By Hank Hanegraaff

For the first millennium of church history, there was essentially one orthodox New Testament faith rooted in seven ancient ecumenical councils. This may well have remained so had it not been for the Bishop of Rome assuming dominance and, apart from an ecumenical council, altering the universal creed of the church. Since the Great Schism (1054), Catholicism has deviated from Orthodoxy in at least three significant ways.

First, Roman Catholicism forwards the notion that in the intermediate state after death, there are certain sins that can be atoned for by way of temporal punishment in purgatory. Orthodoxy considers the notion of purgation—defined by the Council of Florence (fifteenth century) and defended by the Council of Trent (sixteenth century)—to be a late innovation lacking precedence in both Scripture and the teachings of the Fathers. In distinction to the Catholic idea of purgatory, the Orthodox community views the intermediate state as a foretaste of either eternal reward or eternal punishment, both of which are ultimately fixed on the Day of Judgment.

Furthermore, Catholicism and Orthodoxy are divided on the validity of papal infallibility (the idea that when the pope speaks ex cathedra—“from the chair”—he does so infallibly). Case in point: in 1950, Pope Pius XII dogmatized the widely held view that Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Orthodoxy resists such unilateral dogmatization. From the Orthodox perspective, papal infallibility—defined during the first Vatican council in 1870—has no basis in the creeds and confessions of the historic Christian faith—and thus is anathema.

Finally, Orthodoxy considers the Immaculate Conception— defined by Pope Pius IX in the 1854 bull Ineffabilis Deus—an unwarranted innovation. According to this Catholic dogma, from the moment of conception, Mary was kept free from the stain of all original sin. While Orthodoxy venerates Mary, they hold that she was born with the same broken nature as all other human beings.

In sum, unlike Protestantism, which shares a common his- tory and geography with Catholicism, Orthodoxy was not a part of the Western narrative. They did not have a Reformation, did not engage in the Crusades, did not participate in the selling of indulgences, and did not subscribe to such dogmas as limbo or the celibacy of the priesthood. Despite such differences, a growing number of Orthodox and Catholic believers today consider themselves to be two lungs within the same body.

***Note the preceding text is adapted from The Complete Bible Answer Book: Collector’s Edition: Revised and Expanded (2024). To receive for your partnering gift please click here. ***