Friday, November 11, 2005

"Where Can One Find a List of Infallible Catholic Doctrines?"

By Dave Armstrong (11-11-05; revised on 9-16-08)

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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)



John Forgione said...

John Forgione said...