Understanding how Catholicism differs from other Christian denominations can be difficult; explaining it can be even more difficult.
As I studied the differences, I realized that it hinges on three key ideas – the ABCs of Catholicism.
What are the ABCs of Catholicism?
- Authority: Understanding and believing in the Catholic Church’s authority.
- Bible: The written form of our Tradition – a vital tool for our faith.
- Catechism: The oral part of our Tradition that is summed up for easy reference.
The Bible (Sacred Scripture)
Let’s begin with the Bible (we will return to the authority in a moment). From the Bible itself, in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, we learn:
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:16-17, NAB
How do we describe the Bible? It is a beautiful narrative story; it is a history of the Church; and it is an instruction manual for us to follow.
Few Christians would debate these facts or the importance of the Bible in our lives. To be a Christian means fully accepting these truths.
The Catechism (Sacred Tradition)
The Catechism, which represents a summation of Catholic Tradition and oral teaching, may not be accepted among all Christians. For this reason, when we evangelize, we must show why we hold so tightly to these beliefs. Going back to Scripture, we learn:
“Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” -2 Thessalonians 3:15, NAB
Long before these letters became a part of the canonized Scripture, St. Paul spoke of the importance of our oral tradition. Just as the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the various books of the Bible, He has also inspired our Church through its verbal teachings.
Together, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition make up the whole of our beliefs.
The Authority of the Catholic Church
Who decided which books and letters to include in the canon? Who decided what could be included as part of our Sacred Tradition? The Church.
Without the authority given to the Catholic Church, the other two lose their merit. This makes the Authority of the Catholic Church an important topic to understand and to teach.
Where does this authority come from? Directly from Christ.
In Matthew 10, Christ sends out the twelve Apostles. Next, He gives Peter authority in Matthew 16 by giving him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Finally, in Matthew 28, the risen Christ sends out His followers in the Great Commission.
This authority has been passed down, generation by generation, until today.
The Purpose of the ABCs of Catholicism
My goal is not to give you a deep theological lesson on the history of the Church and its authority. Instead, I hope to show you the importance of these three ideas as an evangelist.
To share our faith, you must be well-versed and understand all three.
It would be great to tell someone, “Jesus loves you,” and that would be it. Reality is not that simple.
People will have questions. Why do Catholics love Mary so much? Why do they pray to saints? How do we know this is the “right” Bible?
You cannot explain the answers without first giving them the source – Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Leading someone to Jesus is step one. Helping them grow and mature in faith can take much longer.
Some of this may sound more like apologetics than evangelization, but the line can often be blurry. (read my post on Apologetics vs. Evangelization to learn more). Much of what we do as evangelists requires the knowledge of an apologist – not to defend the faith, but to teach it.
In my own life, grasping these three concepts as the pillars to understanding the Catholic faith was an important part of my growth. It allowed me to grasp and understand a whole new world of ideas that I was previously closed to. Hopefully, you can share that same wisdom with someone else.
The ABCs of Catholicism–the Authority, Bible, and Catechism–serve as a model for us to learn and to teach the beautiful Catholic faith. May the Lord present you many opportunities to share it.
Copyright © 2012, Chad R. Torgerson