Two open-air streams trickle west toward the Castle Church in East Germany where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, sparking the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. (Eliot Stein For The Washington Post)

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the breaking point that cleaved Western Christianity in two. Half a millennium later, the bloody wars between Protestants and the Catholic societies they broke away from have long ceased, but the churches remain divided.

What beliefs really separate the Protestant and Catholic adherents of today, though? The Pew Research Center created a survey that found some surprising results.

We’ve distilled the results into a three-question quiz. See what you know, then find out what modern-day Christians believe. (If the quiz isn’t displaying in your browser, try clicking here.)

1

What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation?

Martin Luther

Thomas Aquinas

John Wesley

2

Protestants split from Catholics based on a few key theological differences. What did they each traditionally believe about the source of religious authority?

Catholics believe that all the religious guidance a Christian needs can be found in the Bible, a concept known as sola scriptura. Protestants say Christians need guidance from church teachings and traditions as well.

Protestants believe that all the religious guidance a Christian needs can be found in the Bible, a concept known as sola scriptura. Catholics say Christians need guidance from church teachings and traditions as well.

Both Catholics and Protestants believe that all the religious guidance a Christian needs can be found in the Bible, a concept known as sola scriptura.



Both Catholics and Protestants say that Christians need guidance from not only the Bible, but also church teachings and traditions.

3

How about the way to heaven? What does each group traditionally believe?

Catholics believe that faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven, a tenet known as sola fide. Protestants believe that both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven.

Protestants believe that faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven, a tenet known as sola fide. Catholics believe that both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven.

Protestants and Catholics both believe that faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven, a tenet known as sola fide.


Protestants and Catholics share the belief that both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven.

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Kathleen Crowther, a historian who specializes in the Protestant Reformation, said during a panel discussing the results at the Religion News Association meeting in Nashville last week that she wasn’t surprised to hear that Protestants today don’t fully embrace Luther’s teachings, especially sola fide. Luther was reacting to corrupt practices of the church in 1517, like charging money to guarantee a loved one’s passage out of purgatory, when he said that good works won’t gain someone passage to heaven. “It’s one thing to say that buying and selling indulgences is crass and wrong,” Crowther said. “It’s another to say that giving charity to your neighbor is on a plane with buying indulgences. This is one thing they really struggled with, and I think Protestants do today.”

Another historian who has written extensively about the Reformation, Thomas Albert Howard, responded to the survey by noting that the blurring of these theological differences helps keep the peace between Catholics and Protestants, who fought one another on battlefields across Europe for years. “Sometimes just forgetting things, forgetting the difficult things in the past, is one way for human solidarity,” he said.

But the differences aren’t all so erasable. Howard theorized that if Pew had asked Protestants more questions about the role of the Virgin Mary in their worship or about their attitudes toward the papacy, the survey would have found that Protestants still sharply diverge from Catholics on those points.

Click here to read the complete Pew study.

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