Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Dogmatic Principle

I recently mentioned the dogmatic principle as an often neglected principle of Catholicity. In that post I mentioned Newman's unwavering devotion to that principle. Avery Dulles listed the Dogmatic principle as one of the ten principles of Catholic theology. Here is an article summarizing and commenting on Dulles's list ("The Consequences of Bad Theology," by Reverend John Navone, S.J., ). What the article says about the principle is this:

6. The Dogmatic Principle. Christians must submit to the truth as something definite, formal, and independent of themselves. They are bound to receive, defend, and transmit the faith they have received. By the "dogmatic principle" is meant the obligatory character of revealed truth, its power to require our assent. Catholic theology must have the courage to assert a definite claim of truth. The mind is made for truth; God has revealed the truth, and Christians have no right to obfuscate or conceal it. The very idea of a deposit of faith (e.g. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14) seems scandalous in an age when freedom is interpreted as a matter of keeping one's options open. Catholic theologians enjoy a doctrinal heritage, conscious that the Holy Spirit has been with the church in every age. Grateful for what has been handed down in the Catholic tradition; Catholic theologians are liberated from the incessant need to reopen questions that have been authoritatively settled in the past....

The Catholic concept of dogma stands in the midst of the fray. The universality of dogma is challenged by versions of multiculturalism and social fragmentation in which different social and ethnic groups aspire to full autonomy. The stability of dogma is thrown into question by historical relativism, which treats truth itself as a function of transitory cultural conditions. The authority of dogma is resented as a legalistic imposition on intellectual freedom. Tradition must struggle to maintain itself. Whereas earlier theologians sought to be self-effacing and faithful to the patrimony handed down and cherished orthodoxy as a badge of honor, the contemporary climate induces theologians to seek independence, creativity, and openness to fresh currents of thought. Some boast of following what is called the "heretical imperative." They are urged by publicists to say something new and surprising, rather than hold to what can be viewed as "party line."

I myself sometimes have a tough time fitting in with contemporary theologians because I don't see myself as primarily an innovator or creator of new ideas, but rather as not-too-important commentator on the Great Texts of the Tradition. What I hope to do is make the treasures of the Catholic intellectual, cultural, and spiritual tradition available to people today.

The full list of principles is:

  1. Esteem for the Natural.
  2. Humanism.
  3. Respect for Reason.
  4. Universalism.
  5. Mediation.
  6. The Dogmatic Principle.
  7. The Sacramental Principle.
  8. The Hierarchical Principle.
  9. The Principle of Consensus.
  10. The Doxological Principle.

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