The word oblate, meaning "one offered" or "made over to God," has had various nuances in the history of the Church.
Children. From the 4th century onward the term was applied to children dedicated to a monastery by their parents. This practice, which is first found in the Eastern Church in the Rule of St. basil, was inspired, it appears, by the narrative of the dedication of the child Samuel by his parents (1 Sm 1.25–28): "All the days of his life he shall be lent to the Lord." Its early presence in Western monasticism is attested by the benedictine rule, and by the Rules of caesarius and aurelian of arles benedict, for example, allowed in his Rule (c. 59) for infant oblation by noble parents, stating that the parents should draw up the petition on behalf of the infant, and then wrap the petition and the boy's hand in the altar cloth. For the next five centuries and more such parental oblations generally were held to bind oblate children (male and female) irrevocably to the monastic state. Any liberal readings of the prescriptions of St. Benedict's Rule that emerged were more than offset by the rigorous interpretation found in the influential Liber de oblatione puerorum, which rabanus maurus, Abbot of Fulda, wrote to defend himself against the decision of a council at Mainz in 829. There he was charged with imposing the monastic habit by force on the later famous Saxon monk gottschalk of orbais, who at a tender age had been made an oblate by his noble father. By the 12th century, however, when in fact the practice of child oblation had almost disappeared, it was the teaching of the legal schools that a valid act of oblation or of profession could not be made before puberty; but there was no general Church legislation on the matter until the Council of Trent fixed 16 years as the minimum age of profession (cf. Session 25, De Regularibus, c. 15; Con OecDecr 757).
Adults. From the 7th century the term "oblate" was used also of adults who as conversi (lay brothers), devoti, donati, or commissi, looked after the material interests of monasteries. These oblates were never regarded fully as monks, although in the Cistercian order, unlike other monastic orders, it was recognized that "lay brothers" were committed to a life that was consecrated as that of the monks; the acceptance of lay brothers as an integral part of a religious institute occurred only with the founding of the Dominican Order in the early 13th century.
Secular Oblates. In the 13th century, also, the class known as secular oblates came into being to cover those who, while remaining in the world and retaining the usufruct of their goods, donated their possessions to a monastery and lived according to the monastic rule under the direction of the abbot. Under this heading, perhaps, should be listed the association of noble Roman ladies founded by St. frances of rome in 1425 as the Oblates of Mary and later affiliated to the Olivetan benedictines as Oblates Regular of St. Benedict. These Oblates, who now have foundations in Switzerland and the United States, do not give up their property, nor make vows, but live in a community under a mother president to whom they make revocable vows of obedience.
Congregations of Oblates. The word oblate has also been adopted by certain religious congregations founded since the Council of Trent, the principal of which are:
- Oblates of SS. Ambrose and Charles (see ambrosians), a community of secular priests (originally "of St. Ambrose") founded for pastoral work in Milan in 1578 by St. Charles borromeo.
- oblates of mary immaculate (omi), a missionary congregation founded in 1816 at Aix-en-Provence by Eugène de mazenod (later bishop of Marseilles) for the systematic reevangelization of France.
- Oblates of the Virgin Mary (OMV), founded at Carignano, near Turin, Italy, in 1815 by Bruno Lanteri and approved in 1826.
- Oblates of St. Charles Borromeo (of Westminister), a community of secular priests founded at Bayswater, London, in 1857 by Dr. H. E. (later cardinal) manning at the instigation of Cardinal wiseman and along the lines of the Ambrosians. The community received pontifical approval in 1877.
- oblates of st. francis de sales (osfs), founded at Troyes in 1871 by Abbè Brisson (d. 1908) for the education of the young.
- oblates of st. joseph (Guiseppini of Asti, OSJ), a congregation for the education of the poor, which Guiseppe Menello (later bishop of Acqui) founded at Asti, Italy, in 1878.
- Oblates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary (see st. edmund, society of), founded in Burgundy, France, by Ven. M. J. B. muard in 1843, with headquarters at the Abbey of pontigny, where St. Edmund of Canterbury was buried. Dedicated to education and the foreign missions, the congregation was approved in 1911.
Bibliography: Sources. benedict, Regula Monasteriorum, ed. c. butler (3d ed. Freiburg 1935). rabanus maurus, Liber de oblatione puerorum contra eos qui repugnant institutis b. p. Benedicti, Patrologia Latina ed. j. p. migne (Paris 1878–90) 107:419–440. Literature. l. oliger, "De pueris oblatis in Ordine Minorum," Archivum Franciscanum historicum 8 (1915) 389–447; 10 (1917) 271–288. a. lentini, "Note sull'oblazione dei fanciulli nella Regola di S. Benedetto," Studia anselmiana 18–19 (1947) 195–225. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou (Paris 1907–53) 12.2:1857–77. j. marchal, Le 'Droit d'oblat': Essai sur une variété de pensionnés monastiques (Paris 1955). s. hilpisch et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 7:1083–87.
[l. e. boyle]
Recorded from the late 17th century, the word comes via French from medieval Latin oblatus, past participle (used as a noun) of Latin offerre ‘to offer’.