You don’t need to be Catholic for long, or even study its theology in any sort of depth to realize that there is no shortage of misconceptions about Catholicism. As a former theology teacher and missionary, I’ve encountered many people who think they know the Catholic Church, sadly they hold so many misunderstandings about our beliefs and teachings. Not that I can blame them…many Catholics don’t understand their faith. Naturally it seemed fitting to put together a list of the common misconceptions I hear about the Catholic Church. Sure there are plenty more than this post covers, but these are the ones that I have most often been faced with explaining.
Disclaimer: This is not meant to give an exhaustive reasoning for Church teaching, but rather shed some light on these matters which so often seem to be misconstrued.
Catholics are not really Christian.
I really never understood how this one even logically made sense, but Catholics are in fact Christian. Historically, we are the original Christians. Before the protestant reformation or the modern day mega-church, there was Christianity and the earliest of Christians (including the apostles and church fathers) held undeniably similar practices and beliefs as Catholics do today. Scripture and early saints speak of such similarities clearly.
While there are way too many examples of such similarities to be exhaustive, there are a couple I want to direct attention to. First, we see the initial beginnings of the Mass described in Acts 20, explaining that early Christians would gather on the first day of the week to celebrate and break bread. The belief that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ is first described in the Matthew 26: 26-28. This Catholic belief is echoed again by the early saints too!
The practice of infant baptism is alluded to in the Gospel of Luke 18:15-16 “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Catholicism is not a bible-based church.
Granted, Catholics are not known for their memorization or knowledge of Scripture….and shame on us because if there is anything we should pour our energy into, you think learning the Lord’s revealed Word would be a priority. As St. Jerome is famously quoted, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” and couldn’t we all strive to be a little less ignorant?
Setting our failures aside, we are at our very core a bible-based faith. God, above all else, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” through His Son, Jesus Christ (CCC 74). His revelation and guidance is presented to us in three ways; through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium or the teaching office of the pope and bishops…more on that later.
But doesn’t the Bible itself instruct us to follow it?
Yes, but nowhere does it say that we should only be guided by Scripture alone. Before the gospels were written (around 95 AD) and Scripture was compiled, the teachings of Christ were passed down through storytelling. We derive the practice of remaining true to our traditions from Scripture itself, St. Paul’s writings instruct the faithful to “hold fast to the traditions.” (2 Thes. 2:15) If we believe that the bible is truly the word of God why wouldn’t we adhere to continuing the traditions of our forefathers in faith?
Catholics idolize the pope.
As Catholics we love our popes…and our current pope, Francis I mean c’mon who couldn’t love him?
Despite how much we love our pope, we do not idolize or worship him. We look to the pope for guidance and insight because we believe that the Holy Spirit is working through the papal office in a special way to guide the Church. We believe this because Christ himself passed on all his authority to our first pope, Peter (Matthew 16:15-20). Looking for further explanation…check out what the Church Fathers said.
I mean really if Christ instituted the Church on earth as a means to help humanity get to heaven, why wouldn’t He continue to guide that institution throughout the ages? He does. We refer to this person of the Trinity as the Holy Spirit, who guides the Magisterium to lead us home. We don’t think the pope is God. We don’t worship him, rather we look to him for clarity and guidance on issues beyond our wisdom. Now it is true that we do believe the pope’s teaching to be infallible.
What the heck does that mean?
It does not mean that he himself is incapable of failings and shortcomings. It does not mean that he is perfect or sinless. Rather, we understand this term “infallibility” to be applied to the office of the Magisterium, meaning his official teachings on faith and morals. The blessing of papal infallibility can only be applied when he is explaining or defining what we believe. He cannot add to, subtract or change what we as a church already adhere to. We believe that God, the Holy Spirit, protects this office from leading the faithful astray.
Sure we’ve had our doozies from time to time, but as history has shown with those popes God has always managed to get us all back on track. Learn more about papal infallibility from some people way more intelligent than me.
Well as I get into writing this post I’m realizing there is so much more to address than one post has the capacity for so I will continue with future posts to help clarify those pesky misconceptions of the Catholic Church.
Got questions about the Catholic faith, let us know in the comments below.