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Article Info:
published: 6/3/04
updated: 2/27/14

Comparison Chart: Catholic & Protestant Beliefs

Catholics and Protestants have a lot in common, yet the differences between them are important. The chart below provides a quick-reference guide to the major differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs. The information contained in the chart is intended to be a gateway for greater study and it is admittedly oversimplified. It is also wise to understand that individual Catholics and Protestants may vary in their personal beliefs regarding these topics. (Go to here to compare Protestant Christian denominations.)

For more detailed comparisons that take into account differences within Protestantism, see the comparison charts on Facts and Stats, Beliefs, Practices, and Social and Ethical Views of Christian Denominations.

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Authority Scripture and tradition Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone
Bible Includes apocrypha
(see the Apocrypha)
Excludes apocrypha
(see the New Testament)
Results of Fall Corruption and tendency to sin
(see human nature in Christianity)
Total depravity and guilt
(see Satan in Christianity)
Free will Free to do good or evil Free only to do evil
Predestination Related to God's foreknowledge Related to God's decrees
Atonement Death of Christ created merit that is shared with sinners through sacraments
(see God in Christianity here)
Death of Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied God's justice
(see Jesus Christ here.)
Divine grace Prevenient grace helps one believe; efficacious grace cooperates with the human will to do good Common grace enabling good works given to all; sufficient grace for salvation given to elect only

Good works Meritorious Results of divine grace and unworthy of merit
Salvation Received at baptism; may be lost by mortal sin; regained by penance. Those who have never heard of Christ may be saved. (Catech 847) Result of divine grace; unconditional. Those who have never heard of Christ may be saved.
(See Salvation in Christianity)
The Church The Catholic Church is "the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation" (Catech 845) but those baptized in other Christian denominations are in communion with the Church (Catech 838). There is a distinction between the visible and invisible church. God saves anyone he chooses, or anyone with proper faith, regardless of church membership.
Sacraments Convey grace by their operation (ex opere operato). Means of grace only if received with faith.
(See Christian practices)
Priests A special vocation for some believers; mediators between God and man Priesthood of all believers.
Transubstantiation Affirmed Rejected
Purgatory Affirmed Denied
Prayer to saints Accepted
(see Veneration of Saints)

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  1. Robert C. Walton, Charts of Church History (Zondervan, 1986), p. 41.