1. Is the Church of Ireland Protestant or Catholic?
It is both Protestant and Catholic. For this reason it is incorrect to refer to members of the Church of Ireland as ‘non–Catholic’.
The terms Protestant and Catholic are not really opposites.
There are Catholics who accept the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Often in consequence they are called Roman Catholics. But there are other Catholics who do not accept the Pope’s jurisdiction or certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Some are called Protestant or Reformed Catholics. Among them are members of the Church of Ireland and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion.
It follows therefore that the terms ‘Protestant’ and ‘Reformed’ should be contrasted with ‘Roman’ and not with ‘Catholic’.
The Church of Ireland is Catholic because it is in possession of a continuous tradition of faith and practice, based on Scripture and early traditions, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, together with the sacraments and apostolic ministry.
The Church of Ireland is Protestant, or Reformed, because it affirms ‘its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship, whereby the Primitive Faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid.’ (Preamble and Declaration to the Constitution of the Church of Ireland of 1870, 1.3)
So there are Catholics who are in communion with Rome and Catholics who are not. But all by baptism belong in the one Church of Christ.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. The Nicene Creed – said at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland.
2. How does the Church of Ireland differ from other Protestant Churches?
Churches which resulted from the sixteenth century Reformation, and from the subsequent divisions in these churches, although varying in their beliefs and practices, and not always in any official relationship with each other, are generally known as Protestant Churches.
The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Church in so far as it shares with these churches opposition to those innovations in doctrine and worship that appear contrary to Scripture and led to the Reformation.
However it differs from these churches in retaining elements of the pre–Reformation faith and practice which they have rejected or lost.
The Church of Ireland maintains a liturgical pattern of worship, observing the feasts and fasts of the Catholic liturgical year. It remembers the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints on special days. It retains many of the rites and ceremonies of the pre–Reformation Catholic Church.
The Church of Ireland has within its fellowship religious orders of men and women, under the traditional threefold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Church of Ireland emphasises the importance of the Sacraments. It administers the two Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as the sacramental ministries of confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, absolution and healing. (Church of Ireland Revised Catechism)
The Church of Ireland has retained the structure of the pre–Reformation Catholic Church and is no stranger to words like parish, bishop, diocese, priest, sanctuary, confirmation, eucharist, synod and to all for which they stand.
As a result [of events which are commonly referred to as the Reformation] many communions, national and confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist the Anglican Communion occupies a special place. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, III, 13.
3. What is the difference between the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church?
The chief difference is that one Church is under the jurisdiction of the Pope and the other is not. This results in certain importance differences of belief and practice. However, it should be noted that the beliefs and practices held in common greatly outweigh those that separate the two Churches.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has, by divine right, jurisdiction over the universal Church, and that in certain circumstances his utterances are infallible. The Church of Ireland does not accept either of these teachings, and resists the claim of the Pope to rule over and speak for the universal Church.
Furthermore the Roman Catholic Church teaches that belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in her Corporal assumption, are necessary for salvation. These beliefs had for a long time been widespread in Catholic Christendom, but were regarded with varying degrees of certainty. However, within the last hundred and fifty years, the Roman catholic Church has pronounced them to be necessary for salvation.
The Church of Ireland teaches that neither Holy Scripture, nor the understanding of the Scriptures by the early Fathers of the Church, support these doctrines.
The Church of Ireland, as a Reformed and Protestant Church, doth hereby re–affirm its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship whereby the Primitive faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid, and which at the Reformation this Church did disown and reject. (Preamble and Declaration of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland 1870, 1.3)
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Church of Ireland, Protestant & Catholic