John Cosin on the Differences Between Roman Catholicism and Protestants

John Cosin, (1594-1674), Bishop of Durham, Church of England

Henry Bettenson's Document's of the Early Church contains a letter from John Cosin (1594-1674) titled A Letter to the Countess of Peterborough (1660). The letter is helpful as an example of the standard Protestant objections to Roman Catholicism from an Anglican perspective. 

John Cosin, (1594-1674), Bishop of Durham, 1660. From, 'A Letter to the Countess of Peterborough', Works, ed. L.A.C.T. iv. 332-336, in Henry Bettenson's Document's of the Early Church (pg 303f).


The differences in the chief points of religion between the Roman Catholics and us of the Church of England together with the agreements which we for our parts profess and are ready to embrace if they for theirs were as ready to accord with us in the same .


We that profess the Catholic Faith and Religion in the Church of England do not agree with the Roman Catholics in any thing whereunto they now endeavour to convert us But we totally differ from them as they do from the ancient Catholic Church in these points:

  1. That the Church of Rome is the mother and mistress of all other Churches in the world
  2. That the Pope of Rome is the vicar general of Christ or that he hath an universal jurisdiction over all Christians that shall be saved 
  3. That either the synod of Trent was a general council or that all the canons thereof are to he received as matters of Catholic Faith under pain of damnation
  4. That Christ hath instituted seven true and proper Sacraments in the New Testament neither more nor less all conferring grace and all necessary to salvation
  5. That the Priests offer up our Saviour in the mass as a real proper and propitiatory sacrifice for the quick and the dead and that whosoever believes it not is eternally damned
  6. That in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the whole substance of bread is converted into the substance of Christ's Body and the whole substance of wine into His Blood so truly and properly as that after consecration there is neither any bread nor wine remaining there which they call tran substantiation and impose upon all persons under pain of damnation to be believed
  7. That the communion under one kind is sufficient and lawful notwithstanding the institution of Christ under both and that whosoever believes or holds otherwise is damned
  8. That there is a purgatory after this life wherein the souls of the dead are punished and from whence they are fetched out by the prayers and offerings of the living and that there is no salvation possibly to be had by any that will not believe as much
  9. That all the old saints departed and all those dead men and women whom the Pope hath of late canonized for saints or shall hereafter do so whosoever they be are and ought to be invocated by the religious prayers and devotions of all persons and that they who do not believe this as an article of their Catholic Faith cannot be saved
  10. That the relics of all these true or reputed saints ought to be religiously worshipped and that whosoever holdeth the contrary is damned
  11. That the images of Christ and the blessed Virgin and of the other saints ought not only to be had and retained but likewise to be honoured and worshipped according to the use and practices of the Roman Church and that this is to be bekeved as of necessity to salvation
  12. That the power and use of indulgences as they are now practised in the Church of Rome both for the living and the dead is to be received and held of all under pain of eternal perdition
  13. That all the ceremonies used by the Roman Church in the administration of the Sacraments such as are spittle and salt at Baptism the five crosses upon the Altar and Sacrament of the Eucharist the holding of that Sacrament over the Priest's head to be adored the exposing of it in their churches to be worshipped by the people the circumgestation and carrying of it abroad in procession upon their Corpus Christi day and to their sick for the same the oil and chrism in confirmation the anointing of the ears the eyes and noses the hands and reins of those that are ready to die the giving of an empty chalice and paten to them that are to be ordained Priests and many others of this nature now in use with them are of necessity to salvation to be approved and admitted by all other churches
  14. That all the ecclesiastical observations and constitutions of the same Church such as are their laws of forbidding all Priests to marry the appointing several orders of monks friars and nuns in the Church the service of God in an unknown tongue the saying of a number of Ave Marias by tale upon their chaplets the sprinkling of themselves and the dead bodies with holy water as operative and effectual to the remission of venial sins the distinctions of meats to be held for true fasting the religious consecration and incensing of images the baptizing of bells the dedicating of divers holidays for the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of the blessed Virgin and for Corpus Christi or transubstantiation of the Sacrament the making of the Apocryphal books to be as canonical as any of the rest of the holy and undoubted Scriptures the keeping of those Scriptures from the free use and reading of the people the approving of their own Latin translation only and divers other matters of the like nature are to be approved held and believed as needful to salvation and that whoever approves them not is out of the Catholic Church and must be damned: All which in their several respects we hold some to be pernicious some unnecessary many false and many fond and none of them to be imposed upon any Church or any christian as the Roman Catholics do upon all Christians und all Churches whatsoever for matters needful to be approved for eternal salvation


If the Roman Catholics would make the essence of their Church as we do ours to consist in these following points we are at accord with them in the reception and believing of

  1. All the two and twenty canonical books of the Old Testament and the twenty seven of the New as the only foundation and perfect rule of our faith
  2. All the apostolical and ancient Creeds especially those which are commonly called the Apostles Creed the Nicene Creed and the Creed of S Athanasius all which are clearly deduced out of the Scriptures
  3. All the Decrees of faith and doctrine set forth as well in the first four general councils as in all other councils which those first four approved and confirmed and in the fifth and sixth general councils besides than which we find no more to be general and in all the following councils that be thereunto agreeable and in all the anathemas and condemnations given out by those councils against heretics for the defence of the Catholic Faith
  4. The unanimous and general consent of the ancient Catholic Fathers and the universal Church of Christ in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and the collection of all necessary matters of Faith from them during the first six hundred years and downwards to our own days
  5. In acknowledgment of the Bishop of Rome if he would rule and be ruled by the ancient canons of the Church to be the Patriarch of the West by right of ecclesiastical and imperial constitution in such places where the kings and governors of those places had received him and found it be hooveful for them to make use of his jurisdiction without any necessary dependence upon him by divine right
  6. In the reception and use of the two blessed Sacraments of our Saviour in the confirmation of those persons that are to be strengthened in their Christian Faith by prayer and imposition of hands according to the examples of the holy Apostles and ancient Bishops of the Catholic Church in the public and solemn benediction of persons that are to be joined together in holy matrimony in public or private absolution of penitent sinners in the consecrating of Bishops and the ordaining of Priests and Deacons for the service of God in His Church by a lawful succession and in visiting the sick by praying for them and administering the blessed Sacrament to them together with a final absolution of them from their repented sins
  7. In commemorating at the Eucharist the Sacrifice of Christ's Body and Blood once truly offered for us
  8. In acknowledging His sacramental spiritual true and real Presence there to the souls of all them that come faithfully and devoutly to receive Him according to His own institution in that holy Sacrament
  9. In giving thanks to God for them that are departed out of this life in the true Faith of Christ's Catholic Church and in praying to God that they may have a joyful resurrection and a perfect consummation of bliss both in their bodies and souls in His eternal kingdom of glory
  10. In the historical and moderate use of painted and true stories either for memory or ornament where there is no danger to have them abused or worshipped with religious honour
  11. In the use of indulgences or abating the rigour of the canons imposed upon offenders according to their repentance and their want of ability to undergo them
  12. In the administration of the two Sacraments and other rites of the Church with ceremonies of decency and order according to the precept of the Apostle and the free practice of the ancient Christians
  13. In observing such holy days and times of fasting as were in use in the first ages of the Church or afterwards received upon just grounds by public or lawful authority
  14. Finally in the reception of all ecclesiastical constitutions and canons made for the ordering of our Church or others which are not repugnant either to the Word of God or the power of kings or the laws established by right authority any nation 


  1. Say and believe as by the articles of their new creed they are bound to believe that we are all damned and accursed persons
  2. They call us heretics
  3. They excommunicate us and abhor to join with us in any sacred action either of prayer or sacraments
  4. Not long since they burned us both alive and dead at their stakes and where the edicts of princes restrain them not they do so still as by their own laws they have obliged themselves to do which laws if civil respects suspend them not for the time they can put in execution at an hour's warning when they please
  5. They will allow us no other burial of our dead than the burial of a dog accounting their churches and their churchyards to be polluted if any of our people be there put into a grave and whoever it is among them be it a son that shall bury his father or a wife her husband that die in our religion if they venture to make a grave there and put the dead corpse either of a father or a husband or other the like into it they are bound to scrape up that corpse again with their own fingers and carry it away to be buried in a ditch or a dunghill or where else they can find room for it prince or peasant are herein alike if they be not Roman Catholics they shall be used no better 


  1. Say and believe as we do that we profess and believe whatsoever is necessary to salvation and that it is an accursed belief which the Roman Catholics have of us
  2. These acknowledge us to be true Catholics
  3. They do most willingly receive us into their churches and frequently repair to ours joining with us both in prayers and sacraments
  4. These men whose predecessors were burned up and martyred as ours have been being in such times of persecution received and harboured in our Churches gave us the like relief in theirs both in Germany and France where when at any time we come they have obtained freedom for us from this kind of persecution under which we might otherwise suffer and be in continual danger to lose our lives
  5. They allow us not only to bury our dead among theirs in the churchyards which they have purchased and peculiarly set apart for that purpose but they give us leave also to use our own Office and Order of Burial at least they hinder us not to do it if the Roman Catholics permit it and to set up our monuments and inscriptions over the graves hereby professing unity with us both alive and dead In all which regards we ought ho less to acknowledge them and to make no schism between our Churches and theirs however we approve not some defects that may be seen among them 

This remains written by the Bishop's own hand when he was in France Note at the end of this paper in Basire

This paper was first printed in an octavo volume bearing the title Several Letters which passed be tween Dr George Hickes and a Po pish Priest upon occasion of a young gentleman's departing from the Church of England to that of Rome with an appendix of papers &c Lond 1705 Appendix Paper iv In his preface Hickes says this paper was never be fore published I printed it he adds from the very copy which Dr John Cosin afterwards Bishop of Durham gave to the late Countess of Peter borough It has since been printed at the end of Bishop Bull's account of the Corruptions of the Church of Rome &c Lond 1705 h sciL Penelope daughter of Bar nabas Earl of Thomond and wife of Henry second Earl of Peterborough who distinguished himself in the ci il wars of Charles I and was engaged with the Earl of Holland in 1648 in attempting to rescue the King from his imprisonment &c The Countess ap pears to have died in April 1782 ie three years before this paper was first published by Hickes See Collins's Peerage of England ed Lond 1812 vol iii p 318

The Works of The Right Rev. Father In Gop John Cosin, Lord Bishop of Durham, First Collected, Volume 4, Miscellanous Works,

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