Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Catholic Layman's Take on the "Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants"

In researching a paper, I came across an article titled  Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants.  The author did not say, in the article, what her affiliation was but claimed to be neutral for this article.  Here are her 12 "simple differences" and some clarifications from a Catholic layman.
Pope Francis

1. The Pope. Catholics have a Pope, which they consider a vicar for Christ — an infallible stand-in, if you will — that heads the Church. Protestants believe no human is infallible and Jesus alone heads up the Church.

Of course the pope is a "difference" between Catholics and Protestants.  The very name "Protestant" bespeaks of the protest of certain men and their followers in the 16th century who left the Church and founded churches on their own feelings, opinions, and personal interpretation of Scripture, and protesting against the authority and doctrine of the Church.

The pope is the vicar of Christ.  It is a title of honor as well as jurisdiction meaning that he is the earthly head of the Church, representing our true Head, Jesus Christ.  Christ Himself appointed Peter as His vicar when He said, "Feed My lambs...feed My sheep" (John 21:16-17).  This authority has been placed in the hands of subsequent popes with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Spirit and soul of the Christ's Church.

The pope however is not infallible in the way Protestants believe the word to mean.  Infallible does not mean he is sinless or never makes mistakes.  The pope goes to confession just like every other practicing Catholic does.  He is not perfect; he does sin.

Actually, infallibility is a charism (a gift or grace from God in order to do something God asks of us) given to the  pope which makes it impossible for him, as pope, to declare any error in doctrine.  This infallibility only applies to proclamations of doctrine that he has prayed over, has run by many theologians and bishops, and declared or proclaimed from the "chair of Peter."  While the pope's other writings and teachings are considered authoritative, they are not all infallible.

An example of an infallible declaration is the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854:
...for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful." [emphasis mine]

Notice the declaration (in quotes) and how it is meant to be for "all the faithful."  This type of proclamation is protected by the Holy Spirit.


St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC
2.  Big, Fancy Cathedrals. Catholics have them; Protestants don’t. Why? Catholicism says that “humanity must discover its unity and salvation” within a church. Protestants say all Christians can be saved, regardless of church membership. (Ergo… shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.)

I can only address some of the many reasons for the "big, fancy" Catholic Cathedrals.  1) They were meant to model the Church after the Kingdom of Heaven.  When one steps into a cathedral (especially the vaulted, medieval ones) you are meant to feel as if you stepped into that Heavenly place.  2) The stained glass windows, statues, wall paintings, mosaics and tapestries of the medieval and middle ages Cathedrals were there to tell the stories of Scripture to illiterate worshipers.   The vast majority of the population lived just above poverty level, with no time to sit and learn to read.  (Even Emperor Charlemagne was illiterate.)  Statues and pictures of saints tell the stories of these wonderful Christians who are a part of the family of God.  In other words, they are family portraits.  3) The artwork in the cathedrals was both education for the people and gifts from the artists (or patrons of the artists).  4) The cathedrals, generally, were built by the people over a century or more as  a gift to God--a form of worship to God.

I would like to know where the quote "humanity must discover its unity and salvation" within a church came from.  I'm not sure what the author is trying to imply here.  The Catholic Church believes that Christ founded one Church and meant it to stay one ("...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.").  So, that is the unity, but it is not about the building.  The Church believes that salvation comes through the Church, however tangentially.  There is the salvation part, but that is not about the building either.  Maybe this is just a case of a Protestant not understanding Catholic vocabulary.?  Who knows.

While it is true that there are crappy store-front Protestant churches, there are also some pretty spectacular Protestant Churches such as the Washington National Cathedral, the Episcopalian Cathedral in DC which took over a century to build in modern times.


St. Walburga
3. Saints. Catholics pray to saints (holy dead people) in addition to God and Jesus. Protestants acknowledge saints, but don’t pray to them.

It is important to clarify here that Catholics do not pray to "holy dead people".  We talk to our living family members.  When we pray to the saints, it is indeed in addition to praying to God, but it does not replace praying to God.  One, we believe the saints to be alive ("He is not the God of the dead but of the living" Mark 12:27) and with Christ their Savior.  Two, we pray to them to talk to God for us, just as we ask the other members of the family of God on earth.

I don't know which Protestants acknowledge saints (except in the generic we're-all-saints way) apart from Orthodox and Lutherans, at least not in the same context.  Many Protestants believe that all "believers" (In quotes, because believers is whatever their personal definition of a believer might be) to be saints.  Therefore, the meaning of the word doesn't even correlate. 

Holy Water font
4.  Holy Water. Catholics only.

Here the author did not even explain if or why holy water is a problem.  Why holy water?  Yeah, that's a difference, of sorts...

Here are some points on holy water:
--Water was used to ceremonially wash the body before entering the Temple in Jerusalem and it was a custom in the early Church as well.
--Holy water is used for baptism.
--Holy water fonts are available in Catholic Churches to remind us of our baptism and ceremonially cleanse us upon entering the nave (the main body of the Church).
--Catholics are sprinkled with water at certain Masses, reminding us of our baptism and our baptismal promises.
--On the altar, the priest pours a small amount of holy water in the chalice, indicating the water which came from the side of Christ along with His blood.
--The priest purifies his hands (ceremonially washes) before the Eucharistic prayers.
--It is a sacramental, not magic.

Fr. Morris, seen on TV
5. Celibacy and Nuns. Catholics only.

Celibacy was advocated by Christ and soon followed by the Early Church.
The disciples said to him, 'If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is advisable not to marry.' But he replied, 'It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. There are eunuchs born so from their mother's womb, there are eunuchs made so by human agency and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.'  (Matthew 19:10-12; emphasis mine)
The writings of the Church fathers show that, in the early Church, married priests were not the accepted norm in the main centres of Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. They were considered a "problem" that existed in the outlying regions. By the third century there were almost no married priests and several councils put the issue to rest until around the 9th century when many bishops and priests took wives and had children. The state of the priesthood fell to an all time low.  A huge problem emerged with priests "willing" Church property to their families. Up to that point, the principle of celibacy was never completely surrendered in the official enactments of the Church. In 1123, celibacy was made official. Although, throughout history there have been scattered instances of abuses of the Canon Law, the Roman Catholic Church has consistently stuck to this position on celibate priests.  (Catholic Bridge, "Why Can't priests get married?")
Ingrid Bergman in Bells of St. Mary's
In this day and age of clergy divorce, adultery, and "Preacher's daughters", the importance of singular dedication to God and their calling should be very apparent.  What some anti-Catholics do not understand is that there are married priests in the Catholic church.  Yes, they are the minority, but they do exist.  Celibacy is a discipline in order for priests and other religious to dedicate their whole lives to God without the distractions of spouse, children, and family responsibilities.  Men who become priests are responsible for a much bigger family--Christ's family.

In point of fact the Catholic Church is not the only church with nuns.  Both the Anglican church, and the Orthodox church have nuns, and the Lutheran church has "deaconesses".  I don't know much about Protestant nuns but Catholic nuns are women dedicated to Jesus Christ alone.  They spend their days praying for the salvation of the world and doing good (humanitarian) works.  This can only be a good thing.


6. Purgatory: Catholics only.

Yes and no.

Purgation  or Purgatory is not only Scriptural but traditional.

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Revelations 21:27 tells us that nothing impure will enter Heaven.

Purgatory is simply a place or state of being in which Christians are cleansed or purged of all stain of sin before entering Heaven.  It is neither a second chance, nor a place or state without hope.  Anyone who is in Purgatory or in the state of purging knows that they will be in Heaven once the cleansing is complete.  Since it is after this life, time does not exist there, so we cannot say that you spend a certain amount of "time" there because time doesn't exist there.

There are other Christian sects that believe in purification before Heaven but will not call this state or process Purgatory in opposition to the Church.  So, actually there are Protestant sects that do indeed believe in it, they just don't call it that.
  
7. Scripture: The be-all, end-all for Protestants is “the Word of God.” For Catholics, tradition is just important as scripture — maybe even more so.

What the blogger fails to point out is that Scripture is part of Catholic Tradition. It is the most important part of the Tradition of the Church.  It is extremely important to the Church and her members.

 "Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too - pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place - is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture."  (CCC 132)
Protestantism that I have personally experienced has traditions of their own that is every bit as important as Scripture.  Scripture alone as the "be-all, end all" is a protestant tradition not based in Scripture.


One of my favorites for Children
8. Catechism: Protestant kids memorize the Bible. Catholic kids get catechism.

It is not quite as black and white as that.  The "catechism" that Catholic kids "get" includes Scripture.  While Catholic Children don't memorize large chunks of Scripture word for word, they learn whole sections and stories by heart.  Ask any Catholic kid about Creation, Moses,  the Prodigal Son, or the Wedding Feast at Cana, the Last Supper, or the Passion of Christ, I bet you'd be impressed.  The catechism is a concise outline of the Faith passed down for twenty centuries which includes Scripture.  Children learn their Faith and learn why the Church believes what it believes.  The Catechism, including the children's version, is filled with the rich gift of Scripture. While many Catholic children can't spout memorized Scripture on demand, properly catechized children can tell others about what is in the Bible and what we believe about it.


Vatican Council II
9. Authori-tay: In Catholicism, only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret the Bible. Protestants hold that each individual has authority to interpret the Bible.

 Yes, the Church has the authority to interpret Scripture.  Christ sent the Holy Spirit to His Church at Pentecost for this very reason.  He guided and inspired men who wrote the Scriptures, who taught the Scriptures, and interpreted the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit-guided Church gave the Bible as we know it to the world--even the Protestants.  And, there has been nearly 2,000 years of Catholic theologians, scholars, and councils studying and interpreting Scripture, why would an individual believe they've come up with something new?  That is the height of hubris.

The error of individual interpretation of Scripture is what gave us the "33,000!" (I'm quoting the blogger, now) different Protestant denominations, churches, or communities--however they want to distinguish or name themselves.  There are protestants fighting protestants.  Just one example would be the importance of baptism for salvation: one groups says it is necessary, others say you're just getting wet.


10. Sacraments: Catholic are the only ones to have the concept of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony). Protestants teach that salvation is attained through faith alone.

Ironically, those that claim that their only authority is Scripture don't or won't understand that the only place that the words "faith alone" are found in Scripture, they appear in the negative.   

"So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17, NAB)
"Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17, KJV)
Faith produces fruit or it is dead, after all, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2:19, KJV)     

These sacraments are beneficial in the order of grace and all seven were instituted by Christ.  God's free gift of grace helps us with our faith, and our faith gets stronger with each sacrament we partake in.
The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. (CCC 1131)

Mary, Mother of God
11. Holidays: Catholics have 10 Holy Days of Obligation (which mean they must go to Mass). Protestants are more like, “Just come to church on Christmas, that’s all we ask.”

This blanket statement is much too general.

Yes, the Catholic Church in America has 8 Holy days of Obligation (2 of the original 10, Epiphany and The Body and Blood of Christ, have been transferred to Sundays) in addition to our Sunday obligation.  The reality is that all Catholics are obligated to go to Mass every single Sunday of the year.  The other eight days are in addition to the Sunday obligation.

The Nativity (Christmas)
The ten (the eight with the other 2 now on Sunday) days are:  Mary, Mother of God (January 1), Epiphany (Sunday after January 1), Ascension (either the sixth Thursday of Easter or the seventh Sunday of Easter depending on the diocese), Body and Blood of Christ (Second Sunday after Pentecost), The Assumption of Mary (August 15), All Saints (November 1), Immaculate Conception of Mary (December 8) and Christmas Day (December 25).

As for Protestants, I don't agree with the blogger's blanket statement.  In the Baptist church in which I grew up, it was expected, if not an outright rule, that all good members of that church went to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evenings.  Also expected was attendance to any "revivals" and extra prayer meetings.  You were told in the minister's message how you couldn't be a good Christian if you didn't give time and money to God.  I'm sure that this "obligation" is still true in many Protestant churches today.
 
The Eucharist and Heaven
12. Communion: In Catholicism, the bread and wine “become” the body and blood of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is truly present on the altar. In Protestantism, the bread and wine are symbolic.

While true, this is a broad generalization.  The Catholic Church does believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  The main reason is because we believe Christ words literally.  We believe He meant what He said:

Then he took bread, ...saying, 'This is my body given for you'...He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you.' (Luke 22:19,20)
Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)
Also, in the Orthodox and Lutheran traditions the bread and wine are more than symbolic, but expressed in a different way than the Catholic Church.

I, personally, feel sorry for Protestants who claim they believe in what Scriptures say, yet ignore what Scripture actually says.  If communion is just bread and wine (actually grape juice in most Protestants circles), what was the point of doing it in the first place?  Just going through the motions seems a lot less efficacious than believing in Christ's words.  

Conclusion: Christians have a lot more commonality than differences.  We all are sincerely trying to follow Christ and His teaching. Our Lord taught us to love God and love one another. Do I think Protestants are wrong on many levels?  Yes or I would not be a Catholic today.  I have found Christ, His Church, His family.  I am completely in love with my Savior and I believe that I am doing my best to follow Him and help my children know and follow Him.  Other Christians waste a lot of time, money, effort, and hatred on fellow Christians.  It is sad, really, because that is not what Christ intended. We are all God's children and we all deserve respect.

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