The chart below provides a quick-reference guide to the major differences between Catholic and Protestant theology, especially at the time of the Reformation. As is always true with charts and other summaries, the information is oversimplified for the sake of brevity and should be used alongside more complete explanations.
The Protestant positions listed here are based primarily on the historical Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. The beliefs listed for both Catholics and Protestants by no means represent those of all churches or individuals within that tradition.
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.
|Authority||Scripture and tradition||Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone|
|Bible||Includes apocrypha||Excludes apocrypha|
|Results of Fall||Corruption and tendency to sin||Total depravity and guilt|
|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||Death of Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied God’s justice|
|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.|
|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.|
|Priests||A special vocation for some believers; mediators between God and man||Priesthood of all believers.|
|Prayer to saints||Accepted||Rejected|
- Robert C. Walton, Charts of Church History (Zondervan, 1986), p. 41.