What separates Catholics and Protestants?

They pray to the same God but go their separate ways, even at Christmas. The differences between Protestants and Catholics may not be immediately apparent, but they are an important element in the history of both Christian communities.

The Christmas rituals of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are almost indistinguishable. And yet, if the Catholics celebrate the Christmas Mass at midnight on December 24, the Protestant service can start already in the afternoon. Catholics do not recognize the second day of Christmas – December 26, but celebrate the memory of Saint Stephen.

In Germany, the country of the Reformation, between Protestants and Catholics for centuries a deep enmity has simmered, informed “Deutsche Welle”. The numerous public condemnations of the other, struggles and wars on religious grounds can be traced historically through the centuries.

With the Reformation, which began at the beginning of the 16th century, the church split into two religious communities – Catholic and Protestant. The wish of the Catholic monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) to reform “his” church was not fulfilled. Therefore, in 1517, he hung his 95 theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, for which, however, there is no historical evidence. Luther criticized the church’s trade in indulgences, which, according to the doctrine of the day, enabled the faithful to atone for their sins.

About 500 years later, the two churches in Germany had come together seriously. However, some important differences remain. Here are some of them:

1. Understanding the Bible

Catholicism and Protestantism have different understandings of the meaning and authority of the Bible. It has been clear to Protestants since the time of Luther that “Sola Scriptura” – the holy book – is the only source of God’s word. Catholics, for their part, believe that the Bible alone is not enough and that along with the Holy Scriptures, the Roman Catholic tradition is also obligatory for Christians.

2. The understanding of the church

The Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope is perceived as the only true church. While the churches that arose as a result of the Reformation are perceived as equal, despite the differences between them.

3. The Pope

Protestants are not tolerant of the Pope. According to them, this institution contradicts the Bible. Catholics, for their part, see the pope as the successor of the apostle Peter, respectively the head of their church appointed by Jesus Christ.

4. The understanding of fasting

According to Catholic understanding, through ordination, bishops, priests and deacons receive a special calling from God for their work. Therefore the priest stands above the Catholic laity. Lay hands can only be men.

The Protestant church, on the other hand, does not consider spiritual service as an ordination of the person, but as a function that God originally intended for man. And it is possible for it to be assigned to every single believer – including women.

5. The Eucharist or Holy Communion

The Eucharist or Holy Communion is that concept that recreates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It stems from the last supper of Jesus Christ with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. The Catholic Eucharist can only be conducted by an ordained priest – only he can transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Non-Catholics are not allowed at the ceremony.

And in Protestantism, any convert is welcome to the ceremony and can lead it. Catholics see in the ritual the constant re-enactment of the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. For Protestants, it is simply a commemoration of his death and subsequent resurrection.

6. The sacraments

According to the Roman Catholic Church, there are seven sacred actions, the so-called seven sacraments. These are baptism, anointing, communion, penance, marriage, ordination and anointing (for healing bodily diseases and mental infirmities).

For Protestants, there are only two sacraments: baptism and the Eucharist. According to their understanding, these are symbolic-ritual actions through which God unites and blesses people.

7. Reverence to Mary and the saints

Catholics honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the “queen of heaven,” identifying her in many ways with her son. One of the dogmas associated with her is her salvation from original sin. The Catholic Church also honors saints – over 4,000. Believers expect miracles from them and bow before their relics.

Protestantism rejects Catholic dogmas about Mary as unbiblical. For the same reason, veneration of saints is rejected. The Reformed understanding states that everyone should address God directly in their prayers.

8. Celibacy

The vow of celibacy and sexual abstinence is known by all major world religions. For the Catholic Church, celibacy is mandatory for priests, monks and nuns. In the meantime, however, there are also efforts in the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry.

In contrast, Protestants reject celibacy as a duty. Martin Luther called for its abolition as early as 1520, and only five years later he married the former nun Katharina von Bora.


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