Did the split between Protestant and Catholic originate in a misunderstanding?

The two sides did disagree about the relationship between faith and works, they both agreed (1) that faith is absolutely necessary for salvation and (2) that we are absolutely commanded by God to do good works. Both these two points are unmistakably clear in Scripture.

When Luther taught that we are saved by faith alone, he meant by salvation only the initial step, justification, being put right with God. But when Trent said we are saved by good works as well as faith, they meant by salvation the whole process by which God brings us to our eternal destiny and that process includes repentance, faith, hope, and charity, the works of love.

The word faith was also used in two different senses. Luther used it in the broad sense of the person’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. It included repentance, faith, hope, and charity.

But in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses it in a more specific sense, as just one of the three theological virtues, with hope and charity added to it. In this narrower sense faith alone is not sufficient for salvation, for hope and charity must be present also.

Faith is the root, the necessary beginning. Hope is the stem, the energy that makes the plant grow. Love is the fruit, the flower, the visible product, the bottom line. The plant of our new life in Christ is one; the life of God comes into us by faith, through us by hope, and out of us by the works of love. That is clearly the biblical view, and when Protestants and Catholics who know and believe the Bible discuss the issue sincerely, it is amazing how quickly and easily they come to understand and agree with each other on this, the fundamental divisive issue.

The split of the Protestant Reformation began when a Catholic discovered a Catholic doctrine in a Catholic book. It can end only when both Protestants and Catholics do the same thing today and understand what they are doing: discovering a Catholic doctrine in a Catholic book.

Martin Luther said, famously, "We are compelled to concede to the Papists that they have the Word of GOD, that we received it from them, and that without them, we should have no knowledge of it at all.



The origin of the Reformation is often said to be Luther’s act of nailing ninety-five theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Luther’s decision to go public was occasioned by the scandal of Tetzel, a Dominican monk who shamelessly peddled forgiveness of sins for a fee.

But the scandal of selling indulgences was only the catalyst, not the cause, of the Reformation. The Church soon cleaned up its act and forbade the sale of indulgences at the Council of Trent, agreeing with Luther on this point. But one does not split the Church over a practice; one splits the Church over a doctrine, for the Church can change its practice but never its doctrine. To change a practice, one stays in the Church; to change a doctrine, one must start a new Church.

Update 2:

The terms of the dispute are ambiguous or used in two different senses. When terms are ambiguous, the two sides may really disagree when they seem to agree because they agree only on the word, not the concept. Or the two sides may really agree when they seem to disagree because they agree on the concept but not the word. The latter holds true here.

When Luther taught that we are saved by faith alone, he meant by salvation only the initial step, justification, being put right with God. But when Trent said we are saved by good works as well as faith, they meant by salvation the whole process by which God brings us to our eternal destiny and that process includes repentance, faith, hope, and charity, the works of love.

The word faith was also used in two different senses. Luther used it in the broad sense of the person’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. It included repentance, faith, hope, and charity.

17 Answers

  • Bruce
    Lv 7
    9 years ago
    Best Answer

    Probably. Indulgences are still not clearly understood.

    While forgiveness cannot be sold, there remains the necessity of penance for sin as a condition of forgiveness. Look at the actions of Zacchaeus Jesus celebrated:

    Luke 19:8

    But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

    It would be ridiculous and unbiblical to ban charitable giving as penance as as an expression of repentance.



  • 9 years ago

    For some of the followers of the Protestant Reformers, it may have been misunderstanding for them (or just pressure from the German and English monarchs) that caused them to convert to Protestantism, because in many places, they remained very Catholic minded.

    Luther however didn't simply "misunderstand" as the moves he made to too many in the same direction to be anything but calculated ;

    - add the word "alleine" (German for "alone") to Romans 3:28 to make it say "faith alone"

    - trying to remove The Book of James, the *only* place that has "faith alone" in it, from The Bible because it says "we are *not* saved by faith alone" and "To him therefore who knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin."

    - Luther removed seven books of the OT and tried to remove another three from the NT because the contested his doctrines.

  • 9 years ago

    Simply put, the PROTESTants only PROTESTED. However, they went out of the boundary when they found freedom on sola scriptura, faith alone and detest the role of the Pope... thus created a monster out of it. Protestants found a new freedom and love it... so the unending story goes on.

    No matter what the fix is and how much they massage and reinvented the words of our Apostles and ancient fathers, they still remain a Catholic with a small letter 'c'.

  • 9 years ago

    it was because the catholic church teaches false doctrine that the bible does not teach

    mary was not divine and did not remain sinless her whole life

    god never told people to pray to saints or mary the mother of jesus

    the bible does not give priests the power to forgive sins or offer absolution

    there is no purgatory

    it goes on and on

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  • 9 years ago

    History shows that orderly change is very difficult to achieve, and the tragedy of the sixteenth century was that valid, indeed imperative, calls for deeper interiorization of religion sometimes led to the wholesale rejection of the sacramental sense itself.

    The Catholic Reformation, on the one hand, reaffirmed all disputed doctrines and practices. But tacitly it also accepted the legitimacy of some of the reformist criticisms. Attempts were made to counter popular superstitions through catechizing. Serious efforts were made to reform the structures of the Church so that it could be seen primarily as a spiritual entity. Above all, as in the work of St. Ignatius Loyola and the great Spanish mystics, it responded to that thirst for genuine interiority that has been characteristic of believers in every age.

  • Luken
    Lv 5
    9 years ago

    A novel thought: Religions in essence preaching the same thing, but arguing with each other on some trivial point or interpretation... nyahh, that would actually make sense

  • 9 years ago

    I think there surely are genuine misunderstandings of these matters. Whether Martin Luther himself merely was mistaken or misunderstood, I do not know. I think the protestant separation primarily was for the Earthly self-interest of the people who left Catholicism. Many people in local parishes gained new freedoms to do as they pleased, and political leaders found an opportunity to realign themselves as best suited their political aspirations.

    In England, the split from Rome was plainly and purely political. I don't believe for an instant that there was any genuine doctrinal dispute there. In continental Europe, however, there were some doctrinal disputes, such as what you have described. I believe, however, that those disputes were intentionally exaggerated in order to escape the responsibility of remaining faithful to the whole Catholic Church.

    To be separated from Rome left people free to enjoy normal human life more free from moral and religious doctrine. I pray for Martin Luther's eternal salvation, but I do not ignore the obvious fact that he found life separate from the Catholic Church a bit more carnally pleasant in at least one very important way. He took a wife, a nun no less. That sure was a self-indulgence that made his freedom from papal authority personally rather attractive.

    I think the fact that Martin Luther acknowledged that the Catholic Church was the guardian of scriptural truth makes it clear that he knew in his heart that The Catholic Church is the one Church established by Jesus Christ. Surely it could not be some other church that Martin Luther thought was the original and true Church, and that only recently had The Catholic Church become the guardian of scriptural truth for the world. No indeed, I think Luther knew well that The Catholic Church had legitimate real authority in matters of doctrine, which is to say that Luther knew The Catholic Church was the one and only true Church that existed, and that ever could exist.

    I think rather than misunderstandings, stubbornness and arrogance gave rise to the protestant split from the Catholic Church. Reasonable disagreement occurred about doctrinal application (which is practice). Martin Luther and others were impatient and hasty in getting unduly publicly angry, and the Pope was unduly over-reactive in making it publicly obvious that he was not about to submit to the demands of Martin Luther or any other angry outspoken priest (or bishop).

    Martin Luther demanded immediate resolution of his complaints - some of which were reasonable and legitimate, and the Pope reacted in a way intended to protect papal authority more primarily than doctrinal accuracy and practical propriety. I really think the protestant separation primarily was due to an argument that got out of control, and once out of control, the protestants said "so long" to Rome.

    To this day, the protestants seems to me almost always to have complaints about Rome that are severely exaggerated or downright false. For example, "salvation by faith alone" is a nonsensical idea to me. Show me "faith alone" and I'll have more respect for it. I think there is no such thing as "faith alone." It's not merely inadequate - it does not exist. Unless a person was to have a first moment of faith and then instantly die, the faith surely would never be separated from works or a genuine intention to engage in works. Faith does not last alone, not beyond a moment.

    Lutherans at least, and most protestants, agree with us Catholics that salvation is a free gift, but they deny that we are in agreement on this. We Catholics look at the words of Jesus Christ (such as in Matthew chapter 25) and say works are essential - just as Jesus plainly said, and the protestants try to say that Catholics claim we earn salvation. Catholics, of course, explicitly say salvation is a gift, but since we acknowledge that works matter, as Jesus taught us, we are falsely accused of claiming we earn salvation.

    The bottom line in my opinion is that well-educated Christians who study the history of Christianity, all 2,000 years of Christianity, know that The Catholic Church is the institution in which Christianity is most fully preserved, protected, practiced and celebrated. Unfortunately, many protestants have become entrenched in their freedom from Rome, and most sadly, in their false doctrines like modern "prosperity Christianity" that teaches people to become wealthy by being good Christians.

    Today it would take a great deal of humble honesty for many protestant ministers to admit publicly what I think many of them know personally. They have much Earthly comfort to lose by joining the Catholic Church. I hope and pray that they do not lose their eternal comfort as a result of their stubborn desire to remain independent from the overwhelming majority of Christianity, namely The Catholic Church.

    I am Roman Catholic.

    Peace be with you.

    EDIT: I think the specificity of your question and the substantial comments you made were a great service to us all. I hope my answer was at least somewhat relevant. My short answer is that a misunderstanding may have started the trouble, but selfishness, arrogance and pride have kept the schism open.


    Source(s): . Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, wrote a great book entitled "Catholic Matters." Father Neuhaus made a great case for why The Catholic Church should be home to all Christians.
  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    there wasn't a disagreement. The Catholic Church has the truth and others split off from it.

  • Mawia
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    The issue at the time of the Reformation around was Indulgences - "tickets' that a person could buy from the pope to free the soul of a loved one from purgatory.

    It is believed that Martin Luther was inspired to write his Ninety-Five Theses, in part, due to Tetzel's actions of selling these to raise money for the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome during this period of time.

    So no, it is not a simple misunderstanding, it is a gross error of doctrine that keeps the Protestants and Roman Catholics apart. While I believe that there are both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the 'invisible church' or the 'church without boundaries' - it continues to be the pride, selfishness and unbelief of people that keeps the denominations apart.

  • 9 years ago

    Sounds great.

    Now, go take a class on fundamental theology and figure out the truth.

    For your argument does not take into account those in isolationist prison, people in comas, or those that have no capacity to DO any kinds of works whatsoever!

    In your statement, then these people will never find salvation for you said that salvation is pinned on hope and charity.

    WRONG !

    This is WHY Luther broke away from the Catholic Church! There is NOTHING we can do to earn salvation into the kingdom of God! NOTHING !

    No amount of works will bring us justification!

    No amount of hope or charity or anything BUT faith can bring us to justification. Sanctification is our responsibility. Justification is the free gift for that effort.

    Just who do you think wrote the New Testament anyway? It wasn't any CHRISTIANS. It was all written by JEWS !

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