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. According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, they are classed as a type of religious institute.

Subcategories of religious orders are canons regular (canons and canonesses regular who recite the Divine Office and serve a church and perhaps a parish); monastics (monks or nuns living and working in a monastery and reciting the Divine Office); mendicants (friars or religious sisters who live from alms, recite the Divine Office, and, in the case of the men, participate in apostolic activities); and clerics regular (priests who take religious vows and have a very active apostolic life).

Original Catholic religious orders of the Middle Ages include the Order of Saint Benedict. In particular the earliest orders include the English Benedictine Confederation (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. [1] 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.

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. [2] 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". [3]

Weakening 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. [4]

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. [3]

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. [5]

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, [6] while stating that no simple vow rendered a marriage invalid, except in the cases in which the Holy See directed otherwise. [7] 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 himself or herself, 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. [8]

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. [9] 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, [10] 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. [11] [12]

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." [13]

"Religious order" and "religious institute" tend indeed to be used now as synonyms, and canon lawyer Nicholas Cafardi, commenting on the fact that the canonical term is "religious institute", can write that "religious order" is a colloquialism. [14]

Authority structure

Thomas Schoen 1903, OCist. Abbatia CIST Sbernadiensis 27a.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." [15]

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 in the Annuario Pontificio

Religious orders in the Annuario Pontificio Religious orders in the Annuario Pontificio.svg
Religious orders in the Annuario Pontificio

The Annuario Pontificio lists for both men and women the institutes of consecrated life and the like that are "of pontifical right" (those that the Holy See has erected or approved by formal decree). [16] For the men, it gives what it now calls the Historical-Juridical List of Precedence. [17] This list dates back many decades. It is found, for instance, 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 has become "Religious and Secular Institutes of Pontifical Right for Men", a form it kept until 1975 inclusive. Since 1976, when work was already advanced on revising the Code of Canon Law, the list has been qualified as "historical-juridical" and still labels as orders the institutes for men of the Latin Church. However, it does not distinguish between orders and congregations in the case of the Eastern Catholic Churches and Latin Church women.

Within that long list, a relatively small section is devoted to Latin-Rite orders for men:

Canons Regular
Official nameAbbreviationCommon name
Sacer et Apostolicus Ordo Canonicorum Regularium S. Augustini C.R.S.A.Canon Regulars, Augustinian Canons
Congregatio Sanctissimi Salvatoris Lateranensis C.R.L.Canons Regular of the Lateran
Candidus et Canonicus Ordo Praemonstratensis O. Praem.Norbertines or Premonstratensians
Ordo Canonicorum Regularium Sanctae Crucis O.R.C.Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra
Ordo Fratrum Domus Hospitalis Sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum in Jerusalem O.T.(formerly Teutonic Knights) German Order
Canonici Regulares Ordinis S. Crucis O.S.C.Crosier Fathers and Brothers
Canonici Regulares Sanctissimae Crucis a stella rubea O.M.C.R.S.Knights of the Cross with the Red Star
Monastic Orders
Official nameAbbreviationCommon name
Ordo Sancti Benedicti O.S.B.Benedictines (20 congregations)
Congregatio Eremitarum Camaldulensium Montis Coronae O.S.B.Cam.Camaldolese (joined the Benedictine confederation)
Ordo Cisterciensis O. Cist.Cistercians (13 congregations)
Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae O.C.S.O.Trappists
Ordo Cartusiensis Cart.Carthusians
Ordo Fratrum S. Pauli Primi Eremitae O.S.P.P.E.Pauline Fathers
Ordo Sancti Hieronymi O.S.H.Hieronymites
Ordo Libanensis Maronitarum O.L.M.Baladites
Mendicant Orders
Official nameAbbreviationCommon name
Ordo Fratrum Praedicatorum O.P.Dominicans
Ordo Fratrum Minorum O.F.M.Franciscans
Ordo Fratrum Minorum Conventualium O.F.M. Conv.Conventual Franciscans
Ordo Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum O.F.M. Cap.Capuchin Franciscans
Tertius Ordo Regularis S. Francisci T.O.R.Brothers of Penance
Ordo Fratrum Sancti Augustini O.S.A.Augustinian Friars
Ordo Augustinianorum Recollectorum O.A.R.Augustinian Recollects
Ordo Augustiniensium Discalceatorum O.A.D.Discalced Augustinians
Ordo Fratrum Beatissimae Mariae Virginis de Monte Carmelo O. Carm.Carmelites
Ordo Fratrum Discalceatorum B. Mariae V. de Monte Carmelo O.C.D.Discalced Carmelites
Ordo Ssmae Trinitatis O.SS.T.Trinitarians
Ordo B. Mariae Virginis de Mercede O. de M.Mercedarians
Ordo PP. Excalceatorum B.M.V. De Mercede O.M.D.Discalced Mercedarians
Ordo Servorum Mariae O.S.M.Servites
Ordo Minimorum O.M.Minims
Ordo Hospitalarius S. Ioannis de Deo O.H.St John of God Order
Ordo Fratrum Bethlemitarum O.F.B.Bethlehemites
Clerics Regular
Official nameAbbreviationsCommon name
Congregatio Clericorum Regularium S. Pauli, Barnabitarum B.Barnabites
Societas Iesu S.J.Jesuits
Ordo Clericorum Regularium a Somascha C.R.S.Somascans
Ordo Clericorum Regularium Ministrantium Infirmis M.I.Camillians
Ordo Clericorum Regularium Minorum C.R.M.Clerics Regular Minor
Ordo Clericorum Regularium Matris Dei O.M.D.Clerics Regular of the Mother of God
Ordo Clericorum Regularium Pauperum Matris Dei Scholarum Piarum Sch. P.Piarists
Ordo Clericorum Regularium vulgo Theatinorum C.R.Theatines

The 2012 Annuario Pontificio, which devotes 19 pages to this information on Latin-Rite "orders" for men, gives 35 pages to Latin-Rite "congregations" for men, 7 to Eastern "orders, religious congregations and societies of apostolic life" for men, and 198 pages to more concise information on religious institutes for women.

See also


Related Research Articles

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.

In Catholic canon law, a solemn vow is a vow that the Church has recognized 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.

Religious vows

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

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, (CICLSAL) is the congregation of the Roman Curia with competency over everything which concerns Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, regarding their government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges.

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

Consecrated life

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. 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."

Society of apostolic life Group of Catholic devotees who live together

A society of apostolic life is a group of men or women within the Catholic Church who have come together for a specific purpose and live fraternally. There are a number of apostolic societies, such as the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, who make vows or other bonds defined in their constitutions to undertake to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, unlike members of an institute of consecrated life, members of apostolic societies do not make religious vows—that is, "public vows".

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 1983 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.

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. It is contrasted with secular clergy, clerics who are not bound by a rule of life.

Order of precedence in the Catholic Church

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.

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 Wikipedia glossary

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".

“of pontifical right” is the term given to the ecclesiastical institutions either created by the Holy See or approved by it with the formal decree, known by its Latin name, Decretum laudis [“decree of praise”].

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 juridic 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.

Religious sister (Catholic) 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.


  1. Álvarez Gómez, Jesús, C.M.F., Historia de la vida religiosa, Volume III, Publicaciones Claretianas, Madrid, 1996.
  2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II–II, q. 88, a.11
  3. 1 2 Paul M. Quay, "Renewal of Religious Orders, or Destruction?", in Commentarium pro Religiosis et Missionariis, vol. 65 (1984), pp. 77–86
  4. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 488
  5. William Edward Addis, Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary Containing Some Account of the Doctrine, Discipline, Rites, Ceremonies, Councils and Religious Orders of the Catholic Church, Part Two, p. 858 (reprinted by Kessinger Publishing 2004)
  6. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1073
  7. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1058
  8. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canons 580–582
  9. Yūji Sugawara, Religious Poverty: from Vatican Council II to the 1994 Synod of Bishops (Loyola Press 1997 ISBN   978-88-7652-698-5), pp. 127–128
  10. Code of Canon Law, canon 1192 §2
  11. Robert T. Kennedy, Study related to a pre-1983 book by John J. McGrath – Jurist, 1990, pp. 351–401
  12. Code of Canon Law, canons 607–709
  13. E. Caparros, M. Thériault, J. Thorne (editors), Code of Canon Law Annotated (Wilson & Lafleur, Montréal 1993 ISBN   2-89127-232-3), p. 745
  14. Article published in Theological Exploration, vol. 2. no. 1 of Duquesne University and in Law Review of University of Toledo, vol 33
  15. See "The Benedictine Order" in New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia
  16. Code of Canon Law, canon 589 Archived April 18, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  17. Annuario Pontificio 2008 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2012 ISBN   978-88-209-8722-0), pp. 1411–1468

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