RELIGIOUS ORDERS. A religious order within the Catholic Church is an organization of persons, either men or women, who profess the three evangelical vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live that obedience under a superior within a community structure in accordance with a specific rule of life. Religious were frequently referred to as "regulars" from the Latin regula, 'rule', because they followed a specific rule. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–547) is considered the father of religious life in the Western tradition, as all religious rules have been influenced in part by the rule he composed from 530 to 540. The many religious orders within the Catholic Church and their different ways of life reflect the specific recommendations and practices suggested by their founders regarding the best way to live their vows in response to the needs and contingencies of the times. There were periods of great revival within religious life, such as the Cluniac reform of the Benedictines in the early tenth century and the creation of the Dominicans and Franciscans in the thirteenth century. The beginning of the sixteenth century saw another revival of religious life and the creation of new religious orders. It was also a time when the condition of clerics and religious life received its severest criticism, especially from evangelical reformers, who hurled their strongest diatribes against the wrongdoing within convents and monasteries. Catholic reformers likewise criticized those monastic communities that showed little regard for the vowed life.
Amid all this controversy a flowering of religious life also occurred, its growth nourished by roots that grew deep in the Middle Ages. The sources that nourished this revival included the Modern Devotion (Devotio Moderna) established by Gerhard Groote (1340–1384) and a mid-fifteenth-century book accredited to Thomas à Kempis (1379 or 1380–1471), The Imitation of Christ, which grew out of this tradition. Likewise, the Oratory of Divine Love, founded in Genoa in the late fifteenth century, gained inspiration from the Modern Devotion and encouraged many future reformers. These and other movements fostered a deeper devotion to the person of Jesus, greater participation in the sacraments of confession and Communion, an emphasis on techniques of prayer and Scripture reading, and an encouragement to perform corporal works of charity among the sick, homeless, and dying.
REFORM OF RELIGIOUS ORDERS FOR MEN
By the end of the fifteenth century several religious instigated reforms within their own orders. Luigi Barbo (died 1443) led a reform of the Benedictines that later became institutionalized through the creation of an alliance of communities known as the Cassinese Congregation (1515). The Augustinians experienced reforming fervor under the direction of Giles of Viterbo (1469–1532), who while prior-general of the Augustinians (1507–1518) enforced existing rules by establishing representatives with powers to remove ineffective superiors and to enforce the rules of community life. Giles's inaugural address at the Fifth Lateran Council (3 May 1512) demonstrated that his concerns went beyond the specific needs of the Augustinian order when he raised issues that would be acknowledged at the Council of Trent thirty years later. Tommaso de Vio (1469–1534), known as Cajetan, while serving as master-general of the Dominicans (1508–1518), stressed reform, studies, and a greater adherence to the common life. The Franciscan community attempted reform, but disagreements concerning the interpretation of poverty culminated in 1517 with a division between Conventuals and Observants, who by that year numbered twenty-five thousand and thirty thousand respectively. Further desires for a stricter observance of poverty and greater reforms further split the Observants into four major Franciscan reform groups: the Discalced, Recollects, Reformed, and Capuchins, of whom the Capuchins exercised the greatest influence.
The Capuchin branch began in 1525, when the Observant friar Matteo Serafini da Bascio (c. 1495–1552) desired to live a more austere life, one he believed conformed to the original rule of Francis of Assisi (1181 or 1182–1226). Soon others joined him, among them Ludovico da Fossombrone (died 1555?), another Conventual. Thanks to the interest and insistence of Caterina Cibo, the second cousin to Pope Clement VII (reigned 1523–1534), Ludovico's codifications of Matteo's ideals received papal approval in 1528. In 1542 the famous preacher and vicar-general of the Capuchins, Bernardino Ochino (1487–1564), left the order and embraced Protestantism, causing the Capuchins to nearly collapse. Only after a few decades did the order regain the papacy's trust. Surmounting this and other difficulties, the Capuchins became one the most important religious orders in promoting reform. The largest order, its membership numbered 8,003 in 1600 and 27,336 in 1700.
NEW RELIGIOUS ORDERS FOR MEN
New religious orders formed alongside the older, reforming orders. A technical point may be made that not all these groups, when first formed, were actually religious orders. True membership in a religious order, in its strictest sense, meant professing the evangelical vows and living under obedience to a superior other than a bishop. Some of the new "orders" of the sixteenth century and early seventeenth century did not at their inceptions require their members to profess the evangelical vows; hence they were not strictly religious orders. This essay, however, considers the establishment of movements that eventually became orders, whether they were strictly "orders" at their foundations or not.
In 1524 Pope Clement VII approved the Congregation of Regular Clerics, established under the guidance of Gian Pietro Carafa (1476–1559), the future Pope Paul IV (reigned 1555–1559); Bonifacio de'Colli (died 1558); and Paulo Ghisleri (1499–1557). Carafa, the first superior of the group, was bishop of Chieti, Teate in Latin, hence the attribution of the more common name of Theatines to the group. These founders, deeply influenced by the spirituality of the Oratories of Divine Love, dedicated themselves to works of mercy, a rejection of benefices, and a revitalization of clerical life. By 1600 they numbered four hundred, and by 1700 they numbered seventeen hundred.
In 1530 Pope Clement VII approved a religious order founded by Antonio Maria Zaccaria (1502–1539). Abandoning the possibilities of a lucrative career as a medical doctor, Zaccaria worked with the poor, taught the catechism, and was ordained a priest in 1528. Officially named the Clerics Regular of Saint Paul, the group became known as the Barnabites, a name taken from their mother church of Saint Barnabas in Milan. The Barnabites, taking Saint Paul as their model, preached, heard confessions, and performed acts of public penance in an attempt to reform the corrupt morals of the time. In 1607 the group had 320 members; a century later it had increased to 726 members.
In 1540 Pope Paul III (reigned 1534–1549) approved the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits. Founded by Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), a Spanish Basque nobleman and former soldier, the Jesuits advanced reform by means of education and preaching in urban, rural, and foreign missions. The Jesuits were known as the "schoolmasters of Europe," their system of education admired by Catholics and Protestants alike. By 1615 the Jesuits supported 372 colleges. By the first quarter of the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries were located in North and South America, India, China, and Japan. In all their ministries the Jesuits promoted a greater participation in the sacraments of confession and Communion, suggesting reception of communion twice a month, an extraordinary frequency for the times. The Jesuits played a crucial role in the implementation of the ideals of the Council of Trent, as they directed most seminaries in Europe, guided the consciences of many Catholic monarchs, and were influential preachers and educators. In 1600 there were 8,519 Jesuits; by 1700 their number had increased to 19,998.
In the same year as the official establishment of the Jesuits, Pope Paul III approved the Clerks Regular of Saint Maol. Jerome Emiliani (1486–1537) established this group initially for the care of orphans. Emiliani was the only founder of a religious order who lived and died a layman. Like other reformers of the period, Emiliani was a member of the Oratory of Divine Love. The order's members became known as the Somachi, named after the town of Somasca, Italy, where their founder died. In 1547 Pope Paul IV, the former Gian Pietro Carafa and cofounder of the Theatines, attempted to merge the Theatines and the Somachi into one group. The union lasted until 1555. An attempt was made to unite the Somachi with the Jesuits, but this also failed. In 1568 Pope Pius V (reigned 1566–1572) raised the status of the Somachi to a religious order. By 1600 they numbered 438 members, and by 1700 they numbered 450 members.
In response to the sickness and mortality rampant in late-sixteenth-century Rome, Camillo de Lellis (1550–1614) organized a group of men dedicated to the care of the sick and dying around the year 1582. In 1591 the papacy elevated the organization to a religious order. At the death of Camillo, the order had 330 members living in fifteen communities throughout Italy.
In 1588 Pope Sixtus V (reigned 1585–1590) approved the Order of Clerks Regular Minor, commonly referred to as the Caracciolins after one of their founders, Ascanio Caraccioli (1563–1608). This new order practiced works of charity and was especially active in promoting devotion and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. By 1700 this order numbered five hundred.
John Leonardi (1541?–1609) founded the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God in Lucca, Italy, in 1574 which received papal approval as an order in 1595. Leonardi advocated a way of life that promoted secluded contemplation and active works of charity. At the death of Leonardi, the order had only two communities, one in Lucca, the other in Rome. They did not extend beyond the Alps until 1800.
The Spaniard José Calasanz (1556–1648) in 1597 gathered a group of men, the Poor Clerks Regular of the Mother of God, who were approved by the church hierarchy as a religious order in 1617. The Piarists, as they became known, took as their only work the education of poor children. Although the Jesuits advanced free education, their emphasis on higher education and its necessary requirement of fluency in Latin made such an education impossible for the poor, who could not afford a good (Latin) grammar school education. The Piarists received official papal approval as a religious order in 1621. In 1646 the Piarists numbered five hundred in thirty-seven communities.
A former Portuguese soldier, John of God (Juan Ciudad; 1495–1550), established a hospital in Granada for the poor in 1537, and a community formed around this effort. After the founder's death, Pope Sixtus V approved the community as a full religious order in 1596. The Brothers Hospitallers, as they were known, expanded throughout Europe and Latin America. In 1600 they numbered 626 members; in 1700 there were 2,046 Hospitallers.
The Oratorians, founded by Philip Neri (1515–1595), were not established as a religious order. They were secular priests who formed a congregation (from the Latin congregare, 'to gather') for the purposes of spiritual growth and to serve as a model for other priests. Pope Gregory XIII (reigned 1572–1585) approved their rule in 1575. These associations or oratories became particularly strong in France, especially under the direction of Pierre de Bérulle (1575–1629), through his work in seminary education.
RELIGIOUS ORDERS FOR WOMEN
During the same time women reformed their existing religious orders and created new ones. In 1536 Teresa of Ávila (Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada; 1515–1582) entered the Spanish Carmelite convent in Ávila. At this time Carmelite convents were microcosms of Spanish society, with particular attention to title, wealth, and status. After twenty years Teresa rejected this style of living and advanced a stricter observation of the Carmelite rule. Fundamental in her reform was the removal of all the privileges of class status, the implementation of begging, and the elimination of all endowments that provided a stable income. As a symbol of this new austerity, the sisters wore sandals and thus were shoeless or "discalced." To be discalced became synonymous with Teresa's reform project. Although cloister was strictly enforced, Teresa recommended that the sisters' prayer life have a missionary focus, the prayer of the contemplative providing spiritual support for missionaries and those working in Protestant countries. Teresa established the first convent manifesting these reforms in 1562. Inspired by her reforms, the Spaniard John of the Cross (1542–1591) established a discalced monastery for men in 1568. Both efforts at reform came under suspicion from religious and civil authorities, but the persistence of their founders extended the discalced reform throughout the Old and New Worlds.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries new religious orders for women were created, though they were not as numerous as their male counterparts. In 1535 Angela Merici (1470 or 1474–1540), on the feast of Saint Catherine Alexandria (25 November), gathered twenty-eight women around her under the dedication of Saint Ursula. They made private promises to live the evangelical vows and to perform works of charity. Identifying her group with Ursula (fourth century?), a female saint known and respected for her work outside the cloister wall, and Catherine of Alexandria (died early fourth century), who professed total dedication to the person of Jesus with the promise of chastity, Angela attempted to create a rule in which the women combined a celibate life with activities outside the cloister. At the founding of the order the Ursulines were not a religious order, as their promises were private and the organization not officially approved; the women lived at home under the protection of their parents. The idea of consecrated virgins outside of cloistered life did not appeal to church authorities, and after Merici's death, and in spite of efforts by her followers to adhere to the original ideal, the church authorities implemented Tridentine regulations concerning strict adherence to cloister for female religious.
Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal (1572–1641) established a way of life for women in France that was less cloistered and placed greater emphasis on the active apostolate. Under the spiritual direction of François de Sales (1567–1622), Chantal's rule was a type of middle way for women who desired neither married life nor the rigors of strict monastic enclosure envisioned by the discalced reform. The Visitation sisters (Visitandines) did not take public vows; instead, they consecrated themselves as brides of Christ and lived under the authority of the local bishop. Such an arrangement did not meet with approval. Parents questioned the welfare of such an arrangement, since it lacked stability and financial security for their daughters' futures. Church authorities disapproved of the looser interpretation of cloistered life. In 1618 the papacy legislated that the Visitation sisters embrace the rule of Saint Augustine and strict monastic enclosure. By 1700 there were sixty-five hundred sisters.
Mary Ward (1586–1646) in England advanced the most radical rule for women who desired to live the vowed life outside the cloister. Ward argued that English Catholics could be best served by women who could move about society freely and unrecognized by authorities and therefore could not live in a cloister or wear a habit. Taking as a model the Jesuits, the English Ladies—or the Institute of Mary—desired to have no authority other than the pope. The idea of uncloistered women religious moving freely across the English countryside did not sit well with the papacy. Although their foundation received papal approval in 1616, they were suppressed in 1631.
Simple conclusions and summaries cannot be made concerning the religious orders of early modern Europe. Jesuits wanted to be known for their strict obedience, the Oratorians stressed individuality, and Teresa of Ávila espoused a "holy freedom" for her sisters in their selection of a confessor and spiritual guide. Some common themes, however, are discernable. All new and reformed orders found inspiration in late medieval spirituality, particularly the Modern Devotion. Religious embraced the vow of poverty with new vigor. These orders placed a great emphasis on education and care for the sick, a response to the demographic increase in the sixteenth century and the growing poverty and illiteracy of the lower classes. All the new orders and some of the reformed desired to transcend the traditional monastic enclosure in some manner. This was particularly true of the Jesuits and other male religious and was attempted by female religious, such as Mary Ward and Angela Merici. Although women religious were subject to strict enclosure, Teresa of Ávila insisted that their prayers breach the convent wall in support of missionary efforts throughout the known world. Active life outside the cloister for women religious had to wait until after the French Revolution.
See also Catholic Spirituality and Mysticism ; Clergy: Roman Catholic Clergy ; Confraternities ; Jesuits ; Reformation, Catholic ; François de Sales .
Cistellini, Antonio. San Filippo Neri: L'oratorio e la congregazione oratoriana: Storia e spiritualità. Brescia, 1989.
DeMolen, Richard L., ed. Religious Orders of the Catholic Reformation. New York, 1994. The best survey on the subject. The bibliographies are helpful for further investigations.
Devotio Moderna: Basic Writings. Preface by Heiko Oberman. Translated by John van Engen. New York, 1988.
Hudon, William V., trans. and ed. Theatine Spirituality. New York, 1996.
Mariani, Luciana, Elisa Tarolli, and Marie Seynaeve. Angela Merici: Contributo per una biografia. Milan, 1986.
Martin, Friancis X. Friar, Reformer, and Renaissance Scholar: Life and Work of Giles of Viterbo, 1469–1532. Villanova, Pa., 1992.
Nimmo, Duncan. Reform and Division in the Medieval Franciscan Order, from Saint Francis to the Foundation of the Capuchins. Rome, 1987.
Pelliccia, Guerrino, and Giancarlo Rocca, eds. Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione. Rome, 1974–1988. The term "institutes of perfection" covers not only religious orders but also all organizations attempting to implement a more devout life. A crucial reference work.
Polgár, László. Bibliographie sur l'histoire de le compagnie de Jésus, 1901–1980. Rome, 1981–1990.
Ponnelle, Louis, and Louis Bordet. St. Philip Neri and the Roman Society of His Times (1515–1595). Translated by Ralph Francis Kerr. London, 1979. Originally published in 1932.
Michael W. Maher
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, there were two types of clergy members. One group, known as the secular* clergy, lived in the world and tended to the spiritual needs of laypeople*. The other type of clergy belonged to religious orders—groups of men or women who lived according to a religious "rule," usually involving vows of poverty, chastity*, and obedience. Many new religious orders appeared during the Renaissance, and many existing orders underwent reforms.
REFORMS OF EXISTING ORDERS
By the 1400s, most religious orders had strayed far from the ideals of their founders. Traditional monasteries, which followed the Benedictine Rule (a series of rules laid down in the 500s by St. Benedict), had fallen into decline in the 1200s and 1300s. They faced competition from the rise of mendicant orders, whose members lived by begging and were forbidden to own property. At the same time, a new system known as the commenda was placing many monasteries in the hands of people who often ran the houses purely for their own gain. During the 1300s, even the mendicant orders fell away from their basic ideal of poverty.
All these problems helped contribute to the growing sense of need for reform within religious orders. Many orders began to return to their founding rules. For example, the Franciscans—an order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the 1100s—had begun as a mendicant order of hermits. Over time, however, the papacy* had eased many of the strict rules under which the Franciscans lived. In the late 1300s a group of monks who followed a reform movement called the Observance sought to restore the order's original ideals. Observant houses appeared throughout Europe during the 1400s. However, other Franciscans, known as Conventuals, opposed their reforms. After years of controversy, Pope Leo X divided the Franciscan order into two parts, the Conventuals and the more rigid Friars Minor. Two even stricter groups of Franciscans, the Minims and the Capuchins, appeared in the late 1400s and early 1500s.
Reform of the Dominicans, another mendicant order, also began in the late 1300s. Dominican religious houses joined together to form larger groups called congregations that were independent of Dominican control but still linked to the order. By the late 1400s nearly all Dominican congregations, except in England, were reformed.
The old-fashioned order of the Benedictines also underwent reforms beginning in 1424. The reform movement tightened the union between abbeys and required monks to take vows to their congregation, not to a specific abbey. These reforms began in Padua, Italy, and spread throughout Europe. One congregation in Austria contained over 100 abbeys.
NEW RELIGIOUS ORDERS
Beginning in the 1500s, several new religious orders arose throughout Europe, especially in Italy. Many of these were a different kind of order known as clerics regular, or priests living under a religious rule. Although they took the traditional vows of monks, they also devoted themselves to active ministries, mostly in schools and parishes. The largest group of this type was the Jesuits. However, a variety of smaller orders for both men and women appeared at this time.
The Jesuits. The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, first appeared in 1534 when Ignatius Loyola and six other students at the University of Paris made a pact to travel to the Holy Land to convert the Muslims. They took vows of poverty and chastity and eventually became priests. However, war prevented them from continuing to Jerusalem. In 1539 they formed a new plan to spread the faith through preaching, hearing confessions, and performing works of mercy. They took a special vow to make themselves available for missionary work anywhere in the world. By the end of the 1500s, Jesuits had missions in India, Japan, China, Brazil, Mexico, and other parts of Spanish America.
In 1548 the Jesuits opened their first school in Messina, Sicily. Until then they had avoided permanent assignments, but the school was so successful that soon the order considered teaching its primary mission. The Jesuits thus became the first teaching order in the Catholic Church. They came to exercise a great deal of influence on education.
Like the Dominicans and Franciscans, the Jesuits remained independent from the control of local bishops. However, the group differed from other orders in several ways. They did not gather together during the day to sing hymns or pray, and they did not wear a distinctive habit. More importantly, the Jesuits used a book written by Ignatius, the Spiritual Exercises, as their guide to spiritual life. This practice unified and motivated the order. Ignatius also insisted on frequent correspondence between Jesuit leaders and the members of the order. This helped to promote a common outlook among Jesuits. Their letters have since provided a highly valuable resource for historians of the Renaissance. Humanism* had a profound impact on the Jesuits. Because of their emphasis on teaching, many Jesuits became expert in subjects such as science, philosophy, and theology. The Jesuits played a leading role in the spread of humanist ideas.
Other Male Orders. Most of the new Italian orders dedicated themselves to charitable acts such as helping the poor, tending the sick, or educating children. One major teaching order was the Piarists, founded by St. José Calasanz. In 1597 he opened a free school in Rome, paid for by donations from wealthy clergy members. The school educated poor boys in the catechism* and in other subjects that helped them to earn a living. Pope Clement VIII approved the order in 1604. The order grew rapidly, but this caused several problems. Standards fell as the Piarists rushed poorly trained teachers into classrooms. Also, the Jesuits grew to resent the Piarists as a rival teaching order. In 1642 the Roman Inquisition* briefly arrested Calasanz and forbade the order to take in new members. However, the Piarists thrived after the pope restored them as a full order in 1669.
One of the more controversial Italian orders was the Barnabites, founded by St. Antonio Maria Zaccaria. In 1533 he and two friends set up a community of priests living the simple life of monks. A friend of his, the countess Ludovica Torelli, founded a similar order for women, known as the Angelics. Several of Zaccaria's married friends then set up a confraternity* called the Devoted Married Laity of St. Paul. Many church leaders saw these three organizations as being too closely linked. The order further damaged its image by its public acts of penance*, in which mixed groups of priests and nuns painted their faces and whipped themselves. The Barnabites fell under suspicion from the Inquisition but eventually received approval from Pope Clement VII in 1533.
New religious orders arose in France partly in response to problems within the Catholic Church, which had been heavily drained by the extended Wars of Religion that ended in 1598. The most influential new congregation was the Oratory of Mary and Jesus, founded by Pierre de Bérulle in 1611. Bérulle saw the priesthood, not the vows of religious orders, as the source of all holiness in the Church. Thus, he established an order of priests who lived together without taking vows and devoted themselves to training new clergy members. Several other orders arose either directly or indirectly from the Oratory, including the Congregation of St. Nicholas-du-Chardonnet and the Congregation of Jesus and Mary.
In 1625 Vincent de Paul established the Congregation of the Mission, another order of priests. Its members, known as the Lazarists, preached, taught catechism, heard confessions, and tended the sick. One of Vincent's followers, Jean-Jacques Olier, founded St. Sulpice seminary, which became a leading center for the training of priests in France.
Orders of Women. The role of women in the Roman Catholic Church underwent a profound change during the Renaissance. Developments within society and the church encouraged women to take a more active role in religious life and to engage in charitable work aimed at helping the poor, the sick, and orphans.
In the late 1300s the Dutch priest Geert Grote founded an order called the Sisters and Brethren of the Common Life. His goal was to promote a religious life devoted to prayer and meditation. Unlike nuns, members of the Sisters came mostly from noble or middle-class backgrounds, did not take vows, and maintained the right to own property. These secular features made the order more acceptable to the public, which feared the growth of religious groups that did not pay taxes. Over time, however, religious and secular authorities began pressing the Sisters to adopt a religious rule. Many of them formed convents and placed themselves under the authority of the church.
In 1535 Angela Merici, a young Italian woman, established a confraternity called the Company of St. Ursula for women who wished to devote themselves to God but could not afford the entrance fee required by most convents to help support the new nun. The order sought to protect the virginity of its members, but did not require them to take vows. The Ursulines taught catechism to young girls and promoted female education. In France, the Ursulines eventually formed traditional convents, and French Ursuline nuns established the first female mission in Canada in the early 1600s.
The Angelics of St. Paul, the female counterpart to the Barnabites, also led a religious life that included performing acts of charity. Their main work involved reforming convents and helping the sick, orphans, and former prostitutes. In time, the independence of the Angelic Sisters aroused opposition from church leaders, and in 1552 the order adopted a cloistered life, shut away from the public.
- * secular
nonreligious; connected with everyday life
- * laypeople
those who are not members of the clergy
- * chastity
purity or virginity
- * papacy
office and authority of the pope
- * humanism
Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living
- * catechism
handbook of religious teachings
- * Roman Inquisition
religious court started in Rome in 1542 to deal with those accused of straying from the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church
- * confraternity
religious and social organization of Roman Catholics who were not members of the clergy
- * penance
act performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin
Woman's Work in a Man's World
During the Renaissance, the Roman Catholic Church made it difficult for women to perform missionary work. After the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the papacy would approve only cloistered orders of women. As a result, those who wished to work in the world often did so without papal approval. For example, Mary Ward of England founded the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the early 1600s. The institute opened several colleges and taught girls in many countries. However, the papacy refused to recognize it as a religious order because its members were not cloistered and because they performed tasks considered unfit for women. Pope Clement XI finally approved the order in 1703.
The phrase is also used, by application, for organized communities in other religions, e.g. tarīqa among Sūfīs, saṃpradāya among Hindus, saṅgha among Buddhists.