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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 9 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
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
"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

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