What do Catholics really believe? There are a thousand and one myths and misconceptions about the Catholic Church’s teachings and doctrines, so it’s important to clarify what Catholics truly believe. We will discuss here many of the main doctrines that lay the foundation of Catholicism. What people say about Catholic belief, and what we actually teach are most often two different things.
Belief #1: One God
Isaiah 44:46 states that there is only one God, and he is the creator, the sustainer. He is the eternal uncreated Being who is above all, who is in all and over all; the supreme being who made everything.
Belief #2: The Trinity
We believe in the Trinity. There is one God (one being) but in three distinct persons. While not a perfectly accurate representation, St. Patrick of Ireland used to talk about the three leaf clover. There are three distinct leafs that all make up the one flower. The three leaves represent the 3 divine persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit making up the one Godhead. This is why we believe that Jesus is God, which is a central teaching of Christianity. This is different from other religions like Islam, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Church of God who do not accept the divinity of Christ or the Trinity.
From the beginning of Christianity, we have professed that Jesus is a divine person who took on a human nature. This is called the hypostatic union. We also make the distinction that Jesus was not simply a godly figure in a human body. He instead, took human nature to himself, so he was fully God and fully man. In fact, John 1:1 says that the word Jesus was with God and Jesus was God. And then in verse 14, it states that he became flesh. So he took on human flesh. He came to teach us, instruct us, forgive our sins, and reconcile us back to God the Father by dying for us on the cross.
Interestingly, the Bible says that Jesus himself is the word of God, the wisdom of God and the power of God. These are three eternal attributes of God that make God the only all-knowing creator.
We also believe in the Holy Spirit who is in all baptized Christians. He sustains us, empowers us, comforts us, guides us, and works in our lives with his seven gifts. This is the same Holy Spirit found in Genesis 1 and in Hebrews 3:7-9, and the same spirit that Jesus left with us at Pentecost.
Belief #3: Man and the fall
Catholics believe that man was created by God to be with God eternally in heaven. Angels are angelic beings, meaning they don’t have bodies. Human beings possess bodies and were put on earth by God to live intimately with him. Unfortunately, we rebelled against God by disobeying the commandment he gave the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, of not eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve had free will to choose and they failed to follow God correctly. They chose to disobey him. This is what we call sin.
After Adam and Eve fell, they brought sin, pain and death into the world which are consequences of sin. We believe that God created the world perfect, but it was the sin of man and the devil together who brought about suffering. This is why the Bible says we are doomed to die because the penalty for sin is death. It is impossible for us to enter heaven with even one single sin on our soul. However, God did not wish to be separated from mankind. For this reason, he sent a savior.
Belief #4: Jesus became man and died for us to reconcile us to God
Man is a created being who can never repay back an eternal dept. Only God who is eternal could do that. Yet, God did not sin, man did. To reconcile this problem, God himself became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, to die for us on the cross and to make a passage to heaven.
By shedding his body and blood on the cross, Jesus paid the price for sin and allowed us to find forgiveness and to be reconciled back to God. By following him and giving our lives to him through faith, we can be saved. Anyone at any time can come to Jesus, no matter what past they have done.
Jesus says in John 14:6, that I am the truth and the life. Nobody can get to the Father in heaven except through me. And the Bible says in Acts 4:12, that there is no other name under heaven by which a person can be saved except the name of Jesus. So only Jesus can save us. He is the only way to heaven. John Paul II got an enormous amount of opposition when he wrote the encyclical Domini Jesus, which said that Jesus is the fullness of truth and the only way to heaven.
This is also why it is impossible for us to learn anything from any non-Christian religion because they don’t have the fullness of divine truth revealed in Jesus Christ. It is simply a waste of time to explore with other religions around the world to look for this truth because there is nothing they can teach us in regard to doctrine. Jesus Christ is the only way.
Belief #5: Faith and works, not faith alone
Salvation happens through faith and repentance, as it talks about in Romans 3, Romans 4 and in Acts 2:38. The passages say that we must come to Christ through faith. However, faith is not just believing. The word believe in the Bible also means to follow and obey. Thus, faith, repentance, and obedience are needed to be Christ’s disciples. We not only accept him but have a relationship with our Lord and follow him and his will.
Matthew 28:19 talks about discipleship. It says: “go out and baptize all nations and command them in everything that I have taught you and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. So we have to believe in Jesus, we have to follow what he teaches and we have to be baptized and follow his commandments. This is the full meaning of discipleship.
Thus, the Catholic church does not believe in faith alone, but only a faith that lives itself out in love for Jesus. God gives us his grace and we have to cooperate with his grace every day. He is not going to make us go to heaven. It is a choice that we make to stay faithful every day.
Belief #6: Daily prayer and personal relationship with Jesus
This is why we believe that we have to pray to Jesus and not just engage in oral prayers as duties but to have a deep relationship with him. It’s not something we do on Sundays as many think about Catholics, but something we should do every single day of our life. Being a Follower of Christ is not something we do, it is something we are. We make our decisions with him in mind. We seek his guidance in our life and we must follow him and seek Jesus with all of our heart, mind and soul and all of our strength. And Jesus says, if you do that, then you will bear fruit.
We believe that we have to uproot sin from our lives by his grace and his power as well as uproot idols in our life that don’t belong to him.
In this article, we have explained 6 main beliefs of Catholicism and hopefully clarified some misconceptions accepted Catholics. You can learn about more core Catholic beliefs in Part II of this article.