Episcopalian and Catholicism share many similar beliefs as they came from the same original church. Over the years, each evolved into definitive branches, often blurring the lines between Catholicism and Protestantism. This article will examine their intertwined histories, similarities, and differences.
What is Episcopal?
Many people see the Episcopal Church as a compromise between Catholicism and Protestantism. The Episcopal Church, like all Anglican churches, has its roots in the Protestant tradition, but it also has many similarities to the Roman Catholic Church, especially in worship practices. For example, they do not follow the Catholic Pope for guidance but the Bible as the final authority on matters of faith, worship, service, and doctrine.
Episcopal means of a bishop or bishops which clearly demonstrates the leadership with bishops taking the central role in leadership. Although, their power is not all reaching, such as the Catholic Pope. Instead, the bishop will supervise one or several local churches as a spiritual advisor. They rely not just on a Pope for answers of faith and allow people to have a voice in the church.
What is Catholicism?
Catholicism views Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples, as the first pope appointed by Jesus during His ministry (Matthew 16:18). According to the Roman Catholic Church, the Apostle Peter became the first bishop of Rome sometime after the events recorded in the book of Acts, and the early church accepted the Roman bishop as the central authority among all churches. It teaches that God transferred Peter’s apostolic authority to those who succeeded him as bishop of Rome. This doctrine of God passing on Peter’s apostolic authority to subsequent bishops is known as “apostolic succession.” The Catholic Church believes the Pope is infallible in their position so they can guide the church without mistakes.
The Catholic faith holds that God created the universe, including all its inhabitants and inanimate objects. Additionally, the focus is on the sacrament of confession, with Catholics putting their unwavering faith in the church’s ability to forgive their sins. Finally, through the intercession of the saints, the faithful can seek pardon for their transgressions. In the Catholic faith, the saints also serve as protectors of daily practices.
Are Episcopalians Catholic?
Episcopal fall between Catholicism and Protestantism as they maintain tenants from both. The Anglican Church, under which the Episcopal falls, has always considered itself to be the church that unites the Catholic and Protestant traditions of Christianity by upholding the authority of the Bible. In the 16th century, Anglicans helped bring about much-needed Church reforms.
Catholic churches seek guidance from the Pope, and protestant churches look to the Bible for guidance, but they often fail to recognize that the Bible, like any other book, requires interpretation. While they share similarities with Catholicism, the differences make them unique. Some differences include they do not require confession as a sacrament, nor do they rely on the Pope as their leader. We will discuss more below, but the short answer is no, Episcopalians are not Catholics.
Similarities between Episcopalians and Catholicism
The central focus of both faiths holds Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of mankind through His sacrifice on the cross. Both also share the trinitarian faith. Also, Episcopalians and Catholicism follow sacraments as visible signs of their grace and faith, such as baptism and a form of confession, although they differ on the sacraments. Additionally, both take communion in the form of bread and wine, given and received in obedience to Christ’s command as an outward sign of faith. Lastly, their leadership wears distinctive garments to church.
Origin of the Episcopal and Catholic Church
The Church of England, from which the Episcopal Church evolved, split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century due to disagreements on political and theological matters. King Henry VIII’s desire for an heir sparked the break between the Catholic church branching off into the Episcopal church. Catherine, the King’s first wife, had no sons but Anne Boleyn, a lady in waiting, whom he loved, he hoped would provide him with an heir. The Pope at the time, Pope Clement VII, refused to give the king an annulment from Catherine so he could marry Anne, whom he married in secret.
The Pope excommunicated the King after discovering his secret marriage. Henry took control of the English Church with the Act of Supremacy in 1534, removing the Pope’s authority. The King abolished monasteries and redistributed their wealth and land. This act allowed him to divorce Catherine and marry Anne who also did not give him an heir nor did his next four wives until he married Jane Seymour who gave him a son before dying in childbirth.
After years of Catholic rule, it sparked the Protestant Reformation and the creation of the Anglican Church, England’s Protestant denomination. The Anglican Church followed the British Empire across the Atlantic. Church of England congregations in the American colonies reorganized and adopted the name Episcopal to emphasize bishop-led dioceses where bishops are elected rather than appointed by the monarch. In 1789, all American Episcopalians met in Philadelphia to create a constitution and canon law for the new Episcopal Church. They revised the Book of Common Prayers they still used today along with their tenants.
During the apostolic era, Jesus named Peter the rock of the church (Matthew 16:18) which lead many to believe he was the first pope. The foundation was laid for what would become the Roman Catholic Church (circa AD 30-95). It is clear that a church existed in Rome when the New Testament Scriptures were being written, even though we do not have records of the first Christian missionaries to Rome.
The Roman Empire banned Christianity for the first 280 years of Christian history, and Christians were persecuted horribly. This changed after the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion. In AD 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which lifted the ban on Christianity. Later, in 325 AD, Constantine convened the Council of Nicea to unify Christianity.
The doctrine of justification
In Christian theology, justification refers to the act of making a sinner righteous in God’s eyes. The various theories of atonement change by denomination, often a massive cause of contention separating into more branches. During the Reformation, Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestantism became sharply divided over the doctrine of justification.
Justification in the Episcopal church comes from faith in Jesus Christ. In their Book of Common Pray, we find their statement of faith, “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings.” However, some churches that fall prey to the Catholic side of the faith may still expect works to help them.
Roman Catholics believe that salvation begins with baptism and continues by cooperating with grace through faith, good works, and receiving church sacraments such as Holy Eucharist or communion. In general, Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that justification, which begins with baptism, continues with sacrament participation, and the resulting grace of cooperation with God’s will (sanctification) are an organic whole of one act of reconciliation brought to completion in glorification.
The Episcopalian denomination believes baptism brings a person into the family of God through adoption. Additionally, the sacrament of Holy Baptism, which can be performed by pouring or immersion in water, marks a formal entrance into the congregation and wider Church. Candidates for the sacrament make a series of vows, including an affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant, and are baptized in the Names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Episcopalians use the Book of Common Prayer as a brief catechism for initiation into the church. Next, they recite questions modeled after the Apostles’ Creed, along with an affirmation of commitment and reliance on God’s help. Anyone can be baptized at any age without then are grafted into the church as a member.
Children of Christian parents are baptized to cleanse them of original sin and regenerate them, a practice is known as paedobaptism or child baptism. Water baptism is the first sacrament, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it grants access to the other required sacraments. It is also the act by which sins are forgiven, spiritual rebirth is granted, and one becomes a member of the church. Catholics regard baptism as the means of receiving the Holy Spirit.
Catholics believe that a baptized person enters eternal life at the moment of baptism but that he loses that “eternal” life and the Holy Spirit when he sins.
In every instance of baptism in the New Testament, it came after a person’s faith in and confession of Christ, as well as repentance (e.g., Acts 8:35–38; 16:14–15; 18:8; and 19:4–5). Baptism does not bring us salvation. After faith, baptism is an act of obedience.
The role of the Church: Differences between the Episcopal and Catholic Church
The Episcopalian Church centers on bishops for leadership, with the Trinity as the head of the church. While each area will have a bishop, these men or women are treated as fallible humans serving the church. Episcopal Church belongs to the worldwide Anglican Communion. According to the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, the church’s mission is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
In 108 dioceses and three mission areas spread across 22 nations and territories, the Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ. The Episcopal Church belongs to the worldwide Anglican Communion. The goal of the church encourages evangelism, reconciliation, and creation care.
The Catholic church views itself as the church on Earth taking over the work of Jesus. As Peter started as the first pope, Catholicism continues the work of the apostles to govern and reach the community of Christian followers. As such, the church sets church law governing external relationships if individuals in the Christian community. In addition, they govern moral law concerning sins. Cannon law requires strict obedience but with room for interpretation per individual.
Essentially, the church serves as a multi-faceted society that seeks to assist people in discovering and fulfilling their God-given identity. By focusing on more than simply the physical nature, the Catholic Church helps to provide meaning as spiritual beings, as everyone is made in the image and likeness of God.
Praying to the Saints
Both Episcopalians and Catholics honor those who have made significant contributions to the history of the church. Both religious groups have set aside special days to honor saints through various religious rituals and practices. However, they differ in their belief of the role and abilities of the saints.
Episcopalians, like Catholics, offer some prayers through saints but do not pray to them. They also honor Mary as Christ’s mother. In general, the Anglican-Episcopal tradition advises its members to respect the saints or elite Christians from the past; they do not suggest praying to them. Further, they do not suggest their members ask the saints to pray on their behalf.
Historically, the Virgin’s birth has been affirmed. High-church Anglicans and Episcopalians regard Mary in the same way that Catholics do. Low church followers regard her in the same way that Protestants do. The church instead focuses on joining in prayer to saints and Mary instead of praying to them. Members are welcome to pray directly to God instead of through someone else, although they are welcome to pray to saints as well.
Catholics disagree about praying to deceased saints. Some people pray to saints directly, while others ask saints or Mary to pray for them. As such, Catholics may approach or invoke saints to pray on their behalf to Jesus or for guidance and protection. Because they avoid praying directly to Jesus or God, their prayers often require them to pray to saints or Mary. Jesus’s mother, Mary, was born a virgin, lived a sinless life, undid Eve’s disobedience, was a perpetual virgin, was raptured to heaven, and now serves as an advocate and co-mediator.
There is no instruction in the Bible to pray to or have dead saints pray for you. Scripture teaches believers to pray only to God. Praying to saints and Mary has no scriptural basis and is a cause for concern as it gives others the authority of Christ despite their sinful and fallible human nature. Worship is not limited to God alone, and praying to someone is an act of worship.
Episcopalians and Catholics view of the End Times
Both churches agree on the end times, marking a similarity between the Episcopal and Catholic religions.
Episcopalians believe in Christ’s Second Coming. The eschatology of the tradition is amillennial (or millenarianism), as opposed to premillennial or postmillennial. Amillennialist sees the 1,000-year reign as spiritual and non-literal. To put it simply, amillennialism regards Christ’s first coming as the inauguration of the kingdom and His return as the consummation of the kingdom. John’s reference to 1,000 years thus foreshadows everything that would occur during the church age.
They believe that Christ will return to establish a thousand-year reign of justice, happiness, and peace, as described in Revelation 20-21. Satan is chained, and history is incomplete, while Christ and his saints rule for a thousand years. The millennium will release Satan. Christ will triumph, the last judgment will separate the elect, and God will create a new heaven and Earth for them.
The Catholic Church believes in the Second Coming and amillennial views as well. Further, they do not believe in the idea of a rapture, as mentioned in First Thessalonians. They do not believe in a millennial reign of the righteous on Earth.
Instead, they believe the millennium has already begun and is simultaneous with the age of the church. The millennium in this view, becomes spiritual in nature until Christ returns for the final judgments and sets up the new heaven on Earth.
Life after death
The souls of the faithful are purified to enjoy full communion with God, and they are raised to the fullness of eternal life in heaven at Christ’s return. Those who reject God will perish eternally. The elect’s final home is Eternal Salvation in Heaven. Further, the Episcopalian church does not believe in purgatory as they found no biblical support for the existence of such a place.
Purgatory is a state in the afterlife in which a Christian’s sins are purified, typically through suffering, according to Roman Catholics. This includes punishment for sins committed while on Earth. Purgatory may be useful for Protestants to understand as sanctification that continues after death until one is truly transformed and glorified in perfect holiness. Everyone in Purgatory will eventually make it to Heaven. They do not stay there forever, and they are never sent to the Lake of Fire.
Both denominations have church officials, but the setups are drastically different. However, both dress very similarly while preaching, wearing robes and other adornments to show their authority.
Under Episcopal guidance, the church has several bishops to guide the church and congregation. However, they do not believe in one ruler, such as the Pope, instead believing Jesus is the authority of the church. Another distinction in the priesthood is that Episcopal priests or bishops are permitted to marry, whereas Catholic priests are not. Also, Episcopalians allow women to be ordained as priests in some but not all provinces.
The Episcopal Church lacks a centralized authority figure, such as the Pope, and instead relies on bishops and cardinals. Unlike Catholic bishops, who are appointed by the Pope, Episcopal bishops are elected by the people; this is because, as previously stated, Episcopalians do not believe in popes.
Catholicism has set up a hierarchy on Earth leading from the head of the church, the Pope, down to the priests in each church. Only men can serve in these positions, and they must remain celibate to serve as a man of God. The priesthood is the office of religious ministers who have been commissioned or ordained by the Catholic Church. Bishops are technically a priestly order as well; however, in layman’s terms, the priest only refers to presbyters and pastors. A Roman Catholic priest is a man who has been called by God to serve Christ and the Church by receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders.
View of the Bible & the Catechism
The Episcopal Church places a high view of Scripture in accordance with Protestantism and ecclesiastical tradition. Scripture has been decentralized in liberal and progressive congregations. People can read the Apocrypha and deutero-canonical literature, but they cannot be used to establish doctrine as the Bible is the supreme text. However, they also closely follow their catechism, dubbed the Book of Prayers, for reliance on faith and function in the church.
The Bible is extremely important in Episcopal worship; during a Sunday morning service, the congregation will usually hear at least three readings from Scripture, and much of The Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy is based explicitly on Biblical texts. However, they understand the Bible, along with the Holy Spirit, guides the church and the interpretation of the Scriptures.
The Bible is the inspired Word of God, according to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Bible contains the same books as Protestant Bibles, but it also contains deutero-canonical literature, known as Apocrypha. The Apocrypha adds seven books to the Bible including Baruch, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Sirach, Tobit, and Wisdom. These books are referred to as the deuterocanonical books.
A catechism is a document that summarizes or explains Christian doctrine, usually for educational purposes. The CCC is a relatively new catechism, having been published in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. It is a resource for understanding current, official Roman Catholic doctrine and a helpful summary of Roman Catholic beliefs. It has been updated and revised several times.
LGBTQ and Same-Sex Marriages
One of the main differences between the Catholic and Episcopal church is their stance on same-sex marriage and other matters pertaining to the LGBTQ community.
The Episcopal Church supports the LGBTQ community and even ordains gay clergy. In a major break with the Catholic Church (and its parent Anglican Church), the Episcopal Church approved the blessing of same-sex marriages in 2015. It even removed references in their canon law to marriage being “between a man and a woman.” The Episcopal Church officially recognizes marriage as an option for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
Currently, the Catholic Church accepts and supports the LGBTQ community, and discrimination against them is prohibited. However, the Church continues to condemn gay sex and refuses to recognize or bless same-sex marriages.
Marriage is a sacred union of one man and one woman. No one who holds a same-sex interest is allowed to serve in the church. Pope Francis, the latest Pope, has stated the criminalization of same-sex acts is a sin and injustice despite the church’s long stance against homosexuality.
Communion is another significant difference between the Episcopal and Catholic Churches.
The Eucharist (which means thanksgiving but not the American holiday), the Lord’s Supper, and the Mass are all names for the Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. Whatever its formal name, this is the Christian family meal and a preview of the heavenly banquet. As a result, anyone who has been baptized and thus belongs to the Church’s extended family is welcome to receive the bread and wine and be in communion with God and one another, according to the Book of Prayer. In the Episcopal Church, however, anyone can receive communion even if they are not Episcopalian. Moreover, they believe baptism, Eucharist, and communion are necessary for salvation.
Catholic churches only serve communion to members of the Church. This means that to receive Holy Communion, one must first be a Catholic. Catholics believe that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ in their inner reality (transubstantiation). God sanctifies the faithful through Holy Communion. Catholics must receive Holy Communion at least once a week. In the most basic sense, Catholics receive the truly present Christ in Communion in order to be Christ in the world. Catholics believe that by consuming the Eucharist, one is incorporated into Christ and bonded to others who are also members of Christ’s body on Earth.
Again, the two denominations differ on the papacy as one of their most dividing factors.
Episcopalians, like most Christian denominations, do not believe the Pope has universal spiritual authority over the church. In fact, having a pope was one of the primary reasons why the Church of England seceded from the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, Episcopal churches do not have central figures of authority, opting for cardinals and bishops elected by the church congregation. As such, church members are part of the decision-making for their church. They do still allow for sacramental confession, but it’s not required.
According to Roman Catholics, the Pope serves as the top leader of all Catholic churches worldwide. The College of Cardinals comes after him, followed by archbishops who govern regions worldwide. Local bishops, who have authority over parish priests in each community, report to the parish. The Catholic Church looks solely to the Pope for spiritual direction as they view him as the Vicar of Christ.
Are Episcopalians Saved?
Some Episcopalians believe that we are saved solely by the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8), while others expect good works or actions to accompany faith (James 2:17). The Episcopal Church defines grace as God’s unearned and undeserved favor or grace. However, they do require participation in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist to ensure they receive grace, which is good work, not faith.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that salvation is the result of a person believing in their heart and confessing their faith with their mouth. However, not all Episcopalian churches follow the need for acts which means Episcopalians can certainly be saved. As long as they understand that communion and baptism are acts of faith not necessary for salvation. Baptism and communion are physical representations of what Christ did for us and what we believe in our hearts. True faith produces good works as a natural byproduct.
Episcopal and Catholic have distinct differences and have created two entirely different methods of following Jesus Christ. Both churches have some troubling areas not found in Scripture, which could cause issues with salvation.