From the, “Even this Jew Knows This,” department, we have a group of Catholic theologians objecting to Ross Douthat’s writings on the Church and the Pope, not because there is anything inherently heretical about his writings, but because he os so ignorant of the basic principles of the Church that it is embarrassing:
If you haven’t read Mr. Douthat’s piece, it’s worth a look—just keep a nitroglycerin pill handy, because it is a shocker, depicting the pope as a figure of “ostentatious humility” (naughty pope, rubbing his simplicity in our overfed faces) who is attempting to change that which Mr. Douthat says “the pope is supposed to have no power to change,” namely “Catholic doctrine.”
Now, if you find yourself wondering, since when is the pope (or a synod, for that matter) unable to call for a change in church doctrine, well, that’s a good question. The pope and the synod can in fact change doctrine, but not dogma.
Put simply, dogma is the stuff you have to accept if you’re going to call yourself Catholic. It’s the Creed we recite every Sunday—things like the incarnation, the Trinity and the communion of the saints that we hold as undeniable tenets of our faith—plus any pronouncements that popes have invoked infallibly, which has happened almost never. The Assumption of Mary was such a pronouncement; so is the Immaculate Conception.
Doctrine, as the term is most commonly used (including here by Mr. Douthat), refers to the church’s moral teachings, which develop over time as new questions and also new insights arise. Doctrinal teachings—of which the church’s stance regarding divorce is one—do not change often or easily. They can even be mistaken for dogma by the amount of resistance made at the suggestion of any alteration. But they are certainly capable of development. In fact that was one whole point of the synod—to reflect on the various questions of family today, in light of our tradition and the lived experience of Catholics, and consider what if any comments, including potentially changes in practice, should be offered.
I’ve known of this difference for years, even though there really is not an equivalent in Judaism, formalized doctrine implies a central authority that is lacking in Judaism, but it appears that Mr. Douthat does not.
This is a stupid that rivals Maureen Dowd at her most Maureen Dowd.
H/T Charlie Pierce