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What was the most important point of disagreement between the ideas of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli and the Catholic beliefs?
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There is a huge divide between Calvinism and Cathoicism. One of these is the concept of grace. God's grace is irresistible because Calvinism holds with the impossibility of free will whereas Catholicism asserts that man has free will, the opportunity to perform good works or to commit sin. For Calvinists, once a person is "saved," he/she is always saved whereas Catholics have the opportunity to fall into sin at any time.
Another division between Calvinism and Catholicism is in the doctrine of the "elect." According to Calvinism only a select number of people will be saved; Christ's death was only for the "elect" and not for the others. In the doctrines of Catholicism, this is not true. Anyone who leads a good life, doing good works and remaining free from mortal sin, can go to heaven.
Finally, the concept of "irresistible grace" in Calvinism, in which even the most hardened heart is opened by this grace, is counter to the Catholic concept of grace that enters a person when he/she receives the sacraments or when he/she does good works.
The things that originally started Luther thinking about errors in Catholicism were the indulgences that could be purchased for individual sin and for the removal of sin of loved ones in the posited Purgatory. Luther had gone on a pilgrimage to Rome and while there was ushered past relics that were attributed with miraculous powers; he was sold indulgences; he was told a relic or an indulgence could solve spiritual ills. Afterward, these things began to chafe at him spiritually. When he was teaching at the University of Wittenberg, he had opportunity to compare his experiences in Rome to the text of the Holy Scriptures of Christianity. He found, what to his mind, were undeniable discrepancies between the Word of Scripture and the practices and dogma of the Catholic Church at Rome. For Luther, this is what began his denunciation of the Church of Rome and thus the most important points of disagreement.
It seems to me that the key difference is the idea that human authority and heirarchy can somehow function as some sort of bridge between God and an ordinary human being. Protestants would say that the structure of the Catholic Church put too much importance on the authority of certain human beings.
Though the original reasons for the disagreements against the Catholic church are many and varied, you could also look at which ones have become the pivotal points that separate Protestant and Catholic churches today, and cite these as what ultimately arose as the "most important."
I think first, and foremost, Protestants disagree with both the power and the authority of the Pope. Catholics, simply put, consider the pope to be the most important figure in the church and as far as authority goes, he is the closest human to the heart of Christ (essentially). Protestants basically believe that all of humans have equal opportunity and standing in the eyes of God, and everyone is called to the same accountability for their actions. Humans, in other words, cannot pardon other humans from sin. All are equally judged by God himself and all have the same opportunity for communication with God the Father through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Second, Protestants disagree with the transubstantiation of the bread and wine at the Eucharist actually becoming the body and blood of Christ. Protestants practice communion in a purely symbolic way, as a part of worship that "remembers" and celebrates Jesus's death and resurrection. Catholics believe that with the blessing of the bread and wine, the two objects become holy and are actual pieces of Christ's body and blood. Therefore, the Eucharist is more than symbolic, and also more exclusive. Not just anyone can partake in the Catholic sacrament of communion.
And finally, I think the Catholic revering of Mary (and the saints) continues to be a point of contention with Protestants. Protestants do not believe Mary remained a virgin forever. Most Protestant denominations also do not pray to Mary or other saints.
It would be difficult to isolate one single, "most important point of disagreement" in the conflict between those who became known as the first of the Protestants and the Roman Catholic church. The contested points could be lumped together and described as being abuses of church authority based on invalid theology.
Luther and the others objected to the sale of indulgences, both because they disagreed with the Church's teachings that indulgences had any impact upon the fate of a person's soul after death and because they were scandalized by the way in which the Church's representatives were enriching themselves and the Church through the profits of the sales. That was probably the main point of contention.
The Protestants also objected to practices connected with the observance of sacraments, the authority of the Pope, and the influence of the saints. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reformation for more information.
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