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We’re Talking About Eternal Salvation Here! 3 Need-to-Know Dogmas You Never Hear About

It is said that St Francis Xavier baptized 30,000-100,000 people

A dogma is a teaching of the Church that has been proposed infallibly by the Magisterium as something that has been revealed by God. This means you are required to believe it and, if you deny it obstinately, you are a heretic, are outside of full communion with the Church, and your salvation is in jeopardy.

Even if your heresy is merely material and not formal (translation: you believe a heresy out of ignorance, not out of rebellion to the Church), in which case your salvation may not be jeopardy, heresy is still dangerous: it means you misunderstand something fundamental about the faith.

This can cause at least two problems: (1) Since all doctrine is systematic, believing one heresy will likely lead you to believe other heresies in order to be consistent. (2) Since orthopraxis (right action) is based off of orthodoxy (right belief), believing heresies can lead to sin or otherwise not living the fullness of the Christian life.

Here are three dogmas that, in my experience, many Catholics just don’t know about – and to their great loss:

1) Original Sin alone condemns a person to hell.

From the 6th Session of the Council of Florence: “We define…[that] the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

So do only people who have committed great sins and explicitly rejected God go to hell? No. Original Sin alone is enough to condemn a person to hell. And according to the Council of Trent, the stain of Original Sin is passed on by propagation: it’s a stain we have from the moment of our conception.

Baptism, or the desire thereof, applies the grace of Christ and is the only means of removing Original Sin (another dogma). This is why we baptize infants. Even though they are not capable of committing any sins personally, they have Original Sin and thus are in desperate need of the grace of Christ offered in baptism for their salvation. It’s also why many missionaries have given their lives to physically preach the Gospel to non-believers – and then baptize them.

Orthopraxis: Get baptized yourself if you aren’t already, get your children baptized, and evangelize any non-Christians you know so they can be baptized and have their Original Sin removed.

2) For those who have sinned mortally after baptism, the Sacrament of Confession, or the desire thereof, is necessary for salvation.

From the 14th Session of the Council of Trent: “[T]his sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation; as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated.”

A mortal sin is any sin that is regarding a grave matter and is carried out with both full knowledge that it is wrong and with full intentionality (not done accident). Any mortal sin, if left unforgiven before a person dies, condemns that person to hell.

Any mortal sins committed before baptism are removed at baptism (only relevant to adults being baptized, not infants). But mortal sins after baptism can only be removed with the Sacrament of Confession, or the desire to receive the Sacrament of Confession.

Since this is true for anyone who has been baptized, this is also true for Protestant Christians (who have been baptized). If you’re thinking, ‘But my Protestant friends of course don’t ever to go confession to a Catholic priest’, you are correct – it’s a problem for their spiritual life and an example of how heresy (even if held out of ignorance) can have serious ramifications. The 16th century Protestant Reformers led large groups of people out of the fullness of the Church and away from the Sacraments, and it’s a serious problem.

Orthopraxis: Go to confession regularly. Especially be sure to go if you think you’ve committed a mortal sin. Don’t put it off, it’s a serious matter. Talk to Protestant Christians you know about the faith, trying to lead them to the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church so they can receive all of the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession.

3) Subjection to the Pope is necessary for salvation.

From Pope Boniface VIII’s papal bull Unam sanctam: “[W]e declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”

This dogma was reaffirmed by the 11th Session of the Fifth Lateran Council: “[S]ince subjection to the Roman pontiff is necessary for salvation for all Christ’s faithful, as we are taught by the testimony of both sacred scripture and the holy fathers, and as is declared by the constitution of pope Boniface VIII of happy memory, also our predecessor, which begins Unam sanctam, we therefore… renew and give our approval to that constitution.”

The technical term for rejecting the Pope is “schism”: “Schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” (CIC 751)

The bishop of Rome is the successor of St Peter the Apostle who was made by Jesus the head of the Apostolic college. As an essential part of the Church, anyone who rejects him rejects the Church, the Body of Christ, and thus Christ himself.

Again, you may be thinking, ‘My Protestant friends don’t follow the Pope’. Yes, and it’s a problem. The Protestant leaders that led people to break off from the Pope and thus the Catholic Church in the 16th century did something objectively very evil. Many Protestants today may reject the Pope out of ignorance (though only God knows a person’s heart), nonetheless, as Christians they should be consciously subject to him – and Catholics should help them do that.

Orthopraxis: Follow the teachings of the Pope and remain engaged in a parish headed by a priest who is in communion with a bishop who is in communion with the bishop of Rome. In other words, stay in the Catholic Church and try to lead others to the fullness of the Catholic Church as well.

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The Immaculate Conception: Christ’s First Gift to Mary His Mother

One of the most beautiful scenes that God, through nature, provides us with are sunrises.  At the distant horizon you see before arising a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the sun.  This beautiful and perfect light foreshadows the beauty which is to come; the daily gift of the sunrise.  Each day we are able to witness this perfect birth of the sun.  God, all-knowing and all-powerful at the moment of creation, in His infinite wisdom was aware of all that was to come.  This rising sun and it’s beautiful beginning at dusk is no coincidence and definitely not a thoughtless act or purpose, for we are sensory beings.  As this beautiful light at dusk announces the perfection that is to come, the sun, so too Our Blessed Lady foreshadows the redemption that is to come, God made man.  So as the sun shines through glass without changing it in matter, Mary is the window of heaven, through which the true Light came into the world.

In old times, as well as in places where it still exists today, monarchs are granted special privileges to the cities or towns of their birth or coronation.  In this same way, the King of Heaven gives special privileges and prerogatives to the Mother who bore Him, the Queen-Mother.  Mary is selected by God the Father to be the Mother of His Son; therefore He too is able to create and grant her preservation from the stain of original sin.  No other mere human, angel, or even a saint can say to God, “You are my Son,” but Mary.  He who was the author of her being was born of the blessed woman who is the wonder of wonders and nothing in the entire of creation, God is the only exception, is more glorious than she.  Due to his own infinite sanctity, God suspends, in this instance, the law which His divine justice had passed upon the children of Adam and Eve.

Early on in Genesis 3:15 God proclaims her spotless purity and her sinlessness in paradise, and afterwards in Luke 1:28 by the Archangel Gabriel himself when he refers to her as “full of grace” and “blessed among women.”  Her response to him announces her determination to preserve her virginity, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord, let it be done according to His will.”  God also said, “She shall crush thy head,” to the serpent; had she been conquered by sin like the rest of us, she could not possibly be his conqueror.   The dignity of Christ alone demanded that He be born of a woman free from sin; for she was the first tabernacle of Our Lord.

Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us that when God raises anyone to a high post (think Peter, Augustine, etc.) He gifts that person for the job at hand.  God gives each of us the graces needed for the vocation we are called for.  Therefore, God exalted Mary above all men and angels and was free from original and actual sin (Trent 6:23)  In Canticles 2:2, she is described as the “lily among thorns,” and in Wisdom 7:26 as “a mirror without flaw.”  God had a plan for her from long ago and in both tradition and scripture this dogma, a sovereign and universal decree, is supported.  Elizabeth is the first to call Mary, the “Mother of God,” and later in the year 431, in the Council of Ephesus the title “Dei Genitrix” is given to her in order to condemn the heresy of Nestorius.  Christ did not however, derive from her His Divine nature and just as any other child who does not receive its soul from its mother, but instead from God.  In Isaiah 7:14, the prophet foretells of a virgin that will conceive and bear a son.  At her conception in the womb of Saint Anne, in child-bearing, and even after the painless birth of Jesus, the Blessed Mother remained a pure virgin.  Just as Our Lord appeared to the Apostles through shut doors, so too he came into the world and her virginity remained intact.  The Blessed Mother herself says in Luke 1:48, “from henceforth all generations shall call me Blessed.”

Appropriately at the beginning of our liturgical year and during the Advent season, we honor her with the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the most solemn during this time of preparation.  There was none other that would better harmonize with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation.  We celebrate this solemnity with joy, for the Immaculate Conception of Mary foreshadows the coming birth of Our Savior.  Some wonder about dogmas of the Church, others criticize them as if they were inventions of men.  Dogmas are believed amongst the faithful throughout the history of the Church; the Immaculate Conception is a fine example of this.  Even though, it was not formally defined until 1854 by Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus, belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception stretches back in time to the Early Church fathers.  The Church with her infallible authority, declared, by the lips of Pope Pius IX, that this article of faith had been revealed by God himself.

“He [God], therefore, filled her, far more than all the angelic spirits and all the saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts from the treasury of His divinity, in such a wonderful manner that she would always be free from absolutely every stain of sin, and that, all beautiful and perfect, she might display such fullness of innocence and holiness that under God none greater is known, and which, God excepted, no one can attain even in thought.” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 12/8/1854)


So whomever truly loves God should also honor the Mother of God far above the saints. Catholics honor the Queen-Mother as a reflection upon the King of Heaven and Earth, her Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  We see this in the lives of the saints; the greater the saint, the greater their love for Mother Mary.  Jesus told us in John 19:27,  that she was actually our mother when he tells Saint John, the beloved, “behold thy mother.”  The disobedience of Eve brought upon the human race the misery of original sin, yet the obedience of Mary, the new Eve, restored it to a state of grace.  Through one woman death entered into the world, through another, eternal life.

Just like any good mother our salvation is of her utmost concern.  So just as a dutiful child delights in the presence of his mother, we as practicing and devout Christians rejoice in addressing Mary in loving supplications as well as her majestic titles of Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, the first Tabernacle of God.


***In discussing this topic with my friend, Brian Francis Hudon, he surprised me with this beautiful poem (he suggested you listen to this beautiful piece while reading it), entitled The Ark at Dawn:

“Woman, the new Ark, pure and immaculate,
the new Eve, for a redeemer, the dawn of man.
Holy one of Grace, touched by the Paraclete,
the Queen of Heaven, awaiting the end of night.
Thus breaks providence, His long awaited plan,
her Star rising in the East, the breaking of light.
End of the eclipse, Mary, daughter, mother,
a wealth of hope, long dark night of the soul.
Grace awaits, free of every stain, for another,
that He might enter unto the world the same.
Making every woman, thus in grace and whole,
so too that every man might know His name.
Her prayer into the night, obedient and mild,
a child in womb and in turn her womb of grace.
Thus the greeting then known for every child,
waiting, waiting for her greeting and to Rejoice.
We wait and consider, no stranger to her face,
her yes; but not before her temperate choice.
Her hope from God; the darkest of the dark,
always she was known, considered from the fall.
The Tabernacle, the Tent of God, and the Ark,
awaiting the Sword that would pierce her soul.
Hearts now revealed, only waiting on their call
for the fruit of her womb to make them whole.
More than all the storms of the weary world,
her birth tells the time of day and it is the morn.
For she was before time, her colors unfurled,
loved in the heart of God and loved by her Son.
And with the Spirit, by their Love she is born,
beyond the mountains, the stars and rising sun.”
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“Dogma is the Killer of True Spirituality”

Sometimes a patent falsehood is repeated so often that it needs to be openly rebutted, in spite of its inanity. The title of this post is one such falsehood and is adapted from a blog discussion I had about nature and religion.

The full quote from my interlocutor ran like this:

I think that too often people confuse dogma/doctrine with spirituality….dogma can never compete with true spirituality and indeed is most often the killer of it.

I called the guy out on this bald-faced assertion by quoting Chesterton: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe in dogma and know it, and those who believe dogma and don’t know it.”

This man has a dogma, and the dogma is that other dogmas, ones he rejects, kill “true spirituality.” So his statement is self-defeating, like the saying that “there are no true generalizations” (except of course, the generalization that there are no true generalizations!).

I'm feeling more "spiritual" already! (

But let’s step back and understand the intention behind his claim. The idea is that “true spirituality” is one that comes from inside a person, perhaps even something they uniquely have imagined or come to believe, rather than a belief that some religious institution–perhaps the Catholic Church–teaches is true.

Religion is bad; spirituality is good. I heard the same thing the other night on a radio station that plays Delilah’s love songs. Delilah, in all her pop culture wisdom, said something to the effect of: “spirituality unites; religion divides.”

But in fact why should it be more plausible that something I imagined in my own mind is true while something taught by the Catholic Church is false? Have I been given special powers to discern the truth of existence, over and against all others? Why should I believe that I am gifted in such a way so as to trust my own imaginations over a religious institutions claims?

An old teacher of mine, a man I greatly respect, once told me that he believed that when we die, our spirits will all go up into the ether and kind of meld and combine in a big cosmic soup. Rather too bluntly, I asked him: “What makes you think that this idea of yours is more plausible than what Christianity claims will happen when we die?” He was clearly taken aback by my candor and fumbled around for how to respond. I felt bad that I came across rudely, but the point I made still stands.

Dogma is not the killer of true spirituality. It is the protector of it. God has revealed truth to us and made it possible for all men–not just a few gifted ones–to know this truth. He has done this by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, and subsequently through the Church that Christ founded, which subsists in the Catholic Church. Historical evidence and philosophical arguments all support these beliefs, though they cannot demonstrate it through reason alone.

The Catholic Church elevates a doctrine to the level of dogma when it is needed. She draws a line in the sand that says: “Such-and-such is true, or at least, a particular falsehood is not true.” By doing so the faithful are safeguarded from falling into error. Note that there is still tremendous freedom of belief within the bounds of dogma: our Christian faith is mysterious and isn’t defined down to every jot and tittle. But we know that, whatever we believe, we should stay within these bounds set by Christ through His Church.

So while dogma has a negative connotation to most people, one of irrational, fundamentalistic adherence to a crazy religious belief, real dogma is anything but that. Real dogma is supported by reason, even though it goes beyond it.

Hopefully this little mental exploration will be of help to you the next time that you run into someone who denigrates dogma and elevates their own personal spirituality.