Dogmatic theology gets its name from the Greek and Latin word dogma which, when referring to theology, simply means “a doctrine or body of doctrines formally and authoritatively affirmed.” Basically, dogmatic theology refers to the official or “dogmatic” theology as recognized by an organized church body, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Dutch Reformed Church, etc.
While the term dogmatic theology is thought to have first appeared in 1659 in the title of a book by L. Reinhardt, the term became more widely used following the Reformation and was used to designate the articles of faith that the church had officially formulated. A good example of dogmatic theology is the doctrinal statements or dogmas that were formulated by the early church councils who sought to resolve theological problems and to take a stand against heretical teaching. The creeds or dogmas that came out of the church councils were considered to be authoritative and binding on all Christians because the church officially affirmed them. One of the purposes of dogmatic theology is to enable a church body to formulate and communicate the doctrine that is considered essential to Christianity and which, if denied, would constitute heresy.
Dogmatic theology is sometimes confused with systematic theology, and the two terms are at times used interchangeably. However, there are subtle but important differences between the two. To understand the difference between systematic theology and dogmatic theology, it is important to notice that the term “dogma” emphasizes not only the statements from Scripture, but also the ecclesiastical, authoritative affirmation of those statements. The fundamental difference between systematic theology and dogmatic theology is that systematic theology does not require official sanction or endorsement by a church or ecclesiastical body, while dogmatic theology is directly connected to a particular church body or denomination. Dogmatic theology normally discusses the same doctrines and often uses the same outline and structure as systematic theology, but does so from a particular theological stance, affiliated with a specific denomination or church.