Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Difference Between Catholics and Protestants

I've gained a lot of respect for the Catholic Church over the years. So why is there such a sharp division between Catholics and Protestants? Why is the divide between Protestant and Catholic so much larger than between Protestant denominations?

The answer may be obvious to many of you, but it was not to me. It isn't about Mary, or the Eucharist, or the Pope, or the Church leadership. It isn't about a Latin mass, or faith, or anything like that. These are all issues, but in fact there is more diversity and allowance for diversity than people think in the Catholic Church.

You can be Catholic and believe all sorts of things on various issues.
For instance, you can be Catholic and think that the Pope is evil. In fact, this makes a great segue into what the real issue is. Here is a great case in point:

As a Catholic, you can believe and talk about the Pope being evil.
As a Catholic, you must believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and that he is most holy.

You might find these two statements contradictory. But for a Catholic they are not.

Think about it this way. If you are having communion, and the preacher serving communion is sleeping around on his wife, does that make the communion less of a communion? The answer is no, because God's grace is God's grace whether the person mediating it is acting within God's will or not. In Catholicism, it is the institution of the Church which is the mediating power of God on Earth. Therefore, it is the office of the Pope that is holy, whether or not the Pope himself is holy.

In Catholic theology, grace is mediated through the Catholic Church. Therefore, questioning the validity of an office is questioning the entire efficacy of the Church's work in the world. If you were to say "God does not work through the Pope" then to a Catholic that would impugn the entire work of the Church. In Protestant thought, God's grace is to an individual. Therefore, there are no offices or validity of offices. In Protestantism, in effect, all offices are artificial, and can be neither valid or invalid. God's work is always efficacious, even without the mediation of a Church office.

Anyway, at least as I see it from what I've read and heard, these are the main divides:

1) What is the Church -- an institution or a gathering of believers?
2) Is God's primary way of interacting through the Church or directly to individuals?

If you are a Catholic reader, I would urge you to respond and let me know if you think I understand the differences between us correctly. I have very few Catholic friends, and therefore most of this comes from reading and not personal interactions.

As a final note, I will leave you with some words of Henry of Kalteisen (I think this is a quote):

"a Pope may be both wicked and holy, as long as he is faithful in his office. Similarly, the Catholic Church is called holy even though it has sinners in it, because of its holy offices and the holiness of the sacraments that are present in it."