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Religious Life

A life directed to personal perfection, or a life seeking union with God

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Religious Life.



We all have within us that vague and general idea of the religious life which enables us to recognize it when it is described as a life directed to personal perfection, or a life seeking union with God. Under this twofold aspect it is met with in all ages and places: every soul possesses an inclination to good, and an inclination towards God. There are everywhere souls that willingly follow these inclinations, and consequently religious souls. Sometimes they attach more importance to the tendency to self-perfection, sometimes to the tendency towards God; in other words, to the ascetic tendency or the mystical tendency; but since God is the end of man, the two tendencies are so similar as to be practically one. If the Creator has put into our souls the principle of religious life, we must expect not only to find it, more and less intense, in every religion, but also to see it reveal itself in similar ways. We should not be surprised if outside the true Church there should be persons devoted to contemplation, solitude, and sacrifice; but we are not obliged to conclude that our Christian practices are necessarily derived from theirs, since the instincts of human nature sufficiently account for the resemblance. Such an explanation would not explain the origin of these practices: if we are indebted for the monasticism of Pachomius to the worshippers of Serapis, where did they find their inspiration? Nor would the explanation account for the results: whence comes it that monachism has covered not only the East, and Asia, but also Africa, Europe, and the whole of the West?

In our days the historical derivation of certain usages is a thing of small importance; we may admit without hesitation any connection which is proved, but not one which is merely assumed. The Israelites may have borrowed from Egypt the practice of circumcision, which was the sign of their covenant with Jehovah; and so certain ascetic practices, even if they had a pagan origin, were nevertheless, as employed by our monks and religious, Catholic and Christian in meaning and inspiration. Moreover, not every doctrine or practice of a false religion is necessarily erroneous or reprehensible; there may be great nobility of character among Buddhist monks or Mussulman dervishes, as there may be faults sullying the monastic or religious habits worn in the true Church.

We need not here present a comparative analysis of the Christian religious life and the religious life of non-Christians, nor even compare our religious with the servants of God in the Old Testament (see Anchorites; Asceticism; Buddhism; Essenes). But how are we to recognize the religious life of the true and Divine religion? Not by bodily mortification, which may be surpassed in severity by those of the fakirs; not by mystical ecstasies and raptures, which were experienced by those initiated into the Greek and Oriental mysteries, and are still met with among Buddhist monks and dervishes; not even by the faultless lines of all the plans of Catholic religious life, for God, who desires progress even in His Church, has permitted rough beginnings, experiments, and individual mistakes; but even the persons making these mistakes possess in the true religion the principles which ensure correction and gradual improvement. Besides, in its entirety, the religious life of the true religion must appear to us to be in conformity with the moral and social laws of our present existence, as well as with our destiny; its intentions must appear sincerely directed towards personal sanctification, towards God, and the Divine order. The tree must everywhere be known by its fruits. Now, Catholic religious life infinitely surpasses all other ascetic systems by the truth and beauty of the doctrine laid down in so many rules and treatises, and by the eminent sanctity of its followers such as Saints Anthony, Pachomius, Basil, Augustine, Colombanus, Gregory, and others, and finally, especially in the West, by the marvellous fruitfulness of its work for the benefit of mankind. After these preliminary observations, we may confidently look for the true religious life in the Gospel.


We cannot regard as essential everything that we find in the full development of religious life, without ignoring historical facts or refusing them the attention they deserve; and we must correct the definitions of Scholastic writers, and lessen some of their requirements, if we wish to put ourselves in harmony with history, and not be compelled to assign to religious a later origin, which would separate them by too long a period from the first preaching of the Gospel which they profess to practice in the most perfect manner. The Scriptures tell us that perfection consists in the love of God and our neighbor, or to speak more accurately, in a charity which extends from God to our neighbor, finding its motive in God, and the opportunity for its exercise in our neighbor. We say “it has its motive in God“, and for that reason Christ tells us that the second commandment is like to the first (Matt., xxii, 39); “and the opportunity for its exercise in our neighbor”, as St. John says: “If any man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not?” (I John, iv, 20). The New Testament warns us of the obstacles to this charity arising from an attachment to and desire of created things, and from ‘the cares caused by their possession, and, therefore, besides this precept of charity, our observance of which is the measure of our perfection, the New Testament gives us a general counsel to be disengaged from everything contrary to charity. This counsel contains certain definite directions, among the most important of which are the renunciations of riches, of carnal pleasure, and of all ambition and self-seeking, in order to acquire a spirit of voluntary submission and generous devotion to the service of God and our neighbor.

All Christians are bound to obey these precepts, and to follow the spirit of these counsels; and a favor like that of the first Christians will enable them to free themselves from attachment to earthly things in order to set their affections on God and the things of heaven; while the remembrance of the shortness of this life facilitates the sacrifice of wealth and natural pleasures. The first converts of Jerusalem acted on this principle, and sold their possessions and goods, laying the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. But experience, by which Christ wished His faithful to be taught, soon corrected their errors on the subject of the future of the world, and showed the practical impossibility of a complete renunciation by all members of the Church. Christian society can no more continue without resources and without children than the soul can exist without the body; it has need of men engaged in lucrative professions, as well as of Christian marriages and Christian families. In short, according to the designs of God who bestows a diversity of gifts, there must also be a diversity of operations (I Cor., xii, 4, 6). Every kind of career should be represented in the Church, and one of these should include those who make profession of the practice of the Evangelical counsels. Such persons are not necessarily more perfect than others, but they adopt the best means of attaining perfection; their final object and supreme destiny are the same as those of others, but they are charged with the duty of reminding others of that destiny and of the means of fulfilling it; and they pay for this favored position by the sacrifices which it entails, and the benefit which others derive from their teaching and example. This life, which, in view of the great precept, follows the Evangelical counsels, is called the religious life; and those who embrace it are called religious.

At first sight, it would seem that this life ought to unite in itself all the counsels scattered through the Gospels: that would indeed be the religion of counsels; and certainly, the more fully it inspires the desire and furnishes the means of following the Evangelical counsels, the more fully is it a religious life; but a perfect realization of those counsels is impossible to man; the opportunity of practicing them all does not present itself in every man’s life, and one would quickly be worn out if he attempted to keep them all continually in view. We soon learn to distinguish those that are more essential and characteristic, and more calculated to ensure that freedom from whatever hinders the love of God and of our neighbor, which should be the distinguishing mark of the perfect life. From this point of view, two counsels are put prominently forward in the New Testament as necessary for perfection, namely the counsel of poverty: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matt., xix, 21), and the counsel of perfect chastity practiced for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt., xix, 12, and I Cor., vii, 37-40, and the commentary of Cornely on the latter).

These two counsels teach us what we have to avoid; but it remains for a man to fill his life with acts of perfection, to follow Christ in His life of charity towards God and men, or, since this would be perfection itself, to devote his life to an occupation which will make it tend towards union with God or the service of his neighbor. Religious life then is made perfect by a definite profession either of retirement and contemplation or of pious activity. The profession, negative as well as positive, is placed under the control and direction of ecclesiastical authority, which is entrusted with the duty of leading men in the ways of salvation and holiness. Submission to this authority, which may interfere more or less as times and circumstances require, is therefore a necessary part of religious life. In this is manifested obedience as a counsel which governs and even supplements the two others, or rather as a conditional precept, to be observed by all who desire to profess the perfect life. The religious life which is pointed out to us by the Evangelical counsels is a life of charity and of union with God, and the great means it employs to this end is freedom and detachment from everything that could in any manner prevent or impair that union. From another point of view it is devotion, a special consecration to Christ and God, to whom every Christian acknowledges that he belongs. St. Paul tells us: “You are not your own” (I Cor., vi, 19); and again “All [things] are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God‘s” (I Cor., iii, 22, 23).


A. Earliest Examples of Religious Life
(1) Persons

The Christian virgins were the first to profess a life distinguished from the ordinary life by its tendency to perfection; continence and sometimes the renunciation of riches, attached them specially to Christ. (See Nuns.) The Fathers of the first century mention them, and those of the second century praise their mode of living. Shortly after the virgins, appeared those whom Clement of Alexandria (Pwdagog., I, 7, in P.G., VIII, 320) called Greek: asketai and whom the Latin Church called “confessores”. They also made profession of chastity, and sometimes of poverty, as in the case of Origen and St. Cyprian. In the Liturgy, they took rank before the virgins, and after the ostiarii or doorkeepers. Eusebius (Hist. eccl., III, xxxvii, in P.G., XX, 291-4) mentions among the “ascetics” the greatest pontiffs of the first ages, St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, and others.

We find in the third century the first distinct traces of the kind of life in which the religious profession becomes by degrees perfected and brought under rule, that of the monks. The note which characterizes them at first is their seclusion from the world, and their love of retirement. Till then virgins and ascetics had edified the world by keeping themselves pure in the midst of corruption, and recollected in the midst of dissipation; the monks endeavored to edify it by avoiding and contemning all that the world esteems most highly and declares indispensable. Thus the life of the solitary and the monk is a life of austerity as well of retirement. The world which sent travellers (cf. the “Lausiac History” of Palladius) to contemplate them was astonished at the heroism of their penance. The religious life took the form of a war against nature. The persecution of Decius (about 250) gave the desert its first great hermit, Paul of Thebes; other Christians too sought refuge there from their tormentors. Anthony, on the contrary, at the age of 20 years, was won by that appeal which saddened and discouraged the rich young man of the Gospel, “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matt., xix, 21). He had disciples, and instituted the monastic villages, in which seekers after perfection, living retired from the world, found comfort and encouragement in the example of brethren following the same profession. St. Pachomius, a contemporary of St. Anthony, brought all his monks together under one roof, thus founding the cenobitic life.

Paul, Anthony, and Pachomius gave lustre to the deserts of Egypt. We need not dwell here upon the parallel development of Syrian monasticism, in which the names of Hilarion, Simeon Stylites, and Alexander the founder of the accemeti, were famous, or on that of Asia Minor, or give an account of the dawn of monastic life in Europe and Africa. Our task is only to depict the main features of religious life and its successive transformations. From this point of view, special mention is due to the great lawgiver of the Greek monks, St. Basil. Comparing the solitary and the cenobitic life, he points out one great advantage in the latter, namely the opportunity which it offers for practicing charity to one’s neighbor; and while deprecating excessive mortifications, into which vanity and even pride may enter, he exhorts the superior to moderate the exterior life reasonably. St. Basil also permitted his monks to undertake the education of children; although he was glad to find some of these children embracing the monastic life, he wished them to do so of their own accord, and with full knowledge, and he did not permit the liberty of a son or daughter to be restrained by an offering made by the parents. St. Augustine in the common life which he led with the clergy of Hippo, gives us, like St. Eusebius at Vercelli, a first outline of canonical life. He instituted monasteries of nuns, and wrote for them in 427 a letter which, enriched with extracts from the writings of St. Fulgentius, became the rule known by the name of St. Augustine. St. Columbanus, an Irish monk (d. 615), under whose name a very rigid rule was propagated in Ireland, was the apostle and civilizer of several countries of Europe, notably of Germany.

(2) Characteristics

After this rapid glance at the origin of the religious life we may now consider its principal characteristics. (—ñ—ñ) End.—The life of the monks, more systematized than that of the virgins and ascetics, was, as such, entirely directed to their personal sanctification: contemplation and victory over the flesh were bound above all to lead to this result. The monks did not aspire to Holy orders; or rather they desired not to receive them. St. John Chrysostom exhorted them to be animated by Christian charity which willingly consents to bear heavy burdens, and without which fasting and mortification are of no profit at all. (ii) Obedience.—As good Christians, they owed obedience to their bishop in religious matters, and their profession, if they rightly understood its spirit, made prompt and complete submission easy. But religious obedience, as we understand it now, began only with the cenobitical life, and at the time of which we speak there was nothing to oblige the cenobite to remain in the monastery. The cenobitic life was also combined with the solitary life in such a way that, after a sufficient formation by the common discipline, the monk gave proof of his fervor by retiring into solitude in order to fight hand-to-hand against the enemy of his salvation, and to find in independence a compensation for the greater severity of his life. (iii) Poverty.—Poverty then consisted for the hermits in the renunciation of worldly goods, and in the most sparing use of food, clothing, and all necessaries. The cenobites were forbidden to enjoy any separate property, and had to receive from their superior or the procurator everything they needed for their use; they were not, however, incapable of possessing property.

(iv) Chastity; Vows.—Having once entered the religious life, the virgin, the ascetic, and the monk felt a certain obligation to persevere. Marriage or return to the world would be such inconstancy as to merit the reproach of Christ, “No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke, ix, 62). Still we have no evidence to prove that there was a strict obligation, and there were no vows properly so called: even for virgins, the passages from Tertullian and St. Cyprian, on which some persons rely, are capable of another interpretation. Certainly a woman who was bound to Jesus Christ by a profession of virginity, and fell into sin, was liable to very severe canonical penalties; but St. Cyprian who regarded such a person as an adulterous bride of Christ, permitted the marriage of such as were not able to observe continency (see Koch, “Virgines Christi” in “Texte and Untersuchungen”, 1907). The oldest decretal we possess, that of St. Siricius to the Bishop Himerius (385), brands with infamy the carnal intercourse of monks and virgins, but the question of a regular marriage is not considered (C. XXVII, q. 1, c. 11, or P.L., XIII, 137). Schenute, it is true, introduced a form of vow, or rather of oath, of which the Coptic text has been discovered; but the very reflections which he made before introducing it appear to show that it had no other effect than to secure the execution even in secret of the obligations already contracted by entrance into the monastery: these vows therefore may be compared to the vows made at baptism. No term is specified for their duration, but Leclercq (in Cabrol, “Dict. d’arch. chret.” s.v. Cenobitisme) presumes that the obligation continued during the term of residence in the monastery. The text is as follows, taken from the German translation of Leipolt:—”Covenant. I promise (or I swear) before God in His holy temple, in which the word that I have spoken is my witness, that I will not defile my body in any way, I will not steal, I will not bear false witness, I will not lie, I will not do wrong in secret. If I break my oath, I am willing not to enter into the kingdom of heaven, although I were in sight of it. [On this passage, cfr. Peeters, in “Analecta Bollandiana”, 1905, 146.] God, before whom I have made this covenant, will then destroy my body and soul in hell, for I should have broken the oath of allegiance that I have taken.” And later on occurs this passage: “As for contradiction, disobedience, murmuring, contention, obstinacy, or any such things, these faults are quite manifest to the whole community” (Leipolt, “Schenuti von Atripe” in “Texte and Untersuchungen”, 1903, p. 109).

(v) Canon Law.—The canons of the Council of Gangra (330) first introduced the law relating to regulars by the recommendations which they address to virgins, continent persons, and those who retire from worldly affairs, to practice more faithfully the general duties of piety towards parents, children, husband or wife, and to avoid vanity or pride. Other particular councils, that of Alexandria (362), of Saragossa (380), the Fifth Synod of Africa (401), and a council held under St. Patrick in Ireland (about 480), decided other matters connected with the religious life. The General Council of Chalcedon (451) makes the erection of monasteries dependent on the consent of the bishop. The Councils of Arles (about 452) and Angers (455) sanction the obligation of perseverance. The same Council of Arles and the Synods of Carthage held in 525 and 534 forbade any interference with the abbot in the exercise of his authority over his monks, reserving to bishops the ordination of clerics in the monastery, and the consecration of the oratory.

B. Regular Organization of Religious Life
(1) Monks and Monasteries

We have now arrived at the sixth century. It will be necessary to go back a little in order to notice the immense influence of St. Basil (331-79) over the religious life of the East and the West. The principles which he lays down and justifies in his answers to the doubts of the religious of Asia Minor, that is in what are called the shorter and longer rules, inform and guide the religious of the present day. St. Benedict was inspired by these as well as by the writings of St. Augustine and Cassian in writing his rule, which from the eighth to the twelfth century regulated, it may be said, the whole religious life of the West. In order to put an end to the capricious changes from one house to another, the patriarch of Western monks introduced the vow of stability, which bound the monk to remain in the house in which he made his profession. The reforms of the monasteries in the tenth and eleventh centuries gave rise to aggregations of monasteries, which prepared the way for the religious orders of the thirteenth century. We may mention the Congregation of Cluny founded by St. Odo (abbot from 927 to 942) which, in the twelfth century grouped more than 200 monasteries under the authority of the abbot of the principal monastery, and of the Congregation of Clteaux, of the eleventh century, to which the Trappists belong, and of which St. Bernard was the principal light. Less for the sake of reform than of perfection, and of adapting to a special end the combination of the cenobitic and eremitic life, St. Romuald (d. 1027) founded the Camaldolese Order, and St. John Gualbert (d. 1073) the Congregation of Vallombrosa. From the eleventh century also (1084) date the Carthusians, who have needed no reform to maintain them in their pristine fervor. St. Basil and St. Benedict were expressly concerned only with personal perfection, to which their disciples were to be led by leaving the world and renouncing all earthly wealth and natural affections. Their life was a life of obedience and prayer, interrupted only by work. Their prayer principally consisted in singing the Divine Office. But when it was necessary, the monks did not refuse to undertake the cure of souls; and their monasteries have given to the Church popes, bishops, and missionary priests. We need only recall the expedition organized by St. Gregory the Great for the conversion of England. Study was neither ordered not forbidden: St. Benedict, when he accepted in his monasteries children offered by their parents, undertook the task of education, which naturally led to the foundation of schools and studies. Cassiodorus (477-570) employed his monks in the arts and sciences and in the transcription of manuscripts.

(2) The Canons Regular

Many bishops endeavored to imitate St. Augustine and St. Eusebius, and to live a common life with the clergy of their Church. Rules taken from the sacred canons were even drawn up for their use, of which the most celebrated is that of St. Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz (766). In the tenth century, this institution declined; the canons, as the clergy attached to a church and living a common life were called, began to live separately; some of them, however, resisted this relaxation of discipline, and even added poverty to their common life. This is the origin of the canons regular. Benedict XII by his Constitution “Ad decorem” (May 15, 1339) prescribed a general reform of the canons regular. Among the canons regular of the present day, we may mention the Canons Regular of the Lateran or St. Savior, who seem to date back to Alexander II (1063), the Premonstratensian Canons founded by St. Norbert (1120), and the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross founded at Clair-lieu, near Huy, in Belgium, in 1211. The canons regular ex professo united Holy orders with religious life, and being attached to a church, devoted themselves to promoting the dignity of Divine worship. With monks, Holy orders are accidental and secondary, and are superadded to the religious life; with canons as with the clerks regular, Holy orders are the principal thing, and the religious life is superadded to the Holy orders.

(3) The Mendicant Orders

The heretics of the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth century reproached churchmen with their love of riches, and the laxity of their lives; St. Dominic and St. Francis offered on the contrary the edifying spectacle of fervent religious, who forbade their followers the possession of wealth or revenues, even in common. The mendicant orders are marked by two characteristics: poverty, practiced in common; and the mixed life, that is the union of contemplation with the work of the sacred ministry. Moreover, the mendicant orders present the appearance of a religious army, the soldiers of which are moved about by their superiors, without being attached to any particular convent, and recognize a hierarchy of local, provincial, and general superiors. The order, or at least the province, takes the place of the monastery. Other important points may be noticed: the mendicant orders are founded only by favor of an express approbation of the sovereign pontiff, who approves their rules or constitutions. They adopt the form of vows which relates explicitly to poverty, chastity, and obedience, which was occasioned by the famous dispute in the Franciscan Order. The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis in 1209; they are now divided into three orders recognized as really belonging to the common stock: (I) the Friars Minor, formerly called Observantines, and more recently Franciscans of the Leonine Union, who may (when there is no possibility of mistake) be called simply Friars Minor; (2) the Friars Minor Conventuals; and (3) the Friars Minor Capuchins. The Dominicans, or Friars Preachers, go back to 1215. Since 1245, the Carmelites, trans-planted from Asia into Europe, have formed a third mendicant order. Alexander IV added a fourth by his Constitution “Licet” (May 2, 1256) which united under the name of St. Augustine several congregations of hermits: these are the Hermits of St. Augustine. The Servites were added in 1256 as a fifth mendicant order; and there are others. (See Friar.)

(4) Military Orders

Before we pass to a later period, it is necessary to mention certain institutes of a quite special character. The military orders date from the twelfth century, and while observing all the essential obligations of religious life, they had for their object the defense of the cause of Christ by force of arms; among these were the Knights of Malta, formerly called the Equestrian Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1118), the Order of Teutonic Knights (1190), the Order of Knights Templars (1118), suppressed by Clement V at the Council of Vienne (1312), at the urgent request of the King of France, Philippe-le-Bel.

(5) Mercy Orders

The misfortunes of Christendom were the cause of the foundation of orders vowed to the most excellent works of mercy, namely, the Redemption of Captives; the Trinitarians (Order of the Most Holy Trinity), and Mercedarians (Order of Our Lady of the Redemption of Captives). Both these date from the thirteenth century, the first being founded by St. John of Malta and St. Felix of Valois the second by St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond of Pennafort. They follow the Rule of St. Augustine and are mendicant orders.

(6) The Hospitaller orders

…are specially devoted to the relief of bodily infirmities; most of them are of comparatively recent origin. The most celebrated of all, the Order of Brothers of St. John of God, dates from 1572; the Cellite Brothers were approved by Pius II in 1459; the Brothers Hospitallers of St. Anthony were approved by Honorius III in 1218.

(7) The Clerks Regular

The mendicant orders were one of the glories of the later Middle Ages. Fresh needs led in the sixteenth century to a new form of religious life, that of the clerks regular. These are priests first of all, even in respect of their mode of life, and their dress: they have no peculiarity of costume; they undertake all duties suitable to priests, and attend to all the spiritual necessities of their neighbor, especially the education of the young, which the mendicant orders had never attempted. Being clerks and not canons, they escaped at the same time the inconvenience of having a title of honor and of being bound to any particular church; many of them take a vow not only not to seek for ecclesiastical dignities, but even not to accept them. The first were the Theatines, founded in 1524 by St. Cajetan and Cardinal Peter Caraffa, later Paul IV; then came the Barnabites, or Regular Clerics of St. Paul, founded in 1533′ by St. Anton Maria Zaccaria; the Clerks Regular of Somascha, founded by St. Jerome Emiliani, and approved in 1540, the same year which saw the beginning of the Society of Jesus. We may mention also the Clerks Regular Ministering to the Sick, called Camilians after their founder, St. Camillus de Lellis (1591). Several institutions of clerks regular, notably the Society of Jesus, make profession also of poverty in common and are thus at the same time clerks regular and mendicant orders.

(8) The Institutes with Simple Vows

Till the sixteenth century, the orders of the West were distinguished by their object, their hierarchical organization, their patrimonial system, and the number of their vows; but the nature of the vows remained the same. The vows, at least the essential vows of religion, were perpetual, and made solemn by profession. Even when the tertiaries of St. Dominic and of St. Francis began to form communities, they distinguished themselves from the first and second orders by the rule they adopted but not by the nature of their vows, which remained solemn. The tertiary nun communities of St. Dominic received (1281-91) a rule from the Dominican general, Munio of Zamora; and communities, both of men and of women, were founded in the thirteenth century with the tertiary Rule of St. Francis. In this way, many works of charity were prevented. But in the sixteenth century Leo X by his Constitution “Inter cetera”, January 20, 1521, appointed a rule for communities of tertiaries with simple vows, according to which those only who promised clausura were obliged to observe it. St. Pius V rejected this class of congregation by his two Constitutions, “Circa pastoralis” (May 29, 1566), and “Lubricum vitae genus” (November 17, 1568). They continued, however, to exist, and even increased in number, first tolerated, and afterwards approved by the bishops; and subsequently recognized by the Holy See, which, in view of the difficulties of the circumstances, has for more than a hundred years ceased to permit solemn vows in new congregations. These are the religious congregations of men and women to whom Leo XIII gave their canonical charter by his Constitution “Conditae a Christo” (December 8, 1900). We may mention here an innovation introduced by St. Ignatius, who in the Society of Jesus imposed simple vows for a period preceding the solemn vows, and associated with the fathers professed by solemn vows, priests and lay brothers bound by simple vows only.

(9) The Eastern Orders

The Eastern Church, even that part of it which has remained in communion with Rome, has never known the life and many-sided vitality of the orders of the West: we find in it Monks of St. Anthony, and others of St. Pachomius; almost all the monasteries are Basilian. As the priests of the Greek Rite are not compelled to leave the wives whom they have legally married, and as celibacy is nevertheless obligatory for the bishops, the latter are regularly chosen from among the monks. From another point of view, the unchanging East shows us in the monks of the present day, the institutions of the first ages of cenobitic life.


A. Classical Description of Religious Life; Essential and Non-essential Points

In our rapid survey of the different religious orders, we have seen something of the evolution of the religious life. The Gospel clearly shows us virginity and continence as means, and charity as the end; persecutions necessitated retirement and a first form of life entirely directed towards personal sanctification; community life produced obedience; the inconveniences caused by frequent change of residence suggested the vow of stability; the excessive multiplication and diversity of religious institutes called for the intervention of the sovereign pontiff and his express approbation of rules; the needs of soul and body grafted the practice of corporal and spiritual works of mercy upon personal sanctification, and joined the reception of Holy orders to religious profession; while the exigencies and difficulties of modern times caused the making of simple vows antecedent to, or in substitution for, solemn vows.

In all these stages, the profession of the Evangelical counsels has been most carefully regulated by the Church. In the existing structure, some parts are fixed and regarded as essential, others are accidental and subject to change; we may then ask what is essential to fully developed religious life. The religious state, to be perfect, requires (I) the three evangelical counsels: voluntary poverty, perfect chastity regarded as means to perfection; and in pursuit of that perfection, obedience to lawful authority; (2) the external profession of these counsels, for the religious state means a condition or career publicly embraced; (3) the perpetual profession of these counsels, for the religious state means something fixed and permanent, and in order to ensure this stability in practices which are not made obligatory by any law, the religious promises himself to God by a perpetual vow. The religious state then is defined, as the mode of life, irrevocable in its nature of men who profess to aim at the perfection of Christian charity in the bosom of the Church by the three perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The religious state may exist in the proper sense without solemn vows, as Gregory XIII showed in his Constitutions “Quanto fructuosius” (July 2, 1583) and “Ascendente Domino” (May 25, 1584), declaring that the scholastics of the Society of Jesus were really religious; without community life, for the hermits were religious in the strictest sense of the word; without oral or written profession, since until the time of Pius IX, even tacit or implied profession was considered sufficient; without express and formal approbation by ecclesiastical authority, as this has only been insisted upon since the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), confirmed by the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Before this time, it was enough not to have been repudiated by ecclesiastical authority. However, in actual practice, the express intervention of ecclesiastical authority is required; this authority may be that of the Apostolic See or of the bishop. Many institutes exist and flourish with the approbation of the bishop alone; but, since the Motu Proprio “Del providentis” (July 16, 1906), the bishop before establishing an institute must obtain the written approbation of the Holy See.

Again, the Church, while not condemning the solitary life, no longer accepts it as religious. Formerly, a religious did not necessarily form a part of an approved institute; there were persons simply called professed, as well as professed in such an institute or such a monastery. At the present day, a religious always begins by entering some approved religious family; only in exceptional cases of expulsion or final secularization, does it happen that a religious ceases to have any connection with some particular institute, and in such cases the bishop becomes his only superior. The Church insists on the use of a habit, by which the religious are distinguished from secular persons. A distinctive habit is always required for nuns; the clerical habit is sufficient for men. Those approved institutes whose members may be taken for seculars out of doors, lack that public profession which characterizes the religious state, in the sight of the Church, according to the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, August 11, 1889.

The question has long been discussed whether the religious state involves a donation of oneself, or whether the vows, as such, are sufficient. By such donation the religious not only binds himself to be poor, chaste etc., but he no longer belongs to himself; he is the property of God, as much as and even more than a slave was formerly the property of his master. To show that this alienation of oneself is not necessary, it is sufficient to observe that if every religious ceased to belong to himself either for the purpose of marriage, or for the possession of property, any contrary acts would be null and void from the beginning; now this nullity has not always existed, and does not exist for all religious at the present day. In reality then the religious state consists strictly in the perpetual engagement, the source of which is found at present in the three vows.

The formal intervention of the Church has the effect of introducing the religious life into the public worship of Catholicism. As long as the promise or the vow remains a purely personal matter, the religious can offer himself to God only in his own name; his homage and his holocaust are private. The Church, in ratifying and sanctioning his engagement, deputes the religious to profess in the name of the Christian community his complete devotion to God. He is consecrated especially by solemn profession, like a temple or a liturgical prayer, to give honor to God.

In practice, when offering himself to God, the religious also contracts obligations to the order whose child he becomes. Does the religious state in itself contemplate any such obligation of submission to an organized society, or to a director or confessor? There is nothing more natural, it is true, than that a person, who does not profess himself perfect but a simple aspirant after perfection, should choose for himself a master and guide; but even this does not seem to be essential. The ancient hermits were free from all such subordination; even the pope may be a member of a religious order: the only essential obedience-seems to be that which every man owes to the hierarchical Church, and to those whom she clothes with her authority.

B. Various Forms of Religious Life

The essential unity of the religious life is consistent with a great variety which is one of the glories of the Church, and permits a larger number of men to find a religious profession adapted to their needs and dispositions, and multiplies the services which religious render to Christian society and mankind in general. Besides the common end of religious life, which makes it a school of perfection, the different orders have special objects of their own, which divide them into contemplative, active, and mixed orders. The contemplative orders devote themselves to union with God in a life of solitude and retirement; the active orders expend their energy in doing good to men. If their activity is spiritual in its objects and requires contemplation for its attainment, they are mixed orders; such as those which are devoted to preaching and higher education. The orders keep the name of active order if they devote themselves to corporal works of mercy, such as the care of sick persons and orphans. The dominant note of their mode of life gives us, as we have seen, clerical, monastic, mendicant, military, and hospitaller orders. The vows divide them into orders with simple vows and solemn vows: even the number of vows differs in different institutes. There remain still two other points of difference which require to be considered, namely the juridical condition, which distinguishes religious orders from congregations, and the rule.

C. Religious Life and the Sacred Ministry

If the monastic life has sometimes appeared incompatible with those sacred functions which drew the monk out of his silence and retreat (see Decree of Gratian, c. XVI, q. 1, c. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11), the simple division into contemplative and mixed orders shows the mistake of those persons who have represented the religious life as inconsistent with the sacred ministry, as if piety were opposed to charity, or apostolic zeal did not presuppose and foster the love of God. This error, which had already been refuted by St. Thomas in his “Contra impugnantes religionem”, ch. iv, directed against William of St. Amour, was renewed in the Jansenist pseudo-Council of Pistoia and condemned by the Constitution “Auctorem Fidei” of 1794, prop. 80. In the course of the last century, Verhoeven, a professor of Louvain, in a pamphlet entitled “De regularium et swularium juribus et officiis”, maintained that, according to the spirit of the Church, religious ought not to take any but a secondary and supplementary part in the sacred ministry, and only when the secular clergy were not sufficiently numerous for the work. His opinion was refuted by an anonymous work, entitled “Examen historicum et canonicum libri R. D. Mariani Verhoeven”, written by Fathers De Buck and Tinnebroeck, S.J., as opposed to experience, since religious perfection aids apostolic work; to tradition, as so many great missionary enterprises have been conducted by religious; to canon law, which approves of orders established for the purpose of the sacred ministry, and consider religious as fitted for the most important functions.

Religious as well as seculars may be called to the episcopal office, to the cardinalitial dignity, and even to the papal throne. With the exception of the mendicant orders, they may be appointed as vicars general: of the minor benefices, some are secular which should be given to secular priests, some are regular. to which regulars should be appointed: Premonstratensian Canons, however, may be placed in charge of secular parishes. In cases of doubt, benefices are presumed to be secular, but the rule of exclusion from secular parishes affects only regulars under solemn vows. Missionary enterprise for the propagation of the Faith is usually entrusted to religious, and they may occupy university chairs, and be employed in the sacred ministry as well as seculars (cf. Vermeersch, “De religiosis institutis et personis”, I, n. 495).

It is now established that bishops and cardinals chosen from a religious order do not cease to be religious, and are just as much bound by all the rules and observances compatible with their dignity and functions as a religious who is a parish priest. A religious who is a parish priest may be deprived of his office either by the bishop or by the superior of his order.



…according to its more or less complete realization, the more or less full approbation which is given to it, and the juridical condition which results for those who practice it, the religious life gives rise to religious orders or congregations.

(1) Religious Orders

(a) Sense of the expressions.—The expression “ordo monasticus” at first denoted a class of monks, as “ordo virginum” denoted a class or virgins, and “ordo sacerdotalis”, the class of priests. The first founders, St. Basil and St. Benedict, thought not so much of establishing an order as of drawing up a plan of individual life, common to the use of monks who desired to be directed in their aspirations after perfection. Each monastery was independent, and was not even bound to a definite rule; the community was left free to change the observance, and a certain option could be allowed to the monks to choose which of several rules they would follow. The reforms of Cluny and Citeaux prepared the way for the religious order in the present sense, by making all the monks subject to the authority of one supreme abbot. A century later, St. Francis and St. Dominic united their disciples in one vast association with an interior hierarchical organization of its own, and recognizable even outwardly by the identity of rule, dress, and life. From that time forward, each religious order has been a corporation of religious approved by the Church. And since we distinguish institutes bound by solemn vows and approved by the sovereign pontiff from institutes with simple vows, the expression “religious order” has been naturally applied exclusively to institutes with solemn vows. The religious order then is, properly speaking, an institute fully approved by the Holy See, and having solemn vows of religious life. This full approbation for the whole Church calls into action the magisterial office of the pope, for in giving it the pope not only declares that there is nothing in the mode of life which is hurtful to morals or propriety, but assures the faithful that it is calculated to lead souls to Evangelical perfection (cf. Suarez, “De religion”, VII, II, xvii, n. 17).

Two great classes of orders.—From the point of view of their organization, the religious orders owe their division into two great classes to their very origin. The oldest, derived from monasteries formerly quite independent, leave to each religious house a certain authority under a perpetual abbot. The monks or canons also belong to a particular monastery, and special rules are made for changes, temporary or permanent, among the subjects. Such are the Black Benedictines and Cistercians, and canons regular. Many for a long time have only archabbots, visitors of the monasteries forming a congregation (see below), and presiding over the chapter of that congregation, Leo XIII gave the Benedictines their abbot-primate, who holds office for twelve years. These same orders have no provincial superiors; the visitors more or less take their place; but the powers of the abbot-general and the visitor, while they differ in different orders, are limited to certain cases, so that the local abbot remains the real ordinary superior, almost in the same way as the bishop suffragan of an archbishop has all the authority necessary for the administration of his diocese. In the newer orders on the contrary, the superiors (except in the Society of Jesus) are not appointed for life, but for a term of six or twelve years; the religious are not attached to a monastery, but to a province; and the houses are so little independent of each other that some refuse to recognize in the local superior _ the quality of a prelate invested with ordinary jurisdiction, though most religious writers give him this position.

The Seat of Authority in the Order.—General Chapter and Superior.—In all religious orders we find the chapter, whether it be the chapter of the monastery to limit the monarchical authority of the abbot and fill a vacancy, or the general chapter, to appoint for the fixed term a new superior-general, to receive the accounts of the preceding administration, and, within permitted limits, to modify the constitutions which have not the force of pontifical laws, and to pass new decrees for the whole order. The election of the superior-general is by secret ballot (Council of Trent, sess. XXV, c. vi) and generally requires the confirmation of the pope. The same chapter also elects the general councils, consisting of definitors general, or assistants, and generally also the procurator-general. In most orders, the procurator-general, who is the representative of the order in all dealings with the Holy See, is a real superior, and sometimes even a sort of vice-general, who takes the place of a general deceased, absent, or incapacitated: among the Discalced Carmelites and the Hermits of St. Augustine and in the Society of Jesus, he possesses no jurisdiction.

Provincial and local Superiors.—Under the superior general, the orders not anterior to the thirteenth century have provincial superiors, who administer the affairs of the province with the assistance of a council. Sometimes they are appointed by the provincial chapter and the local superior by the local chapter; sometimes the superior-general in council makes all important appointments. The provincial chapter or provincial congregation has then no jurisdiction, and can only send deputies to the general or the chapter general, in order to make known their wishes. In all places where the canonical Office is recited in choir, there is a conventual or local chapter, which does not exist in the orders and congregations of more recent foundation. Among the Capuchins, the provincial is appointed by the provincial chapter, and in his council appoints the local superiors. The local superior, like the abbot, is assisted by a second, who takes his place in case of absence or incapacity: he is called prior in the abbeys or sub-prior where the superior is called prior; otherwise he is termed minister. The local superior is called guardian among the Francis-cans; elsewhere he is rector, superior, prior, or provost. The provincial and general of the Franciscans are called minister-provincial and minister-general. To replace the ordinary superiors temporarily the constitutions of orders provide vicars, vice-provincials, and vice-rectors.

The superiors have always a power of private or domestic order, called dominative, which permits them to command their subjects, and to administer property according to the rules of the institute; and the first superior of the convent, by appealing to the vow or distinctly making known his intention, can command under pain of mortal sin. Moreover, if they be priests, the principal superiors of religious orders possess the double jurisdiction of the forum internum and the forum externum, which makes them the ordinary prelates of their subordinates. Such are certainly the generals and provincials, and, according to an at least probable opinion, the first local superiors also. They have jurisdiction to appoint confessors, approved by the ordinary, to reserve cases to themselves (though Clement VIII limited this power), to inflict spiritual censures or punishments, and to absolve or dispense from them: their power of dispensation with regard to their subordinates is the same as bishops generally have over their diocesans. Various privileges are conferred upon them in addition, and their powers are often extended by temporary indults, which pass, as a matter of right, from the generals of orders to those who replace or succeed them. The legislative power ordinarily exists only in the chapter general: the judiciary power of the prelates does not extend to causes and offenses which are cognizable by the Holy Office. The prelates are at the same time fathers bound to watch over the spiritual welfare of their children, heads of the community, who are empowered to make general provision for the good order of the common life, and magistrates invested with a part of that public authority which Christ gave to His Apostles, when He said “As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.” This authority is derived from the Holy See; and, as it is ordinary, it may be delegated.

In theory it extends to the spiritual direction of inferiors; but for a long time the Holy See has shown a desire to separate the direction of the conscience from the direction of outward conduct, or at least to take away all appearance of coercion from the former; thus the prelate may hear the confessions only of those who formally express a desire to be absolved by him, and for the regulation of Communions, the religious is bound to take the advice only of his confessor. In every house several confessors should be appointed, who can easily in any particular case obtain jurisdiction over reserved sins, if they have not ordinarily the necessary faculties; the prelate, however, may, according to the rule, be occupied with the direction of consciences outside the confessional; this is forbidden only in the case of lay superiors, safeguarding always the liberty of inferiors to open their minds to their superiors (even when laymen).

The temporal administration is subject to the general laws, which forbid the alienation of immovable property, and of movable property of great value, and which also discountenance wastefulness and rash contracts or borrowings (see the Constitution “Ambitiosa”; Extray. comm. un., De rebus ecclesiasticisnon alienandis, III, 4, and the Instruction “Inter ea” of July 30, 1909). The prelate must administer like a prudent head of a family, and take care that the funds are safely and productively invested. As was stated in the article Nuns. the prelate’s power of jurisdiction often extends to monasteries of the second order.

Authorities outside the Order. (i) Sovereign Pontiff.—Outside its own body, the order has the sovereign pontiff as superior possessing the plenitude of authority; he has the power to suppress a religious order, as he can call it into existence Thus at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), Gregory X suppressed the orders which came into existence after the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), and Clement XIV in 1773 decreed the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Sometimes an order which has been extinguished rises again from its ashes. The order of Piarists, or Scuolopi, founded by St. Joseph Calasanctius, which was abolished by Innocent X in 1664, was reestablished by Clement IX; and Pius VII in 1814 restored universally the Society of Jesus, which had remained in existence in White Russia (see Heimbucher, “Die Orden and Kongregationen”, §§101, 102, and the authors cited in Vermeersch, “De religiosis institutis et personis”, I, n. 99). The pope, a fortiori, may modify the constitutions, appoint superiors, and, in short, exercise all powers that exist in a religious order.

Roman Congregations.—The pope exercises his ordinary control through the Sacred Congregation of Religious, which, since the Constitution “Sapienti”, of June 19, 1908, is the only congregation occupied with the affairs of religious orders. Formerly, the religious of the missions were under the direction of the Propaganda, which has now no authority over them, except as missionaries; the others were under the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, which was abolished by the Constitution “Sapienti” There was also the Congregation of Discipline and Reform of Regulars, which was principally occupied with the maintenance and restoration of interior discipline in orders of men, and the Congregation of the State of Regulars, established by Innocent X in 1652, which was replaced under Innocent XII by the Congregation of Discipline, and reestablished by Pius IX in 1847, to advise on the measures to be taken in the circumstances of the time for monasteries of men. After having issued some very important decrees on the subject of letters testimonial and simple profession, it ceased to work; and Pius X suppressed both these congregations by his Motu proprio of May 26, 1906. The authoritative interpretation of the disciplinary decrees of the Council of Trent gave the Congregation of the Council a power over regulars, which it used largely before the nineteenth century; but at present its authority is limited to the secular clergy. The Congregations of the Holy Office and the Index exercise over religious, as well as over the rest of the faithful, their power of judging persons charged with offenses coming under the Holy Office, and of censuring books and other publications.

Cardinal Protector.—Most orders have a cardinal protector. The institution goes back to the time of St. Francis, who recognizes in him a governor, a protector, and a corrector; he is appointed by the sovereign pontiff. Since the time of Innocent XII (Constitution, “Christi fidelium”, February 17, 1694) he has ceased to have ordinary jurisdiction; he is therefore nothing more than a benevolent protector, who from time to time receives delegated powers.

Bishop and Privilege of Exemption.—Religious orders are exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and in spite of exceptions to this privilege, created by the Council of Trent and later, the exemption remains the rule and the exception must be proved. The exemption is above all personal, and also local: religious are not under the orders of the bishop, and their monasteries and churches, unless these be parochial, cannot be visited by him. The Holy See, however, in practice does not permit the rule of local exemption to be extended to secular persons during their stay in a convent: only familiares, that is, those who as oblates or even as servants, live in the convent as if they were part of the religious family, benefit by it. The question whether pupils who are boarders in the convent may be called familiares is open to dispute. According to the Council of Trent, the bishop has over religious a jurisdiction sometimes ordinary, sometimes delegated in the name of the Holy See, sometimes bishops may act also, as special delegates of the Holy See; the expression is somewhat obscure, but the object appears to have been to give the bishop an incontestable right to interfere in certain cases (see Vermeersch, “De relig. inst. et pers.”, I, n. 968). As the exemption of regulars is not active, that is, as it does not give independent power over a fixed territory, regulars are subject to the bishop in all that concerns the administration of the sacraments to seculars, and the direction of such persons, due respect being paid to certain privileges attached to churches and colleges. Especially for the absolution of seculars, they must be approved by the bishop of the place in which confessions are heard. Besides this, the bishop may interfere to permit the erection of a convent, to approve the renunciation of property made before solemn profession, to test the vocation of nuns, to approve or condemn the publications of regulars, to control, if not to refuse, collecting from house to house, to summon regulars to processions, and settle questions of precedence, to consecrate the churches of regulars, to pontificate in them, to fix the stipends of Masses, and prescribe the Collects. His name must be mentioned in the Canon of the Mass; he decides all causes which concern the Faith; he may also in certain cases exercise over regulars his coercive power.

But (at least in regard to certain orders specially exempted) it would be incorrect to say that whenever the bishop may interfere, he may also inflict censures. It is admitted also that, at least with the permission of his superior, the religious may ask the bishop to exercise some of his dispensing power, in his favor, and it is understood that the Lenten indults and general dispensations from abstinence apply to such regulars as are not bound by a special vow to fast or abstain. According to the principle laid down, regulars may gain the indulgences granted by the bishop. Except mitred abbots, who confer the ton-sure and minor orders on their inferiors, regular superiors must apply to the bishop for the ordination of their subjects: for this purpose they give dimissorial letters, by which they present their subjects to the bishop with the necessary certificates, to receive Holy orders from him. Except in the case of some particular privilege, the dimissorial letters should be sent to the bishop of the place in which the convent is situated, and regulars can only apply to another bishop in case the former does not hold his usual ordinations, or if he consents to waive his right.

Communication of Privileges.—Exemption is the principal privilege of religious orders; the others are chiefly powers of absolution, and spiritual favors. Among all the mendicant orders, and practically among all religious orders properly so called, there exists a communication of privileges. This communication makes all favors, granted to one order only, common to all, if they are not extraordinary in their nature, or granted for some very special reason, or only for a certain term of years, or finally if no express provision forbids the communication. Thus the privilege, granted to the Society of Jesus, of having domestic oratories or chapels on the authorization of the religious provincial alone applies to all religious orders. Religious orders profit even by privileges granted to congregations. But at the present time the application of the principle of communication must be made with prudence, especially in the case of indulgences.

Admission, Vows and Dispensation, Secularization and Migration.—For the reception of subjects and the taking of vows, see Novice; Postulant. All the vows of religious orders are ordinarily perpetual, though there are exceptions; moreover, a. simple profession must precede the solemn profession, otherwise the latter is null and void. The dispensation from vows, even from simple vows, is reserved to the Holy See. But the superior-general, by the dismissal of religious with simple vows, who have not received major orders, may ordinarily remove the obligation of those vows. Those who are professed with solemn vows, even lay brothers, are very rarely dispensed from them; it is easier for them to obtain an indult authorizing them to live in the world, bound by their vows. The indult of secularization may be temporary or perpetual; the latter alone finally separates the regular from his order: he then owes obedience to the bishop. The regular who has made solemn vows, or who by privilege has received some major order before making these vows, can be expelled only if, after a thrice-repeated warning, he still proves incorrigible in some grave and public fault. When expelled, he incurs a suspension from which the Holy See alone can free him. Even one who has been set free, if he is in Holy orders, is not at liberty to leave the house until he has found a bishop willing to accept him in his diocese, and some means of honest livelihood: strictly speaking, the acceptance should be final, but in practice this is not insisted upon. If he leaves the house without doing what is required, he is suspended until he has fulfilled both conditions.

The regular may also, in theory, migrate from one order to another more severe; from this point of view, the Carthusian Order is the most perfect. In practice, failing the consent of the superior-general of both the orders in question, these migrations take place only with the authorization of the Holy See. The professed regular who migrates into another or-der makes his novitiate afresh therein, but retains his first profession until he has made solemn profession in his new order. Until that time, if he does not persevere in the second order, he must take his former place in the order he has quitted; and even then if, in addition to the essential vows of religion, his first profession has laid any special obligations upon him, for instance that of not accepting any ecclesiastical dignities, these obligations are not removed by his new profession. (For the obligations of religious vows, see Vows; Religious Obedience; Poverty; and for the enclosure, see Cloister.)

Habit and Choir.—If an order has a special habit, the members are strictly bound to wear it, and if any of them puts it off without good cause, he incurs an excommunication not reserved (Const. “Ut periculosa”, 2 Ne clerici vel monachi, in 60 iii, 24). This excommunication appears to exist in spite of the Constitution “Apostolicae”, because it concerns the interior discipline of orders, but it applies only to those who are professed under solemn vows. The obligation to retain the habit extends also to bishops of the order, if they are not canons or clerks regular.

Most orders are bound to recite the Office in choir, and say the conventual Mass. The obligation of choir, at least the grave obligation, binds the community and the superior, whose duty it is to see that the Office is recited in common. But the religious professed under solemn vows, who do not assist in choir, are bound from the day of their profession to recite the Office in private, even if they are not in Holy orders. This obligation does not apply to lay brothers, or to persons professed under simple vows.

Orders of women: Second Orders.—In connection with certain orders of men, there are also orders of women, instituted for similar objects, and in this respect sharing in the same evolution. We say “in this respect”, for the rigors of the enclosure imposed upon nuns under solemn vows (see Cloister) necessarily prevented any organization formed after the model of the mendicant orders or clerks regular. Orders of women have sometimes an existence, and even an origin, independent of any order of men. This is the case especially with the more recent orders, such as the Sisters of the Visitation and the Ursulines. Very often they are connected by their origin and their rule with an order of men. The first monastic rules, which did not contemplate the reception of Holy orders, were as suitable for women as for men: thus there were Basilian and Benedictine nuns, simply following the Rules of St. Basil and St. Benedict. Neither the rule of the mendicant orders nor that of the clerks regular was suitable to women. St. Francis first, and then other founders, wrote a second rule for the use of nuns, who thus constituted a second order, placed normally under the jurisdiction of the superior-general of the first order (see Nuns).

Third Orders.—The grant of a third rule to secular persons gives rise to the third orders. At times it happens that these tertiaries are established in community under this rule; they are then religious, ordinarily members of a congregation with simple vows. But, as we said above, there were communities of this character with solemn vows, and there is a regular Third Order of St. Francis, which goes back to the fifteenth century and which received modified constitutions from Leo XIII (July 20, 1888).

The associations of secular tertiaries are also called orders; they owe this to the fact that they profess the Christian life under an approved rule: but these are secular orders; and religious, even those under simple vows, cannot validly belong to them. By his entrance into a religious order, a novice ceases to be a secular, and seeks after Evangelical perfection, which is not the contradictory of Christian justice, but is a realization of it in an eminent degree. It has also been held that a person who has been a member of a third order before becoming a religious at once resumes his place in it, if he legitimately returns to the world. No one can belong to several third orders at the same time. Not all religious orders have third orders attached to them; but those which recognize an order of nuns as their second order generally have tertiaries also. Thus there are no Benedictine or Jesuit tertiaries: the Benedictines have no second order, and the Jesuit rule expressly forbids the Society to have an institute of nuns under its authority. In later times the Oblates of St. Benedict have been assimilated to tertiaries. Third orders are distinguished from confraternities, in as much as the former follow a general rule of life, while the members of confraternities are associated for some special purpose of piety or charity: thus they often include both religious and lay persons, and the same person may be a member of several confraternities. (As to the Third Order of St. Francis, and the name of Order, see the Constitution “Auspicato” of September 17, 1882, and “Misericors Dei filius” of June 23, 1883.)

The word religio is more strictly reserved for institutes with solemn vows. As the religion of precepts and the religion of counsels were considered distinct grades of the Christian religion, the rules of life laid down according to the counsels were called religiones. The Second Council of Arles, 452, can. 25 spoke of the profession of the monastic life as professio religionis.

(2) Religious Congregations

(a) Meaning of the Word “Congregation”.—There has been much change in the meaning of this word. It formerly denoted the whole body of religious living in a monastery: in this sense we find it in Cassian (Collations, 2nd preface) and in the Rule of St. Benedict (chap. xvii). The edifying spectacle presented by the monastery of Cluny under St. Odo (d. 942) induced many monasteries in France to beg the holy abbot to accept their supreme direction, and he undertook to visit them from time to time. Under his first two successors, numerous monasteries of France and Italy observed the usages of Cluny, while others were reformed by monks of Cluny. At the death of St. Odo, sixty-five monasteries were under the rules of Cluny and thus formed a congregation, the members of which were no longer the individual monks, but the monasteries. In a similar manner, the union of monasteries with Ctteaux produced the Congregation of Meaux: but here the celebrated carta caritatis, drawn up in a general chapter of abbots and monks held at Cfteaux in 1119, placed the supreme direction of Cistercian monasteries under the Abbot of Cfteaux, and realized a much greater unity which prepared the way for the religious orders of a later period (see “Carta caritatis” in P.L., CLXVI, 1377). The monasteries of Premonstratensian Canons were early grouped in circles (circarias), at the head of which was a “circator” whose office resembled that of the provincial of more recent orders. The Abbot of Premontre, Dominus Preemonstratensis, was a real abbot-general.

Innocent III, by his Constitution “In singulis”, which was promulgated at the Fourth Council of the Lateran, and forms ch. vii, t. 35, bk. 3 of the Decretals, ordered that a chapter of abbots and independent priors of every kingdom or province should be held every third year, to ensure the fervor of the observance, and to organize the visitation of the abbeys in order to prevent or correct abuses. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXV, c. viii) made congregations of monasteries general, ordering monasteries to unite themselves into congregations, and to appoint visitors having the same powers as visitors of other orders, under pain of losing their exemption, and being placed under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. There have, however, been also important reforms inaugurated by one monastery, and adopted by many others, without leading to the formation of a congregation. Such was that of William, Abbot of Hirschau (d. 1091), who wrote the Constitutions of Hirschau, the wise provisions of which, in some measure borrowed from Cluny, were adopted by about 150 monasteries having no other bond of union than a spiritual community of prayers and merits.

In 1566, St. Philip Neri founded in Rome an association of priests who were not bound by any vow; being unable for that reason to call it an order, he called it the Congregation of the Oratory. Cardinal de Berulle in 1611 founded a similar institute, the French Congregation of the Oratory. St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Lazarists, or Priests of the Mission, while introducing into his institute simple vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability, insisted that it should be called secular. These vows are not followed by any act of acceptance by the Holy See or the institute. His association was called a congregation, as we see from the Bull of Alexander VII, “Ex commissa” (September 22, 1655). Thus it became usual to designate as congregations those institutes which resembled religious orders, but had not all their essential characteristics. This is the ordinary meaning generally accepted, though somewhat vague, of the word “congregation”. Before long, the genus congregation was divided into several distinct species.

Religious Congregations properly and improperly so called.—First in order of dignity come the religious congregations properly so called. They have all the essentials of religious life, the three perpetual vows, and the approbation of ecclesiastical authority. They are even approved by the Holy See. They lack only one accidental characteristic of an order, namely the solemnity of the vows. Such are the Congregations of the Most Holy Redeemer, of the Passion of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (or Picpus Fathers), which have even the privilege of exemption. Institutes with perpetual vows approved by episcopal authority closely resemble the congregations properly so called. Religious congregations in the wider sense of the word are institutes which have no perpetual vows, or lack one of the essential vows, or which even have no vows properly so called. Thus the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul make only annual vows, and as each year is completed they are free to return to the world. The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, or White Sisters, form a religious congregation properly so called, but the White Fathers, on the contrary, are not bound by any vows, but take only an oath of obedience. We have spoken above of the Lazarists and Oratorians. The religious congregations improperly so called are sometimes designated pious congregations or pious societies.

Division of the Institutes.—Institutes are divided, according to the quality of their members, into ecclesiastical congregations, consisting principally of priests and clerics, and lay congregations, most of whose members are not in Holy orders. Thus the Order of St. John of God, though mainly composed of laymen, includes a certain number of priests devoted to the spiritual service of its hospitals and asylums; while the Congregation of Parochial Clerics of St. Viator is composed of priests and teaching brothers placed on the same footing as religious. Several religious congregations are called tertiaries of St. Francis, St. Dominic, or some other religious order; some of these date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; others are more recent, such as the Third Order of St. Dominic founded by Lacordaire, which is devoted to teaching. But they must be regularly affiliated by the superior of the first order. This affiliation does not imply any dependence or sub-ordination to the first order, but it requires as general conditions the observance of the essential points of the rule of the third order, and a certain similarity of habit: in the matter of the habit, however, many dispensations have been granted—see the Decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences of August 28, 1903, and March 22, 1905, the Decree of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars of March 18, 1904, the Rescript of January 30, 1905, and the Indult of November 18, 1905, of the same Congregation (cf. Periodica de religiosis et missionariis, I, 15, p. 40; 54, p. 147; 59, p. 152; II, 102, p. 57).

As to the law by which they are governed, religious congregations are divided into congregations dependent on the Holy See, and those under episcopal authority. The latter are strictly diocesan or inter-diocesan, according as they are confined to a single diocese, or are scattered over several. Leo XIII, by his Constitution “Conditw” of December 8, 1900, gave to the congregations their official character; and a set of regulations of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, of June 20, 1901, known by the name of Normae, traces the general lines on which the Holy See wishes the new institutes to be constructed and the old ones reorganized.

Religious Congregations dependent on the Holy See.—(i) Approbation.—Before a congregation can be placed under pontifical government, it must have received a Decree, in which commendation is bestowed on the congregation itself, and not merely on the intention of the founder and the object of the institution; then follows a Decree confirming the existence of the congregation, and approving its constitutions, first by a trial of some years, and then finally. Before the Constitution “Sapienti” (June 29, 1908), by which Pius X reorganized the Roman Curia, two congregations were occupied with the approbation of new institutes, the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, and the Congregation of Propaganda; the latter approved those institutes which were founded in missions and in countries subject to its jurisdiction, and those intended exclusively for foreign missions. Since the Constitution “Sapienti”, the new Congregation of Religious alone has the power of approbation, and the religious of the whole world are under its jurisdiction: If they are missionaries, they owe obedience also to the Propaganda in all matters connected with their missionary character.

Except the approbation of tertiary communities (of both the sexes) with simple vows by the Constitution “Inter cetera” of Leo X (January 20, 1521) to which we have already alluded, the formal approbation of a religious institute with simple vows by the Holy See does not date back very far: the Brief of Clement XI “Inscrutabili” (July 13, 1703), approving the Constitution of the English Virgins (Institute of Mary), is perhaps the first instance in the case of women, while Benedict XIV in 1741 approved the Congregation of Passionists. But on March 26, 1687, Innocent XI, by his Constitution “Ecclesiae Catholicae”, erected the hospitaller confraternity of the Bethlehemites into a congregation, and Clement VIII, on October 13, 1593, approved with simple vows the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God. These two congregations were transformed into religious orders, the one by a Constitution of Clement XI (April 3, 1710), and the other by a Constitution of Gregory XV in 1621: but later, in consequence of a decree of the Spanish Cortes, the Bethlehemites were gradually extinguished. Institutes improperly called religious have been approved since the seventeenth century: we have already mentioned the Oratorians, approved in 1612, and the Priests of the Mission, approved in 1632: to these may be added the Sulpicians, approved in 1642, the Eudists in 1643, and the Secular Priests of the Venerable Holzhauser in 1680. For a long time the Holy See, while approving the constitutions of nuns, refused to recognize the institutes themselves. The approbation formerly contained certain qualifying words, “citra approbationem conservatorii” (“without approbation of the institute”), which have now disappeared. Ordinarily the Holy See proceeds by steps; it requires first that the institute shall have existed for some time under the approbation of the ordinary, then it approves the constitutions for some years, and last of all grants a final approbation. Religious congregations also receive a cardinal protector, whose office is more important in the case of an institute of nuns.

(ii) Authority of the Ordinary.—Although established under pontifical government, religious congregations are not free from the jurisdiction of the diocesan ordinary. Congregations of men owe him the common obedience of all the faithful, and of clerics, if their members are tonsured or in Holy orders. Use, rather than positive law, permits the superiors, being priests, to consider themselves as quasi-parish priests of their religious subordinates. For confessions even of their own subjects, they must be delegated by the bishop; and all approved confessors of the diocese may absolve these religious, who are subject also for reserved cases to diocesan law. The temporal administration is withdrawn from the authority of the ordinary: this is the ease also with institutes of nuns. Certain institutes are entirely exempt from episcopal jurisdiction; such are the Passionists, the Missionary Fathers of the Sacred Hearts, or Picpus Fathers, and the Redemptorists. Without being strictly prelates, the superiors of an exempt institute, being priests, receive from the Holy See the power of jurisdiction in addition to the governing power belonging to all superiors, male or female. (For a comparison of these religious with regulars properly so called see the dissertation of Fr. Salsmans, S.J. in Vermeersch, “Periodica de relig. et miss.,” V, p. 33). It is to be remarked that the exemption of the convent does not always imply the exemption of the church. Sometimes the authority of a superior-general of a congregation of men extends to a congregation of sisters of a similar institute; but in practice the Holy See no longer approves of any but independent congregations. Whether exempt or not, congregations may never be established in a diocese, and may not open a new house, without the permission of the bishop.

(iii) Organization of the Institute.—Congregations approved by the Holy See have the organization of religious orders: and the less rigorous enclosure of institutes with simple vows even permits the sisters to be organized in the same manner as orders of men. We find then at the head of the institute a superior-general assisted by a council, which, in the more important matters, must approve the measures proposed; then ordinarily provincial superiors with their councils, and local superiors. The superior-general, his councillors, and the procurator-general are always appointed by the general chapter. In fact, in congregations as in religious orders, the general chapter is the supreme power. It can, however, neither change the constitutions nor make laws properly so called; its orders remain in force until the chapter following. The general chapter meets for the election of the superior-general; if this takes place only every twelve years, there may be a meeting of the chapter after six years for the transaction of business. With this exception, the chapter is not summoned without the consent of the Holy See. Besides the general and his councillors, the secretary-general, procurator-general, provincials, and two delegates appointed by the provincial chapter take part in this chapter. If the congregation is not divided into provinces, the superiors of important houses and one delegate from each house take the place of the provincials and delegates of the provincial chapter. The latter consists of the provincial, his councillors, and the superiors of important houses, accompanied by a delegate from each house. The provincial chapter has ordinarily no other appointment to make than that of delegates to the chapter general. This chapter receives the accounts of the general administration, elects by secret ballot the general and his assistants or councillors, and deliberates over all important affairs of the congregation. Sometimes the sovereign pontiff, who may appoint directly to all offices, reserves to himself the right to confirm the nomination of the superior-general. The latter is generally elected for six or twelve years: in the Society of the Sacred Heart, the election is for life. Ordinarily he makes provision in his council for all charges which are not within the discretion of the chapter general. Every three years he is bound to submit to the Holy See an account in the form prescribed by the Decree of June 16, 1906.

Whether a priest or not, the superior, as head of the house, has authority over all who live in it, and derives from the vow of obedience his power to command according to the approved constitutions. He is recommended, especially if he is not a superior-general or provincial, to make moderate use of his faculty to command in virtue of holy obedience. Sometimes even he can do this only in writing. Although he controls the temporal administration, the Holy See requires that a separate person shall have charge of the accounts, even in the houses, and that a third shall deal with expenditures. The Holy See insists also that all valuables shall be kept in a chest with a triple lock, so that it can be opened only by means of three separate keys, which are to be kept by the superior, the procurator, and one of the councillors. In respect of their temporal administration, the congregations are independent of the bishop, but they are bound to observe the rules prescribed by the Holy See, especially the precautions taken for the preservation of dowries and other funds (see the Decree “Inter ea” of July 30, 1909, Vermeersch, “Periodica”, 331, V, p. 11). Even without belonging to an exempt congregation, the superior, if a priest, obtains without difficulty the faculty of giving his subjects dimissorial letters for ordinations; and if such faculty is granted him, then, in respect of the certificates to be delivered, the competent bishop etc., the rules are the same for congregations as for religious orders.

We have treated of the admission of subjects, the novitiate, and simple profession under the titles: Novice; Postulant; and Religious Profession. Ordinarily, and always in the more recent orders, temporary vows for some years preceded perpetual vows: these vows, even temporary, are reserved to the Holy See. While the superior has the power to dismiss religious who have not made perpetual vows, he has not always the power to release them from their obligations, and in that case it is necessary to have recourse to the Holy See. Religious who have received any of the major orders in the institute, and those who have made perpetual vows, cannot be dismissed without the formalities prescribed for the dismissal of persons professed with solemn vows. Dismissal involves a suspension which is reserved to the Holy See; and the voluntary departure of a religious who, as a religious, has been admitted to Holy orders, even of one whose temporary vows have expired, is not regular unless he has found a bishop and means of subsistence. The sanction is the same as for one professed with simple vows in a religious order. Secularization is seldom granted to members of a religious congregation, but recourse is had to dispensation from vows. Migration from one congregation to another cannot take place without the consent of the Holy See, and it is usual to ask for that consent before entering a religious order, though there is no law forbidding such entrance.

Religious Congregations under Episcopal Authority.—(i) Approbation.—After the Constitutions of St. Pius V, which were opposed to simple vows, the Holy See could only tolerate congregations with-out solemn vows. Such congregations naturally desired to be under the control of some ecclesiastical authority, which could only be that of the bishop: by degrees a custom grew up which gave bishops an incontestable right to approve religious congregations, and this right received express recognition from the Constitution “Conditae” of Leo XIII (December 8, 1900), the first part of which is wholly devoted to the diocesan congregations: its first articles contain a solemn warning against the rash creation of new ones, and any excessive increase in their number. More recently the Motu proprio “Dei providentis” (July 16, 1906) declared the necessity of pontifical authorization before any episcopal approbation. When it is desired to form a new congregation, the ordinary forwards to the Sacred Congregation of Religious the name of the founder, the object of the foundation, the name and title chosen for the new institute, a description of the habit to be worn by the novices and professed members, the work to be undertaken, the resources, and the names of similar institutes existing in the diocese. When once the consent of Rome has been obtained, the bishop may authorize the institute, respecting all things decreed by the Holy See; and in revising the constitutions, he will take care that they are always in conformity with the Normae of 1901. It is to be remarked that in the Decree of 1906, the expression “religious institute” has a very wide meaning, and by the terms of that Decree, this procedure is to be followed for all associations, whose members have a distinctive name and habit, and devote themselves to their own personal perfection, or to works of piety or charity: vows are not required. But, on the other hand, the institute thus formed remains episcopal; the ordinaries exercise over it all the rights mentioned in the Constitution “Condit” (ch. i), except the right to modify anything that the Holy See has specially laid down.

(ii) Authority of the bishop.—This Constitution formulates the principle of full and exclusive submission to the bishop; from which we conclude that the rights of the bishop are limited only by the principle of natural justice and equity, which demands respect for acquired rights; by the nature of the institute, which must give its religious the means of making progress towards perfection according to the precepts of the Gospel; and by the plain exceptions of pontifical law. We say “the plain exceptions”, because Decrees of the Holy See, which do not clearly refer to diocesan institutes, only give directions to bishops without restraining their power; moreover, in the immense variety of cases, prescriptions which are useful to institutes under pontifical government would be very troublesome to those whose life is diocesan; and the latter in the immediate control of the bishop often find the same security that the Holy See seeks to give by a new regulation to congregations dependent upon itself.

We have now to distinguish between diocesan and interdiocesan institutes.—(a) Diocesan Institutes.—Congregations which exist in but one diocese are dependent only on a single bishop: he approves the institute, authorizes the erection of new houses, may forbid the extension of the institute into another diocese, and may for sufficient reasons close a house, or suppress the institute itself: but he must take care, during the liquidation, not to violate the canonical laws concerning the disposal and alienation of ecclesiastical property. He may receive subjects himself, visit the houses to inquire into the religious discipline and temporal administration, and reserve to himself the approval of the most important acts. The Constitution “Conditae” requires the superior in a convent of women (and we may say the same of male superiors) to be appointed by election; the bishop may not only preside at the election, but also confirm or annul it; and when any grave cause prevents the holding of a regular election, he may, while awaiting a favorable opportunity for assembling the electors, even make provision for the internal government of the institute. He is bound, however, except in case of express provision in the constitutions, to leave the hands of the superior free to administer the institute and even to transfer the members (Reply of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, April 9, 1895). (P) Interdiocesan Institutes.—If the institute has houses in several dioceses, each bishop has authority over the houses in his own diocese; the consent of all is necessary to touch the institute itself. Ordinarily the difficulties which may be created by this situation may be removed by asking for pontifical approbation for the institute. Often also the bishop of the diocese of origin, in order to prevent difficulties and disputes, refuses to allow the extension into other dioceses, unless it is agreed that he shall have full authority over the religious life of the institute.

(e) Superior, Vows Ordination.—In institutes under episcopal authority the ordinary jurisdiction is vested in the bishop, never in the superior: the latter has the ruling power which is given him by the vows, and the internal authority which he possesses as head of the house. The vows, except the vow of perpetual chastity, if it has been absolutely taken, are not reserved to the Holy See. The dismissal of subjects does not require the formalities prescribed by the Decree “Auctis admodum” (November 4, 1892) which has been mentioned in connection with orders and congregations properly so called; and the religious in Holy orders do not incur the suspension inflicted by that Decree on those who are expelled, or on those who depart voluntarily without having found a bishop or means of subsistence. In fact, the members of these institutes have always their bishop, who has taken the responsibility of ordaining them. Exception, however, must be made if the institute has obtained an indult permitting the superior to deliver to his subjects letters of ordination which bind only the institute: in such a case a subject who left the institute having received major orders in this manner, would be suspended until he had found a bishop and means of subsistence.

(f) Religious State of the Members.—The question has been raised whether members of an episcopal institute are really in the religious state, provided, be it understood, that they are bound by the three perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Our answer is in the affirmative, because the bishop, being the ordinary authority instituted by Christ himself, truly gives canonical institution to the association.


To complete our description of the religious life, we have now to deal with the rule or constitutions by which religious are governed.

(1) Historical Survey

In the earliest times, the younger monks were accustomed to seek and follow the advice of some older monk in order to realize the ideal of monastic life; and very soon those who were renowned for their wisdom and holiness saw their instructions observed by a large body of disciples. Others drew up a rule of life for the use of candidates for the life of perfection. The necessity for such a rule chiefly affected the cenobites, for whom it was necessary also to organize common life and a hierarchical constitution.

The first rules were plans of perfect life, with details differing according to persons, times, and places, but framed upon the Gospel as their common fundamental rule. The first monks found their first rule in the Acts of the Apostles, iv, 32-5, where we are told how the owners of property voluntarily gave it up for the benefit of the whole community: this passage was called the rule established under the Apostles (St. Possidius, “Life of St. Augustine”, c. v., in P.L., XXXII, 37). When intended for anchorites, the rules contained only individual counsels; those intended for cenobites dealt also with the entrance into the monastery, the probations, the hierarchy, obedience, and common life. Sometimes they were codifications of received usages, observed and subsequently collected by the disciples of some famous monks, sometimes they were the authentic work of the saint whose name they bore; not to mention the mixed character of certain rules composed with the help of authentic writings, but first published without any intention of making them a rule properly so called. St. Pachomius gradually compiled, according to the varying needs of the times, a body of rules, the authentic text of which is not now in existence; certain MSS. give us more information on the subject of the rules of his disciple, Schenut. We possess the Rule of St. Benedict; the Rules of St. Basil and St. Augustine are of the mixed class. The answers of St. Basil to the questions of the monks form the first; the second consists in great measure of extracts from a letter addressed by St. Augustine in 423 to the nuns of Hippo (Ep. 211 in P.L., XXXIII, 960-5). Of the first class are the rules which are circulated under the names of Saints Anthony, Isaias, Serapion, Macarius, Paphnutius, and others. We need not wonder that legend has attributed to some of the rules a superhuman origin: the Rule of St. Pachomius, for instance, soon after its appearance, was said to have been dictated or even written on tablets by an angel; hence it acquired the name of the “Angel‘s Rule”. These rules had no binding force, except sometimes for the inhabitants of a monastery during the term of their residence. In many monasteries various rules were observed: the monastic life did not derive its unity from the rules.

As orders began to approach more nearly to the modern form, and new ones were established having their own special objects in addition to religious profession, each institute had its own rule, which was in fact a plan of life after the spirit of the Gospel, imposed on the religious to help them work in common for the special objects of their institute. Such a rule is identified with the institute itself, and the obligation to persevere in the latter includes the obligation to observe the former. The rule takes this form among the canons regular and more definitely in the mendicant orders. The Roman Council of 1139 recognized three rules, those of St. Benedict, St. Basil, and St. Augustine; and the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) refused to recognize any religious institutes which did not observe a rule approved by the Holy See: Innocent III and Honorius III afterwards approved the Rule of St. Francis. Thus a new note was added to the rule, the approbation of the Holy See; and the rule became a canonical law, governing the religious, although in the beginning it was only a private compilation. A new step has recently been taken: until 1901, the Holy See was content to examine the laws of new institutes without troubling much over details; but as in the progress of legislation certain clauses were repeated, and new ones introduced in their place, it was decided in 1901 to enact a more uniform type of rule for new institutes: thus the Norms of June 28, 1901, were drawn up, to be a common mould for the formation of all new institutes with but few exceptions. Henceforth the rules will be mainly the work of the Holy See, and all congregations will be, as regards their chief lines, organized in the same manner. The substance of the rule has also been greatly changed. In the beginning it was simply a short code of asceticism with such directions as were necessary for the organization of common life; and in the orders properly so called, there were added to this code the regulations required by the special object of each institute: at present asceticism and the rule of life are kept distinct, and the only things to be treated of in the rule are the points of common observance.

(2) Rules and Constitutions

In canonical language we distinguish between rules and constitutions: history easily explains this terminology. As already stated, the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), c. Ne nimia. De religiosis domibus, etc. (iii, 36) confirmed by the Second Council of Lyons (1479) c. Religionum un, ibid. in 6 (iii, 12) had forbidden new foundations of orders. The prohibition was understood in this sense that no order should be constituted under a new rule; and the sovereign pontiffs themselves insisted on the adoption of an old rule for the institutes they approved Therefore, following the example already set in the eleventh century by St. Romuald, who adapted the Rule of St. Benedict to the eremitical life, the founders chose a rule already received in the Church, adding such prescriptions as were required by the special object of their institutes. These prescriptions were called “constitutions”. The term “rule” is, therefore, at present used only to denote one of the ancient rules, and more particularly the four great rules, each of which serves as a fundamental law to many institutes, namely (I) the Rule of St. Basil, or rather the collection of his rules divided into two classes, those expounded in detail, and those more concise; (2) the Rule of St. Benedict; (3) the Rule of St. Augustine formed with the help of his letter 211 to nuns, his sermons 355 and 356, concerning the morals of clerics (P.L., XXXIII, 358 sqq., and XXXIX, 1568) and some additions of Fulgentius; and lastly (4) the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi, confirmed on November 29, 1223, by the Constitution “Solet” of Honorius III.

The more recent laws, not only those which contain decisions on special points, but also those which apply only to particular orders or congregations, are properly called constitutions; the rule is always recommended by its antiquity: where there exist both a rule and constitutions, the rule, without having any greater force, nevertheless contains the more general and consequently more stable elements, which are also common to many religious orders or congregations. From this point of view, institutes are classified as follows: the more ancient orders, if not reformed, have only the rule of their founder; most orders have both rules and constitutions, and venerate the author of the rule as a sort of patriarch; while some orders and many congregations with simple vows have constitutions which with them take the place of a rule. The Rule of St. Basil governs most monks of the Greek Rite; the Rule of St. Benedict is the principal rule of the Western Monks; and was called simply “the Rule”. It governed also some military orders, such as those of Alcantara, and the Templars. The Rule of St. Augustine is common to the canons regular, the Hermits of St. Augustine, and many institutes whose special object required a somewhat less strict form of government: thus the Friars Preachers, the Servites, and the Religious of St. John of God have this rule besides their own special constitutions. Many congregations of hospitallers of both sexes are governed in the same manner. The Rule of St. Francis is observed by the three branches of his first order; the second order and many congregations of tertiaries also follow a rule of the same saint. The Carmelites, the Minims, the Society of Jesus, the Passionists, and the Redemptorists all have their own constitutions only.

(3) Binding Force of the Rule

At the present day the rules and constitutions are ecclesiastical laws, and therefore obligatory, at least in their preceptive parts: but the obligation varies. In the Rule of St. Francis, for instance, some articles bind under mortal sin, others under venial sin; that of the Carmelites binds under venial sin only: and Suarez considers (De religione, VIII, I, iii, n. 8) that without some special indication expressed or implied in cases of doubt we must presume a venial obligation. Apparently the Rule of St. Benedict and certainly the Constitutions of the Friars Preachers and the Society of Jesus do not bind directly, except to the acceptance of the penance imposed for their infringement; nor is this spontaneous fulfillment of the penance always binding in conscience. Even then, the rule is a law, not a pure counsel: if a religious should profess himself independent of it, he would commit a grave offense against obedience; if he disobeys, he deserves reproof and punishment, and it rests with the superior to impose under sin the observance of each point of the rule. Moreover, in the motive which leads to a violation of the rule, or in the effect of such violation, there is generally an irregularity which makes the act a venial sin.

(4) Collections of Rules

In very early times, there were collections of rules; we may mention that which in the language of the period, St. Benedict of Aniane (d. 821) called the “Concordia regularum”, which was republished with additions by the librarian Holstenius (d. 1661) at Rome in 1661 and in Paris in 1663. Brockie brought out a more perfect edition (Augsburg, 1759), which is reproduced in P.L., CIII, 393-700. Thomas of Jesus, a Carmelite, published (Antwerp, 1817) commentaries on most of the rules.


Perfection of the Different Religious Institutes.—If we wish to compare the different religious institutes from the point of view of their relative perfection, the excellence of the object gives the first rank to the mixed institutions and to the contemplative institutes priority over the active. Perfection depends upon the harmonious combination of the means employed towards the end, the quality of the works to which the institute is devoted, and even the number of its means of action. The strictness of the observance, by putting further away the occasions of sin, is another reason of superiority, and above all, the strictness of obedience, which is now considered as the principal obligation of religious life. However, by canon law, respect is paid rather to the outward austerity of the life, and the Carthusians are considered the most perfect from that point of view. Institutes consisting of clerics and those with solemn vows have for this reason certain superiority over la institutes and those with simple vows.


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