Christianity is the world's largest religion, with various denominations, including Protestants, Mormons, Gnostics, Orthodox, and Catholics. Catholicism is the world's oldest continuous Christian institution, with more than 1.329 billion baptized adherents. All Christians on the planet are not Catholics, but all Catholics are Christians.
Catholics consider Catholicism to be Christianity and that only they have the full truth that Jesus revealed. Catholics don't doubt that the Protestants are followers of Jesus Christ; however, they believe Catholicism is the most accurate path to salvation. Catholics and other Christians have numerous similarities; the main difference is the interpretation of the laws, rules, and scriptures.
This review will predominantly examine the differences between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant beliefs because contrasting the number of sects with unique views and practices is unfeasible; thus, the most prominent groups provide adequate foils to one another.
What Is Roman Catholic?
Roman Catholicism is one of Christianity's largest and oldest branches, with millions of followers worldwide. Its teachings are based on those of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible and interpreted by various theologians throughout history.
The sacraments (believed to be instituted by Jesus) are central to Roman Catholic teaching. Some examples include baptism (the ritual purification for forgiveness or restoration of a person's soul); confession (telling one's sins to a priest so that they can be forgiven); confirmation (anointing with oil as an act of spiritual solidarity); marriage (a holy union between two people in God's eyes); and communion/eucharist (sharing bread and wine as symbols of Jesus).
Differences Between Catholicism And Other Forms Of Christianity
The Roman Catholic Church has historically been strict in its interpretation of the Bible, requiring that its followers adhere to certain rituals and doctrines. Here are some significant differences between Roman Catholicism and other major Christian denominations:
While the Catholics consider the Pope to be Apostle Peter's successor, appointed by Jesus, many other Christian denominations do not believe in papal supremacy and instead believe that every Christian is worthy of a priest-like status. The concept of spiritual hierarchies is ambiguous in many churches: elders and reverends exist to act as "shepherds" to the "flock" of attendees, but that does not imply they are inherently more spiritual. Priests, however, are considered inherently qualified, albeit the Vatican (the figurehead assembly of the Catholic Church) understands that any human in any position is capable of mistakes.
Catholics see Purgatory as a place for souls to be cleansed to ascend to heaven. According to Catholic doctrine, those who pass away, blessed by God's grace and goodwill, are assured of their eternal salvation even if they are not yet wholly purified. After death, these souls must go through further purification to attain the holiness required to enter heaven. Protestant churches teach that salvation comes through faith alone, not by any works or rituals. The Orthodox Church believes that only God can forgive sins through repentance and confession to a priest and not through other means, such as prayers or acts of devotion. However, each congregation tends to attract and condone outliers to central beliefs such as this because unity is ultimately more crucial than theology.
The Seven Sacraments
The seven sacraments, also known as the "Mysteries" or "Sacred Mysteries," are a part of the traditions and beliefs of the Catholic Church. The seven sacraments include Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance or Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
Baptism intends to remove original sin from an individual and allow them entrance to the Church. In Confirmation, a person is acknowledged as a full member of the faith. The Eucharist symbolizes Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples and provides spiritual nourishment through Communion, the consumption of wine (Christ's blood), and bread (Christ's body). Penance assists in forgiveness for sins committed against God and man. Anointing of the Sick helps in healing physical ailments through prayer. Holy Orders mark exceptional individuals within the priesthood, whereas Matrimony serves to consecrate marriage between a man and woman in God's eyes.
These religious rituals are not accepted among all Christian denominations and believers who believe they should worship directly to God without mediators such as priests or ceremonies like these seven sacraments. They adhere strictly to Biblical teaching without influence from tradition or additional written development over time, as some Catholics do with their Catechism teachings. Regardless, it is worth recognizing that ancestral trends and modern values directly influence many practices of modern protestants and Orthodox believers.
Scripture And Traditions
One of the most significant differences between other Christians and Catholics is their beliefs in the Bible and its various translations. While both groups believe that the Bible is the word of God, they have different views on how God's revelation comes to them.
For Catholics, God's revelation comes in two ways: through sacred tradition and sacred scripture. Sacred tradition refers to teachings passed down from generation to generation over time. Sacred scripture refers to books like the Old Testament, New Testament, and other important religious texts that are considered divinely inspired by Catholics. For Catholics, these scriptures are not just ordinary books – they contain divine messages from God. The Sacred tradition, which gives authority to writers of Christian texts outside of sacred scriptures, is seen in the Catholic Church's Catechism, which is a complete exposition of historical doctrines concerning faith, morals, and worship.
In contrast, many other Christians believe that only one source of God's revelation is necessary: the Bible. Protestants do not accept the additional books in the Roman Catholic Bible or other religious texts. This reluctance is because they believe that only the early scriptures were divinely preserved and inspired by God, so exclusively following them is essential to living a moral and faithful life.
While most Christian faiths and Catholics honor God's word, they have different beliefs about how to interpret it and how much authority it has. For Catholics, their leaders have the power to interpret scripture on behalf of all. In contrast, other Christians believe that each individual person must interpret the scriptures for themselves based on what they learn from the Bible. Acknowledging this assumption of other sects does not confirm that Catholic believers are of one mind, only that particular (and possibly misinformed) perceptions of opposing sects have blossomed among the different branches of Christianity.
Catholicism is unique among Christian sects because it forbids marriage amongst its clergy. This tradition dates back to the early centuries of Christianity and was inspired by Jesus Christ's teachings that the Church should be built on a foundation of celibacy, which allows priests to devote all their time and energy to serving God.
While other Christian denominations may permit marriage, Catholicism has maintained its traditional stance due to a deep-seated belief in the importance of keeping priests dedicated solely to spiritual pursuits. According to Catholic doctrine, those who are devoted to ministrations from God must remain faithful to His calling, sacrificing all familial ties and personal comforts for the greater good.
The commitment demanded by Catholic celibacy consequently serves as an expression of faith in God and His commandments, standing as a testament to more than two thousand years of tradition and devotion. The topic is currently a node of controversy due to recent child-abuse scandals that have rocked the Christian faith, particularly in Catholic circles.
Catholicism forbids contraception and abortion for various reasons deeply rooted in Catholic beliefs, values, and traditions. According to Catholic teachings, contraception interferes with God's plan for creation by negating the procreative consequences of the sexual act (Philosophically, this theology is labeled "Natural Law"). Therefore, abortion intentionally takes innocent human life in violation of God's will for humanity. Though other Christian denominations may allow contraception and/or abortion under certain circumstances, Catholicism maintains a stronger stance against them due to its commitment to protecting all human life from conception to natural death. For Catholics, these issues are not just theological matters but moral ones that require adherence to the Church's beliefs.
Catholics attend Mass every Sunday as a sign of their commitment to their faith. It is an integral part of their worship and an act of devotion to God. During Mass, they receive Communion, renew their baptismal promises, and listen to a homily.
Eastern Orthodox churches typically meet once a week for worship services on Sunday, often referred to as Divine Liturgy. Other denominations, such as Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, may also meet weekly or less frequently, depending on the local congregation. During worship services, they participate in prayers, hymns, sermons, Scripture readings, and Communion. They often have fellowship events, small group discussions, and outreach programs throughout the year to stay connected and build community.
Overall, Catholics are required to observe the time-honored Catholic tradition of attending Mass each Sunday. At the same time, other branches have flexibility in determining how often they gather for worship services based on their personal beliefs and customs.
Catholic worship is traditionally rooted in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church. It is characterized by a strict set of liturgical practices, such as the implementation of vestments, incense, and vessels used exclusively in Catholic worship. A significant difference between Catholic worship and other denominations' worship services is opportunities for devotion and prayer.
In contrast to Catholic services, Protestant worship typically follows a more informal structure emphasizing singing hymns and scripture readings. Orthodox Christian services often feature elaborate ritualistically performed rites that may include processions around the altar or multiple changes in clothing for clergy. Each service also uses different musical instruments and melodies.
Prayers during Catholic Masses may be prayed communally or privately, depending on the occasion. Many Protestant Churches have only one form of prayer; congregational or responsive prayers. Additionally, Catholics celebrate the seven sacraments, which are viewed as offerings of grace from God that can heal or strengthen believers, while some other denominations have fewer sacraments or no sacraments at all.
Overall, there are several significant differences between traditional Catholic worship and other denominations' worship, including liturgical practices, music, prayers, and sacraments offered.
Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, which states that during the Eucharist (the communal consumption of bread and wine as a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice), the bread and wine literally transform into the body and blood of Christ. Other denominations, such as Protestantism and Orthodoxy, do not typically accept this teaching. The main reason is that they reject the idea of a physical presence of Jesus in physical form, and that the ceremony is symbolic rather than literal. They believe that Jesus is present through faith, and thus there is no need to transform the elements into his body and blood. Additionally, Protestants argue that scripture does not explicitly support transubstantiation. As such, although Catholics ascribe to transubstantiation as a core belief of their faith, other denominations deem it unnecessary.
The Verneration of Saints
Veneration of saints is the practice of honoring those who have been deemed holy by religious faith. It typically involves prayer, invocation, and other acts of devotion to acknowledge their holiness. This tradition may also include venerating relics or objects associated with their lives and looking to them for intercession in prayer. In some cases, this has also resulted in the beatification and canonization of specific individuals.
Catholics and Orthodox Christians venerate saints because they believe these saints have been faithful to God during their lifetime and are now in heaven. Saints, therefore, act as intercessors between humans and God, and praying to them can help those on Earth. On the other hand, Protestants generally do not venerate saints like Catholics or Orthodox Christians. Protestant communities believe that direct access to God can only be obtained through Jesus Christ, whereas in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, veneration of saints provides a mediator between humans and God. Therefore, Protestants focus on Jesus Christ as the only mediator. Additionally, Protestants have traditionally viewed the veneration of saints as idolatry and putting one's trust in something other than Jesus Christ, regardless of the Catholic Church's official rejection of that interpretation.
Confession is a profound, ancient practice revered in the Catholic Church, but some Protestants and Orthodox Christians avoid it. It involves confessing one's sins to a clergy member. Its purpose is to receive absolution for those sins, which brings release from guilt and provides spiritual healing.
Many protestants and Orthodox Christians believe practitioners should only make that confession to God, not another person. They view it as unnecessary and an intrusion into a believer's personal relationship with God. Others express concern about the potentially coercive nature of confessing before a priest who can withhold forgiveness or sanctions over disobedience. However, some branches of Christianity (within protestant and orthodox communities) support the occasional confession to other members as a form of discipline and accountability. Still, the choice is up to the individual rather than a required condition of devotion.
In Catholicism, confession is traditionally made in person, although recent times have seen parishes adapt to accommodate online "virtual confessions" for those unable to attend in person due to health or access issues. Confession is also seen as a vital part of spiritual growth and renewal that helps Catholics align their will with God's will and live life more fully in His grace and blessings.
Christian baptism is a sacrament that symbolizes the believer's commitment to following Christ and becoming part of God's family. For many believers, infant baptism is not seen as necessary for salvation, so they do not practice it as Catholics do. This difference between the two faiths lies in their different understandings of how a person becomes part of this spiritual family. Catholics believe baptism is essential for salvation and should be done shortly after birth and some Catholic communities encourage several baptism ceremonies throughout a life. In contrast, Protestants believe that a person needs to consciously accept Jesus as Savior to become part of God's family and that baptism is symbolic of this commitment.
The Virgin Mary
Whether or not the Virgin Mary was capable of sin has been a source of much debate among Catholics and other Christians. While Catholics believe that she was sinless and that her body ascended to heaven after being resurrected, other Christians believe that she was just like everyone else - a human being who made mistakes. Though there are many differences in beliefs about this saint between the Christian groups, both agree on one thing - that the Virgin Mary is an important symbol for their faith and should be respected as such.
Clearly, Catholicism holds a unique place in the Christian faith and has beliefs that are distinct from other sects of Christianity. Though there are differences in opinions, there is also much overlap between them. The Catholic Church is a growing institution that draws on its knowledge of what it believes to be accurate: relative to historical and modern interpretations. Christianity, as a whole, can benefit from an understanding of these different theological perspectives and from recognizing that each sect has something valuable to contribute to the overall body of believers.