Christianity is the largest religion in the world and it is made up of several denominations each with distinct doctrines and beliefs. Catholicism and Orthodox emerged almost at the same time and they have lots of similarities. However, some years later in the 16th century, the protestant wing of the church emerged which represented a totally new set of beliefs and customs that were very different from Catholic and Orthodox customs. Let’s take a closer look at these three denominations and how they compare below.
Here is a table that summarises some of the notable differences among the three religions:
|Authority||Sacred Tradition and Scripture||Bible Alone (Sola Scriptura)||Sacred Tradition and Scripture|
|The Magisterium||Pope and Bishops||Reject Papal Primacy||Reject Papal Infallibility|
|View on the Holy Spirit||Holy Spirit can come from the Father and the son||Holy Spirit comes from the Father||Holy Spirit comes from the Father|
Authority in catholicism is derived from sacred tradition as well as from scripture. Even though Catholics believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, they also believe in the importance of church tradition in interpreting scripture. Church tradition comprises the teachings of the early apostles, ecumenical councils, as well as various writings that have been upheld consistently inc church history.
The Magisterium refers to the teaching authority of the catholic church and it is made up of the pope with the bishops that are in communion with him. The magisterium is tasked with the responsibility of preserving and interpreting the scriptures. If any dispute in the doctrine of theology arises, the magisterium make official pronouncements in what is known as papal encyclicals and these are considered authoritative and to be adhered to by all Catholics.
Catholics believe in papal infallibility. This doctrine posits that the pope is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error when speaking ex-cathedra (from the chair of Peter). This is especially so on matters of morals and faith. The implication is the stand of the pope on morals and faith is infallible and his teaching is deemed free of mistakes. However, the papal infallibility is not some arbitrary power of the pope. On the contrary, it is a Charism he receives from the Holy SPirit on special occasions for the sake of safeguarding the doctrine of the church from error.
Protestants uphold Martin Luther’s doctrine of authority in the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura). This doctrine posits that the Bible (both Old and New Testament), is the inspired word of God which God gave to man as a source of direction and inspiration. As such, the Bible is viewed as the final authority on issues of doctrine and spiritual guidance. Protestants reject the notion of giving this authority to the clergy.
The sola Scriptura principle was one of the hallmarks of the Reformation movement and it was a clarion call for the Catholics to check on some perceived excesses and corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. The reformers believed the church needed to go back to the structure of the early church which emphasized the authority of the scriptures.
Rejection of Papal Primacy
Protestantism is against the concept of papal primacy. Papal primacy is a concept of catholicism that views the pope as supreme. Catholics believe the pope inherited the position from Apostle Peter and is therefore considered a divine and supreme leader. However, protestants view the position of the pope as a result of the developments of history in the church rather than a Biblical mandate. The leaders of the Reformation challenged papal authority and called for a more decentralized leadership structure in the church. This may explain why most protestants have local synods or some other form of decentralized structures that govern the respective congregations.
The Holy Spirit
Protestants believe in the Holy Spirit that comes from the Father to empower the Church. Some protestants (e.g. Pentecostals) posit that the gifts of the Holy Spirit should also be present in the modern-day church as evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Protestant believe in the Holy Spirit stems from the teachings of Jesus as well as the early apostles. Catholics also believe in the Holy Spirit because they uphold the doctrine of the Trinity. However, Catholics posit that the Holy Spirit can come from both the Father and the Son whereas protestants believe he comes from the Father.
The Orthodox Church, just like the catholic church, believes in the authority of the Bible as well as Church history. Orthodoxy believes that practices, teachings, and beliefs that have been handed down from the apostles make the sacred tradition of the church. Tradition is believed to be a dynamic embodiment of faith that is not only guided but also preserved by the Holy Spirit through the church ages.
Rejection of Papal Infallibility
Orthodoxy teaches against the catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Orthodoxy is against the idea of unilateral pronouncements of doctrine and faith. Instead, they believe in the participation of the entire church through available channels. Eastern orthodoxy also recognizes that all Bishops are equal and that no single Bishop has superiority or supreme authority over the church.
The Holy Spirit
The Orthodox Church believes in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. However, unlike the Catholics who believe the Holy Spirit can come from both the Father and the Son, the orthodox church agrees with the Pentecostals that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father. The Orthodox Church draws this conclusion from the Nicene Creed which states that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.”
To sum it up, orthodoxy, catholicism, and Protestantism all have their points of convergence and divergence. For instance, even though the Orthodox have many things in common with the Catholics, they still agree with protestants in some areas. For instance, both the Orthodox and protestants reject the concept fo the infallibility of the pope. That said, the differences between them may be more than the similarities which si why they are distant denominations.