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Ignatius Loyola, Rules for Thinking with the Church

About the Document
Ignatius Loyola (d. 1556) was born to a noble family in the Basque region of Spain and spent his early life as a soldier. In 1521, the same year that Luther was excommunicated, Loyola was severely injured and spent a year convalescing. Bedridden, he spent his time reading devotional literature and underwent a spiritual conversion. He renounced his inheritance and began to live as a monk. Eventually he gathered a few followers, whom he led through his now-classic spiritual program, The Spiritual Exercises. In 1540 Loyola and his companions were recognized by the papacy as an official order, The Society of Jesus. Jesuits (as members of the Society came to be called) became the agents of the papacy in its efforts both to reconvert European Protestants and to convert pagans encountered by European explorers to Roman Catholicism. In this selection from The Spiritual Exercises, Loyola describes the proper attitude of the believer toward the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Document
From Documents of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., Henry Bettenson, ed., pp. 364-367. © 1999. Reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press.

  1. Always to be ready to obey with mind and heart, setting aside all judgement of one's own, the true spouse of Jesus Christ, our holy mother, our infallible and orthodox mistress, the Catholic Church, whose authority is exercised over us by the hierarchy.
  2. To commend the confession of sins to a priest as it is practised in the Church; the reception of the Holy Eucharist once a year, or better still every week, or at least every month, with the necessary preparation.
  3. To commend to the faithful frequent and devout assistance at the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the ecclesiastical hymns, the divine office, and in general the prayers and devotions practised at stated times, whether in public in the churches or in private.
  4. To have a great esteem for the religious orders, and to give the preference to celibacy or virginity over the married state.
  5. To approve of the religious vows of chastity, poverty, perpetual obedience, as well as to the other works of perfection and supererogation. Let us remark in passing, that we must never engage by vow to take a state (such e.g. as marriage) that would be an impediment to one more perfect…
  6. To praise relics, the veneration and invocation of Saints: also the stations, and pious pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, the custom of lighting candles in the churches, and other such aids to piety and devotion.
  7. To praise the use of abstinence and fasts as those of Lent, of Ember Days, of Vigils, of Friday, Saturday, and of others undertaken out of pure devotion: also voluntary mortifications, which we call penances, not merely interior, but exterior also.
  8. To commend moreover the construction of churches, and ornaments; also images, to be venerated with the fullest right, for the sake of what they represent.
  9. To uphold especially all the precepts of the Church, and not censure them in any manner; but, on the contrary, to defend them promptly, with reasons drawn from all sources, against those who criticize them.
  10. To be eager to commend the decrees, mandates, traditions, rites and customs of the Fathers in the Faith or our superiors. As to their conduct; although there may not always be the uprightness of conduct that there ought to be, yet to attack or revile them in private or in public tends to scandal and disorder. Such attacks set the people against their princes and pastors; we must avoid such reproaches and never attack superiors before inferiors. The best course is to make private approach to those who have power to remedy the evil.
  11. To value most highly the sacred teaching, both the Positive and the Scholastic, as they are commonly called…
  12. It is a thing to be blamed and avoided to compare men who are living on the earth (however worthy of praise) with the Saints and Blessed, saying: This man is more learned than St. Augustine, etc…
  13. That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtedly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same;…
  14. It must also be borne in mind, that although it be most true, that no one is saved but he that is predestinated, yet we must speak with circumspection concerning this matter, lest perchance, stressing too much the grace or predestination of God, we should seem to wish to shut out the force of free will and the merits of good works; or on the other hand, attributing to these latter more than belongs to them, we derogate meanwhile from the power of grace.
  15. For the like reason we should not speak on the subject of predestination frequently; if by chance we do so speak, we ought so to temper what we say as to give the people who hear no occasion of erring and saying, 'If my salvation or damnation is already decreed, my good or evil actions are predetermined'; whence many are wont to neglect good works, and the means of salvation.
  16. It also happens not unfrequently, that from immoderate, preaching and praise of faith, without distinction or explanation added, the people seize a pretext for being lazy with regard to any good works, which precede faith, or follow it when it has been formed by the bond of charity.
  17. Not any more must we push to such a point when the preaching and inculcating of the grace of God, as that there may creep thence into the minds of the hearers the deadly error of denying our faculty of free will. We must speak of it as the glory of God requires… that we may not raise doubts as to liberty and the efficacy of good works.
  18. Although it is very praiseworthy and useful to serve God through the motive of pure charity, yet we must also recommend the fear of God; and not only filial fear, but servile fear, which is very useful and often even necessary to raise man from sin… Once risen from the state, and free from the affection of mortal sin, we may then speak of that filial fear which is truly worthy of God, and which gives and preserves the union of pure love.

Thought Questions

  1. According to Loyola, what should a Christian’s attitude be toward the church? Toward the Pope?
  2. What should the Christian life look like, according to Loyola?
  3. What does Loyola say about faith? In what should a Christian believe?
  4. Why would Loyola advocate such radical, unquestioning obedience to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church?
  5. Loyola founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). One mission of the Jesuits was to convert Protestants to Roman Catholicism. In many cases they were successful. Given what you know, why do you think some Protestants were attracted to Loyola’s vision?

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