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"All Dogmas Are Doctrines, but Not All Doctrines Are Dogmas"

Posted on the 02 January 2015 by Brutallyhonest @Ricksteroni

A few days ago I promised to respond, in a series of posts, to objections to the Catholic faith communicated to me by a Pastor friend.  The initial post can be read here and I highly recommend reading it for context and framing.  This post is in essence the second in the series and the first to deal directly with one of the numerous objections (though due to length, only in part) Pastor Pete communicated to me in email.  Here's L'Assomption_de_la_Vierge,_Le_Brunhis relevant objection, his first of six sent to me that day: 

I don’t believe in the assumption of Mary.  The doctrine was not even official Catholic doctrine until November 1, 1950.  This is church dogma.  I may be confused by what Catholic Church means by dogma.  I assume it means those things are non-negotiable matters of faith.  Doesn’t one have to accept church dogma or risk not truly being Catholic?   I can only assume that a great many Catholics (ancient as well as more modern) denied this doctrine before November 1, 1950.  What about them?  Are they retroactively excommunicated?   What about current Catholics that don’t hold to this doctrine?  Are they really Catholics or do they just think they are and won’t find out until after they are dead that they got this one wrong and are bound for hell?     My view of Mary disqualifies me – correct? 

I'll first deal with what admittedly is indeed confusing and that is the difference between dogma and doctrine.  Here's what the Catechism has to say about dogmas: 

The dogmas of the faith   88 The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faithtruths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.   89 There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.   

The bolded words (above and below) are my own doing, attempting to place emphasis on that which I believe has relevance to my attempt to adequately respond to Pastor Pete.  

Now let's move on to doctrines and particularly this Catholic Exchange piece (read the whole thing for further illumination) that I think does a great job of defining and differentiating terms: 
A doctrine is a teaching of the universal Church proposed as necessary for belief by the faithful. Dogmas, properly speaking, are such teachings that are set forth to be believed as divinely revealed (Catechism, no. 88; cf. 891-892). When differentiating from dogma, we use the term “doctrine” to signify teachings that are either definitively proposed or those that are proposed as true, but not in a definitive manner (cf. Catechism, nos. 88, 891-92). 
Summarizing then, all dogmas are doctrines (Church teachings), but not all doctrines are dogmas (divinely revealed Church teachings).  Both are deemed such by the Magisterium (Pope and the Bishops) and are then, by definition, binding on the faithful Catholic as to an obligation of the faith.  Which brings us to the touchy subject of excommunication.     Excommunication could easily take up an entire post (and more) but for purposes of brevity and to deal directly with Pastor Pete's related question, I think it best to point to two go to pieces, the first being the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia for a full (and rather lengthy) definition of the term but more relevantly, to EWTN's (the Catholic broadcast channel viewable on most cable TV systems) summation of what might constitute or necessitate an excommunication.
My personal take-away from both links, to directly respond to Pastor Pete's questions, are that excommunications can only be applied to living persons and that, given what we've learned from the definition of terms provided by the relevant links, any Catholic who willfully denies any doctrine, and in this case, a dogma, of the Church has in essence automatically excommunicated themselves.     I love this particular and revealing portion of the EWTN post: 
The person who holds something contrary to the Catholic faith is materially a heretic. They possess the matter of heresy, theological error. Thus, prior to the Second Vatican Council it was quite common to speak of non-Catholic Christians as heretics, since many of their doctrines are objectively contrary to Catholic teaching. This theological distinction remains true, though in keeping with the pastoral charity of the Council today we use the term heretic only to describe those who willingly embrace what they know to be contrary to revealed truth. Such persons are formally (in their conscience before God) guilty of heresy. Thus, the person who is objectively in heresy is not formally guilty of heresy if 1) their ignorance of the truth is due to their upbringing in a particular religious tradition (to which they may even be scrupulously faithful), and 2) they are not morally responsible for their ignorance of the truth. This is the principle of invincible ignorance, which Catholic theology has always recognized as excusing before God. 
Clearly not believing, as a Catholic, a divinely revealed truth (dogma) is serious however, I take great comfort in knowing that the Church sees excommunication (whether formal or informal) as something much less than permanent, and something from which the excommunicated can come out from under, assuming they take the necessary steps to do so.  And frankly, I think it quite revealing that formal excommunications are rare.   In closing, for this post, I want to directly address (and yes, I'm aware we've not yet dealt with the dogma of Mother Mary's Assumption), Pastor Pete's suggestion that the (logically) excommunicated are bound for hell.    I look to the example of the thief aside Christ on the cross who asks to be remembered in Christ's kingdom and Jesus' merciful promise of paradise to the dying man.  Excommunication is a disciplinary tactic used by the Church to draw people back to God's mercy.  It is not a direct pathway to Hell.  The person excommunicated is always allowed the wriggle room necessary to repent and turn back to that mercy. Thanks be to God.   I'll end this second post of the Pastor Pete series by promising to directly deal with Mother Mary's assumption in the next related post so please, do stay tuned and please, do leave your comments and add to the discussion.   Thank you... and carry on.

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