Catholicism = Christianity

Hi Everyone,

I am a public school teacher. I teach middle school social studies and one of the chapters for my 7th grade curriculum is about the Israelites. It is one of, if not my favorite chapter that I am able to get to with my kids. A lot of them also enjoy it because we go over things that many of them remember from the Bible, etc. (what a rare opportunity in public school, right?). When we talk about the influence of the Israelites on Christianity and we talk about a lot of the Old Testament figures, mostly Moses and the 12 Tribes of Israel, the students typically ask my religious affiliation. Their questions come in the following form, “Mr. T are you Christian or Catholic?” This question comes about multiple times a year and every year! I am always baffled. My answer then turns into a mini-rant on how Catholicism is indeed Christianity. I end with, “All Catholics are Christian but not all Christians are Catholic.” Now I understand that their age lends them some ignorance to the topic but I am seeing this as a real trend. A lot of people, young and old, do not consider Catholicism to be a form of Christianity and, for me, it is extremely troubling. Not only as a historian but as a Catholic. Has anyone else come across this misconception? Thoughts?


This is not a new trend. It’s actually a declining trend if anything based on what I’ve seen and read since Vatican II and the RCC’s increased emphasis on ecumenism, but it’s not a misconception that’s ever gone away. There is a fairly large minority of Christians who do not consider Catholics to be Christians, or at the very least not true Christians. They then pass this on to their kids, congregations, etc… which is likely part of how you end up with students who don’t understand that Catholics are Christians. The other reason is likely just childhood ignorance. I mean Catholics do emphasize that they’re Catholic (and it’s also emphasized for them by others). If a child’s exposure to Catholics is limited they might not pick up on the fact that Catholics are Christians too.

Thanks for your reply. I guess because I essentially grew up Catholic (albeit with family in other denominations) I take for granted people knowing Catholicism is Christianity.

Yeah I was the same way growing up taking that for granted. I didn’t even know that there were those Christians out there who didn’t know Catholics were Christians (heck I didn’t know there were that many other non-Catholic Christians out there until I hit later grammar school). But that’s because growing up the Christianity of Catholicism and the similarities of all Christians was emphasized in my own received learning, rather than the more uniquely Catholic aspects of Catholicism that stand it apart.

It wasn’t until later when I explored for myself that I slowly discovered what was different about Catholicism and why some other Christians don’t even consider Catholics to be Christians incorrectly, or at least Christians who’ve lost their way.

I’ve found that there are two types of “Catholics aren’t Christians” statements that get made.

When I was in middle school and we read a book based in Mexico, my English teacher told the class that “Catholics are this sect that worships Mary and aren’t Christians”. I was probably the only Catholic in the class and it certainly confused me! That’s type number one which is just based on misconceptions of what Catholicism believes.

Then there’s type two which is of the “A Christian is someone who has been ‘saved’.” variety. This type may or may not know what Catholicism believes, but they are correct that Catholics don’t get ‘saved’ in the way they have in mind.

In my experience, the first type can be countered by simply correcting informing the person what Catholicism is. Yes, Catholics believe in Christ and worship Him as God, etc., etc.

The second type can only be changed by convincing the person to change their whole belief system because Christianity to them is about ‘being saved’. Obviously, that’s a whole different task and not one to happen in a single conversation.

Agreed. After exploring on my own as well, I found that the misconceptions “other” Christians have about Catholicism come from the differing views regarding various parts of Christianity.

Definitely! I agree completely with the two types you outline. The second type is the one that my friend/coworker falls under. She is constantly telling me that I need to be baptized in some other denomination and be saved. I keep telling her that I was baptized once and that was as a Catholic. I think the idea of being saved is great but my issue is when they say we aren’t saved because we are Catholic. I think the fact that we are Catholic means we have been and will be saved. We accept Jesus Christ and worship God alone; we are saved :thumbsup:

There’s actually a fourth type, they’re admittedly rare, but they exist and are sometimes VERY vocal. That would be those that believe Catholics worship idols/icons/Mary/saints/etc… not out of ignorance of what Catholic actually believe, but rather by rejection of Catholic explanations of what they believe as still being insufficient against their accusations. They often have some of the latter as well in that they believe Catholics need to be “saved” as well since they’ve not been “born again”. I’ve found some of these folks are actually former Catholics themselves and are well versed in things like the Catholic Catechism, Magesterium, etc… I’ve encountered them often as street preachers with a clearly anti-Catholic bent.

Yes there are some who do not have much knowledge about the Church or history -but rather misconceptions.

We are Christians…have been called Christians since the first century

First members of the Church were called “the disciples”… (See Acts)

Later called followers of “the way” …and it seems “Nazarenes” (see Acts)

then at Antioch we started being called Christians. (See Acts)

Later in the first century the Church started to be called “Catholic” (see St. Ignatius --again at Antioch --use around the year 100–Catholic Answers will have various things on this - he presupposes his audience will know the term so it was used already in the first century)

So in time Christians began to be also called Catholics.

Now a days we have many sorts of Christians --who are indeed Christians and our brothers…whom we call Christians …though we are unhappily not yet in full communion.

Catholics are Christians who in full communion with the successor of Peter. We call ourselves Christians all the time…Pope Benedict XVI when addressing the faithful did not usually say “Catholics this or that” but called them Christians…for that is what we are (see his homilies or audiences)

Other Christians have various degrees of communion with us.

As one early Christian noted (375AD):

“If you want to know who I am,” he said, “Christian is my name, Catholic is my surname.”
~ St. Pacian

I know the this type too. I have to say that my friend/coworker’s mom may fall under this one. She was brought up Catholic and claims that she was completely tossed aside by the Church during her time of need. I cannot confirm or deny this obviously but I think her feelings are a bit exaggerated. She is fervently anti-Catholic which is something she passed down to her daughter (my friend/coworker). Lucky her daughter isn’t nearly as anti-Catholic. When we discuss theology and the like she is somewhat respectful of my views/opinions.

Bookcat, I absolutely love this breakdown. Thank you…I am going to pass this along to my nondenominational friend. She is always asking me for scriptural evidence for the Catholic Church being the first and true Church. I also really like how you call the other Christians our brothers and sisters. I consider all Christians to be brothers in Christ, even if we have differing views and, as you said, are not in full communion with them.

When someone asks me if I’ve been saved, my answer is:

“Yes, I was saved at my baptism; I’m currently working out my salvation; and I pray to be saved when I die.”

I love that! Great answer :bowdown2:

The whole Catholics are not Christian sentiment seems to have originated in the US. There seems to have developed a morbid fear in the early 1800s that Catholics were conspiring to take over the US, a mentality driven by politics rather than religion. How long standing was it? Even JFK had to make a public declaration that his religion would not influence his politics in order to sooth the fear-mongers.

That’s a great point that I think many people overlook. People were so vehemently against JFK becoming POTUS simply because he was a Catholic. Great point.

Are you saying there are Christians in this world who are not Catholic?
Why be Christian if you’re not Catholic?

You’re just discovering this now? :confused:

I agree with this, BUT also note some people use “Christian” as just a shorthand for “non-Catholic Christian” or “Protestant”. Many who are non-Catholic Christians, especially “non-denominational” evangelical Christians, do NOT identify as “Protestant” at all, they identify as “Christian”. The historical Protestant Reformation really isn’t something they really think or care about that much.

Also, many are in “Bible Belt” communities where the Catholic population is very small and most “Christians” aren’t Catholic. They may not even know the Orthodox Church exists, though the members of the Orthodox Church are not Catholics, but aren’t Protestants, either.

So when they say “Christian” they mean “non-Catholic Christian”. Many who ask “are you Christian or Catholic” would clarify themselves if questioned “oh, you think Catholics aren’t Christian, then?” They’re not actually consciously thinking Catholics aren’t saved or don’t really worship Jesus.

Also note, many Catholics themselves, if asked “Are you Christian?” will state “No, I’m Catholic”. Obviously, that’s not because they don’t consider themselves followers of Christ Jesus.

What a wonderful opportunity, Joe, and you seem to be making the most of it!

Yes, I get this a lot and it makes my blood boil… I am not in a position to correct them though.

This did not get started by people claiming that Catholics are not Christians, though there are some fundamentalists that do teach that. Rather, it is an avoidance of the term “Protestant” by modern evangelicals who believe they are “not protesting anything”. They don’t realize that their theology and practices are Protestant.

What they mean to say, in setting Catholicism against “Christian” is that they are “bible Christians” (extract their faith from the Bible), as opposed to Catholics, who received the faith from the successors of the Apostles.

I like to use the opportunity to say that Catholics are the first Christians, and all the denonimnations are people that left the faith passed down by the Apostles and created their own ideas of what it means to be Christian. This is risky, tho.

The highlighted is definitely true. I’ve found that many in the non-denominational, Baptist, and Pentecostal spheres either emphasize the personal relationship each believer has in Christ or the local control each congregation of believers in Christ have with each other. If they think about their relation to an overall “universal Church” it’s more to say that they’re a continuation of the early Church or a restoration of it rather than to say they arose from any protest against the Roman Catholic Church. And yes they do tend to simply label themselves as “Christian”. My daughter’s Godparents are this type of Christian, in that they don’t see themselves as Protestant, if you ask them they’re simply Christians.

I’ve noticed this is more prevalent in the second, third and beyond generation of Christian Churches that arose after the Reformation. The churches that indeed didn’t directly protest against the Roman Catholic Church as they either directly or indirectly arose out of what we would consider the early Protestant churches (or Anglicanism), or they arose somewhat independently in the centuries after the Reformation. In that regard it is true that they’re not directly Protestant.

Your very welcome :slight_smile:

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