If there's one thing that can be said of the Catholic Church, it is that it is organized and academic in the presentation of its theology and beliefs. Whereas many religions are loosely organized and have no central authority, the Catholic Church is a very centralized, hierarchical institution. For those unfamiliar with the Catholic faith, Catholicism is clear, unified and systematic in how it presents its beliefs and teachings, which are laid out in the Nicene Creed and the Catechism, among other avenues.
The Holy Trinity
The Nicene Creed, issued at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and edited to its final form at the Council of Constantinople in 381, is today still the main explanation of what core Catholic beliefs are. The first part of the creed explains the nature of God. Catholics believe in one God through the Holy Trinity: God the father and creator, Jesus Christ his son, and the Holy Spirit, all different but equal manifestations of the same one and only God. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, rose from the dead three days later, then ascended into heaven and will come again at the end of the world to judge all. The Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets and guides the church.
A Single Church
The last part of the creed explains that Catholics believe in just one church, the Roman Catholic Church, coming down through almost 2,000 years from the Apostle Peter, who was the first Pope in Catholic tradition. Priests, bishops, cardinals, the pope and other clergy are essential stewards of the faithful, teaching not as one of them, but as those set apart, properly trained and initiated, and possessing a sacred power to present God's teachings to non-clergy, or laity. The clergy help connect the laity to God. It is not for normal members of the community to take these priestly tasks upon themselves. Those in the clergy, going back to the 12 apostles, work together in collegial form to teach, sanctify and govern the church, and administer the seven sacraments.
As opposed to some other forms of Christianity, Catholicism rejects a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. The Catholic Church as an institution has the final say on how the Bible is to be interpreted, and the Catholic faith is also based on Church rulings, traditions, writings and teachings. So in Catholicism, scripture and tradition are both equal authorities on God and religious doctrine, not just scripture alone.
Salvation: Grace, Justification Through Faith and Good Works, and Sacraments
A major part of winning God's salvation in the Catholic Church is through justification, which involves faith and good works, as opposed to other Christian sects that argue faith alone would lead to salvation. Through justification, God's grace and participation in the appropriate sacraments, salvation can be won.
Catholic Social Teaching
Catholic social teaching particularly emphasizes helping the poor and standing up for social justice, as "every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity," according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
- The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason, by Charles Freeman
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: What We Believe
- Catholic Interpretation of the Bible by Kevin Madigan, in the Catholic Study Bible: Second Edition: New American Bible, Oxford
- The Bible in Catholic Life, by Daniel J. Harrington, in The Catholic Study Bible: Second Edition: New American Bible, Oxford
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Catholic Social Teaching
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