Over the past few months I’ve been encountering the terms “doctrine” and “dogma” in my reading, and, every time I do, I wonder: when is something a doctrine and when is something a dogma? So I decided to, once and for all, go on a search for the definitions.
I found that the definitions were expressed by Stacy Trasancos in her book Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science. Trasancos is a PhD chemist who converted to Catholicism. If you are a scientist, her book is a very good read, by the way. Anyway, the following is her statement on “doctrine” and “dogma.” “The word ‘doctrine’ means teaching, or instruction. Dogmas are doctrines, but they are more specific and directly connected to divine revelation whereas other teaching can derive from those truths but not be explicitly connected to them.” This derivation would then be a doctrine, but not a dogma. Her example of a dogma is the Holy Trinity, the teaching that says that there are three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one God. The Holy Trinity is a doctrine that is also a dogma because it is a teaching found directly from what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. The Catholic teaching opposing contraception, however, is a doctrine that is not a dogma because it is derived from teachings that are dogmas, meaning it is not found explicitly in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. Trasancos references the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 88-90.
I also found a statement of these definitions in the book The Everything Guide to Catholicism by Fr. Richard Gribble. His definition of “dogma” is similar to Trasancos’, except that, besides a “dogma teaching” being found explicitly in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition, he says it can be found in teachings “proposed by the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, to be believed as having been divinely revealed.” His examples are the many doctrines involving the Blessed Virgin Mary. He says that four of these doctrines “have been raised to the level of dogma.” These are Mary the Mother of God, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Any other teachings or celebrations involving Mary are doctrines but not dogmas.
By the way, Protestantism has its doctrines too. The Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura) and Faith Alone (Sola Fide) teachings are protestant doctrines. I don’t know if there is a distinction made between doctrine and dogma, however. If you are a Protestant, perhaps you can answer that as a comment in this post.
So there you have it! Doctrines and Dogmas are official teachings of a given faith. In the Catholic Church, all dogmas are doctrines, but not all doctrines are dogmas. And there I have it!