What are the fundamental differences of Catholic and Christian view of Jesus? And how this belief changes the way they pursue relationship with Him?
Thank you so much!
What are the fundamental differences of Catholic and Christian view of Jesus? And how this belief changes the way they pursue relationship with Him?
Thank you so much!
@domingoosabel Good question First off, your question has a hidden assumption - that Catholics are not Christian. The question should be - what are the fundamental differences between the Catholic and Protestant views of Jesus? Plenty of Catholics believe the Gospel and walk with Jesus.
To answer your question, I think that one major difference between the Catholic experience of walking with Jesus and the Protestant experience is that the Catholic experience involves many intermediaries. Catholics confess their sins to priests, pray to dead saints, and pray to Mary as the mother of the Church.
In contrast, Protestants always go directly to Jesus. Jesus died on the cross so that we could go directly into God’s presence (Hebrews 4:16), so why would we not go straight to Jesus? We never see Paul or any of the apostles pray to anyone except God our Father in the name of Jesus. They never pray to Moses or Elijah or any other deceased saint. We do not need an intermediary - Jesus is our High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.
One of the key differences between Catholicism and what I believe is the source of authority. For me, the Scripture is the ultimate authority. Official Church councils, for me, are not an ultimate source of authority. In fact, I find some of what the Church fathers said to be heavily influenced by their Greco-Roman context rather than to be accurate exegesis. I still respect and value Church history, but at the end of the day it is to the Scriptures I must go. The Bereans were commended for checking the Scriptures to verify what Paul himself said and I think we should do the same with any leader or teacher.
Acts 17:11 - Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Many of the other differences - such as the Catholic view of Mary, prayer to the saints, justification versus sanctification, ecclesiology, priests being married - can be traced back to the fact that Catholics set tradition on equal footing with Scripture. Whereas for me, tradition - just like the tradition of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time - can be polluted. (Note: I’m not calling Catholics Pharisees - only saying that the traditions of man can lead us astray)
Should Catholics and Protestants treat each other decently and with respect? Of course. Will we labor side by side on important moral and social matters? Quite often. Can we find born-again Christians worshiping in Catholic churches? I’m sure. But are the disagreements between Protestants and Catholics, therefore, negligible? Hardly. The differences still exist, and they still matter.
When it comes to Christology proper, or the view of Christ, there is essentially no difference between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Protestant belief. For any devout Catholic Jesus Christ is “one in being with the Father,” “the 2nd person of the Trinity,” “the incarnate one,” “the virgin-born son of man,” “the final sacrifice,” “the sole means of saving faith,” “the Lamb of God,” and so on, and so forth. So when it comes to Christ as the Godman, there really is no difference between the historical Protestant view and the current Roman Catholic view, as neither has shifted or altered since the 5th century.
However, that said, there are other dogmatic differences between historical Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church on how our relationship to Jesus is mediated. The main difference is that, on the Roman Catholic view, the Church itself is the mediator between Christ and man. Thus, in order to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, one must be in the “Body of Christ” which itself is manifested within the visible, historical Roman Catholic Church, with the Pope as its head. Thus, to be outside of the Roman Catholic Church is to be outside of the Body of Christ, and to be outside of the Body of Christ, is to be outside of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
This can be, and has been nuanced, since the time of Vatican II, to the point of where few Catholics today would make the claim that someone not in the RCC is in effect not saved, but, according to dogma (necessary doctrine), anyone who consciously rejects the Roman Catholic faith, also rejects Christ, and thus would not be saved. Now, the question is how much is the RCC, and the Pope in Rome, willing to stretch the sense of “conscious, willful rejection.” The current pope seems to be almost ready to embrace universalism, i.e. that all people of good faith (regardless of their beliefs) will be saved. But, that is clearly not the historical Roman Catholic position.
Recently at my school we hosted a Roman Catholic theologian, Dr. Eduardo Echeverria, on this very topic. Here is a video link to that discussion. I hope it helps:
@anthony.costello’s video reminded me of this video as well of a conversation between a Protestant and Catholic. It’s very laid back and addresses some of the points of tension.
Thank you so much for these answers.
I’m so enlighted.
I have follow up question: Does the traditions of Catholicism has effect on the way they view Jesus? And their relationship with Him?
Thank you for this such rich and profound answer. It really helps.
@domingoosabel Glad to hear I recommend watching the video I posted - they have a good discussion about what it means to belong to Christ’s body. Catholics believe you have to participating in your local parish in order to be connected to the body, while Protestants believe that involvement in a local Church, while important, is not necessary to be part of Christ’s body.
Beyond that, I think we need to be careful about lumping people into a group and then making sweeping statements about them. Each person’s journey is different and I think when talking with other people who are Catholic we should ask them about their story and listen to gain a better understanding.
@domingoosabel, @SeanO, @anthony.costello I would like to tease a hidden thread or two out of this discussion. First, I think that we need to acknowledge that “all we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6a, ESV), and, “now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12a, ESV). This means that there is something off-target in every denomination and doctrine. The fact that we have not only Catholic and Protestant, but also different shades of Catholicism and many brands of Protestantism–not to mention various Eastern Orthodoxies that belong to neither–tells me that no single denomination is The Truth. I suspect that each one of us will experience some embarrassment at the Judgement for his or her blindness to this or that facet of Truth.
Second, it is important to distinguish between essential and non-essential doctrine. Much of what passes for essential doctrine may turn out to be non-essential when Eternity comes. I think that Philip’s interaction with the Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 illustrates this. After Philip interprets Isaiah 53 for the Eunuch, the Eunuch expressed the wish to be baptized in verse 36. The ESV then relegates verse 37 to an intriguing footnote: "Some manuscripts add all or most of verse 37: ‘And Philip said, “If you believe with all you heart, you may.” And [the eunuch] replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”’ The ESV reverts back to the text in verse 38 with the eunuch’s baptism. The translators of the ESV apparently felt that verse 37 did not meet canonical par. The fact that some manuscripts include it nevertheless shows that someone in the early Church who copied this account–whether or not Luke included it in his autograph–believed that belief in Christ’s Sonship was the only essential part of the eunuch’s confession. This raises the question whether details about the crucifixion, virgin birth, or the myriad of other things that we commonly hold to be essential doctrines are truly essential for becoming a child of God. Not that orthodoxy should not include them; I have not reached that conclusion yet. I just think that this is worth pondering.
I am entering this conversation a little late but wanted to say that as I read the dialogue there are many issues that come to mind. However to the principle question What are the fundamental differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of Jesus I fully agree that both hold the same view. All Christian Denominations accept The Nicene Creed as a fundamental statement of Faith even those who do not subscribe to Creeds. I will note here that the word Catholic in the Nicene Creed does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church. The word Catholic means universal and so the Nicene Creed is referring to The Holy Universal Church not Roman Catholic Church.
One of the biggest issues in dealing with the Roman Catholic Church is that they will explain that they are the Original Church as established by Peter. While most will not contend with their claim that The Church of Rome was established by Peter, Roman Catholics avoid the fact that the Church of Rome, The Orthodox Church, The Oriental Church, and The Apostolic Church of The East all participated at the first Council of Nicaea and that The Church of Rome was actually only an equal among four. The Orthodox Church and the Apostolic Church of The East also claim that Peter was the principal founder of their Churches. The Oriental Church claims James as its founder and that it is the inheritor of Church of Jerusalem which was the original Church.
I state all this in order to ensure that all understand that The Roman Catholic Church is only one of the ancient churches and does not have any unique position of authority in Christian Doctrine that they often claim. The claim to any unique authority by the Roman Catholic Church because it was the Universal Church as identified in the Nicene Creed was lost with the first Schism in 400 AD. (Even the Orthodox Church does not like to acknowledge the other ancient churches) Additionally when discussing Protestantism and Roman Catholicism you need to understand that you are only involving about 40% of Christianity at the time of The Reformation and 60% of Christianity today in what I refer to as the Church of the West (although technically The Orthodox Church is part of this Church I place them with the other two Churches of the East). One of the major problems of The Church of the West (both Protestant and Roman Catholic) is that they like to define the undefinable. As example The Lord’s Supper: It is defined in the Western Church in many ways from being a holy remembrance (Baptist) to being the taking the actual body and blood of Christ (Catholic) and everything in between. The Eastern Church simply says that the Lord’s Supper is a mystery and undefinable without any doubt that it is real and necessary.
A comment about praying to the saints: Roman Catholic Doctrine and that of all the ancient Churches view the concept of praying to the saints as a misinterpretation of their beliefs. These Churches believe, as all Christians did prior to the Reformation, that all Christians are part of the Mystical Body of Christ as spoken about in 1 Corinthians 12. Thus we are all one both those living on earth today and those with the Lord and as such it is good and proper to ask those with the Lord to intercede for us still here in this life. I do not subscribe to this practice for a variety of reasons that are scriptural but such practice does have its roots in Scripture and in the early Church. That is the ancient Churches view the request for those in heaven to intercede for us here in this life as the same as when we ask each other here to pray for us. The problem is that when we speak to persons here we understand that they have no more special power from God than we do, but there is a tendency to take the unseen person to another spiritual level and thus enter into more worship than a request for intervention.
Yes, I’ve watched this one before. Nice exchange. We need more of this.
I fully agree with your assessment, and just so we are clear, I am by no means saying anything about people’s personal salvation. I firmly believe we will see many Christians in heaven who had very different doctrinal views than we.
That said, however, when it comes to the propositional content of our beliefs, we do, and will continue to have to, confront interpretations and teachings that at some point contradict each other. That said, as much as we would like to see a total reconciliation of the Church here on earth, one must think that this is not possible, at least not cognitively possible, since both traditions (Catholic and Protestant) have contrary views on important issues.
Again, I am not saying that if someone holds the wrong view on a particular doctrinal issue of importance that this necessarily entails the loss (or attainment) of salvation. All historical Christians agree that salvation comes through a personal, and enduring faith in Jesus Christ. But, when it comes to issues like: the sufficiency of Scripture, the extent of the Canon, the authority of the Pope, the mediation of the Church, the Sacraments, Mary and the Saints, the role of the priesthood, etc., one does have to make a choice in these matters.
That said, as a former Roman Catholic and now Evangelical Protestant, I would defend the position that while I am certain many Roman Catholics will join us in heaven before the throne of God, that many of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church are more likely false than not. And, because they are more likely false than not, they are a threat to a more clear, accurate, and complete (albeit not perfect) understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, while we all have some doctrinal deficiencies, we are effectively forced to defend our doctrines, since we do not know which of our doctrines are ultimately the deficient ones. As such, to not defend those we are convicted of as true, would be in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, to submit ourselves to a “Dictatorship of Relativism” which neither serious Catholics nor Protestants desire.
I couldn’t have put any of this any better than it was said. As far as I can tell from my own study of Roman Catholicism, Reformation history, and the early Church Fathers everything you said here is spot on.
One thing that I think could be contended based on historical evidence, however, is whether or not Peter really established the church in Rome. Other than that though, this is a good summation of some core issues.
I also would contend that Peter did not establish the Church of Rome. I believe it would be Paul if it is anyone we know as Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans. And like today the Leaders of the Apostolic Era of the Church did not get into each other’s wheelhouse so to speak. However I was pointing out that The Roman Catholic Church claims its origin with Peter, BUT so does the Orthodox Church and The Apostolic Church of the East. The Apostolic Church of the East claims Peter was in Babylon when he established their Church and of course The Roman Catholic Church disputes that Peter was even in Babylon despite Scriptural reference to it. This dispute goes back I am sure to the Schism in 5th century when the Apostolic Eastern Church separated and then they were followed by the Oriental Church.
Thank you for the feedback
That is a very interesting explanation @dan0647 - I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered it before, but the way you have explained it is very understandable - thank you.
I am curious about your brief reference to the practice of asking the departed to intercede for us as having “its roots in Scripture.” What Scripture are you thinking of when you say that?
James 5:16 says we are to pray for one another. and Acts 8:24 Peter requests prayer for himself. Which I am sure you are aware of. It is a small step to ask those departed to pray for us if you accept the fact that we are all, both here and departed, as part of the Body of Christ as you should considering Romans 12:5 which says we are one body and in the great prayer of Jesus John 17: 11-22 where He asks the Father that we would all be one as He is with Father.
However as I also said I do not subscribe to this view of asking intercession from the saints because Jesus said “You will know them by their fruit” and this applies to doctrine as well as people. The fruit of this doctrine, no matter how well intentioned, is that it has resulted in “Praying to Saints and their worship not requesting Intercession”. Praying/Worship to saints is the equivalent of worshiping created beings and sinful. A great example of this is the “Hail Mary”. The prayer in the first part is right out of Scripture and is beneficial. However the second part begins with “Holy Mary” and then asks for intercession. Jesus was very specific in Mark 10:18 that only God is good (Holy)
Okay - I can see what you are saying about departed saints being a part of the body of Christ - I can see how some might consider this a justification for seeking their intercession on behalf of the living - I am glad that you do not subscribe to the idea of asking departed saints to pray for us - I think that Peter and others asking the living brethren for their prayers is not really a “scriptural root” for asking the same of the departed, nor is it a “small step”. I am impressed by your very gracious description of a view you do not subscribe to - I would have called it a “huge leap” for these reasons:
In the Bible, no one in the living body ever asked anyone in the departed body to help out. The closest thing to this anywhere was the rich man’s cry to “Send Lazarus!” And we know how that went.
The labors of this world are for the saints of this world - not for those who have passed on to their rest. We labor in prayer - they rest in divine fellowship. They’re in the heavenly cloud of witnesses, we’re in the earthly race of patient runners. Their only influence on earth are the ripples still in motion from their brief passage through life.
Finally, James 5:15 calls it the prayer of faith that moves the Lord to answer, because it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). But the departed no longer walk by faith, but by sight. We please God by our works of faith - they please Him by rejoicing in His presence (Psalm 16:11).
I do not say these things to argue, since I know you already agree with the conclusion, but only to clarify.
Which I hope these thoughts will have done.
@jlyons Your post immediately reminded me of 1 Samuel 28 and Luke 16:19-31. The former passage tells us that King Saul visited a medium in order to communicate with the deceased Samuel because God no longer spoke to him. The latter passage tells us Jesus’s parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus. This teaches us that any who do not listen to the Scriptures will not listen to anyone risen from the dead. I know that praying to and for deceased saints is not the same thing as either of these, but I think that the practice consciously or unconsciously depends on a belief that God needs help both to hear and to talk to me.
I would agree that it is a huge leap. Unfortunately the majority of the Church at Large accepts this position not just Roman Catholics but the other ancient traditions as well as some Protestant Traditions as well. e.g. Anglicans.
It is also prevalent among those who have lost close family members hence the statement “I know Mom is looking down on us”. We think of this as harmless and comforting much of the time but I believe it is not harmless. When I teach on this I remind people that Jesus said you will know them by their fruit and there is a fruit of action as well. In this case the fruit of action is that you are placing a created being in place of the Lord to derive comfort because we do it with those present with us in the flesh. That is it is good to seek comfort from a person here and indeed the scripture commands us to comfort the sick and suffering but when you transfer it to those who have gone on it is a dangerous practice at best.
Well, I think it would depend on what they meant by “Mom is looking down on us.” I’ve never taken that to mean that her loved ones here below were praying for her to do anything. But were they thinking that Mom was looking down in some sort of protective role? Assuming some sort of oversight of her loved ones below? If so, then you’re right, that would make her some sort of Hallmark Channel “guardian angel” of the family - which may be very sentimental, but not Biblical at all.
But I do believe Hebrews 12:1 teaches that those who’ve finished their leg of the race in the arena of life have taken their place in the heavenly grandstands. They’ve joined the cloud of witnesses who are aware of what is happening in the lives of those they’ve left behind. And the verse does say, Wherefore - because we’re surrounded by these witnesses in heaven - let us run with patience…looking unto Jesus. While Mom will in no way intercede from the grandstands, it is certainly motivating to know that she greatly rejoices at seeing her children continue in the way of truth.
Now does this make their mother’s pleasure an idol in the hearts of her children? It could - unless they recognize that every drop of love and joy that beats in her heart for them was poured into her from the infinite ocean of love and joy in the heart of God. If their relationship with her only improves their understanding of their relationship with God, well…that has always been every parent’s role - to reflect the love of God to their children. Just as parents were our first theology lessons when we were little, they can be our last when we are old.
Very great perspective and I will remember it. I believe one of the most difficult of ministries is pastoring. You try to convey the Truth of Scripture without compromise and at the same time convey the Love of God in the most difficult of circumstances. I am constantly besieged with thoughts when I teach about what God wants me to say as it is easy to say something true without compassion and sensitivity. Jesus did both. As with the adulterous woman in John He was the only one present who could pick up the first stone but He did not. He did not excuse the sin as He said Go and sin no more. And He also gave compassion when He said is there no one to condemn you then neither will I. That exact balance is so hard to attain.
I say all this because I think of my wife often since her passing to the Lord and talk to God about her and our relationship in the past. Do I worship her - absolutely not! But as my son says I look forward to dancing with her before the Throne of God. And that’s another image that is true in one sense but false in another.