Catholicism For Dummies, 4th Edition
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Feels like kind of a big question, eh? The cut-to-the-chase answer is that Catholicism is a Christian religion (just as Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy). Catholics are members of the Roman Catholic Church (which means they follow the authority of the bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the pope), and they share various beliefs and ways of worship, as well as a distinct outlook on life.

Catholics can be either Latin (Western) or Eastern (Oriental) Catholic; both are equally in union with the bishop of Rome (the pope), but they retain their respective customs and traditions.

Core beliefs

Catholics believe that all people are basically good, but sin is a spiritual disease that wounded humankind initially and can kill humankind spiritually if left unchecked. Divine grace is the only remedy for sin, and the best source of divine grace is from the sacraments, which are various rites that Catholics believe have been created by Jesus Christ and entrusted by Him to His Church.

From the Catholic perspective, here are some of the bottom-line beliefs:

  • The Bible is the inspired, error-free, and revealed word of God.
  • Baptism, the rite of becoming a Christian, is necessary for salvation — whether the Baptism occurs by water, blood, or desire.
  • God’s Ten Commandments provide a moral compass — an ethical standard to live by.
  • The existence of the Holy Trinity — one God in three persons. Catholics embrace the belief that God, the one Supreme Being, is made up of three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • More than an intellectual assent to an idea, Catholicism involves a daily commitment to embrace the will of God — whatever it is and wherever it leads.
  • Catholicism means cooperation with God on the part of the believer. God offers His divine grace (His gift of unconditional love), and the Catholic must accept it and then cooperate with it.
  • Free will is sacred. God never forces you to do anything against your free will. Yet doing evil not only hurts you, but also hurts others because a Catholic is never alone. Catholics are always part of a spiritual family called the Church.
  • More than a place to go on the weekend to worship, the Church is a mother who feeds spiritually, shares doctrine, heals and comforts, and disciplines when needed. Catholicism considers the Church as important to salvation as the sacraments because both were instituted by Christ.

General outlook

The Catholic perspective sees everything as being intrinsically created good but with the potential of turning to darkness. It honors the individual intellect and well-formed conscience and encourages members to use their minds to think things through. In other words, instead of just giving a list of dos and don'ts, the Catholic Church educates its members to use their ability to reason and to apply laws of ethics and a natural moral law in many situations.

Catholicism doesn't see science or reason as enemies of faith, but as cooperators in seeking the truth. Although Catholicism has an elaborate hierarchy to provide leadership in the Church, Catholicism also teaches individual responsibility and accountability. Education and the secular and sacred sciences are high priorities. Using logical and coherent arguments to explain and defend the Catholic faith is important.

Catholicism isn't a one-day-a-week enterprise. It doesn't segregate religious and moral dimensions of life from political, economic, personal, and familial dimensions. Catholicism tries to integrate faith into everything.

The general Catholic perspective is that because God created everything, nothing is outside God's jurisdiction, including your every thought, word, and deed — morning, noon, and night, 24/7.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Rev. John Trigilio Jr., PhD, ThD, is president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and is executive editor of Sapienta magazine. Rev. Kenneth Brighenti is an assistant professor at Mount St. Mary's Seminary.

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