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I know a lot of people who have very strong views against Catholics and was really starting to wonder, just as the title suggests, other than Catholicism having priests, what differences are there?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The question makes the assumption that "Protestantism" is easily defined, and can easily be compared.

"Protestant" simply means "Not Catholic or Orthodox", and could refer to one of hundreds of different denominations, all with subtle and not-so-subtle differences in beliefs. Some hold doctrine that is similar to Catholic doctrine, and some that is vastly different.

There's a comparison chart of Catholic to Protestant views here, but as I said in the above paragraph, on the Protestant side, there are a wide range of beliefs, and this chart only shows one particular protestant view. (Glancing at it, it appears to be a Calvinistic point of view.)

An entire book could be written on this subject alone, but some differences include:

  • In general, Protestant Churches adhere to the concepts of Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. These are probably the biggest differentiating beliefs, but even they are not universall held by protestant denominations.
  • The Catholic Church includes Apocryphal writings as part of their accepted Scripture. This includes a few extra books to the Bible, and two extra chapters to the Book of Daniel.
  • The Catholic Church accepts the concept of Purgatory, which is almost universally rejected in protestant denominations. The same can be said for Transubstantiation, indulgences, prayer to saints, confession to a Priest rather than direct confession to God through prayer, and a host of other teachings.

In general, your question can be answered as "yes, there are some significant differences between Catholicism and Protestantism", but the difference varies based on which Protestant denomination you're referring to.

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Perpetual Virginity of Mary and Intercession of the Saints are two major differences. Sure, there is the apocrypha, but doctrinally that is almost nothing in comparison with these two heavy hitters. (You might want to add them to your list) – Richard Dec 5 '11 at 15:45
    
@Richard - Those are good. I tried to keep it short and not listed every difference, but I agree that those are both very high on the list and I should have included them. – David Dec 6 '11 at 0:02
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I think a better definition of protestant would be "split from the Catholic church during the protestant reformation." This excludes, naturally, the Catholic church from which it split, the Orthodox church, which already existed as a separate entity prior to the reformation, and it also excludes the Anglican church, which had a separate split. It would also exclude any other churches that existed outside of the Catholic church at the time of the reformation, but I'm not aware of any such churches that survive today. – Flimzy Dec 6 '11 at 3:06
    
The Waldensians would be a non-Catholic denomination that existed prior to the Protestant reformation. (But now I'm getting too chatty.) – Richard Dec 6 '11 at 14:39
    
I know this is old, but here I am anyway. I think you should mention that the "Protestant" name comes from the fact that the Reformers were protesting the authority of the Catholic church and the Pope too. That still holds true very much today. Protestants, today, generally don't like being told what to believe, instead encourage personal interpretation of the scriptures over official dogma of a church. This could be placed well under your bullet for sola scriptura. – fredsbend Mar 17 '13 at 7:09

David Stratton pointed out a few of the differences. A very good answer, but missing a bullet point on Mary, but this answer isn't about her. The most significant difference ought to be pointed out specifically. It is the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (What he's talking about as Transubstantiation).

  • To a Catholic, this is the source and summit of our faith. "To a Protestant, the Bible represents God's most complete and perfect revelation of Himself to humanity" (Thanks Flimzy)

  • To a Protestant, it's a reenactment of the Last Supper. To a Catholic it is the entire Passion and Death of Jesus.

  • To a Catholic, we unworthily consume Our Lord as He instructed. To a Protestant, they share bread and show love to one another as Our Lord instructed.

  • To a Protestant, the minister is a specially called person, but could be anyone and their ability to officiate the Lord's Supper is the same as anyone else's. To a Catholic, only a validly ordained minister may consecrate the host and in so doing make present Jesus before the congregation in the form of bread and wine.

Because of the priesthood, these differences are shared between any Catholic/Orthodox congregation and any Protestant denomination.

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+1 for transubstantiation. I forgot about that one. – Richard Dec 5 '11 at 21:37
    
+1 for hitting some of the points that I missed, and explaining the differences with a bit more detail. – David Dec 6 '11 at 0:00
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"To a Protestant, the Bible represents the totality of faith." I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at here, but I suspect it's not accurate. While there are some protestants who may tend to "worship" the Bible (effectually holding it in authority over even the creator), I don't think this is an official doctrine of any protestant group. I think a more accurate statement regarding the Protestant view of scripture might be something along the lines of "To a Protestant, the Bible represents God's most complete and perfect revelation of Himself to humanity." – Flimzy Dec 6 '11 at 3:11
    
@Flimzy, that's a much better way of putting it. That's what I meant, although the juxtaposition still isn't quite right, I'll admit. Protestants don't worship the Bible, but Catholics do worship the Eucharist. Still, what I mean isn't that, I mean they are the highest visible signs of our faiths. – Peter Turner Dec 6 '11 at 18:40

In answer to user3512 redirected here from Which are the exact differences between catholics and Christians?

I. "I think the whole bible is canon for all of them though, I've also hear that new testament can maybe be considered as a whole canon for Christians."

Not exactly : Catholics entrust particularly the Gospel, within the new testament, as the record of the most probably effectively-spoken words of Jesus (logia, logion). But at the same time, they consider that the Gospel is only understandable in the background of, and in the light of, the whole Word of God, meaning, the whole Bible, where the Old Testament is the context talking in allegory of God finding ways to save the human being, and the New Testament, as the accomplishment of the Salvation by the coming of Jesus. In addition, they also think that Jesus Christ reveals Himself in the traditions which developed in the historical religious uses of the Catholic church history (example the vows of chastity taken by religious) and in the wisdom of cultures all over the world and all over human history.

II. "Christians believe in Christ while Catholics also believe in Virgin Mary and also on saints and adore their figures."

Catholics distinguish between 'latrie' and 'veneration'. Latrie is reserved to the Holy Trinity, while veneration can be given to Holy Mary and the Saints. Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary is considered superior to all the other Saints by Catholics, because she pronounced the "Fiat" (the YES) which answered positively to the desire of God to make her carry His Word in her "flesh", and to "deliver" it to the whole world. Catholics see this "Fiat" as the model of christian life : saying yes to God allows Him to make that that Jesus Christ enter into our "flesh" (the word flesh meaning here all our humanity : spirit, soul, will, everything, like in Dt 6.5), grow inside our humanity, and be "delivered" to the whole creation, making us become cooperators of the Redemption.

III. "Catholics believe in 7 sacraments while Christians do not necessarily believe in them."

As far as I know, the theology of sacraments in Christianity is much marked by how theologians of respective christian denominations addressed historical circumstances. However, each Sacrament has Scriptural bases. The path I know is the catholic one, for five of the seven sacraments : Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Ordination and Reconciliation. For the other ones, you may wait for further answer from other contributors.

Baptism (Mt 28.19), Confirmation (see below), Eucharist ("Do this in memory of me" : Lk 22.19 and 1 Co 11.24) and Ordination (Jn 20.21:23) were historically the four first, based on the Scriptures, as quoted.

However, Baptism and Confirmation were two steps of the same spiritual action, the Gift of New Life : Baptism was concealed through immersion in water, and after that, the Head of the Community imposed hands on the new baptized to confer to him the Gift of the Holy Spirit. For organizational reasons, later, the moment for receiving the hands of the Episcope was delayed and reinforced by more doctrinal training. It became thus the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is the final seal of the Baptism.

Reconciliation (Jn 20.21:23 again), as a Sacrament, and historically, came upon the need for faithful Christians during persecution to welcome again those who denied Christ by fear of being killed ; later, it became a sacrament, but the forms evolved a lot until the one actually in practice in the Catholic Church.

IV. "Catholics believe in Virgin Mary as a saint with no sins meanwhile Christians do not necessarily believe that." Catholics believe that the only way for God to enter humanity after the sin of Adam and Eve was to enter through a sinless person. Such a person could not exist without God's special intervention. For the Catholic church, the anticipated benefits of Redemption were applied to the whole being of the Blessed Virgin Mary before Christ came to the world, making her immaculate from her conception (Catechism no 491-492). The christian faithfulness of Mary was therefore to keep being immaculate all her life, especially during the sufferings of her Son Jesus during Passion, meaning, keeping saying Yes to God whatever happens, which is heroic. This is why Catholics consider Mary as sinless. Other Christian denomination do not elaborate such a lot about the place of Mary in God project, and, therefore, do not include any statement about her being sinless or not.

V. "Catholics do believe in the Pope as leader while Christians do not necessarily believe in him."

The question of papacy is considered as Gospel- grounded by Catholics, because of a verse in the Scriptures : Mt 16.18, where Jesus congratulates his disciple Peter for recognizing Him, Jesus, as the Son of God, and decrees that He, Jesus, will build His church on him. Other denominations, especially because of scandals emerging in the guidance of the church by Catholics during medieval age (abuse of power, asking of money for remission of sins (cf. alleged 95 theses of Martin Luther)), re-examine this verse and see it as meaning that the Stone points to Jesus-Christ himself, the Word of God, not to Peter.

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Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you'd like to strengthen your answer, I'd recommend adding sources to show that these are official positions of Catholicism. I hope you'll take a minute to review how this site is different from others, and better understand how your answer can be supported. – Nathaniel Jul 18 at 13:11

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