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I. GENERAL VIEW AND EVANGELICAL IDEA OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE

A. GENERAL VIEW

We all have within us that vague and general idea of the religious life which enables us to recognize it when it is described as a life directed to personal perfection, or a life seeking union with God. Under this twofold aspect it is met with in all ages and places: every soul possesses an inclination to good, and an inclination towards God. There are everywhere souls that willingly follow these inclinations and consequently religious souls. Sometimes they attach more importance to the tendency to self-perfection, sometimes to the tendency towards God ; in other words, to the ascetic tendency or the mystical tendency; but since God is the end of man, the two tendencies are so similar as to be practically one. If the Creator has put into our souls the principle of religious life, we must expect not only to find it, more and less intense, in every religion, but also to see it reveal itself in similar ways. We should not be surprised if outside the true Church there should be persons devoted to contemplation, solitude, and sacrifice; but we are not obliged to conclude that our Christian practices are necessarily derived from theirs, since the instincts of human nature sufficiently account for the resemblance. Such an explanation would not explain the origin of these practices: if we are indebted for the monasticism of Pachomius to the worshippers of Serapis, where did they find their inspiration? Nor would the explanation account for the results: whence comes it that monachism has covered not only the East, and Asia, but also Africa, Europe, and the whole of the West?

In our days the historical derivation of certain usages is a thing of small importance; we may admit without hesitation any connexion which is proved, but not one which is merely assumed. The Israelites may have borrowed from Egypt the practice of circumcision, which was the sign of their covenant with Jehovah ; and so certain ascetic practices, even if they had a pagan origin, were nevertheless, as employed by our monks and religious, Catholic and Christian in meaning and inspiration. Moreover, not every doctrine or practice of a false religion is necessarily erroneous or reprehensible; there may be great nobility of character among Buddhist monks or Mussulman dervishes, as there may be faults sullying the monastic or religious habits worn in the true Church.

We need not here present a comparative analysis of the Christian religious life and the religious life of non-Christians, nor even compare our religious with the servants of God in the Old Testament (see ANCHORITES; ASCETICISM; BUDDHISM; ESSENES ; MONASTICISM). But how are we to recognize the religious life of the true and Divine religion? Not by bodily mortifications, which may be surpassed in severity by those of the fakirs; not by mystical ecstasies and raptures, which were experienced by those initiated into the Greek and Oriental mysteries, and are still met with among Buddhist monks and dervishes; not even by the faultless lines of all the plans of Catholic religious life, for God, who desires progress even in His Church, has permitted rough beginnings, experiments, and individual mistakes; but even the persons making these mistakes possess in the true religion the principles which ensure correction and gradual improvement. Besides, in its entirety, the religious life of the true religion must appear to us to be in conformity with the moral and social laws of our present existence, as well as with our destiny; its intentions must appear sincerely directed towards personal sanctification, towards God, and the Divine order. The tree must everywhere be known by its fruits. Now, Catholic religious life infinitely surpasses all other ascetic systems by the truth and beauty of the doctrine laid down in so many rules and treatises, and by the eminent sanctity of its followers such as Saints Anthony, Pachomius, Basil Augustine, Colombanus, Gregory, and others, and finally, especially in the West, by the marvellous fruitfulness of its work for the benefit of mankind. After these preliminary observations, we may confidently look for the true religious life in the Gospel.

B. EVANGELICAL IDEA

We cannot regard as essential everything that we find in the full development of religious life, without ignoring historical facts or refusing them the attention they deserve; and we must correct the definitions of Scholastic writers, and lessen some of their requirements, if we wish to put ourselves in harmony with history, and not be compelled to assign to religious a later origin, which would separate them by too long a period from the first preaching of the Gospel which they profess to practise in the most perfect manner. The Scriptures tell us that perfection consists in the love of God and our neighbour, or to speak more accurately, in a charity which extends from God to our neighbour, finding its motive in God, and the opportunity for its exercise in our neighbour. We say "it has its motive in God ", and for that reason Christ tells us that the second commandment is like to the first ( Matthew 22:39 ); "and the opportunity for its exercise in our neighbour", as St. John says: "If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not?" ( 1 John 4:20 ). The New Testament warns us of the obstacles to this charity arising from an attachment to and desire of created things, and from the cares caused by their possession, and, therefore, besides this precept of charity, our observance of which is the measure of our perfection, the New Testament gives us a general counsel to be disengaged from everything contrary to charity. This counsel contains certain definite directions, among the most important of Which are the renunciation of riches, of carnal pleasure, and of all ambition and self-seeking, in order to acquire a spirit of voluntary submission and generous devotion to the service of God and our neighbour.

All Christians are bound to obey these precepts, and to follow the spirit of these counsels; and a fervour like that of the first Christians will enable them to free themselves from attachment to earthly things in order to set their affections on God and the things of heaven ; while the remembrance of the shortness of this life facilitates the sacrifice of wealth and natural pleasures. The first converts of Jerusalem acted on this principle, and sold their possessions and goods, laying the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. But experience, by which Christ wished His faithful to be taught, soon corrected their errors on the Subject of the future of the world, and showed the practical impossibility of a complete renunciation by all members of the Church. Christian society can no more continue without resources and without children than the soul can exist without the body; it has need of men engaged in lucrative professions, as well as of Christian marriages and Christian families. In short, according to the designs of God who bestows a diversity of gifts, there must also be a diversity of operations ( 1 Corinthians 12:4, 6 ). Every kind of career should be represented in the Church, and one of these should include those who make profession of the practice of the Evangelical counsels. Such persons are not necessarily more perfect than others, but they adopt the best means of attaining perfection; their final object and supreme destiny are the same as those of others, but they are charged with the duty of reminding others of that destiny and of the means of fulfilling it; and they pay for this favoured position by the sacrifices which it entails, and the benefit which others derive from their teaching and example. This life which, in view of the great precept, follows the Evangelical counsels, is called the religious life; and those who embrace it are called religious.

At first sight, it would seem that this life ought to unite in itself all the counsels scattered through the Gospels : that would indeed be the religion of counsels; and certainly, the more fully it inspires the desire and furnishes the means of following the Evangelical counsels, the more fully is it a religious life; but a perfect realization of those counsels is impossible to man ; the opportunity of practising them all does not present itself in every man's life, and one would quickly be worn out if he attempted to keep them all continually in view. We soon learn to distinguish those that are more essential and characteristic, and more calculated to ensure that freedom from whatever hinders the love of God and of our neighbour, which should be the distinguishing mark of the perfect life. From this point of view, two counsels are put prominently forward in the New Testament as necessary for perfection, namely the counsel of poverty: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor " ( Matthew 19:21 ), and the counsel of perfect chastity practised for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Matthew 19:12 , and 1 Corinthians 7:37-40 , and the commentary of Cornely on the latter).

These two counsels teach us what we have to avoid; but it remains for a man to fill his life with acts of perfection, to follow Christ in His life of charity towards God and men, or, since this would be perfection itself, to devote his life to an occupation which will make it tend towards union with God or the service of his neighbour; Religious life then is made perfect by a definite profession either of retirement and contemplation or of pious activity; The profession, negative as well as positive, is placed under the control and direction of ecclesiastical authority, which is entrusted with the duty of leading men in the ways of salvation and holiness. Submission to this authority, which may interfere more or less as times and circumstances require, is therefore a necessary part of religious life. In this is manifested obedience as a counsel which governs and even supplements the two others, or rather as a conditional precept, to be observed by all who desire to profess the perfect life. The religious life which is pointed out to us by the Evangelical counsels is a life of charity and of union with God, and the great means it employs to this end is freedom and detachment from everything that could in any manner prevent or impair that union. From another point of view it is a devotion, a special consecration to Christ and God, to whom every Christian acknowledges that he belongs. St. Paul tells us: "You are not your own" ( 1 Corinthians 6:19 ); and again "All [things] are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's " ( 1 Corinthians 3:22, 23 ).

II. HISTORICAL SURVEY

(l) Earliest Examples of Religious Life (a) Persons

The Christian virgins were the first to profess a life distinguished from the ordinary life by its tendency to perfection; continence and sometimes the renunciation of riches, attached them specially to Christ. (See NUNS.) The Fathers of the first century mention them, and those of the second century praise their mode of living. Shortly after the virgins appeared those whom Clement of Alexandria (Pædagog., I, 7, in P.G., VIII, 320) called asketai and whom the Latin Church called "confessores". They also made profession of chastity, and sometimes of poverty, as in the case of Origen and St. Cyprian . In the Liturgy, they took rank before the virgins, and after the ostiarii or door-keepers. Eusebius (Hist. eccl., III, xxxvii, in P.G., XX, 291-4) mentions among the "ascetics" the greatest pontiffs of the first ages, St. Clement of Rome , St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, and others.

We find in the third century the first distinct traces of the kind of life in which the religious profession becomes by degrees perfected and brought under rule, that of the monks. The note which characterizes them at first is their seclusion from the world, and their love of retirement. Till then virgins and ascetics had edified the world by keeping themselves pure in the midst of corruption, and recollected in the midst of dissipation; the monks endeavoured to edify it by avoiding and contemning all that the world esteems most highly and declares indispensable. Thus the life of the solitary and the monk is a life of austerity as well of retirement. The world which sent travellers (cf. the "Lausiac History" of Palladius ) to contemplate them was astonished at the heroism of their penance. The religious life took the form of a war against nature. The persecution of Decius (about 250) gave the desert its first great hermit, Paul of Thebes ; other Christians too sought refuge there from their tormentors. Anthony, on the contrary, at the age of 20 years, was won by that appeal which saddened and discouraged the rich young man of the Gospel, "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor " ( Matthew 19:21 ). He had disciples, and instituted the monastic villages, in which seekers after perfection, living retired from the world, found comfort and encouragement in the example of brethren following the same profession. St. Pachomius, a contemporary of St. Anthony, brought all his monks together under one roof, thus founding the cenobitic life.

Paul, Anthony, and Pachomius gave lustre to the deserts of Egypt. We need not dwell here upon the parallel development of Syrian monasticism, in which the names of Hilarion, Simeon Stylites, and Alexander the founder of the ac meti, were famous, or on that of Asia Minor, or give an account of the dawn of monastic life in Europe and Africa. Our task is only to depict the main features of religious life and its successive transformations. From this point of view, special mention is due to the great lawgiver of the Greek monks, St. Basil. Comparing the solitary and the cenobitic life, he points out one great advantage in the latter, namely the opportunity which it offers for practising charity to one's neighbour; and while deprecating excessive mortifications into which vanity and even pride may enter, he exhorts the superior to moderate the exterior life reasonably. St. Basil also permitted his monks to undertake the education of children; although he was glad to find some of these children embracing the monastic life, he wished them to do so of their own accord and with full knowledge, and he did not permit the liberty of a son or daughter to be restrained by an offering made by the parents. St. Augustine in the common life which he led with the clergy of Hippo, gives us, like St. Eusebius at Vercelli, a first outline of canonical life. He instituted monasteries of nuns, and wrote for them in 427 a letter which, enriched with extracts from the writings of St. Fulgentius, became the rule known by the name of St. Augustine. St. Columbanus, an Irish monk (d. 615), under whose name a very rigid rule was propagated in Ireland, was the apostle and civilizer of several countries of Europe, notably of Germany.

(b) Characteristics

After this rapid glance at the origin of the religious life we may now consider its principal characteristics.

(i) End

The life of the monks, more systematized than that of the Virgins and ascetics, was, as such, entirely directed to their personal sanctification: contemplation and victory over the flesh were bound above all to lead to this result. The monks did not aspire to Holy orders, or rather they desired not to receive them. St. John Chrysostom exhorted them to be animated by Christian charity which willingly consents to bear heavy burdens, and without which fasting and mortification are of no profit at all.

(ii) Obedience

As good Christians, they owed obedience to their bishop in religious matters, and their profession, if they rightly understood its spirit, made prompt and complete submission easy. But religious obedience, as we understand it now, began only with the cenobitical life, and at the time of which we speak there was nothing to oblige the cenobite to remain in the monastery. The cenobitic life was also combined with the solitary life in such a way that, after a sufficient formation by the common discipline, the monk gave proof of his fervour by retiring into solitude in order to fight hand-to-hand against the enemy of his salvation, and to find in independence a compensation for the greater severity of his life.

(iii) Poverty

Poverty then consisted for the hermits in the renunciation of worldly goods, and in the most sparing use of food, clothing, and all necessaries. The cenobites were forbidden to enjoy any separate property, and had to receive from their superior or the procurator everything they needed for their use; they were not, however, incapable of possessing property.

(iv) Chastity; Vows

Having once entered the religious life, the virgin, the ascetic, and the monk felt a certain obligation to persevere. Marriage or return to the world would be such inconstancy as to merit the reproach of Christ, "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God " ( Luke 9:62 ). Still we have no evidence to prove that there was a strict obligation, and there were no vows properly so called: even for virgins, the passages from Tertullian and St. Cyprian, on which some persons rely, are capable of another interpretation. Certainly a woman who was bound to Jesus Christ by a profession of virginity, and fell into sin, was liable to very severe canonical penalties; but St. Cyprian who regarded such a person as an adulterous bride of Christ, permitted the marriage of such as were not able to observe continency (see Koch, "Virgines Christi" in "Texte und Untersuchungen", 1907). The oldest decretal we possess, that of St. Siricius to the Bishop Himerius (385), brands with infamy the carnal intercourse of monks and virgins, but the question of a regular marriage is not considered (C. XXVII, q. 1, c. 11, or P.L., XIII, 137). Schenute, it is true, introduced a form of vow, or rather of oath, of which the Coptic text has been discovered; but the very reflections which he made before introducing it appear to show that it had no other effect than to secure the execution even in secret of the obligations already contracted by entrance into the monastery : these vows therefore may be compared to the vows made at baptism. No term is specified for their duration, but Leclercq (in Cabrol, "Dict. d'arch. chrét.", s. v. Cénobitisme) presumes that the obligation continued during the term of residence in the monastery. The text is as follows, taken from the German translation of Leipolt: -- "Covenant. I promise (or I swear) before God in His holy temple, in which the word that I have spoken is my witness, that I will not defile my body in any way, I will not steal, I will not bear false witness, I will not lie, I will not do wrong in secret. If I break my oath, I am willing not to enter into the kingdom of heaven, although I were in sight of it. [On this passage, cfr. Peeters, in "Analecta Bollandiana", 1905, 146.] God, before whom I have made this covenant, will then destroy my body and soul in hell, for I should have broken the oath of allegiance that I have taken." And later on occurs this passage: "As for contradiction, disobedience, murmuring, contention, obstinacy, or any such things, these faults are quite manifest to the whole community" (Leipolt, "Schenuti von Atripe" in "Texte und Untersuchungen", 1903, p. 109).

(v) Canon Law

The canons of the Council of Gangra (330) first introduced the law relating to regulars by the recommendations which they address to virgins, continent persons, and those who retire from worldly affairs, to practise more faithfully the general duties of piety towards parents, children, husband or wife, and to avoid vanity or pride. Other particular councils, that of Alexandria (362), of Saragossa (380), the Fifth Synod of Africa (401), and a council held under St. Patrick in Ireland (about 480), decided other matters connected with the religious life. The General Council of Chalcedon (451) makes the erection of monasteries dependent on the consent of the bishop. The Councils of Arles (about 452) and Angers (455) sanction the obligation of perseverance. The same Council of Arles and the Synods of Carthage held in 525 and 534 forbade any interference with the abbot in the exercise of his authority over his monks, reserving to bishops the ordination of clerics in the monastery, and the consecration of the oratory.

(2) Regular Organization of Religious Life (a) Monks and Monasteries

We have now arrived at the sixth century. It will be necessary to go back a little in order to notice the immense influence of St. Basil (331-79) over the religious life of the East and the West. The principles which he lays down and justifies in his answers to the doubts of the religious of Asia Minor, that is in what are called the shorter and longer rules, inform and guide the religious of the present day. St. Benedict was inspired by these as well as by the writings of St. Augustine and Cassian in writing his rule, which from the eighth to the twelfth century regulated, it may be said, the whole religious life of the West. In order to put an end to the capricious changes from one house to another, the patriarch of Western monks introduced the vow of stability, which bound the monk to remain in the house in which he made his profession. The reforms of the monasteries in the tenth and eleventh centuries gave rise to aggregations of monasteries, which prepared the way for the religious orders of the thirteenth century. We may mention the Congregation of Cluny founded by St. Odo ( abbot from 927 to 942) which, in the twelfth century grouped more than 200 monasteries under the authority of the abbot of the principal monastery, and of the Congregation of Cîteaux, of the eleventh century, to which the Trappists belong, and of which St. Bernard was the principal light. Less for the sake of reform than of perfection, and of adapting to a special end the combination of the cenobitic and eremitic life, St. Romuald (d. 1027) founded the Camaldolese Order, and St. John Gualbert (d. 1073) the Congregation of Vallombrosa. From the eleventh century also (1084) date the Carthusians, who have needed no reform to maintain them in their pristine fervour. St. Basil and St. Benedict were expressly concerned only with personal perfection, to which their disciples were to be led by leaving the world and renouncing all earthly wealth and natural affections. Their life was a life of obedience and prayer, interrupted only by work. Their prayer principally consisted in singing the Divine Office. But when it was necessary, the monks did not refuse to undertake the cure of souls ; and their monasteries have given to the Church popes, bishops, and missionary priests. We need only recall the expedition organized by St. Gregory the Great for the conversion of England. Study was neither ordered not forbidden: St. Benedict, when he accepted in his monasteries children offered by their parents, undertook the task of education, which naturally led to the foundation of schools and studies. Cassiodorus (477-570) employed his monks in the arts and sciences and in the transcription of manuscripts.

(b) The Canons Regular

Many bishops endeavoured to imitate St. Augustine and St. Eusebius , and to live a common life with the clergy of their Church. Rules taken from the sacred canons were even drawn up for their use, of which the most celebrated is that of St. Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz (766). In the tenth century, this institution declined; the canons, as the clergy attached to a church and living a common life were called, began to live separately; some of them, however resisted this relaxation of discipline, and even added poverty to their common life. This is the origin of the canons regular. Benedict XII by his Constitution "Ad decorem" (15 May, 1339) prescribed a general reform of the canons regular. Among the canons regular of the present day, we may mention the Canons Regular of the Lateran or St. Saviour, who seem to date back to Alexander II (1063), the Premonstratensian Canons founded by St. Norbert (1120), and the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross founded at Clair-lieu, near Huy, in Belgium, in 1211. The canons regular ex professo united Holy orders with religious life, and being attached to a church, devoted themselves to promoting the dignity of Divine worship. With monks, Holy orders are accidental and secondary, and are superadded to the religious life; with canons as with the clerks regular, Holy orders are the principal thing, and the religious life is superadded to the Holy orders.

(c) The Mendicant Orders

The heretics of the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth century reproached churchmen with their love of riches, and the laxity of their lives; St. Dominic and St. Francis offered on the contrary the edifying spectacle of fervent religious, who forbade their followers the possession of wealth or revenues, even in common. The mendicant orders are marked by two characteristics: poverty, practised in common; and the mixed life, that is the union of contemplation with the work of the sacred ministry. Moreover, the mendicant orders present the appearance of a religious army, the soldiers of which are moved about by their superiors without being attached to any particular convent, and recognize a hierarchy of local, provincial, and general superiors. The order, or at least the province, takes the place of the monastery. Other important points may be noticed: the mendicant orders are founded only by favour of an express approbation of the sovereign pontiff, who approves their rules or constitutions. They adopt the form of vows which relates explicitly to poverty, chastity, and obedience, which was occasioned by the famous dispute in the Franciscan Order. The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis in 1209; they are now divided into three orders recognized as really belonging to the common stock:

(1) the Friars Minor, formerly called Observantines, and more recently Franciscans of the Leonine Union, who may (when there is no possibility of mistake) be called simply Friars Minor ;
(2) the Friars Minor Conventuals ; and
(3) the Friars Minor Capuchins.

The Dominicans, or Friars Preachers, go back to 1215. Since 1245, the Carmelites, transplanted from Asia into Europe, have formed a third mendicant order. Alexander IV added a fourth by his Constitution "Licet" (2 May, 1256) which united under the name of St. Augustine several congregations of hermits : these are the Hermits of St. Augustine. The Servites were added in 1256 as a fifth mendicant order; and there are others. (See FRIAR.)

(d) Military Orders

Before we pass to a later period, it is necessary to mention certain institutes of a quite special character. The military orders date from the twelfth century, and while observing all the essential obligations of religious life, they had for their object the defence of the cause of Christ by force of arms; among these were the Knights of Malta, formerly called the Equestrian Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1118), the Order of Teutonic Knights (1190), the Order of Knights Templars (1118), suppressed by Clement V at the Council of Vienne (1312), at the urgent request of the King of France, Philippe-le-Bel.

(e) Foundation of Orders

The misfortunes of Christendom were the cause of the foundation of orders vowed to the most excellent works of mercy, namely, the Redemption of Captives; the Trinitarians (Order of the Most Holy Trinity ), and Mercedarians (Order of Our Lady of the Redemption of Captives). Both these date from the thirteenth century, the first being founded by St. John of Malta and St. Felix of Valois , the second by St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond of Pennafort. They follow the Rule of St. Augustine and are mendicant orders.

(f) Hospitaller Orders

The hospitaller orders are specially devoted to the relief of bodily infirmities; most of them are of comparatively recent origin. The most celebrated of all, the Order of Brothers of St. John of God, dates from 1572; the Cellite Brothers were approved by Pius II in 1459; the Brothers Hospitallers of St. Anthony were approved by Honorius III in 1218.

(g) The Clerks Regular

The mendicant orders were one of the glories of the later Middle Ages. Fresh needs led in the sixteenth century to a new form of religious life, that of the clerks regular. These are priests first of all, even in respect of their mode of life, and their dress: they have no peculiarity of costume; they undertake all duties suitable to priests, and attend to all the spiritual necessities of their neighbour, especially the education of the young, which the mendicant orders had never attempted. Being clerks and not canons, they escaped at the same time the inconvenience of having a title of honour and of being bound to any particular church; many of them take a vow not only not to seek for ecclesiastical dignities, but even not to accept them. The first were the Theatines, founded in 1524 by St. Cajetan and Cardinal Peter Caraffa, later Paul IV ; then came the Barnabites, or Regular Clerics of St. Paul, founded in 1533 by St. Anton Maria Zaccaria ; the Clerks Regular of Somascha, founded by St. Jerome Emiliani, and approved in 1540, the same year which saw the beginning of the Society of Jesus. We may mention also the Clerks Regular Ministering to the Sick, called Camilians after their founder, St. Camillus de Lellis (1591). Several institutions of clerks regular, notably the Society of Jesus, make profession also of poverty in common and are thus at the same time clerks regular and mendicant orders.

(h) The Institutes with Simple Vows

Till the sixteenth century, the orders of the West were distinguished by their object, their hierarchical organization, their patrimonial system, and the number of their vows ; but the nature of the vows remained the same. The vows, at least the essential vows of religion, were perpetual, and made solemn by profession. Even when the tertiaries of St. Dominic and of St. Francis began to form communities, they distinguished themselves from the first and second orders by the rule they adopted but not by the nature of their vows, which remained solemn. The tertiary nun communities of St. Dominic received (1281-91) a rule from the Dominican general, Munio of Zamora; and communities, both of men and of women, were founded in the thirteenth century with the tertiary Rule of St. Francis. In this way, many works of charity were prevented. But in the sixteenth century Leo X by his Constitution "Inter cetera", 20 Jan., 1521, appointed a rule for communities of tertiaries with simple vows, according to which those only who promised clausura were obliged to observe it. St. Pius V rejected this class of congregation by his two Constitutions, "Circa pastoralis" (29 May, 1566), and "Lubricum vitæ genus" (17 November, 1568). They continued, however, to exist, and even increased in number, first tolerated, and afterwards approved by the bishops ; and subsequently recognized by the Holy See, which, in view of the difficulties of the circumstances, has for more than a hundred years ceased to permit solemn vows in new congregations. These are the religious congregations of men and women to whom Leo XIII gave their canonical charter by his Constitution "Conditæ a Christo" (8 December, 1900). We may mention here an innovation introduced by St. Ignatius, who in the Society of Jesus imposed simple vows for a period preceding the solemn vows, and associated with the fathers professed by solemn vows, priests and lay brothers bound by simple vows only.

(i) The Eastern Orders

The Eastern Church, even that part of it which has remained in communion with Rome, has never known the life and many-sided vitality of the orders of the West: we find in it Monks of St. Anthony, and others of St. Pachomius ; almost all the monasteries are Basilian. As the priests of the Greek Rite are not compelled to leave the wives whom they have legally married, and as celibacy is nevertheless obligatory for the bishops, the latter are regularly chosen from among the monks. From another point of view, the unchanging East shows us in the monks of the present day, the institutions of the first ages of cenobitic life.

III. EXPOSITION OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE

(1) Classical Description of Religious Life; Essential and Non-essential Points

In our rapid survey of the different religious orders, we have seen something of the evolution of the religious life. The Gospel clearly shows us virginity and continence as means, and charity as the end; persecutions necessitated retirement and a first form of life entirely directed towards personal sanctification; community life produced obedience; the inconveniences caused by frequent change of residence suggested the vow of stability; the excessive multiplication and diversity of religious institutes called for the intervention of the sovereign pontiff and his express approbation of rules; the needs of soul and body grafted the practice of corporal and spiritual works of mercy upon personal sanctification, and joined the reception of Holy orders to religious profession ; while the exigencies and difficulties of modern times caused the making of simple vows antecedent to, or in substitution for, solemn vows.

In all these stages, the profession of the Evangelical counsels has been most carefully regulated by the Church. In the existing structure, some parts are fixed and regarded as essential, others are accidental and subject to change; we may then ask what is essential to fully developed religious life. The religious state, to be perfect, requires;

(a) the three evangelical counsels : voluntary poverty, perfectchastity regarded as means to perfection; and in pursuit of that perfection, obedience to lawful authority;
(b) the external profession of these counsels, for the religious state means a condition or career publicly embraced;
(c) the perpetual profession of these counsels, for the religious state means something fixed and permanent, and in order to ensure this stability in practices which are not made obligatory by any law, the religious promises himself toGod by a perpetual vow.

The religious state then is defined, as the mode of life, irrevocable in its nature of men who profess to aim at the perfection of Christian charity in the bosom of the Church by the three perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The religious state may exist in the proper sense without solemn vows, as Gregory XIII showed in his Constitutions "Quanto fructuosius" (2 July, 1583) and "Ascendente Domino" (25 May, 1584), declaring that the scholastics of the Society of Jesus were really religious; without community life, for the hermits were religious in the strictest sense of the word; without oral or written profession, since until the time of Pius IX, even tacit or implied profession was considered sufficient; without express and formal approbation by ecclesiastical authority, as this has only been insisted upon since the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), confirmed by the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Before this time it was enough not to have been repudiated by ecclesiastical authority. However, in actual practice, the express intervention of ecclesiastical authority is required; this authority may be that of the Apostolic See or of the bishop. Many institutes exist and flourish with the approbation of the bishop alone; but, since the Motu Proprio "Dei providentis" (16 July, 1906), the bishop before establishing an institute must obtain the written approbation of the Holy See.

Again, the Church, while not condemning the solitary life, no longer accepts it as religious. Formerly, a religious did not necessarily form a part of an approved institute; there were persons simply called professed, as well as professed in such an institute or such a monastery. At the present day, a religious always begins by entering some approved religious family ; only in exceptional cases of expulsion or final secularization, does it happen that a religious ceases to have any connexion with some particular institute, and in such cases the bishop becomes his only superior. The Church insists on the use of a habit, by which the religious are distinguished from secular persons. A distinctive habit is always required for nuns ; the clerical habit is sufficient for men. Those approved institutes whose members may be taken for seculars out of doors, lack that public profession which characterizes the religious state, in the sight of the Church, according to the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, 11 August, 1889.

The question has long been discussed whether the religious state involves a donation of oneself, or whether the vows, as such, are sufficient. By such donation the religious not only binds himself to be poor, chaste etc., but he no longer belongs to himself; he is the property of God, as much as and even more than a slave was formerly the property of his master. To show that this alienation of oneself is not necessary, it is sufficient to observe that if every religious ceased to belong to himself either for the purpose of marriage, or for the possession of property any contrary acts would be null and void from the beginning; now this nullity has not always existed, and does not exist for all religious at the present day. In reality then the religious state consists strictly in the perpetual engagement, the source of which is found at present in the three vows.

The formal intervention of the Church has the effect of introducing the religious life into the public worship of Catholicism. As long as the promise or the vow remains a purely personal matter, the religious can offer himself to God only in his own name; his homage and his holocaust are private. The Church, in ratifying and sanctioning his engagement, deputes the religious to profess in the name of the Christian community his complete devotion to God. He is consecrated especially by solemn profession, like a temple or a liturgical prayer, to give honour to God.

In practice, when offering himself to God, the religious also contracts obligations to the order whose child he becomes. Does the religious state in itself contemplate any such obligation of submission to an organized society, or to a director or confessor ? There is nothing more natural, it is true, than t


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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.

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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

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