Are there examples of the changes or the reinterpretation of dogmas (catholic or conservative protestant)?

I have heard that the attitudes towards slavery and usury have been mentioned as the most prominent examples of the changes and development of the Church doctrine, but I am not sure that those questions had ever been covered by dogmas and so - they can be examples of the changes at the level that are below the level of dogmas. And that is why these examples might now be the answer to my question, as I am looking for changes and reinterpretation at the level of dogmas and not below them.

So, the question is open.

By conservative Protestants I mean the Lutherans that are outside Porvoo Communion and that are conservative in SSA marriage and other matters.

Question made more clear: actually the intention of my question is to monitor the possible changes in the approval and introduction/revival (according to John Boswell) of rites for SSA relationships. This article https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-law-and-religion/article/abs/samesex-relations-and-the-catholic-church-how-law-and-doctrine-have-evolved-18202020/28A43404A35BDC1E3E4052CFD26CA5AD charts the possible path to it and it mentions slavery and usury as the examples how the attitude of the Churhces have changed. And this book https://www.amazon.de/Benediktion-gleichgeschlechtlichen-Partnerschaften-Katholischen-Privat-Universit%C3%A4t/dp/3791731270 even proposes some concrete liturgical rites for this.

On a bit more personal note: I would be happy to abstain from all of this, but some conservative Christians have introduced Constitutional proposal that severely restricts the lives for SSA in my country and they have created portal in which the ""theological papers" are published by more or less prominent local "theologians" (I am using quotes because their international recognition is low or non-existant, they almost have no publications in international peer-reviewed theological, philosophical or other scientific journals and because they are completely blind of such theological movements as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nouvelle_th%C3%A9ologie) and my impression is that they are deliberately misleading. I am saying this and I am adding this note to explain my intention to keep the answers on strictly theological, academic, professional lines and use only correct sources and research. So far (before mentioning SSA) the answers and reactions are acceptable and good and I hope that this will stay so.

Here is question/answer whether the SSA relationships have been covered by dogmas Does Catholic Church have any dogma about homosexuality?

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    Just a suggestion, but it might be better to restrict your answers to Catholicism since there are many different branches of Protestantism.
    – Lesley
    Dec 20, 2021 at 10:02
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    Clearly, I must have misunderstood your question, because you ask if attitudes towards slavery and usury "can be examples of the changes at the level that are below the level of dogmas." By all means reject my edit to the main question, but I think you will have to edit the body of your question in order to make clear whether you are asking specifically about church dogma, or not.
    – Lesley
    Dec 20, 2021 at 10:10
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    Yes, I agree that topics about slavery and usury are delicate and your edit is helpful. I wish you well with this question.
    – Lesley
    Dec 20, 2021 at 10:19
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    Why are there conservative Protestants? Because at some point they differentiated themselves from liberal Protestants due to doctrinal disputes. Not sure this is really the same question for Catholics and Protestants.
    – qxn
    Dec 20, 2021 at 21:14
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    Specific to the subject of limbo is this question and answer that might be helpful: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/72243/…
    – Lesley
    Dec 21, 2021 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


Are there examples of changes or reinterpretation of Catholic or conservative Protestant dogmas?

As far as Catholicism is concerned dogmas are binding on Catholics and can not be altered. Catholic dogmas are considered infallible and therefore not subject to change.

After all the OP is ”looking for changes and reinterpretation at the level of dogmas and not below them.”

For the Church to seriously alter a dogma would put the doctrine of Papal infallibility into question. That is something the Church would avoid at all costs.

Dogma in the Catholic Church

A dogma of the Catholic Church is defined as "a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding." The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church's Magisterium asserts that it exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging Catholics to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

Dogma can also pertain to the collective body of the Church's dogmatic teachings and doctrine. The faithful are required to accept with the divine and Catholic faith everything the Church presents either as solemn decision or as general teaching. Yet not all teachings are dogma. The faithful are only required to accept those teachings as dogma if the Church clearly and specifically identifies them as infallible dogmas. Few theological truths have been promulgated as dogmas. A tenet of the faith is that the Bible contains many sacred truths, which the faithful recognize and agree with, but which the Church has not defined as dogma. Most Church teachings are not dogma. Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out that in the 800 pages of the Second Vatican Council documents, there is not one new statement for which infallibility is claimed.

Certain Catholic teachings such as the Catholic perspective on limbo have never been defined, even though some Catholic theologians are in favour of such doctrines.

Limbo as a doctrine has never been defined as a dogma of the Catholic Church and as such is not or ever been binding on Catholics to believe in. The Church does not say that it officially does not exist either. At least not yet.

Interestingly in regards to the proclamation of the Assumption of Mary is the fact that Pope Pius XII, left the question of whether Mary actually physically died before she was assumed body and soul into heaven. The mystery was remain for us to contemplate.

The Assumption of Mary is one of the four Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church. It was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950, as follows:

We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.

The equivalent belief (but not held as dogma) in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Dormition of the Mother of God or "the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God".


Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in 1950 in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus:

We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.

The declaration was built upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854, which declared that she was conceived free from original sin, and both have their foundation in the concept of Mary as the Mother of God. It left open the question of whether Mary died or whether she was raised to eternal life without bodily death.

Conservative Protestant groups are too vast a group to understand their opinions on the possibility of changing or reinterpreting of their proper dogmas. Their dogmas are in a large part simply doctrines believed in and are not defined as a dogma in the sense that Catholics employ the term.

Even Martin Luther has been known to have changed his mind on certain issues after more mature reflection.

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    Yes, Martin Luther did change his mind on certain issues after more mature reflection, for which we Protestants are very glad! Your further points in comments to me are dealt with in my added Edit. I just highlight the quote that Limbo is "a doctrine that for many centuries has been held practically universally in the Church to be a binding one, and which as such has been taught to the very widest extent in the Church's catechesis."
    – Anne
    Dec 21, 2021 at 11:00
  • Aren't there one or more Marion dogmas that arose from the laity in a "grassroots" fashion and then got "rubber-stamped" by the Magesterium as dogma and isn't there currently a "grassroots" effort to dogmatize Mary as Mediatrix or co-redemptrix? Is it not possible for something to be un-dogmatized in similar fashion? Dec 22, 2021 at 13:44
  • @MikeBorden Those doctrinal subjects are a long way from being declared dogmas. Most popes are not in favour of them anyway.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 22, 2021 at 14:02

Thank you for eventually making clear that your "question can not be about usury and slavery" (as per your comments). Given the nature of Dogmatics, however, you might need to clarify what your question can be about. Here is a definition of the word in an academic, theological book:

Dogmatics: a deeper analysis of Christian doctrines than systematic theology, including more exegesis and engagement with alternative views. (Pilgrim Theology, p645, Michael Horton - a conservative Protestant)

Given the very nature of dogmatics, it means that a dogma is a doctrine that has been delved into far more deeply with exploration of more alternative possibilities than happens in the realms of systematic theology. That makes me think that one doctrine that has been changed in Catholicism - the doctrine of Limbo, which is now admitted to never have existed - would be an answer to your question.

It must have required intense Catholic dogmatics before not merely changing the doctrine of Limbo, but totally removing it. That's the most drastic dogmatics possible: eradicating an entire doctrine!

I would need to come back with answers about conservative Protestant dogmas that have been changed or reinterpreted to anything approaching such a drastic degree as that of Limbo. However, if I have failed to grasp exactly what you are looking for in this answer, do tell me so that I can be sure of getting this question right.

EDIT - In view of comments below, I would quote from this renowned Catholic authority on the question of Limbo, to show why I remain reasonably confident that this is a pertinent doctrine to offer as an answer.

"A distinction is drawn between the limbus patrum, i.e. the place and state of the pre-Christian just, who could not enter into eternal happiness before Christ's descent into hell and his ascension [which theology was a basis for Dante's epic poem having Virgil escort him around hell], and the limbus infantium, i.e. the human beings who on earth never attained the use of reason, and to whom the sacrament of baptism was never administered...

  1. History: ...Augustine put forward the doctrine, which went uncontested for centuries, that these children are condemned to the real (though mitigated) pains of hell. Anslem of Canterbury and after him the great Scholastics firmly held with Augustine that these human beings remain excluded from eternal beatitude, but they also postulated for them the existence of a place and final state of their own, that is, limbo...

  2. The modern discussion: In present-day theology the existence of limbo is questioned by many, including some distinguished theologians and historians of dogma... [emphasis mine]

...It is evident that the elucidation of the last question ('tradition') is of the very greatest, and indeed decisive, importance for the problem of children dying without baptism and consequently for the question of limbo [as] our salvation in Christ depends on belonging to the Church, and that this depends on baptism...

...it is equally untheological to set aside a doctrine that for many centuries has been held practically universally in the Church to be a binding one, and which as such has been taught to the very widest extent in the Church's catechesis.

The Church's magesterium has so far not favoured the liberal opinions but allows inquiry to continue without hindrance." Article on Limbo by Peter Gumpel in Encyclopedia of Theology, pp850-851, Ed. Karl Rahner)

In conclusion, I would just add that other answers show that there seems to be a difference of interpretation of the word "dogma" with Catholics and Protestants, so perhaps this question would benefit from seeking answers from one category, or the other.

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    Just a technical response here. Limbo, according to Catholicism is and always has remained undefined. The Church does not say that it officially that it does not exist. At least not yet. Thus limbo is not a dogma.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 20, 2021 at 15:53
  • Is it more or less drastic for a conservative Protestant denomination to split in two (or three... or four) over doctrinal disputes, than to maintain unity and clarify the doctrine? It's like you're saying you'd need to come back with the color of fingernail polish you want on the hand you just amputated.
    – qxn
    Dec 20, 2021 at 21:08
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    This doesn't really match up with what the Catholic Church means by the word "dogma." In fact, as Ken's comment implies, Limbo is not a dogma. Catholic dogmas are considered infallible and therefore not subject to change. Dec 20, 2021 at 22:12
  • @ken I take the point of your illustration. It’s valid. It’s also another question entirely and has no bearing on the question asked by the PO who just wants examples of changed dogmas. Perhaps you could post your own question on that? (And let me know if you do!)
    – Anne
    Dec 21, 2021 at 11:10
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    I understand your point of view, but if one wants to explain a Catholic perspective, one needs to employ a Catholic understanding of the terms from their point of view. Besides the OP is ”looking for changes and reinterpretation at the level of dogmas and not below them.” Pax.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 21, 2021 at 14:11

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