The two most prolific groups ever to split from the Catholic Church have been the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches. The two groups left Catholicism more than four centuries apart and for very different reasons. Because Protestantism began in the West, dialogue between the two groups has been relatively infrequent until modern times.
The Orthodox churches separated from Rome in A.D. 1054, after centuries of internal disputes and conflicts. The immediate cause of the split was theological, but the two groups had been developing different cultures and customs through the ages. Once the split occurred, dialogue continued for another 400 years, ending in the 15th century.
The Protestant Reformation, on the other hand, was an entirely internal movement within the Roman Catholic Church. Geographically, Protestantism was coterminous with Catholicism. This ultimately led to significant disputes within each country with a Catholic presence, such as King Henry VIII's separation of the Church of England from Rome.
Orthodox and Protestant Christians, along with Roman Catholics, share a belief in the Trinity. Christians of all sorts believe God is one God manifested in three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This doctrine is expressed in the early church creeds, such as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. There is one area of contention, however. Western Christians recite the following line in the Nicene Creed: "The Holy Spirit Proceeds from the Father and the Son." Orthodox Christians recite it this way: "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son." A single word in Latin, filioque, separates the two, yet this doctrinal distinction was at the core of Orthodoxy's separation from Western Christianity.
Faith and Works
One of Protestantism's core rallying cries was "sola fide," or "faith alone." This is the belief that faith is the only requirement a person must meet in order to be forgiven of sin and justified before God. Orthodox Christians reject the idea that faith can exist alone without good works. They believe faith will always demonstrate itself in love for God and love for others. Faith and morals are intertwined for Orthodox Christians, so much so that one cannot exist without the other.
Orthodox churches observe seven sacraments: baptism, chrismation or confirmation, Holy Eucharist or communion, penance, matrimony, holy orders and Extreme Unction or anointing of the sick. These are the same seven sacraments the Roman Catholic Church observes, although the two groups differ in their understanding of communion. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ is mystically and spiritually present in the communion bread and wine, while Catholics believe the bread and wine truly but invisibly transform into Christ's body and blood. Orthodox churches also use leavened bread, whereas Western Christians use unleavened bread.
Most Protestant groups observe just two sacraments: baptism and communion. Protestants vary in their understanding of communion. Some believe Christ is spiritually present in the elements in a way similar to Orthodox belief. Others believe communion is simply a memorial and that it does not, by itself, necessitate Christ's presence.
- Orthodox Church in America: The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity
- Patheos Library: Protestantism
- New Advent: Filioque
- Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: The Fundamental Teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church
- Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry: Are We Saved by Faith Alone, or Do We Need Works, Too?
- Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America: Our Sacraments
- Patheos Library: Protestantism - Rites and Ceremonies
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