Five doctrinal issues that divide Catholics and Protestants

Five doctrinal issues that divide Catholics and Protestants October 28, 2013

In my second installment for the week of Reformation Day are links to five articles I published over at The Catholic Thing. Each deals with a doctrinal

Yours truly in St. Peter’s Square holding a copy of his book, Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic

issue over which Catholics and Protestants disagree:

Over the next couple of days leading up to October 31 (Reformation Day), I will also post links to articles about how we can learn from each other, including something about the perils of intra-Christian apologetics.




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  • Chris

    FWIW, one of the central consequences of the 1999 JDDJ was that we (Catholics) no longer view the Lutheran understanding of justification as church-dividing. Hence, there are at least *some* Protestants with whom we have no significant disagreement on justification.

  • Basil Damukaitis

    I find it fascinating that Catholics and Jews have far more in common than Protestants and Catholics. Both have a very strong sense of sacrifice, and are culturally very close.

    • rsf3612

      Couldn’t disagree more. Protestants are our brothers in Christ. Jews are not.

      • Basil Damukaitis

        My dear friend, I’m sorry I don’t think that quite does it. Most Protestants have such a profound misunderstanding or disagreement about the nature of Christ himself, and/or what Christ came to establish and/or what Christ intended to say or do, it doesn’t make us close at all and I really wonder, if they are even Christians. Yes, some of these things unite us, Jesus saves, but how?? It is hard to even call many “Christians” brothers in Christ because they see him and the nature of the Church so vastly different there is in fact very little that unites us. When you look at the nature of traditional forms Judaism, we operate from the same set of values, a common sense of “berakah” or what “memory” means something denied entirely by most Protestants (and thus a partial denial of the nature of the missiology Christ established). Also, there is even a common sense of sacrifice that binds Jews and Catholics (traditional Christians). Jews put Catholics to shame in the fasting and abstinence laws. Protestants don’t have this at all. Funny that many Protestants are now fasting etc, but they really don’t have a theology to back it up, after all Jesus paid for our sins so there’s no need type attitude. Even Jews and Catholics have a common understanding of marriage and family and the value of chastity. So while I understand what you are saying and I wish it were true, when you dig deeper, “brothers in Christ” really doesn’t mean much when you have profound divergences on the nature, mission, and praxis of Our Blessed Lord.

        • Second Breakfast

          Comments like these are what turn many seeking Protestants off to Catholicism. First, it seems that you deeply misunderstand what it is that Protestants do believe about the mission and praxis of Christ. Second, you disregard that there are a large number of protestants, particularly Lutherans and orthodox Anglicans, that do agree in many more areas.

          That aside, you disagree with the teaching of the Church when you say that those baptized in the name of the Trinity are further away from you than those who reject the Divinity of Christ. It’s just weird.

          • Basil Damukaitis

            Whether one is turned off or not is not my business, this is a theological discussion (at least I presumed) and so how people “feel” is not my primary concern here, this is not a pastoral situation.

            I agree it is weird that Catholics and Jews would seem closer together than our brother and sister Protestants who have been sacramentally conformed to Christ in baptism, but in many ways it’s true as I pointed out. Catholics and Jews have a particular closeness because we share a common understanding of memory. You must understand the centrality of this to Catholic Theology, particularly liturgical theology. This understanding is most central to the Mass. To not just remember, but commemorate, as it is actually happening again (and is, in the case of the Eucharistic liturgy). This is an idea rejected by the Protestant reformers, outright, no questions asked (save Henry VIII who’s primary sin simply seems to be buggery).

            Now, that plays in to the centrality of the mission of Christ, not entirely, but enough to make a difference. I am very well versed in what the different Protestant ecclesial communions believe. I would ask however, is there such a thing as an “orthodox Anglican?” Most Episcopalians I know, that includes several priests and some bishops believe themselves to be Protestants and when pressed, I can’t even get the same answer on a simple theological question. They don’t even agree on the 39 Articles. I would add that the only substantial theological discussion I’ve had with a Protestant is the Missouri Synod. We did it at their seminary in St. Louis over scotch and cigars (the only proper way to have a theological discussion in my opinion!). We disagreed vehemently, but there was no waffling about what they, as Lutherans, believed! It was refreshing, it was also refreshing to meet a Christian with convictions other than the “God is love” claptrap, which really means, “God loves you so do whatever the hell you want, God won’t stop loving you!”

            I would also add that we understand our theology of Mary, the Mother of God via the Jewish tradition, which if this is true in the Protestant world, I don’t see any evidence of it. In the Old Testament, the mother of the king was revered and honored, practically worshipped, so by Divine Design, this is how God chose to reveal himself and establish the way of life we know as “The Church”.

            Thanks for your response, I look forward to hearing from you!

          • Second Breakfast

            I think the designation orthodox is pretty clear. Anglicans that are consistent with orthodox theology, by which I mean the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, as well as the ecumenical councils. Obviously we will disagree what is orthodox beyond that, but certainly “non-orthodox” Anglicans do not hold to these and are the Anglicans you are condemning when you talk about waffling nonsense. So clearly I am talking about those who reject the apostate Episcopalian church’s abandonment of historic doctrine of anthropology and soteriology/Christology. This orthodox title is given further weight by the 70% of the worldwide communion who reject affiliation with the Episcopalian and Canadian branches, and more and more are rejecting the English church for Canterbury’s failure to condemn TEC and Canada. There is a united orthodoxy, and it is the majority of the communion.

            As for us orthodox Anglicans, we affirm the necessity of the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism for our perfection (we disagree with Rome on the number of sacraments; though strict Anglo-Catholics agree with Rome as well.) We see the Mass as a re-enactment and believe that Christ is truly present (we disagree with Rome on the manner of His presence; though again, there are strict Anglo-Catholics that are transubstantiationists.)

            We recognize the offices of Apostle, Presbyter, and Deacon, and see ordination as ontologically significant; in that it grants a spiritual gift and authority to do the work of those offices. We admonish personal holiness through habituation of supernatural virtue, which occurs through the “passive” activity of the spiritual disciplines, daily common prayer, and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and understand that faith without works is dead.

            So, the only significant things that we disagree on are the means of apostolic succession, the infallibility of successors to the original apostles, the scope of magisterial authority, and what the magisterium is constituted by. Anglicans hold, as do the Eastern Orthodox, that concilliar authority was the ultimate voice of the magisterium. As for scope, we believe that the magisterium was not infallible, nor a trump card. We hold to the supremacy of scripture among the sources of data that should be brought to bear in theological methodology (reason, experience, tradition, and scripture.) Too often Catholics argue against their wooden and flat-footed interpretation of sola scriptura by asking where it is in the bible, and then assume the argument is over. It’s not. If you would like a nuanced version of sola scriptura, which more properly means scripture as final arbiter, look up John Wesley’s quadrilateral. Though many theologians might not reference it, it’s the standard methodology of the vast majority of responsible Protestant biblical scholars who hold sola scriptura.

            Finally, we disagree about the scope and import of Justification. You’re right to assert that we don’t believe we need to fast for the sake of justification, but you’re wrong to think that means there is no reason to fast. Justified or not, we still need to be conformed to the image of Christ. That requires virtue, which is habituated. There are other disagreements, though I see these as tertiary (e.g. transubstantiation vs. spiritual presence; I believe the requisite for “central level theology” consistency here is true presence and ontological instantiation of effective grace in the believer. I take the manner of the presence to be secondary…though I am a philosophical Thomist and don’t have a problem with transubstantiation per se, just that it’s a de fidei dogma. If that makes it a central disagreement, then fine, but I think there is more agreement here than not, as my approach is explicitly consistent with Eastern Orthodoxy, whose Eucharist Rome considers valid.)

            I don’t count penance as a central disagreement, because we believe penance is permissible and beneficial, though not necessary for forgiveness. The relationship of mortal sin to justification is also a source of disagreement, and its role in the theologies of both penance and justification is a significant divergence from the Anglican view. However, I take both of those divergences to be entailed by the working out of the Roman doctrine of Justification, and so I locate both of those issues under that umbrella.

            There are “orthodox” Anglicans who are almost Roman in their view of Justification. But the majority of us hold the reformed view, and hold it strongly. Justification is distinct from sanctification, and one is completed once and for all, while the other is progressive and being completed as we respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirit and live by His grace through the Sacraments and the spiritual disciplines. If you believe that because justification is once and for all, that there is no reason to be holy, then you misunderstand Protestant theology. That error does make sense given the Roman conflation of justification and sanctification. If our justification depends on our good works, then everything we do is *for* that. But it’s not on reformed theology; we work because we are justified, but also because we want to flourish. The only way to flourish is through virtuous activity. I want to flourish, therefore I want to be virtuous.

            Anyway, that’s my take in a nutshell. Perhaps you are more correct in your take on the difference between low-church evangelicals and Catholics, but I wouldn’t agree when comparing Rome to Anglicanism.