What is Dogma? The word itself derives from the Greek word for ‘opinion’, from the word Dokein, meaning ‘seem good, think’. Obviously, when it comes to matters of belief in one God, our personal opinions or impressions of the idea of ‘god’ we might have, would have to remain just that: mere opinions and no more based on ourselves, we could have no guarantee of certainty. Yet for us, as believers in Jesus Christ, this thankfully is not the case.

We firmly believe that Jesus is the Revelation of the one and only true God. The words that Jesus spoke were handed down through Sacred Scriptures and living testimony or Tradition of the Church. Indeed, as the word ‘dogma’ was incorporated into Latin, it took on a more specific meaning. A good English dictionary might define this today as: “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true”. This encapsulates well what we mean when we use this word apply to the Church’s official teaching. Dogma therefore refers us to those things of Faith and morals which are divinely revealed by God and are taught as such by the Church. This obviously implies that there must be an authority within the Church that can guarantee the authenticity and define what is a Dogma in the name of Christ Himself.

This is actually what Jesus gave to his Church, when he said to Simon: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar [Son of]-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven. And so, I now say to you: You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19). Simon, now named Peter, became the first Pope of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is his 266th successor.

This means, that in matters of Faith and morals, the Pope, united with all the bishops throughout the world, speak authentically for Christ. When the Pope speaks in this way united with the bishops throughout the world, he is unfailingly assisted by the Holy Spirit, who cannot deceive His Church. Therefore this official teaching, or Dogma, is upheld by the Spirit of Truth and so cannot know error: it is infallible, in the same sense that God cannot speak fallibly.

Dogma then our like guiding posts that keep us on the straight and narrow, away from what can separate us or divide us from the truth of the Word of God. Studying Dogma and the doctrines, principles, theology that explain it, makes this a powerful tool for formation in the Faith. Rather than being a constriction, or an imposition of authority, studying what the Church understands and believes about herself and the teachings of Christ, is an immensely freeing experience, because we can now that what we are relating to is the Truth. No matter how hard it may be for us intellectually to understands the mysteries of our Faith, Dogma ensures we can reach safely home.