Understanding Roman Catholicism





Alex Tang



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Understanding Roman Catholicism



We will be considering a major segment of the Christian community from an evangelical perspective. Some statistics show the global Christian community,  50.1 % are Roman Catholics, 11.9 % are from the Greek Orthodox Church, 36.7% Protestants with the majority being Pentecostal and other 1.3%.


To understand Roman Catholicism, we must look at the history of the church and especially at two major events that happened in the church about a thousand years ago and five hundred years ago. These events are The Great Schism and the Reformation.





The Great Schism


The East–West Schism, also called the Great Schism and the Schism of 1054, was the break of communion between what are now the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches, which has lasted since the 11th century.


The ecclesiastical differences and theological disputes between the Greek East and Latin West pre-existed the formal rupture that occurred in 1054. Prominent among these were the issues of the source of the Holy Spirit, whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used in the Eucharist, the Bishop of Rome's claim to universal jurisdiction, and the place of the See of Constantinople in relation to the Pentarchy.

In 1053, the first step was taken in the process which led to formal schism: the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Michael I Cerularius ordered the closure of all Latin churches in Constantinople, in response to the Greek churches in southern Italy having been forced to either close or conform to Latin practices.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East%E2%80%93West_Schism


Basically it is a power struggle between the Latin-speaking  Christians who looked towards Rome and the Greek-speaking Christians who followed Constantinople. The Latin-speaking Christians regarded the pope, the bishop of Rome as their spiritual leader. The pope was elected from amongst the cardinals who were members of the clergy. The Greek-speaking Christians follow The Patriarch. The Patriarch was appointed by the emperors who at that time used Constantinople as their capital city. The Patriarch is their spiritual leader. Aside from the Pope and the Patriarch, there are also numerous differences in rituals and understanding in the role of the bible that makes it impossible for these two major branches of Christianity to remain united. The iconoclast controversy where the Greek Orthodox Church differs from the Roman Catholics is another divisive issue.


The Reformation


The Protestants were part of the Roman Catholic Church until it broke away five hundred years ago. Over the years, since its split from the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic  Church developed some practices that became a burden on most people. With the dependence of the members on the clergy to interpret the bible for them, they were easily misled. Since the bible was in Latin and the mass (church service) was in Latin, most of the time the members do not understand what was happening. Some of the Popes became not only spiritual powers but also political powers.

Around the time of the reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was badly in need of being reformed. The pope wanted to build St.Peter Basilica, a massive cathedral in the middle of Rome. He needed a lot of fund. To raise fund, the pope instructed one of his leaders to raise the money by selling indulgences. One of the Roman Catholic practices that was extra biblical was the doctrine of purgatory. Purgatory was a sort of reform school where those who were chosen by God to enter heaven but were not holy enough was given a second chance in purgatory. Here they have to undergo numerous penance so until they are holy enough to enter heaven. These people in purgatory were not destined to go to hell. One of the Roman Catholic practice was to pray for the dead. Pope decided that instead of prayers, money given to the church may also impute holiness and reduce a person’s time in purgatory. Paying the indulgences is a very successful way of raising money.


Born in Eisleben, Germany, in 1483, Martin Luther went on to become one of Western history’s most significant figures. Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation. Although these ideas had been advanced before, Martin Luther codified them at a moment in history ripe for religious reformation.

Martin Luther was not the only reformer at that time. The International Monument to the Reformation (French: Monument international de la Réformation, German: Internationales Reformationsdenkmal), usually known as the Reformation Wall, is a monument in Geneva, Switzerland. It honours many of the main individuals, events, and documents of the Protestant Reformation by depicting them in statues and bas-reliefs.

The Wall is in the grounds of the University of Geneva, which was founded by John Calvin, and was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Calvin's birth and the 350th anniversary of the university's establishment. It is built into the old city walls of Geneva, and the monument's location there is designed to represent the fortifications', and therefore the city of Geneva's, integral importance to the Reformation.


At the centre of the monument, four 5 m-tall statues of Calvinism's main proponents are depicted:

  • Theodore Beza (1519–1605)

  • John Calvin (1509–1564)

  • William Farel (1489–1565)

  • John Knox (c.1513–1572)

John Calvin is important as he started the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition from which the Brethren movement arise from.

There are many significant differences in belief in the Roman Catholic belief and the Reformers’.



·        Salvation

One of the most important disagreements is about how we can actually be accepted by God.  Evangelicals believe that if someone has faith in Jesus - if they trust him with their lives and follow him - then they are made totally acceptable to God because of Jesus’ death (Romans 3:23-26).  The Bible says that this happens "apart from works" (Romans 4:6).  In other words, it doesn’t depend on how good a life we live but only on our trust in Jesus.  If we follow Jesus, we are guaranteed a place in Heaven when we die (Luke 23:43). 

Catholics, on the other hand, believe that our acceptance by God does depend partly on the life that we’ve lived.  If we’re not good enough, we won’t make it to Heaven. Another of the five solas of the Reformation is sola fide (“faith alone”), which affirms the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8–10).

However, Catholics teach that the Christian must rely on faith plus “meritorious works” in order to be saved. Essential to the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation are the Seven Sacraments, which are baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony. Protestants believe that, on the basis of faith in Christ alone, believers are justified by God, as all their sins are paid for by Christ on the cross and His righteousness is imputed to them. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that Christ’s righteousness is imparted to the believer by “grace through faith,” but in itself is not sufficient to justify the believer. The believer must supplement the righteousness of Christ imparted to him with meritorious works.

Catholics and Protestants also disagree on what it means to be justified before God. To the Catholic, justification involves being made righteous and holy. He believes that faith in Christ is only the beginning of salvation and that the individual must build upon that with good works because God’s grace of eternal salvation must be merited. This view of justification contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture in passages such as Romans 4:1–12, Titus 3:3–7, and many others. Protestants distinguish between the one-time act of justification (when we are declared righteous by God based on our faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross) and the process of sanctification (the development of righteousness that continues throughout our lives on earth). While Protestants recognize that works are important, they believe they are the result or fruit of salvation but never the means to it. Catholics blend justification and sanctification together into one ongoing process, which leads to confusion about how one is saved.

The Catholic catechism makes it very clear that you are born again and justified through baptism. That means faith plus a certain rite — which is administered by the church — is necessary for salvation. So, the church essentially grants salvation. Although this salvation is “by faith,” additional grace enables us “to work” to attain eternal life. And that’s the problem with saying we speak the same gospel. One of them is clear: Christ did it; we can’t add anything to that. The other one is: Christ did it, but to actually avail yourself of what Christ did you have to do this and this.

Source: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2007/07/03/difference-between-roman-catholics-and/


·        Church Tradition and Teachings

Another big difference is that evangelicals believe that it’s in the Bible that God speaks to us to tell us about himself and how he wants us to live.  Catholics believe that he also speaks through the teachings of the Catholic church and the Pope.  But Jesus said that only the Bible is the word of God, not the additional teachings of religious leaders (Mark 7:1-13). Catholics place ultimate interpretive authority in the Pope and Magesterium.

While there are many verses in the Bible that establish its authority and its sufficiency for all matters of faith and practice, one of the clearest is 2 Timothy 3:16, where we see that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Catholics reject the doctrine of sola scriptura and do not believe that the Bible alone is sufficient. They believe that both the Bible and sacred Roman Catholic tradition are equally binding upon the Christian. Many Roman Catholics doctrines, such as purgatory, praying to the saints, worship or veneration of Mary, etc., have little or no basis in Scripture but are based solely on Roman Catholic traditions. Essentially, the Roman Catholic Church’s denial of sola scriptura and its insistence that both the Bible and tradition are equal in authority undermine the sufficiency, authority, and completeness of the Bible. The view of Scripture is at the root of many, if not all, of the differences between Catholics and Protestants.

Source: http://www.gotquestions.org/difference-Catholic-Protestant.html


Another disagreement between Catholicism and Protestantism is over the office and authority of the Pope. According to Catholicism the Pope is the “Vicar of Christ” (a vicar is a substitute) and takes the place of Jesus as the visible head of the Church. As such, the Pope has the ability to speak ex cathedra (with authority on matters of faith and practice), making his teachings infallible and binding upon all Christians. On the other hand, Protestants believe that no human being is infallible and that Christ alone is the Head of the Church. Catholics rely on apostolic succession as a way of trying to establish the Pope’s authority. Protestants believe that the church’s authority comes not from apostolic succession but from the Word of God. Spiritual power and authority do not rest in the hands of a mere man but in the very Word of God. While Catholicism teaches that only the Catholic Church can properly interpret the Bible, Protestants believe that the Bible teaches God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all born-again believers, enabling all believers to understand the message of the Bible.

Protestants point to passages such as John 14:16–17: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (See also John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27.)

Source: http://www.gotquestions.org/difference-Catholic-Protestant.html


Purgatory (Latin: Purgatorium, via Anglo-Norman and Old French)[1] is an intermediate state after physical death in which those destined for heaven "undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven". Only those who die in the state of grace but have not yet fulfilled the temporal punishment due to their sin can be in Purgatory, and therefore no one in Purgatory will remain forever in that state or go to hell.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, first published in 2005, is a summary in dialogue form of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It deals with purgatory in the following exchange:

210. What is purgatory?

Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.

211. How can we help the souls being purified in purgatory?

Because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.

These two questions and answers summarize information in sections 1020–1032 and 1054 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, which also speaks of purgatory in sections 1472 and 1473

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatory


Veneration of Mary


Among the most prominent Roman Catholic Marian titles are:


  • Mary, Mother of God

  • Mary, the Immaculate Conception

  • Mary, Queen of Heaven

  • Queen of the Angels

  • Queen of Peace

  • Star of the Sea (Stella Maris)

  • Mother of All Sorrows


·        Holy Communion

Catholics teach that the bread and wine during the mass becomes the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. Protestants generally regard the two components as only symbolic of Jesus' body and blood.


·        Grace

Grace: Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics believe in grace ("the free and unmerited assistance or favor or energy or saving presence of God in his dealings with humanity..."). But Evangelicals view grace as a direct action by and from God; Catholics view grace as originating from God, but flowing through the conduit of the sacraments or through one's actions. Many evangelicals see salvation and justification as one-time events; once a person is saved, they are always saved. However, Catholics look upon them as capable of being repeatedly lost through mortal sin and potentially regained through the church's sacraments.




Perhaps the main difference between conservative Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is expressed by the "five Solas". "Sola" means "alone" in Latin. The first three Sola statements of the early Protestant movement stressed that:



"Sola Scriptura:" The Bible is the sole authority for Christian beliefs and practices.

       The Catholic Church stresses a balance between Biblical support and the tradition of the Church itself. Sola Scriptura, or "scripture alone", asserts that scripture must govern over church traditions and interpretations which are themselves held to be subject to scripture. All church traditions, creeds, and teachings must be in unity with the teachings of scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God.

Sola Scriptura asserts that the Bible can and is to be interpreted through itself, with one area of Scripture being useful for interpreting others. That scripture can interpret itself is a means by which to show the unity of Scripture as a whole. As all doctrines are formed via scriptural understandings, all doctrines must be found to align with Scripture and as such are then subject to scripture before the believer can begin to apply them.



2 Timothy 3:14–17 (NIV)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.



"Sola Gratia:" One is saved through grace alone, given to the believer by God directly. 

The Catholic Church also teaches that salvation is implemented by grace from God alone. However, they stresses that the church sacraments are the channel for God's grace


Ephesians 2:8–9 (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast.



Sola Fide:" Salvation is by the individual's faith alone in trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Again, the Catholic Church stresses the importance of church sacraments.


The true distinction, therefore, between the Protestant and the Catholic view of Justification is not an issue of being "declared righteous" versus being "made righteous", but rather it is the means by which one is justified. In Catholic theology righteous works are considered meritorious toward salvation in addition to faith, whereas in Protestant theology, righteous works are seen as the result and evidence of a truly justified and regenerate believer who has received these by faith alone. The actual effectual means by which a person receives justification is also a fundamental division between Catholic and Protestant belief. In Catholic theology, the means by which justification is applied to the soul is the sacrament of baptism. In baptism, even of infants, the grace of justification and sanctification is "infused" into the soul, making the recipient justified even before he has exercised his own faith (or indeed in the case of an infant who is baptized, before he even has the ability to consciously understand the Gospel and respond with faith). For the Catholic, baptism functions "ex opere operato" or "by the working of the act", and thus is the efficient and sufficient act to bring about justification. In Protestant theology, however, the faith of the individual is absolutely necessary and is itself the efficient and sufficient response of the individual that effects justification.

The Sola fide doctrine is sometimes called the material cause or principle of the Reformation because it was the central doctrinal issue for Martin Luther and the other reformers. Luther called it the "doctrine by which the church stands or falls" (Latin, articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae).

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_solae


The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ... Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31)- Martin Luther


Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone")

Salvation is only in Jesus Christ because there are two conditions that, no matter how hard we try, we can never meet. Yet, they must be done if we are to be saved. The first is to satisfy the justice of God through obedience to the law. The second is to pay the price of our sins. We cannot do either, but Christ did both perfectly. Romans 5:19 says, “By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:10 says, “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”


Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")

Romans 11:36 (NIV)

      36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.

         To him be the glory forever! Amen.



Theological Belief

Roman Catholic Church

Conservative Protestants

Apostolic succession 

Believe that present-day priest ordinations can all be traced back to the original apostles and thus to Jesus.

Concept rejected as historically invalid; it simply didn't happen.

Attitude towards each other

The church considers Protestants to be Christians, but possessing only part of the truth.

Some consider Catholics to be non-Christians

Authority within the church

Vested in the hierarchy of the church.

Within the believer (soul freedom), the congregation and the denomination, according to their interpretation of the meaning of the Bible.

Baptism, significance of

Sacrament which regenerates and justifies.

Testimony of a prior regeneration after trusting Jesus as Lord and savior.

Baptism, timing 

Usually done in infancy; may be done later in life when the person joins the church.

Usually done later in life after person is "born again."

Bible, status of

Historically teaches that the original writings by Bible authors are inerrant. This is being debated.

The original writings of the biblical authors' writings are inerrant. They are the Word of God.

Bible, content

The church includes the original 73 books in the Bible as specified by the  Councils of Hippo and Carthage late in the 4th century.

Some Anglicans  include all 73 books. Other protestants delete the 7 books of the Apocrypha.

Changing of beliefs, practices

Debate and dialogue is sometimes forbidden -- particularly on human sexuality topics.

Relatively free discussion allowed, except, in some denominations, on matters related to homosexuality.

Church, structure


Usually democratic, except among some new religious movements (NRMs).

Clergy, selection of

Appointed; all male; almost all unmarried.

Elected; mostly male; single or married.

Discipline of members

Pressure from the clergy and laity. In serious cases, errant members can be denied the sacraments or excommunicated.

Pressure from the clergy and laity. Various denomination have formal policies of shunning, disfellowshipping and excommunication.

Ecumenical action

The Church views the fragmentation of Christianity into thousands of faith groups to be a sin. They want non-Catholic Christians join the Catholic Church.

Some view Catholics as non-Christian. Thus they are to be treated as other lost souls, on a par with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Wiccans, etc. Others view Catholics as brothers in Christ and engage in  joint projects on social matters.

Forgiveness of sin

Achieved through personal repentance to a priest, and -- in emergencies -- sometimes in a public communal ritual.

In some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, confession is done to one's spiritual advisor. However, only an ordained priest may pronounce the absolution.

Normally achieved through prayer to God the Father or Jesus directly without any human intercessor. However, many Lutherans confess to their the pastor. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saintssometimes confess to their priesthood leader:


More than a physical place, hell is a state of being involving "the pain, frustration, and emptiness of life without God."

Many conservatives believe that it is a real physical place of unbearable torture which lasts for all eternity with no hope of mercy, relief or cessation. Others define it as a place where one is separated from God.

Homosexuality, nature of

A homosexual orientation is generally unchosen and thus is not, in itself, sinful. It is a disordered state. However, all homosexual behavior is sinful. God and the church expect lesbians and gays to remain celibate for life.

They generally downplay the concept of sexual orientation, and concentrate on homosexual behavior which they consider to be a major sin. They differ from gays, lesbians, religious liberals, and the vast majority of human sexuality researchers, and therapists by viewing homosexuality as chosen, unnatural, abnormal & changeable behavior.

Immaculate Conception of Mary, circa 20 BCE. (Note 1) [See also: virgin birth]

The Church requires belief that at the time of Mary's conception circa 20 BCE, she was conceived without sin.


Infallibility of the Pope

in rare circumstances, members are required to believe in matters of religious doctrine and faith as stated by the Pope.



A place for infants who die before being baptized, and for Old Testament saints. 6 Concept is not officially taught. 8 Most Catholic theologians have abandoned belief in limbo. 7

Existence denied.

Lord's supper/Eucharist

A sacrifice. Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity are physically present and are consumed by believers.

Memorial meal. Christ's body and blood are present symbolically only.

Mary's status

Mary's status is below Jesus', but above that of the saints. Some regard Mary as co- redemptrix with Jesus; this is not currently taught by the church.

The Virgin Mary plays a relatively minor role. Only trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior saves a person.

Non-Christian religions

Have some value for the truth that they contain. However, some rituals can inhibit salvation.

Some consider them worthless, dangerous, and demon-led.


To God. Also may ask Jesus, Mary, or a saint to intercede on their behalf.

Prayer is addressed to God, not to saints.


A state of being in which souls are cleansed by purifying punishments before they can enter heaven.

Does not exist.


The means of grace.

The symbols of grace.


Saints form a major part of the religion. People can pray to saints and ask them to intercede with God.

Saints do not form a major part of the religion. One prays to God the Father and/or Jesus, not to saints.

Salvation, achieving

Dispensed by God; dependant on faith, and church sacraments.

Dispensed by God; dependent only on an individual's repentance and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Salvation, losing

It is lost whenever a responsible person knowingly commits a mortal sin via free choice. It can be regained through repentance and church sacrament.

Usually, once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. Some denominations teach that one can lose one's salvation.

Salvation among non-Christians

It is possible that those outside the Roman Catholic Church can be saved in spite of the errors in their religious beliefs. However, some religion's beliefs and practices make this unlikely.

Opinions differ. Most feel that all those who have not been savedare lost and will spend eternity being tortured in Hell.

Statues, venerating

Statues and images of Jesus, Mary and of individual saints are commonly found in Catholic sacred spaces. However, believers are expected to venerate the persons represented by the statues, not the statues themselves.

Many consider the mere presence of statues in sacred spaces to be a form of idolatry -- a violation of the "graven images" prohibition in the second of the Ten Commandments.


Mainly found in scripture, as interpreted by the church. It is also found in church tradition, and the valid findings of scientific research.

Most believe it is found only in scripture, as interpreted through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the saved individual, their congregation and denomination. 

Virgin birth (actually virgin conception; circa 5 BCE) See Note 1.

Required belief.

Nearly universal belief.

Visibility of the Church

The hierarchy of the Church, including the laity, plus theChurch's Spirit, referred to as the "Spotless Bride of Christ.

Invisible fellowship of all saved individuals. Only God knows who is saved and thus the exact makeup of the Church.

Note 1: Many people confuse the Immaculate Conception with the virgin birth. The former is a Roman Catholic belief that in about 20 BCE when Mary herself was conceived, she was without original sin. The latter is a generally held belief among all conservative and most mainline Christian denominations that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived about 6 BCE. Religious liberals generally consider both to be mythical events that never happened.

Source: http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_capr.htm. Accessed 27 July 2016




30 July 2016  


"treat, heal, and comfort always"

 "spiritual forming disciples of Jesus Christ with informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative in actions"  


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