What Is the Difference?

I’m constantly asked—what is the difference between Catholic and Protestant faith? Really. Not just a comparison between Luther and Trent, but on the ground among Catholics who are active in their local parish, what does the difference look like? Here is one way to answer the question, in the words of an outstanding son of the Catholic Church, Ignatius Loyola.

Some historians claim that Loyola studied at the University of Paris simultaneous to John Calvin. This is fascinating on numerous levels, especially because Loyola’s convictions about Christian life are at many points directly opposed to Calvin’s. Their divergence is obvious, for instance, in Loyola’s so called “Rules for Thinking, Feeling, and Judging with the Church,” which appear at the conclusion of his Spiritual Exercises. The following selections from Loyola’s Rules (of which there are 18) highlight two lessons: the shape of Catholic faith from his perspective and its stark contrast to Reformed Protestantism. While there are profound differences between 16th Century Catholicism and today’s post Vatican II world, I would suggest that the following issues, precisely because they are so basic, are generally true today among conservative Catholics as they were then. Perhaps most striking of all is number 13.

The First Rule. With all judgment of our own put aside, we ought to keep our minds disposed and ready to be obedient in everything to the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother the hierarchical Church.

The Fourth. We should strongly praise religious institutes, virginity and continence, and marriage too, but not as highly as any of the former.

The Fifth. We should praise the vows of religion, obedience, poverty, chastity, and vows to perform other works of supererogation which conduce to perfection.

The Sixth. We should praise relics of saints, by venerating the relics and praying to the saints. We should extol visits to stational churches, pilgrimages, indulgences for jubilees and crusades, and the lighting of candles in churches.

The Seventh. We should praise precepts of fast and abstinence, for example, in Lent, on ember days, vigils, Fridays and Saturdays; also penances, not only interior but also exterior.

The Eighth. We ought to praise church buildings and their decorations; also statues and paintings, and their veneration according to what they represent.

The Thirteenth. To keep ourselves right in all things, we ought to hold fast to this principle: What seems to be to be white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it. For we believe that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his Spouse, there is the one same Spirit who governs and guides us for the salvation of our souls. For it is by the same Spirit and Lord of ours who gave the ten commandments that our Holy Mother Church is guided and governed.

The Fifteenth. We ought not to fall into a habit of speaking much about predestination.

The Seventeenth. Similarly, we ought not to speak so lengthily and emphatically about grace that we generate a poison harmful to freedom of the will. Hence one may speak about faith and grace as much as possibly, with God’s help, for the greater praise of the Divine Majesty; but not in such way or manners, especially in times as dangerous as our own, that works and free will are impaired or thought worthless.

George E. Ganss, S.J. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, A Translation and Commentary. (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1992), 133-137.

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