On Dogma and Truth

Extract from: R. A. MacEachen, Dogmatic Series; Catholic Book Company, Wheeling, W. VA, 1915.

Imprimatur: P.J. Donahue, D.D., Bishop of Wheeling

Vol. I., Chapter 1


The intellect of man was made for truth. Man naturally craves for truth. He yearns for certainty of knowledge. Doubt and uncertainty are among the bitterest trials of man on earth. The intellectual beatitude of man consists in the possession of perfect truth. This he will find in God alone.

The truth that most concerns man is that which pertains to his eternal destiny. This truth he must learn from his God and Creator. God alone, Who made us, knows the reason why He made us. He alone can tell us the destiny that awaits us. God has revealed this truth to us. He has founded His Church to teach it to us. When this truth comes to us through Divine Revelation and the ministry of the Church it is called dogma.

Dogma, then, is the defined truth that comes to us through the authority of God. It is the positive teaching of revealed religion. It is the sum total of all the truths which God teaches to man. Dogma is not opinion; it is not the teaching of human authority; it is not theory. It is positive truth.

There are but two kinds of religious beliefs possible. The one is based upon dogmas, the other is based upon human opinions.

He who knows the true meaning of dogma can never object to it. Dogma does not bind the mind; it frees it. It promotes the activity of the mind. It does not curtail the sphere of human reason. It simply describes the boundaries that separate truth from error. A church without dogmas has no reason for its existence.

Christ said to the first ministers of His Church: “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me.” (luke 10:16) The authority of the Church does not enslave the human mind. It opens to it the realms of divine truth. It does not hinder progress in science. Even human knowledge is defined. It has its dogmas, as it were. Mathematics bids me to believe that two and two are four. I am not free to believe that two and two are five. What would happen to the science of mathematics if everyone were free to apply his own whims to the solution of its problems? It would certainly become an absurdity. Much more truly can this be said of religion.

It is easy for thinking minds to see that they are not free to substitue falsehood for truth. As a creature of freewill, I may reject the truth. Yet I am not free so long as I do not possess the truth. Truth is something positive; truth is light. Error is negative; error is darkness. Truth is itself the liberty of the mind.

If I am lost in a forest, I am like a prisoner. I am held in a vast dungeon from which I am not able to free myself. This is the state of the mind that does not possess the truth in this life. It has lost its way in a maize of erros. It can but wander about in despair of finding the way that leads to its destiny. Truth, to such a mind, is a real liberator. It is like a great light that points out a clear road to the desired end. “The truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

Truth is not originated in the minds of men; it is eternal. It comes from God. Truth is the agreement of all things with the idea of them that exists in the mind of God. If our idea of things differs from God’s idea of them, we are in error. If our expression differs from the idea we have in our mind, we are guilty of falsehood.

Truth is in the very nature of things. I may think tha a horse is a cow. Yet a horse is not a cow.

I may deny that there is a God. The truth is, howeverm that there is a God.

The mind of man is fallible. Man is not a reliable source of truth. He may arr and he may be guilty of falsehood. God is the true and infallible source of truth. When truth is transmitted to our minds by Divine Authority it is called dogma. To reject dogma, then, is the same as to reject divine authority.

Men sometimes say that they profess faith in God byt do not believe in dogmatic teaching. This is the same as to say to God: “I believe in Thee, O Lord, but I will not accept any defined truth from Thee.” Such men call themselves freethinkers. They want religion based, not upon the reality of things, but upon their own individual judgement of things. They profess to accept divine truth but they want to make it a product of their own imagination. They are indeed free to think that the moon is handpainted. They are free to think that things are not what they really are. Yet their thoughts do not change realities.


Next: The Catholic Church and Dogma


From Dogmatic Series by Roderick MacEachen, Vol. I., Chapter 1

Imprimatur: P.J. Donahue, D.D., Bishop of Wheeling

Published by Catholic Book Company, Wheeling, W. VA, 1915