I John 2:15-17
"Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love
the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the
world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes,
and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. And
the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the
will of God, abideth for ever. "
All of us are called to be "religious," that is, "to bind" (Latin:
religare) ourselves to God. We are all called to keep the
Two Great Commandments, the
Ten Commandments, and the
Six Precepts of the Church, and to assent to
the Church's teachings. But some of us are called to bind ourselves to God
in a special way, to go beyond the "minimum requirements" and to seek the
higher path -- the path of perfection.
In Matthew 19:16-30, Jesus is asked how to be saved. He answers. And then
He also reveals what we must do to be perfect -- two different things:
And behold one
came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life
everlasting? Who said to him: Why asketh thou Me concerning good? One is
good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said
to him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit
adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour
thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
The young man saith to him: All these I have kept from my youth, what is
yet wanting to me? Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what
thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:
and come follow Me. And when the young man had heard this word, he went away
sad: for he had great possessions.
Then Jesus said to His disciples: Amen, I say to you, that a rich man shall
hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you: It is easier
for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter
into the kingdom of heaven. And when they had heard this, the disciples wondered
very much, saying: Who then can be saved? And Jesus beholding, said to them:
With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible. Then Peter
answering, said to Him: Behold we have left all things, and have followed
Thee: what therefore shall we have?
And Jesus said to them: Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed Me,
in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of His majesty,
you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And
every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother,
or wife, or children, or lands for My Name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold,
and shall possess life everlasting. And many that are first, shall be last:
and the last shall be first.
Since the earliest
times of the Church, men and women sought to live this ideal, and women led
the way, following the advice of St. Paul, who wrote in I Corinthians 7:34,
And the unmarried
woman and the virgin thinketh on the things of the Lord, that she may be
holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married thinketh on the
things of the world, how she may please her husband.... ...A woman is bound
by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is
at liberty: let her marry to whom she will; only in the Lord. But more blessed
shall she be, if she so remain, according to my counsel; and I think that
I also have the spirit of God.
and obedience -- the "evangelical counsels" described by the combined words
of Our Lord and St. Paul -- shaped the path of perfection walked by these
early religious, and which is still walked today by those who have "the call."
In the beginning, these virgins and widows lived with their families while
pledging sexual continence and working for the Church, sometimes as deaconesses
(an office that did not involve Holy Orders,
but by which women functioned to help other women in the Church, such as
at Baptisms). They were a special class in the
Church, women who were living in a "religious state," and they had their
own sign: because in ancient Rome a veil (a red or red-striped one) was worn
by married women, and because Christ is the Bridegroom, these consecrated
virgins and widows also took the veil and were called "brides of Christ."
St. Athanasius (ca. 295-373) wrote of this in his Apologia ad
Constantium, and described how these holy women acted as signs to the
The Son of God,
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, having become man for our sakes, and having
destroyed death, and delivered our race from the bondage of corruption, in
addition to all His other benefits bestowed this also upon us, that we should
possess upon earth, in the state of virginity, a picture of the holiness
of Angels. Accordingly such as have attained this virtue, the Catholic Church
has been accustomed to call the brides of Christ. And the heathen who see
them express their admiration of them as the temples of the Word. For indeed
this holy and heavenly profession is nowhere established, but only among
us Christians, and it is a very strong argument that with us is to be found
the genuine and true religion.
At first, young women would take the veil themselves, or would be given it
by their parents, but soon the giving of the veil to virgins who pledged
continence was done during solemn consecrations by Bishops when the women
were 25 (widows received the veil from priests). And soon the women lived
together in communities.
Third century persecutions drove many of these women, and other Catholics,
into the desert -- but some didn't just use the wilderness as a refuge, but
embraced it in the spirit of mortification and after the example of St. John
the Baptist. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it so well, they "sought to
triumph over the two unavoidable enemies of human salvation, the flesh and
the devil, by depriving them of the assistance of their ally, the world."
The greatest among these ascetics was St. Anthony Abbot (A.D. 251-356),
1 who is known as the Father of
Monasticism. St. Anthony was the son of rich Egpytian parents whose inheritance
he gave up at age twenty, compelled by Our Lord's words to the young man
in the verses from Matthew's Gospel above. He assumed poverty and spent fifteen
years studying the lives of other ascetics and practicing the virtues. He
came to live in a tomb in the Egyptian desert where he was tormented -- mentally,
and brutally, physically -- by demons that would take the shapes of people
and wild beasts.
At age thirty-five, he retreated further into the desert, living absolutely
alone in an abandoned fort for twenty years, seeing no one, talking to no
one. Disciples flocked to the fort, however, begging him to come out and
act as their spiritual advisor, and in A.D. 305, that is what he did. He
spent about five years teaching and organizing them, and then retreated again
for the remaining forty-five years of his life, though now receiving visitors
and occasionally leaving his seclusion in order to help Christians who were
being persecuted by Maximinus or the Arians, and to seek out St. Paul the
While St. Anthony was teaching the ways of the hermit, or "anchorite," his
contemporary, St. Pachomius (ca. A.D. 290-346), was organizing men into
communities, nurturing the seeds of "cenobitic monasticism" (community-based
monasticism, as opposed to the "eremetical monasticism" practiced by the
anchorites) planted by the women virgins. The Pachomian way of life was adopted
by both male and female communities, but it was rather loosely organized,
however, and it took St. Basil the Great (A.D. 329-379) to develop a more
formal "rule" -- a system of organizing the lives of the monastics around
prayer, work, and meals in common. St. Basil's rule called for the monks
who practiced more extreme forms of austerity to be answerable to a superior,
and it eliminated any spirit of competition that might tempt those ascetics
who saw themselves as "spiritual athletes." St. Basil's rule was the standard
for monasteries, both East and West, until St. Benedict of Nursia added his
touches to the monastic way of life, giving rise to the great Age of Monasticism
and, later, the active religious congregations.
The Rise of the Benedictines
St. Benedict wrote
his Rule (read the text here) in around
A.D. 530, in Monte Cassino, Italy (about 80 miles south of Rome) -- now
considered the cradle of the Benedictine Order -- where St. Benedict had
fled from Subiaco, Italy because of persecutions by fellow Catholics jealous
of his popularity. The Rule is marked by its practicality, sensibleness,
and avoidance of the extreme mortifications of the Desert Fathers. Food,
while not luxurious, was plentiful enough, and no monk would deprive himself
of enough sleep and relatively decent sleeping conditions. Community life
is organized as a family in which the Abbot is father and obedience expected;
unlike the ways of other monks, these monastics were expected to remain in
the house in which they made their profession, a rule which gave to the
Benedictines a great stability.
But what made the Rule so popular was its adaptability. While it focused
intensely on work along with prayer, the sort of work done was shaped by
local needs and conditions. Here it might be teaching, there it might be
farming, and in another place it could be illuminating manuscripts or designing
and building cathedrals. St. Augustine of Canterbury took the Rule to England
in A.D. 597, and Charlemagne's son, Louis the Pious -- Holy Roman Emperor
from 814 to 840 -- disallowed all other Rules in his kingdom but that of
St. Benedict. It was monks and nuns that lived under this Rule who, along
with Celtic monastics, evangelized the Germans, Poles, Bohemians, and the
people of the Nordic countries. Eventually, the Celtic monasteries adopted
the Rule of St. Benedict as their own, too.
Now, all of these monasteries were independent Benedictine congregations
that followed the same Rule, with the Abbot of each house being equal to
and independent of the Abbots of other houses. But in A.D. 910, in the Abbey
of Cluny in Burgundy, France, a reform was begun that consisted of opening
daughter houses under the centralized authority of the Cluny Abbot, thereby
forming an actual "Benedictine Order." The dangers of the system were
rooted in its violation of tradition and of the principle of subsidiarity;
the benefits of the system were its uniformity and the strength that comes
in numbers and through mutual support. A spirit of strife grew as the "Black
Monks," as the Benedictines were known, agreed with or loathed the reform.
The Fourth Lateran Council, in A.D. 1215, took matters in its hands and decreed
that the monasteries would henceforth be grouped together into congregations
according to country, with the autonomy of individual monasteries preserved.
Each congregation would have chapters in which each monastery would be
represented (presided over by a president -- not a superior general -- elected
for a limited time) to help ensure uniformity by writing "constitutions"
on the Rule that must be approved by the Holy See (since 1893, under the
reign of Pope Leo XIII, there has also been an "Abbot Primate" who acts as
a nominal "head" of the entire Benedictine Confederation).
So, though the phrase "Benedictine Order" is often used, it's not quite accurate;
"Benedictine Confederation" is the more proper way to put things as the word
"order" indicates centralization.
But, in any case, in addition to the development of branches of the Benedictine
family, true religious orders soon arose to fight the great heresies and
do charitable works. Some of these orders were "military orders" consisting
of knights; others were "hospitaller orders" devoted to caring for the sick
and wounded; and others were "mendicant orders" (orders whose members own
nothing and live by begging), such as the Franciscans and Dominicans and
groups that branched off from them devoted to preaching and charity.
let me explain some terminology.
A "First Order"
is the masculine branch of a religious order, and consists of monks, friars,
A "Second Order"
is the feminine branch, and consists of nuns or sisters. Note that some
congregations of women religious arise totally independently of any masculine
branch, so are not called "Second Orders."
A "Third Order"
is the layman's branch of a religious order, and consists of laymen and laywomen
who belong to the religious order but who may or may not live in community
(if they do, they are called "regular"; if they don't, they are called
congregations might have all three branches; some might have only one or
Now, you'll note I distinguish among "monks," "friars," and "brothers," and
between "nuns" and "sisters." This is the explanation:
Religous who are
cloistered and whose work consists only of that which is compatible with
the cloister are called "monks" or "nuns."
Religious who do
work "in the world," such as the Salesian religious order, are said to be
members of "active orders." Members of active religious orders are referred
to as "brothers" and "sisters" -- unless the Order is a mendicant order (such
as the First Order Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians), in which case
its male members are called "friars" (the female branches of these Orders
are cloistered, traditionally, so their members are called "nuns").
So, to correct
a very common mistake, if you see a woman in a habit, she is not necessarily
a "nun" (in fact, if you see her, chances are she's a "sister"!), and if
you see a man in a habit, he might not be a "monk" but a "friar" or
Note, however, that any woman religious is addressed as "Sister,"
but is referred to as either "nun" or "sister" depending on whether
she is cloistered (of course, if she is an Abbess or Mother Superior, she
is addressed as "Mother Abbess" or "Reverend Mother," etc.). It is the same
with the men: a male religious is addressed as "Brother" (unless he
is also a priest or Abbot, etc.), but is referred to as either a "monk,"
friar," or "brother" depending on whether he is cloistered and what congregation
he belongs to.
As I was saying,
there came to be many new religious orders that sprang up during and after
the Middle Ages, each with a different "charism," or focus and spirit as
determined by its founder. I Corinthians 12:4-12:
Now there are
diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; And there are diversities of
ministries, but the same Lord; And there are diversities of operations, but
the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit
is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given
the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the
same Spirit; To another, faith in the same spirit; to another, the grace
of healing in one Spirit; To another, the working of miracles; to another,
prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, diverse kinds
of tongues; to another, interpretation of speeches. But all these things
one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the
body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ.
All of these "diversity
of graces" are reflected in the different charisms of the various religious
Orders, and they all build up the Body of Christ in their different ways.
In A.D. 1084, St. Bruno founded the Carthusians, who live by a Rule they
call "The Statutes" -- most likely a blend of the Rule of St. Benedict, St.
Jerome's Epistles, the "Vitae Patrum" by Cassian, and other writings of the
Fathers. They dress in white habits with a cowl (or veil, for women), and
their focus is contemplation and solitude.
In A.D. 1098, St. Robert of Molesme founded the Cistercians -- the "White
Monks" -- as a reformed branch of the Benedictine family. Later, in the 18th
century, Reformed Cistercians who became known as "Trappists" began to branch
off in order to adhere to a more strict observance of the Rule, their official
recognition as a separate group coming only in A.D. 1893.
In A.D. 1209, St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order to restore the spirit
of poverty among religious that had too often been infected with a corrupt
spirit of greed. His Rule, known as the
"Regula Bullata," was approved by Pope Honorius III in A.D. 1223. St. Francis's
friend, St. Clare of Assisi, founded with him the Second Order Franciscans
known first as the "Poor Ladies," but now as the "Poor Clares." Later, in
A.D. 1529, a branch called the "Capuchins" was formed in order to re-emphasize
the Franciscan ideals of poverty and contemplation. This great Franciscan
family gave to us St. Agnes of Assisi, St. Bonaventure, St. Anthony of Padua,
St. Bernadine of Siena, St. John Capistrano, Bl. John Duns Scotus, St. Catherine
of Bologna, St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, St. Maximilian
Kolbe, and St.Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio). Its Third Order came to include
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. Louis IX, St. Thomas
More, Pope St. Pius X (and many other Popes), and Dante Alighieri.
In A.D. 1220, St. Dominic adopted the Rule
of St. Augustine and founded the Dominican Order -- officially known
as the "Order of Preachers" -- to evangelize and re-evangelize and, more
specifically, to combat the Albigensian heresies. This Order produced St.
Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, Fra Angelico, St. Peter of Verona,
and St. Vincent Ferrer, among others. Its Third Order was the home of Catherine
In the late 12th century, a group of hermits living on Mt. Carmel in Jerusalem
adopted a Rule written in 1208 by St Albert, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem,
and founded the Carmelite Order with the Prophet Elias as their spiritual
father. During the unrest of the Crusades, they spread north and, in the
14th century, the Second Order was formed -- only to be reformed later by
St. Teresa of Avila, who mothered the Disalced Carmelites. St. John of the
Cross drew his inspiration from her and reformed the First Order soon thereafter.
Other great Carmelites over the years include SS. Simon Stock, Andrew Corsini,
Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the
Holy Face (Thérèse of Lisieux), and Teresa Benedicta of the
In A.D. 1233, seven rich Florentines turned their backs on their worldly
lives, adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, and formed the black-habited Servite
Order, a mendicant order focused on mission work and increasing devotion
to Our Lady, especially to her Seven Sorrows (the Second Order is primarily
In A.D. 1244, a group of hermits from Tuscany also adopted the Rule of St.
Augustine, forming the Augustinian Order which gave the world St. Thomas
of Villanova, Gregory of Rimini, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Nicholas of Tolentine,
and Gregor Mendel -- and which cursed the world with Martin Luther.
In A.D. 1370, St. Bridget of Sweden wrote her own Rule and founded the Brigittine
Order of nuns and monks who focus on the Divine Office and Adoration.
In A.D. 1524, St. Gaetano ("Cajetan") founded the Theatine Order (the "Clerics
Regular") to re-edify the life of the clergy and encourage the laity to practice
virtue. They founded oratories and hospitals, and went on papal missions
to foreign lands. Venerable Ursula Benincasa founded the Second Order of
the Theatines in 1583, devoting herself and her sisters to the simple life
of St. Martha.
In A.D. 1540, St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus -- the
"Jesuits" -- in order to defend the papacy and the Faith. Their focus is
academics and, in order to carry out their work in the world, they dress
as secular priests (who should be wearing black cassocks!). From this once
glorious Order came SS. Francis Xavier, Peter Claver, Robert Bellarmine,
and Isaac Jogues and his martyred companions, and also Athanasius Kircher
(and many other scientists).
In A.D. 1625, St. Vincent de Paul founded the Congregation of Priests of
the Mission, known as "Lazarists" or "Vincentians," to care for the poor
of urban France. Later, he founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent
de Paul, whose distinctive cornette headress (seen in the painting at the
top of this page) was the headress of the Ile de France region of that time.
It is to this Order that St. Catherine Labouré, who was directed by
Our Lady to strike the Miraculous Medal,
In A.D. 1729, St. Paul of the Cross founded the Congregation of Discalced
Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ
("Passionists"), an order dedicated to contemplative community life. The
cloistered Second Order was founded by St. Paul and Mother Mary Crucifixa
51 years later.
In A.D. 1732, the great moral theologian, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, founded
the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer ("Redemptorists") to work for
the poor of Europe and around the world.
In A.D. 1859, St. John Bosco ("Don Bosco")
2, an Italian priest, founded the Salesian
Order, named after St. Francis de Sales. Its mission is to care for the young
and to provide for the education of boys to the priesthood.
In A.D. 1880, St. Frances Cabrini ("Mother Cabrini") founded the Institute
of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Though her dream
was to set up missions in China, she and her spiritual daughters were asked
by the Pope to leave their native Italy and go to New York to care for the
Italian immigrants there. Mother Cabrini founded scores of hospitals, schools,
and orphanages -- work that led to her becoming the first citizen of the
United States to be canonized.
Hundreds of different Orders have grown over the years, nurturing men and
women on the path to perfection, and doing so much good work for the Church.
Praise God for this rich heritage that gave such life to Holy Mother Church
-- and may our religious orders be restored to the glory of God.
1 St. Anthony Abbot is also known as St. Anthony
of the Desert, St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Anthony the Hermit, etc. He is
recognized in art by the presence of a Tau symbol, a long staff (often
Tau-shaped) with a bell on top, a pig, and, sometimes, a rooster or other
animals. You might also see him pictured meeting with St. Paul the Hermit.
He is the patron of monks, swineherds, gravediggers, and domestic animals,
and is invoked against skin diseases -- especially the skin disease named
after him, "St. Anthony's Fire." Read the story of his life in
"Life of Antony" by St. Athanasius (ca. 295-373):
The account of
his meeting with St. Paul the Hermit is not included in St. Athanasius's
work, but is told in "The Life of Paulus, the
First Hermit" written by St. Jerome ca. A.D. 340 - 420).
"Don" (as in "Don
Bosco") is the word used to refer to and address Italian secular priests
-- priests who work in the world, such as at parishes. "Padre" (as in "Padre
Pio") is the way Italian religious priests -- priests who belong to religious
Orders -- are addressed