Hello Rosary Lovers! As Catholics, it is often assumed that we don’t really believe in Jesus. At least not for salvation. So let’s ask in this post: do Catholics believe in Jesus?
Catholic belief is not well understood
The first thing to say is that Catholics and Catholic belief are both wildly misunderstood. This is mostly due to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
‘But that was ages ago!’ Yes it was. But the ripples of the Protestant Reformation in Europe can still be felt today.
The Protestant Reformation tore Europe apart and destroyed the unity of Christians in the Western world permanently. Whether one thinks of the Reformation as having a positive impact on Christianity is down to their own personal opinion, but I think that the results have been, frankly, catastrophic.
I used to be a Protestant. A very firm and convinced Protestant. And I can assure you that Catholic belief is generally very misunderstood by Protestants.
By Faith Alone?
One of the most striking ideas amongst Protestants, which comes from the Protestant Reformation, is that Catholics don’t really believe in Jesus.
‘O sure,’ your average Protestant may say, ‘Catholics believe in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. But they don’t really believe IN Jesus. They don’t believe in Jesus for salvation. They believe in salvation by works.’
How often have heard that as a Catholic? Goodness, I used to say it and think it myself before I became Catholic!
So is this really so? Is it really the case that Catholics don’t actually believe in Jesus Christ?
Let’s try and understand the Protestant idea here. The idea is that Catholics don’t believe in salvation by faith alone. This is true. Catholics affirmatively do NOT believe in salvation by faith ALONE.
It’s the word ‘ALONE’ that matters here. Catholics believe in salvation by faith. Protestants believe in salvation by faith ALONE.
Why do Protestants insist on this? They insist on it because in the Protestant view of salvation, Jesus Christ has done it all. He has redeemed us fully by his shed blood. ALL we have to do therefore is accept this. And we do this: BY FAITH ALONE.
Catholics agree with much of this! Jesus has indeed done it all for us, if we are talking about the GROUND of salvation. Jesus has died for us and redeemed us from ALL sin. It is the sheer mercy and love of God that saves us.
The question is, however: how is Christ’s saving work APPLIED to us individually?
‘What must I do to be saved?’ to quote holy Scripture.
Of course Jesus has done it all, but what must I do in order to actually PARTICIPATE in what Jesus has done and to benefit from it?
The Protestant says: ‘Just believe in Jesus. This is all.’
The Catholic says more: ‘Believe in Jesus by coming to his Church and getting baptised.’
Interestingly, this is what Scripture teaches: ‘Those who believe and are baptised shall be saved.‘ (Mark 16:16).
Beyond that, the Catholic says: ‘Follow the teachings of the Church and partake of the Sacraments.’
Again, interestingly, this is what Jesus taught: ‘Go to all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.‘ (Matthew 28:18-19).
So the idea that salvation is by faith ALONE is problematic to Catholics, because this isn’t what Scripture teaches.
In fact, nowhere will you ever find the phrase in Scripture that we are saved ‘by faith alone’. The one place ‘faith alone’ appears in Scripture is in the epistle of James, chapter 2, and James rejects the idea! We are not saved by faith alone, James says, but by faith and works.
This is the Catholic view.
Absolutely, we Catholics believe that faith is the fountain and spring of all good works. We believe that without Christ we can do nothing (as Jesus himself teaches in John’s gospel).
But we cannot affirm that salvation is by faith alone.
For this reason, many Protestants, even until today, still claim that Catholics don’t really believe in Jesus. It is said of Catholics: ‘They worship a Jesus, but not THE Jesus of Scripture and the Gospel.’
To be honest, any Christian group can say this about any other Christian group that they happen to disagree with. We can all say it about each other. It doesn’t really prove anything, it’s just a claim.
So it is true? Do we Catholics worship the wrong Jesus?
The Eucharistic Sacrifice
Again, our Protestant brothers and sisters may point to the fact that as Catholics we worship the Holy Eucharist, because we truly believe it to be the holy body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We call this the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Almost no Protestant in the world believes in transubstantiation. It has always been a major stumbling-block to Protestants.
Transubstantiation is the Catholic teaching that during the Mass, the bread and wine truly change in their very nature and become the very body and blood of Jesus. They become Jesus. They continue to look and feel like bread and wine to the senses, but in reality they are Jesus.
Although the Protestant Reformers had their strong disagreements amongst themselves, one thing they universally agreed on was that the Eucharist is definitely NOT a Holy Sacrifice to God. They said very strongly that the bread and wine do NOT transform into the true body and blood of Jesus.
For this reason, it has often been claimed that Catholics are idolaters and dishonour God and Christ by their worship of the Holy Eucharist.
‘They don’t really believe in Jesus. They dishonour and displease Jesus because of their abominable practice of the sacrifice of the Mass.’
Yes, the Protestant Reformers literally used that kind of language: the Mass is an ‘abominable’ practice.
On the other hand, we Catholics would respond by saying that we believe what Christians have always believed about the Mass: that it really is an offering to God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Following the Church Fathers like St Athanasius, the Eucharist is ‘the unbloody sacrifice’ of the bloody sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This is what the Church offers to God.
The Sacrifice of the Eucharist is Jesus constantly offering the one sacrifice of his body and blood to God through the Church at the hands of Catholic priests.
This is Christ’s constant daily offering to God as the High Priest of the New Covenant: he keeps offering his Sacrifice, the same Sacrifice of himself, made once for all 2000 years ago.
Jesus himself famously taught in John’s gospel (chapter 6) that those who eat his flesh and blood will have eternal life, and that we cannot have life without feasting on his holy flesh and blood.
Jesus clearly meant this to be taken literally because he repeats the idea over and over in John 6. He lost a lot of followers for insisting on the literalness of his words.
Melckizedek in Genesis 14:18-20 offers God bread and wine. This is a type of the holy Eucharist. Jesus offers his own body and blood under the forms of bread and wine in the New Covenant.
True faith in Christ
Catholics would strongly affirm, therefore, that we worship God properly. We truly do believe in Jesus, we believe in his words and in his incarnate life among us by the Holy Spirit in the Church.
This is the central claim of our holy religion. We call all the world, as we have always done, to the true knowledge of Jesus Christ found supremely in his holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
Does this mean that those who aren’t Catholics are believing in the wrong Jesus? Not necessarily, no.
Whether this or that particular non-Catholic is believing in the right or wrong Jesus depends on that individual’s relationship with God. They may never have heard of the full truth about Christ as taught by the holy Catholic Church. They may have been put off from anything Catholic because of bad experiences or because of propaganda.
Many converts to the Catholic Church come from Protestant denominations, and many of us claim that we knew Jesus in some real sense when we were Protestants, long before we became Catholic.
But it remains true, and the central claim of the Catholic Church, that the fullness of the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ is only found in the Catholic Church.
If we are not Catholics, then whether we truly know and believe in Jesus will largely be determined by how much we believe in the Jesus of the Catholics, whether we realise this is what we are doing or not. And this varies a great deal from individual to individual.
At the end of the day, God can work in any soul he chooses beyond the doors of the holy Catholic Church. As St Thomas Aquinas taught, God is free to work outside of his sacraments, but he ALWAYS works by and through his sacraments.
So it is definitely the safest option to become a Catholic.
Catholics really do believe in Jesus. We have a personal relationship with Jesus. If we don’t, then it is questionable whether we are really Catholics.
We believe that Jesus died for us and has saved us by his blood shed on the cross. He has done it all and satisfied God’s justice for all humanity. We believe this wholeheartedly.
We believe that Jesus calls us to faith in himself by and through the holy Catholic Church. We come to Christ by being baptised, confirmed and receiving his most precious body and blood, the same blood which was shed for us on the cross 2000 years ago.
We follow Jesus by following the teachings of his most holy and invincible Catholic Church. We seek not to stray to the right or left, but to obey the Church entirely in all she teaches.
And when we mess up and sin, as we all do, we have that great and holy sacrament of Confession. In Confession, Jesus himself meets with us, listens to the confession of our sins, and welcomes us back to himself in sheer mercy.
Catholicism is the most beautiful faith in the entire world. No faith offers God to us quite like Catholicism. God is nearer to us than our own beating hearts in Catholicism.
Out of the great depths of his infinite love for us, God shed his blood to save us 2000 years ago. Today, he offers us this same blood in the Holy Eucharist that we might receive him entirely into our bodies and souls.
This is the closest communion with God that exists in this world. We would all do well to long for it.
If you have any questions about this post, please get in touch or offer a comment below.
God bless you, through God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’