Chapter 3: The Catholic-Protestant Differences

What’s the Difference? A Comparison of the Faiths Men Live By
by Louis Cassels

Chapter 3: The Catholic-Protestant Differences

During the past few years, peace seems to have broken out in the cold war among Christians. In spite of a dramatic improvement in relations, however, there is still a widespread tendency for Protestants to think of Roman Catholicism as an entirely different religion. And many Catholics speak of Protestantism as though it were as alien to their own faith as Shintoisrn.

There are differences between Catholics and Protestants — real, stubborn, important differences that do not result from mere misunderstandings or semantic confusion. But ecumenical theologians who are wrestling with those differences have been impressed with another fact which deserves prior emphasis. They have discovered, in the words of Father Hans Kung, that "what unites Catholics and Protestants as Christians is incomparably more vast than what separates them."

The great bond between Catholics and Protestants, which no amount of disagreement can sever, is that both acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. They also share the basic theological affirmations of Christianity that are spelled out in the New Testament and the ancient creeds. These affirmations were outlined in the preceding chapter. They include belief in the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection.1

Catholics and Protestants have other doctrines that are derived from, or related to, their common faith in Jesus Christ. For example, both acknowledge the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community. Both look upon the Bible as a divinely inspired book through whose pages the authentic Word of God can be heard afresh by every generation. Both believe in the forgiveness of sins, the efficacy of baptism, the power of prayer, and the promise of everlasting life to those who place their trust in Christ. The list might be extended indefinitely, but the longer it got, the greater would become the necessity of using vague, general language. When we begin to get specific, we find that Catholics and Protestants often mean different things even when they use the same words.

Grace and Faith — Different Meanings

Take, for instance, the word grace, which is sometimes called the most important single word in the Christian vocabulary. Catholics think of grace as a supernatural power which God dispenses, primarily through the Church and its sacraments, to purify the souls of naturally sinful human beings, and render them capable of holiness. Father John Walsh, S.J., has succinctly expressed the crucial importance that Catholics attach to grace thus understood. "If a man dies with it in his soul, he is infallibly saved," says Father Walsh. "If he lacks it, he is infallibly lost."

When Protestants speak of grace, they usually have an entirely different concept in mind. In the words of the noted Lutheran theologian Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, grace is "not something in man which wins God’s good will, but something in God which makes man pleasing to Him." To put it differently, Protestants think of grace as an attribute of God rather than a gift from God. It is a shorthand term signifying God’s determination to love, forgive, and save His human children, however little they deserve it.

Another key word in the Christian lexicon which has sharply different meanings for Catholics and Protestants is faith. In Catholic usage, faith means giving full and unreserved assent to doctrines that have been defined by the Church as divinely revealed truth. It is almost, if not quite, a synonym for belief. But to Protestants, faith is, in Martin Luther’s phrase, a "reckless confidence" in the goodness of God. It is more a matter of placing your trust in God than of believing certain propositions about God.

Much more than semantics is involved here. It would be no exaggeration to say that the whole Protestant Reformation grew out of the differing definitions of grace and faith outlined above.

Luther and other Protestant reformers believed that medieval Catholicism had degraded grace by treating it as a sort of magical commodity on which the Church enjoyed a monopoly of distribution. Through control over the "channels of grace" — that is, the rites and sacraments of the Church — a corrupt and often immoral hierarchy could blackmail the rest of the human race, from kings to peasants, by saying, in effect: "If you don’t do as I say, I’ll cut off your supply of grace and you’ll be eternally damned."

To Luther, a devout Augustinian friar who wanted to reform rather than split the Church, this crass merchandising of salvation was directly contrary to the plain teaching of the New Testament. He cited the words of St. Paul to show that salvation is a free gift which a gracious God bestows on men through Jesus Christ, without their doing anything to merit or deserve it. "Justification by grace through faith alone" became the slogan of the Reformation, and it has remained the cardinal principle of Protestant theology until this day.

During the Counter Reformation of the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church eliminated many of the gross abuses, such as the sale of indulgences, that had laid the Church open to the charge of "peddling" salvation. It also took steps to repudiate any suggestion that a man can earn his passage to heaven by pious deeds. Since the Council of Trent (1545 to 1563), it has been official Catholic teaching that sinful human beings are justified in the eyes of God — that is, saved — by faith plus good works. "For Catholics, quite as much as for Protestants, the whole Christian life rests on faith," says Albert Cardinal Meyer, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago. "Without faith, the ‘works,’ or actions, of Christian living would be without Christian value. Faith, however, itself cannot be the source of man’s salvation unless it is a living faith, that is a faith which flowers in hope and love, and hence in the works of a Christian life of service to God and neighbor."

Few if any Protestants would take exception to that statement. In fact, it recalls Luther’s remark that "good works do not make a man good, but a good man doeth good works."

If Protestants and Catholics are moving somewhat closer together on justification, they are still as far apart as ever on the other great bone of contention that figured in the Reformation split. This is the question of authority.

The Authority of the Bishops

The Catholic view of authority is clear and forthright. It goes like this: Before concluding his ministry on earth, Jesus established the Church to preserve his teachings and carry on his work among men. He gave the Apostles full

power over the Church, and within the "college" of Apostles, he vested supreme authority in St. Peter. To make sure that his message could never be lost or distorted, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to protect the Church from error. This protection is so effective that the Church’s formal pronouncements on essential matters of faith and morals are considered infallible; hence they must be accepted as tantamount to the very words of God.

Catholics also believe that duly consecrated bishops in every generation are "successors" to the original Apostles, and inherit all their powers. Particularly they assert that St. Peter’s supreme authority has passed down to his successors as Bishop of Rome, or Pope. (The term "pope" is simply an anglicization of the Italian Il Papa, an affectionate synonym for "Father," which the Romans traditionally use in speaking of their bishop.)

The Second Vatican Council spent six weeks in the fall of 1963 discussing the Catholic doctrine of authority, with particular reference to the relationship between the other bishops and the Pope. In a historic vote, on October 30, 1963, the Council Fathers asserted by an overwhelming majority their conviction that the whole "college" of bishops has a right — not by sufferance but by the mandate of Christ — to share with the Pope in the exercise of supreme authority in the Church. This is the famous doctrine of collegiality that caused Council conservatives to protest bitterly that the whole concept of papal supremacy was being undermined.

Actually, the Council majority was simply trying to restore the Church’s classic view of authority, and correct an excessive emphasis on papal prerogatives which has characterized Catholic theology during the past four hundred years. As the late Father Gustave Weigel perceptively observed at the time of the 1963 vote, what the Council said, in effect, was that "the government of the Church is an oligarchy, not an absolute monarchy."

In asserting the doctrine of collegiality, the Council Fathers took pains to reiterate that the Pope remains supreme, and can do on his own authority anything that he could do in union with his fellow bishops. This specifically includes the promulgation of "infallible" dogmas.

The Catholic concept of authority has the great advantage of providing a clear-cut answer to the question When Christians disagree about be teaching of Christ or the will of God, who has the last word? This is a question that Protestantism has never settled.

But Protestants find many other grounds for rejecting an authoritarian hierarchy headed by an infallible Pope.

Many Protestants balk at the primary Catholic claim that Jesus conceived of his Church as a single, highly organized, centrally governed institution. They say that the New Testament nowhere speaks of such a church, but only of different local churches, united in an informal bond of Christian fellowship.

"Upon This Rock . . ."

Sooner or later, the argument always comes around to certain words addressed by Jesus to St. Peter after the latter made his famous confession of faith: "Thou art the Christ. . ." According to the sixteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus responded:

"I say . . . unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Catholic scholars point out that the name Peter means "rock" in the Aramaic language which Jesus and his disciples spoke. Thus, they say, it is obvious that Jesus was speaking of Peter as the rock upon which he would build the church.

Some Protestant scholars contend that the "rock" to which Jesus referred was not Peter himself, but his confession of faith in Jesus as the Saving One sent from God. This, they say, is the real foundation stone of the Church.

Other Protestants acknowledge that the Catholic reading of the text is the more plausible one. They go further and agree that Peter became, in actual fact, the principal leader of the early Christian community. But — and it is a formidable but indeed — they see no warrant in Scripture or the early history of the Church for exaggerating Peter’s primacy of honor to the point of calling him "Prince" of the Apostles. On the contrary, they say, the Book of Acts and other New Testament evidence clearly indicate that Peter was regarded in his own lifetime merely as "first among equals" in the apostolic band.

Finally, they say, even if Peter did go to Rome and become its first bishop,2 there is not sufficient reason for assuming that his special authority passed down, as a divinely guaranteed inheritance, to every subsequent Bishop of Rome. Supposing for the sake of argument that Apostolic authority did "descend" to the successors of the Apostles and that Peter had a special authority, would it not be more logical to say that Peter’s authority passed to his successor as Bishop of Jerusalem — which was unquestionably the real center of the Christian world in his day — rather than to the man who followed him as Bishop of Rome, a job which he may have held late in his life, but which is not mentioned in the New Testament account of his career?

Aside from the whole question of "Petrine succession," many Protestants boggle at the idea of attributing infallibility to any human being or institution. They say that Catholicism comes close to idolatry (which is defined theologically as the worship of anything short of God) when it equates the voice of the Church with the voice of God. The Bible clearly teaches that God chooses to speak to men through ordinary, human (and hence fallible) channels. Even in the supreme act of revelation — the Incarnation — God accepted the limitations of human fallibility: Jesus was a real man, not a theophany. No Protestant would question that the guidance of the Holy Spirit is always available — and always right. But every Protestant would add that the Holy Spirit is not always heard and heeded in the Church — not even by popes.3

Finally, Protestants object strenuously to some of the conclusions that Catholics have drawn directly from their doctrine of authority.

The conclusion that most irritates Protestants and most seriously bedevils all moves toward Christian unity is that there can be only one true Church. (The idea of two or more infallible, divinely instituted organizations competing with one another for the world’s attention is patently absurd.) And that "one true Church" must, of course, be the one headed by the successor to St. Peter. This doctrine has been soft-pedaled considerably since the late Pope John XXIII set the Catholic Church on an ecumenical course. Protestants are no longer called "heretics"; they are "separated brethren."

The Second Vatican Council in its declaration on ecumenism went so far as to acknowledge that Protestants are in some sense related to the true Church through Christian baptism. But it quickly added that no one can be a full member of the true Church, and assured of access to all the means of grace, unless he is obedient to the authority of Rome.

Can the Church Err?

Another conclusion that Catholics have drawn from their doctrine of authority — in the past, at least — is that the Church can never fall into error sufficiently to need a real housecleaning. As one scholar has put it, Catholics can admit the need for reforms in the Church, but they consider it almost blasphemous te speak of a basic reform of the Church.

The Reverend Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, professor of religion at Stanford University, suggests in his excellent book The Spirit of Protestantism that "this is perhaps the ultimate issue dividing Protestantism and Roman Catholicism." He says that Protestantism, born in a great attempt at reformation of medieval Catholicism, has always taken very seriously the biblical injunction that judgment must "begin with the household of God."

"Protestantism affirms that the Church must be shaken, judged, purged and remade," says Dr. Brown. "It cannot be renewed once. Its life must be a life of constant renewal, for it is ‘a church of sinners,’ a church that is constantly failing to fulfill its high calling. The attitude that must characterize the Church is the attitude of repentance."

Most Protestants can pronounce a hearty amen to that sentiment. Most Catholics would be as horrified by it as they would be by an allegation that Jesus sometimes did wicked things. The reverence that a Catholic has for his Church is very similar to his reverence for Christ. A Protestant, on the other hand, instinctively regards all ecclesiastical institutions with suspicion if not scorn. His allegiance is directly and personally to Christ.

The Authority of Scripture

But how does the Protestant know what Christ is like, what he has taught, commanded, and promised? What is the Protestant’s authority for holding any particular belief?

The Reformers’ answer was "sola scriptura": the Bible is the sole and sufficient authority for all Christian doctrine. "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor maybe proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith." So says the sixth of the famed Thirty-nine Articles of Religion that comprised the Reformation charter of the Church of England.

There is a widespread and entirely erroneous idea among Protestants that Catholics attach very little importance to the Bible, and indeed seldom read it. Actually, Catholic theology accords a very high and prominent place to Scripture. There are, however, two important differences between Catholic and Protestant attitudes toward the Bible. Whereas Protestants insist on the Bible as the sole source of doctrine, Catholics believe that traditions which have been handed down in the Church for centuries may also be considered vehicles of divine revelation. They point out that the Bible itself was the fruit of oral traditions that were circulated in the Church for many years before they were written down, and that the New Testament expressly says that there were "other things" that Jesus said and did which were not included in the Gospel accounts.

Who Interprets Scripture?

The second and even more profound difference is that Catholics arc required as a basic point of obedience to accept any particular passage of Scripture in the sense in which it has been interpreted by the "infallible" teaching authority of the Church. Protestants have no such authoritative guide to the interpretation of scriptural passages which may be obscure or confusing. The Reformers dodged the whole question by insisting that the Bible "interprets itself" — that is, what is obscure in one passage may be clarified by a diligent search of other portions of Scripture. In practice, this turned out to mean that every man was his own ultimate authority on the Bible. If he wished to read it a certain way, no one had any power to contradict him, even though every scholar in Christendom might disagree with his exegesis. This is the so-called "principle of private interpretation" and it has had a very far-reaching impact on the development of Protestantism.

On one hand, it has served as the final guarantee of freedom of conscience among Protestants. From it has grown the Protestant emphasis on the right — and inescapable responsibility — of each human being to think through his own beliefs, and to make his own decision for (or against) Christ.

On the other hand, it has led to the fragmentation of Protestantism into more than two hundred denominations and sects. Ever since the Reformation, Protestant churches have been splitting apart, often with much bitterness on both sides, because of disagreements over interpretation of the Bible. And sometimes they have been very picayune disagreements indeed. Although the ecumenical movement in recent years has succeeded in patching up some long-standing divisions in the Protestant family, there are still, as we shall see in the next chapter, vast and strongly held differences, most of which are directly related to divergent interpretations of Scripture. It is not hard to see why Catholics refer to the Protestant principle of private interpretation as a charter for "theological anarchy."

The Adoration of Mary

How the Catholic Church has used tradition as a source of teachings which cannot be found in Scripture is illustrated by the cult of the Virgin Mary — the aspect of Catholicism which many Protestants find most repugnant.

The New Testament says relatively little about Mary. But what it does say is tremendously important. As the mother of Jesus, she was the human vehicle of the miracle of the Incarnation. And Scripture records that she undertook this awesome role in a spirit of humble obedience — "be it unto me even as thou hast said." As her son was growing up, Mary was sometimes baffled by his conduct: St. Luke’s gospel tells a touching story — almost certainly one of Mary’s own reminiscences — of an occasion when the twelve-year-old Jesus disappeared during the family’s annual Passover visit to Jerusalem, and was found later in the Temple, holding scholarly discourse with the teachers and wise men, who were "astonished at his understanding." The Gospels record that Mary remained devoted to her son, following him after he set forth on his itinerant ministry and trying to look after his physical needs, which he was apt to neglect. She stood at the foot of his cross when he was crucified, and every parent must wonder in his heart who suffered the most terrible agony, Jesus or his mother.

This biblical account of Mary’s role in the saving events centered around the life of Christ is sufficient to establish her right to the one honor which she had foreseen: "all generations shall call me blessed."

But the Catholic Church has not thought it right to stop there. On the basis of tradition, rather than Scripture, it has asserted that Mary herself was "immaculate" (sinless) from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb; and that upon her death she did not suffer corruption of the flesh but was "assumed" body and soul into heaven. And it has not made these added beliefs about Mary a matter of choice: they have been proclaimed as infallible dogmas, which every Catholic must believe in order to be saved.

The Church has also bestowed a host of new titles and honors on Mary: "Mother of God," "Queen of Heaven," "Mediatrix of all Graces." It has encouraged the faithful to pray to Mary, and has stimulated the growth of "Marian devotions" to the point where in some areas they have become the center of Catholic worship. Catholic theologians insist that the Church does not permit "worship" of Mary, but only accords her "the highest veneration." They also say that Mary does not answer prayers in her own right, but "intercedes" with her son to obtain help for the faithful who pray to her. But it is at least open to question whether these distinctions are understood by all the Catholics who light candles at the foot of Mary’s statue and participate in novenas to "our Lady."

A New Catholic Viewpoint

For a time, Catholic theology seemed to be moving headlong toward proclaiming Mary "Co-redemptrix" with Christ. This title, already widely used among Catholic bishops with no rebuke from the Vatican’s Holy Office, makes Protestant blood run cold. It vividly demonstrates the basic Protestant objection to Catholic Mariology, namely, its tendency to obscure the distinctive role of Christ as the "only mediator between God and man."

Protestant fears were eased, if not removed, when the Second Vatican Council decided, by the paper-thin margin of 30 votes out of more than 2000 to forego a special schema, or Council declaration, on Mary, and to give her instead a chapter in the schema on the Church.

The importance of this widely misunderstood decision is that it was a triumph for a relatively new viewpoint toward Mary which has been gaining strength in progressive Catholic circles. According to this viewpoint, which has been most influentially expounded by Pope Paul VI, Mary is to be thought of as "the model, the image, the ideal figure of the Church." In her humble, self-effacing obedience and complete trust, she is the prototype of what all members of the Church should be like. And in her willing cooperation with the work of redemption which God accomplished in Christ, she exemplifies the Church’s mission on earth.

Protestant theologians find this new viewpoint on Mary infinitely more attractive than some of the other Mariological doctrines that have found credence in the Catholic Church.

If Protestants feel that Catholics give Mary too much honor, Catholics feel, with at least equal emotion, that Protestants give her far too little. Mary is seldom mentioned in the average Protestant church except at Christmas time.

A growing number of Protestant scholars acknowledge the justice of this indictment, and are urging Protestants to give Mary the reverence that is clearly — and biblically — her due.

"Not as a semi-divine being, but as an outstanding member of the communion of saints, she is blessed among women," says Jaroslav Pelikan. "When Protestants begin to say this out loud in their teaching and worship . . they will be better prepared to speak a word of fraternal warning to their Roman Catholic brethren."

Saints, Purgatory, and Merit

There are other Catholic doctrines for which Protestants can find no warrant in Scripture. Catholics pray to a multitude of officially designated saints, in addition to Mary, in the belief that saints have the power to intercede in heaven on behalf of those who seek their help. Catholics also believe that each human soul is judged at the time of death, and, depending upon the presence or absence of "sanctifying grace," is consigned directly to heaven (the saints), irrevocably to hell (the damned), or temporarily to purgatory (the in-between fellow who is neither good enough to go straight to heaven, nor bad enough to be eternally condemned). In purgatory, according to Catholic theology, souls undergo "temporal punishment" to cleanse them of sin and prepare them for the perfect holiness of heaven. Christians on earth ("the Church Militant") can invoke the assistance of the saints in heaven ("the Church Triumphant") in procuring the release of souls from purgatory. In effect, the accounts of the souls in purgatory are balanced by placing to their credit some of the virtues which the saints have on deposit in heaven’s "treasury of merits."

The whole idea of a "treasury of merits" is vaguely but distinctly offensive to many Protestants. It seems excessively legalistic, and leaves the impression that God’s saving love is poured forth, not in gracious abundance, but according to a nicely calculated, almost mechanical formula. As for purgatory and the veneration of saints, the abiding verdict of Protestantism is expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles: both doctrines are "vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."

Two Sacraments or Seven?

Although this catalogue of basic differences between Catholics and Protestants is already woefully long, we cannot terminate it without some reference to divergent views of the sacraments. By sacrament, both Catholics and Protestants mean an outward sign, or action, instituted by Christ as a channel through which divine help, or grace, is imparted.

Protestants recognize two sacraments: (1) Baptism, through which a human spirit is cleansed of "original sin" (understood as man’s natural predilection to be self-centered, willful and disobedient to God) and endowed with a new kind of life; and (2) Holy Communion (also known as the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper), by which the baptized Christian is sustained and strengthened, and through which he is drawn into a closer fellowship with God and his fellow man.

Catholics recognize five other sacraments: confirmation, penance, extreme unction, holy orders, and matrimony. Their counterparts can be found in many Reformation churches: the principal point at issue is whether they are distinctively Christian sacraments on a par with baptism and the Eucharist.


It may strike the reader as remarkable, after so much stress on differences, to learn that Catholics and Protestants have very similar ideas about baptism. Both affirm that it is primarily God’s action, not man’s. Some Protestants insist on the necessity for a response in faith by the person being baptized; they therefore practice only adult or "believer’s baptism." But the vast majority of Protestants agree with the Catholic Church that infants can and should be baptized, because the efficacy of the action is altogether independent of the attitude of the recipient, or the credentials of the one who performs it. (The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of a baptism performed by a Protestant, or even one performed by an atheist, provided water is used and the name of the Trinity is properly invoked according to the biblical prescription.)

The Lord’s Supper

When we come to the Eucharist, we find Catholics and Protestants agreeing that it was instituted by Jesus at his last supper with his disciples. According to the oldest existing account of the event, that found in St. Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth, Jesus "took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, This is my body which is broken for you: do this in remembrance of me." After supper, "in like manner, he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: do this as often as you shall drink it, in remembrance of me."

Some Protestants hold that Christians merely perform a "memorial" rite when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But this is a distinctly minority view in the Christian family. Most Protestants believe that the Eucharist is a "representation" of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, and that Christ is "really present" in a mystical and incorporeal sense — every time it is celebrated.

Catholics go much further. To them the sacrifice of the Mass is a "renewal," or repetition, of the sacrifice on Calvary. The consecrated bread and wine do not merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ: they are the body and blood of Christ, in a literal sense. They retain the external appearance of bread and wine, but their true substance has been transformed on the altar (hence the term "transubstantiation," which is applied to this Catholic doctrine).

Protestants contend that the Catholic doctrine vitiates the "once-and-for-allness" of Christ’s redemptive act, and that the emphasis on Christ’s being literally and corporeally present on the altar tends to degrade a holy mystery into some kind of magic. They are particularly repelled by tile cult of "tabernacle worship" that has grown up around the Catholic practice of "reserving" some of the consecrated bread on the altar, to be adored by the faithful as a visible presence of God.

Conversely, Catholics feel that Protestants have rationalized all the mystery out of the Eucharist. They point out that Jesus did not say, "This represents my body . . .

he said, "This is my body."

No meeting of minds seems likely on this point in the foreseeable future. But in other aspects of their caporate worship, Catholics and Protestants are unmistakably moving closer together.

The Changing Forms of Worship

The Liturgical Constitution adopted by the Second Vatican Council permits most of the Mass, and all of the sacraments to be conducted in the language of the people rather than in Latin. It also calls for more emphasis on what Protestants call "the ministry of the Word," with a sermon now made a required part of every Sunday Mass. These and other reforms in Roman Catholic liturgy are aimed at making the laity active participants rather than passive spectators in worship.

Meanwhile, far-reaching changes are taking place in the worship of Protestant churches. Even in Baptist and Methodist churches, traditionally known for their informality, there is a marked trend toward vestments for the minister, robes for the choir, processionals to the chancel, formal rather than extemporaneous prayers. Most significant of all, the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated more frequently, and as a full service in its own right rather than being tacked on to the regular preaching service once in a great while as a sort of afterthought.

"We have by no means exhausted the list of Catholic-Protestant differences. Nothing has been said, for example, about "the priesthood of all believers" which the Reformers made such a fuss about and which all modern Protestants cherish, even though not one in ten has the least notion what it’s all about. Nor have we gone into such things as confessing to a priest, or divorce, or birth control. But perhaps we have covered enough of the really basic differences to give you an idea why no one who is working for Christian reunion expects to see it accomplished day after tomorrow. "At this point, it seems humanly impossible to resolve the profound differences which separate Protestants and Catholics," says the Reverend Dr. William J. Wolf, an Episcopal Church observer at the Vatican Council. "But we have our Lord’s personal assurance that ‘with God, all things are possible.’ If we can learn to live together as brothers in a spirit of love rather than mutual antagonism, if we work patiently at trying to understand one another, and if we give the other fellow credit for being just as sincere and devoted to Christ as we claim to be — God in His own good time will show us the road to unity."



1. Those basic Christian beliefs also are shared by the third great branch of Christendom, the Eastern Orthodox communion, whose history and distinctive characteristics are reviewed in Chapter IX.

2. The Bible does not mention a visit by Peter to Rome, and some Protestants doubt that he ever got there. But recent archaeological explorations under the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica have persuaded many objective observers that Peter was buried in Rome, at the site of the church which now bears his name, after dying a martyr’s death in the reign of Emperor Nero.

3. In fairness to Catholic teaching, it should be pointed out that popes are presumed to be infallible only when they solemnly define issues of faith and morals for the guidance of the whole Church. Catholics readily acknowledge that popes can be wrong about such things as politics and the weather.