Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The assistance of women in the work of the Church goes back to the earliest time, and their uniting together for community exercises was a natural development of religious worship (Paulowski, De diaconissis comment., Ratisbon, 1866; J. Réville, Le rôle des veuves dans les communautés chrét. primitives, in Bibl. de l'Ecole des hautes études: Sciences relig. I, 231-51, Paris, 1899; Goltz, Der Dienst der Frau in den ersten christlichen Jahrhunderten, Leipzig, 1905). Rules were laid down for their guidance, but it was left for St. Augustine of Hippo to draw up the first general rule for such communities of women. It was written in the year 423 and was addressed to Felicitas, Superioress of the Monastery of Hippo, and to Rusticus, the priest whom St. Augustine had appointed to have charge of the nuns ( Migne, P. L., XXXIII, 958- 65). Towards the close of the eighth century the title of canoness is found for the first time, and it was given to these communities of women who, while they professed a common life, yet did not carry out to its full extent the original Rule of St. Augustine (sanctimoniales quæ se canonicas vocant, Council of Châlons, 813, can. 53; see the second book of De Institutione sanctimonialium, Council of Aachen, 816 or 817, and Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, IV, 17 sqq.). These canonesses were practically an imitation of the chapters of canons regular which had then recently been received through the introduction of the "Regula vitæ communis" of St. Chrodegang of Metz. The canonesses took but two vows, chastity and obedience. Their superiors were known as abbesses, often held princely rank and had feudal jurisdiction. The occupations of the canonesses consisted in the recitation of the Divine Office, the care of the church vestments, and the education of the young, particularly the daughters of the nobility. The number of these communities multiplied very rapidly; but as all who entered did not do so from a spirit that was entirely religious, there soon came differences in the observance of the rule, whence the distinction between regular canonesses and secular canonesses. (See Ducange, Glossarium med. et infimæ Latinitatis, s. v. Canonicæ Jacques de Vitry, Hist. Occid. II, 31; Bonif. VIII, in Lib. Sext. C. 43, § 5 de elect. I, 6; Extrav. Comm. III, 9 de relig. dom.) Some abbeys of these latter still exist, a few Catholic and several Protestant establishments (in Hanover alone there are seventeen), and many of them hold large properties. This is explained by the fact that the secular canonesses were mainly recruited from noble families, particularly in Germany, and, when the Reformation passed over the land, gave up the Catholic Faith. The regular canonesses, for the most part, follow the Rule of St. Augustine , but local circumstances have been the means of introducing various changes in details. Formerly all houses of a particular observance were united under and governed by one head. At the present day each convent is governed by a distinct superioress. The canonesses regular best known in English speaking countries are the Canonesses Regular of St. Augustine and the Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre . They are strictly enclosed, take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and are bound to the daily choral recitation of the Divine Office.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 2:1-10
1 And you were dead, through the crimes and the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
2 serve Yahweh with gladness, come into his presence ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 12:13-21
13 A man in the crowd said to him, 'Master, tell my ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 20th, 2014 Image

St. Paul of the Cross
October 20: St. Paul of the Cross was born at Ovada in the Republic of ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter