Religious Orders

General Information

In the Christian tradition, religious Orders are associations of men or women who seek to lead a life of prayer and pious practices and who are devoted often to some specific form of service. Members usually bind themselves publicly, or sometimes privately, by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to lead a dedicated life.

In the Roman Catholic church these associations are of several types. The religious Orders, narrowly defined, include monastic Orders (of which the largest is the Benedictines), mendicant Orders or Friars (such as the Franciscans or Dominicans), and Canons Regular (Priests living in a community attached to a specific church). All of these make solemn vows and say office in choir. In general they all have their origin in the Middle Ages.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
Clerks Regular are societies of Priests who make vows and are joined together for the purpose of priestly Ministry; the Jesuits are a well known example. Societies in which Priests, Brothers, or Sisters, bound by vows, live in community to perform certain kinds of services are called religious congregations and include, among others, the Passionists, Redemptorists, and Vincentians. Religious institutes such as the Christian Brothers are usually composed of unordained persons who take vows and devote themselves to such tasks as teaching. Members of secular institutes are generally laypersons who do not live in community or wear a particular kind of garb but make promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live an ordinary life within conventional circumstances.

Roman Catholic Orders of Nuns or Sisters are generally smaller but more numerous than those of their male counterparts and are devoted primarily to teaching. Some monastic communities are enclosed - the Monks or Nuns rarely leaving their monastery or convent - and devoted to the contemplative life.

In the Eastern church, where Monasticism had its beginnings, religious orders are not differentiated as they are in the West, and most Eastern Orthodox religious individuals are monastics.

Following the Reformation, monasticism disappeared in Protestant countries, but the influence of the Oxford Movement in the 19th century brought about the reestablishment of religious Orders among Anglicans (Episcopalians). A few other Protestant groups have also established religious Orders, among which the best known modern example is at Taize, France. Among the Eastern religions, Buddhism has a strong monastic tradition.

Cyprian Davis

D Knowles, Christian Monasticism (1969) and From Pachomius to Ignatius: A Study in the Constitutional History of the Religious Orders (1966); A D McCoy, Holy Cross: A Century of Anglican Monasticism (1987); E A Wynn, Traditional Catholic Religious Orders (1987).

Also, see:
Christian Brothers
Discalced Carmelites
Marist Brothers

Major Orders
Holy Orders

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet