Compare Catholic and Protestant Christianity

June 3, 2004 · updated February 15, 2022

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.

ProtestantismRoman Catholicism
religious authority Sola Scriptura - Scripture alone Bible, church fathers, popes, bishops; Seven Ecumenial Councils; Trent, Vatican, and other Catholic councils
ecclesiology There is a distinction between the visible and invisible church. God saves anyone he chooses, or anyone with proper faith, regardless of church membership. "The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him." (Catech 870)
predestination Affirmed, and understood by most denominations as God's decree. Predestination to heaven only, and related to God's foreknowledge. "God predestines no one to go to hell." (Catech 1037)
salvation Result of divine grace and personal faith. Received at baptism; may be lost by mortal sin; regained by penance. "Mortal sin cuts us off entirely from our true last end." (CE) Perseverance to the end is a gift of God, but we must cooperate with God's gift. (CE)
grace Prevenient grace helps one believe; efficacious grace cooperates with the human will to do good