As a ministry member for at least 15 years, I have been trying to understand how Christianity came to have several denominations. It has proven fascinating that all denominations profess to believe in Jesus Christ but have unique doctrines. In our recent Bible study session, we focused on two individual denominations. We specifically were interested in comparing the Catholics vs. Orthodox. So, how are they different?
One of the main differences between the Orthodox and the Catholics is that the Catholics have a Pope as their worldly leader, while the Orthodox have a Patriarch. The Catholics have long believed in the Pope as their leader on earth with unlimited powers over the Church. However, the Orthodox have limited the powers of the Patriarch; he cannot make certain decisions on behalf of the Church.
I welcome you to this article as we delve into the discussion of Catholics versus Orthodox. I will discuss the differences and similarities between the two denominations. Furthermore, I will examine why the Catholic Church split with the Orthodox Church, among other exciting topics. Read to the end to learn more about the Catholic versus Orthodox denominations.
Catholics vs. Orthodox: Difference in definition
The word Catholic bears the meaning of ‘universal.’ This was made about all the Christians united in the body of Jesus Christ, the owner of the Church. Some also translate the word to mean the Universal Church, which looks up to Jesus as the rightful owner of the Church. Catholics are therefore regarded as members of the first universal Church that was made to honor Christ.
On the other hand, Orthodox means the ‘correct opinion .’The members of the Orthodox Church believe in the scriptures and the old Christian traditions, which they follow to a great extent. They believe their Church is one and holy and was started by Jesus Christ during the great commission. They further believe that their bishops are the successors of the Apostles of Jesus Christ.
What’s the Difference between Catholics vs. Orthodox?
The Supreme leaders
The Catholic Church honors the Pope as their supreme leader in the World. They have given him the title of the vicar of the Son of God. This means that the Pope is the earthly representative of the Son of God with the power to make several crucial decisions for the Church. The Pope is allowed to exercise full and unhindered authority over the Church. The Orthodox Church honors the Patriarch or Metropolitan as their earthly leader. Although the Patriarch enjoys some good power, it is limited compared to the Pope’s. He does not have influence over the other Orthodox Churches like the Pope has over the Catholic Churches.
The official language of communication
The Orthodox Church preferred to use the Greek language as a communication medium. Most of their writings and communications have used Greek to pass the message. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, prefers the Latin language as its language of communication. Most of their writings and official communications have used Latin to pass their messages.
The Filioque, a Latin term meaning Son of God, has been added to the Nicene Creed when written in Latin. The word has yet to be translated into the Greek language. Therefore, the term appears in the Nicene Creed used by the Catholics and not the one used by the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church has rejected the word, which does not appear in their Creed.
The Holy Spirit
The Orthodox Church believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds directly from God the Father. For the Catholics, God the Father and the Son proceed with the Holy Spirit; therefore, they believe in the existence of the Holy Trinity mentioned in Luke 3:22.
The Divorce Issue
In the modern doctrines of the Church, the Orthodox Church allows for divorce. If there are differences between the couple, they are allowed to divorce. For Catholics, divorce is not allowed, no matter the situation.
What are the similarities between Catholics vs. Orthodox?
Both Churches have got some doctrinal agreements.
The Divine and human nature of Jesus Christ
They agree on the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ. Both denominations believe that Jesus Christ was divine, a member of the Holy Trinity. They also believe that he was born a human and experienced death and other human-like experiences.
The threefold ministry
Both denominations also believe in the threefold ministry. The threefold ministry includes the bishops, priests, and deacons. Each of them is assigned unique duties in the Church, but all are responsible for ministering to the members.
The Holy Life of the Virgin Mary
The two churches further agree on the unblemished life of the earthly mother of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, mentioned in Luke 1:27. They honor her as an essential vessel who delivered to us them the savior of the World.
Invocation of Saints
Both churches also believe and take part in invoking the Saints. They think the Saints were crucial people who fought for the Church to stand firm. Some even lost their lives in the process. They sometimes offer their prayers through the Saints, believing they can intercede to God on their behalf.
The Seven Sacraments
Both denominations believe in honoring the seven sacraments. They believe that these sacraments form a crucial basis for the life of an individual member. Some sacraments include the sacrament of confirmation and the sacrament of death. They, therefore, believe and encourage their members to ensure that in their lifetimes, they participate in the honoring of sacraments.
Confession to a priest
The Catholic and Orthodox churches also agree on the principle of confession to a priest. If you have a confession, both churches allow congregants to mention and confess their sins to the priest. After the admission, the priest is also allowed to pardon the confessor.
Icons for worship
Both Churches have also embraced the use of icons while worshipping. These icons are pieces of art denoting different aspects of the religion, like the cross of Jesus and the Saints. These icons are sacred to these churches and are not just painting symbols. They honor them during their devotions.
They also both believe in and honor the celebration of the Eucharist. During the celebration of the Eucharist, they celebrate Christ as the sacrifice that saved the World. They break the Eucharistic bread as the symbol of the body of Christ and take the wine as the symbol of his blood.
Why did the Catholic Church split from the Orthodox?
It is implied that the Catholic Church might have split from the Orthodox Church due to religious and ideological differences. One of the main differences stemmed from the disagreement on whether to use unleavened bread as a sacrament. While the Catholic Church supported unleavened bread, the Orthodox Church was against this practice, leading to a fallout.
The Orthodox Church’s insistence on eliminating the Filioque phrase from the Nicene Creed did not go down well with the Catholics. The Catholics insisted on using the term, but the Orthodox Church omitted the word. This is another difference that caused a rift between the two churches.
What do Catholics think about Orthodox?
Since they do not honor the Pope as the supreme leader of the Church, the Catholics think of Orthodox as a schismatic religion. This means they see them as a religion that has deviated from the norms of the first universal Church.
They also think the Orthodox Church has gotten some doctrines wrong. For example, the Catholics consider the belief that Christians have already been saved from the products of sin as a false doctrine.
Why did the Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Church
The Orthodox Church is assumed to have split from the Catholic Church due to the need to create a new Christian empire. Emperor Constantine moved his empire’s capital to Byzantium, where the Orthodox Church originated. The Orthodox Church at the time preferred to use Greek as the primary language of instruction. The Orthodox thinkers preferred Greek, while the Catholics preferred Latin. This was one reason why a rift arose.
The other reason that led to the Orthodox split with Catholics is the lack of agreement on the power given to the supreme earthly leader. The Orthodox preferred their leader to have limited capabilities, but the Catholic Church has given the Pope massive powers to run the Church and make decisions unhindered.
Is Catholicism better than Orthodox?
Some Christians think Catholicism is better than Orthodox since they have not deviated much from the norms of the First Church. However, both churches are good since they spread the same message that Jesus Christ came and died for our sins. That is the basis of the Church, and since both of them honor Jesus Christ, none should be considered better.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.