Religious (Western Christianity)

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A religious (using the word as a noun) is, in the terminology of many Western Christian denominations, such as the Catholic Church, Lutheran Churches, and Anglican Communion, what in common language one would call a "monk" or "nun", as opposed to an ordained "priest". [1] [2] [3] A religious may also be a priest if he has undergone ordination, but in general he is not.


More precisely, a religious is a member of a religious order or religious institute, someone who belongs to "a society in which members...pronounce public vows...and lead a life of brothers or sisters in common". [1] [4]

Some classes of religious have also been referred to, though less commonly now than in the past, as regulars, because of living in accordance with a religious rule (regula in Latin) such as the Rule of Saint Benedict.


Catholic canon law definition

Religious are members of religious institutes, societies in which the members take public vows and live a fraternal life in common. [5] Thus monks such as Benedictines and Carthusians, nuns such as Carmelites and Poor Clares, and friars such as Dominicans and Franciscans are called religious.

Those living other recognized forms of consecrated life are not classified as religious. A member of a secular institute [6] is thus not a religious. Nor is a consecrated hermit, [7] a consecrated virgin, [7] or a person who follows some other form whose approval is reserved to the Holy See. [7]

Ordination as deacon, priest or bishop does not make one a member of a religious institute and so does not make one a religious.

Clerical or lay

If a religious has been ordained as a deacon, a priest or a bishop, he also belongs to the clergy and so is a member of what is called the "religious clergy" or the "regular clergy". Clergy who are not members of a religious institute are known as secular clergy. They generally serve a geographically defined diocese or a diocese-like jurisdiction such as an apostolic vicariate or personal ordinariate, and so are also referred to as diocesan clergy.

A religious who has not been ordained is a member of the laity (a lay person), not of the clergy. However, once any non-ordained religious professes vows, especially final vows, they must be formally dispensed from those vows, which is a lengthy and formal process, with set procedures, that involves their local superior, the local Bishop or other Ordinary, the head of the Order, and the Vatican's Congregation for Religious. If they are ordained, they must also be formally suspended from and then relieved of their duties, and then laicized (formally removed from the clerical state), which is a related but separate matter. Both laicization and dispensation of vows are only done for very serious reasons, except for perhaps when one seeks to get married once it is done. The process is even more complex if they are accused of a secular or ecclesiastical offense or crime (some procedures can be expedited in certain criminal cases involving sex abuse). The state of a non-ordained religious, therefore, is not precisely the same as a lay unmarried person who is not a religious. [8]

While the state of consecrated life is neither clerical or lay, institutes themselves are classified as one or the other. A clerical institute is one that "by reason of the purpose or design intended by the founder or by virtue of legitimate tradition, is under the direction of clerics, assumes the exercise of sacred orders, and is recognized as such by the authority of the Church". [7] In clerical institutes, such as the Dominican Order or the Jesuits, most of the members are clerics. In only a few cases do lay institutes have some clergy among their members.

Canon law

The Code of Canon Law devotes to religious 103 canons arranged in eight chapters:

  1. Religious houses and their erection and suppression
  2. The governance of institutes
  3. The admission of candidates and the formation of members
  4. The obligations and rights of institutes and their members
  5. The apostolate of institutes
  6. Separation of members from the institute
  7. Religious raised to the episcopate
  8. Conferences of major superiors [5]


The Priory of St. Wigbert is a Lutheran monastery in the Benedictine tradition Kloster St. Wigberti pan.jpg
The Priory of St. Wigbert is a Lutheran monastery in the Benedictine tradition

In the Lutheran Churches, religious are defined as those who make religious vows before their bishop to live consecrated life, especially in a religious order. [3] An ordained priest who is not a part of a Lutheran religious order is considered 'secular', rather than 'religious'. [9]


In the Anglican Communion, the religious are those who have taken "vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, usually in community". [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

Clergy formal leaders within established religions

Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the terms used for individual clergy are clergyman, clergywoman, and churchman. Less common terms are churchwoman and clergyperson, while cleric and clerk in holy orders both have a long history but are rarely used.

Nun Member of a religious community of women

A nun is a member of a religious community of women, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the enclosure of a monastery. Communities of nuns exist in numerous religious traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, and Taoism.

A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of laypeople and, in some orders, clergy. Religious orders exist in many of the world's religions.

Ordination religious process by which individuals are consecrated as clergy

Ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart and elevated from the laity class to the clergy, who are thus then authorized to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination vary by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is undergoing the process of ordination is sometimes called an ordinand. The liturgy used at an ordination is sometimes referred to as an ordination.

Defrocking, unfrocking, or laicization of clergy is the removal of their rights to exercise the functions of the ordained ministry. It may be grounded on criminal convictions, disciplinary problems, or disagreements over doctrine or dogma, but may also be done at their request for personal reasons, such as running for civil office, taking over a family business, declining health or old age, desire to marry against the rules for clergy in a particular church, or an unresolved dispute. The form of the procedure varies according to the Christian denomination concerned. The term defrocking implies forced laicization for misconduct, while laicization is a neutral term, applicable also when clergy have requested to be released from their ordination vows.

In the canon law of the Catholic Church, the loss of the clerical state is the removal of a bishop, priest or deacon from the status of being a member of the clergy.

Clerical marriage is a term used to described the practice of allowing Christian clergy to marry. This practice is distinct from allowing married persons to become clergy. Clerical marriage is admitted among Protestants, including both Anglicans and Lutherans.

Religious order (Catholic) Type of religious community in the Roman Catholic Church characterised by its members professing solemn vows

In the Catholic Church, a religious order is a type of religious community characterised by its members professing solemn vows. According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, they are classed as a type of religious institute.

Religious vows promises made by members of religious communities

Religious vows are the public vows made by the members of religious communities pertaining to their conduct, practices, and views.

Third order

The term "Third Order" signifies, in general, lay members of religious orders, who do not necessarily live in community and yet can claim to wear the habit and participate in the good works of some great order. Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Lutheranism all recognize Third Orders. They were a twelfth-century adaptation of the medieval monastic confraternities.

Consecrated life is a state of life in the Catholic Church lived by believers who wish to follow Jesus Christ in a more exacting way. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it "is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church". The Code of Canon Law defines it as "a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory."

The term secular clergy refers to deacons and priests who are not monastics or members of a religious institute. A diocesan priest is a Catholic, Anglican or Eastern Orthodox priest who commits themself to a certain geographical area and is ordained into the service of the citizens of a diocese, a church administrative region. That includes serving the everyday needs of the people in parishes, but their activities are not limited to that of their parish.

An institute of consecrated life is an association of faithful in the Catholic Church erected by canon law whose members profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience by vows or other sacred bonds. They are defined in the Code of Canon Law under canons 573–730.

A religious congregation is a type of religious institute in the Catholic Church. They are legally distinguished from religious orders — the other major type of religious institute — in that members take simple vows, whereas members of religious orders take solemn vows.

Enclosed religious orders Christian religious orders separated from the external world

Enclosed religious orders of the Christian churches have solemn vows with a strict separation from the affairs of the external world. The term cloistered is synonymous with enclosed. In the Catholic Church enclosure is regulated by the code of canon law, either the Latin code or the Oriental code, and also by subsidiary legislation. It is practised with a variety of customs according to the nature and charism of the community in question.

Priesthood in the Catholic Church One of the three ordained holy orders of the Catholic Church

The priesthood is one of the three holy orders of the Catholic Church, comprising the ordained priests or presbyters. The other two orders are the bishops and the deacons. Only men are allowed to receive holy orders, and the church does not allow any transgender people to do so. Church doctrine also sometimes refers to all baptised Catholics as the "common priesthood".

Vocational discernment is the process in which men or women in the Catholic Church discern, or recognize, their vocation in the church. The vocations are the life as layman in the world, either married or single, the ordained life and the consecrated life.

A religious brother is a member of a Christian religious institute or religious order who commits himself to following Christ in consecrated life of the Church, usually by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He is a layman, in the sense of not being ordained as a deacon or priest, and usually lives in a religious community and works in a ministry appropriate to his capabilities. A brother might practice any secular occupation. The term "brother" is used as he is expected to be as a brother to others. Brothers are members of a variety of religious communities, which may be contemplative, monastic, or apostolic in character. Some religious institutes are composed only of brothers; others are so-called "mixed" communities that are made up of brothers and clerics.

Glossary of the Catholic Church

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.

A religious institute is a type of institute of consecrated life in the Catholic Church where its members take religious vows and lead a life in community with fellow members. Religious institutes are one of the two types of institutes of consecrated life; the other is that of the secular institute, where its members are "living in the world".


  1. 1 2 Kurian, George Thomas; Lamport, Mark A. (10 November 2016). Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 1940. ISBN   9781442244320. Individuals called to a cloistered life are referred to as monks (men) and nuns (women), whereas men and women who are members of an order, but not living in cloister, are usually referred to by the term “religious,” or “religious brothers” or “sisters. Examples of contemplative orders within the Roman Catholic tradition include, but are not limited to, Augustinian, Benedictine, Carthusian, Carmelite, and Cistercian. Among active orders in that same tradition are the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits. In addition the single form of monasticism in the Orthodox tradition, the Protestant tradition includes, but is not limited to, the following religious orders: the Order of St. Luke (Methodist Church); the Order of Lutheran Franciscans and the Congregation of the Servants of Christ (Lutheran); the Order of Julian of Norwich (Episcopal Church USA); the Order of St. Luke the Physician (Ecumenical); and the Knights of Prayer Monastic (Evangelical, Ecumenical).
  2. Maeyer, Jan de; Leplae, Sofie; Schmiedl, Joachim (2004). Religious Institutes in Western Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Historiography, Research and Legal Position. Leuven University Press. p. 103. ISBN   9789058674029.
  3. 1 2 Johnston, William M. (4 December 2013). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Routledge. p. 1106. ISBN   9781136787164.
  4. Code of Canon Law, canon 607 §2. The full text is: "a society in which members, according to proper law, pronounce public vows, either perpetual or temporary which are to be renewed, however, when the period of time has elapsed, and lead a life of brothers or sisters in common".
  5. 1 2 "Code of Canon Law - IntraText".
  6. "Code of Canon Law - IntraText".
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Code of Canon Law - IntraText".
  8. Cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 207
  9. Grimley, Anthony; Wooding, Jonathan M. (1 October 2009). Living the Hours: Monastic Spirituality in Everyday Life. Canterbury Press. p. 9. ISBN   9781853119712. Being a priest is a separate thing from being a monk, though monks can be priests (and so can Anglican and Lutheran nuns). But, basically, monks, whether priests or not, are 'religious' and distinct from those, priests or laypeople, who are 'secular'.
  10. Publishing, Morehouse (2015). The Episcopal Handbook, Revised Edition. Church Publishing, Inc. p. 126. ISBN   9780819229564.