Dogmatists on Dogma

Punch November 1874

[210] In a pastoral relative to the late meeting of the British Association at Belfast, and the addresses of PROFESSORS TYNDALL and HUXLEY, CARDINAL CULLEN and his subordinate Bishops and Archbishops of Ireland instruct the Faithful and the Public that:–

"Enlightened by the teachings of the Church, the Catholic may view in peace, and even with delight, the progress of science. If he hears of a contradiction between science and religion, it will soon be found only an appearance of contradiction; or if a contradiction really exists, it will be foul that the boasted discovery which creates it is but an ephemeral theory, and not the truth; or if its truth be beyond gainsay, and the contradiction plain, then the doctrine with which it is in conflict will be found to be but a theological opinion and not a dogma; or if it be a dogma, it has been misunderstood or not explained according to the mind of the Church."

So it seems that a doctrine which, under the name of a dogma, has always passed for true, may ultimately prove false. Or a dogma heretofore stated in one form of words may by-and-by have to be restated in another. The dogmatist who shall have survived these changes will be fit to go about singing, like the Dutchman in the burlesque:

Could not DR. CULLEN and his co-dogmatists publish, on authority, a Syllabus of the dogmas which may after all turn out to be mere opinions, or may sooner or later have to be modified? If this were done, perhaps it would warrant the expectation that, after all, there may be found to be not very much dogmatic difference between DR. CULLEN and DR. CUMMING. If Theology goes on caving in to Science as occasion may require, Theology–even CULLEN’S theology– will doubtless become pretty well reconciled to Science in the end. The only point on which philosophers and dogmatists will then be at variance will be the necessity of submission to dogmatic authority for the time being. In the meanwhile, are all dogmas whatsoever, current as such, to be indiscriminately believed, under pain of excommunication?


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University