Monday, October 5, 2009

How Does Dogma Relate to Faith?

When I began to study Orthodoxy with great zeal and earnestness, learning the dogma was an essential step. This is a beginning intellectual step and one where it is possible to fall into the trap of thinking of Orthodoxy as a philosophy.  So why do we have Dogma?

In the early days of the Church there developed teachers who introduced errors into the Truth proclaimed by the Apostles. There was a need to protect the truth of the Christian faith, which we call Orthodoxy. The dogma was created in response to specific errors. In other words, it helps us to stay on the straight path.

Dogma comes from the teaching of the Scriptures and on the Apostolic Sacred Tradition. The sacred Scriptures are the books of both the Old and New Testament of the Bible. The proper make up of the books of the Bible was finalized in the 4th century. Sacred Tradition comes from the Church of Apostolic times and recorded by various Church Fathers, the Liturgy and hymns of the early Church. Those issues that were not clearly stated in the Scriptures or distorted by various teachers were clarified by the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. One of the main contributions of these councils is the Creed called the Nicaen-Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith. Such statements provide a boundary beyond which we enter into territory that deviates from the truth. 

Fr Michael Pomazansk
y in his well known book that I highly recommend, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, says:
“For guidance in questions of faith , for the correct understanding of Sacred Scripture, and in order to distinguish the authentic Tradition of the Church from false teachings, we appeal to the works of the Holy Fathers of the Church, acknowledging that the unanimous agreement of all of the Fathers and teachers of the church in teaching of the faith is an undoubted sign of truth”
This truth is referred to as Dogmatic Theology of the Church.

How does Dogma relate to faith?

We turn to Fr. Michael for an answer:
Dogmatic theology is for the believing Christian. In itself it does not inspire faith, but presupposes that faith already exists in the heart. I”I believed, wherefore I spake,” says a righteous man of the Old Testament (Ps 115:1). And the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the mysteries f the Kingdom of God to His disciples after they had believed in Him: “Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living god (John 6:68-69). Faith, and more precisely “faith int he Son of God Who has come into the world,” is the cornerstone of Sacred Scripture; it is the cornerstone of one’s personal salvation; and it is the cornerstone of theology. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name (John 20:13), writes the Apostle John at the end of his Gospel, and he repeats the same thought many times in his epistles; and these words of his express the chief idea of all the writings of the Holy Apostles: “I believe.” All Christian theologizing must begin with this confession. Under this condition theologizing is not an abstract mental exercise, not an intellectual dialectics, but a dwelling of one’s thought in Divine truths, a directing of the mind and the heart towards God, and a recognition of God’s love. For an unbeliever theologizing is without effect, because Christ Himself, for unbelievers, is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (1 Peter 2:7-8; see Matt. 21:44).”
So, first comes faith.  Then the dogma helps us to clarify and deepen our faith, keeping us on a safe path towards our salvation and union with God.  It is something to be understood and not questioned and debated like we do in philosophy.  Christianity is not a philosophy but is based on Faith in God, Our Father and Creator.  Dogma is like a guide. I found that as I explore the meaning of dogma, it strengthens my faith and helps me act in ways that bring me closer to God.

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