Christianity – Catholicism – History and Contrast to Protestantism
Table of Contents
Catholicism is the religious belief and tradition of the Catholic Church, typically referenced as or to Roman Catholicism. As of the beginning of the twenty-first century, Catholicism has over one billion followers. The word Catholic comes from the Greek word ‘katholou,’ meaning ‘universal,’ as in the ‘universal church,’ to become the universal church of humanity.
History of Catholicism
The Catholic Church’s history is debated. Catholics claim their traditions and beliefs date back to the first century and began with the Apostle Peter, who they claim was the first Pope.
Historians and Protestant theologians date Catholic beliefs to the gradual occurrences that developed over time, splintering from the early church. This began with the Roman Era when Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal and equal to Paganism in 313 a.d. To the time when Pope Gregory I in 590 a.d. consolidated control of various lands under the Pope’s authority, created what would be known as the Papal States and the birthplace of the modern Catholic Church.
Beginning with the second century, many historical records from Celsus and Ariel Durant and early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus; all bore witness to various groups that splintering into early factions or types of Christian denominations. Celsus who was a second-century enemy of the church, stated that each individual desired to have their own party, and were splitting into many different factions. In 187 a.d.
Irenaeus listed 20 varieties of Christianity and in 384 a.d. Epiphanius recorded eighty different Christian factions or denominations. Even in the Book of Revelation, written circa 100 a.d, there were Bishops of equal authority over various churches of Europe and Asia Minor. We find accounts of these Churches in the writing of 2-4 century church leaders and historians.
Here we can see how one of the primary splits of the early Christian faith, utilizing political power for control, eventually became a dominating force using people’s faith to maintain their power, developing the Roman Catholic Church.
The Great Schism
There have been a few notable divisions from the Catholic Church since its inception. One of these great divides was the Great Schism of 1054 a.d. to 1417, between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, or the East and West schism. This schisms occured over different viewpoints in theology, including the view of the Pope holding universal power over the Church.
Another notable divide between the Catholic Church and the reformed group whom became the Protestants occured in 1517. Martin Luther is credited with the largest successful reformation which he sought to bring believers back to the foundational beliefs of Christinaity using only the scriptures (the Bible). He founded these doctrines in his 95 Theses letter, challenging the Catholic doctrines:
- Solar Scriptura – Gods word is scripture alone (2 Peter 1.21)
- Sola Gratia – Saved by Grace alone (Eph 2.8)
- Sola Fida – Saved through Faith alone (Rom 4.4)
- Sola Christus – Saved in Christ alone (Acts 4.12)
- Sola Deo Gloria – Everything is for the Glory of God (1 Corin 10.31)
It is interesting to see everything throughout history has common or repeated occurences; that whenever Christinaity becomes man centered in practice or teaching, God raises up believers to bring others back to the truth of His word. This has been happening since the beginning of the Church.
In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.– 1 Corinthians 11.18-19
Catholic Doctrines and Theology
Over time the Catholic Church developed distinct doctrines, theologies, and teachings that differ from the teaching of the original church, or early church, rediscovered by the protestant faith. Various councils were formed to determine and settle various doctrinal issues that would be cemented into Catholic theology. These theologies where recorded in the Catholic Catechisms.
The Catholic Church uses the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church as its primary sources of scripture and authority.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
A catechism is the summary or exposition of a doctrine or belief in the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church or CCC is the reference work that summarizes all of the Catholic Churches’ doctrine. It was pronounced as canonical law in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. He declared at the time that it was a valid legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and teaching of the faith. It has been translated into multiple languages around the world.
Dogma is defined by the Catholic Church as a revelation or truth revealed by God, which is binding to the church by the magisterium. Catholic believers are to adhere to all teachings the church has determined to be a dogma.
The Church’s Magisterium asserts that it exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging Catholics to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.– Catechism 88
Catholic dogmas become revealed when God performs a public revelation that is contained within scriptures and sacred tradition. This public revelation may come through ex cathedra via the Pope or some decision made by the ecumenical council.
Prima Scriptura vs. Sola Scriptura
The Catholic Church adheres to the doctrine of ‘Prima Scriptura’ which means scripture is the primary source for doctrinal truths. However, tradition, experience, and reason can all be exercised to mediate as a secondary authority to address issues that are not specifically addressed in scripture.
The ‘Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation’ or the ‘Dei Verbum (Word of God)’ was constituted by Pope Paul VI on Nov 18, 1965, and is now one of the principle documents of the Second Vatican Council. It states that sacred tradition is equivalent to the sacred word of God. Their position states that God’s word is incarnate and alive and that God continues to give revelation to His people today. Catholics believe this revelation typically comes through the Pope and his council. Adherence to Christian tradition is seen in 2 Thess 2.15.
In contrast to Christian Protestantism
Most Protestant Churches believe in the doctrine of ‘Sola Scriptura,’ meaning that scripture is the only or sole source for all doctrinal truths. There is no other necessary source to know God or His will as scripture alone is sufficient for all righteousness, as seen in 2 Tim 3.14-17, and 2 Peter 1.20-21.
The Papacy refers to the office of the Pope, the head or Bishop of the Catholic Church in Rome. The term comes from the Greek word ‘pappas’ meaning father. The earliest record we have for the title of Pope or ‘Papa’ being used was to Heraclas of Alexandria in the 3rd century a.d. This title was used for all Bishops of the Church at that time. The first time it is historically recorded to reference the Bishop of Rome was to Pope Marcellinus in the 3rd century a.d.
Even though the Catholic Church claims its roots go back to the first century and the Apostle Peter, it does not stand that the doctrines surrounding the office today were the same in the first century.
Papal primacy, supremacy, and infallibility – This is the Catholic Dogma that states the pope when speaking ‘ex cathedra’ is preserved from the possibility of an error on doctrinal issues. However, as a mortal man, he is still capable of sin and error in other situations. This dogma was defined at the first Vatican Council in 1969. This belief stems from the tradition that the Pope is the successor of Peter who they believe was the speaker and teacher of the Church.
Was Peter the First Pope?
Catholics believe the Apostle Peter was the first Pope referring to Matt 16. 18 when Peter called Jesus the Christ, Jesus called Peter the rock and said on this rock I will build my church. No historic data is giving the Apostle Peter the title Pope in any early Christian documents. The title Pope is not seen in any historic documentation until the 3rd century a.d.
In Matt 16.18 the word rock in English is used in both instances but when we exeget this verse, we find in the original Greek, Peter is called ‘petra,’ and the word for building up the Church is ‘petros.’ Jesus was referring here to Peter’s confession of Faith, that Jesus was the Christ, and this is what establishes His church; faith that Jesus is the Christ. Peter knew Jesus was the rock in 1 Peter 2.7-8. Paul said Jesus was the rock in 1 Corin 10.4. God is our rock in Ps 78.35.
An Ecumenical Council is a meeting of Bishops and other Church authorities who rule on questions of doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church holds that the Ecumenical Council is infallible on doctrinal issues, regarding this belief from Jesus’ authority given to His disciples in Matt 18.18, and John 20.23.
In contrast to Christian Protestantism
The papacy was not instituted by Christ but by the Catholic Church throughout history. All of humanity is capable of error which is why we need to test everything following the scriptures. Even the apostle Paul was tested by the Bereans when he preached in Acts 17.10-11. God tells us we are to test every teaching even if it was to come from an angel (Gal 1.8). The only thing on the earth that is inerrant is scripture (2 Tim 3.16).
Call no Man Father
Jesus told us to call no man father, master, or teacher, for we all have one father, master, and teacher, God Himself (Matt 23.8-10). However, the Pope would have all his followers call him father.
Office of Priesthood – All Believers are Priests
Peter tells us that all believers are a part of the priesthood of God in 1 Peter 2.9 since all believers can come to God on their own freely. The office of priesthood on earth (Israeli Priesthood) was done away with when the curtain on the temple was torn in two once Jesus died. This was the veil that separated God and man; it was torn for there is no longer a separation between God and man if you are in Christ. We do not need a priest on earth since Jesus is our high priest (Heb 4.14) and mediator (1 Tim 2.5) between us and God.
The Bible warns against religions that forbid marriage 1 Tim 4.3, that these teachings are the doctrines of demons. Catholic priests are forbidden to marry; this is why so many of them fall into sexual sins.
Saints and Angels
All Believers are Saints
The Bible also teaches that all believers are saints. If you are a believer in Christ you have His righteousness (Rom 3.22, 1 Corin 1.30) and are cleaned from all sin. God looks at you with Jesus’ righteousness which gives your Christ’s sanctification (John 17.17), you are a saint in God’s sight (1 Corin 1.2, Eph 2.19).
Prayer and worship of Saints and Angels
The Bible warns believers against the false religions that seek to bring people into the false doctrine of worshipping saints and angels (Col 2.18). Believers are to follow and worship God alone (Deut 6.13-14) and pray to the Father alone (John 16.23). God alone is omnipresent, even if we were to pray to angels or saints, they cannot do all things or be everywhere at once to hear us. God alone answers prayer (John 9.31).
Sacramental theology is the study of the sacraments of religious significance. It is the study of the meaning of the various sacred objects or elements given or passed on to believers for a specified purpose.
The Catholic Church teaches there are seven sacraments of the church, most accompanied by various prayers and rites:
Sacraments of Christian Initiation –
- Baptism – The baptism by water
- Confirmation – The confirmation of belief and reception of the Holy Spirit
- Eucharist – Partaking of the Holy Communion of Christ
Sacraments of Healing –
- Penance and Reconciliation – Confession of sins and forgiveness of others
- Anointing of the Sick – Anointing of the sick with oil for healing of illness
Sacraments of Service –
- Matrimony – Sacred union covenant of a man and woman
- Holy Orders – Ordination to the priesthood
The Eucharist is the Christian rite or sacrament that commemorates Christ’s Last Supper and Holy Communion. The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word ‘evcharistia’ meaning ‘thanksgiving.’ This is about the food elements Jesus broke and gave to His disciples, the bread and the wine, that was to be His body and blood given for their sins.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of ‘Transubstantiation’ concerning the Eucharist. This teaching began in the 12th century a.d. and was elaborated in the Council of Trent in 1545. This means that they believe that the bread and wine, once concentrated, literally become the body and blood of Christ, that it changes into the body and blood, however, it is not transformed, as the physical form or appearance remains unaltered. Only the substance changes.
Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine, there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change in the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.– 1376 Council of Trent
Catholics believe they receive their Jesus physically, frequently in the stomach.
“The body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is truly really and substantially contained in the Eucharist”– CCC 1374-78
In contrast to Christian Protestantism
Christian Protestants believe either in the consubstantiation of the bread and wine, meaning that Jesus’ body and blood essence exist alongside the physical sacraments, or that they are symbolically represented as Jesus’ body and blood. Jesus said to do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22.19). The act of communion is a memorial of what Jesus did for us.
The Bible does not reveal that when Jesus lifted the bread and said this is my body, it physically became flesh, or when He said that the wine was His blood that it physically became blood. Jesus was speaking in metaphor to a group of Jewish men who had the history of their people in their minds as they ate the Passover meal. A meal that consisted of bread and wine that represented what their ancestors ate in Egypt.
The Apostle Paul lays out the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in detail for the church in 1 Corinthians 11.17-34. The meaning and purpose are revealed in v.26, in eating and drinking these sacraments, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He returns. We are eating and drinking in remembrance of His body broken and blood poured out for our sins (Mark 14. 22-24).
The Bible teaches that we receive Christ once by faith in our hearts Eph 3.17. Not multiple times in the Eucharist.
Catholic Mass is the gathering of Catholic believers for prayer, service (homily), hymns and to partake of the Eucharist.
To be fair, Catholic theology does not consider the Eucharist a re-sacrifice of Christ. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice…”– CCC 1367
Thus, Catholic theologians do not agree with Heidelberg that the Mass is “nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ.” The sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist is one sacrifice performed in different ways, they would argue. Official Catholic teaching does not argue that Christ’s death must be repeated over and over. Rather, it teaches that in the Eucharist the death of Christ is pulled into the present for us to enjoy sacramentally. No Catholic who knows his official theology would claim that the Mass repeats the atoning sacrifice of Christ because the sacrifice is “ever-present”– CCC 1364
This ceremony, or Mass, of partaking in the Eucharist symbolically puts Christ to open shame, and sacrificing Him again and again for sins goes against Biblical teachings. Heb 6.6-8 teaches if one should fall away it is impossible to renew them again to repentance for they would be crucifying the Son of God afresh, putting Him to an open shame.
This shows that Christ was sacrificed once and for all (Heb 10.10) and that His sacrifice was only once and is now finished (Heb 9.24-26), that Christ did not need to be sacrificed but only one time. This catholic symbolic act of pulling Christ’s death into the present to partake of it over and over is opposed to scripture.
Roman Catholics believe that salvation is initiated as a gift from God; however, you must perform good works and earn merits to enter heaven (CCC ph.2008). According to Roman Catholics, salvation is by faith plus sacraments (1129), participation in Mass (1405), purgatory (1030), penance (980), indulgences (1498), water baptism (1256), keeping the law of Moses (2068), be confirmed as a Catholic and partake of the Eucharist (CCC 846-8).
Catholic priests teach you to try to be a good person, do good deeds, perform and participate in every Catholic religious rite, go to confession, etc. to be eligible to receive merits for heaven. You can even purchase merits called indulgences, or receive supplemental merits for other people or you may receive them from Mary or the Saints. (CCC 1471-79)
The Doctrine of Venial Sin. The Catholic Church believes that some sin does not lead to death and they are cleansed by indulgences, or reduces the time of punishment. This is the origin of the belief in Purgatory, as there needed to be a place where sinner would go who commit these venial sins.
In contrast to Christian Protestantism
The Bible is very clear to make sure Christians are warned not to listen to anyone preaching another gospel than the gospel of Christ. If it is different then the gospel of grace is not the gospel at all, as we see throughout Galatians 2. Paul said the Judaizers were under a curse and had fallen from grace.
Christian Protestants believe in ‘Sola Gratia,’ meaning grace solely or grace alone, there is nothing you can do to earn salvation. Jesus paid the price for our sins, once and for all forever.
The issue of works is separated from the subject of salvation. Works along with fruits are the results of a regenerated life after you have already been born again, having already received the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. Salvation is a gift from God, having freely paid all our debts (Eph 2.8-9).
Mariology is the historic and theological study of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Catholic Church has reformed various teachings about Mary since the time of the first Church, creating various dogmas concerning her.
Council of Ephesus in 431 formally approved the devotion and creation of icons to Mary as the theotokos, meaning God-bearer, further the Christ-bearer or mother of the Messiah. Believing Jesus took divinity from His Father and humanity from His Mother. They refrained from calling her mother of God since that was considered heretical at the time. She is now called Mother of God (CCC 2677) and Queen of Heaven (CCC 966).
Catholics believe that Mary’s prayers deliver souls from death (par.966)
Mary is the subject of preaching and worship she prompts the faithful to come to her Son – Vatican Council II p.420
Perpetual Virginity – She remains a virgin forever (CCC para. 510)
Immaculate Conception – in 1854 Pope Pius IX of the Catholic Church proclaimed that the Virgin Mary was born via Immaculate Conception to perpetuate her sinless nature. (CCC 491)
Sinless – The Catholic Church declared Mary to be sinless, she was preserved free from all stains of original sin (CCC par.966, CCC 508, CCC493)
Assumption into heaven – in 1950 the Catholic Church determines sin Mary was sinless, and that she was taken into heaven after her task on Earth was complete (par. 974). “Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son” -Vatican Council II p.421.
In contrast to Christian Protestantism
The Bible warns not to exceed what is written in the word (1 Corin 4.6). The Catholic teachings on Mary have far exceeded anything the Bible teaches. There is no justification for any of these teachings historically or Biblically. They go against many scriptures that teach not to create idols (Ex 20.4), worship other gods (Ex 34.14), warning against worshipping the Queen of Heaven (Jer 44.17,19). Mary was a sinner like every other person (Rom 3.23, 1 John 1.8) and needed a savior (Luke 1.47).
Mary consummated her marriage with Joseph after Jesus’ birth (Matt 1.24-25). Matthew tells us that Joseph consummated the marriage after Jesus was born. Mary was a servant of God, just like every other Christian. She was faithful to do what God called her to do; she is called Blessed because God chose her through whom to come into the world.
Iconography and Idols
Catholic iconography is the description and historic interpretation of the traditional biblical representation of God and saints in art. From the first century, catacombs were decorated with paintings and mosaics of religious scenes. Many Catholics use these icons in their religious devotions and as objects of their worship, believing that the symbol is an image of the being they are worshipping, this act is called veneration.
In contrast to Christian Protestantism
The Bible teaches us not to make anything that is represent anything in heaven or earth in our acts of worship. This is the second commandment. God doesn’t want us to make any idol so we are not tempted to worship it. To keep our eyes spiritually on Him, and to worship Him alone.