A Comparison Of World Religions:
Roman Catholicism

And ye shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

By the early second century, the church founded by Jesus and the apostles developed in to Catholic (universal) Church. Early Christians were persecuted and often martyred, but the Emperor Constantine ended that early in the fourth century when he himself was converted after winning a battle in which he believed that Christ gave him special help.

Christianity soon became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, although it became intermixed with the pagan practices of the time. For example, it was Constantine who changed the Sabbath day to Sunday, and the celebration of Christ's birthday to Dec. 25, to coincide with pagan festivals already established. Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity was the first step toward the union of church and state. Later, the Roman Catholic church would head the greatest persecution since the Roman emporors, during the period we know as the "dark ages".

Who started this religion, and when?

Early in the second century AD, there were five major established churches: Rome, in the west, and Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Caesarea in the east. There were many differences in language, cultures, and conflicting theological opinions, but the most serious division was the insistence by the Roman Church on supreme power and authority over all Christendom. This finally led to a major split in 1054 AD, with the Roman Catholic Church on one side, and the Eastern Orthodox Church on the other.

After the split, the Roman Catholic Church gained even more power and continued to add doctrines not found in Scripture. In addition, they became more and more corrupt, which finally led to the Protestant Reformation started by Catholic monk named Martin Luther.

What do they say about God?

The pope is the spiritual leader of Roman Catholicism and the visible head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the successor to St. Peter, the first among the apostles and the first pope of Rome. With the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, there have been 265 popes in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. This papal system eventually ushered in the darkest period of history known to man, properly known as the "Dark Ages" (500-1500 A.D.).

Catholics do believe in the Trinity: God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church has placed Mary, the Mother of Jesus, into a place of veneration as well. She is called a "Redemptrix", the co-mediator between God and man, despite the fact that his word states there is only one way, and that is Jesus Christ himself. Many of their prayers are directed to her, for Pope Leo said this in 1891: "as no man goeth to the Father but by the Son, so no man goeth to Christ, but by His Mother." Nowhere is this found in Scripture, but rather in the traditions of the Catholic Church. In fact, this teaching is contrary to Scripture. The Bible teaches "Christ is the one mediator between God and man" (I Tim. 2:5) In addition, they worship angels and canonized saints, which is also contrary to Scripture. They argue that there are different levels of worship: latria, for the triune God, dulia, for angels and saints, and hyperdulia, reserved for Mary, but the bottom line is that these practices are based on church tradition, rather than on Holy Scripture.

Who is Jesus Christ, and what did He do?

The Roman Catholic Church first set down its views on justification at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. In doing so, Rome officially rejected the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). Dissenters with this new doctrine were excommunicated.

Protestants rely on "Sola Scriptura" the Bible alone, as the source of all authority and truth, and "Sola fide", or "faith alone", as their source of salvation. The Catholic Church, however, teaches that Christians must rely on faith plus good works, and God's grace, mediated through the second seven sacraments. These seven are baptism, confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, (formerly called extreme unction), holy orders, and matrimony. In spite of all this, they believe there is no guarantee of heaven, teaching that we cannot take God's forgiveness as a sure thing. This doctrine, of course, goes against everything God has revealed about Himself and His nature, through His word.

While both Catholics and Protestants celebrate Communion, which the Catholic church calls the Holy Eucharist, there is one substantial difference. Roman Catholics believe that the elements, the bread and the wine, are literally transformed into the actual blood and body of Christ through a process called transubstantiation. Protestants take communion in obedience to Christ's instruction, "This do in remembrance of Me."

What do they base their teachings on - the Holy Bible, and/or something else?

One battle cry of the Protestant Reformation was "Sola Scriptura", meaning "Scripture alone". Martin Luther and others like him rejected many of the Roman Catholic traditions and practices, and argued that the church should base their doctrine and practice strictly on what the Bible teaches. The Roman Catholic Church however insists on adding what it calls the "Sacred Traditions", giving them equal importance with the Holy Scriptures. Along with that, there is the Catechism, which every Catholic must learn.

The Catholic church uses a different Holy Bible than the Protestant church. Theirs is based on the Septuagint,a Greek translation of the Old Testament. It contained 46 books. The collection of the Old Testament in Hebrew contained just 39 books, omitting the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. It also omits chapters 10-16 of Esther, and three sections of Daniel: Daniel 3:24-90, Daniel 13, and Daniel 14.

Contrary to what some may think, Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible. In fact, they are granted "indulgences" for reading the Scriptures. More about indulgences later; suffice it to say for now that this teaching is one of those "sacred traditions"; it is not found in the Bible.

Catholics are not encouraged to try to understand the teachings of Scripture for themselves, however. The Catholic church insists upon the Pope as the sole and complete authority in interpretation of Scripture. They are able to ignore or recongfigure some passages, because they maintain that the Bible is a church-based book, because the Church wrote, or at least determined, what comprised the New Testament. They find scriptural basis for their teachings either by their own interpretation, or by claiming that their doctrines are "implied" in the Scriptures (sacred tradition).

What is sin, and how do they get forgiveness for it?

A key sacrament in the Roman Catholic church is confession. Confession usually requires penances, or acts which the Catholic must do to be forgiven for his sins. Catholics also differentiate between mortal sin and venial sin: mortal sins are grave offenses committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent, and result in the loss of sanctifying grace. If mortal sin is not confessed and forgiven, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell. Venial sins are less serious offenses, they can be easily forgiven. These may weaken the believer's faith and moral fiber, but they do not result in the loss of sanctifying grace.

When asking for forgiveness for either mortal or venial sins, the Catholic must confess to the priest who then absolves the sins. However, absolution does not remedy all the effects of sin. The sinner must do something more to make amends, or to atone for the sin: he must do penance. This penance is assigned by the priest, and may involve repeating a certain number of prayers, acts of self discipline such as fasting, or doing prescribed "works of love", which may be as simple as speaking a kind word to someone.

The Bible does not teach that any of these acts should be thought of or done as a means of earning or securing salvation. One believer cannot absolve another believer's sin, and a believer's connection to God cannot be mediated by a priest (or anyone else!) because "Christ is the one mediator between God and man" ( I Tim. 2:5)

For the Catholic, faith in Christ is the beginning of salvation and lays the foundation for justification. They must then build on that foundation with good works, because they believe the man has to merit God's grace and salvation. Catholics believe that as they do good works, righteousness is infused into them, sin is eradicated, and the soul merits heaven. Protestants teach that people are declared righteous in God's sight for only one reason their faith in what Christ did for them on the cross: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." (Eph. 2:8) We are saved by faith alone, not by our own deeds, however good they may be. ( also see Rom. 3:21-5:21 and 10-4; I Cor. 1:30, and Phil. 3:9)

What happens when they die?

Catholics believe that even if they do the best they can throughout their lives, they still are not assured of entrance into heaven. They do not believe they pay sufficiently for their sins through their acts of penance. They still expect to face punishment for their sins in purgatory, a special place of cleansing where payment for sins is completed and believers are made fit for heaven. Purgatory is not to be confused with Hell. Purgatory is instead a paradox, a state of joy and yet of suffering.

Those in purgatory cannot help themselves, but Catholics believe they can help them to obtain heaven more quickly by praying for them, offering mass for them, and doing forms of good works to gain indulgences for them. Indulgences are given to shorten their own or someone else's time in purgatory. Indulgences are a kind of pardon for sin, usually expressed in units of time so many days or even years.



Holy Bible, Confraternity-Douay Version
So What's The Difference? ©1967, 1979, & 2001 by Fritz Ridenour; Regal Books, Ventura, CA



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