1. A long, long time ago, some primitive mid-Eastern story-tellers borrowed or invented tales full of drama, sex, violence, catastrophes, heroes and … miracles to enlighten their ignorant, illiterate peasant audiences. Besides the exciting adventures of their comic-book characters like Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham and super-heroes like Moses, they threw in some rules and regulations about what’s right and wrong. Later some scribes, having learned to write, and as anonymous as the authors of the camp-fire stories, put them on papyrus. Pretty soon people were conned into believing that what they had written was in fact the inspired word of God or “Yahweh” as they did not dare call Him. Over the years the books became THE Book, the Bible.
2. A Jewish preacher, some millennia later, came on to the scene. Jesus may or may not have existed, but we know the story of His life, doctrine, death and supposed Resurrection from another set of supposedly divinely inspired texts which became for them an extension of The Book, the New Testament, completing what Christians call the Old Testament. It is much less exciting and short on sex, deluges, genocides and epic battles, but it is full of parables, miracles, moral injunctions and threats about what will happen to us when we die if we do not walk the line. As Scripture it is the principal source of Christian dogma.
3. But dogma has another source, reserved to Catholics. It is called Tradition. This means that if a given belief, no matter how weird or unfounded, survives a few centuries, it is thereby guaranteed to be part of Divine Revelation and therefore true. (By the same logic, the survival of superstitions like walking under a ladder would be proof of their veracity…).
4. On the basis of these two sources, the One True Church – of which the infallibility is guaranteed by Source No.1 and a story about Jesus building His Church on Simon the fisherman become Rocky the Fisher of Men, alias Peter, the first Pope – is authorized to proclaim as divine truth whatever it sees fit to proclaim. It can declare, for example, that Jesus is bodily, really present in consecrated bread and wine, because of His words at the Last Supper, as recorded in the New Testament Gospels : “This is my body; this is my blood”. It decided to declare, nineteen centuries after the event, that Jesus’ Mum Mary was conceived free of Original Sin, a concept invented by Saint Augustine some three hundred years after her supposed Assumption physically into Heaven, because both beliefs, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, had been held, for long enough by enough theologians – with some notable exceptions including the mistaken Thomas Aquinas – as well as by a lot of the faithful. To make the justification sound serious, this is called the “sensus fidelium”, the “sense of the faithful”, guided by the same holy Ghost who inspired Scripture. The result is dogma, also known as fogma, Godologians’ stock-in-trade, the subject of sermons and the stuff of blind faith and blind folly.