As the absolute and inerrant word of God vividly proclaims, the time will come when, before Him,

[A]ll beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!

Philippians 2:10-11


Last update: November 30, 1998


This document was mainly written as a response to the distressing portrayals or stereotypes of the respective churches by other ecclesial communities and individuals. All seemed to have sinned in this regard – Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike. The criticism of another church’s doctrines, despite an incomplete or an incorrect knowledge of the doctrines of the other church, is extremely prevalent. It is from the Holy Spirit that each genuine church of Christ seeks the knowledge of truth. To admonish a church’s interpretation of truth is to somehow admonish their relationship to God. God reveals Himself in a special manner to each individual. The respect for another individual’s or another church’s revelation of truth is essential, for such respect comes from the natural understanding that God touches each one in a special way.

In this piece of writing, I have focused on the doctrines of various churches to the best of my understanding, explaining why validity is found within the individual churches from such perceptions of truth. It has also been my primary aim to leave out any shred of criticism, whatsoever. Due to the non-interactive nature of a static piece of writing, a debative presentation of a defense and counter-defense is not applicable. Thus, in presenting conflicting doctrines, I have somehow taken liberty at eliminating the inferior arguments for its defense/counter-defense, based on whatever limited understanding I have of the topics. Furthermore, I did not bother to defend popular criticisms against a particular faith that are without basis. The doctrines presented herein are by no means exhaustive. In fact, this piece of writing is continually evolving and can now best be characterized as only at its starting point.

I must also forewarn of my background, though I have taken great effort in eliminating any of my personal beliefs in this document, and merely presenting a particular belief or philosophy in its purity, as seen from the eyes of its believers. Thus, be further forewarned that the defense of the doctrines herein, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox doctrines alike, does not imply that I hold on or totally agree to the doctrines I am defending. My aim is to present the beliefs such that it may be understood, without taking into account my personal beliefs. Now, back to my background: For most of my early years, I grew up in the Catholic Church, and have endured much criticism from others about the Catholic faith. In my teenage years to my twenties, I have also explored the Protestant faith (actually inspired to do so by some of Pope John Paul II’s heartfelt writings!), and have also endured a sense of criticism for that. Yet, Jesus' will is abundantly clear, when He prayed to the Father for our unity moments before His arrest.  The unity He willed is extremely significant, for He likened our unity to that of the unity of the Father and the Son.  Through understanding each side, my hope, therefore, is to find the means by which I can make my small contribution in helping promulgate this gospel of unity (acknowledging, of course, that I, myself, am still far from the full understanding of every Christian faith.).

The section In Defense of Catholicism is lengthier than the subsequent sections (In Defense of Orthodoxy and In Defense of Protestantism) for three reasons: Defense of Catholicism also represents a defense of the Orthodox faith (of the topics discussed, both Churches, with the exception of the section on Papal Authority, share the same beliefs). Secondly, among all branches of Christianity, Catholic doctrines are the most heavily misunderstood. This misunderstanding has led Catholicism to become very heavily criticized and even slandered. It is extremely easy to locate "anti-Catholic" literature containing a heap of quotations taken out of context from various Catholic Church documents, for example. Objective illustrations of differences and objective critiques of the doctrines are great, but criticism for the sake of defaming another faith is plain disrespectful, especially when the criticizer does not have a thorough understanding of the faith they are criticizing. The Catholic Church, now heavily slandered, was itself guilty of such defamation in the medieval ages. Thirdly, In Defense of Protestantism is not as lengthy as In Defense of Catholicism/Orthodoxy because by merely pointing out the basis of the Protestant Churches’ doctrines from Scripture, it is easy to understand the foundation of such beliefs or philosophies, without having the need for further elaboration.

This document does not intend to portray one’s belief or philosophy as superior or inferior to another, nor is it intended to sway or convince the reader into any branch of understanding. If, for some reason, it portrays doctrines in such an unintended manner, please inform me, so that the writing may at once be corrected. The purpose behind this document is to present the reasoning behind the doctrines or philosophies of a particular Christian faith. Ultimately, the goal of this writing is to promote the understanding of another Christian. It is in understanding another’s faith that we are able to re-affirm or improve upon our own understanding of the truth that we have come to believe or discover. To take it a step further, it is by supplementing our relationships with other Christians, through conversations and dialogues of faith, that we are able to grow and enlighten one another – but this is only possible if done with the spirit of humility and love, and with our continued prayers to the Holy Spirit for His guidance.


In Defense of Catholicism:

The word catholic came from the Greek word katholikos, meaning universal. The term katholikos was first used by Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans around 110 AD. Catholic was how Christianity can be characterized then – there was only one church which was universally believed everywhere and by everyone. Today, the Catholic Church is still referred to by the same name (to be distinguished from the universal Christian church, which are all the churches professing the Triune God, and generally characterized as catholic or universal). The Catholic Church is also referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, because Catholicism is rooted in Rome.

Rome is a special place for the Catholic Church because it was at Rome that Peter ended his ministry. Peter was the overseer of the church of Rome, and thus, the successive bishops of the church of Rome became Peter’s successors (see section on the Papacy). History illustrates the complete line of succession that can be drawn from Peter, Linus, Anacletus, …, John Paul I, to John Paul II. Pope John Paul II is the 264th successor of Peter (pictured in this section).

The Catholic Church can be characterized as having a distinct breadth and comprehensiveness in its doctrinal tradition. The Catholic Church believes that it is a teaching authority on matters of faith and doctrine – thus, it continually establishes doctrinal positions on contemporary issues such as birth control, abortion, genetic engineering, etc. Today, the Catholic Church comprises more than half of the Christian population (about 17 percent of the world’s population).

Doctrine of Justification: The Catholic Church teaches that original sin has weakened man, but not to the point of totally destroying human will. This weakness inhibits humanity to be free from evil, sin, and satan. It is only God that has the power to free us from this weakness, and thus, He sent forth His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, that through His death and resurrection, He may redeem fallen humanity.  

A. Initial Justification:

Justification is the transformation in the soul by which humanity is transformed from the state of original sin, to that of grace and divine sonship through Jesus Christ. Justification is initiated by the grace of vocation, wholly a gift from God and independent of a person's merits, which calls humanity to God. In as much as the grace of vocation is of divine origin, it also unites a certain moral freedom of election, by which one accepts or chooses to reject God's call. Such acceptance of the grace of vocation is, in itself, a grace of God. As such, Justification takes place solely by God's grace.

As the Apostle Paul emphasized, justification is a free gift from God. Nothing we can do on our own - none of our works - can earn or merit our justification. The initial grace of justification is an unmerited gift to us:

"He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God -- not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9)

B. Growth in Justification:

Faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of justification. True faith does not end with a mere intellectual assent that Jesus is Lord and Savior, however. As James points out, accepting that Jesus is one's God means little, for even the demons believe that:

"You believe that there is one God; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder" (James 2:19).

A crucial element of faith missing from that of demons and the unrighteous, is the element of obedience.  Thus, from the initial justification, repentance and a resolution to a new life must necessarily follow. The "new creation" (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) in Christ must abound in love, without which humanity cannot be perfectly united in Christ nor make him a living member of His body. Because divine sonship with God through Jesus is based on God's perfect love, dead faith or a faith devoid of love cannot possess justifying power (cf. 1 John 4:16-18). Consequently, obedience is the vehicle by which justifying faith (a faith full of love) is realized.  As Jesus clarified: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).  Only a faith characterized by obedience can justify. 

The Catholic doctrine on justification is best described in Session 6, Chapters 8,10,11,13 on the Decree Concerning Justification from the Council of Trent:

But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely (Romans 3:24; 5:1), these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the Apostle says, grace is no more grace (Romans 11:6).

Having, therefore, been thus justified and made the friends and domestics of God (Ephesians 2:19), advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed, as the Apostle says, day by day (see 2 Corinthians 4:16), that is, mortifying the members of their flesh (Colossians 3:5), and presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification (Romans 6:13,19), they, through the observance of the commandments of God … faith cooperating with good works, increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ and are further justified…

But no one, however much justified, should consider himself exempt from the observance of the commandments; no one should use that rash statement, … that the observance of the commandments of God is impossible for one that is justified… For God does not command impossibilities… His commandments are not heavy (see 1 John 5:3), and his yoke is sweet and burden light (Matthew 11:30)… For they who are the sons of God love Christ, but they who love Him, keep His commandments, as He Himself testifies (John 14:23); which, indeed, with the divine help they can do… For though during this mortal life, men, however holy and just, fall at times into at least light and daily sins, … they do not on that account cease to be just, for that petition of the just, forgive us our trespasses (Matthew 6:12), is both humble and true; for which reason the just ought to feel themselves the more obliged to walk in the way of justice, for being now freed from sin and made servants of God (Romans 6:18,22), they are able, living soberly, justly and godly (Titus 2:12), to proceed onward through Jesus Christ, by whom they have access unto this grace (Romans 5:1ff)… Even Christ Himself, as the Apostle says, whereas he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered, and being consummated, he became to all who obey him the cause of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:8ff).

He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved (Matthew 10:22,24:13), which cannot be obtained from anyone except from Him who is able to make him stand who stands (Romans 14:4), that he may stand perseveringly, … for God, … as he has begun a good work, so will he perfect it, working to will and to accomplish (Philippians 1:6, 2:13)… Nevertheless, let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall (see 1 Corinthians 10:12), and with fear and trembling work out their salvation (Philippians 2:12)… For knowing that they are born again unto the hope of glory (see 1 Peter 1:3), and not as yet unto glory, they ought to fear for the combat that yet remains with the flesh, with the world and with the devil, in which they cannot be victorious unless they be with the grace of God obedient to the Apostle who says: "We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh; for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die, but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live" (Romans 8:12-13).

The notion of obedience, from which good works necessarily follows, has created immense misunderstandings. It is only after decades of dialogues between Catholics and a lot of Protestant Churches (most notable between the Catholics and the Lutherans), that each side was able to understand the other. From such understanding came the conclusion that Catholics and most Protestants hold a consensus on the doctrine of Justification (and the seemingly heavily divergent views on justification had only been inflated by misunderstood perceptions of the doctrine that naturally follows from the absence of communication between the Protestant and the Catholic faiths). 

Catholic doctrine teaches that we are justified freely, and become children of God through faith in Jesus.  By becoming children of God, we become "heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ - provided that we suffer with Him so that we may be glorified with Him" (Rom 8:17). The kingdom of God thus becomes our inheritance (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).   Any inheritance is not earned.  However, through continual disobedience, one may loose their inheritance (cf. Romans 8:12-13, Galatians 5:19-21).  

As children of God, we must continually be obedient to Him.  Good deeds are an element of this obedience, for by being being obedient, we carry out His admonishments, which are to "love thy neighbor," "feed the hungry," "clothe the naked," "visit the imprisoned,"...  Contrary to a lot of misconceptions, Catholicism never teaches that good deeds "add up" or are "earned as points" towards justification, but rather, good deeds are an essential element of justifying faith.  All good deeds come from God, and we are His mere instruments to carry out His work.  In as much as we are initially justified freely, and the good works we carry out all come from Him, we have nothing to boast about.  

Another misconception of Catholicism is that it teaches that justification can only be obtained within the Catholic Church. This is very untrue. As John Paul II wrote: "They [other Christians] are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them also He gives His gifts and graces, and is thereby operative among them with his sanctifying power… the means of salvation and the gifts of grace are also found in the other Christian Communities." In fact, the Catholic Church, in its ecumenical efforts, cooperate and share resources with other Christians and other Christian ministries, in an effort to make the Good News known to the whole world, "that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God" (John Paul II).

In closing the discussion on justification, the focal role of God’s grace in salvation can be affirmed, as forcefully {excusing the language of 16th century Catholicism} stated in the Council of Trent (Session 6: Canons 1-3):

1. If any one saith that a person can be justified before God by his own works, done either by the resources of human nature or by the teaching of the law, apart from divine grace through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema.

2. If any one saith that divine grace through Jesus Christ is given solely to enable a person to live justly and to merit eternal life more easily, as if each could be done through free will without grace, even though with a struggle and with difficulty: let him be anathema.

3. If any one saith that without preceding inspiration of the Holy Ghost and without His help, a person can believe, hope, love and repent, as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him: let him be anathema.

Doctrine on the Role of Tradition and of Scripture: The Catholic Church's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) clearly defined the important relationship between Tradition and Scripture:

There exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the Word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred Tradition takes the Word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this Word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known.

During the very early Christian Church, oral preaching was the predominant method of spreading the good news:

When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Tim 2:2)

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2)

It is important to recall that during the mid 1st century, there were yet no written gospels. The Book of Mark, the oldest of the gospels, was probably written around 65-75 AD. Thus, what the early Christians knew about Jesus’ life came from the oral testimonies of the apostles. The early Christian Church flourished from the oral traditions, decades before any book of the New Testament was ever written. The oral preaching or the oral traditions, therefore, became the primary source of truths in the very early Church.

On their missionary journeys, certain apostles wrote letters to various Christian communities, all of which were to mainly supplement, complement, and reinforce what was already revealed through the oral preaching. The knowledge of Jesus' life is implied in the apostolic epistles, for example. Furthermore, the New Testament epistles comprised appropriate truths that were then aimed at giving advice or rectifying problems within the addressed communities or individuals (with the exception of the general epistles from James, Peter, John, and Jude, which, though addressed to all Christians in general, nevertheless addressed specific problems within certain Christian communities). The first letter to the Corinthians, for example, was written in response to a letter from the community asking for direction in certain matters, and to address the abuses and problems within the church at Corinth. The letter to the Hebrews was mainly an exhortation to the Jewish believers wanting to return to Judaism after conversation to Christianity, in order to escape persecution. The Letter to the Philippians was an encouragement to unity among the workers at odds in the Philippian Church, thus hampering the proclamation of the good news. The First Letter from Peter is an epistle of encouragement for the believers struggling with oppression, and a reminder of the importance of submitting one's life to the good hand of God. And so on… Thus, the epistles, in themselves, were never meant to be used as an unabridged source of doctrines and truths, nor did its authors attempt to impart a comprehensive body of doctrines for believers to solely follow. Rather, the epistles were meant as an enforcement and supplement to the preaching and oral traditions already handed to the Christian communities by the apostles.

Towards the latter quarter to the end of the first century, however, with the dissemination of various Christian writings (gospels), early Christians were supplied, in writing, of a more descriptive account of the life and words of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The various gospel accounts, epistles, and the oral traditions, therefore, comprised the truths within the early Christian Churches. Despite the availability of writings on the teachings of Jesus Christ, however, the oral traditions continually played a focal role among the Churches.

In emphasizing the importance of Tradition, it is important to  further examine how the New Testament came about. The New Testament, as we know it today, is a conglomeration of books and letters written by various authors. For inclusion into the "New Testament," the early Church fathers had to ensure that the books or letters that were to be included were written by an apostle or have the authority of an apostle behind it. This was extremely problematic, for there were numerous gospels that proliferated that claimed to be written by an apostle (the gospel of Peter, the gospel of Bartholomew, the gospel of Philip, the gospel of Thomas, the infancy gospel of Thomas, the Protoevangelium of James, etc.). As Protestant scripture scholar F. F. Bruce wrote:

[The early Fathers] had recourse to the criterion of orthodoxy.... This appeal to the testimony of the churches of apostolic foundation was developed especially by Irenaeus.... When previously unknown Gospels or Acts began to circulate... the most important question to ask about any one of them was: What does it teach about the person and work of Christ? Does it maintain the apostolic witness to him...? 

To accomplish this task of examination, Tradition had to be tapped. A book was then scrutinized to ensure that what it taught agreed with the Tradition of the Christian Churches, as taught and handed down by the apostles. Furthermore, Tradition was also used in helping to determine whether the Churches recognized, by Tradition, that a book or letter was attributed to an apostle. The New Testament canon, as we know it today, was not fully solidified until the Council of Rome (382 AD), under Pope Damascus I. The canon was ratified, once more, in the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (also during the late 4th century). {Many claim that the New Testament was solidified by the Muratorian canon on the 2nd century. This is untrue. The Muratorian canon excluded five books from our New Testament, and included two books that are not part of our current New Testament}. It was only then, towards the latter part of the fourth century, some several hundred years after the death of the last apostle, that the New Testament became solidified! If Tradition (the faith as perceived, taught, and handed down by the apostles) was used to determine the Sacred Books, how can Tradition be totally ignored?  

Despite the fact that Scripture nowhere espouses the notion that it is an unabridged sole source of truth, the Catholic Church teaches beyond the Pauline affirmation of scripture's "profitability" or "usefulness" (2 Timothy 3:16-17), by stating that Scripture contains everything materially necessary for Christian teaching. All doctrines can be found in the bible, implicitly or explicitly. So then, if that is the case, what is the continued role of Tradition? Why is it still important?

Before continuing, it is important to note that when the Catholic Church speaks of Sacred Tradition, it does not speak of the man-made traditions (like the traditions referred to by Christ in Colossians 2:8). Sacred Tradition is also to be clearly distinguished from various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions born in the local churches over time. The latter tradition, lower-cased so it can easily be distinguished from the former, are traditions that are not universally binding on the whole church. An example of the latter tradition is the tradition of priestly celibacy, for example (incidentally, this tradition, binding only in the Western churches, had its roots in the 4th century, but was not officially affirmed around the 12th century). Instead, when the Catholic Church refers to Tradition, she refers to the apostolic interpretation and perception of the faith.

The Catholic Church emphasizes the importance of Tradition, for Tradition is used in the interpretation of scripture today. Not every Christian doctrine is explicitly and conclusively evident in the Scriptures. As such, the interpretations and the practices handed down by the oral traditions of the apostles as well as the early Church Fathers are utilized, for such interpretations of the Sacred Scripture are believed to be a more authentic source of interpretation (apostolic teaching was still fresh in their minds and ears), and possessing the correct understanding in the appropriate context as taught by Christ Himself (as opposed to a possibly more remote interpretation of Scripture, if interpreted in isolation {isolation, meaning without taking into account the proper context, the language, culture, environment, interpretation, etc., of the time}).

The Catholic Church, for example, teaches the practice of the baptism of infants. It has been the practice of early Christians to baptize infants, though the bible does not explicitly talk about the baptism of infants, but rather, talks about the baptism of everyone in the family. Through tradition, Catholics of today know that "everyone in the family" included the infants and children that were part of such baptized families. The information that the baptisms of the families of Lydia, Stephanas, and the prison guard {Acts 16:15,33, 1 Corinthians 1:16} all included the children, is known through the oral traditions or preachings handed down from the first century to this day. On a side note, in the Catholic Church, baptism per se (of infants and adults) is being "born of water." At the proper age, when persons are able to consciously seek Christ, they undergo a "baptism" of faith (confirmation or laying of hands), which is being "born of the Spirit," thus completing the "being born of water and Spirit" (John 3:5) Jesus spoke of. This practice is in line with John the Baptist’s ministry, wherein he said: "I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Mark 1:8). In the Acts of the Apostles, this distinction is made: "… they [the people of Samaria] had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they [Peter and John] laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit" (8:16-17).

Another example of a doctrine carried by Tradition is the Christological doctrine of the Catholic Church (which was adopted from the Catholic Church by pretty much all Protestant Christians). This doctrine teaches that Christ has two natures: human and divine, which is joined together into one being and substance. This is a doctrine that is not explicitly stated in the Bible, but carried by Tradition. This Christological doctrine can be contrasted to other differing doctrines that are considered heretical, such as the doctrine of Nestorianism, for example, which teaches that Christ has two natures, human and divine, and both acted as one but did not compose the unity of a single individual.

Yet another example of a doctrine not stated in the bible, yet, believed by most Christians because of Sacred Tradition is the doctrine of the trinity.  Nowhere in the bible does it say that God consists of more than one person, and that each person is wholly and entirely God, all co-equal, co-eternal, none sharing the divine nature, but each possessing it totally unto Himself, the Godhead having but one divine intellect and one divine will.  

Incidentally, though non-doctrinal and of less importance, Tradition can also be credited for our knowledge that the authors of the four Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Nowhere in the actual text of the bible does it name its actual authors.  Yet, from the Traditions passed down from the first century till today, we are informed of the identity of the physical authors of our Gospels.  

The notion that the bible should be the sole source of truth is, in itself, not biblical.  Such a notion is nowhere to be found in the bible.  To the contrary, Paul exhorts the faithful to adhere to not only his letters, but also to the oral traditions.  "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

The Catholic Canon of Scripture (How the Catholic/Orthodox Bible differs from a Protestant Bible):  

Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles are quite the same, with the exception that Catholic Bibles contain seven books in the Old Testament that are not found in most Protestant Bibles, as well as additional parts at the end of Daniel and Esther.  These seven books and additional texts were only found in Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament, and some were not initially written in Hebrew.  These books are referred to as the apocrypha by Protestant Christians, while Catholics refer to them as the deuterocanonicals. 

From the late fourth century till the 16th century, Christians agreed on which writings are to be part of the Bible.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther questioned the authenticity of certain books of the Bible.  He questioned the canonicity of the apocryphal/deuterocanical books, which contradicted some of his theology.  Along with the apocryphal/deuterocanonicals, he also questioned the authenticity of Job, Jonah, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation; thus placing them in a separate section in his German translation, though referring to them as “good and useful to read.”  Later followers of Luther brought back into the Bible the books he took out, with the exception of the apocryphal/deuterocanonicals books, which were still placed in a separate section.  When numerous other Protestant reformers followed suit all over Europe, they continually assumed the practice of Luther and his followers, who excluded the apocryphal/deuterocanonicals from the list of Sacred Texts.  The reasoning behind the continued exclusion of the apocryphal/deuterocanonicals is that such books were not accepted as inspired by the majority of the Jews to begin with, and thus, should be excluded from the Old Testament. 

In response to the Protestant reformation, the Council of Trent (1548 AD) continually reaffirmed the list of canonical books from the Council of Rome (382 AD), Council of Hippo (393 AD), and the Council of Carthage (397 & 419 AD), thus declaring the deuterocanonicals as part of scriptures.   Since then, the majority of Protestant Christians have accused Catholics of "adding" to the bible, and Catholics have accused Protestant Christians of "removing" part of scripture.  The Catholic Church continually reaffirms the deuterocanonicals for the following reasons:

As Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly writes:

It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the [early Christian] Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive than the [Protestant Old Testament] . . . It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called Apocrypha or deutero-canonical books. The reason for this is that the Old Testament which passed in the first instance into the hands of Christians was . . . the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. . . . most of the Scriptural quotations found in the New Testament are based upon it rather than the Hebrew.. . . In the first two centuries . . . the Church seems to have accept all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. Quotations from Wisdom, for example, occur in 1 Clement and Barnabas. . . Polycarp cites Tobit, and the Didache [cites] Ecclesiasticus. Irenaeus refers to Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon [i.e., the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel], and Baruch. The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary" (Early Christian Doctrines, 53-54).   

Doctrine on Sacred Scripture (and Sacred Tradition):

The following are excerpts from Catholic Church documents that narrate the Church’s position on the nature and importance of the bible -

From the Encyclical of Leo XIII, On the Study of Sacred Scripture (Providentissimus Deus), Part II, Section D:

2C. It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer has erred…. And so far is it from being possible that any error can coexist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is untrue…. Hence, because the Holy Spirit employed men as his instruments, we cannot, therefore, say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write – He so assisted them when writing – that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth.

From the First Ecumenical Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (Dei Filius):

These books are held to be sacred and canonical by the Church, not … merely because they contain revelation with no admixture of error, but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.

From the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), Chapters 2 & 6:

7. …Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see 2 Cor. 1:30; 3:15; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching (Cf. Matt. 28:19-20, Mark 16:15), and to impart to them heavenly gifts…. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing…. This sacred Tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).

8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 3).

9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the Word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred Tradition takes the Word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this Word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known.

21. ... All the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.

25. The sacred Synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful ... to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (St. Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah, Prol: PL 24, 17). Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine Word or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying" (St. Ambrose, On The Duties of Ministers I< 20, 88: PL 16, 50).

The Primacy of the Pope and the Notion of Apostolic Succession:

In speaking of the papacy, it is important to speak of Peter’s primacy. As is written in Matthew 16:17-19, Jesus establishes His Church with a special role for Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus starts out by addressing Peter as "Simon Bar-Jona." Bar-Jona is Aramaic (meaning “son of John”), thus establishing that Jesus was speaking in Aramaic during this incident. Furthermore, Jesus is setting Peter apart from the rest of the apostles, and personally addressing Peter by specifically saying: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of John."  Jesus continues by saying how His divinity is revealed to Peter not through his own revelation, but by the Father who is in heaven.

From Jesus’ recognition of the divine origin of Peter’s statement of faith, He then states:

kagw de soi legw oti su ei petros kai epi tauth th petra oikodomhsw mou thn ekklhsian

            and so i say to you, you are petros, and upon this petra I will build my church 

Petra means “rock.”  Because Simon Peter is masculine, when transcribing the Aramaic conversation to Greek, Matthew referred to Peter as Petros.  The original utterance of the above statement, however, was in Aramaic (which has no gender inflections).  Thus, the original Aramaic statement would have been:

and so i say to you that you are the rock (kēpā) and upon this rock (kēpā) I will build my church

It is from hereon that Simon takes on the new name of Peter, the only one conferred a new name by Christ Himself (John 1:42).

Throughout the whole Bible, besides the single time that Abraham was referred to as a "rock," only God was called a rock.  Such a word was never used as a name in the ancient world.  Thus, one wonders why Simon the fisherman was renamed "Rock?"  Christ was not given to meaningless gestures, and neither were the Jews as a whole when it came to names.  In the scriptures, renaming a person denotes a change in a person’s status, such as when Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, or Eliakim to Joakim, for example. 

Jesus, moreover, gives to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Keys, as referred to in the Old Testament, are the symbol of authority. In Isaiah 22:22, God declares Eliacim to office, and gives him authority: "And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut and none shall open." No other apostle was given the "keys of the kingdom of heaven." It is in Peter, therefore, that Christ bestows authority over His Church. Finally, a binding and loosing power is also bestowed on Peter (and later, also to the other apostles in Matthew 18:18 – but to Peter alone does he give the keys). Binding and loosing are technical rabbinical Jewish terms for prohibiting and permitting. It can also imply condemning or acquitting. 

The role of Peter is re-affirmed by Christ, Himself, in the post-resurrection scene. As written in John 21:15-17:

Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."

Jesus specifically asks Peter if he loves Him more than any of the other disciples. A three-fold profession of Peter’s love for Christ then follows, which specifically corresponds to Peter’s earlier three-fold denial of Him (John 13:38). In this three-fold profession of love, Christ places His whole flock under Peter’s care – sheep and lambs alike.  To further exemplify Peter’s responsibility, it was Peter alone that was mentioned by name, as having been prayed for by Jesus so that his faith may not fail, and is alone exhorted by Jesus so that "when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32).

It is no longer denied by any author of weight that Peter was martyred in Rome. Much witness has been given in the writings of the early Church fathers (Tertullian, Cyptian, Firmilian, Eusebius, …) that point to Peter’s ministry in Rome, Peter’s primacy, and that of his successors. Irenaeus, an early Church Father, visited Rome in 177 AD. He may well have spoken with men whose fathers have spoken to the apostles. In his writing, Against Heresies (189 A.D., Bk III, Prologue & Section 1.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, and 4.1), he states:

Because it would be too long in such a volume as this to enumerate the successions of all the churches, we point to the tradition of that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul: we point I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles, and to her faith proclaimed to men which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops, and so we put to shame . . . all who assemble in unauthorized meetings. For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must agree -- that is the faithful everywhere -- in communion with which Church the tradition of the Apostles has been always preserved by those who are everywhere.

Irenaeus then proceeds to write the succession of Rome’s bishops:

After founding and building up the church, the blessed apostles delivered the ministry of the episcopate to Linus; Paul mentions this Linus in the letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:21). Anacletus succeeded him, and after him, in the 3rd place from the apostles, Clement received the lot of the episcopate; He had seen the apostles and had met with them and still had the apostolic preaching in his ears and the tradition before his eyes. He was not alone, for many were then still alive who had been taught by the apostles… Evaristus succeeded this Clement. Alexander, Evaristus; then Xystus was appointed sixth from the apostles; from this, Teleshporus, who achieved martyrdom most gloriously; then Hyginus; then Pius, whose successor was Anicetus. After Soter had succeeded Anicetus, now in the 12th place from the apostles, Eleutherus held the episcopate. With the same sequence and doctrine, the tradition from the apostles in the church and the preaching of the truth has come down to us. This is a complete proof that the life-giving faith is one and the same, preserved and transmitted in truth in the church from the apostles up till now.

Clement, mentioned above by Irenaeus as being the third successor to Peter, writes with authority in his Epistle to the Corinthians (written 95 or 96 A.D.): "render obedience unto the things written by us through the Holy Spirit." It is with this same philosophy that the bishop of Rome, to this day, when teaching in cathedra (from the chair, as opposed to extra cathedram, that is, outside the chair of Peter, as an individual, by actions or bad example), defines certain doctrines regarding faith and morals as infallible truths.  For individuals outside the Catholic Church, the notion of papal infallibility is a difficult concept to acknowledge.  Yet, as James Gibbons, a Catholic apologist, wrote (The Faith of Our Fathers, 1917): 

Let us see, sir, whether an infallible Bible is sufficient for you. Either you are infallibly certain that your interpretation of the Bible is correct or you are not.

If you are infallibly certain, then you assert for yourself, and of course for every reader of the Scripture, a personal infallibility which you deny to the Pope, and which we [the Catholics] claim only for him. You make every man his own Pope.

If you are not infallibly certain that you understand the true meaning of the whole Bible . . . then, I ask, of what use to you is the objective infallibility of the Bible without an infallible interpreter?

It is important to note the distinction between infallibility and impeccability. If one goes through the history of Catholicism and the papacy, one can see that those who held this office were everything but immaculately conceived.  Sinners held this office.  As for Peter, scripture clearly shows how he was rebuked by Paul for his incorrect conduct (cf. Galatians 2:11-14).  Like any human being, Peter was, himself, a sinner. In the particular instance in which he was rebuked, Peter did not act out his teachings. St. Bernard, St. Thomas of Canterbury, and St. Catherine of Siena have all rebuked popes, while fully acknowledging their authority. 

The notion of infallibility only applies to teachings regarding doctrines of faith and morals necessary to the whole church.  The pope, as successor to Peter and established by Christ with the responsibility to feed His sheep, is said to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to determine, resolve, and define interpretations of the truths laid down by Christ. As St. Francis de Sales wrote in 1596: "For then it is not so much man who determines, resolves, and defines as it is the Blessed Holy Spirit by ... which Spirit, according to the promise made by Our Lord to the Apostles, teaches all truth to the Church."

Regarding the teachings of the Catholic Church on the papacy, the following clarifications are in order: 

1.       Not ever papal statement is infallible.  The pope’s infallibility is not personal.  His private thoughts or ideas are not infallible.  The pope can only speak infallibly when he does so as pastor of the whole church on doctrines of faith and morals.  This infallibility is never due to who he is, but is because of the divine gift of the Holy Spirit.  In the same way, Peter was anything but great.  Yet, what gave him his revelation of the Messiah, and all he needed to “strengthen his brethren,” was God Himself.  Despite Peter’s weaknesses, and that of his successors, the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18).  The church is great only because of Christ’s promise. 

2.       The pope is not inspired to give new doctrines or define new revelation.  Rather, the pope can only clarify the teachings Christ left behind. 

3.       The pope still needs to convene councils and synods, because the other bishops also share the binding and loosing prerogative.  As an analogy, the Bible teaches that the husband is the head of the family.  Yet, the bible also teaches that any husband who refuses to listen to his wife is a fool. 

4.       The popes do not know everything.  They are not omniscient.  Only God is omniscient.

Concerning titles, Pope John Paul II himself wrote:

Have no fear when people call me the Vicar of Christ, when they say to me Holy father, or Your Holiness, or use titles similar to these, which seem even inimical to the Gospel. Christ himself declared: "Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called Master; you have but one master, the Messiah" (Mt 23:9-10)… Once again, concerning names: The Pope is called the Vicar of Christ. This title should be considered within the entire context of the Gospel. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus said to the apostles: "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20). Though invisible, He is personally present in His Church. He is likewise present in each Christian. It was usual to say, as early as the era of the Fathers, Christianus alter Christus ("The Christian is another Christ"), meaning by this to emphasize the dignity of the Christian and his vocation, through Christ, to holiness.

It was Paul, himself, that wrote: "…I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church" (1 Corinthians 4:15-17). Paul refers to himself as the Christian’s father, by bringing the good news to them. It was also Paul that calls all Christians holy: "Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call…" (Hebrews 3:1). The titles given should, therefore, be taken in this context.

It was not only Peter, however, that had a special role in the Church. Each of the apostles were appointed by Christ for a special reason. While on earth, Jesus bestowed certain responsibilities and prerogatives to all the apostles (Matthew 16:18-19; John 20:21-23, 21:15-17). In Paul's epistle to the Corinthians, the apostles, for instance, were recognized for their special role in the early Church (without, in any way, diminishing the fitting role others played): "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues" (12:28). Peter, himself, recognized the crucial role of an apostle (Acts 1:15,20-26):

In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said: ...For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office let another take.' So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab'bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi'as. And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi'as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.

In establishing the Church, the apostles, in turn, appointed episcopoi (known as bishops today), who assisted them in establishing and looking after several churches. The appointed "bishops," besides looking after a set of churches, were also given authority to appoint presbuteroi or church elders (referred to as priests today), who looks after a church. Diakonoi or deacons were also appointed, who helped in other church affairs. Titus and Timothy are the biblical examples of "bishops," appointed by Paul to look after a set of churches and given the task to appoint church elders:

This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. (Titus 1:5)

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands [appointing a church elder], nor participate in another man's sins; keep yourself pure. (1 Timothy 5:22)

Church elders or presbuteroi (or priest, derived from the contraction of the word presbuteroi) were appointed to look after an individual church:

[S]trengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. (Acts 14:22-23)

At the outset of the church, when church leaders were still scant, the roles of the churchmen were quite fluid and flexible. Paul, at times, refers to himself as a diakonos or deacon, even though he was considered an apostle, an elder, and also an episcopoi. In much the same way, an episcopoi was sometimes referred to as a church elder, despite the distinction of one's added responsibilities. Towards the end of the first century, however, this three-fold hierarchy was fully affixed as it is today, as evidenced in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote letters to the various churches he visited on his way from Antioch to Rome, where he faced martyrdom in 110 AD:

Now, therefore, it has been my privilege to see you in the person of your God-inspired bishop, Damas; and in the persons of your worthy presbyters, Bassus and Apollonius; and my fellow-servant, the deacon, Zotion. What a delight is his company! For he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ" (Letter to the Magnesians 2 [A.D. 110]).

In the Catholic Church, the notion of the apostles' and the bishops' appointment of successors is extremely important. Such apostolic succession ensured the preservation of the traditions handed down by the apostles, as instructed by Paul: "What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). Furthermore, the early Church appealed to apostolic succession as a test for the validity of any church or doctrine. If one is unable to trace their succession to an apostle, they were considered heretical. The notion of apostolic succession was clearly reflected in the earliest church writings:

Clement I: Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4-5, 44:1-3 [A.D. 80]).

Hegesippus: When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord (Memoirs 4:22:1 [ A.D. 180]).

Irenaeus: It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the Tradition of the Apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

Tertullian: But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men--a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter (Demurrer Against the Heretics 32 [A.D. 200]).

Any pope can trace their lineage all the way from Peter. As the successor of Peter, the pope carries the Petrine responsibility handed over by Christ to "strengthen his brethren" and to "feed His sheep and lambs." The same could be said of any Catholic bishop, whose lineage of predecessors can be traced all the way back to an apostle.

Doctrine of the Intercession of Saints, Images, and Relics: Before beginning the discussion of saints, it is important to reiterate the Catholic teaching on worship. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary and the saints are NOT to be worshipped. There is only one God -- a Triune God, and worshipping other Gods beside this Triune God is in contradiction with the fundamental tenet of Christian teaching, the first commandment.  

The word saint comes from the Latin sanctus, meaning "holy." Sanctus is hagios in Greek. In English, "saint" or "holy one" are synonymous, and both are represented as hagios in the Greek New Testament and the Septuagint. Hagios is used to refer to beings consecrated to God. They were once confined to Jews (Ephesians 2:12,19), but are now specifically followers who are faithful to Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1, Colossians 1:2, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1). They encompass God's faithful followers who are alive on earth (Acts 9:32, Romans 15:25), as well as the faithful ones who have physically died (Matthew 27:52). Hagios or saints are not merely limited to humans, but also include God's angels (Jude 14 {2 Thessalonians 1:7 and Mark 8:38,13:26-27 describe the Lord's coming with angels to judge sinners}).

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall confine the definition to saints who have physically died. They are those who, at the end of their earthly life faithful to grace, are in communion with Christ in glory. The Catholic Church acknowledges that saints come from all backgrounds, Christian Churches, or Ecclesial Communities which initiated their journey of faith -- faith which, in turn, gave them entrance into the community of salvation. The Catholic Church canonizes (from the Greek word kanon, meaning a standard or measuring rod) certain saints, however, for their outstanding standard of fidelity to the gospels, and their faithfulness to Christ. The majority of them have given their life through martyrdom, "a supreme demand of faith manifested in the sacrifice of life itself. The fact that one can die for the faith shows that other demands of the faith can also be met" (John Paul II). When one dies in defense of Christ or their faith, they rightly become the heroes of the Church -- the heroes of God’s people. As such, they are to be appropriately honored by the highest form of honor: the imitation of their life and love for Jesus. Like heroes of a country, whose statues occupy the land they defended (the statue of Abraham Lincoln, the Washington Memorial, etc.), the statues of saints can be seen in a lot of Catholic Churches, for they are the heroes of the faith and the Church. The images of the saints are a constant reminder to Christians of the saint’s personhood – their life in grace, and how one must seek to imitate their faith and love for Christ.  Respect and reverence is due to these images, in the same way a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. or a country's flag is guarded and honored, but never worshipped.  

Among the Catholic Church doctrines involving saints, the most controversial involves the doctrine of the intercession of the saints (saints who have physically died, to be more specific).  Catholics often get criticized for asking the intercession of dead people, often being quoted "There shall not be found among you … a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead" (Deuteronomy 18:10-11). This scriptural passage forbade the pagan practice of mediumship as a means of obtaining supernatural information. There is a clear difference between mediumship (trying to ask dead people for some information) and seeking the saints’ help in their prayers to Jesus. Furthermore, can one say that the saints are really dead? As believers in Christ, we all acknowledge the fact that Jesus conquered death. The saints, ever faithful to Christ, are alive and in union with God. In Jesus’ own words: "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (John 11:26). Furthermore, the end of one's earthly journey does not mean that everything of the earthly life is forgotten. In a certain way, one's individuality is not fully lost. This was well illustrated by Jesus when he spoke of the rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man, concerned with his five brothers who are still alive on earth, requests Abraham to send Lazarus to them, that they may be warned so as to repent.

Biblically, interacting with those who are in heaven is not a foreign notion. In the Psalms, for example, we sing to the heavenly court and exhort them (Psalms 103:20-21):

The notion of saints makes better sense, if the Catholic Church's doctrine of the Communion of Saints is fully understood. In Catholic doctrine, there is a spiritual solidarity that unites the saints in heaven and on earth. The saints, both in heaven and on earth, are all children of God, comprising the same mystical body under whom Christ is head. As Paul puts it: "We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another" (Romans 12:5). As one family, we are bound together by love (for "God is love" -- 1 John 4:16), working towards the well-being of each other and the whole family. This love for others does not end in one's earthly journey. The fact that one never dies implies that there is a continuity of this love and concern for the whole family, whether in heaven or on earth. Such unity of all of God's family is the will of the Father. "He has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:9-10). This solidarity between all of God's children defines the notion of the communion of saints. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:

The first spare yet clear outline of the communion of saints is found in the "kingdom of God" of the Synoptics, ... which embraces in the bonds of charity (Matthew 22:39) all the children of God (Luke 20:36) on earth and in heaven, the angels themselves joining in that fraternity of souls (Luke 15:10). One cannot read the parables of the kingdom (Matthew 13) without perceiving its corporate nature and the continuity which links together the kingdom in our midst and the kingdom to come. The nature of that communion, called by St. John a fellowship with one another (a "fellowship with us" -- 1 John 1:3) because it is a fellowship "with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ," and compared by him to the organic and vital union of the vine and its branches (John 15), stands out in bold relief in the Pauline conception of the mystical body. Repeatedly St. Paul speaks of the one body whose head is Christ (Colossians 1:18), whose energizing principle is charity (Ephesians 4:16), whose members are the saints, not only of this world, but also of the world to come (Hebrews 12:22-23, Ephesians 1:20). In that communion there is no loss of individuality, yet such an interdependence that the saints are "members one of another" (Romans 12:5), not only sharing the same blessings (I Corinthians 12:13) and exchanging good offices (ibid., 12:25) and prayers (Ephesians 6:18), but also partaking of the same corporate life, for "the whole body, joined and knit together, ... promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16).

The saints in heaven possess a more intimate love for the family on earth, for their journey of faith has been perfected, and their understanding of love has been made whole. As our brethren who are in heaven, they more passionately share in the love of bringing the faithful on earth closer to God, praying and interceding for the good of the whole family. Beholding God face to face, they are no longer bound by the flesh and sin, freeing them from any lack of fervor in prayer.

Finally, one may ask: "Why not ask God directly?" Truly, much can be gained by seeking the help of others in prayer. Paul, himself, requested other Christians in his time to pray for him (Eph 6:18; Rom 15:30; Col 4:3; 1 Thess 1:11). Seeking a saint's intercession does not undermine Christ's role as the sole mediator between God and man, for it is to Jesus that the saints appeal to. Seeking a saint's intercession is no different than asking a friend or a family member to pray for us and our faith. In the same way that one is not obliged to seek the intercession of others, one may or may not choose to seek the intercession of the saints.

Another issue Protestant Christians have difficulty with, involves the notion of a saints' pictures and icons. These earthly reminders are cherished by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, for such things serve to remind the Christian of the saint and his/her earthly life – a life lived in love of God and of humanity. As one would cherish a picture of a brother no longer with him/her, a Catholic can be said to similarly cherish a picture of a hero for Christ. Such icons, pictures, or statues are not objects of worships – but rather, serve to bring afresh the faithful follower’s memory of the saint. The same could be said of relics. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke wrote of Paul’s belongings, and how such belongings were cherished by the people of the time. "Handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his [Paul’s] body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them" (Acts 19:11-12) (see also 2 Kings 13:20-21). Today, Catholics cherish the relics of the saints for the memories and due to similar biblical foundations that attest to the possibility that through the relic, God’s presence or healing nature may be felt in the faithful’s life. The notion of a relic is, fundamentally, biblical. It is important to understand, however, that faith is the basis of the divine intervention for a believer, by whatever means it may be accomplished. As Jesus himself said to the sick woman who touched His cloak, "your faith has made you well. Go in peace" (Luke 8:48).

Doctrine of Purgatory: The Doctrine of Purgatory, though termed differently in other churches, is a doctrine held by pre-Christian Jews, post-Christian Jews, the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Church. It was only during the reformation that this doctrine was questioned, due mainly to abuses within the Catholic Church with regards to the notion of indulgences. Like the word "Trinity", the word "purgatory" is nowhere to be found in the Bible (on a side note, the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not officially defined as dogma within the Church till the 4th century. However, it was the focal element of the Church since its inception, carried till the 4th century by Tradition. The Church defines official doctrines or dogmas usually only when the need arises. The 4th century presented numerous challenges to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, particularly Arianism, and thus, the Church responded by officially declaring the truth already believed throughout the centuries, as dogma. This creates misconceptions that the Catholic Church invents doctrines at different points in time. Rather, the Catholic Church officially declares as dogma the truths it has carried, when the need arises.). Yet, the doctrine of purgatory seems well rooted logically and biblically.

The notion of purgatory is quite explainable from a Protestant theological viewpoint: A human being continually sins till death, due to humanity’s corrupt nature (cf. Romans 7:18). In heaven, however, the notion of sin or corruption of any nature is absent (cf. Revelation 22:14-15). Between death and glory, therefore, sanctification (or a purification of some sort) must exist. Such purification may very well be instantaneous or may take a certain time (Contrary to a lot of misconceptions, the Catholic Church does not teach any notion of time involved in such purification, since time really is an earthly notion. Another misconception is that the Catholic Church teaches that purgatory is a place. The Catholic Church does not teach that there is a place involved in the notion of purgatory. For all we know, purgatory may take place in front of God).

Jesus himself spoke of forgiveness, a integral element of sanctification, occurring after our earthly life: "Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:32). Logically, because sin cannot be committed after our earthly life (and the notion of sin is nonexistent in heaven), such forgiveness in the age to come can only imply the forgiveness and sanctification for sins committed in our earthly life. Such required purification that takes place between death and glory is purgatory – the final purification, or to put it in Protestant terms, the final sanctification. As Protestant Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote (Letters to Malcom):

I believe in Purgatory. . . . Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not beak the heart if God said to us, "It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy?" Should we not reply, "With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleansed first." "It may hurt, you know" -- "Even so, sir."

This state of purification can be a painful experience. As Paul wrote: "Each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). The loss one suffers, as Paul wrote, is a form of pain. At best, the process of being saved "by passing through fire" can be characterized as uncomfortable. Perhaps the most painful experience, however, is when we are reminded and made aware of what we should have or shouldn’t have done in our earthly life. The humility and shame one would feel is, in a way, painful – such an encounter reminds us that, despite the supreme love and sacrifice of Jesus, we all had chosen to sin and had continually sinned; and despite this, by His grace, He welcomes us into His kingdom with open arms.

Doctrine on the Confession of Sins, Penance, and Indulgences:  

During the very very early Christian Church, grave sins were required to be confessed to God in public (in front of a number of people or the whole congregation). This practice is in line with the biblical witness, as can be deduced from the writing of James: "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another" (James 5:16).

Early Christian documents like the Didache, written towards the end of the first century, specifies (in IV, xiv, and again in XIV, i): "In the congregation thou shalt confess thy transgressions"; or again: "On the Lord's Day come together and break bread ... having confessed your transgressions that your sacrifice may be pure." The confession of sins, though done before the whole congregation is, more importantly, an act of contrition and a confession to God. Thus, forgiveness is sought from God as well as from our fellow beings (whom may have been offended by the sin). The very early Church Fathers, however, recognized the difficulty with the practice of public confession. There are sensitive issues one may wish to confess, but may not be able to do so in public. Furthermore, abuses within the congregation with regards to issues involving the privacy and secrecy of a confession becomes inevitable. In turn, the practice of confession shifted to a private one (while the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of public confessions to this day, such is not recommended). Private confession involves confessing one's sins to God through a priest (a church elder who, in the Catholic Church, is a successor of one of the apostles, by virtue of apostolic succession). Clement I, in his epistle to the Corinthians (around 95-96 AD), not only exhorts to repentance, but begs the seditious to "submit themselves to the presbyters and receive correction so as to repent" (c. lvii).

Jesus, while on earth, forgave a paralyzed man's sins: "And behold, they brought to him a paralytic, lying on his bed; and when Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, 'Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven'" (Matthew 9:2). The scribes, in turn, accused Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus then performs the miracle of healing to prove that the "Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (Matthew 2:6). To Peter, Jesus also gives the like authority: "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). Later, this authority is extended to the other apostles (in Matthew 18:18). To this day, this authority is handed down through the succession of the apostle's successors (by virtue of apostolic succession).

If there is any controversial practice in Catholicism that could be "softened" in order to make Catholicism seem "sensible" from the outside, the Church practice of confession would have been it. Yet, despite the fact that, for the priests, hearing confessions is often a difficult and excruciating experience, the Catholic Church has time and again re-emphasized the importance of this practice. This importance is paralleled in the Sacred Scriptures, as written in the Gospel of John, 20:21-23:

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

Throughout Scripture, God breathes on man only twice. It was during creation that God first breathed on man (Genesis 2:7). The second and only other time was when He bestowed the above authority to His apostles. This passage is a re-affirmation of the binding and loosing power conferred by Jesus to his apostles (Matthew 18:18).

A common assertion among other Christians is that all sins should be confessed to God directly. To this, Augustine contended: "Was it then said to no purpose, 'What you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed in heaven?'" (Sermo cccxcii, n. 3, in P.L., XXXIX, 1711). For what purpose, then, would Jesus emphasize, let alone bestow the above prerogative to his apostles?

For non-Catholics unfamiliar with what takes place in a confessional, the following is what transpires with the priest:

Upon entering a confessional box or a private room, the priest welcomes the confessor. The priest, in turn, reminds the confessor of God's forgiving nature and His call to conversion, usually by reading a text from Scripture.

The confessor calls to mind and narrates to the priest (and of course, to God) the grave sins one has committed and feels a strong remorse for, and seeks repentance from.

The priest gives advice to the confessor regarding the confessor's sins and problems, and gives the confessor some penance.

The confessor is asked by the priest to pray to God for forgiveness (the prayer is usually said out loud, so that the priest knows when one is done with his/her prayer).

After the confessor's prayer to God, the priest prays for the confessor, asking for God's grace and strength to help keep the confessor steer clear from the confessed sins.

The priest re-affirms Jesus' forgiveness by extending absolution for the person's sins in the name of Christ. There are certain instances, however, in which absolution is not granted at that particular time, thus exercising the "binding" prerogative bestowed by Jesus to the apostles (i.e., if one confesses guilt for plans and thoughts of committing adultery, yet, still intends to commit the sin.).

The priest thanks God for His goodness, and dismisses the confessor.

Penance is often a difficult notion to understand, particularly among Protestant Christians. This is a notion that is so often misunderstood outside Catholicism/Orthodoxy. Simply put, penance is the undertaking of a certain task in reparation for the sins committed. In order to explain penance, the effects of sin must be discussed.

Sin creates a two-fold destructive consequence to humanity. First and foremost, sin is an offense to God. As such, sin creates a distance between ourselves and our creator, thus straining our relationship with Him. Secondly, sin creates a temporal consequence to humanity. The temporal consequences of sin are its earthly consequences. Such consequences may include strained relationships with our neighbors, suffering (Hebrews 12:5-11), guilt, etc... The first consequence of sin described above is not touched by the notion of penance. No act of penance on our part can purify us from our sins:

[W]e have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all... For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,' then he adds, 'I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.' Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:10,14-18).

Penance only deals with the temporal consequences of our sin. Strained relationships with others, psychological guilt and pain, earthly suffering and punishment, etc., are touched upon by penance. The priest may impose a penance of restituting stolen goods in case of thievery, for example. Often times, penance takes the form of prayer, wherein the sinner is asked to spend time in prayer, contemplating on one's sins and God's merciful and forgiving nature, and seeking God's mercy for the remission of the guilt, pain, and suffering associated with one's sins.

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Modes of Praying:  

A Protestant Christian once asked: Why do Catholics (and Orthodox) pray, often times, repeating the same prayer over and over (i.e., repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over, or the Gloria repeatedly)? This is in imitation of Jesus, who prayed in Gethsemane three times moments before His arrest, "saying the same words" (Matt 26:44) (see also Luke 18:38-39). Catholics also often times pray kneeling down, in imitation of Christ, who "knelt down and prayed" (Luke 22:41). The apostles and early Christians, themselves, prayed kneeling down (Acts 9:40; Acts 7:59,60; Acts 20:36, Acts 21:5). Finally, a common question is: "what’s the sign of the cross for?" Well, it was a tradition dating back to the very early church. Tertullian, as early as the 2nd century, wrote that "in all our coming in and going out,… in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross." It was a constant reminder that for whatever action one takes, it is done with Jesus in mind, for God’s glory. Since then, the sign of the cross has also extended its meaning: by making the sign of the cross, one bears witness to their faith in Christ. In public and in front of non-believers, the sign of the cross is a confession of the crucified -- and an open proclamation of Christian faith.

Myths and Stereotypes of Catholics and Catholicism:

Because Protestant anti-Catholic polemics focus on areas of (real or perceived) disagreement with Catholics, these areas assume a greater prominence in the Protestant's mind and buys into a distorted view of how important given doctrines are to Catholics. Thus Protestants often imagine that Catholicism is a religion of nothing but saints and statues and beads and works and penance and purgatory and suffering and a whole host of minor issues.

In doing this, they are straining at gnats but swallowing camels, missing "the weightier matters" of the Catholic faith and realizing what is more important to Catholics than not. The Catholic Church is in actuality a Church of God and Christ, a Church of the Trinity, of grace, redemption, forgiveness, faith, and joy. If one listens to the words spoken at a Catholic mass, one will hear a whole lot about the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, of grace, joy, and love; and perhaps, none about the saints, statues, beads, and purgatory.

This should be pointed out, forcefully and repeatedly, to a Protestant brother so that he will have a better understanding of the essence of Catholic teaching and Catholic life, rather than assuming the discussion he hears in Protestant treatment is representative of the emphases Catholics themselves place on matters.

As Bishop Fulton Sheen pointed out, few Americans hate the Catholic Church. However, millions hate what they mistakenly think is the Catholic Church. Non-Catholic Christians work in good faith, but are often times presented with Catholic doctrines only from a non-Catholic point of view. Not their fault, non-Catholics often get an obscured view and impression of Catholicism. As Pope John XIII observed of the Catholic Church in relation to the other Christian Churches: "What unites us is much greater than what divides us." 


In defense of Orthodoxy:

The Orthodox Churches believe that it has maintained and teaches the Christian faith, free from error and corruption, as taught and handed down by the apostles. Along with the faith, the Orthodox Churches also maintained the same characteristics of the Church, as it was during the time of the apostles. Though the Orthodox Church shares the same structure as the Catholic Church, a difference exists in the notion of primacy and leadership.

The apostles, in their missionary journeys, would establish churches or communities of worshippers. On gatherings of such worshippers, especially during the eucharistic meal, the apostle would preside over the gathering. The apostles, themselves, were quite mobile, however – moving from one place to another in their missionary journeys. On every church or community, therefore, a presiding officer or bishop is appointed, who in turn, was assisted by priests and deacons (cf Acts 14:23). At the outset of the second century, this threefold pattern of bishops, priests, and deacons was already solidified.

Since the time of the early Church Fathers, the Church of Rome had been the center of Christianity. By the fourth century, however, a new civilization was emerging – the Christian Empire of medieval Byzantium. It was during this time that Constantine decided to move the Roman capital to Constantinople. Constantinople, in turn, became the New Rome, and the new center for Orthodox Christianity. That city’s bishop, in turn, assumed the title of "Ecumenical Patriarch." The current Ecumenical Patriarch is His Holiness Bartholomew I (pictured in this section). His Holiness Bartholomew I is the 270th successor to the apostle Andrew.

Though Constantinople was considered the "New Rome," early Church councils still gave primacy to the bishop of Rome, recognizing the bishop of Constantinople as second-place. This primacy was given to Rome because it was still the ancient center and the largest city.

The Churches of the time were heavily tied to the political circumstances of the first millenium, because a lot of the emperors of the time were also Christians, and thus, gave Christian conversion a prominent role in their empires. The close ties of the various Churches to the politics of the time proved disastrous, for such ties inevitably led to conflicts between the various Churches, particularly between the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome (conflicts started as early as the 4th century). Such conflicts resulted in minimized communications between the Churches of the East and the West. When Rome fell in the late 5th century, the Bishop of Rome was left as the sole guardian of the universal Christian Church of the West. The Bishop of Rome’s primacy in matters of faith was initially respected by both the Churches of the East and the West until the 7th century, when the universally accepted creed was interpolated differently in Spain. Though the interpolation was initially opposed by the Pope, it was eventually fully accepted by Rome around the early 11th century. The Eastern Churches, however, refused the interpolation and considered it heretical. The climax of the conflict between the Eastern and Western Churches was the sacking of Constantinople by western crusaders in the early 13th century.

The Orthodox Church does not believe in the primacy of the Pope in matters of faith and doctrine. All bishops, in Orthodoxy, are successors of Peter. In the Orthodox Church, the bishops or leaders of the various Churches gather in Church councils to decide upon matters of faith. Church councils are rooted from the very first council: the Council of Jerusalem, where "the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter [of requiring circumcision]" (Acts 15:6). It is only in such councils that issues of faith and doctrine can be decided (the Orthodox Churches share the first seven councils with the Catholic Church). No single bishop can decide on doctrinal matters, not even the the Bishop of Constantinople (the Ecumenical Patriarch), who holds the primacy in the Orthodox Church. The only authority given to the Ecumenical Patriarch is to convene and prepare Pan-Orthodox consultations and councils, besides, of course, his administrative authorities within his jurisdiction.

Among the Christian Churches, Orthodoxy has endured the most difficulty. Persecutions from other Christians, as well as the Moslems, have greatly suppressed Orthodoxy. In the early 1900s, Orthodoxy became subject to violent persecutions by the communists. Despite the difficult road Orthodoxy has endured throughout the centuries, so much can be said about the rich faith and heritage the Orthodox Churches still carry today. Orthodox Christians represent about 10% of all Christians.


In defense of Protestantism:

Protestantism, as we know it today, mainly originated from the 16th century reformation. Earlier reformers paved the way for the main reformation, such as Wycliffe (14th century theologian). However, the thrust of the reformation can be attributed to the 16th century. The most influential reformer, to which the reformation and the origin of Protestantism can be attributed to, is Martin Luther (pictured in this section). Luther, an Augustinian monk, saw the abuses of the clergy within the Catholic Church. Highly disturbed with the direction the Church is heading, Luther expressed the sincere desire for reform. Luther wrote up his Ninety-Five Theses, which was a focused attack on the notion of indulgences (which was heavily abused then). The papacy of the time, highly concerned with imperial power and worldly affairs, had no desire to yield to change. Though separation from the Catholic Church was never the original intention of Luther nor any of the early reformers, when the papacy refused reform, there was no choice left. Following Luther’s suite all over Europe are notables such as Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox, to name a few.

It was not till 17 years after Luther's initial call for change that the papacy obtained the appropriate leadership, under Pope Paul III, to initiate reform. Among the most important events of the Catholic reformation (also known as the counter reformation) was the convocation of the Council of Trent (Martin Luther, much earlier, called for a council to address reform and the issues he had brought up. The council came 26 years late, after the exchage of mutual condemnations and after the ties between Luther and the Catholic Church have been deeply severed). The Council of Trent addressed various key doctrines responsible for the Protestant reformation, as well as the abolishion of Church practices that were subject to abuse. Among the key questions that dominated the council was how to rectify and address disciplinary issues involving the episcopy. In a sense, the reformation was a much needed event for Catholicism. As Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff wrote: "She [the Catholic Church] has been much benefited by the Protestant Reformation... She was driven to a counter-reform which abolished some of the most crying abuses and infused new life and zeal into her clergy and laity. No papal schism has disgraced her history since the sixteenth century. No pope of the character of Alexander VI or even Leo X could be elected any more" (History of the Christian Church, 1997).

Out of the reformation, four major Protestant denominations emerged, namely the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Anglicans. Since the original reformation, numerous Protestant denominations have emerged, each springing from a different interpretation of the same truth (the Bible). Oxford University Press' World Christian Encyclopedia lists over 30,000 Protestant Christian denominations. Protestants constitute about 30 percent of all Christians.

Most Protestants have retained various core doctrines from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, such as The Trinity, the sacredness and canonicity of the Bible as God's word, and the sacramental character of Baptism and the Eucharist (Breaking of Bread or Lord's Supper). The focus of the difference between the Catholic and Protestant Churches, however, lies on the authority of the pope, and on the source of truths regarding matters of doctrine and faith. To most Protestants, the Bible is the only source and standard of teaching. There are differences, however, among Protestants, on questions of biblical interpretation and scholarship. Some Protestants, for example, believe that an individual’s interpretation of the Bible should be the personal source of their faith and doctrines, whereas other Protestants defer the interpretations formulated by their pastors, church elders, presbyters, or councils to guide the members of their faith. Furthermore, some Protestants reject "higher criticism," as well as the interpretation of certain biblical passages as symbolic or allegorical. 

Due to the rich diversity among Protestant Churches, I have limited this defense to the doctrines almost all Protestant Christians have in common. 

Doctrine of Justification:  

Protestant Churches hold the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone (sola fide), stating that humanity is made righteous with God, only through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of our faith in Him. Humanity is sinful, and as such, is undeserving of being accounted righteous before God. However, through the righteousness brought about by the atoning death of Jesus, whoever has faith in Him will be justified. 

"It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:24-25). 

"For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:22-26). 

Salvation is granted to a Christian upon accepting Jesus as one’s Lord and savior. It is at the moment of one’s acceptance of Jesus as one's God that one avails of the gift of justification. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Within Protestantism, there are slight differences on the more general issues involving justification. For example, Protestants Christians that are highly influenced by Calvin adhere to the doctrine of Predestination – the belief that it is "God's eternal decree, by which He determined within Himself what He willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 21, 5; 1539). Calvin taught that man has no free will, but it is God that foreordained certain beings to salvation and damnation. Furthermore, Calvin taught that salvation, once obtained (by accepting Christ), can never be lost. Calvin’s doctrine of predestination is heavily rooted in Romans 8:29-30, wherein Paul wrote:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Jesus, himself, said: "The King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’" (Matthew 25:34). From these passages, it can be deduced that if others are pre-destined to eternal life, others are also pre-destined, by God's eternal decree, to eternal damnation.

On the opposite end of the scale from Calvin, certain Protestant Christians who are highly influenced by Arminius contend that grace could be rejected, that the work of Christ is intended for all persons, and that it is possible for believers to fall from grace. Arminius based his doctrine from the following biblical passages:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

[He] who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:6)

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Doctrine of Sola Scriptura:  

In almost all Protestant Churches, the Bible is the sole source of truth. The role of tradition is rejected, due to the inevitable consequence of human influence, which may taint them. The Bible, on the other hand, is the unchanging word of God (cf. John 10:35). As such, it also becomes the sole infallible source and rule of faith and practice. Furthermore, a personal interpretation of the bible is asserted. Each human being has sufficient guidance from the Spirit to know and learn all that God has given us. As written by the apostle Paul: 

"God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God" (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).

The Rejection of Papal Authority:  

The Papacy is founded on Peter. Among the apostles, indeed, Peter was always given primacy. Yet, scripture shows little about his supreme role in matters involving the Church and the faith. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul does not imply Peter’s superiority over the others such as James and John, by writing: "James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars" (Galatians 2:9).

Another manifestation of Peter's non-primal role, when involving decisions of the Church and faith, involved the gathering of the apostles in Jerusalem. In considering certain practices of the Jewish faith (for the Gentiles), the apostles and the elders gathered to discuss the matter at hand with a sense of equality among the attendees (Acts 15:1-21). Although Peter spoke the first word, James, the head of the Church of Jerusalem, seemed to have presided over the gathering. Peter, by himself, did not decide on the matter at hand, but rather, the community of the apostles and the Church elders.

How, then, did the papacy evolve into such a prominent position, with such strong jurisdictional powers involving the Church and the faith?

Myths and Stereotypes of Protestant Christians:


Light at the End of the Tunnel:

Despite the outlined differences between the major Christian groups, the Christian call for unity cries out loudly. It is God’s will that His children be united, and it is this same will that should drive all of God’s children to seek this unity. In recent years, much progress has been made to Christ’s call for unity. This unity is not the unity of religions, per se. Rather, the unity spoken of by Christ is the unity of his followers – the unity of the Christian body, to the point of eliminating the divisions of religions, and solidifying into one body God’s people. In evaluating the progress to unity, it is encouraging to note the events of recent times that gives great inspiration to our call:

After almost a thousand years without contact, relations have resumed between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church. There have been numerous dialogues of faith and friendship between the Orthodox and Catholic Church leaders. Among the memorable meetings between Orthodox and Catholic leaders are the meetings between Pope Paul VI and His Holiness Shenouda III (the Coptic Orthodox Pope and Patriarch) and His Beatitude Jacoub III (Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch). Pope John Paul II had also met with His Holiness Abuna Paulos (Venerable Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church), His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV (the Assyrian Patriarch of the East), and the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. Notably, regular contacts take place between the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope John Paul II, as well as continued discussions in the framework of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. During one such contact between Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I, they recited together the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed according to its original Greek text – a truly unique prayer occasion (it is important to recall that the differing interpolation of the Nicerene-Constantinopolitan Creed helped caused the breakup between the Eastern and Western Churches). On and after such meetings stems a renewed hope for the day when both Churches can establish full communion with each other.

Between various Protestant churches and the Orthodox Churches, there are also interactions and dialogues, a lot of which are by virtue of the Orthodox Churches’ membership in the World Council of Churches (a predominantly Protestant organization established to promote ecumenical fellowship, service, and study). The membership of the Orthodox Church into the World Council of Churches has instilled hope for the mutual understanding and communion between various Protestant churches and the Orthodox Churches. In recent years, visits have been made by His Holiness Bartholomew I to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and innumerable Evangelical Churches throughout the world.

Relations between the various Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church have also greatly improved throughout the years, thanks to continued dialogues and meetings between representatives of the various Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church. Among notable meetings that can be recalled from the "diary of unity" are those which took place between the Primate of the Anglican Communion and John Paul II (where both prayed together at the Canterbury Cathedral). Prayer meetings have and also do take place between John Paul II and various Lutheran Archbishops, as well as the Primates of Sweden and Finland. Furthermore, cooperation and meetings have occurred between the Catholic Church and various evangelical ministries, notably meetings between John Paul II and various evangelical leaders such as the Reverend Pat Robertson and the Reverend Billy Graham, all of whom commit their ministries to the goal of Christian unity. Recognizing the special relationship each Christian Church has with the Spirit, Rev. Billy Graham once noted on an interview with David Frost: "I’m equally at home in a Baptist Church, Anglican Church, or Roman Catholic Church" (May 30, 1997). At a crusade in Ottawa, Canada, Graham's ecumenical spirit broke not only the walls of division between the Anglophones and the Francophone, but also of the Catholics and Protestants.  Speaking of a recent Billy Graham crusade in Calgary (most all of Rev. Billy Graham's crusades, which has the goal of proclaiming the Gospel to all those who had never truly committed their lives to Christ, are supported by the Catholic Church), Graham repeated the words he spoke at a recent Texas crusade: "The Devil has separated us, and a crusade like this is used by God to bring people of all denominations together" (Calvary Contender, June 1, 1997). In 1994, a historic document, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Church in the Third Millennium was signed and endorsed by Catholic and Protestant leaders and scholars of various denominations (among endorsers of Protestant background are clergy/scholars/representatives from the National Association of Evangelicals, Eastern Nazarene, Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, Episcopalian…). Finally, among the most notable progress in the unity and understanding of Protestants and Catholics is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification that was recently released (mid 1998) by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. Part of the document states:

A consensus on fundamental truths regarding the doctrine of justification has been reached in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. This document is the result of a long process of intense dialogue under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. It must be considered without any doubt an outstanding achievement of the ecumenical movement and a milestone on the way to the restoration of full, visible unity among the disciples of the one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To put this achievement in perspective, it is necessary to recall that the doctrine of justification was a central issue in the dispute between Martin Luther and the Church authorities in the 16th Century. The contrasting presentations and understandings of this fundamental Christian doctrine became the subject of condemnations both on the part of the Council of Trent and the Lutheran Confessions… The consensus now achieved will be of importance, moreover, not only for Catholic-Lutheran relations and future dialogue, but also for progress in the search for unity between Catholics and other communities coming out of the Reformation controversies.

It took almost 500 years for this understanding to come to pass. Yet, this understanding only proves that with open mindedness, prayer, search for unity, humility, and the total dedication to the truth, nothing is impossible. This said understanding exemplifies the importance of dialogue among Christians.


In Conclusion:

Though seemingly distant, I look forward to the day when we can banish the barriers and divisions we have created, and live out the Gospel of love we all profess in. I look forward to the day when Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike can come together in common prayer and worship, leaving behind the stereotypes, divisions, and bitterness of the past. I look forward to the day when there no longer needs to be a distinction between various Christian faiths, but rather, where "Christ’s body" (cf. Ephesians 1:23) can be characterized by a deep, profound, and even a divine sort of oneness, just like the oneness that characterizes the Father and the Son (cf. John 17:20-23). This unity was Jesus’ prayer at His hour of passion, before He was to be glorified – and this has now become the prayer of many Christians. Though I have no idea of the route this unity will take, or what form of physical unity will take shape when all is said and done, I remain wholly convinced that if Christians continually pray for unity and uphold Jesus’ prayer at His hour of passion, our loving Father will bestow upon all His children the divine sort of unity Jesus willed for us.

In closing, allow me to recall Paul’s reminder of our duty to our fellow Christians, by asking us to "Love one another warmly as Christian brothers, and [to] be eager to show respect for one another" (Romans 12:10), "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men" (Titus 3:2), and "as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10).

Paul, in speaking of unity, encourages us disciples to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:2-3, 13). Furthermore, he writes: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Finally, we are led to ask of how we are to achieve Christian unity and agreement. First and foremost, Paul reminds us of the importance of prayer: "Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads… pray always for all God’s people" (Ephesians 6:18). It is in prayer that we are able to communicate to God our fervent desire to bring to reality God’s will, and it is with such that God graciously bestows upon us His grace, which will strengthen and guide us to do what we can to help bring about His will. Secondly, it is in dialogues of faith with fellow Christians that we are able to enlighten each other on the truths we have come to discover. The Spirit, in turn, guides us all to the Truth. By "looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2), we can blur the destructive walls of divisions we have created among ourselves, search for the Truth together, and learn to accept and love one another, so that the world will fully know that we truly are His disciples (cf. John 13:35).




"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer. The long history of Christians marked by many divisions seems to converge once more because it tends towards that Source of its unity which is Jesus Christ... If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them. If they meet more often and more regularly before Christ in prayer, they will be able to gain the courage to face all the painful human reality of their divisions, and they will find themselves together once more in that community of the Church which Christ constantly builds up in the Holy Spirit, in spite of all weaknesses and human limitations.... Finally, fellowship in prayer leads people to look at the Church and Christianity in a new way. It must not be forgotten in fact that the Lord prayed to the Father that His disciples might be one, so that their unity might bear witness to His mission and the world would believe that the Father had sent Him (cf. Jn 17:21)." -- John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Ut Unum Sint" ("That They May Be One")


[Throughout this text, the quoted passages, unless otherwise specified, are from the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the bible. Initially a Protestant translation, the later revisions of the RSV has now included Catholic scholars in its team. Furthermore, the RSV is a more static translation, adhering as close to the original texts as possible.]



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