The Episcopalian tradition and Roman Catholicism are both historic branches of the Christian faith that have important similarities and differences. Comparing the churches provides people with insight into theology, history, and the interesting relationship between the traditions.
Episcopalians and Catholics both believe in the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, as well as the resurrection and Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Episcopalianism, which is part of the worldwide Anglican communion, rejects the authority of the pope, yet many of its members embrace aspects of the Catholic tradition.
How do the traditions’ beliefs, practices, and membership numbers compare? What do Episcopalians believe about the saints and Mary? Do they believe in transubstantiation? How do the traditions’ social and political views compare? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Episcopalians and Anglicans: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Episcopalianism and Catholicism Comparison
What’s the difference between the terms Episcopalian, Anglican, and Church of England? The “Church of England” refers to the Protestant branch of Christianity that King Henry VIII and others established in 16th-century England. “Anglican” comes from the Latin phrase ecclesia anglicana, meaning “English Church.”
The term “Episcopalian,” whether in reference to a church or a person, grew in use in America at the time of the Revolutionary War because “Church of England” had negative political connotations to many colonists.
|Name||From the Greek word for “overseer,” and the Latin word for “bishop,” the term refers to a form of church government that locates ecclesiastical authority in the office of bishop as opposed to the papacy or congregational membership. The term also describes the largest tradition in the Anglican communion in America.||The word “Roman” is derived from the city of Rome, Italy. “Catholic” refers to the universal Church, as opposed to a local church.|
|Branch of Christianity||Because its part of the Anglican communion, many people consider Episcopalianism halfway between Protestantism and Catholicism. Many theologians and historians posit that a church can’t be “halfway Catholic,” so it’s best to consider the tradition Protestant with aspects of Catholicism woven into certain churches.||Catholicism traces its origins to Christ and the Apostle Peter (Matt. 16:18-19), who the church teaches was the first bishop of Rome.|
|Founding||The Anglican tradition dates to the time of King Henry VIII (1491-1547) and his protests against the Catholic church. Anglicanism arrived in America as soon as settlers arrived from England. The “Episcopalian” church dates to the time of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).||The first century. Catholicism teaches that its origins are the origins of the church itself, starting with Peter.|
|Early contributors||King Edward VI (1537-1553), Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600)||The early bishops of Rome, the early church fathers, including Ignatius of Antioch (died 108 AD, according to Eusebius) and Irenaeus (130-202 AD)|
|Membership||The Anglican communion has 85 million members worldwide. The Episcopalian tradition in America has over 2 million adherents. There are less than 1 million “Episcopalians” outside America, which is largely the result of the tradition’s global missions work.||The Catholic Church reports a global membership of over 1 billion people.|
|Authority||Historically, Episcopalianism, like the Anglican communion, values the Bible. The tradition affirms the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Book of Common Prayer is also a pivotal document to the heart and identity of the tradition.||The Pope as Vicar of Christ; scripture and tradition are authoritative; justification involves forgiveness and sanctification; the sacraments are channels of God’s grace; Mass and the Eucharist.|
|Social worldview today||The “Episcopal Church,” the largest communion in America, is socially and theologically liberal.||The Catholic Church is generally considered conservative in the context of the socio-political landscape of the 21st-century Western world.|
The Episcopalian tradition in America has different expressions in twenty-first-century America. The denomination called the “Episcopal Church” is the largest by a significant margin. Denominations and churches have split over theological, political, and social issues. Examples of contentious topics include women in ministry, allegations of devaluing Scripture, and issues related to same-sex marriage and gender identification.
|Episcopal Denominations||Reported Membership|
|Episcopal Church||2 million|
|Anglican Church in North America||112,000|
|Continuing Anglican Churches||100,000|
|Reformed Episcopal Church||15,000|
What are the “high church” and “low church” Anglicanism and Episcopalianism? The high church wing emphasizes the tradition’s similarities to Catholicism and practices aspects of High Mass. The low church wing emphasizes the tradition’s similarities with Protestantism and its roots in the Reformation.
- Today, some Episcopalian congregations in America emphasize beliefs and practices that are considered Catholic
- Other churches are aligned with conservative evangelical theology, some of which embrace charismatic expressions of worship and prayer
- Still other Episcopal churches have largely abandoned historic Catholicsm and Protestantism and have adopted liberal and progressive social-political convictions and have less theological focus
Also see Episcopalians and Methodists: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Episcopalianism and Catholicism Comparison
|Ecumenical Councils||As part of the Anglican communion, the Episcopalian tradition affirms the first four councils: Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. It sees value in other councils to the degree that they conform to Scripture.||The Catholic Church generally recognizes 21 ecumenical councils. In addition to the first seven, the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), the Council of Trent (1545–1563), and the Second Council of the Vatican (1962–1965) are particularly important.|
|Human Leader||“The Archbishop of Canterbury” is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Anglican communion in England. Today, the English monarchy is only the ceremonial leader of the church in England. In America, “the Presiding Bishop” is the chief pastor of the Episcopalian Church.||The Pope is the Vicar of Christ and the head of the Church on Earth, an office that church teaching traces to the Apostle Peter.|
|View of the Bible||Traditionally, the “low church” (see above) has a high view of Scripture in alignment with Protestantism. The “high church” values Scripture plus ecclesiastical tradition. Liberal and progressive congregations have decentralized Scripture. People can read deutero-canonical literature or the Apocrypha, but they can’t be used to establish doctrine.||The Catholic Church teaches that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Catholic Bible has the same books that Protestant Bibles have, but also includes the deutero-canonical literature or Apocrypha.|
|View of God||Episcopalians believe in the Trinity; there is one God who exists in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully divine.||Likewise, the Catholic Church teaches that God is Triune. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God.|
|View of Christ||Historically, Episcopalianism has affirmed that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh. He is 100% God and 100% man. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died as an atonement for sin, was physically resurrected on the third day, and ascended into heaven.||The Catholic Church affirms the same general beliefs about the person and work of Christ.|
|View of salvation||Episcopalianism’s roots in Anglicanism are closer to Calvinism than Arminianism. However, Arminianism grew to characterize and influence the tradition more. Today, liberal and progressive congregations are ecumenical and inclusive of other religions.||Catholic teaching reflects Arminian views, though Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was Protestant, so the church doesn’t use the same terminology as Arminian Protestants. The Catholic church isn’t Calvinist.|
|View of the Holy Spirit||The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is fully divine. Episcopalians are historically cessationist, yet some small communions practice charismatic worship (e.g. International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church).||The Catholic Church affirms the same general beliefs about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church encourages its members to be biblical and discerning in relation to speaking in tongues.|
|View of the sacraments or ordinances||All Episcopalian expressions recognize baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those who have convictions that align with the high church, recognize the other five that Catholicism does. The Anglican-Episcopalian tradition teaches that the sacraments are a means of grace, as in Catholicism.||There are seven sacraments: adult and infant baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing, ordination, and marriage. These practices are channels of God’s grace, according to Catholic theology.|
|View of the Lord’s Supper||Christ is present in the Eucharist but there is a mystery to it. The tradition doesn’t fully embrace Catholicism’s theology of the Eucharist but affirms that consuming the elements is more than simply a memorial practice.||Also called “the Eucharist,” it is a memorial in which the elements become the body and blood of Christ (i.e. “transubstantiation”).|
|View of the Baptism||Clergy baptize infants and adults; baptized individuals are “grafted into the church”||Sometimes referred to as “paedobaptism” (paedo = “child”), children of Christian parents are baptized to cleanse them of original sin and regenerate them.|
|View of the end times||Episcopalians believe in the Second Coming of Christ. The tradition’s eschatology is amillennial, as opposed to premillennial or postmilennial.||The Catholic Church also affirms the Second Coming. The church’s eschatology is also amillennial, as opposed to premillennial or postmilennial.|
|Religious orders||The Episcopal Church claims apostolic succession, which means they believe they can trace their leadership back to the apostles of Christ.||The term describes men (e.g. priests) and women (e.g. nuns) who have fully devoted themselves to a certain form of religious life, which includes poverty, chastity, and obedience|
|Saints||Generally, the Anglican-Episcopal tradition advises its members to pray in alignment with believers no longer living on Earth, and not to them. However, some in the high church tradition may petition saints.||Believers who have lived with great virtue and honor may be considered for canonization, which believers living on Earth venerate in part through asking for prayers and blessings.|
|Mary||Historically, the tradition affirms the virgin birth. High church Anglicans and Episcopalians view Mary similarly to Catholicism. Adherents of the low church view her similarly to Protestantism.||Mary, the mother of Christ, was virgin-born herself, lived a sinless life, reversed Eve’s disobedience, was a perpetual virgin, was raptured to heaven and is an advocate and co-mediator.|
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