Doctrinal Congregation

The Doctrinal Congregation is the Vatican office that deals with orthodoxy and dissent. Other Christian bodies have less organized ways of dealing with the issue. Because what the Church preaches and teaches matters, this is a perennial concern.

It appears in the early centuries once Jewish Christianity moved out into the Greek and Roman world. The great ecumenical councils like Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451) dealt with the doctrinal controversies of their time.

In the 13th century, the newly founded friars preachers (the Dominicans) found in the Albigensian heresy (denying the goodness of the body and of marriage) a fit target for its theology and ministry. And when in the 16th century supposed new heresies arose, the Holy Office of the Inquisition emerged, often with Dominicans as its interrogators.

Ignatius was imprisoned and interrogated (though always exonerated in the end) at least three times. That was part of the reason he left Spain and went to Paris. It is therefore surprising to note that there were indeed burnings at the stake for heresy during his seven years there (Lecrivain, Paris in the Time of Ignatius of Loyola [1528-1535] St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2012).

With Italy’s unification and the creation of an Italian state (1848) which was accomplished in part by the military victory that took the Papal States away from the pope (Pius IX) and left him no longer a secular ruler, the church became especially hostile to representative government. In 1864 the pope had the Syllabus of Errors issued; it condemned virtually everything
“modern.”

In the 20th century, as various Catholic theologians ventured into new (and old) territory, the Vatican, through this Congregation, identified supposed errors: e.g., the “Americanist Heresy” (representative governance of parishes); supposedly dangerous methods of critical biblical interpretation
(Pius XII’s Divino afflante Spiritu approved such methods); and matters related to the origins of the human race (evolution) [see Teilhard de Chardin], among others.

Those censured and often forbidden to teach/publish later in the century (the years before Vatican II) included Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, de Lubac, Congar, and Chenu.

Soon after the Council concluded, however, the censuring started up again with the papacy of John Paul II and his head of the Congregation, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (“God’s Rottweiler”).

The existence of some such agency as the Doctrinal Congregation is not the real issue. Rather it is the way in which the Ccongregation conducts its business. Is there respect for the human and Christian dignity of anyone accused or does the investigative body operate like a totalitarian power which has no limits because none are built into it?

See O’Collins,, “Art of the Possible,” The Tablet [London] (14 July 2012; Ryan, “Orthodoxy and Dissent,” Commonweal (February 8, 2013).
See “Index of Forbidden Books.”