“How Can we Find a List of Infallible Catholic Doctrines?”

“How Can we Find a List of Infallible Catholic Doctrines?” December 15, 2018

This question about which Catholic doctrines are infallible, was asked in another forum. Since I’ve heard it asked many times, I thought it would be good to share my answer for public consumption:

All this talk about the infallible doctrines of the RC got me to wondering: where can I find the book or books in which these doctrines are set forth? Is there some kind of list, like all the decisions of all the Councils plus all the Papal bulls, or something like that?

Is there an official set of agreed-upon infallible doctrines somewhere, and maybe a supplementary list of probably-true-but-not-definitely-true doctrines?

The best source I know (especially for laymen) is Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott (4th edition published by TAN Books, Rockford, Illinois, 1974, and available online).

He starts out by explaining the various levels of dogmatic certainty. Many folks are unaware that the Catholic Church distinguishes between various levels of infallibility itself, with the famous ex cathedra being the very highest and the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium being an example of a lower-level infallibility. I deal with this issue at length in the following paper:

Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority: Explanation of the Subtleties of Church Teaching and Debate with Several Radical Catholic Reactionaries [7-30-99; terminology updated, and a few minor changes made on 7-31-18]

Catholics are bound to accept dogmas under any of these categories of infallibility (a thing which has been cynically, ruthlessly or ignorantly exploited — I should say, distorted — by liberal or dissenting Catholics who wish to reject certain Catholic dogmas that they don’t care for).

After explaining the different levels of authority, Ott then presents a systematic theology of various doctrines, by giving simple one-line propositions or doctrines and then classifying them (de fide dogma being the highest in the book). That allows one to see how authoritative or certain various Catholic doctrines are, according to the Catholic Church.

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma was revised by Dr. Ott himself in 1969, and a new English edition (2018) is now available: supervised by my good friend, Dr. Robert Fastiggi. It runs about $60 on Amazon.

Then there is Joseph Denzinger’s The Sources of Catholic Dogma (available online in its entirety: 1955 version) but it doesn’t make the helpful distinctions that Ott makes, and merely lists dogmatic documents. The 2012 43rd edition (again, translated and edited by Dr. Fastiggi), can be purchased for about $55.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church [I’ve linked to the online 2nd version] is also good to simply find out what Catholics believe and what they are bound to. But in answer to the specific question above, I don’t know of any better source than Dr. Ott. He is very helpful.

For excellent treatments of the fine-tuned distinctions of the Church, even within the category of “infallibility,” see:

“Four Levels of the Church’s Teaching” (Fr. William G. Most)

“The Hierarchy of Truths and the Truth” (Fr. William G. Most)

“A Discussion of Infallibility” (Fr. John Trigilio)

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(originally 11-11-05; rev. 9-16-08, 12-15-18)

Photo credit: Second Vatican Council at St. Peter’s in Rome; photograph by Lothar Wolleh (1930-1979) [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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