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
Dogma is no invention either of men or angels. Dogma is truth that is eternally true. It has been said that the Catholic Church makes dogmas. Nothing could be more absurd. The Church can no more make a dogma that [sic] she can create a world. The Church teaches the truths of God. She can not fail in this duty for her Master is with her. She can not teach any admixture of error. Error is impossible to the Church. She teaches with divine authority.
Man can possess no true religious faith except it be based upon dogma. “Faith cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ.2 (Epistle to the Romans 1:17) Dogma is the truth which God transmits to us through the teaching of His Church.
All dogma comes from God. The Church is the official teacher and interpreter of dogma. The truth of God comes to us through DIvine Revelation. It is given to us in Holy Scripture and tradition. Holy Scripture is the written account of Divine Revelation. God the Holy Ghost is the author of the Bible. Its every statement is divine truth. Its every truth is dogma. The sacred writers were but instruments in God’s hands.
Divine Revelation contains a threefold order of truth. It contains truths which the unaided human reason can discover. Many of these are dictated by the law of nature and by reason. The existence of God is a truth of this kind.
Divine Revelation contains other truths which mere human reason could not dicover with certainty. Such a truth is the infallibility of the Pope. Yet man canunderstand these truths when once they are made known by Divine Revelation.
Then there are truths which man could never have known. Neither can he comprehend them fully after they have been revealed to him. These truths are called mysteries. Chief amongst them are the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity and the Mystery of the Incarnation.
Divine Revelation is the record of God’s dealing with man. SInce man remains a natural creature in all his relations with God, Revelation must contain some natural truths. These natural truths are indeed dogmas that must be accepted by all. Those who already know them by the light of reason are bound to accept them as though they knew them by Faith alone.
There are in Holy Writ very few dogmas that are clear and explicit. There is hardly an important text that has not been interpreted in many different ways. Hence, we see the need of a living authority to define the teachings of the Bible. God has established the Catholic Church as the true guardian an interpreter of His Revelation. “The Church of the Living God (is) the pillar and ground of truth.” (I Epistle to Timothy 3:15)
When the Church defines a dogma of faith, she does not make a new dogma. She merely decides that the particular truth is contained in Divine Revelation. There can be no new dogma without new Revelation from God. S truth that is clearly expressed in Holy Writ needs no formal definition of the Church to make it a dogma. Yet a definition may become necessary, should the truth be denied. This does not, however, constitute a new teaching. It means that a definition has been given so that the truth may be readily distinguished from the opposing error. Though clearly contained in Holy Scripture, the doctrine of Christ’s divinity was not defined until is had been denied by Arius. Yet it had always been taught and believed.
Some writers speak of progress in dogma. If this progress means new definitions of doctrines taught from the beginning, it may be admitted. If it means the discovery of new truths, it is false. This manner of advance can be found in human knowledge, but not in the divine truth of revealed religion. Christ and his Apostles delivered the whole body of Revelation to the Church. SInce that time there has been no new revelation. Besides, the Church knew and understood the deposit of Divine Revelation in the days of the Apostles as well as she knows and understands it today.
There were many points that were not brought out clearly from the first. Many details were not fully explained. Some doctrines, now universally accepted, were controverted in former ages. “Those who err in belief,” says St. Augustine, “do but serve to bring out more clearly the soundness of those who rightly believe. For there are many things that lay hidden in the Scriptures. When heretics were cut off they vexed the Church of God with disputes; then the hidden things were brought to light and the will of God was made know. This kind of progress in doctrine, we do admit. Yet the truth is not changed thereby. It does not imply new teachings nor new dogmas. As Albertus Magnus says: “It would be more correct to stule this the progress of the believer in the Faith than the progress of the Faith in the believer.”
The development of dogma means that the Church is carrying on her divine mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the world. The Church received the deposit of Faith from her Divine Founder, Jesus Christ. To her He said: “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”(Mark 16:15) And again: “He that heareth you heareth me.”(Luke 10:16) Her teaching is the same today as it was on the first Pentecost. She teaches the same doctrine to the uncivilised tribes along the banks of the Ganges as she taught in the palaces of the Caesars two thousand years ago. She teaches the same dogmas to the unlettered men of all ages that she teaches to a Pasteur or a Newman. Neither centuries nor intellects change her dogmas. Men of diverse capacities may study her teachings wiht different degrees of knowledge. Conditions of the times may call for new pronouncements. Yet her teachings are unchanged and unchangeable. Bishops and priests preach the Gospel indeed. Yet they but teach in the name and authority of Holy Church. She sends them forth and she watches over them with motherly care and solicitude. The Church herself is the true teacher of mankind.
St. Vincent of Lerius expresses it thus: “(…) The Church of Christ is a faithful and ever-watchful guardian of the dogmas which have been committed to her charge. In this sacred deposit she changes nothing, she takes nothing from it, she adds nothing to it.”