Catholic and Protestant countries compared

The statement is often carelessly made that Catholic countries are inferior to Protestant, and that this difference indicates the superiority of Protestantism as a religion. The statement is a loose generalization, and embraces a variety of errors.


Forgetting the earlier history of Europe, proponents of this claim used to point to the supremacy of England, Germany, the United States, and the secondary position of France, Italy, Spain, and the South and Central American republics. Of course, none. of these countries is exclusively Catholic or Protestant, and often the rulers of so-called Catholic nations have long been men of doubtful religious belief to say the least. The history of the World War and the subsequent decade has undone this argument. Imperial Germany is no longer viewed with pride. England and the United States today associate with themselves France, Italy, and Japan, and of these the first two are among the Catholic nations, and the last is non-Christian, clear evidence of the lack of relation between religious belief and political power.


Admittedly, the greatest development of finance, manufacture, and commerce has been in England, the United States, and Germany. The true reason for this is, however, not the predominantly Protestant religion, but the presence of opportunity and the play of economic forces. The invention of power machinery and the adaptability of these countries to its use, made of them typically commercial peoples, while France, Italy, and other countries remain typically agricultural. Religious beliefs had no more to do with this trend of development than in the parallel example of the development of a commercial city in the midst of country villages. Moreover, recent industrial crises in England, Germany, and northern France, indicate that a purely induatrial community runs serious risks, and is not necessarily preferable to a pastoral or agricultural community.


No serious and well-informed person will claim any supremacy of culture for the predominantly Protestant countries. In fact, it is commonly admitted that the so-called Catholic countries, placing less emphasis on commercial activity, have more time and taste for the liberal arts and cultured living than have the peoples of the Protestant countries. The achievement of the highest art in architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature is, of course, the work of genius; and genius is not produced by nor limited to any religious or national group.


Every religion tends to reduce immorality and crime; hence statistics of crime really prove only the absence of religion. However, if such statistics be taken only as indicating the failure of religion, a rough comparison can be made, and will be not unfavorable to the Catholic nations. The United States has, unfortunately, an unhappy reputation due to the prevalence of certain crimes and the inability of the courts and police to repress them. The comparison however is not profitable; attention should rather be given to the encouragement of all forces everywhere which work against evil. The Catholic Church, with its divine instruction, its carefully systematized moral code, and its long practise in dealing with consciences, is efficient and constant in denouncing sins of all kinds and in all places. In fairness, the debate should be dropped as useless and incapable of final answer. National life is too vast and intricate to be accurately measured and computed. All nations have their faults and their virtues, and praiseworthy prominence in one direction is sure to be balanced by blamable failures in another. The true religious spirit of Christ is never national, never contemptuously proud, embraces and seeks all good, hates sin, but remains charitably kind to sinners. Those inspired by this spirit find no utility in invidious comparisons.

New Catholic Dictionary

NCD Index SQPN Contact Author