Generally speaking, dogma refers to ideas or principles that are believed without question. They are simply true, and are not meant to be weighed or tested. In a modern culture that can be highly rational and scientific, many people reject adherence to dogma. For others, however, including observant Catholics, dogma is the cornerstone of their spiritual lives.

Doctrine and Dogma

The ideas of doctrine and dogma are similar, and therefore often confused. In Catholicism, a doctrine is any idea or teaching that comes from the Church. A dogma is a doctrine that meets two specific criteria: it must be divinely revealed, and it must be officially proposed by the Church. While doctrines vary in importance and do not always require strict adherence by Church members, dogmas are of the utmost importance and the Church expects members to accept and follow them absolutely.

Divine Revelation

Most Christian traditions believe that the Bible is a sacred scripture inspired by God. Catholicism is no exception. The Catholic Church differs from most other Christian traditions, however, in their equally strong belief in Catholic tradition, a set of non-biblical doctrines revealed by God through the teachings of the Church. Catholic faith sees the head of the Church -- the Pope -- as God's chosen, infallible teacher and guide. Catholic dogmas come both from scripture and tradition.

Church Sanction

It is not enough for a doctrine or teaching to be divinely revealed. It must also be evaluated and accepted by the Church to become a dogma. The Catholic Church recognizes the value of private revelations and encourages individual acceptance of them insofar as they lead people toward Christ. However, the Church makes the final decision of which divinely-revealed doctrines become dogmas. In some cases, the Church will define a dogma that is only implicitly revealed. In others, an explicitly-revealed dogma needs only to be accepted and proposed by the Church.

Dogma and Catholic Faith

The Church requires Catholics to believe and follow its dogmas. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "dogmas are lights along the path of faith," and that by compelling followers to accept these truths, the Church is exercising the full authority imparted to it by God. Dogmas are intended to secure and direct Catholic faith, reducing confusion and uncertainty. Catholics who choose to accept the authority and infallibility of the Church's teachings also strive to accept its dogmas as a matter of pure faith.