Catholicism vs Protestant – What Are the Differences and Similarities

Christian vs Protestant


Have you ever wondered what the differences between Catholics and Protestants? Maybe you think it is not that important.  If you want to really understand Christianity, you need to understand its various groups. Here we are going to help you to understand the two largest branches of the Christian faith in the world today.

In this article, we discuss the background to the Catholic and Protestant divisions and its history. Then we discuss the many similarities between the two groups. Many people, even Christians believe that there are no major differences between the two faiths and wonder what all the fuss is about. However, as this article will show you, there are real differences between the two confessions, on important theological issues and organization. We will help you to understand these, with specific references to how they interpret the bible and their different practices. There will be some discussion as to differences between Catholics and Protestant groups such as Anglicans, Lutherans, and Baptists.

The differences between Catholic and Protestant is essential if you are to understand modern history according to Heal. There is a discussion on the long conflict between the two confessions. There will be special attention to the long history of often bloody conflict between Catholic and Protestants in Ireland.


History of Catholicism and Protestants

In Western and Southern Europe, the Catholic Church was the only Christian Church and it was headed by the Pope, who had great spiritual and temporal power. Martin Luther challenged the Papacy, whom he believed to be corrupt and this led to the Reformation. Luther wanted to reform the Catholic Church but instead, his calls for reform led to the emergence of new Churches, such as the Lutheran, typically with the support of local rulers.

Protestant groups emerged all over Northern Europe and soon established themselves around the World. The Catholic Church launched the Counter-Reformation, this was a series of reforms that aimed to halt the growth of Protestantism. By 1600 Europe was divided between those who owed their loyalty to the Pope and those who rejected him.


Catholic v Protestant Wars

The division between Catholic and Protestant changed European history and led to a series of bloody religious wars, especially in the 16th and 17th.  The first wars of religion broke out in Germany in the 1550s.  French Calvinists grew very strong and this led to a series of Religious Wars and the infamous St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris. Differences between Catholics and Protestants led to the 80 years war between the Dutch and Spain. The Thirty Years War broke out in 1618 and it was one of the most brutal religious wars in all history and the war involved much of the kingdoms in Europe and led to massive loss of life.


The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War. This is seen as ending the period of Catholic and Protestant Wars argues Philpot. While tensions between the two have eased there appears little hope for the unification of the Christian Church.


Catholic v Protestant Population

There are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the World. They are mostly found in southern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. There are 520 million Protestants mainly in Northern Europe and North America.  Both groups are growing, in the Developing World but the level of attendance, at their services in North America and Europe, is declining


Similarities between Catholics and Protestants

There are many similarities between the Church headed by the Pope and Protestant denominations. Many of the Protestant Churches hold very similar views but some such as the Anglican are more similar to Catholicism than the Baptists. In general, despite their differences, Protestant churches all hold broadly similar beliefs. Below are some points that can help you to understand the similarities between Catholics and Protestants.


Catholic v Protestant: followers of Christ

Both groups are Christians and they believe in one God, who made heaven and earth. They believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that he died for their sins. Because of Christ sacrifice, people can now achieve salvation.


They both believe in the concept of sin and original sin and both need to be overcome for salvation. The two also agree that there are a heaven and a hell. Those who live a good Christian life get to heaven, while those who have committed mortal sins are sent to hell by God.


Catholic v Protestant: bible

The bible is very important in both branches of Christianity.  Both groups revere the Old and the New Testament.  Catholics and Protestants believe that the Bible is the Word of God and is a source of authority and is used in their services.

Both branches of Christianity believe in heaven and hell. They believe that every believer can be saved but they must live a good life and have faith. Protestants and Catholics stress the importance of living a life like Christ.  Both practice Holy Communion and see it of immense significance. In a ceremony, they take bread and wine in imitation of the Last Supper.  They also both believe that marriage is a holy bond, blessed by God.

Catholics and Protestants believe in the Trinity. They also share many of the same religious celebrations. These include Easter and Christmas. Another one of the similarities between the two is the belief in baptism. Both confessions believe that it is important as it allows a person to become a full member of the Church.


Differences Between Catholic and Protestant

Despite having a common origin, the two Christian denominations have major differences. This has prevented them from reconciling to this day. There are a whole host of differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. They include areas such as church, organization, theology and practices. Here are some of the main differences that you need to remember.


The Bible

There are some important differences between Catholicism and Protestantism about the Gospels. Protestants all accept that the bible is the only source of authority, they are ‘bibliocentric form of Christianity’ according to Introduction to, Catholics believe that tradition is another source of authority.

Because of their more literal approach to the Bible, Protestant do not accept doctrines such as Purgatory or practices such as Lent. Catholics and Protestant do not accept all the books of the Old Testament. Catholics accept 49 books in the Old Testament and the Protestant bible has some 39 books.


Variety of Protestants

There are literally thousands of Protestant groups, while Catholics are united in a common church. Throughout history the Protestant congregations have divided many times. Among the main ones are the Anglican (Episcopalian), Baptists, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Pentecostals. While Catholics are all part of one monolithic congregation, Protestants are members of many different churches.


The doctrine of the Church

The Catholic Church sees itself as the only legitimate and Universal Church and only it can help a person to be saved. Protestant Churches reject this claim because it is not mentioned in the bible. They typically recognize other Protestant Churches as equal and also hold that salvation is possible for those who belong to other denominations, according to the Southern Seminary.

The Catholic Church is headed by the Pope and has a clerical hierarchy. In Protestant Churches, synods and congregations make the decisions regarding decision-making and governance. They reject the idea of apostolic succession advocated by Catholics.


Communion and Priesthood

Another difference between Catholics and Protestants is with regard to communion. Catholics believe that Christ is present in the bread and wine. Protestants believe that communion is only a commemoration of the Last Supper.

In Catholicism only consecrated men can become priests who can celebrate the sacraments. In many forms of Protestantism, any believer can become a priest and they do not even need to be consecrated. Moreover, many Protestant denominations such as the Anglican allow women to be priests.


Sanctification catholic vs protestant

Sanctification is the process of becoming holy according to Judisch. It means in the Catholic Church receiving the grace of God and sharing in the divine life. By following the rules of the Church, by doing good works a believer can become sanctified. Protestants believe that the Word of God as expressed in the Bible. Believers need to be members of the Church to be sanctified and unlike Catholics, most such as the Calvinists reject this view.


Justification catholic vs protestant

Justification is crucial for salvation in all forms of Christianity.  It is concerned with the way that sin is removed from the individual believer so that they can be prepared for salvation and immortal life in heaven. The principle of Justification is the biggest doctrinal difference between Catholicism and Protestantism.

According to the teachings of the Church headed by the Pope, believers can be justified by both faith and good works, such as charitable acts. This is rejected by all the mainstream Protestant Churches, who hold that people are only justified by faith alone, according to Levy et al.  Salvation according to groups like the Lutherans is by God’s grace alone, who grants faith to an individual, although Anglicans believe that some works can help a person to become justified in the eyes of God.

Justification is a state that can be lost. According to Catholics, it can be lost by committing a mortal sin such as murder. Protestant groups such as the Anglicans believe that if a person loses their faith then they are not justified.


Catholic v Protestants: Mary and the saints

Catholics have a special place for Mary the mother of Jesus Christ. They believe that they can intercede for the faithful and she can grant their prayers. All of the Protestant Churches reject this and argue that she was only a blessed woman according to The saints play a big part in the spiritual life of many Catholics. Saints can help a person in this life and the life to come. Protestant reject this and believe that it is not based on the bible and praying to the saints is frowned upon, because there is no reference to it in the bible, according to the Southern Seminary.


The Sacraments

Protestants typically have a more literal approach to the bible. As a result, they only accept two sacraments. The Catholic Church has 7 sacraments. These are baptism, confirmation, communion, matrimony, penance, holy orders and extreme unction (last rites). Most Protestant Churches only hold that there are two, baptism and Holy Communion.


Catholics vs Protestants in Ireland

The Republic of Ireland is a majority Catholic country. The Catholic clergy is still influential despite the population becoming more secular in recent decades.  Northern Ireland is a Protestant-majority region within the UK with a large minority who profess to be members of the Church of Rome. The Protestant v Catholic conflict has defined Irish history since the 16th century and has led to innumerable conflicts.


Northern Ireland Conflict Summary

In 1922 Ireland was partitioned. Northern Ireland was a Protestant state and the Catholic minority suffered a great deal of discrimination. In the 1960s the Catholics sought equal rights’ and this led to sectarian rioting.  The sectarian violence resulted in the terrorist campaign of the IRA and Loyalist Paramilitaries.

Over 3000 people were killed in the violence in Northern Ireland, which became known as the ‘Troubles’. Both Protestant and Catholic leaders condemned the violence. The Troubles ended in 1998, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.



When Martin Luther protested at the corruption of the Papacy, he started the Reformation, that led to the birth of Protestantism. This caused many Religious Wars and in places like Northern Ireland, there are still tensions between the two denominations. Catholics and Protestants are the two most important branches of Christianity today and both groups are very influential in the world.

There are many shared beliefs between Catholicism and Protestantism, and it is important that you understand the similarities between the two groups. They both believe in one god and that Jesus Christ is the savior and that the bible is the Word of God. They are both very much concerned with the salvation of the individual.

However, there are major differences between the two confessions, for example, Protestants do not accept the Pope as head of the Church. Moreover, they only accept the bible as the sole authority in religious matters, while Catholics also respect tradition. The Church headed by the Pope sees itself as the Universal Church, unlike the Protestant denominations.

There are also crucial differences in both groups beliefs about the priesthood, communion and they also have major differences in theology, such as in their respective doctrine on Justification. Protestants, unlike Catholics, do not believe in the saints and the special powers of Mary, the Mother of God.  While recognizing the differences we must never lose sight that both groups are Christians.




Wheeler, M., 2006. The old enemies: Catholic and Protestant in nineteenth-century English culture. Cambridge University Press.

Levy, S.R., West, T.L., Ramirez, L., and Karafantis, D.M., 2006. The Protestant work ethic: A lay theory with dual intergroup implications. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9(1), pp.95-115.

Judisch, N. (2009). Sanctification, satisfaction, and the purpose of purgatory. Faith and Philosophy, 26(2), 167-185.

Philpott, D., 2000. The religious roots of modern international relations. World Politics, 52(2), pp.206-245.

Slick, Matt (2016) What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant. CARM. Available from

Introduction to Protestantism (2016) Introduction to Protestantism: Examining the Protestant faith. Available from