Holy Spirit, Order of the

views updated


An order of hospitallers, founded c. 1180 in France by guy de montpellier. Through the patronage of innocent iii and later popes, the Order of the Holy Spirit rapidly became the vehicle of worldwide comprehensive social programs that lasted for more than 500 years. Before 1198 its chief center was the hospital of the Holy Spirit in Montpellier, which had eight affiliates, including two houses in Rome. Medically progressive in its care of the sick, it expanded Christian hospitality to embrace the works of mercy in general.

Within months of his accession in 1198, Innocent issued the brief His praecipue, recommending the order to all bishops of the world. In the briefs of July 1 and Nov. 25, 1198 (Religiosam vitam ), Innocent moved to make the new order an instrument of his crusade on behalf of the suffering poor, which probably constitutes one of the grandest and least-heralded achievements of his pontificate. Of decisive importance is the bull Inter opera pietatis of June 19, 1204, which committed the newly built Roman hospital of the Holy Spirit near S. Maria in Saxia on the Tiber to the hospitallers of the Holy Spirit and united it with that of Montpellier under the spiritual administration of Guy. The church of S. Maria in Saxia stood near a ruinous complex of buildings that had once been a flourishing house of hospitality for English pilgrims, the Schola Saxonum, founded in the 8th century. Acquiring the site and properties of the Schola Saxonum, Innocent built the hospital of the Holy Spirit in Saxia, delivered it to the Order of the Holy Spirit, and made the entire project directly subject to the Holy See.

Probably from 1204 to 1208, when Guy is known to have lived in Rome, the ancient rule of the order took definitive shape. Both the brothers and the sisters observed the same rule and cared equally for the sick, the indigent, orphans, foundlings, unmarried mothers, the aged, the insane, and the homeless. To supplement the papal-guaranteed income and privileges, the Confraternity of the Holy Spirit enrolled laymen of every social rank. The members provided money and pledged themselves annually to some days of personal service.

By an amazing expansion, hospitals of the Holy Spirit and auxiliary associations, displaying the official device of the double cross surmounted by the dove, sprang up throughout Christendom as legal and spiritual affiliates of the Roman institute, sharing the latter's exemption from local ecclesiastical and civil authorities. The grand master or preceptor of the hospitallers exercised quasi-episcopal power over all affiliates, their workers, clients, and dependents, wherever they existed. There is written record of 1,240 affiliates throughout Europe, with 10 in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Many others left no written trace.

After this prodigious early growth and expansion, periods of decadence set in. eugene iv, in 1444, noting that the ravages of war, negligent administration, absence of the papacy from Rome, and breakdown of religious life had practically destroyed Christian "hospitality," undertook to reform the order, reestablish the confraternity, and personally assume the preceptorship. sixtus iv in 1477, as the order's second founder, tightened the administration and replaced the old buildings with splendid new constructions. Under leo xii in 1826 reform again became urgent. His elaborate plan encountered the opposition of vested interests and died with him in 1829. Pius IX's bull Inter plurima (July 1, 1847) suppressed the Order of the Holy Spirit. Causes of the collapse included the following: rivalry between Rome and Montpellier, admission of unsettled religious from other orders, civil wars, loss of religious dedication to the poor, greedy enjoyment of fat priorates, and parasitic exploitation of the order's handsome properties.

In its best days, the Order of the Holy Spirit and its affiliates embodied the spirit of Christian mercy on a vaster scale and with more creative adaptability than anything hitherto seen in Christendom. From the beginning, it courageously enlisted women religious as infirmarians; it maintained an incorruptible policy of gratuitous service; it spurred medical progress by its schools of anatomy, surgery, and pharmaceutics; it introduced an elaborate program of music therapy not only for mental patients but for all, including infants at feeding time. As an organization it passed from history, but as the spirit of humility serving Christ in the sick and poor it passed over into younger orders and lives on to this day.

See Also: hospitals, history of.

Bibliography: p. brune, Histoire de l'ordre hospitalier du Saint Esprit (Paris 1892). a. canezza, Gli arcispedali di Roma nella vita cittadina, nella storia e nell'arte (Rome 1933). o. de angelis, L'arciospedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia nel passato e nel presente (Rome 1952); Regula sive statuta hospitalis Sancti Spiritus: La piu antica regola ospitaliera di Santo Spirito in Saxia (Rome 1954); L'ospedale apostolico di Santo Spirito in Saxia nella mente e nel cuore dei papi (Rome 1956); L'ospedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia e le sue filiali nel mondo (Rome 1958). j. rath, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 5:114115.

[p. l. hug]

About this article

Holy Spirit, Order of the

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article