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There are a variety of terms used in the Catholic Church to refer to particular statements or beliefs. Here are a number of some such terms:

  • Dogma
  • Doctrine
  • Infallible statement
  • Infallible papal teaching
  • Statement made ex cathedra
  • Definitively proposed doctrine
  • Authoritative statement

Are any of these the same? Are all infallible statements papal teachings? Are all doctrines dogmas? What exactly are the differences between these?

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This exact question is answered in a different site: ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=564105 This might be of some help –  Jayarathina Madharasan Apr 10 '13 at 9:49
@JayarathinaMadharasan Yes, it is one of the pages I visited while putting the above list together. I am hoping that someone can answer with even more clarity and background. As a minor example, that page seems to needlessly comment on dogmas in the section on doctrines. And a good answer might make the reference to the levels of the Magisterium a bit more clear (though without going off on a tangent about them). –  Alypius Apr 10 '13 at 17:23

2 Answers 2

I was looking for this answer a while in my Seat of Wisdom Diocesan Institute notes, hopefully this answers your question. I think Jayarathina (can I call you Jay?) has a pretty good answer. I'm not going to try to define terms, just make up some new ones.

And if someone could please fix the latin words I'm trying to use, I can't find them in the dictionary and I didn't write them very well in my notebook!

There are a few levels of Magisterial Teaching. Some people say there are 3 some people 4 and Wikipedia says there's 7, but I'll go with 5, the first two are infallible the last 3 aren't so much.

  1. Creanene..

    Dogma, this is teaching on revealed truth. Things the Catholic Church says she knows about God. This includes old pronouncements on the Trinity and newer pronouncements on the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

    The penalty for going against dogma is heresy.

  2. Tenende

    Doctrine, this is a truth that is proposed definitively. These concern matters that the Church has to deal with. Defining a prohibition on the ordination of women might be an example of this, although Pope Benedict XVI didn't seem to think it was.

    The penalty for breaking doctrine isn't usually death. But it is a "just penalty", whatever that is. I think the worst would be excommunication.

  3. Obsequium (Following Canon 752)

    These are doctrines of the Pope or Bishops.

    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.

    An example of this might be the Dormition of Mary. Whether or not Our Lady truly died or just fell asleep before her assumption (which is Dogma). The important distinction here is the submission of intellect.

  4. Obsequium (Following canon 753)

    These are more like the orders given by Bishops.

    753 Although the bishops who are in communion with the head and members of the college, whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.

    The old USCCB Movie rating is an example of this. I don't know if it is any more, now that it's part of the Catholic News Service. I think I might want to ask that question here.

  5. Sevandi

    The Decree of a Pope or a Bishop. This is something that we are all called to observe, but it might not necessarily be incumbent upon us to act upon. For instance, if someone is decreed a heretic. That's a bummer for them, but we don't have to do anything (except maybe stop going to their yoga classes).

When I first saw this chart, I thought it was very awesome and helpful. If only I'd transcribed the Latin words a little better I might have had a better answer here.

One thing about infallible statements is that they are not open for discussion. I think that's what "Definitively Proposed" alludes to. Anything else "Authoritative statement" etc.. would be up for review. Offenses against the moral law, like Abortion, are not up for discussion and they cut across dogma and doctrine. The Church has a duty to uphold both sides of the natural law; That is both the side that God proclaimed in the 10 commandments and the side that He wrote in our hearts when he formed us out of the vast nothingness of nothing.

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Most of these terms are used interchangeably. So a clear cut definition may not be possible.

  • Doctrine: The official teachings of the Catholic church contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and defined with a solemn judgment of the Church as divinely revealed truths. This may or may not be a dogma. Example, Mary, Co-Redemptrix
  • Dogma: Doctrines that are proclaimed formally by the Church as revealed in Scripture or Tradition. This may have been done by papal pronouncement (Pius IX: Immaculate Conception), by a Council (Chalcedon: Christ is two natures in one Divine Person). Those who do not believe in a Dogma, is considered to have left the church, on their own accord.
  • Statement made ex cathedra: This Literally means "Statement made from the chair". It is a theological term which signifies authoritative teaching and is more particularly applied to the definitions given by the Pope. II Vatican Council says that when Pope makes a statement ex cathedra, he does so in his office of pastor and doctor of all Christians. (Session IV, Const. de Ecclesiâ Christi, c. iv). Example: when declaring and defining a dogma, Pope makes that statement ex cathedra.
  • Infallible statement: Statements that are considered to be exempt or immune to error or failure; in particular in theological usage, by a special Divine assistance, church/pope is preserved from making an error when defining a dogma in the matters of faith and morals. All statements (with usual conditions) made by the Pope ex-cathedra are Infallible. But this is not necessarily reserved only to the pope. The teaching of the Magisterium of the Church are also considered infallible.
  • Definitively proposed doctrine: In simpler terms, this is implicitly accepted doctrines which are derived from previously revealed doctrines/dogmas. These are not articles of faith by themselves, but are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith. That is, if you do not believe them, then there might arise doctrinal inconsistency in faith. These doctrines may not have been officially proposed by the Church as formally revealed. And as it is usually the case, if some one inside the Church opposes its validity, these doctrines could, by dogmatic development, one day be declared to be revealed.
    • For example: The declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations. You don't have to believe that Anglican ordinations are invalid to be a catholic, but If you believe Anglican ordinations are valid ordinations, then there will be a problem with what you believe constitutes a valid ordination. As a valid ordination requires to be performed by a person with valid apostolic succession.
    • Other examples include doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men, the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution, fornication and euthanasia.

On Infallible papal teaching and Authoritative statement, I don't have idea I am sorry. May be someone else can help.


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This is incorrect; dogma = infallible = ex cathedra = irrevocable and is the highest level of Magisterial doctrine. Ordinary doctrines and teaching are binding but not irrevocable (that is, infallible). (And ex cathedra means literally "from the chair", and speaks of the Pope specifically exercising the Apostolic Authority of his Office to define dogma). –  Lawrence Dol Jan 30 at 19:11
@SoftwareMonkey, I made the same comment to you at a different answer: Doctrines put forth by the "ordinary and universal magisterium" are infallible and hence binding on the faithful, hence irrevocable. (1, 2, 3, 4 All of these say that doctrines are immune from errors) I have never seen a revocable doctrine of the Catholic church ever. I would love to see an example of it. –  Jayarathina Madharasan Jan 31 at 5:17

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