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What is the Catholic catechism?

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A catechism is a summary of instructions through a series of questions and answers, prepared in book form, containing instruction on religious doctrine. The intent of these instructions is that they be used in a class environment or other means of formal instruction. The Westminster Confession, every part of which contains scriptural backing, is one such set of instructions. The Catholic catechism is another famous catechism.

The catechism of the Catholic Church is different in that it is not written in a question-and-answer format. Instead, the Catholic catechism is a summary of the official teachings of Roman Catholic beliefs including creeds, sacraments, commandments, and prayers. The Catholic catechism is divided into four parts:

• Profession of Faith (the Apostles Creed)
• Celebration of the Christian Mystery (the Sacred Liturgy, especially the sacraments)
• Life in Christ (including The Ten Commandments in Roman Catholic theology)
• Christian Prayer (including The Lord’s Prayer)

Also, the Catholic catechism is replete with footnotes referencing not only Scripture but also the Church fathers, the ecumenical councils, and other authoritative statements, especially those delivered by the Popes. And therein lies the greatest difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. Whereas Protestant churches cite the Bible as their sole source of authority for church doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church equates Catholic traditions with the Bible as authoritative for their beliefs and teachings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (paragraph 82).

According to the Catholic catechism, the Catholic Church relies on the authority of church tradition for their doctrines not found in the Bible. These doctrines include such controversial practices and teachings as these:

• the Mass
• penance
• veneration of Mary
• purgatory
• indulgences
• the priesthood (with enforced celibacy)
• the confessional
• the rosary
• venial and mortal sins

Protestants, who reject the Catholic catechism, assert that the Bible alone is intended by God to be the sole source of doctrinal truth (2 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 22:18–19). But Roman Catholics say, “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 97).

The Catholic’s reasoning, as found in the Catholic catechism, is as follows:

• “The apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 77).

• “This living transmission, accomplished through the Holy Spirit, is called tradition” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 78).

• “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 82).

An example of the results of this kind of thinking is the number of doctrines concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus. Throughout the centuries, Catholics have “revealed” new doctrines concerning Mary. These new teachings, which are part of the Catholic catechism, are found nowhere in the Holy Scriptures:

• Mary is the Mother of God — AD 431
• Prayers are offered to Mary — AD 600
• The Immaculate Conception (establishing her sinlessness) — AD 1854
• The Assumption of Mary — AD 1950
• Mary is the Mother of the Church — AD 1965

Another example is the doctrine of purgatory:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030). Nowhere is this teaching of a believer being punished for sin after death found in the Bible.

Although the Pope is revered as the head of the church on earth by nearly 60 million Roman Catholics, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth; Jesus is the exclusive Head of the church (Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:18).

From the above examples, we can only conclude that the Catholic catechism is not biblical and, in fact, contradicts Scripture in many respects. Once the teachings of man are elevated to the same level as the Word of God, error naturally follows. No man, whether priest or Pope, is divine. Only the Holy Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are divinely authoritative (1 Corinthians 2:12–13; 2 Peter 1:21). No man-made teaching, including the Catholic catechism, is on the same level with the Bible.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022