Friday, November 11, 2005

Where Can One Find a List of Infallible Catholic Doctrines?

This question was asked in another forum. Since I've heard it asked many times, I thought it would be good to share my answer for public consumption:

All this talk about the infallible doctrines of the RC got me to wondering: where can I find the book or books in which these doctrines are set forth? Is there some kind of list, like all the decisions of all the Councils plus all the Papal bulls, or something like that?

Is there an official set of agreed-upon infallible doctrines somewhere, and maybe a supplementary list of probably-true-but-not-definitely-true doctrines?

The best source I know (especially for laymen) is Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott (4th edition published by TAN Books, Rockford, Illinois, 1974). There is available online, an extremely helpful summary of Catholic dogmas and their authoritative status, extracted from this book. [see further options of pages at Internet Archive, if the link to the left doesn't work]

He starts out by explaining the various levels of dogmatic certainty. Many folks are unaware that the Catholic Church distinguishes between various levels of infallibility itself, with the famous ex cathedra being the very highest and the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium being an example of a lower-level infallibility.

Catholics are bound to accept dogmas under any of these categories (a thing which has been cynically, ruthlessly or ignorantly exploited -- I should say, distorted -- by liberal or dissenting Catholics who wish to reject certain Catholic dogmas that they don't care for).

But anyway, after explaining the different levels of authority, Ott then presents a systematic theology of various doctrines, by giving simple one-line propositions or doctrines and then classifying them (de fide dogma being the highest in the book). That allows one to see how authoritative different Catholic doctrines are, according to the Catholic Church.

Then there is Joseph Denzinger's Sources of Catholic Dogma (available online in its entirety) but it doesn't make the helpful distinctions that Ott makes, and merely lists dogmatic documents.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church [I've linked to the online 2nd version] is also good to simply find out what Catholics believe and what they are bound to. But in answer to the specific question above, I don't know of any better source than Ott. He is very helpful.

For excellent treatments of the fine-tuned distinctions of the Church, even within the category of "infallibility," see:

"Four Levels of the Church's Teaching" (Fr. William G. Most)

"The Hierarchy of Truths and the Truth" (Fr. William G. Most)

"Concept and Classification of Dogma" (Ludwig Ott; scroll down to §4; from the book cited above)

"A Discussion of Infallibility" (Fr. John Trigilio)


Blog participant Scott W. asked:

Doesn't Ott also identify tolerated opinions that would not be binding?

Sure; doctrines like limbo, or the Molinist controversies, etc.

Jordan Potter added:

I don't think it's correct to say that the Church distinguishes between various levels of "infallibility." Something is either infallible or it is not -- there aren't shades of infallibility. There are various levels of authority and a range of degrees of definitiveness, but not various levels of infallibility. The attitude of the faithful Catholic is not to ask, "Is that doctrine infallible?" (acting as if, if it's not infallibly defined ex cathedra then it's a matter that's up for grabs) but "Is that doctrine true? Does the Church require me to give it assent?"

Matthew writes:

We are entering on tricky subject matter here. There are not different "levels" of infallibility -something is either infallible or not - but there are different TYPES of infallible statements. Some are infallible statements that pertain to dogma (ie things revealed by God) some teachings are "secondary objects of infallibility" (things that are infallible but are not themselves dogmas but connected to them). Then infallible statements of either of these two categories can be proclaimed by different levels of the MAGISTERIUM (but note you can't have such thing as one statement being "more infallibe" than another). The three levels of the magisterium that teach infallibly are 1) A pope ex cathedra 2) an ecumenical council and 3)the ordinary and universal magisterium. The two levels that are not infallible (but are none the less authoritive) is a local bishop when reiterating what the church teaches and the Pope when teaching as pastor of the flock but without the full force of an ex cathedra statement.

If you buy the book Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine (St Austin press) [by Archbishop Michael Sheehan] it has table that puts all of this together nicely (in chapter 11 if I remember correctly).

"various levels of authority and a range of degrees of definitiveness, . . ." / "different TYPES of infallible statements."

Sure; it is just a matter of semantics. This is what I meant, and should have probably taken more care with the wording. I wasn't trying to write a technical piece for theologians and canon lawyers, but rather, a short accessible paper for laymen. But these precise clarifications are helpful, and I have added them to this paper to make things more clear.

Here is a paper (part of it, anyway) where some of these fine distinctions are dealt with at great length:

Dialogue: The "Traditionalist" Disdain for the Second Vatican Council: Is it Consistent With Catholic Tradition? Is it Binding on All Catholics? (With Copious References, and a Discussion of the Infallibility and Sublime Authority of Conciliar and Papal Decrees and Pronouncements)

And see also related material:

Biblical Evidence for Papal and Church Infallibility

Conciliar Infallibility: Church Documents

Newman on Papal Infallibility

Brian Tierney: Inveterate Enemy of Papal "Tyranny" and Infallibility

The Modernist, Secularist Historicism of Raymond Brown and Brian Tierney (including lengthy citations from St. Thomas Aquinas on papal infallibility, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Msgr. George A. Kelly, and Protestants J. Gresham Machen and Os Guinness on Liberalism)

Dialogue: Is the Vatican I Proclamation of Papal Infallibility Non-Negotiable and Orthodox or "Radical Papal Tyranny" and the Triumph of Ultramontanism? 

Dollinger's, Liberal & Old Catholics' "Semi- Historical Positivism" & Rejection of Papal Infallibility / Cardinal Newman's Critique 

Reflections on the Papacy: Papal Infallibility and Concluding Postscripts

The following paper deals with the notorious anti-Catholic objection (used particularly by Eric Svendsen):

Protestant-Catholic Dialogue: Preliminary Issues Concerning Authority & Epistemological "Certainty" (The "Infallibility Regress")

Here's also another dialogue I had with Eric Svendsen back in 1996, when he was still quite cordial towards me and willing to engage in normal discourse:

Dialogue on the Logic of Catholic Infallible Authority

Paper revised, with additional and updated links, on 16 September 2008


John Forgione said...

John Forgione said...