Christianity has gone through magnanimous changes and splits since the ancient days. The first split was from Judaism, through which the three main Christian branches were born – Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodox. Roman Catholicism is the largest and oldest of the three, dating back to the ancient Roman Empire Rule. These splits from the primary Christian faith beg the question, how different is Roman Catholicism from Christianity? This post comprehensively discusses the never-ending Roman Catholicism vs. Christianity debate.
While Christianity is the umbrella religion that encompasses all the known religions that believe in Christ – or rather, the teachings, life, and death of Jesus Christ, Roman Catholicism represents the largest branches of Christianity. This would mean that while all who identify as Roman Catholics are Christians, not all are Catholics.
There are many other differences between the two belief systems, including the importance of the sacraments, the Virgin Mary, the Papacy, and the Saints. Keep reading to learn more about the differences and similarities between Christianity and Roman Catholicism.
What is the difference between Christianity and Roman Catholicism?
About Christianity and Roman Catholicism
Christianity represents a broad belief system for all who believe in Jesus Christ. Followers of Christ are called Christians and make up the Christian belief. They believe in Christ, the Son of God/ the Holy Trinity – Christians believe Christ is an incarnate version of God that walked the earth.
On the other hand, Catholicism, the very first form of Christianity, was established under Roman Rule. Catholicism believes that it is a church that belongs to the initial Church that Jesus Christ founded, but that Christ chose St. Peter to lead the Church as the Church’s Rock and was appointed to be the first Pope. Matthew 16 18-19 summarizes this – And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. “
Catholics also believe in the Apostles Creed, which summarizes the Catholic Creed and notes the Church’s belief in man falling and Christ coming to earth to save humanity.
History of Christianity and Catholicism
While Christianity is believed to have started in the 1st century CE, it wasn’t until the mid-1st century CE that it was made a standalone religious belief. Notably, teachings about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth started in the modern-day Roman Province of Judea. The earlier versions of Christianity preached and promised salvation to its believers. It later spread across the Roman Empire. Christianity took hold when Rome became a thoroughly Christian state after the Edict of Milan’s issuance by Emperor Constantine in 31 CE. This move granted Christians Legal Status.
On the other hand, Roman Catholicism traces back to 30CE in Roman-held Jewish Palestine, where the teachings and life of Jesus Christ represented the primary (and only) religious belief. And so, the Catholic teachings implied that each of the Catholic sacraments had been instituted by Christ rather than the Jewish believers.
While the Catholic Church holds the institution of the papacy in very high regard, it is not true in other Christian religions or beliefs.
The papacy is a crucial part of Catholic beliefs. The Pope is considered the Vicar of Christ and governs the whole Church. In other words, the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the shepherd, and the chief pastor of the Catholic Church. And according to Scripture, Christ chose Peter to head His Church. The Gospel of Matthew 16:18 implies that Jesus Christ appointed St. Peter, His Disciple, as the Church’s first pope. Despite being one of Christ’s 12, Roman Catholic traditions suggest that Jesus Christ appointed St. Peter as the Church’s first pope.
And in Matthew 16:19, Jesus gave St. Peter the keys to heaven or the Kingdom of Heaven. This is a reason why St. In pop culture and art, Peter is often portrayed at heaven’s gate. St. Peter was also installed as the leader of the Catholic Church or the Pope, with historical records suggesting that Paul and Peter went to Antioch before going to Rome to preach.
The records further suggest that, forming the Church in Rome, Peter ruled the Church. St. Peter was succeeded by Pope Linus, while the chair that Peter used during sermons was preserved and has been celebrated for years in commemoration of St. Peter being Rome’s first pope.
The New Testament covers all the Catholic elements, like its universality, doctrines, and authority.
The Book of Acts (of the apostles), for instance, talks about the disciples of Jesus in Modern-day Jerusalem, ending in an account of how the Christian community developed criteria for differentiating authentic apostolic teachings from inauthentic teachings and behaviors. It further gives an implied account of the movement of Catholicism from the Judaic borders to Rome – this is specified in Acts 28:14. Further warnings and instructions about the uniqueness and holiness of the Catholic Church are given in 1st Timothy 6:20, Jude 3, and in Ephesians 1:23.
Through these sections of the scripture in the New Testament, it’s clear that these writings were given as responses to the challenges faced by the Church, internally and externally. And the Catholic teachings were emphasized further in the 2nd and 3rd centuries to show the Church’s stand.
On the other hand, the other versions of Christianity consider Christ as the head of the Church. But they don’t have popes to head churches. Instead, the other branches of Christianity – Protestant and Orthodox, have Bishops as the main church leaders.
Doctrines and Beliefs
Christianity holds the belief that all Christian believers are monotheistic and that they all believe in one God, the only God and the creator of the heavens and earth. Christianity is further guided by a divine Godhead, the Trinity, made of the Father (God), Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The Cross is the main symbol of Christianity and the Holy Bible (New and Old Testament), a guide with teachings of how Christians should live and about disciples and prophets.
While Roman Catholicism also follows and believes in these Christian beliefs, Roman Catholics are further led by the doctrines and beliefs around the importance of the Sacraments, the Virgin Mary, the Papacy, Saints, the Bible, and specific traditions. According to Catholic teachings, the Sacraments are essential in Roman Catholic beliefs since they are the elements that preserve and eternalize the union between humankind and God.
Mary’s Position in the Church
While forms of Christianity revere and recognize Mary as the mother of Christ, the degrees of reverence vary between the denominations. In Christian teachings, the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus Christ miraculously, and the Church from the apostolic age venerated her. The Christian beliefs about Mary date back to ancient times when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ through Immaculate conception. She is the Mother of Jesus Christ or God, and other religions don’t pray to or through the Blessed Mary, Mother of God.
On the other hand, Catholicism regards Mary as the Queen of Saints. Therefore, Catholics call Mary, The Mother of God. Catholics also acknowledge that Mary appeared to different people through apparitions. In Catholic teachings, as implied by scripture in John 1:1-14, Mary didn’t really ‘create’ Jesus because Jesus existed alongside God from the beginning and will be present for all eternity. Catholics also venerate Mary, meaning they honor the Blessed Mother with devotion and Reverence. But, while Catholics pray through Mary for intercession, they don’t worship Mary.
Statues and Pictures
Only Catholic and Orthodox churches are big on statues, pictures, or imagery in Christianity. In contrast, there is significant use of statues, crosses, and pictures in Catholicism, with Catholics using them widely to depict the Saints, Mary, and Christ.
The type of clergy that preach also differ – Christianity recognizes priests, ministers, bishops, nuns, and monks. On the other hand, Catholics have a hierarchical system for clergy, all specified in a Holy Order. Common Catholic Clergy includes Priests, Deacons, Monks, Bishops, and nuns. Then there are rank-only official clergy, including archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope. But they have many other types of recognized clergy.
Meanings of Salvation
Christianity generally believes that one attains salvation through the Passion of Christ, His Death, and Resurrection, as implied in John 3:16. But for Catholics, every believer receives salvation during baptism. Still, they lose salvation by committing mortal sin, and the only way to regain salvation is through penance and faith.
In Catholicism, it is also believed that Jesus Christ is humanity’s only savior, so believers should have a relationship with Christ. Also, salvation is gained through the Seven Sacraments and Good Works.
Confession of Sins
It is worth noting that the three branches of Christianity have different takes on confessing sins, with Protestants confessing to God directly and Catholics plus Orthodox confessing mortal sins through Priests or confessing venial sins to God directly. Anglicans allow confession through a priest, but this is optional. Even so, Catholics must confess their sins to a priest for their absolution in Christ’s name and through prayer to Saints. They make references to John 20:22-23 for this practice.
While the leading practices in Christianity include prayers, the sacraments, reading the Bible, worshipping in Church, and taking part in communion and charity, Roman Catholicism takes these practices further by noting that all Catholics must be part of the liturgical life- this means that Catholics are to revere and celebrate the Sacrifices that Christ made on the Cross, during Mass. The Catholic Church also celebrated the 7 sacraments: Matrimony, Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing the sick, Confession, and the Holy Orders.
Goals of the religion
Ultimately, the goal of Christianity is to have its followers love God and obey God’s commandments while nurturing their relationships with Christ and saving others through spreading the Gospel of Christ. Catholicism’s primary goal is to glorify God and share Eternity in Christ.
Religious laws differ depending on the denomination, but the Catholics ascribe to the canonical laws, the 10 commandments, papal decrees or orders, and the laws in the Catholic Church’s Catechism.
Take on marriage
All forms of Christianity acknowledge that marriage is a Holy Sacrament. It’s only that the Catholics take things deeper, noting that marriage is the sacrament shared by one man and woman. While Divorce is non-existent, Catholicism supports the annulment of marriage by a church official, but only if the marriage was invalid from the beginning.
Christianity is the largest religion worldwide, with adherents spread all over. Today, Christians make up a large percentage of the European population, and also in North & South America, New Zealand, And Australia.
On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church is headquartered in Vatican City, an independent city-state. But Catholicism is spread worldwide, with Latin America boasting over 69% of the world’s Catholic population.
What are the similarities between Christianity and Roman Catholicism?
Founder of the church/ Religious Belief
As mentioned above, and as implied by scripture in the New Testament, the leader or founder of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, who appointed the Apostle St. Peter as the founder of the Church. Catholic traditions recognize that Jesus Christ is the founder of the Church. He founded the Church in 30CE, and Christ also initiated and made the Sacraments a crucial part of the Church. At the same time, Romans 16:18 implies that St. Pope was appointed the Church’s first leader, or the Pope.
Note that Christianity holds a similar belief in which The Lord Jesus Christ established Christianity.
In the same breath, it is worth noting that Christianity implies A Follower of Christ, while Catholic is derived from a Greek objective, katholikos (καθολικός), meaning universal or general.
Jesus Christ’s identity
Christianity considers Jesus Christ the Son of God. At the same time, Roman Catholicism regards Christ as God Incarnate or the Father’s Son, the Messiah, and the savior of humankind, who is also the sole mediator or intercessor between man and God, as recorded in Matthew 15:15-16.
Nicene and Apostle Creeds
Christianity and Roman Catholicism believe in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds– practically the same. Nicene Creed is also known as Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and it’s accepted authoritatively by all Christians. The Nicene Creed affirms the belief that the Father is the One God and Almighty and that Jesus is God’s (begotten) Son.
Ascension to Heaven
Christians and Catholics believe that humans cannot save or ascend to heaven by themselves, and only God can save them because He is the only one that is Good. So, Christ was sent down to be humankind’s salvation. Catholicism holds a similar belief in reference to John 3:16.
Foundation and practices
Christianity and Roman Catholicism both believe that Christ is the Church’s founder. They also believe in the one God and the Trinity mentioned in Matthew 28:19-20. In both belief systems, the concept of a deity encompassed 1 God and 3 Divinities – The Father, Son, & Holy Spirit – The Trinity.
While the primary maxim of Christianity is Love of Divine Wisdom, Catholicism breaks this into three, the sacraments, the search for the truth, and assertions around the goodness of the human mind. Divine Wisdom, or the Gift of wisdom, relates to the Holy Spirit’s charismatic gifts to human beings in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. These include understanding, wisdom, counsel, piety, knowledge, fortitude, and, most importantly, the Fear of God. This cuts through across all Christian Religions, including Roman Catholicism.
Role of Mary
All forms of Christianity revere and recognize Mary as the mother of Christ, although the degrees of reverence vary between the denominations. Christ came to save Humankind in all Christian beliefs because Mary agreed to God’s call, becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Luke 1:28-32.
Belief in Life after Death
Life after death is also a common belief across all Christian beliefs – in Christianity, eternity is found in heaven or hell or even in temporal purgatory. But the Catholic Church takes things up a notch with specificity, implying that humans will have eternal salvation when they go to heaven or eternal damnation if their souls go to hell. And there’s also the third temporal state of Purgatory, which is for the people that desire purification before ascending to heaven.
What’s human nature?
In Catholicism, all humans inherit the Original Sin passed down from Adam, so all humans are inherently evil and must seek forgiveness of sins. Christianity holds a similar belief system, insisting that Christians should know what is right or wrong in their actions. Christianity also noted that humans represent a fallen, broken race that needs salvation from God-Romans 3:23.
- Confession of sins – All Christians believe that God forgives all kinds of sins – 1 John 1:9
- Christ’s Second Coming: Christianity and Catholicism affirm the second coming of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 9:28
- Virtues – Christianity and Catholicism are based on Love (and Justice) Micah 6:8, Isaiah 1:17, John 15:12, Matthew 5: 43-48
Which came first between Christianity and Roman Catholicism?
Roman Catholicism was born early in the 30CE, and Christianity as an umbrella religious group started in 135CE when it became a separate entity from Judaism. The earliest known written accounts acknowledging the Catholic Church date to AD. 107.
But according to Ignatius (one of Christ’s disciples, later called Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and he’s one of the apostles that accompanied Peter to build a church and preach in Rome), the name was already used widely by Christians, meaning that its use could have been much older. The Catholics Doctrines suggest that Catholicism was the Original Catholic Church and that Christianity is the only true religion.
What do Catholics think of Christianity?
Since Catholics deem themselves Christians, they primarily support, uphold, or recognize other Christian religions, even when they have a few different beliefs. While Catholics disagree with some of the theologian beliefs of concepts held by non-Catholics, the fact that all Christians believe in God means that they respect the beliefs of other Christians and think of them as just another kind of belief.
The former Pope Benedict XVI suggested that non-Catholics wouldn’t be damned, and they could also go to heaven. By saying this, he implied that every Christian is free to go to the Church that pleases them as long as they have faith in God.
Is Catholicism considered Christian?
Catholicism is considered the Christian faith, and it is the largest of the Christian Faiths, with roots in Ancient Rome as the Christians broke away from Judaism. The emperors made Christianity the primary religious belief system.
The primary difference between Catholicism and Christianity is that Roman Catholicism believes in sacraments, specific bible roles, specific traditions, and the importance of the papacy, the Virgin Mary, and the Saints. These beliefs aside, Roman Catholics and all other Christians are guided by Bible Teachings. Like Christianity, Catholic teachings are often found in the Bible.
Can Catholics attend Christian churches?
Even though Catholics have their ways, they remain respectful of other people’s sensibilities and go to other churches as long as they are welcome. Ideally, Catholicism doesn’t deem problematic visits to places of worship of other Christian religions, either for educational or social reasons.
All about Christianity’s roots
Statistics for Catholic Adherents
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? Being raised by Christians significantly impacted my life since I started professing Christ from a young age. My passion for the Christian faith made me pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology. I am a believer and pastor dedicated to spreading the word of God. I have been in the Christian ministry for over a decade and am currently ministering in Life Christian Church. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Please check the About Us Page for more details.