Protestantism Versus Catholicism

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Some differences between Catholics and Protestants

The Catholic Church stresses hierarchy, community and good works not individualism as is highlighted in Protestantism. The theology of the Catholic church is based in a large part on the ideas of the great 5th century Christian theologian St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (354-430) ((1224-74). The theology of the Protestant Church is rooted in the theology of these Christian thinkers but is based in a large part on the beliefs of Martin Luther (1483-1546)

There have been were three major schisms in Christianity: 1) the one in the 5th century that split eastern Christendom in two; 2) the one the 11th century that divided the Latin (Catholic) church and the Byzantine church; and 3) the Reformation in the 16th century in which Protestantism arose and split from the Roman Catholic church.

Protestantism differs from Catholicism in that it refutes the Eucharist’s "anticlerical doctrines of unmeditated prayer. The leaders of the Reformation rejected the Catholic “cult of the saints” as pagan superstition. Catholics believe in purgatory, a place for those who have died in a 'state of grace' to serve penance until they are allowed to go to Heaven. Some Protestants argue that purgatory is s one of the most dubious of all Catholic teachings, saying it represents “a medieval invention nowhere to be found in the Bible” and calling it "a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice", instead representing "a second-chance theology that is abominable."

The crucifix of the Catholic church often has an image of crucified Jesus hanging from it. The Protestant one is more clean and simple. Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “The Catholic Church ordains only celibate men to the priesthood since Jesus was, it teaches, male and celibate. In the Protestant churches married and female clergy are the norm. According to Catholic teaching only a bishop in the Apostolic succession has the right to ordain priests and deacons through the laying of hands, while for Protestants all that is needed is an inner calling and training and the determination and dedication necessary to become a priest. The laying of hands by other ministers is mostly symbolic. [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011 |::|]

Websites and Resources World Council of Churches, main world body for mainline Protestant churches ; Wikipedia article on Protestantism Wikipedia ; Internet Sourcebook ; ; Holy See ; Catholic Online ; Catholic Encyclopedia ; BBC on Baptists ; BBC on Methodists ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Christian Denominations: ; Christianity Comparison Charts ; Difference between Christian Denominations Quoracom

Protestant Versus Catholic Views on the Sacraments

Protestant (Baptist) Communion wine

The most important Christian and Catholic religious practices are the seven sacraments: 1) baptism; 2) Eucharist (communion); 3) confirmation; 4) penance and confession; 5) marriage; 6) unction (anointing the sick); and 7) holy orders (by which laymen are raised for the priesthood). These sacraments are still recognized by the Catholic Church (and mostly by the Orthodox church) but have been rejected, with the exception of baptism and communion, by the Protestant church.

According to the BBC: “In Christian confirmation, a baptised person believes that he or she is receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. A bishop usually conducts the service but there are variations in how it is carried out. In the Anglican Church, the sacrament of confirmation is conferred through the laying of hands. In the Roman Catholic Church, each participant is also anointed with oil. In Protestant denominations outside the Church of England, confirmation is seen as a rite of passage or initiation to full Christian discipleship. It is a symbolic act allowing the baptised person to make a mature statement of faith. Confirmation is not regarded as a sacrament or a means of conferring divine grace. [Source: June 23, 2009, BBC |::|]

Eastern rite Catholic is in union with the Pope but is not a member of the Roman Catholic Church). The special relationship between Roman Catholics and members of the Eastern Churches means that the Catholic Church does not confirm converts from the Eastern rite. By contrast, when Roman Catholics and Protestants convert to Orthodoxy, they are usually received into the Church by Chrismation but without baptism. However, some bishops require converts to be admitted through baptism. Protestants, in particular, may have to be baptised again. |::|

Protestant Versus Catholic Eucharist (Communion)

Among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, communion is conducted at an altar or table and worshipers approach the later to be given a wafer and wine by a priest. Among many Protestant denominations worshipers remain in their seats and are given communion by a preacher who walks around to them. As far as Catholic and Orthodox Christians are concerned a real transformation of substances occurs during the consecration, or “transubstantiation." For most Protestants the bread and wine are merely symbols.

According to the BBC: “Different Churches understand and practice the Eucharist in different ways. As a result, the central ideas of the Eucharist can cause disharmony rather than unity. For example, the idea that Christ is present in the bread and wine is interpreted literally by some churches and metaphorically by others. This has given rise to substantial and often irreconcilable disagreement. [Source: June 23, 2009 BBC |::|]

"Although all denominations recognise the importance of the Eucharist, they differ about its meaning. Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine that is offered is the actual body and blood of Christ and another form of sacrifice. They believe that although the bread and wine physically remain the same, it is transformed beyond human comprehension into the body, blood soul and divinity of Jesus. This is called Transubstantiation and is celebrated in the festival of Corpus Christi. Protestants believe that Jesus made his sacrifice on the cross and simply follow the tradition of the sacrament in memory of the event, recalling its symbolic importance in the life of Jesus.

Christian Branches

“Churches also differ in how often they receive the Eucharist. The more importance a Church places on the sacraments, the more often its members will receive the Eucharist. For Roman Catholics, the Eucharist is the most important act of worship. All Roman Catholics are encouraged to receive communion at least once a week during Mass. Some practising Catholics may receive the Eucharist every day. Other denominations receive Holy Communion less frequently and usually services are held once a week or every few weeks. |::|

Protestant Versus Catholic Bible

The Catholic Old Testament contains 46 books, compared to 39 books in the Protestant version. The New Testaments for both religions have 27 books. The Catholic Bible contains books and sections of books not found in Protestant Bibles. According to a post in Catholic Forums: “Protestants do not consider the deuterocanonical, also known as apocryphal, books inspired scripture while Catholics do. Most other also probably know that Ester and Daniel are slightly different between the Protestant and Catholic canon of scripture, the Catholics versions being a bit longer.

Deuterocanonical /Apocryphal books found in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant Bible: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, also called Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees: Additional Sections in Common books: Additions to Esther (Esther 10:4-16:24), Additions to Daniel: Song of the Three cast into the firey furnace (Daniel 3:24-90), Story of Susanna (Daniel 13), The Idol Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14).

Apocrypha are works, usually written, of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin. Biblical apocrypha is a set of texts included in the Latin Vulgate and Septuagint but not in the Hebrew Bible. While Catholic tradition considers the texts to be deuterocanonical, Protestants consider them apocryphal. Thus, Protestant bibles do not include the books within the Old Testament but have often included them in a separate section. Other non-canonical apocryphal texts are generally called pseudepigrapha, a term that means "false writings". The word's origin is the Medieval Latin adjective apocryphus, "secret, or non-canonical", from the Greek adjective apokryphos ("obscure"), from the verb apokryptein ("to hide away"). [Source: Wikipedia]

Christmas, Mary and the Origin of the Protestant Work Ethic

According to the Washington Post, Germany, the birthplace of Protestantism, “is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.” For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from 6 January until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter.

According to the BBC: “Many people, Protestants particularly, object to the figure that Mary has become. She is seen almost as a goddess figure, possibly derived from the fact that many Pagans became Christians in the early centuries of the church and they believed in goddesses, so Mary became to them the goddess. Many people would say that was something that went wrong with Christianity. There's nothing about Mary being a goddess in the New Testament. “Jesus is God and human so therefore Mary is simply human. Christian theology has always maintained that she was a human being and not God, but nevertheless, she was a human being in a very important and intimate place in the story of Jesus.

Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker: “ Luther’s discounting of personal charity as a self-deluding substitute for faith prompted state welfare to compensate the poor. More generally, his emphasis on personal responsibility gave rise to the Protestant ethic of gainful hard work.” The philosopher and sociologist Max Weber argued that the Protestant work ethic was responsible for the rise of capitalism in northern Europe.

Some trace the so-called Protestant work ethic back to St. Benedict, the founder of the Catholic Benedictine order of monks. He embraced the ascetic life and detailed how monks should wake up early and pray regularly until midnight, but balanced this regime with work, raising food in the fields and building defenses against intruders. This idea of work became the cornerstone of monasticism from that point forward, was instrumental in the development of agriculture and trades in Europe and inspired the Protestant work ethic, which is so important in American and European culture. Benedict discouraged monks from eating (he was a strong proponent of fasting) but said that drinking wine was okay. "Though we read that wine is not all suitable for monks," he wrote, "in our day it is not permissible to persuade the monks of this truth."

Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Teachings about Original Sin

original sin

According to the BBC: “The Protestant theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) believed that humanity's unbelief and disobedience had so fundamentally changed the human race that little, if anything, of God was left in it.“We are lost, there is no means of help; and whether we are great or small, fathers or children, we are all without exception in a state of damnation if God does not remove from us the curse which weighs upon us, and that by His generosity and grace, without His being obliged to do so. — John Calvin [Source: September 17, 2009 BBC |::|]

“Many modern Protestants would not take quite such a gloomy view of humanity as Calvin, and would not regard humankind as evil in essence, without any trace of the divine image. They would still teach that human beings are 'fallen' and need to 'get right with God', by believing that Christ's death 'atoned' for their sin, accepting that they can only be 'saved' by God's freely given 'grace', and being baptised. |::|

“The Christian Orthodox churches don't interpret original sin in the way that Augustine did. They don't accept that people can be guilty of a sin they did not commit, and so reject the idea of inherited guilt passed down the generations The Orthodox interpretation of original sin is that the way in which human beings inherit sinfulness is that human history, culture and society have created a moral climate which disposes human beings to behave sinfully; as a result, all people need God's help to avoid sin.

“The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church was summarised by Pope Paul VI: “We believe that in Adam all have sinned, which means that the original offence committed by him caused human nature, common to all men, to fall to a state in which it bears the consequences of that offence, and which is not the state in which it was at first in our first parents, established as they were in holiness and justice, and in which man knew neither evil nor death. It is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is transmitted to all men, and it is in this sense that every man is born in sin. |::|

Catholic and Protestant Views on the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception

According to the BBC: Mary received God's grace from the first moment of her existence, and was totally and completely redeemed by this grace. Because she was redeemed, Mary spent her whole existence in a perfect relationship with God. God did this so that Mary would be worthy to be the mother of God. Pope Pius X said in 1904: “to the Christian intelligence the idea is unthinkable that the flesh of Christ, holy, stainless, innocent, was formed in the womb of Mary of a flesh which had ever, if only for the briefest moment, contracted any stain.” [Source: August 2, 2011, BBC |::|]

“Mary received this redeeming grace not because of any merits of her own, but because God freely gave her the gift of his love. Christians believe that God's redeeming grace is available to all believers: those who accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception regard Mary as the perfect example of the redeeming action of God's grace, and believe that Mary was only able to receive this grace because Christ would later redeem all humanity through his death on the cross. |::|

“Chosen in advance to be the Mother of the incarnate Word, Mary is at the same time the first-fruits of his redeeming action. The grace of Christ the Redeemer acted in her in anticipation, preserving her from original sin and from any contagion of guilt. This is an ancient teaching, but it remains controversial to some Protestants because it is not explicitly referred to in the Bible. Early Protestant thinkers were more devoted to Mary than some of their successors. Martin Luther, for example, was a firm believer in the Immaculate Conception. He said his sermon “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God”: “The infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin...From the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”

“A 2005 report by Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians found common ground for this belief when it stated that: “In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm together that Christ's redeeming work reached 'back in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and can only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize in this what is affirmed by the dogma - namely 'preserved from all stain of original sin' and 'from the first moment of her conception.' |::|

“The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as infallible by Pope Pius IX in the bull (formal proclamation) Ineffabilis Deus in 1854, and thus is an important article of faith for Roman Catholics. |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time,, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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