Roman Catholics and Evangelicals

Agreements and Differences

Last updated Fri Jan 25 2002

Catholic Vocabulary

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.  2 Tim 2:14 NKJV
Many misunderstandings are caused by a different understanding of the meaning of religious words. Understanding the words used is also necessary in order to pinpoint doctrinal differences. Following are some words with their Catholic meaning. In class we will contrast the protestant meanings, and the relative merits of both. This should whet your appetite for a more detailed coverage of the issues in the following weeks.
  • Christian - a person who has been properly baptized. For Protestants, a "Christian" is someone who has been "saved" - converted or regenerated.
  • Merit - a) "intrinsic merit" - "true merit" b) "extrinsic merit" - a reward freely granted by a benefactor. For Protestants, "merit" means "intrinsic merit". For Catholics, the unqualified word means "extrinsic merit".
  • Justification - a) "formal justification" - being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, though still lacking in true righteousness of our own. Also called "initial justification". b) "material justification" - being made truly and intrinsically righteous.  c) "final justification" - how our acts of love will be rewarded in heaven on the Last Day.  Note that the unqualified word "justification" means "material justification" to a Catholic or Anabaptist, whereas to Reformed Protestants, "justification" always means "formal justification".  James Akin has written an excellent analysis from the Catholic perspective.
  • Faith/Belief - a) "intellectual assent" - the devils also believe and tremble [James 2:19], "fide informis" in Latin. b) "belief and trust" - Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved [Acts 16:31], "fide formata" in Latin.  To a Catholic, the unqualified word "faith" means "intellectual assent".  To Protestants, it means "belief and trust".  Analysis by James Akin.
  • Indulgence - a remission before God of the temporal consequences of sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. E.g. the healing of the paralytic [Mark 2:9-11], or the symptom free withdrawal of a converted drug addict. Indulgences can be plenary (full) or partial. Catholics believe that the Church has the power to grant indulgences from its Treasury of Merit, and because of the power of "binding and loosing" granted to Peter.  Note that error to which Luther objected at first was the sin of Simony [Acts 8:20], not the doctrine of Indulgences itself. For Protestants, an "indulgence" is thought to be a means of buying forgiveness for sins.
  • penance - restitution or spiritual disciplines imposed by the confessor (priest) on a penitent (person confessing theirs sins). These have as their goal the spiritual healing of the penitent. E.g. the restitution of Zaccheus. [Luke 19:8]
  • Penance - the Sacrament where individuals meet with a confessor to confess their sins, and receive absolution (forgiveness of sins), instructions for penance, and indulgences. E.g. Jesus said to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven" (absolution). "But that you may know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins, I say to you take up your bed and walk" (indulgence).
  • Purgatory - the Catholic name for our final Glorification. For Protestants, "purgatory" is often thought to mean the place where Catholics atone for any sins not already forgiven through the purchase of "indulgences".
  • Deuterocanonical - the "second canon" of Scripture. Protestants call this the Apocrypha, but Catholics believe these books to be fully inspired as declared at the council of Trent.
  • Treasury of Merit - the infinite riches obtained by the true merit of Christ's work on the cross. God freely grants to those in Christ the privilege of contributing the good works God gives them to do to this Treasury. Catholics believe that the Holy Virgin Mary is the most important contributor next to Christ to the Treasury of Merit.
  • Salvation - the completion of the process of (material) justification that enables us to stand holy and blameless before God. Salvation for a Catholic means finally obtaining material righteousness, and not only imputed righteousness. Salvation for a Protestant means conversion or regeneration - what Catholics call "initial justification".
  • Sacrament - a sign of Grace administered by the Church which also effects the Grace that it signifies. A Sacrament works "ex opere operato" - by the very fact of the action being performed. Thus, the Sacrament of Baptism leaves its mark even on an infant. However, the fruits of the Sacraments are dependent on the disposition of the one receiving them, since it is possible to reject Grace. For Protestants, the two Sacraments are the two signs of Grace directly commanded by our Lord. Although Protestants believe that Marriage, Confession of Sins to another, and other practices commanded in the New Testament, are a means of Grace (similar to Catholics), they are not called "Sacraments".
  • regeneration - like Calvinists, Catholics believe that it is impossible for a man to approach God until he has been regenerated, because an unregenerate man is dead in trespasses and sins. Unlike Calvinists, Catholics believe that a regenerated man can choose to reject Grace and subsequently lose his salvation. Catholics believe that the Sacrament of Baptism confers the Grace of regeneration. Since an infant is unable to chose to reject Grace, a baptized infant will thus go to heaven. Vatican II further adds that while baptism is the normal and primary way that God gives the Grace of regeneration, he may do so under other circumstances at His discretion. Thus, unbaptized infants do not necessarily go directly to Hell as Augustine declared, but we can't be sure.
  • Mortal Sin - sin whose object is a grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Catholics believe that mortal sin causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, if not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness. In other words, a mortal sin may cause the unrepentant sinner to lose his salvation.
  • Venial Sin - sins committed without full knowledge or consent due to weakness or a natural disorder. While venial sin does not cause one to "lose their salvation" in the Catholic view, the sinner still suffers the temporal consequences of sin and is in need of Penance. Furthermore, an accumulation of venial sin may lead to mortal sin.
  • Tradition - the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.  "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." [John 14:26].   Catholics believe that this Tradition is handed down through the Roman Catholic Church - including, but not limited to, through the Holy Scriptures.
  • tradition - religious practices that become entrenched over time for good or for ill.
  • infallible - Preserved from error by the Holy Spirit so that the faithful cannot be led astray.  For Protestants, infallible is a synonym for inerrant.
  • Magisterium - the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to infallibly decide moral and doctrinal issues, and to write down for posterity those parts of the Tradition which are not in Holy Scripture, but which the Spirit brings to remembrance.
  • Dogma - a Tradition or doctrine which has been officially declared by the Pope speaking infallibly "ex cathedra", or by an Ecumenical Council.
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