Doctrines and Philosophy
Dogmas and Creeds
The Roman Catholic Church has formal and established beliefs (known as dogmas) on the basis of the Bible. The Church declares these dogmas as binding, which means that there is a general expectation that members of the Catholic Church accept the established beliefs. Catholic Church doctrine and dogma is often sophisticated and, at times, complex. To briefly summarise, the fundamentals of the dogmas are based on the Church’s creed (a statement or declaration of beliefs that are essential to the Church). The two main creeds of the Catholic Church are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed (which can be viewed here). These are usually spoken at Sunday Mass and on holy days to reaffirm the Church’s teachings and expectations towards its members.
- Bible: The Bible is the main religious text of Catholicism. It is often referred to as the ‘Sacred Scripture’. The Bible is a collection of different genres including historical chronicles and myths, , prophecy, laws, ethics, songs and poetry. There are two major sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Catholic tradition follows the Greek canon of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint), thereby accepting 46 books (seven more books than the Hebrew canon used in Judaism and Protestantism).
- The Gospels: A major part of the New Testament are the four Gospels, each believed to be passed down by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels are considered to be especially important as the books detail the life story of Jesus during his time on earth.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Catechism of the Catholic Church stipulates the official doctrinal positions and teachings held by the Roman Catholic Church.
- Other texts: Catholicism also has various other texts that may be used, such as commentaries on doctrines and dogmas, other documents by popes that address contemporary issues, as well as writings by and biographies of canonised saints.
God and the Holy Trinity
The Catholic Church holds a belief in , which refers to a belief in the existence of one and only one God. In Catholicism, God is generally understood as transcendental, omnipotent, incomprehensible, incarnational and eternal. God is also understood as triune, one God in three forms. This concept is formally known as the Holy Trinity and it is one of the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic Church. The Holy Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit (the presence of God). These are three manifestations of God, not three distinct gods.
In Christian theology, ‘grace’ is the free, unmerited gift from God that is necessary for salvation of the soul (Ephesians 2:8). God’s grace is available in both everyday ordinary life as well as during sacred rituals (such as the sacraments). As a gift, grace can be accepted or rejected. Regardless of one’s choice, Catholicism asserts that grace enables one to enter heaven. Grace is first given at baptism, which brings the Holy Trinity into the soul of the individual. In turn, Catholicism considers the ritual of baptism as necessary for one’s salvation.
An important aspect of the Roman Catholic Church is the role of the Church as a universal teaching, sanctifying and governing body made up of all the People of God (i.e. all who are baptised). This threefold mission is seen as a continuation of Jesus Christ’s efforts during his time on earth. It occurs through the Church’s authority to teach, continuing Christ’s priestly mission of sanctification through the seven sacraments and carrying on his kingly mission through the Church’s . The Catholic Church is often metaphorically and symbolically referred to as the ‘Holy Mother Church’ as a way to convey the Church’s function of nurturing its followers.
Although individual churches may differ in terms of public worship, they are seen as part of the unified Roman Catholic Church. This is usually argued on the basis of 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, which describes the Church as one body with many members: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ”.
Liberation Theology refers to one among many different theological views. It is a major movement in the Roman Catholic Church, which emerged in South America during the 1960s and 1970s as a response to the oppression, injustice and institutionalised violence that pervaded the continent at the time. The movement is understood as a radical interpretation of the Gospels that draws on Marxist theory of class struggle. Endorsers of Liberation Theology see the movement as reinterpreting theology to emphasise the lived experiences and needs of the society at a particular time and drawing upon the Gospel to answer such needs.
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