The Reformation period of the Church in the 1500s caused divisions within the Church which have not yet healed. Martin Luther's translation of the Hebrew and Greek Bible into conversational German brought a readable Bible into common German households. Questions over the proper translation of scripture continues today and will likely never be solved to everyone's satisfaction. The resulting Protestant Reformation has led to a myriad of varying doctrinal concepts being presented. This relatively recent evolution of faith has given rise to many misconceptions concerning the Catholic Church. Following are some common misunderstandings of the Catholic faith.
1. Are Catholics Christian?
Catholics are the original pre-denominational church. Protestant denominations did not appear until the mid-1500s. At the risk of over-simplifying; denominations were the result of Luther's “95 Theses,” which were not anything new, as such, but rather the results of interpretation of the Scripture. Luther translated the Bible from its original Hebrew and Greek into the conversational German of the day. Earlier translations had been translated from Latin. One could write books on the different interpretations of various words and phrases. For example; in the Bible, the word “saved”, one of the most well-used words in sermons, is not used as forgiveness from our sins. The word “saved” means “deliverance” We can be delivered from almost anything. However, the way we use the word, “saved” today has come to mean forgiveness from our sins.
2. Catholics believe we can be “saved” by our good works.
Catholics believe that merely agreeing with the truths of theology is not enough. Catholics look at James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” This faith must be genuine before the merit of Christ is imputed. You can't just say you have faith. James puts it this way, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe---and shudder.” -James 2:17. True faith will yield obedience and the works of righteousness. Faith is shown to be genuine as one demonstrates the claim to faith through one's works.
3. Catholics worship Mary.
Catholics believe that worship is due to God alone. Catholics do not worship Mary. They hold her in a special place of honor and with special devotions venerate her. When Catholics pray to Mary or the Saints they pray with them and ask for their intercessory prayers to God on their behalf. In all churches, Protestant or Catholic, we are asked, “please pray for 'Bob', he is in need of our prayers.” When Catholics pray to the Saints to intercede for them, it is in that context.
4. Catholics don't read the Bible.
Here is an interesting observation; Catholic Mass is almost 30 percent Scripture. By contrast, most Evangelical churches read less than 5 percent Scripture at the service. Catholics follow a three-year cycle of Scripture reading. A Catholic, who faithfully attends Mass, will, over those three years, hear most of the Bible. The difference between Catholic and Evangelical is this; Catholics use the scriptures primarily for meditation and worship, Protestant use scripture mostly for personal information and instruction. Evangelicals use the Bible as a rule book. Catholics use the Bible as a prayer book. Both Catholics and Protestants use Scripture to determine doctrine and moral principles. However, the Catholic Priest does not do so on his own. He uses the weight of 2000 years of authority and interpretation to do the explanation.
5. Catholics believe there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ, or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
6. Catholics believe the Pope cannot sin.
Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible when teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals. Jesus promised the apostles; “He who hears you, hears me.” -Luke 10:16. The Pope has no authority to originate new doctrine; his infallibility is limited to doctrinal interpretation.
That does not free a Pope or bishop from sin or bad behavior. Additionally, a Pope's private theological opinions are not considered to be infallible; only what he solemnly defines. Infallibility is not to be confused with impeccability.
7. What's with Confession?
Jesus Christ gave his Apostles, and by extension, the priest, the power to forgive sins. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” -John 20:23. The priest is also given the power to bind, that is, to impose penances. “Whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven” -Matthew 18:18.
There is little enough room to cover any of these seven topics in detail. My hope is that I have given some cause for reflection and instilled the desire to search further.
John Schandelmeier is a local resident, and is involved in trapping, mushing, building, writing, tourism, and commercial fishing, and new to the Catholic Church. His writings are being done as part of his discovery of Catholicism.