Protestant vs. Catholic – What's the difference?

by Patrick O’Neill

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Narrated by Frank Dugan, Huntington Beach, California

In his book The Great Heresies, Hilaire Belloc includes Protestantism as one of five great heresies appearing in the history of the Christian religion. Heresy can be described as the denial of one or more essential doctrines which weakens and dislocates the integrity of the whole.

The Catholic Church professes to be the One, Holy, Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church which Christ established. It proclaims its right to govern, teach and sanctify that Church under the Apostolic authority given to it by Jesus Christ.

Belloc describes Protestantism as a denial of unity, pointing out that its underlying character denies that Christ established a visible Church; a definable and united personality; an infallible teaching body, a Person speaking with Divine authority.

History demonstrates the essential nature of authority as an absolute in maintaining order and harmony within every society; within every institution. It means the right to rule. Within his creation, God himself is the source of all authority; both in heaven and on earth. Scripture makes it clear that God conveys authority to whomever he chooses, and for whatever reason he chooses. Authority is found in every human society and is likewise structured into the nine angelic choirs of angels in heaven.

Within the history of the Hebrew nation, understanding authority and adherence to the law was not only important, it was everything. Submission to the rules handed down by God was the foundation underlying the entire Mosaic Law. On the question of submission and obedience, Scripture makes it quite clear that there are no rebels in heaven.

Protestantism, says Belloc, is above all a denial of the one visible Church and denies the special authority of its bishops and priests. Protestantism professes the belief that there is no central infallible authority governing Christians and therefore each Christian is free to choose his own set of doctrines. Protestantism rejects the concept of unity through authority and, in doing so, is left with none at all.

Prior to the sixteenth century, the authority governing all Christianity was the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The conscious disunion under Protestantism left no one “in charge” and accepted the inevitable chaos of living in anarchy. Without a visible authority to rule over dissenting opinions, the movement was doomed to a series of endless splits invited by its self-inflicted wound.

Protestantism had its beginning with the departure from the Catholic Church of three influential Roman Catholics in the early part of the sixteenth century. These were:

Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest from Germany in 1517,

Henry VIII, King of England in 1535;

John Calvin of France
(residing in Geneva, Switzerland) in1536.

One by one, over the next five centuries, essential doctrines and traditions of the Catholic Church were denied and discarded by the followers of Protestantism. Chief among these are:

? The Teaching Authority of the Church and its Magisterium
- The Doctrine, Nature and Necessity of the Priesthood
- The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
- The Real Presence
- The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist
- The Sacrament of Confession
- The Sacrament of Confirmation
- The Sacrament of Holy Orders
- The Sacrament of the Sick
- The Doctrine of Original Sin
- The Doctrine and Necessity of Sacrifice
- The Baptism of Infants
- The Indissolubility of Marriage
- Opposition to artificial contraception
- The Pope as the Apostolic Vicar of Christ
- The Pope as Successor to Saint Peter
- The Pope as Visible Head of the Church established by Jesus Christ
- The Infallibility of the Pope and Church’s Magisterium in its pronouncements on faith and morals
- The Doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Tradition of Honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus
- The Doctrine of the Communion of Saints
- The Doctrine of Intercessory Prayer
- The Tradition of Venerating the Saints
- The Doctrine of Temporal Punishment Due for Sins
- The Doctrine of Purgatory
- The Necessity of Doing Good Works
- The Doctrine of Mortal Sin

Undermining or altogether eliminating key doctrines held as absolutes by the Catholic Church so diluted the theology of Protestantism and weakened the structure of the “reformed” denominations remaining today that their deterioration continues to widen the distance separating Catholics from Protestants.

The Catholic Church defends its doctrine as being anchored in Sacred Scripture and presents its case in the well-documented Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1994.

The Catholic Church holds that revealed truth is derived not only from Sacred Scripture but from two other sources as well:
1) The Traditions Handed Down by the Church throughout the centuries, and
2) The Teachings of the Magisterium of the Church as guided and protected by the Holy Spirit.

Protestantism professes a single source of revealed truth and all moral authority; that being the Bible itself. The interpretation of what is found in the Bible is left to each individual with no central authority to rule on conflicting interpretations or differences of opinions; it provides no authoritative resolution of disputes as they arise. This only points out the need for a single authentic interpreter of Sacred Scripture and that being the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

While Protestantism falls within the definition of a true heresy, the Catholic Church longs for the return of its members to the one visible Church and extends its invitation to unity under the endearing term addressed to: Our separated brethren.

Note: Authority given to the Church is found in Sacred Scripture quoted below:

From the Gospel of St. Matthew Matt: Ch 16 Vs 13-21
The commission of Peter and the authority given to him by Christ

Now Jesus, having come into the district of Caesarea, Philippi, began to ask his disciples, saying “Who do men say the Son of Man is?” But they said, “Some say, John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus answered and said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged his disciples to tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

Authority to forgive or retain sins also found in Sacred Scripture:

From the Gospel of St. John Jn: 20; Vs. 19-24
(After the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples gathered behind closed doors)

When is was late that same day, the first of the week, though the doors where the disciples gathered had been closed for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said the them, “Peace be to you!” As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” When he had said this, he breathed upon them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.

About the Author:

Educated by the Benedictine Monks at Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, Patrick O’Neill’s background includes five years of seminary training. Nationally published author and founding director of Catholic Radio, he writes from Newport Beach, California.

Contact him by e-mail at: