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Spargett's avatar

What's the main difference between Catholics and Protestants?

Asked by Spargett (5377points) March 21st, 2008

I just got done watching Elizabeth: The Golden Age. One of the huge themes was the holy war waged between England and Spain of their different faiths.

What is it that is so different between the two that you’d want to kill each other over? Both believe in God and Jesus, seems like they’d be more similar than different.

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13 Answers

oneye1's avatar

in a lot of ways the church is no defferent than the world one sec bleives one thing no matter how small the
difference we have to have a pissing contest to see who’s right

allen_o's avatar

catholics follow the bible very strictly, at the expense of enjoying life. Protestants pick and choose the rules that they want to follow. Both are wrong. And the war was blammed on religion, like so many wars. Seems pointless doesn’t it?

Spargett's avatar


Most war is generally pointless, on top of almost always avoidable.

I’ve always found killing in the name of Jesus beyond ironic. Not to mention each group praying to the same god for victory. It amazes me how few poeple actually see it. i.e. “God hates fags”. What an absurd premise.

oneye1's avatar

its wrong he loves they

mzgator's avatar

Catholics follow the Pope. The Pope interprets the Word of God as he sees it. He then passes down his interpretation to the priests who deliver that message to the followers.

Protestants literally believe the Word of God is the Bible. All instruction comes from the Bible and God.

kevbo's avatar

Right, Catholics’ relationship with God is mediated by priests, bishops, archbishops, the Pope, saints, and angels. “Protest”-ants came to be when Martin Luther and others got sick of the Catholic church’s abuses of power and monopoly on salvation, and decided that the only things that really matter are the Word of God vis a vis the Bible and one’s personal relationship with God.

Religion was much more political in those times, so I would suppose that’s the reason for the wars.

Can’t delete the rest…

that really matter are salvation and

cwilbur's avatar

@mzgator: Not entirely true, in the case of Protestants. There are some who believe that—it’s a view called sola scriptura—but it’s not nearly that simple. In particular, one of the things that differentiates churches in the Anglican tradition is the emphasis on coming together for communal worship despite theological differences, and then arguing over the differences at length until everyone is tired of them and the differences no longer seem important.

In Elizabeth’s day, though, religion was also about political control. In theory, the Pope was just the head of the religion; in practice, he could excommunicate entire countries, call for holy wars, and allow or disallow political marriages. In particular, that last bit is why Henry VIII took England out of the Catholic church.

This presented a problem for the Pope, because if all the royalty of Europe realized they could do this, then his power would vanish overnight. And it presented a problem for a lot of the nobility, who had numerous friends and relations in Catholic countries. So a lot of powerful people considered whether they’d be better off owing allegiance to the upstart kings of England who were flouting the rest of Europe, or owing allegiance to the same Pope that the rest of Europe owed allegiance to, and cast their lots in with one side or the other.

And one of the things that made it even nastier was that both sides were given to excess when they returned to power. The Anglicans dissolved the monasteries; the Catholics, when they came back to power, burned a lot of Anglicans for heresy. The Puritans, when they came into power, returned the favor, and then, when it looked like they wouldn’t be able to hold on to power, fled to the Netherlands and then to the New World for fear that someone would retaliate against them. One of the major accomplishments of Elizabeth’s reign was that she managed to stop this back-and-forth.

The wars weren’t a matter of theological difference per se; they were about power and control, and the two factions just happened to be Catholic and Protestant.

soundedfury's avatar

There are theological differences at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, but they are dwarfed by the socio-political concerns. Had there not been monarchs in Europe that were already trying to break from the political power of Rome, Luther would have simply been excommunicated and no one would know his name.

mzgator and Kevbo, however, misrepresent the Roman Catholic position. Roman Catholics do not follow the Pope, but rather a written and oral tradition that dates back 2,000 years. The Pope does not have the ability to change the course of the church anymore than any other individual, as his primacy is only valid when it reinforces tradition or clarifies existing belief. For example, a Pope could clarify the church’s position on a new form of birth control, but he could not invent an entirely new doctrine of salvation through peanut butter because it has no historical basis.

Roman Catholics also do not believe that their relationship with God is mediated through the clergy. The clergy act as guides to help understand and interpret the written and oral tradition that has been passed down. The Bible is a highly figurative piece of literature, and the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that. In doing so, the clergy act as guides to help the lay people understand this highly figurative work, through textual analysis as well as imparting the understanding that has built up over the centuries.

For Roman Catholics, the relationship with God is incredibly personal. After all, Catholicism is one of the few Christian sects that believe in transubstantiation, and I’m not sure how much more personal you can get. The clergy are a support group, but do are not the sole path to salvation.

The theological base for the Reformation was the doctrine of sola scriptura adopted by Luther and the reformers, a doctrine that placed scripture as the sole basis for theology. As I’ve written, Roman (and Eastern) Catholicism relies upon a multi-pronged approach towards theology that includes historical and traditional concerns. Once scripture becomes the sole basis for theology, many doctrines become suspect – indulgences, the continued virginity of Mary, a sacramental priesthood, good works as part of faith, and the mediation of the saints are key issues that Luther brought up.

Historically, however, the Reformation marks a significant break in the history of the Big 3 religions. At that point, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all relied heavily on an oral tradition and historical approach that could not be supported by scripture alone. To this day, Islam and Judaism, as well as a majority of Christian sects and many other religions worldwide, continue to use a historical approach to theology. In this, the Reformation marks not only a separation from the Roman church, but also a separation from the a religious mode that dominates the world to this day.

I always thought that the main flaw in sola scriptura is that it was men and churches that both wrote the scripture as well as canonized it. While you can argue that the scripture was guided by the Holy Spirit, you cannot argue that the structures of man had no role in it.

(Before it is brought up, no, I’m not Catholic. I spent 3 years as a double-major in philosophy/religious studies and history).

dark_eye's avatar

I’m catholic, I see the difference between us and the other christian faiths. During the begining some people disagreed with the authority of the pope(which was established by Christ himself by opointing peter to lead his church) anyway he also didn’t beleive in other things l. So he created a new church. There are some christain churches that take the bible litteral but others dont care. Catholics are in the middle. Any other questions ask me.

thegodfather's avatar

You have to understand that in the Elizabethan age, the tensions from the Reformation were still very prevalent and intense. Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen, and a Protestant, which made for some very strong political tensions between England and Spain. Religion still had another two hundred years before it would be separated from the state, so the two at this time were largely considered properly joined. At least, bringing religion into politics was not a faux pax at all, and was actually mutually expected.

Now, a paragraph or two on Fluther is not even close to doing justice to your question. I don’t know how to condense five hundred years of religious experience, belief, tension, development, missiology and theology into a short passage. It would be the work of a multi-volume study to really adequately describe the main difference(s) between Catholics and Protestants. I can only start you out on the right path, IMO.

So, I recommend going straight to some of the important sources that gave rise to Protestantism and other classic Catholic texts. For a solid articulation of Catholic theology, I’d recommend St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica which is available online. To get an idea of the starting points of Protestantism, check out anything written by Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. There certainly are others, but a cursory reading of these reformers compared to Catholic writings will help make sense of the differences between Catholics and Protestants better than any personal commentary I could offer.

crackerjack's avatar

The protestant church actually only split from the catholic church because the king wanted to divorce his wife from Spain, who was very good friends with the Pope and would not allow it. So, the king, seeing a reformation sweeping across Europe because of Martin Luther and the ideas he nailed to a church, saw that he could leave the catholic church, make his own, and do things his way.

To this day you cannot be king of england and not be protestant.

The main difference is that catholics follow the pope, while protestants look to the king for their answers

And yes, religious wars are an idiotic way of gaining support for war and is contrary to the bible i know for sure, and probably most other religions as well

cwilbur's avatar

@crackerjack: I wouldn’t say that Protestants look to the King; consider the incredible variety of Protestants—Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists—and tell me just how many of those acknowledge the ruler of England as a spiritual leader of any sort. Heck, include American Episcopalians. The only Protestants that acknowledge the Queen of England as the head of their church are the Anglicans in England, and even they see her role as more ceremonial than spiritual.

crackerjack's avatar

Okay true wilbur I did not clarify that I was speaking about when England first split from Catholicism and only referring to the Anglican Church.

Also, I did not re-read my answer before posting, once again i apologize, that was foolish on my part.

The protestants split apart from the catholics becuase of what Luther posted on the church door and people were tired of priests giving rich people forgiveness for money and not make them do certain things for forgiveness like the poor people

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