Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Catholic Doctrine: Introduction

It is important to understand the general working principles of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) before delving into particular teachings as the setup of the RCC is quite different than most Protestant denominations.

Going forward in this series it is important to remember these basic characteristics of the RCC faith:

1. Unity

All members of the RCC are required to believe all the doctrines of the church as taught to them. You can not pick and choose what to believe, you must accept all the teachings of the church or you are not “Catholic”.

Baltimore Catechism, no. 3 lesson 12:

The Catholic Church is one because all its members, according to the will of Christ, profess the same faith, have the same sacrifice and sacraments, and are united under one and the same visible head, the Pope.

…Catholics accept all the doctrines of faith and morals which were taught by Our Lord and the apostles and are proposed by the Church for belief and practice. A person who deliberately denies even one of the doctrines of the Church cannot be a Catholic. The Church is one in faith.

Catholics are subject to their respective bishops who rule them. They must recognize the supreme authority of the Pope in matters of religion. A person who deliberately refuses to accept the legitimate and supreme authority of the Pope and the bishops in matters of religion cannot be a Catholic.

Catechism of St. Pius X, Article 9:

31 Q: Are we obliged to believe all the truths the Church teaches us?
A: Yes, we are obliged to believe all the truths the Church teaches us, and Jesus Christ declares that he who does not believe is already condemned.

32 Q: Are we also obliged to do all that the Church commands?
A: Yes, we are obliged to do all that the Church commands, for Jesus Christ has said to the Pastors of the Church: "He who hears you, hears Me, and he who despises you, despises Me."

2. Infallibility

The RCC claims that it cannot be in error in matters of faith and morals. Therefore, all historical teachings of the church (as pronounced by the Pope or official councils) can not be denied.

Baltimore Catechism, no. 3 lesson 12:

By the infallibility of the Catholic Church is meant that the Church, by the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, cannot err when it teaches or believes a doctrine of faith or morals.

…The Church cannot change its defined teachings on faith and morals though it may restate them more clearly and more completely.

Catechism of St. Pius X, Article 9:

34 Q: Is the Catholic Church infallible, then?
A: Yes, the Catholic Church is infallible, and hence those who reject her definitions lose the faith and become heretics.

Because of these characteristics it is important to look at actual church teachings (as opposed to relying on individual member’s opinions) and remember that historical teachings are relevant to our evaluation. A member of the RCC cannot really say “we don’t believe that anymore” or “I believe most of the teachings but not all of them”.

If you would like to do some of your own research I would recommend which is suppose to have imprimaturs on it’s material (which means it has been approved as accurately portraying Church teachings). The article formats on are easier to read than the official church documents (some of which can be found at

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the official doctrinal guide for the lay members of the RCC and the most recent catechism of the Church. I like The Baltimore Catechism as it is written in question and answer format making it a bit more simplistic. Note, there appear to be multiple editions of The Baltimore Catechism with differences in the question order and answer wording.

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