Differences between Christians: Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox

A Christian is a baptised follower of Jesus Christ. A Church is a gathering of believers. Therefore, the Christian Church is not a building but a gathering of Christians. In the first few centuries of its history the Christian religion spread and grew in spite of Roman and Jewish persecution.

A schism is a split in the body of believers; it is a separation that leaves the members of the Church no longer united. For the first 1,000 years of the Church's history there were no major schisms. At this time, all Christians were members of the universal Christian Church. The Greek word for universal is translated into English as the word 'Catholic'. The word 'universal' in Latin is derived from 'universus' meaning, combined into one. So the Catholic Church is focussed on complete universal unity amongst all people in Christ Jesus Our Lord.


The first major schism of the Christian Church happened in 1054 when the Eastern half of the Church split from the Western half. This resulted in the Catholic Church continuing as before under the Pope. But the Eastern Church rejected obedience to the Pope as the Supreme Head of the Christian Church as Christ had commanded. The reasons for the schism are as follows:

Culture - The cultures of both halves of the Church were different. This caused the potential for petty misunderstandings that escalated into abuse on both sides.

Power Base - Their centres of power were far from each other. The Pope resided in Rome (Italy), but the subordinate head of the Eastern Church resided in Constantinople (Turkey).

Language - Their languages were different. People in the Western Church spoke Latin. People in the Eastern Church spoke Greek. This difference fuelled confusion.

This division meant that Christians had to be more specific about their religious identity. Where before 1054 every baptised follower of Jesus was a Christian in the Catholic Church, now they had to identify themselves as Catholic (ie Latin Rite Catholic " 'Roman Catholic', because the Pope's headquarters were in Rome and they spoke Latin; or 'Eastern Rite Catholic' - a significant number of Eastern Christians remaining faithful to the Pope) or Eastern Orthodox (because their headquarters were in the East " also called Greek Orthodox but this is only one branch of it, the majority being Slavic). In recent years both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have tried to solve their differences, but unity under the Pope has not been achieved so far. [Catholic Education Office, Western Australia Yr 11 text book, God, Religion and Me]


The second major schism in Christianity occurred in 1517 in North Western Europe. (As above, both sides were to blame.) Before this split almost everyone in Western Europe was a baptised Catholic. The people who split from the Church in 1517 were protesting against the corruption that existed within Catholicism at that time. They revolted against the Catholic Church by rejecting the leadership of the Pope and by denying certain articles of faith that Catholics had believed for more than 1,000 years (eg Purgatory, Indulgences, Holy Communion and other Sacraments). They failed to realise the following two facts:

1. That the Church is God's and can never fall into the hands of Satan.

2. That the Church is also a gathering of believers who do not always imitate Jesus.

Shortly after the Protestant Revolution the Catholic Church set about rectifying the abuses and corruption that had led to the Protestants leaving. But, by then, it was too late. Since 1517 more and more Protestant Churches have been formed. All of them differ from each other on key points of doctrine. Only the Catholic Church has remained loyal to the papacy. It is the only Christian Church that can trace an unbroken line back to the first Pope, Peter.

[Carroll, Christ the King, Lord of History; Rumble and Carty, Radio Replies]


After the Protestant Revolution (more commonly known as the Protestant 'Reformation') most of the countries in Northern Europe became Protestant, whilst the Southern European countries remained Catholic. England remained Catholic for a time. In 1521 King Henry VIII of England was awarded the title, 'Defender of the Faith'. This honour was bestowed upon him by the Pope because Henry had written a letter in defence of the 7 Sacraments. Henry had wanted to defend the 7 Sacraments because the Protestants had rejected most of them. However, in 1534 King Henry VIII took England into schism and declared himself the head of the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church). Henry had asked the Pope to declare that he was not validly married to Catherine. He did this because his lawfully wedded wife Catherine had not borne him any sons. But the Pope refused to grant Henry an annulment because his marriage to Catherine was certainly valid and could not be dissolved.

The priesthood of the Anglican Church was valid until 1550, but in that year a great effort was made to Protestantise the Anglican Church in doctrine and worship. The form of Ordination (the ceremony that makes a man a priest) was deliberately changed and all reference to priesthood in the true Christian sense (ie that the priest offers the SACRIFICE of the Mass) was eliminated. This defective form of Ordination lasted 112 years and by that time any validly ordained bishops and priests had died. As a result, Anglican orders are invalid as declared ex cathedra by Pope Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae (1896).




Belief that faith & good works are necessary for salvation. Gal 5:6; Ja 2:24.



Belief that faith alone is necessary for salvation. Misinterpreting Rom 3:28

Belief in Purgatory. 2Mac 12:45; 1Cor 3:15 / 1Pet 1:7 speak of a cleansing fire.



Denial of Purgatory in spite of Matt 5:26

Belief in Mary as Mother of God, bodily assumed, ever virgin, and immaculately conceived.



Varying non-acceptance of Marian dogmas despite some acceptance by the 3 famous Protestant Founders.

Belief in 7 Sacraments instituted by Christ: Jn 3:5, Act 8:14, Jn 6:52, Jn 20:22, Mk 6:12, Lk 22:19, Mk 10:7



Non-acceptance of the Catholic sacramental system in spite of a Scriptural basis for all 7 Sacraments.

Belief in Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium (Mat 16:17).



Belief in the Bible being the sole rule of faith despite 1 Tim 3:15.

Abortion and euthanasia prohibited.



Abortion and euthanasia accepted by many Protestant churches.

Belief in the Real Presence (Mat 26:26) & Sacrifice of the Mass (1Cor 11:23).



Denial of the Mass and Holy Communion despite Jn 6:48 & Jn 6:54

Infant baptism encouraged.

Lk 3:21.



Infant baptism often discouraged in spite of Acts 16:15 and 1 Cor 1:16.

Belief in indulgences Eph 4:22, 23



Denial of indulgences.

Nowhere in the Bible does it teach the Bible as the sole rule of faith.



Belief in the Bible alone as the sole rule of faith.

Divorce and re-marriage prohibited whilst first spouse lives. Mat 19:3



Divorce and re-marriage allowed despite Mk 10:11.


The specific aim of ecumenism is to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of Christian unity. Why then the one-sided table above that is based on arguments used by Catholic apologists in debate, and why the use of the word 'revolution' rather than 'reformation' when mentioning Protestantism? So as to emphasise that the Protestant Reformation did not 'reform' Christianity but rather caused a split in the Body of believers contrary to the will of Christ (Jn 17: 21). The 'one-sidedness' comes from the fact that ecumenism is specifically about helping separated Christians come back into full union with the Catholic Church. However, no offense is intended. Quoting Vatican Council II's Decree on Ecumenism, n. 11: 'nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false conciliatory approach which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its assured meaning … Catholic belief needs to be explained more profoundly and precisely, in ways which our separated brethren too can really understand.' Hopefully, this is being done in a spirit of truth, honesty and fraternal love.

* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.