Rules for Thinking with the Church – St Ignatius, and Fr Aloysius Ambruzzi

“A Catholic should never be a minimizer in matters of Faith.”

Image: Apothesosis of St Ignatius Wiki Commons CC

Editorial Commentary

In honour of St Ignatius of Loyola, the great Counter-Reformation saint and the founder of the Society of Jesus, we are publishing the below extract from Fr Aloysius Ambruzzi’s The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius – With a Commentary (1939). Following this text, we have also included St Ignatius’ original rules, based on the translation by Fr Elder Mullan (1914).

Read these notes carefully and do not mistake our intention. We are not presenting these rules and commentary as an encouragement to accept the Novus Ordo revolution. We have already argued elsewhere that this is impossible, and established on other grounds that the reform and revolution have not come from the Catholic Church.

This is another piece of evidence for this: it is impossible to maintain the attitude described below in relation to the pre-conciliar Church and to those claiming authority in the post-conciliar period.

Let us pray for the exaltation of our Holy Mother the Church.

St Ignatius – Pray for us!

RIP Fr Aloysius Ambruzzi SJ

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Fr Aloysius Ambruzzi’s Commentary

From the abyss of nothingness out of which we have come, we hasten across a perilous and tempestuous ocean, towards the shore of eternity. The Spiritual Exercises help us to repair the boat of our soul, to rig it, to equip with all necessaries and conveniences, and, then to steer it in the wake of the boat that flies the banner of the Cross and has the Vicar of Christ at the helm.

However, that we never lose sight of the divine flagship and be miserably shipwrecked, we need a chart that marks out clearly and accurately the rocks, that shows the shallows and cautions us against cross-currents and false lights. St Ignatius provides us with such a chart at the end of the Exercises, in the shape of a few simple and practical rules which he calls “Rules to think truly, as we ought, in the Church Militant.” Leaving out a few points which deal with special needs and errors of the Saint’s time, these rules sketch the attitude of mind which a Catholic must invariably take in matters of Faith, of obedience to ecclesiastical authority, and of religious life and devotion.

As to Faith

“To arrive at the truth in all things, we ought always to be ready to believe that what seems to us the white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it; believing that between Christ our Lord the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride, there is one and the same Spirit, Who governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls, because our Holy Mother the Church is ruled and governed by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the Ten Commandments.”

The rule lays down the nature of our assent to the teaching of the Church, the bases of it, and its aim. The assent should be ready and wholehearted. The moment the Church has spoken, all hesitation must cease. We accept her teaching as true, even though our senses and our intellect suggest the contrary. St Ignatius speaks of the Church, to which we owe such full intellectual submission in matters of faith, as hierarchical, including that is to say, not only the supreme and infallible Teacher, the Pope, but all the Bishops who, side by side with the Supreme Pastor and in subordination to him, govern the different dioceses in which the Church is divided, each one of them being in his own diocese, the only divinely appointed teacher of Faith and Morals.

It would be altogether against the spirit of the Saint to suppose that to give an unquestioning assent to the teaching of the Church there should precede on the part of the Pope or of the Universal Church a solemn doctrinal definition. A clear and definite pronouncement by competent ecclesiastical authority – be it the Pope directly or through any of the Roman Congregations, or even the Diocesan Bishop – is all that a good Catholic requires. This does not imply that no distinction is to be made between the various declarations and enactments of the Church, between what is absolutely and irrevocably defined and what is not such. But to refuse assent to what ecclesiastical authority teaches, or to question its truth because it is not a dogma would be, unless grave and weighty reasons for doubt present themselves, to reject a message that purports to be divine, and is conveyed to us by a messenger whom we know to be divinely appointed. It would be to make our own opinion the rule of what to believe and what not to believe, and thus destroy the very foundation of the Catholic Faith.

A Catholic should never be a minimizer in matters of Faith. He would betray an utter lack of confidence in the Church and in Christ. The bases of our Faith suggest quite a different attitude of mind. The Church, says St Ignatius, is the Bride of Christ our Lord. Between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is one and the same Spirit. The very Spirit and Lord who gave the Ten Commandments, governs and directs us now through the Church. And, lastly, the Church is our Holy Mother. To believe in her, then, should be our joy and our happiness.

Nor should we think that the readiness to believe unquestioningly everything which the Church teaches may, in any way, hamper our intellectual freedom or narrow our field of knowledge or investigation. This idea is unfortunately at the back of many a Catholic mind. How differently does St Ignatius view the whole matter! For him “always to be ready to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it,” means “to arrive at the truth in all things.” No one who bases his Faith on the solid foundation given by the Saint can possibly look upon this statement as a mere pious exaggeration. The Church today, as in the days of St Paul, is “the pillar and the ground of truth” (1 Tim 3.15). Her decisions may, now and then, seem contrary to the verdict of modern science, unwise and even reactionary. But history itself proves that on the whole she has always been right, and that her children, far from losing anything through their submission and obedience, have only been spared the agonies of doubt and the labour of continually wandering out of the right way.

As to Moral and Disciplinary Matters

It is not, however, in matters of Faith that the ordinary Catholic will experience the greatest difficulties. The practical decisions of the Church in moral and disciplinary matters will often make heavy demands on his obedience and on his loyalty. This is all the more true when we consider the circumstances in which a great part of Catholics live and the moral standard of the people with whom they associate. Many of these otherwise honest and respectable men, hold on most important points, views quite contrary to the teaching of the Church. Others question the very existence of moral law; and not a few laugh at it, and take their passions and their caprices as the only rule of conduct. How differently from us [do] non-Christians and non-Catholics view some of the most practical and important problems of life, such as marriage with its concomitants – divorce, birth-control and craniotomy; the reading of forbidden books, freemasonry, and communing with non-Catholics in religious matters.

The conduct of a true Catholic is laid down clearly by St Ignatius.

“Laying aside all private judgment, we ought to hold our mind prepared and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord which is our Holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.”

It is the only possible conduct for one who believes in Christ and in the Church instituted by him.

“Whoever heareth you, heareth me, and whoever despiseth you, despiseth me.” (Lk 10.16).

“And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Mt 18.17-8.)

“As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you.” (John 20.21)

The commands of the Church are, then, the commands of the body established by Christ our Lord to guide us in the way of salvation, and they are to be accepted and obeyed as if they were the commands of Christ Himself, whatever our views and feelings on the matter may be. Here we are not asked to forswear these views and feelings, to call white what seems to us black. We are not, properly speaking, in the realm of Faith where man’s reason sees nothing, but in that of discipline, of temporal, social and educational matters, where reason plays often a very important part, and where different opinions may be held, and the decisions of the Church may, possibly, not appear as the very best. We are simply asked to leave aside all private judgment of our own and accept the ruling of the Church in the spirit of obedience and of loyalty. Our obedience and submission must be full of confidence and of trust. The authority to which we submit and by which we allow ourselves to be led is the authority of the true Spouse of Christ our Lord and our Holy Mother, the hierarchical Church. It is in the authority of the Vicar of Christ, of the sweet Christ on earth, as St Catherine of Siena used to call him. It is the authority of our Bishop, who, in the words of St Ignatius of Antioch, holds the place of God and is the shepherd whom all must obey, and without whom nothing can be done.

Nor, to be true Catholics, is it enough to obey the Church when she commands under penalty of sin. We must feel with her in every matter of some moment, defend all that she stands for, and constantly side with our ecclesiastical Superiors and leaders. This is why St Ignatius adds: “To praise all the precepts of the Church, keeping our minds ready to seek reasons for defending her, and in no way impugning her.

This readiness of mind to defend every measure of the ecclesiastical authority, this horror of any semblance of opposition to it, is the hallmark of true Catholicity.

But what if abuses actually exist, if steps are taken by ecclesiastical authority which are clearly unreasonable or unwise, or if alterations or adaptations seem to be called for by the circumstances of time and place?

“We ought to be rather inclined to approve and praise the constitutions and recommendations, and also the habits of life of our Superiors, because although sometimes they may not be, or may not have been praiseworthy, still to speak against them, whether in public discourses or before the common people would give rise to murmurs and scandals rather than edifications; and thus the people would be irritated against their Superiors, whether temporal or spiritual. Nevertheless as, before the common people, it does harm to speak ill of Superiors in their absence, so it may be useful to speak of their bad conduct to those who can apply a remedy.”

Criticism can be very useful. A ruler can have no more valuable knowledge than a knowledge of his defects and of what is passing in the mind of his subjects in his regard. This knowledge should be welcomed by him, and at times, it should be even sought. Every criticism, however, whether it takes the form of proposals to be adopted or evils to be redressed, should concern weighty and well-thought-out matters, and should be prompted by true charity and a desire of the common good. It should be made in a spirit of obedience, of confidence, and loyalty and conveyed to the proper persons. To be carping at everything, and making the shortcomings of our Superiors and the defects of their administration the subject of public discourses or of letters to the Press, is to scandalize those of the fold and those who are without, to put of necessary reforms indefinitely, and to be the occasion of even greater evils than those which we try to redress.

Though the principle laid down by St Ignatius applies to all Superiors, ecclesiastical and secular, all civil bodies nowadays profess to derive their authority directly or indirectly from the people, and to be ultimately responsible to them. Any criticism levelled at a civil authorities which is made through the proper channels, and which does not aim at throwing contempt on them, nor at their subversion may, then, be considered legitimate.

As to Religious Life and Devotion

Having defined the nature of our assent to the teaching of the Church and of our submission to her commands, St Ignatius singles out a few practices of religious life and devotion which are peculiarly characteristic of Catholic life and organization. The few rules which the Saint draws up concerning such practices are not properly speaking rules of conduct. They are, rather, principles to control and guide our thoughts and feelings if we want to think and feel in unison with the Church. All that the Saint wants is that we should always think highly of such practices, that we should speak well of them, and defend them against the attacks of open enemies as well as those who, though still in the Church, are hardly worthy of the name of Catholics.

Some of the rules have reference to divine worship, others to religious life and asceticism.

As to prayer. “To praise the frequent hearing of Mass, also hymns, psalms, and long prayers both in and out of church; likewise the hours ordained at fixed times for the whole of the Divine Office, and for prayer of every kind, and all Canonical Hours.”

Every prayer deserves our praise: first of all the great prayer of the Divine High Priest, the Mass, then the liturgical prayers of the Church, and then any other prayer in and out of church.

This rule counteracts the modern spirit that considers the time give to prayer as lost, or, at least, as always too long.

As to the reception of the Sacraments. “To praise Confession to a Priest, and the reception of the most Holy Sacrament once a year, and much better every month, and much better still every eight days, with the requisite and due dispositions.”

St Ignatius was far ahead of his time concerning frequent Communion. Weekly Communion, and even weekly celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, was out of the common, then. Rightly, on the other hand, does the Saint insist on the requisite and due conditions.

As to the veneration of the Saints. “To praise the relics of Saints, paying veneration to their relics, and praying to the Saints, and also images, and to venerate them according to what they represent.”

As to Indulgences. “To praise likewise Stations, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, Bulls of the Crusade.”

As to the exterior magnificence of divine worship. “To praise the ornaments and build of churches… and candles lighted in churches.”

Nothing should be deemed too much for the House of God. It is only traitors like Judas who say: “To what purpose is this waste?” (Matt 26.8)

The Religious Life and asceticism are two more points upon which St Ignatius dwells.

As to the Religious Life. “To praise greatly Religious Orders, Virginity and Continency; and Matrimony not so much as any of these.”

“To praise Vows of Religion, of obedience, of poverty, of chastity, and of other works of perfection and of supererogation…”

As to asceticism. “To praise the precepts with regard to fasts and abstinences, as those of Lent, Ember Days, Vigils, Fridays… likewise penances, not only interior but also exterior.”

In these days when the Religious Life is often looked upon as the cramping of life, and asceticism and penances are at a discount even amongst good people, these rules are as opportune as they were centuries ago when Protestant ideas were beginning to gain ground. If Christianity has not changed, self-abnegation and mortification is still the A B C of the spiritual life.

The last rule gives us in a few words the true spirit of St Ignatius and, moreover, puts us on our guard against the tendency, so common in our days, of overlooking the hard side of Christianity and recommending the way of pure love indiscriminately to every soul.

“Although it is above all things praiseworthy greatly to serve God out of pure love, yet we ought much to praise the fear of his Divine Majesty, because not only is filial fear a pious and most holy thing, but even servile fear, when man does not attain to anything better and more useful, is of great help towards rising out of mortal sin, and, after he has risen out of it, he easily attains to filial fear, which is wholly acceptable and pleasing to God our Lord, because it is inseparable from Divine Love.”

The Rules of St Ignatius

Let the following Rules be observed.

Rule 1. We must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things, the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the Church Hierarchical.

Rule 2. To praise confession to a Priest, and the reception of the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar once in the year, and much more each month, and much better from week to week, with the conditions required and due.

Rule 3. To praise the hearing of Mass often, likewise hymns, psalms, and long prayers, in the church and out of it; likewise the hours set at the time fixed for each Divine Office and for all prayer and all Canonical Hours.

Rule 4. To praise much Religious Orders, virginity and continence, and not so much marriage as any of these.

Rule 5. To praise vows of Religion, of obedience, of poverty, of chastity and of other perfections of supererogation. And it is to be noted that as the vow is about the things which approach to Evangelical perfection, a vow ought not to be made in the things which withdraw from it, such as to be a merchant, or to be married, etc.

Rule 6. To praise relics of the Saints, giving veneration to them and praying to the Saints; and to praise Stations, pilgrimages, Indulgences, pardons, crusade indults, and candles lighted in the churches.

Rule 7. To praise Constitutions about fasts and abstinence, as of Lent, Ember Days, Vigils, Friday and Saturday; likewise penances, not only interior, but also exterior.

Rule 8. To praise the ornaments and the buildings of churches; likewise images, and to venerate them according to what they represent.

Rule 9. Finally, to praise all precepts of the Church, keeping the mind prompt to find reasons in their defence and in no manner against them.

Rule 10. We ought to be more prompt to find good and praise as well the Constitutions and recommendations as the ways of our Superiors. Because, although some are not or have not been such, to speak against them, whether preaching in public or discoursing before the common people, would rather give rise to fault-finding and scandal than profit; and so the people would be incensed against their Superiors, whether temporal or spiritual. So that, as it does harm to speak evil to the common people of Superiors in their absence, so it can make profit to speak of the evil ways to the persons themselves who can remedy them.

Rule 11. To praise positive and scholastic learning. Because, as it is more proper to the Positive Doctors, as St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Gregory, etc., to move the heart to love and serve God our Lord in everything; so it is more proper to the Scholastics, as St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and to the Master of the Sentences, etc., to define or explain for our times the things necessary for eternal salvation; and to combat and explain better all errors and all fallacies. For the Scholastic Doctors, as they are more modern, not only help themselves with the true understanding of the Sacred Scripture and of the Positive and holy Doctors, but also, they being enlightened and clarified by the Divine virtue, help themselves by the Councils, Canons and Constitutions of our holy Mother the Church.

Rule 12. We ought to be on our guard in making comparison of those of us who are alive to the blessed passed away, because error is committed not a little in this; that is to say, in saying, this one knows more than St. Augustine; he is another St Francis or even greater; he is another St. Paul in goodness, holiness, etc.

Rule 13. To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.

Rule 14. Although there is much truth in the assertion that no one can save himself without being predestined and without having faith and grace; we must be very cautious in the manner of speaking and communicating with others about all these things.

Rule 15. We ought not, by way of custom, to speak much of predestination; but if in some way and at sometimes one speaks, let him so speak that the common people may not come into any error, as sometimes happens, saying: Whether I have to be saved or condemned is already determined, and no other thing can now be, through my doing well or ill; and with this, growing lazy, they become negligent in the works which lead to the salvation and the spiritual profit of their souls.

Rule 16. In the same way, we must be on our guard that by talking much and with much insistence of faith, without any distinction and explanation, occasion be not given to the people to be lazy and slothful in works, whether before faith is formed in charity or after.

Rule 17. Likewise, we ought not to speak so much with insistence on grace that the poison of discarding liberty be engendered.

So that of faith and grace one can speak as much as is possible with the Divine help for the greater praise of His Divine Majesty, but not in such way, nor in such manners, especially in our so dangerous times, that works and free will receive any harm, or be held for nothing.

Rule 18. Although serving God our Lord much out of pure love is to be esteemed above all; we ought to praise much the fear of His Divine Majesty, because not only filial fear is a thing pious and most holy, but even servile fear–when the man reaches nothing else better or more useful–helps much to get out of mortal sin. And when he is out, he easily comes to filial fear, which is all acceptable and grateful to God our Lord: as being at one with the Divine Love.


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