Religious order (Catholic)

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Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the mendicant Order of Friars Minor, as painted by El Greco. Francisbyelgreco.jpg
Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the mendicant Order of Friars Minor, as painted by El Greco.

In the Catholic Church, a religious order is a community of consecrated life with members that profess solemn vows. They are classed as a type of religious institute. [1]

Subcategories of religious orders are:

Original Catholic religious orders of the Middle Ages include the Order of Saint Benedict. In particular the earliest orders include the Poor Ladies (later called the Poor Clares), founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1212]], English Benedictine Congregation (1216) and Benedictine communities connected to Cluny Abbey, the Benedictine reform movement of Cistercians, and the Norbertine Order of Premonstratensians (1221). These orders were confederations of independent abbeys and priories, who were unified through a leadership structure connected to permanent establishments.

A century later, mendicant groups like the Carmelites, the Order of Friars Minor, the Dominican Order, the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and the Order of Saint Augustine formed their Orders. As such, also the Teutonic Order may qualify, as today it is mainly monastic. These Mendicant Orders did not hold property for their Religious Communities, instead begging for alms and going where they were needed. Their leadership structure included each member, as opposed to each Abbey or House, as subject to their direct superior.

In the past, what distinguished religious orders from other institutes was the classification of the vows that the members took in religious profession as solemn vows. According to this criterion, the last religious order founded was that of the Bethlehem Brothers in 1673. [2] Nevertheless, in the course of the 20th century, some religious institutes outside the category of orders obtained permission to make solemn vows, at least of poverty, thus blurring the distinction.[ citation needed ]

Essential distinguishing mark

Solemn vows were originally considered indissoluble. As noted below, dispensations began to be granted in later times, but originally not even the Pope could dispense from them. [3] If for a just cause a member of a religious order was expelled, the vow of chastity remained unchanged and so rendered invalid any attempt at marriage, the vow of obedience obliged in relation, generally, to the bishop rather than to the religious superior, and the vow of poverty was modified to meet the new situation but the expelled religious "could not, for example, will any goods to another; and goods which came to him reverted at his death to his institute or to the Holy See". [4]

Weakening of the distinction in 1917

The former 1917 Code of Canon Law reserved the name "religious order" for institutes in which the vows were solemn, and used the term religious congregation or simply "congregation" for institutes with simple vows. The members of a religious order for men were called "regulars", those belonging to a religious congregation were simply "religious", a term that applied also to regulars. For women, those with simple vows were called "sisters", with the term "nun" reserved in canon law for those who belonged to an institute of solemn vows, even if in some localities they were allowed to take simple vows instead. [5]

The Hieronymite monks. Francisco de Zurbaran 070.jpg
The Hieronymite monks.

However, it abolished the distinction according to which solemn vows, unlike simple vows, were indissoluble. It recognized no totally indispensable religious vows and thereby abrogated for the Latin Church the special consecration that distinguished "orders" from "congregations", while keeping some juridical distinctions. [4]

In practice, even before 1917 dispensations from solemn religious vows were being obtained by grant of the Pope himself, while departments of the Holy See and superiors specially delegated by it could dispense from simple religious vows. [6]

The 1917 Code maintained a juridical distinction by declaring invalid any marriage attempted by solemnly professed religious or by those with simple vows to which the Holy See had attached the effect of invalidating marriage, [7] while stating that no simple vow rendered a marriage invalid, except in the cases in which the Holy See directed otherwise. [8] Thus members of "orders" were barred absolutely from marriage, and any marriage they attempted was invalid. Those who made simple vows were obliged not to marry, but if they did break their vow, the marriage was considered valid.

Another difference was that a professed religious of solemn vows lost the right to own property and the capacity to acquire temporal goods for themselves, but a professed religious of simple vows, while being prohibited by the vow of poverty from using and administering property, kept ownership and the right to acquire more, unless the constitutions of the religious institute explicitly stated the contrary. [9]

After publication of the 1917 Code, many institutes with simple vows appealed to the Holy See for permission to make solemn vows. The Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi of 21 November 1950 made access to that permission easier for nuns (in the strict sense), though not for religious institutes dedicated to apostolic activity. Many of these latter institutes of women then petitioned for the solemn vow of poverty alone. Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, superiors general of clerical institutes and abbots president of monastic congregations were authorized to permit, for a just cause, their subjects of simple vows who made a reasonable request to renounce their property except for what would be required for their sustenance if they were to depart. [10] These changes resulted in a further blurring of the previously clear distinction between "orders" and "congregations", since institutes that were founded as "congregations" began to have some members who had all three solemn vows or had members that took a solemn vow of poverty and simple vows of chastity and obedience.

Further changes in 1983

The current 1983 Code of Canon Law maintains the distinction between solemn and simple vows, [11] but no longer makes any distinction between their juridical effects, including the distinction between "orders" and "congregations". Instead, it uses the single term "religious institute" to designate all such institutes. [12] [13]

While solemn vows once meant those taken in what was called a religious order, "today, in order to know when a vow is solemn it will be necessary to refer to the proper law of the institutes of consecrated life." [14]

The Annuario Pontificio continues to distinguish between "Ordini" (Orders) and "Congregazioni Religiose Clericali" (Clerical Religious Congregations). Some other authors use the terms "religious order" and "religious institute" as synonyms; canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi, commenting on the fact that the canonical term is "religious institute", write that "religious order" is a colloquialism. [15]

Authority structure

Thomas Schoen 1903, OCist. Abbatia CIST Sbernadiensis 27a (cropped).jpg
Thomas Schoen 1903, OCist.

A religious order is characterized by an authority structure where a superior general has jurisdiction over the order's dependent communities. An exception is the Order of St Benedict which is not a religious order in this technical sense, because it has a system of "independent houses", meaning that each abbey is autonomous. However, the Constitutions governing the order's global "independent houses" and its distinct "congregations" (of which there are twenty) were approved by the pope. Likewise, according to rank and authority, the abbot primate's "position with regard to the other abbots [throughout the world] is to be understood rather from the analogy of a primate in a hierarchy than from that of the general of an order like the Dominicans and Jesuits." [16]

The Canons Regular of Saint Augustine are in a situation similar to that of the Benedictines. They are organized in eight "congregations", each headed by an "abbot general", but also have an "Abbot Primate of the Confederated Canons Regular of Saint Augustine". And the Cistercians are in thirteen "congregations", each headed by an "abbot general" or an "abbot president", but do not use the title of "abbot primate".

List of religious orders of men in the Annuario Pontificio

Religious orders in the Annuario Pontificio Religious orders in the Annuario Pontificio.svg
Religious orders in the Annuario Pontificio
Saint Bruno of Cologne, founder of the monastic Order of Carthusians, as painted by Nicolas Mignard. Nicolas Mignard-Saint Bruno.jpg
Saint Bruno of Cologne, founder of the monastic Order of Carthusians, as painted by Nicolas Mignard.
A genealogical tree of the Order of the Immaculate Conception with the foundress, Saint Beatrice of Silva, and other remarkable Conceptionist nuns. ArbolConcepcionistes.jpg
A genealogical tree of the Order of the Immaculate Conception with the foundress, Saint Beatrice of Silva, and other remarkable Conceptionist nuns.
Maria Vittoria De Fornari Strata was the foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Annunciation. Vitrail Sainte Fornarie Saint-Mihiel 271108.jpg
Maria Vittoria De Fornari Strata was the foundress of the Order of the Most Holy Annunciation.

The Annuario Pontificio presents the list of male religious institutes in an "Elenco Storio-Giuridico di Precedenza" (Historical-Juridical List of Precedence). This list gives priority to certain types of institutes: Orders (divided into Canons Regular, Monastics, Mendicant Orders, Clerics Regular), Clerical Religious Congregations, Lay Religious Congregations, Eastern Religious Congregations, Secular Institutes, Societies of Apostolic Life. [17] The list is found in the 1964 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, pp. 807–870, where the heading is "States of Perfection (of pontifical right for men)". In the 1969 edition the heading is "Religious and Secular institutes of Pontifical Right for Men", a form it kept until 1975. Since 1976, when work was already advanced on revising the Code of Canon Law, the list has been qualified as "historical-juridical".

Historical-Juridical List of Precedence [18]
Canons Regular
NameAbbreviationFoundedMembersPriest members
Augustinian Canons (Canons Regular)C.R.S.A.4th century561470
Norbertines (Premonstratensians)O. Praem.11201127853
Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra O.R.C.113114183
Teutonic Order O.T.11907962
Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross (Crosier Fathers and Brothers)O.S.C.1211347227
Knights of the Cross with the Red Star O.Cr.12371818
Canons Regular of the Mother of GodC.R.M.D.19693721
Monastic Orders
NameAbbreviationFoundedMembersPriest members
Benedictines O.S.B.6th century66673297
Camaldolese E.C.M.C.10256638
Cistercians O.Cist.10981600657
Trappists O.C.S.O.10981608590
Carthusians O.Cart.1084275142
Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit (Pauline Fathers)O.S.P.P.E.1215493366
Hieronymites O.S.H.14th century64
Mendicant Orders
NameAbbreviationFoundedMembersPriest members
Dominicans O.P.13th century55454147
Franciscans (Friars Minor)O.F.M.1209124768512
Conventual Franciscans O.F.M. Conv.120939812777
Capuchins O.F.M. Cap.1525103556796
Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance T.O.R.1221813581
Augustinians O.S.A.4th century25001826
Augustinian Recollects O.A.R.1588955815
Discalced Augustinians O.A.D.1592227144
Carmelites O. Carm.20411303
Discalced Carmelites O.C.D.156239782897
Trinitarians O.SS.T.1198612426
Mercedarians O. de M.1218649483
Discalced Mercedarians O.M.D.16033429
Servites O.S.M.1233786522
Minims O.M.1435161118
Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God O.H.1537995115
Bethlehemite Brothers O.F.B.1653131
Clerics Regular
NameAbbreviationFoundedMembersPriest members
Theatines (Clerics Regular)C.R.1524161124
Barnabites B.1530335279
Jesuits S.J.15401483910721
Somascans C.R.S.1534520327
Camillians M.I.15821125825
Clerics Regular Minor (Caracciolins)C.R.M.1588180106
Clerics Regular of the Mother of God O.M.D.157411587
Piarists Sch. P.16171356945

Religious orders of women in the Annuario Pontificio

The list of religious institutes for women in the Annuario Pontificio does not distinguish between orders (with solemn vows) and congregations (with simple vows). Many of the religious orders for men listed above have comparable religious institutes for women with solemn vows.

See also


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nun</span> Member of a religious community of women

A nun is a woman who vows to dedicate her life to religion, typically living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the enclosure of a monastery or convent. The term is often used interchangeably with religious sisters who do take simple vows but live an active vocation of prayer and charitable work.

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. It is usually composed of laypeople and, in some orders, clergy. Such orders exist in many of the world's religions.

A solemn vow is a certain vow taken by an individual during or after novitiate in a Catholic religious institute. It is solemn insofar as the Church recognizes it as such.

In the Catholic Church, a religious profession is the solemn admission of men or women into consecrated life by means of the pronouncement of religious vows, typically the evangelical counsels.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Religious vows</span> 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canon regular</span> Roman Catholic priests living in community under a religious rule

Canons regular are priests who live in community under a rule and are generally organised into religious orders, differing from both secular canons and other forms of religious life, such as clerics regular, designated by a partly similar terminology.

The papal household or pontifical household, called until 1968 the Papal Court, consists of dignitaries who assist the pope in carrying out particular ceremonies of either a religious or a civil character.

A religious 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". A religious may also be a priest if he has undergone ordination, but in general he is not.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Consecrated life</span> Type of lifestyle advocated by the Catholic Church

Consecrated life is a state of life in the Catholic Church lived by those faithful who are called to follow Jesus Christ in a more exacting way. It includes those in institutes of consecrated life, societies of apostolic life, as well as those living as hermits or consecrated virgins/widows.

An institute of consecrated life is an association of faithful in the Catholic Church canonically erected by competent church authorities to enable men or women who publicly profess the evangelical counsels by religious vows or other sacred bonds "through the charity to which these counsels lead to be joined to the Church and its mystery in a special way" They are defined in the 1983 Code of Canon Law under canons 573–730. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has ecclesial oversight of institutes of consecrated life.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Enclosed religious orders</span> Christian religious orders separated from the external world

Enclosed religious orders or cloistered clergy are religious orders whose members strictly separate themselves from the affairs of the external world. In the Catholic Church, enclosure is regulated by the code of canon law, either the Latin code or the Oriental code, and also by the constitutions of the specific order. It is practised with a variety of customs according to the nature and charism of the community in question. This separation may involve physical barriers such as walls and grilles, with entry restricted for other people and certain areas exclusively permitted to the members of the convent. Outsiders may only temporarily enter this area under certain conditions. The intended purpose for such enclosure is to prevent distraction from prayer and the religious life and to keep an atmosphere of silence.

Regular clergy, or just regulars, are clerics in the Catholic Church who follow a rule of life, and are therefore also members of religious institutes. Secular clergy are clerics who are not bound by a rule of life.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Order of precedence in the Catholic Church</span> Precedence of persons

Precedence signifies the right to enjoy a prerogative of honor before other persons; for example, to have the most distinguished place in a procession, a ceremony, or an assembly, to have the right to express an opinion, cast a vote, or append a signature before others, to perform the most honorable offices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of the Catholic Church</span>

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church. Some terms used in everyday English have a different meaning in the context of the Catholic faith, including brother, confession, confirmation, exemption, faithful, father, ordinary, religious, sister, venerable, and vow.

"A religious institute 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."

In Catholicism "of pontifical right" is the term given to ecclesiastical institutions either created by the Holy See, or approved by it with the formal decree known by the Latin name Decretum laudis ["decree of praise"]. The term is included in the names of institutions, often capitalised in English: "Institute of [xxx] of Pontifical Right".

In the canon law of the Catholic Church, a person is a subject of certain legal rights and obligations. Persons may be distinguished between physical and juridic persons. Juridic persons may be distinguished as collegial or non-collegial, and public or private juridical persons. The Holy See and the Catholic Church as such are not juridic persons since juridic persons are created by ecclesiastical law. Rather, they are moral persons by divine law.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Religious sister</span> Woman who has taken public vows in a religious institute

A religious sister in the Catholic Church is a woman who has taken public vows in a religious institute dedicated to apostolic works, as distinguished from a nun who lives a cloistered monastic life dedicated to prayer. Both nuns and sisters use the term "sister" as a form of address.

In some religious orders of the Catholic Church, a congregation is a group of religious houses. In monastic orders, this would be monasteries; in orders of canons regular, this would be chapters. Each congregation operates as an autonomous or independent subdivision of the religious order, and is presided over by a superior with a title such as abbot general, arch-abbot, abbot president, president, abbot ordinary, provost general or superior general.


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