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Deacon-structing Catholic Basics: Doctrine

Deacon Pedro

Monday, September 7, 2020

Detail of Moses with the Ten Commandments by Philippe de Champaigne (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
A month ago I explained that since working on Catholic trivia for our new summer series, In All Things, has been so much fun, I decided to continue the fun on our blog.
The idea is that I will share with you – off the top of my head, without looking it up – what I know. The point is that if I can know it, so can you. So far we've looked at Scripture, Liturgy, Catechism, and History. I hope that there was a lot in there you already knew and that you were inspired to learn more. Did you learn about a saint you didn't know about before? I did: St. Mariam Baouardy. Look her up!
Today we are going to end this little series with something a little harder: Doctrine. For the purpose of this blog post, by "doctrine" I mean official Church teaching, and that includes dogma. Remember that doctrine is Church teaching dealing with matters of faith and morals which has not been divinely revealed. Dogma is any teaching that is divinely revealed or that has some connection to divine revelation. Remember that all doctrine is infallible (not in error) and unchangeable. All dogma is non-negotiable. (For a really good, in-depth look at doctrine and dogma, look at my series, Deacon-structing Doctrine.)
As I wrote in "Deacon-structing Doctrine", it would be very handy if there were a list of all the teachings of the Catholic Church that are infallible, unchangeable, and non-negotiable. But there isn’t.
Still, it’s not hard to figure out some of the basics.
Let’s start with this question that could have been part of our section on Scripture, but I include it here because it’s the basis of divinely revealed doctrine on morals.
Can you name the 10 Commandments? (Off the top of your head)
  1. I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any other gods before me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
  3. You shall keep holy the Sabbath Day.
  4. Honour your father and mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not steal.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods.
I got 10. I hope they are correct and that I got them in the right order. Did you? [Note from the editor: Almost! You just got 6 & 7 in the wrong order.]
You may not know that the Church teaches that there are Five Foundational Truths. These are five doctrines that are the basis, or foundation, of everything else. You may not have learned them in Catechism (I didn't), but do you think you can name what they are? (Don’t feel bad if you can’t. I just learned this two years ago when writing my "Deacon-structing Doctrine" blog posts).
The Five Foundational Truths are:
1. The Blessed Trinity: God is an eternal loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
2. The Person of Jesus: A divine person who took on human nature in the Incarnation
3. The Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ
4. The Dignity of the Human Person: made in the image and likeness of God
5. The Church: the Body of Christ brought to life in the Holy Spirit
These are truths that are non-negotiable. They are divinely revealed and non-changing, and all Catholics must believe them. Many other Catholic teachings develop from these. For example, the Theology of the Body depends on the Mystery of the Trinity and the Dignity of the Human Person. Teachings about Mary depend on the teaching on the Person of Jesus. The teaching about Adoration of Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist depends on the teachings on the Person of Jesus and the Paschal Mystery, and so forth.
Dogmas are divinely revealed truths. Examples of these are the articles of the Creed and all Christological dogmas. Sometimes when there is confusion, dogmas have to be defined. Usually this happens in the context of a Church Council.  We looked at some of the Church Councils last week. Can you name the Council where the dogmas of the Dual Nature of Christ and the Holy Trinity were defined?
The 1st Council of Nicaea.
Two dogmas were proclaimed by popes “ex-cathedra” (from the chair). This means that they did so without consulting with a Council. Do you know which ones they are?
The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (Pius IX in 1854)
The Dogma of the Assumption of Mary (Pius XII in 1950)
Even though the popes proclaimed these beliefs as dogmas, it doesn’t mean that they did so on a whim. These beliefs had already been professed by the faithful for centuries before.
The popes just declared them official.
Could you explain these two dogmas?
Immaculate Conception: refers to the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin.
Assumption: refers to the fact that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into Heaven.
Part of Church doctrine is what we call Catholic social teaching. I am not going to ask you to name all the articles of Catholic social teaching because everywhere I look it’s a slightly different list, but, off the top of my head, here are some of them [and maybe Kristina can help us fill in the blanks. Kristina's answer: Actually, I'm a bit vague on the specifics here. I guess I should read some more!].
The principle of Respect for the Dignity of the Human Person
The principles of Solidarity and Subsidiarity
The principle of Preferential Option for the Poor
The principle of Respect for Human Life
The principle of Stewardship...
Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. But I know that they may be organized differently depending on what your source is. Can you think of others?
Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to doctrine is that we are able to explain what the Church teaches to those who are curious about it. Just recently, a young person who is not Catholic asked me if I believed in extra-terrestrial life. It was a wonderful opportunity to tell her what we believe about being created in the image and likeness of God.
Can you explain what the Church teaches on the following?
While some of these are divinely revealed, some are developed from divine revelation, and others could change (although while they exist they are authoritative). I think these are concepts that all Catholics should know the basics of.
Also, do you know what the Church teaches about:
Religious Liberty?
Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue?
Cremation? [Read more in Deacon-structing Doctrine: Changing Doctrine.]
Capital Punishment? [Read more in Deacon-structing Doctrine: Capital Punishment.]
Lastly, there is what we call “disciplines". Many of the things we looked at in our discussion of liturgy are what we would call disciplines.
Do you know what the Church teaches about (to name a few):
Holy Days of Obligation?
The Celibate Priesthood?
I left doctrine for last because, undoubtedly, it is the most difficult category, although I bet that there is a lot here that you already know. Some of them are hard to understand and therefore explain (which is why I write this weekly column), but they are the basics of our Faith.
Our mission as Christians is to go and make disciples (see Matthew 28:18-20). We do this first by introducing others to Jesus Christ. The best way to do this is by how we live our lives. But when people come to us with questions (as happened to me in Italy last year), we must be ready to explain what we believe. We don’t have to be theologians, but we should know the basics.
Let me know your thoughts on all of this. How did you do with all these questions? Were you inspired to learn more? Maybe you have some questions you want to ask or topics you’d like me to deacon-struct? Write to me. I love getting your messages and especially love your questions, as they help me understand our Faith better.
I hope Deacon-structing helps you understand our Faith better too!

pedroEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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