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The English equivalent of the Latin word clausura (from claudere , "to shut up"). This word occurs in Roman law in the sense of rampart, barrier, [cf. Code of Justinian, 1. 2 sec. 4; De officiis Praef. Praet. Africae (1, 27), 1. 4 De officiis mag. officiorum (I, 31)]. In the "Concordia Regularum" of St. Benedict of Aniane, c. xli, sec. 11, we find it in the sense of "case", or "cupboard" ( Migne, P.L., CIII, 1057). In modern ecclesiastical usage, clausura signifies, materially, an enclosed space for religious retirement; formally, it stands for the legal restrictions opposed to the free egress of those who are cloistered or enclosed and to the free entry, or free introduction, of outsiders within the limits of the material clausura.


The actual legislation distinguishes between religious orders and institutes with simple vows ; institutes of men and those of women.


Material Clausura.

According to the present common law every convent or monastery of regulars must, on its completion, be encloistered. A convent is defined as a building which serves as a fixed dwelling-place where religious live according to their rule. According to the common opinion of jurists (Piat, "'Praelectiones juris Regularis", I, 344, n, 4; Wernz, "Jus Decretalium" 658, n. 479) the houses where only two or three religious dwell permanently, and obseve their rule as they can, are subject to this law ; it is not necessary that the religious be in a number which secures them the privilege of exemption from the bishop's jurisdiction. The Congregation of Propaganda seems to have in this opinion its own, in decreeing that, in missionary countries, the law of cloister applies to the religious houses which belong to the mission, and which serve as a fixed dwelling for even two or three regular missionaries of the Latin Rite (Collectanea Propagandae Fidei, Replies of 26 Aug., 1780, and of 5 March, 1787, n. 410 and 412, 1st edit., n. 545 and 587, 2d ed ). On the other hand, the law of cloister does not apply to houses which are simply hired by religious, and which cannot therefore he looked upon as fixed and definitive homes, nor to the Villa-houses to which the religious go for recreation on fixed days or for a few weeks every year.

Strictly speaking, the whole enclosed space -- house and garden -- ought to be encloistered. Custom, however, allows the erection, at the entrance to the convent, of reception rooms to which women may be admitted. These reception rooms should he isolated from the interior of the convent, and the religious should not have free access to them. The church choir, and even the sacristy, when it is strictly contiguous to the church, are neutral territory, here women may enter, and the religious are free to go thither without special permission. It may be asked whether a strictly continuous material barrier is a necessary part of the clausura. Lehmkuhl (in Kirchenlex., s.v. Clausura) is of the opinion that a door which can be locked should separate the cloistered from the other parts of a house of religious. Passerini, however, thinks (De hominum statibus, III, 461, n. 376) that any intelligible sign suffices, provided it sufficiently indicates the beginning of the cloistered part. And even in the Roman law, the clausurae were sometimes fictitious. Finally, it may be added that it is for the provincial superior to fix the limits of the cloister and the point at which it begins, in comformity with the usages of his order and with the local needs; of course his power is limited by the dispositions of the law.

Formal Clausura.

Obstacle to the Free Egress of the Religious. The cloistered religious may not go outside their material cloister without permission, still, the religious man who transgresses this prohibition does not incur any ecclesiastical censure . In two cases, however, he would commit a grave sin : if his absence were prolonged (i.e. exceeding two or three days); and if he should go out by night. Going out at night without permission is usually a reserved case. But what constitutes going out by night? The present writer is of the opinion that the common estimation (which may vary in different countries) defines it. It consists in leaving the cloister without a good and serious motive, at a late hour, when people would be surprised to meet a religious outside his monastery. Canonical legislation carefully provides that religious, when not employed in the functions of the sacred ministry, shall reside in monasteries. The Council of Trent had already forbidden them to leave the monastery without permission under pretext of meeting their superiors. If they are sent to follow a university course, they must reside in a religious house. The bishop can and must punish the violators of this law of residence (Sess. XXIV, De Reg. et Mon., c. iv). Certain decrees of reform, primarily intended for Italy alone, but probably extended by usage, specially forbid religious to go to Rome without permission of the superior general.

Obstacle to the Entrance of Outsiders

Women are strictly forbidden to enter the encloistered portions of a house of male religious. In his "Apostolicae Sedis" (1869), sec. 2, n. 7, Pius IX renewed the sentence of excommunication against violators of this law. This excommunication is absolutely reserved to the Holy See ; it affects the women who enter as well as the superior or religious who admits them. The penalty always supposes, of course, a serious sin on the offender's part, but the moralists are very severe in their appreciation of cases. The fact of having just fully crossed the boundary suffices, according to them, for the commission of a serious sin and incurs the penalty. Such severity is comprehensible when a continuous material barrier separates the cloistered and noncloistered parts of the monastery ; still, the present writer is rather inclined to exonerate that person from a grievous sin who should just step over the boundary and retire immediately. Where there is no such barrier, somewhat more latitude may be allowed. The law makes exceptions for queens and women of like rank, as, for example, the wife of the president of a republic; such persons may also be accompanied by a suitable retinue. Exception is also sometimes made for notable benefactresses, who must, however, previously obtain a pontifical indult. It should be noted that young girls under twelve do not incur this excommunication, but the religious who should admit them would incur the penalty. It is not certain that young girls under seven come under the law ; hence the religious who should admit them would not commit a grave fault or incur the excommunication.

(b) Female

Material Clausura

Those parts of the convent to which the nuns have access are all within the cloister, the choir not excepted. Here the law recognizes no neutral territory. If the convent church be public, the nuns cannot go into those parts accessible to the people. Further, the building should be so constructed that neither the sisters can look outside their enclosure, nor their neighbours see into the court-yards or gardens at the disposal of the sisters. Before establishing a women's convent with cloister, it is the desire of the Holy See -- if it be not a condition of validity -- that the beneplacitum Apostolicum should be obtained; this is a certain obligation for countries, like the United States, which are subject to the Constitution of Leo XIII "Romanos Pontifices", 8 May, 1881. (See also the Letter of 7 Dec., 1901, of the Congregation of Propaganda.)

Formal Clausura

Obstacle to Egress. Under no pretext may the sisters go outside their cloister without a legitimate cause approved of by the bishop. Such is the legislation of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXV, De. Reg. et Mon. c.v.) St. Pius V. restricting still more this law, recognized only three legitimate causes: fire, leprosy, and contagious malady. Without keeping rigorously to this enumeration, we may say that an analogous necessity is always required in order that the bishop may accord the permission. The nuns who transgress this law incur an excommunication reserved absolutely to the Holy See ("Apost. Sedis", see. 2, n. 6).

Obstacle to the Free Entrance of Outsiders.

The law is much more severe for female than for male houses; in fact, even women are rigorously excluded from the cloistered parts. The penalty for those who enter and for those who admit or introduce them is the same -- an excommunication absolutely reserved to the Holy See ("Apost. Sed.", sec. 2, n. 6). The penalty affects all those, and only those, who have reached the age of reason. Hence, in spite of the general terms of the law, it seems probable that the sister who should introduce a child under seven would not incur the ecclesistical censure. This regime, however, admits of exceptions; corporal or spiritual needs demand the physician's or the confessor's presence, the garden must be cultivated, the building kept in repair. Hence general permissions are given to doctors, confessors, workmen, and others. The confessor of the nuns has this permission in virtue of his office, so also the bishop who must make the canonical visitation , and the regular superior. If the convent be under the jurisdiction of regulars, outsiders who need to enter the cloister probably require only one permission, that of the regular superior, except where custom requires also the permission of the bishop or of his delegate (St. Alph., "Theol. mor." VII, 224). Benedict XIV, Lehmkuhl, and Piat, basing their view on the jurisprudence of the congregation of the Council, hold that the bishops permission is always required. This permission, whether coming from the bishop or from the regular superior, should be in writing, according to the wording of the law ; but an oral permission is sufficient to avoid the censure (St. Alph., "Theol. mor.", VII, 223). We may follow the opinion of St. Alphonsus (loc. cit.), who maintains that when one has an evident reason for entering within the cloister, he avoids both the censure and the sin, even though he have only an oral permission. It should be observed that girl-boarders are subject to this legislation. Hence the solemnly professed nuns who wish to occupy themselves with the education of the young must be provided with a pontifical indult.

However, cloistered nuns are not absolutely forbidden all intercourse with the outside world. They may of course receive letters; they may also receive visitors in the convent parlour, provided that they they remain behind the grating, or grille, erected there. For such visits a reasonable cause and a permission from the bishop is usally needed . The permission, however, is not required in case of those who, by virtue of their office, are obliged to have relations with a convent, viz. the ecclesiastical superior, the confessor (for spiritual affairs), the canonical visitor, etc. Except in Advent and Lent, relatives and children are permitted once a week. The conditions for a visit by a male religious are very severe; according to some authors he can only receive permission if he is a blood relation to the first or second degree, and then only four times a year. Further, although an irregular visit on the part of a lay person or secular priest does not constitute a grave a fault, any visit without leave is a mortal sin for the religious. Such is the severity of the prohibition contained in the decree of the Congregation of the Council, dated 7 June, 1669. However, the conditions commonly required for a mortal sin must be present. For that reason some eminent theologians do not think there is a mortal sin if the conversation does not last for a quarter of an hour (C. d'Annibale, Summula theol., III, n. 228). It should be noted, at the same time, that certain usages have mitigated the rigour of the laws here mentioned. In Spain, for instance, the permission of the diocesan authority is never asked for making such visits. And of course the law itself affects only convents where the inmates pronounce solemn vows.


Generally speaking, in a convent or monastery where there are no solemn vows there is no cloister protected by the excommunication of the "Apostolicae Sedis" ; further, women cannot make solemn vows except in a convent which has the clausura. Sometimes, however, this papal clausura is granted to convents of women who make only simple vows. Except in this case the institutes of simple vows are not subject to the laws above-described. As a matter of fact, the only female convents in the United States with either solemn vows or the papal clausura are those of the Visitation Nuns at Georgetown, Mobile, St. Louis, and Baltimore. (See Bizzarri, "Collectanea: Causa Americana", lst. edit. X, page 778, and the decree, page 791.) The fifth convent mentioned in the decree, Kaskaskia, no longer exists. The same is true of Belgium and France, with the exception of the districts of Nice and Savoy. In these countries, therefore, the nuns forming part of the old religious orders have only the cloister imposed by their rules or by such vows as that of perpetual enclosure taken by the religious of St. Clare. It is worth noting that this vow, although it forbids the inmates to leave the cloister, does not forbid them to receive people from outside. They are not, then, acting contrary to their vow which they admit secular persons to the inside of their convents. But in countries where the absence of solemn vows exempts convents of women from the papal enclosure, the bishop, whom the Council of Trent (Sess. xxv, De Reg. et Mon., c.v.) constitutes the guardian of nuns cloister, can censure and punish with ecclesiastical penalties infractions of cloister, and can thus establish an episcopal clausura (cf. Reply, "In Parisiensi", 1 Aug. 1839). In the institutes of simple vows, there is nearly always a partial cloister which reserves exclusively to the religious certain parts of their convents. This partial cloister in the nuns' convents has been committed to the special vigilance of the bishops by the Constitution, "Conditae", 8 December, 1900, second part, and, if we may judge by the present action of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, the clausura in this form tends to become obligatory on all such Institutes. (See "Normae" of the Congreg. of Bishops and Regulars, 28 June, 1901.)


This legislation has for its principal object to safeguard the virtue of chastity. The religious consecrates his person to God, but he is not on that account impeccable in the matter of chastity ; indeed, his very profession, if he does not live up to his ideal, exposes him to the danger of becoming a scandal and a source of the gravest harm to religion. To this principal reason inculcated in the Constitution "Periculoso" of Boniface VIII may be added others; for instance, the calm and recollection necessary for the religious life. The Church has therefore acted wisely in forestalling such dangers and protecting those who aim at leading a perfect life; and for this the external rigour is certainly not excessive. Moreover, this external rigour (as, e.g., the grille) varies much according to local needs and circumstances; and it seems that the recent institutes succeed admirably with their partial cloister, which is not protected by the severe penalties of the Church. The more perfect form, however, is undoubtedly better adapted to the mystic life.



There is no pontifical constitution of universal application which prohibits the egress of the religious. The only written law that might be invoked is the decree of Clement VIII "Nullus Omnino", 25 June, 1599; and it would be difficult to prove that this Constitution is binding outside of Italy. Hence, this element of cloister results partly from usage, partly from special laws. A constitution of universal hearing was projected at the Vatican Council ("De Clausura", c. ii, "Collectio Lacensis", VII, 681). The interdict against the admission of women rests nowadays on the Constitution of Benedict XIV, "Regularis Disciplinae", 3 Jan., 1742, and on that of Pius IX, "Apostolicae Sedis", see. 2, n. 7, 12 Oct., 1869, which renews the censures against offenders.

(b) Female

Here the Apostolical Constitutions abound. We cite some of the more recent which sanction at the same time the two elements of cloister "Salutare", 3 Jan., 1742, and "Per binas alias", 24 Jan. 1747, of Benedict XIV ; add also, for the censures, the "Apostolicae Sedis", see. 2, n. 6, of Pius IX.


For these institutes there is no other law of universal application besides the constitution, "Conditae a Christo", which indeed rather supposes than imposes a certain clausura.


From the very first, the founders of monasteries and the masters of the spiritual life sought to guard against the dangers which commerce with the world and interaction with the other sex offered to those devoted to the life of perfection. So we find from the earliest times, both in the counsels and the rules of the initiators of the religious life, wise maxims of practical prudence. In the Synod of Alexandria (362) we find at the head of the minor ordinances a rule forbidding monks and religious celibates ( continentes ) to meet women, to speak to them, and, if it can be avoided, to see them, (Revillout, "Le Concile de Nicée", II, 475, 476). Still, cloister, as we understand it today, did not exist for the first Eastern monks. Their rules concerning monastic hospitality prove this; otherwise, how could St. Macrina have received the visits of which her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, speaks ("Vita S. Macrinae", in P.G., XLVI, 975)? St. Basil's rules, in recommending discretion in the relations between monks and nuns, prove indirectly the non-existence of a cloister properly so called ("Regulae fusius tractatae, Q. and R., XXX, P.G., XXXI, 997; "Regulae brevius tractatae", 106-11, P.G. XXXI, 1155-58). What seems stranger still in our eyes, in the East there existed double monasteries where, in contiguous houses, if not actually under the same roof sometimes also pious men and women observed the same rule; sometimes also pious women ( agapetai ) shared their homes with monks. As regards Africa, in St. Augustine's day the visits of clerics or of monks to the "virgins and widows " were made only with permission, and in the company of irreproachable Christians (Conc. Carth. III, can. xxv, Hardouin, I, 963), but the cloister proper was unknown, so much so that the nuns themselves used to go out, though always accompanied (Aug., Epist., ccxi, P.L., XXXIII, 963).

In Europe, St. Caesarius of Arles (536) forbade women to enter men's monasteries, and even prevented them from visiting the interior part of a nun's convent (Regula ad monachos, xi; Ad virgines, xxxiv, P.L., LXVII, 1100, 1114); so also St. Aurelius, who further forbade nuns to go out except with a companion (Regula ad monachos, xv; Ad virgines, XL P.L., LXVIII, 390, 401). The Rule of St. Benedict says nothing about the cloister, and even the Rule of St. Francis only forbids monks to enter convents of nuns. It is worth noting that other religious so far surpassed in severity the authorizations of current law as to place their churches under cloister ( Carthusians ; see "Guigonis Consuetudines", c. xxi, P.L., CLIII, 681, 682), or to prohibit the introduction of foods which the monks were forbidden to use ( Camaldolese ). St. Gregory (P.L., LXXVII, 717) in his letter (594) to the Abbot Valentine (letter xlii or xl, bk. IV) complained that the said abbot used to admit women into his monastery frequently, and used to allow his monks to act as godfathers at baptisms, thus associating with the women who acted as godmothers. This last permission appeared to him more reprehensible than the former. In the middle of the fifth century (450-56) an Irish council presided over by St. Patrick forbade (can. ix) the religious and consecrated virgins to lodge in the same inn, ride in the same carriage, or frequently meet together (Hard, I, 1791). About the same time, the Fourth Ecumenical Council (451) subjected to the bishop's jurisdiction the monks who lived outside their monastery. In 517 the Council of Epao (a locality which has not been identified hitherto. See Hefele, "Conciliengeschichte", II, 681; Loning, "Geschichte des deutschen Kirchenrechts", I, 569, n. 2, identifies it with Albon, between Valence and Vienne; the "Mon. Germ. Hist.": Conc, I, l7, refer to Loning) prescribed measures (can. xxxviii) prohibiting any but women of known integrity or priests on duty from entering the monasteries of virgins ( puellarum -- Hard., II, 1051). In the Constitution ("Novella") 133 of Justinian I, peri monachon 16 or 18 March, 539, we meet with a prescription which resembles much more closely our cloister. In the third chapter the emperor forbids women to enter men's monasteries even for a burial service, and vice versa. In the Council of Saragossa (691) the Fathers assembled protested against the facility with which lay persons were admitted into monasteries (Hard., III,1780). Next come the Council of Freising (about 800), which forbids either laymen or clerics to enter nuns' convents (can. xxi in the collection reproduced in the "Mon. Germ. Hist: Capitularia Regum Francorum", I, 28), and the Council of Mainz (813), which forbids (can. xii) monks to go out without the abbot's leave, and which seems (can. xiii) to forbid absolutely all egress for nuns, even for the abbesses, except with the advice and permission of the bishop (Hard., IV, 1011, 1012). In the acts of the synods of 829 presented to Louis le Debonnaire, we find a measure to prevent monks from conversing with nuns without the bishop's permission ["Mon. Germ. Hist.: Capitularia", II, 42, n. 19 (53)]. The Second General Council of the Lateran (1139) forbade nuns to dwell in private houses (can. xxvi) and expressed the wish that they should not sing in the same choir with the canons or monks (Hard., VII, 1222). The Third Council of Lateran (1179) required a cause of clear necessity to justify clerics in visiting convents of nuns. We may add here the decree of Innocent III (1198) inserted in the Decretalia (I, 31, 7), which gives to the bishop the right to supplement the negligence of prelates who should not compel wandering monks to return to their convents.

Thus far we have surveyed the beginnings of the present legislation. In 1298 Boniface VIII promulgated his celebrated Constitution "Periculoso" (De Statu Regularium, in VI°, III, 16) in which he imposed the cloister on all nuns. According to this law all egress is forbidden to them; only persons of irreproachable life are admitted to see the sisters, and that only when there is a reasonable excuse previously approved of by the competent authorities. The bishops (in the convents which are subject to them, as well as in those which depend immediately on the Holy See ) and the regular prelates (in other convents ) are charged to watch over the execution of these dispositions. The Council of Trent (Sess. XXV, De Reg. et Mon., c.v.), confirming these measures, confided to the bishops all responsibility for the cloister of nuns ; it further directed that no man might go out without a written permit from the bishop, and that outsiders, under pain of excommunication, might not enter without a written permit from the bishop or the regular superior, which permit might not be given except in case of necessity. St. Pius V , in his "Circa Pastoralis" (29 May, 1566), urged the execution of Boniface's law, and imposed the cloister even on the third orders. Shortly after, the same pontiff, in his "Decori" (1 February, 1570), defined the cases and the manner in which a professed nun might go outside of her cloister. In this connection may also be mentioned the "Ubi Gratiae" of Gregory XIII (13 June, 1575), explained by the Brief "Dubiis" (23 Dec., 1581). The decree of 11 May, 1669, and the declaration of 26 November 1679 of the congregation of the Council, forbid religious men to see nuns, even at the grating except within the limits referred to above.

This legislation is still further confirmed by the Constitutions of Benedict XIV, "Cum sacrarum", 1 June, 1741, "Salutare" of 3 Jan, 1742, concerning the entrance of outsiders; "Per binas alias", 24 Jan, I747, on the same subject; and the Letter "Gravissimo", 31 October, 1749, to the ordinaries of the pontifical territory on access of externs to the gripes, or gratings, through which they might communicate with cloistered religious; finally, by the constitution "Apostolicae Sedis", 12 October, 1869, which passed sentence of excommunication on all offenders, and abrogated all usages contrary to the Constitution of Pius V on the egress of cloistered nuns (cf. reply of Holy Office 22 December, 1880).

The Apostolical constitutions about the cloister of regulars, and notably the exclusion of women, are all posterior to the Council of Trent. As regards the entrance of women, we have to quote: Regularium", 24 Oct. 1566, and "Decet", 16 July, 1570, both of St. Pius V ; "Ubi Gratiae", 13 June, 1575, of Gregory XIII ; "Nullus", section 18, of Clement VIII, 25 June 1599; "Regularis Disciplinae", 3 Jan., 1742, of Benedict XIV, lastly, the "Apostolicae Sedis" of Pius IX (1869), for the censures. Concerning the egress of religious, the reader may refer to the following constitutions: "Ad Romanum spectat", sections 20 and 21, 21 Oct., 1588, of Sixtus V ; "Decretum illud", 10 March, 1601, of Clement VIII (on the question of journeys to Rome ); also the decree "Nullus omnino", 25 June, 1599, of Clement VIII (for Italy ).


In our historical survey we have already cited the Greek sources of legislation prior to the seventh century. In 693 the Trullan Council, so called from the hall of the palace at Constantinople where it was held, is more precise than which preceded it. The forty-sixth canon (Hard., III, 1679) forbade monks and nuns to go out, except during the day, for a necessary cause, and with the previous authorization of their superior; the forty-seventh canon forbade men to sleep in a convent of women, and vice-versa. The Second Council of Nicaea (787), which Photius cites in his "Nomocanon" (P.G. CIV, 1091), in its eighteenth canon forbids women to dwell in men's monasteries (Hard., iv, 497, 498), and in the twentieth it condemns double monasteries , occupied by both monks and nuns (Hard., IV, 499, 500). Neither Balsamon nor Aristenes, in their commentaries on the canons of the councils (P.G., CXXXVII), nor Blastaris (1332), in his alphabetical list of the canons (P.G., CXLV, under the titles, "Hermits", "Nuns", col. 45-48, 49-50), nor the Maronite council of 1736, has any more recent general law to cite. This Maronite council cites two other Maronite synods of 1578 and 1596 (Coll. Lac., II. 36). In an article like the present it would be impossible to follow the evolution of the Eastern legislation and the Eastern usages in this matter, owing to the multitude of rites and of communities into which the Orientals tend to split up.

We may cite two Catholic Maronite synods of Mt. Lebanon, held in 1736 ancl 1818. The former of these (De monasteriis et monachis, IV, c.ii) recalls the old canons forbids double monasteries, imposes on the monks a cloister similar to that of the Western regulars, penalizing women offenders with sentence of excommunication, reserved to the patriarch. In the third chapter, devoted to sisterhoods, the Fathers recognize that the strict cloister is not of obligation in their church. They allow the nuns to go out for the needs of their convent, but they desire that the nuns shall never go out alone. The execution of these decrees was very slow, and met with much difficulty; and the synod of 1818 had to be convened in order to finally separate the convents of men from those of women.(cf. Coll. Lac., II, 365-368; 374, 382, 490, 491,496, 576.)

The provincial synod of the Ruthenians of the United Greek Rite (1720) introduced what is practically the Roman clausura the excommunication protecting their cloister is reserved to the pope {Coll. Lac. II, 55,58). In the patriarchical council of the Greek Melchite United Church (1812), we find nothing but a simple prohibition to the monks to go on journeys without written permission from their superior, and to pass the night outside of their monastery, except when assisting the dying (Coll. Lac. II, 586). In the Coptic Catholic and Syrian Catholic Churches there are at present no religious whatever. It may be affirmed, as a matter of fact, that the cloister is often relaxed among Eastern monks, especially the schismatics ; the exclusion of women, however, is very rigorous in the twenty convents of Mt. Athos and among the Egyptian monks. There we find even more than the ancient rigour of the Studists for no female animal of any kind is allowed to exist on the promontory (see St. Theodore the studiste, "Epistula Nicolao discipulo, et testamentum" section 5, in P.G. XCIX, 941, 1820). The Basilian nuns of Russian Church also observe a strict cloister.

For CLOISTER in the architectural sense, see under ABBEY.

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