out, know that you are in good hands.

The new testement

The catechism of the Catholic Church–the big one hard to read declared “a sure norm” by Saint John Paul II"

The writings of the early fathers have a lot of weight–especially those formally declared saints or doctors of the church.

There isn’t a simple solution to studying catholic doctrine deeply. You can probably get books written by catechists that simplify the main points, but if you want to be throughly informed, you will have to study.

“Study to show yourself approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.”

There is a misconception among protestants that the Bible is not considered authoritative. Myth is part of the reason, and variation in hermeneutics is another. On myth is that the KJV is the first English translation. Well, actually the DRA is older. The Catholic Church was involved in putting the Bible in the common language. In fact that is the reason for translating the New Testament from Greek to Latin.

Also recall that Paul instructs Timothy that a bishop must be the husband of one wife. For several centuries priests and bishops have been required to be single and celibate. This seems to be a contradiction. However the catholic view is that Paul’s instruction on this point was a pastoral council. Pastoral council changes on the circumstances of the day but remains faithful to dogma. So when circumstances changed, the social qualifications of bishops was updated.

Protestants do the same thing but nobody says they don’t regard the Bible as authoritative. For example, various protestants allow women to teach allow men to wear long hair etc. these changes in understanding always get defended as reasonable because of a change in circumstances.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church from the mid-1990s (and conveniently located in its entirety on the Vatican website) is the definitive source for all Catholic teaching, pricing together everything from the Bible and the various documents of the Church throughout the centuries.

May God bless you always! :slight_smile:


The catechism and www.vatican.va is the best website for information. You need to decide what type of Catholic you want to be. There is no spoon feeding. It’s up to us to be active Catholics. The Church is there to guide us, how we live our daily lives in the faith is up to us.

Do you want to be a more academic Catholic, study the Church history, theology blah…blah…blah or do you want to be a parish level Catholic. Neither is superior to the other. If you don’t trust your Priest/Bishop and keep second guessing him you’re in for a life of self inflicted suffering when/if you convert.

Good luck on your journey. :hug1:

There’s not one exhaustive source, nor can there be, I think. The recent CCC is a great synopsis of Catholic teaching, but it’s not everything. Then there’s of course the Vatican documemts, documents published in past church councils, the writings of the Church Fathers and Doctors.

It’s complicated, but at the same time it’s only complicated if you make it so, if you have a frame of mind where you absolutely need something both definitive and exhaustive all-encompassing resource, you’re not going to find it.

But if you want a primer on what it is to be Catholic, there’s the recent CCC published in the 1990s. To simply be a Catholic in good standing, you don’t have to be a doctor or a scholar. Live a sacramental life, practice the cardinal and theological virtues, do works of mercy, and pray.

Wow, you seem to have a lot of pent up anger there. Quite a few misconceptions as well. If you are struggling with any of the above issues and would like to address them, feel free to start a thread and talk through them with others here. Sure we have had some bad Popes through the years and sure the Catholic Church has had some scandal, along with pretty much every other large organization that has been around for years. But that doesn’t prove the Pope wasn’t given the Authority of the keys.

Also, if you believe that any of the Popes taught error, while teaching from the chair of Peter, you need to present evidence and not just opinion.

God Bless

Others have already given good answers. I would recommend listening to Catholic Answers Live or another good show is Called to Communion. Both shows often give the reference along with the teaching they present. I listen to both shows and have learned more from them than I have reading on my own.

God Bless.

Yes people, please stop with the pope idolatry. Look at all the atrocities, and that’s not even most of it.

That is really not based on reality. In fact, it sounds a lot like information from certain websites that fabricate their own history and ignore the complexities.

I am certain you might cite the crusades or inquisition without recognizing that a) the Muslim nations were already on the offensive and killing pilgrims and b) the monarchy had much more to do with the inquisition at a time when relationships between the monarch and the clergy were must closer.

You might even cite a fabrication known as the “trail of blood” against Protestants without citing the fact there was something call the 30 Years War where both sides from different nations went to war.

Even then, bad actions by some people can never erase the objective evidence of the Catholic Church from the beginning, as well as the objective evidence of the modern inventions of Protestantism.

What he said! :thumbsup:

Thanks for the thoughtful replies.

To clarify, I did not mean when I stated that “I know the Bible by itself is not considered authoritative for Catholics” that the Bible is not relevant at all to Catholics. I simply meant that some Church doctrines, while certainly not contradicting Scripture, also are not explicitly mentioned therin, such as some of the Marian doctrines.

Is there Biblical basis for some, sure, such as “full of grace” meaning sinless, or how it’s fitting for Mary to have been immaculately conceived and be ever-virgin, how her role as Queen of Heaven is typified in the Queen Mothers from the Davidic kingdoms. But then on the other hand, Davidic kings were polygamous, indeed that was the main reason the Queen Mother was the official Queen. And Jesus is not a polygamist (nuns being “spiritually” wed to him notwithstanding), neither is God the Father. So I don’t think it’s possible to prove simply from the Bible that Mary is indeed the Queen of Heaven. Support, yes. Prove, no.

But I also know that the Trinity is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, nor is Sola Scriptura. And certainly there are some evangelical beliefs that have no Biblical backing as all, such as the Courtship fad – if evangelicals were really following Biblical models, actual arranged marriage, with fathers choosing spouses with no input from the children at all, would be closer to “Biblical Marriage”.

But not even the Gothardites actually support that kind of arranged marriage, though their version of courtship comes very close to it, since the patriarch has to approve and pre-screen all suitors and in the case of the Duggars the couple is never allowed to be alone together, all texts must be CC’d to the parents, etc.

However, the children are still allowed to turn down potential suitors, and there is an actual courtship period before engagement, as opposed to being suddenly betrothed to a complete stranger, and while there is certainly much social pressure for courtship to eventually result in marriage, it’s not absolute. Both the Duggars and Bates kids have had some failed courtships.

Interestingly, it seems the Bates have loosened up their rules over the years, though, and now see courtship not as a substitute for dating, but an intermediate step between dating and engagement. At least, that was the impression I got from their show regarding Nathan and Tori’s courtships. Though for all I know that was just the TV show pandering to a more mainstream audience, and doesn’t reflect what’s really going on.

So I certainly realize that “extraBiblical” doctrines are not just confined to the Catholic Church, either. And that the Sinner’s Prayer is actually less “Biblical” than the Hail Mary!

In Catholic approved bibles, such as Douay Rheims, Luke 1 specifically indicates Gabriel greeting her: “Hail, full of grace”, not “highly favoured”. An apologist I trust indicated the original language says - one who is graced to the full.

Additionally, about 2/3 of the words of the Hail Mary are direct quotes from Luke 1.

Nothing about Catholicsm contradicts scripture. However, it is not the fundamentalist approach. Apostolic traditions confirm the early views of scripture and clarify it. It uses a larger contextual approach of viewing scripture rather than proof texting and cherry picking.

So, when viewing Mary, you have to realize the Catholic view has been around much longer than the Protestant views. The Catholic views looks at Luke 1, as well as the woman in Genesis and Revelations (with the crown of stars) which we interpret to be her. So, as “Mother of God”, per Luke 1, and since the Church is His body, she is also recognized as mother of the church as well. It’s not as big of a leap as you might think - again just a larger view.

There are also many verses that, when taken in context, support the intercession of the saints of which Mary is a part.

Lastly, Luke 1 indicates that “all generations will call her blessed”. That is a far cry from “just a vessel”.

This is an excellent post. I see you taking an honest and open approach towards the Catholic Faith. Your eyes are being open to the truth, keep praying to the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truths.

Yes the Marian doctrines can be difficult at times. I applaud you for being able to say but so is the Trinity and Sola scriptura and the sinners prayer. It amazes me how so many will harp on the Catholic Church about Mary but deny that they follow their own traditions.

I got a real chuckle about the "Biblical Marriage ". I might have to bring that up some day when talking about sola scriptura. :wink:

I see you being on a good path. You asking for authoritative sources shows me you are seeing the division in the Christian faith. You can see we are all suffering from this. And you are seeing the greatest question of all “Why would Jesus leave us without a visible authority, couldn’t he foresee that we would stray like lost sheep?”

Sheep tend to eat with there eyes to the ground, blindly following the best tasting grasses. Every now and then they pick their head up looking for the shepherd. If he is not visible present they will be lost.

God Bless

Nothing in Catholic doctrine is “extra biblical”. Scripture is one with Tradition and the living Magisterium.
The CCC is the best distillation of Catholic teaching, as other posters have mentioned. I might add that the best CCC is the universal one the Vatican promulgates. I do not recommend the catechism the USCCB puts out for our RCIA people. It has too much tangential stuff that if fine in the right circumstances.
The universal CCC is direct and concise.

Christ is the center of all this. Yes the Pope speaks for the Church and the CCC expresses our beliefs well, but Christ is the source of it all.

Christ is the word made flesh. He is embodiment of scripture and Tradition and gives his charisms to the living Magisterium. If the word was not made flesh, then the bible would answer every question without doubt.
But the word is made flesh, like us. We are His Body, the Church. None of this makes sense outside the unity of Christ with His Church.

Re: biblical marriage. This is a tangent but it’s a complaint I have in simpathy with many young people who struggled as I did trying to figure out what the right way is to matchmake.

The Bible in fact mentions several forms of matchmaking and does not disparage any of the following:

Match by creation: Adam and Eve.
Match by divine arrangement: Isaac and Rebekah
Match by infatuation: Jacob and Rachael.
Match by paternal interference: Jacob and Leah.
Match by kid napping: the nearly extinct benjamites.
Match by trophy: David and saul’s daughter
match by affection: David and Saul’s other daughter.
match revisited by proof of valor: David and Saul’s other daughter
Match by spoils of conflict: David and Abigail.
Match by romantic courtship: Solomon and the Shulamite.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how to make a match but it gives instruction about wisdom, chastity and virtue.
I bet my luck in marriage on this information and won like a a tycoon. :sunglasses:

Sorry to hijack the thread.

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