Development of Religious Life

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Development of discipline: disciples are called to good order.

Permutations and combinations: evolution happens! "Let's try this. If it works, great. If it doesn't, we'll know what doesn't work."

To be religious is to be connected to God and to other believers.

We are all members of the same Body, but we have different gifts and play different roles in the Body.

When Protestants disagree with each other, they create new churches; when faithful Catholics disagree with each other, they found new religious communities.

In either case, as they say in AA, all it takes to start a new way of life in the Church is "two resentments and a coffee pot."


Classical Era
OT Temple orders: priests, attendants, choirs, musicians
OT Pious men and women, devotees
OT synagogues
OT rabbinic schools
OT "Essenes"
OT John the Baptist
NT 1 Cor 7 gives evidence of people deciding to remain virgins, even in marriage, in order to be free to serve the Lord. Evangelical counsels [gospel-preaching instructions] : give everything to the poor; follow Jesus; rely on begging to preach the gospel; become a "eunuch [a person incapable of having sex] for the sake of the Kingdom" (Mt 19:12). Note well how the Church takes this text symbolically and not literally. When Origen (~185-254 AD) castrated himself, the Church did NOT think it was a praiseworthy act. Origen has never been and never will be canonized (listed as a saint to be venerated and imitated).
250 Persecution of Decius inspires many to flee to the desert and live solitary lives of prayer.
381 Decisive end of the age of persecutions in the Roman Empire.
331‑379 St. Basil wrote the first rules for religious life.
427 St. Augustine wrote rules for a community of women. He also lived in community with friends and fellow priests.
Dark Ages
480‑547 St. Benedict founded many monasteries, especially Monte Cassino.
927 Foundation of the Congregation of Cluny.
Middle Ages
1100 Cistercians reform Benedictine life.
1155 First indisputable evidence of the existence of Carmelite Communities (Order of Mt. Carmel).
1209 St. Francis founded the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans).
1215 St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers (Dominicans).
1517 Martin Luther abandoned the priesthood and religious life (he had been an Augustinian priest) and initiated the Protestant Reformation.
1540 St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).
1680 St. John Baptist de la Salle took over his first school--origin of the Christian Brothers.
1700 Trappists reform Cistercian life.

There are hundreds of other religious communities: Basilians, Carthusians, Ursilines, Sisters of St. Joseph, Redemptorists, Trinitarians, Holy Cross Fathers, Passionists, Paulists, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, Madams of the Sacred Heart, many kinds of Franciscans, etc.

"Count the stars, if you can." Jesus and apostles: peripatetic, homeless.


Evangelical counsels.

Acts: common life (honeymoon of the early Church).

Presbyteroi and diakonoi: servants to the local Church.

Pastoral gifts.

The family is a form of religious life. Marriage is a sacred vocation in the Church. The faithfulness of husband and wife reflects Jesus faithfulness to His Bride, the Church.

Eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom; single for the Lord, like Paul.

Virgins and widows.

Couples living as brother and sister.

"Holy Orders."

Diocesan system.





Orders of monks and nuns.

Never alone. Always surrounded by benefactors, partners, and clients.

Franciscans and Dominicans: mendicants.

Jesuits: contemplatives in action.

Lay saints. Matt Talbot.

Madonna House, Catholic Worker, l'Arche

Covenant communities

Apostolic associations: priests, laity. Oratorians, SOLT.

Personal prelature (Opus Dei)


Third Orders


Canon law on religious life.

Life changes faster than law.

Development of code always outstrips documentation. First people make a discovery, then later it gets codified so that others may use the same type of organization. Both God and His people are highly creative. There is no law that says that "no new way of serving God can be invented." The Church tried to pass that law around the time of the Ignatian innovation, but it got swept away by a torrent of new forms of religious life.

Religious life is not a sacrament. It is a community structure created by volunteers who want to belong to the community.

Religious life is structured by vows. Typically, religious communities take vows of poverty, chastity (celibacy), and obedience. Jesuits and some other orders take a fourth vow of obedience to the Pope.

The various kinds of religious communities in the Church are distinguished from each other, in part, by whether the vows are solemn or simple. Solemn vows give the person making the vows certain rights and privileges; people who take simple vows have fewer rights in the life of their community.


Simple vows.

Solemn vows.

Online Etymology Dictionary, "diocese":
Early 14c., from Old Frence diocese (13c., Modern French, diocèse), from Late Latin, diocesis "a governor's jurisdiction," later, "a bishop's jurisdiction," from Greek dioikesis "government, administration; province," originally "economy, housekeeping," from dioikein "control, govern, administer, manage a house," from dia- "thoroughly" + oikos "house."