Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Lay brothers in a religious order. The term was originally applied to those who, in adult life, voluntarily renounced the world and entered a religious order to do penance and to lead a life of greater perfection. The renouncing of the world was known as the conversio a sæculo , which had as its object a reform or change of life, the conversio morum , hence conversi or the "converted". The conversi were thus distinguished from the oblati or those who, as children, were presented or offered ( oblati ) by their parents to the religious life and were placed in a monastery to receive proper religious instruction and to be educated in profane knowledge. In the eleventh century St. John Gualbert, founder of the Benedictine congregation known as the Vallisumbrosani, introduced for the first time a distinction between the fratres conversi , or lay brothers, and priests, or choir religious. For among the conversi there were not seldom those who were either entirely illiterate, or who in the world had led a life of public scandal, or had been notorious criminals, and while on the one hand it was unjust that such should be debarred from the means of doing penance in the cloister and from the other benefits of the religious life, they were at the same time hardly to be considered fit subjects for the reception of Sacred orders. They were thus received into the order for the purpose of engaging in manual labour and occasionally for directing the temporal affairs of the monastery. In modern canonical usage the term conversus is synonymous, or nearly so, with that of lay brother . What has been said of religious orders of men can, in general, be applied equally to those of women, though the distinction between conversæ, or lay sisters, and choir religious does not appear to have been introduced before the twelfth century. As a rule, the conversi wear a habit different from that of the choir religious; but the essential obligations of the vows and of the monastic life in general are alike for all. (See LAY BROTHER and OBLATI.)


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, Isaiah 50:4-9
4 Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:8-10, 21-22, 31, 33-34
8 I am estranged from my brothers, alienated from my ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 26:14-25
14 Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 16th, 2014 Image

St. Bernadette
April 16: On April 16, 1879, Bernadette -- or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she ... 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