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Catholic Basics: Can Dogmas Change?

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Jesus Teaching

Catholic Basics:

Can Dogmas Change?

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With regard to change & the teachings of the Church, it is essential to note that:

  • God is unchanging

"God is not man that he should speak falsely, nor human, that he should change his mind. Is he one to speak and not act, to decree and not fulfill?" (Num. 23:19)

"Of old you laid the earth's foundations; the heavens are the work of your hands. They perish, but you remain; they all wear out like a garment; Like clothing you change them and they are changed, but you are the same, your years have no end." (Ps. 102:26-28)

"He plumbs the depths and penetrates the heart; their innermost being he understands. The Most High possesses all knowledge, and sees from of old the things that are to come: He makes known the past and the future, and reveals the deepest secrets. No understanding does he lack; no single thing escapes him. Perennial is his almighty wisdom; he is from all eternity one and the same, with nothing added, nothing taken away; no need of a counselor for him!" (Sirach 42:18-22)

"Even to your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is I who have done this, I who will continue, and I who will carry you to safety." (Isa. 46:4)

"Surely I, the LORD, do not change, nor do you cease to be sons of Jacob." (Mal. 3:6)

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8)

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change." (Jms. 1:16-17)

"Though all things pass God does not change." (St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church)

"Eternity itself is the substance of God, which has nothing that is changeable. There is nothing there that is past, as if it were no longer; nothing there is future, as if it not yet were. There is nothing there except 'is'." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 5th century A.D.)

"Christ is the teacher and the exemplar of all sanctity, and to His standard must all those conform who wish for eternal life. Nor does Christ know any change as the ages pass, 'for He is yesterday and today and the same forever. (Hebrews xiii, 8)" (Pope Leo XIII, "Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae", 1899 A.D.)

  • Truth is unchanging

"Truth...cannot change from day to day." (Pope Pius XII)

  • Church dogmas can not change

"Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life. I write you these things about those who would deceive you." (St. John, 1 Jn. 2:24-26)

"Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes. From these come envy, rivalry, insults, evil suspicions, and mutual friction among people with corrupted minds, who are deprived of the truth, supposing religion to be a means of gain." (St. Paul, 1 Tm. 6:3-5)

"[T]hings that are of natural law vary according to the various states and conditions of men; although those which naturally pertain to things Divine nowise vary." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

  • The Church is not a creator of doctrine, but its guardian. She has authority only to pass on what she has already received, not to invent new dogma.

"[N]othing of the things appointed ought to be diminished; nothing changed; nothing added; but they must be preserved both as regards expression and meaning." (Pope St. Agatho)

"The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successor of Peter that by the revelation of the Holy Spirit they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the Apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth." (First Vatican Council)

"To announce, therefore, to Catholic Christians something other than that which they have received is never permitted, is nowhere permitted, and never will be permitted. And to anathematize those who announce anything other than that which has been received once and for all has never been unnecessary, is nowhere unnecessary, and never will be unnecessary" (St. Vincent of Lerins, c. 434 A.D.) 

"For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus - that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning." (Pope Pius IX, "Ineffabilis Deus", 1854 A.D.)

Note that even a so-called "new" dogma (e.g. the Immaculate Conception of Mary), is not really new. Rather, it has always been part of the deposit of faith, but it is simply put forth in a more explicit manner. As Pope Pius XI has stated, "For the teaching authority of the Church, which in the divine wisdom was constituted on earth in order that revealed doctrines might remain intact forever, and that they might be brought with ease and security to the knowledge of men, and which is daily exercised through the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops who are in communion with him, has also the office of defining, when it sees fit, any truth with solemn rites and decrees, whenever this is necessary either to oppose the errors or the attacks of heretics, or more clearly and in greater detail to stamp the minds of the faithful with the articles of sacred doctrine which have been explained. But in the use of this extraordinary teaching authority no newly invented matter is brought in, nor is anything new added to the number of those truths which are at least implicitly contained in the deposit of Revelation, divinely handed down to the Church: only those which are made clear which perhaps may still seem obscure to some, or that which some have previously called into question is declared to be of faith." (Pope Pius XI, "Mortalium Animos", 1928)

  • The dogmas of the Church are not subject to changing interpretations over time. 

"If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema." (First Vatican Council)

"I entirely reject the heretical misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously." (From the Oath Against Modernism, Prescribed by Pope St. Pius X, 1910 A.D.) 

"For the doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy Mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding." (First Vatican Council)

"Finally, I declare that I am completely opposed to the error of the modernists who hold that there is nothing divine in sacred tradition; or what is far worse, say that there is, but in a pantheistic sense, with the result that there would remain nothing but this plain simple fact - one to be put on a par with the ordinary facts of history - the fact, namely, that a group of men by their own labor, skill, and talent have continued through subsequent ages a school begun by Christ and his apostles. I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way." (Pope St. Pius X, Oath Against Modernism, 1910 A.D.) 

  • The Church is bound to protect the purity of the faith by preserving her constant teachings and upholding tradition

"Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us." (St. Paul, 2 Tm. 1:13-14)

"O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge. By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. Grace be with all of you." (St. Paul, 1 Tm. 6:20-21)

"Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching." (St. Paul, Heb. 13:7-9)

"I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you." (St. Paul, 1 Cor. 11:2)

"If anyone rejects any written or unwritten tradition of the church, let him be anathema." (Second Council of Nicaea)

"Let them innovate nothing, but keep the traditions." (Pope St. Steven I, 3rd century A.D.)

"The best advice that I can give you is this. Church traditions - especially when they do not run counter to the faith - are to be observed in the form in which previous generations have handed them down" (St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church, 4th century A.D.)

"The Church appeals to the faithful not to abandon or make light of the traditions of the Fathers but to receive them reverently as a precious possession of the Catholic family and to honor those traditions." (Pope Paul VI)

"The customs of God's people and the institutions of our ancestors are to be considered as laws. And those who throw contempt on the customs of the Church ought to be punished as those who disobey the law of God." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, 5th century A.D.)

"'Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter.' From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further." (St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, c. 400 A.D.)

"If then you adhere to the ancient faith, and which has been transmitted to us by the Holy Fathers...and if you in nothing deviate from the doctrine of the universal Church, (for neither are we wiser than our Fathers, nor is it lawful for us to take upon ourselves some novelty or other than our Fathers learned and taught,) this faith let us all mutually hold in sincerity of mind and truth of heart, and there is peace. Let us keep inviolate the rules which the Church has received from those same Fathers, and there is peace." (Pope Gelasius I)

"Those, therefore, who dare to think or to teach otherwise or to spurn according to wretched heretics the ecclesiastical traditions and to invent anything novel, or to reject anything from these things which have been consecrated by the Church...or to invent perversely and cunningly for the overthrow of anyone of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church; or even, as it were, to use the sacred vessels or the venerable monasteries as common things; if indeed they are bishops or clerics, we order (them) to be deposed; monks, however, or laymen, to be excommunicated" (Second Council of Nicaea, 787 A.D.)

"The Church of Christ, zealous and cautious guardian of the dogmas deposited with it, never changes any phase of them. It does not diminish them or add to them; it neither trims what seems necessary nor grafts things superfluous; it neither gives up its own or usurps what does not belong to it. But it devotes all its diligence to one aim: to treat tradition faithfully and wisely; to nurse and polish what from old times may have remain unshaped and unfinished; to consolidate and strengthen what already was clear and plain; and to guard what already was confirmed and defined." (St. Vincent of Lerins, 5th century A.D.)

"'Guard.' he says, 'what has been committed.' What does it mean, 'what has been committed'? It is what has been faithfully entrusted to you, not what has been discovered by you; what you have received, not what you have thought up; a matter not of ingenuity, but of doctrine; not of private acquisition, but of public Tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, in which you must not be the author but the guardian, not the founder but the sharer, not the leader, but the follower. 'Guard,' he says, 'what has been committed.' Keep the talent [see Mt. 25:14-30] of the Catholic Faith inviolate and unimpaired. What has been faithfully entrusted, let it remain in your possession, let it be handed on by you. You have received gold, so give gold. For my part, I do not want you to substitute on thing for another; I do not want you imprudently to put lead in place of gold, or fraudulently, brass. I do not want the appearance of gold, but the real thing. O Timothy, O priest, O interpreter, O teacher, if a divine gift has made you suitable in genius, in experience, in doctrine to be the Bezalel [i.e. skilled craftsman] of the spiritual tabernacle, cut out the precious gems of divine dogma, shape them faithfully, ornament them wisely, add splendor, grace and beauty to them! By your expounding it, may that now be understood more clearly which formerly was believed even in its obscurity. May posterity, be means of you, rejoice in understanding what in times past was venerated without understanding. Nevertheless, teach the same that you have learned, so that if you say something anew, it is not something new that you say." (St. Vincent of Lerins, c. 434 A.D.)

  • The Catholic religion is not subject to human progress 

"...that progress of, in reality, nothing but the corruption of dogmas." (Pope St. Pius X, "Lamentabili Sane", 1907 A.D.)

Error CONDEMNED by Pope Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors: "Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continuous and indefinite progress, which corresponds to the progress of human reason." (Bl. Pope Pius IX, This proposition was condemned in the Syllabus of Errors, Dec. 8, 1864 A.D.) 

"Urge them never to allow themselves to be deceived and led into error by men who have become abominable in their pursuits. These men attempt to destroy faith on the pretext of human progress, subjecting it in an impious manner to reason and changing the meaning of the words of God. Such men do not shrink from the greatest insults to God Himself, who cares for the good and the salvation of men by means of His heavenly religion." (Pope Pius IX, "Qui Pluribus", 1846 A.D.) 

"Therefore, it is obviously absurd and injurious to propose a certain 'restoration and regeneration' for [the Church] as though necessary for her safety and growth, as if she could be considered subject to defect or obscuration or other misfortune. Indeed these authors of novelties consider that a 'foundation may be laid of a new human institution,' and what Cyprian detested may come to pass, that what was a divine thing 'may become a human church.'" (Pope Gregory XVI, "Mirari Vos", 1832 A.D.)

"It is with no less deceit, venerable brothers, that other enemies of divine revelation, with reckless and sacrilegious effrontery, want to import the doctrine of human progress into the Catholic religion. They extol it with the highest praise, as if religion itself were not of God but the work of men, or a philosophical discovery which can be perfected by human means... Our holy religion was not invented by human reason, but was most mercifully revealed by God; therefore, one can quite easily understand that religion itself acquires all its power from the authority of God who made the revelation, and that it can never be arrived at or perfected by human reason." (Bl. Pope Pius IX, "Qui Pluribus", 1846 A.D.)

  • The Church is a divine institution and cannot simply change because her members might want her to

  • The Church's teachings are timeless and never need to be "modernized"

  • The Church cannot contradict what she has always held to be true - true novelties can never become dogma!

  • Catholics have a duty to reject novelties & strange doctrine 

"Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father." (St. John, 1 Jn. 2:24)

"Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching." (St. Paul, Heb. 13:7-9)

"Anyone who is so 'progressive' as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him in your house or even greet him; for whoever greets him shares in his evil works." (St. John, 2 Jn. 1:9-11)

"I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by (the) grace (of Christ) for a different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach (to you) a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, and now I say again, if anyone preaches to you a gospel other than the one that you received, let that one be accursed!" (St. Paul, Gal. 1:6-9)

"I have learned however, that certain persons from elsewhere, who have evil doctrine, have stayed with you; but you did not allow them to sow it among you, and you stopped your ears so that you would not receive what they sow...Do not err, my brethren: the corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God, for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire; and so also will anyone who listens to him." (St. Ignatius of Antioch, hearer of St. John the Apostle, c. 110 A.D.)

"Fly from them and from their doctrines; do not go near them, for you know that whoever is found in a place where outrage has been offered to the king has to come into court to be questioned according to law. Even if he can prove he was not guilty he will be condemned for want of zeal. Do not sit with heretics nor associate with apostates. It would be better to dwell with a demon than with a renegade. For if you abjure the demon he will flee, for he cannot stand before the name of Jesus, but even were you to exorcise the apostate ten thousand times he would not cease from his wickedness or renounce his folly. It would be better to teach demons than to try to convince heretics." (St. Ephraem the Syrian, Doctor of the Church)

"They exercise all their ingenuity in diminishing the force and falsifying the character of tradition, so as to rob it of all its weight. But for Catholics the second Council of Nicea will always have the force of law, where it condemns those who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind...or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church; and Catholics will hold for law, also, the profession of the fourth Council of Constantinople: We therefore profess to conserve and guard the rules bequeathed to the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by the Holy and most illustrious Apostles, by the orthodox Councils, both general and local, and by every one of those divine interpreters the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV and Pius IX, ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration: I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church." (Pope St. Pius X, "Pascendi Dominici Gregis", 1907 A.D.)

It should be noted that novelty / modernism has been strictly condemned by the Church. In fact, modernists / liberals have been referred to as "the worst enemies of the Church" (Bl. Pope Pius IX) and "the most pernicious of all the adversaries of the Church" (Pope St. Pius X). Click here for more on modernism.

Although it is clear that the Church cannot add to or change dogmas, it should be noted that:

  • Not everything uttered or written by a pope, theologian, saint, council, doctor of the Church, etc. is dogma. 

  • Not all papal writings / utterances are considered "dogma" or are protected by infallibility (click here for more information) 

  • Even the greatest theologians and saints have been wrong on some points - and even popes (when not speaking infallibly) have sometimes been wrong. Clearly, one must learn to separate private opinions from true Church dogma. This is best facilitated by looking to what the Church has always held to be true.

  • Priests - and even bishops and cardinals - do not always expound true Catholic dogma, especially in today's age. As indicated above, one must learn to separate private opinions from true Church dogma. Again, this is best facilitated by examining what the Church has always held to be true.

  • Certain practices of the church - e.g. fasting regulations - (and not dogma or doctrine) are subject to change. Such changes, however, should only be made for the glory of God and for the good of the Church and of souls.

"We hope to kindle your zeal and solicitude as much as We can with the help of God, so that you may diligently protect your flock from the true causes of your past troubles. Watch earnestly lest deceitful men and the promoters of novelties continue to spread erroneous doctrines and false dogmas in your flock. Using the pretext of the common good, as is their custom, they take advantage of the credulity of those who are naive and rash, so that they may have them as blind servants and supporters in disturbing the peace of the kingdom and in overturning the order of society. Surely the fraud of these would-be teachers must be uncovered in clear words for the good and the instruction of the faithful. The fallacy of their thought must be refuted courageously everywhere with the words of divine scripture and the testimony of Church tradition." (Pope Gregory XVI, "Cum Primum", 1832 A.D.)

"You are already aware that among priests, especially those less equipped with doctrine and of less strict lives, a certain spirit of novelty is being diffused in an ever graver and more disturbing manner. Novelty is never in itself a criterion of truth and it can be worthy of praise only when it confirms the truth and leads to righteousness and virtue." (Pope Pius XII, "Menti Nostrae", 1950 A.D.) 

"What else do those preachers of another gospel than that which we have received try to do, but to corrupt us from the purity which we preserve for Christ, when they stigmatize the law of God as old, and praise their own falsehoods as new, as if all that is new must be good, and all that is old bad? The Apostle John, however, praises the old commandment, and the Apostle Paul bids us avoid novelties in doctrine." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

"However, although We have found that Catholic doctors in general are on their guard against those errors, yet it is well established that there are not lacking today, just as in apostolic times, those who, in their extreme zeal for novelty and also in their fear of being held ignorant of those matters which the science of a progressive age has introduced, strive to withdraw themselves from the temperateness of the sacred magisterium; and thus they become involved in the danger of gradually and imperceptibly departing from the truth revealed by God, and of leading others into error along with themselves." (Pope Pius XII, "Humani Generis", 1950 A.D.)

"With truly lamentable results, our age, casting aside all restraint in its search for the ultimate causes of things, frequently pursues novelties so ardently that it rejects the legacy of the human race. Thus it falls into very serious errors, which are even more serious when they concern sacred authority, the interpretation of Sacred Scripture and the principal mysteries of Faith... In the name of higher knowledge and historical research (they say), they are looking for that progress of dogmas which is, in reality, nothing but the corruption of dogmas." (Pope St. Pius X, "Lamentabili Sane", 1907 A.D.)

"Those, therefore, who dare to think or to teach otherwise or to spurn according to wretched heretics the ecclesiastical traditions and to invent anything novel, or to reject anything from these things which have been consecrated by the Church... or to invent perversely and cunningly for the overthrow of any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church; or even, as it were, to use the sacred vessels or the venerable monasteries as common things; if indeed they are bishops or clerics, we order (them) to be deposed; monks, however, or laymen, to be excommunicated." (Second Council of Nicaea, 787 A.D.)

Also See...

Against Human 'Progress' in Religion (Coming Home Reflections)

Against Modernism / Novelty (Latin Mass & Catholic Tradition Reflections)

Church Dogmas Are Unchangeable (Catholic Life Reflections)

Duty to Reject Strange Doctrine (Coming Home Reflections)

Heresy/Heretics & Schism/Schismatics (Coming Home Reflections)

Novel Teachings Are Forbidden (Coming Home Reflections)

Popes as Preservers of Tradition / Against New Doctrines (Vatican View Reflections)

Tradition / Traditions (Latin Mass / Catholic Tradition Reflections)

Truth / Error / Nature of Man (Coming Home Reflections)

Truth is Unchanging (Coming Home Reflections)

Unchangeableness of Dogmas (Latin Mass / Catholic Tradition Reflections)

Latin Mass & Catholic Tradition: Q & A

Modernism / Novelties (Q &A)

Summary of Changes Since Vatican II: A Revolution in the Church?

Infallibility (Vatican View)

Current Issues

Classic Encyclicals: Errors / Modernism

Necessity of Being Catholic for Salvation

Truth (Topical Scripture)

Error / Heresy / Those Who Reject Truth (Topical Scripture)

Wariness of False Doctrines (Topical Scripture)

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Also See...

* Catholic Apologetics (Topic Page)

* Pope (Topic Page)

* Infallibility (Topic Page)

* Modernism (Topic Page)


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