Saturday, February 26, 2011

Inquiry For Readers on Religious Orders

I have a little question that I wonder if any readers can answer, perhaps someone who knows a lot about Canon Law (a weak point of mine as a Catholic nerd; the legal just doesn't hold my interest like all the other cool stuff) or about religious life.

To set up this question, it might be best to remind everyone of the various classifications of consecrated life traditionally found in the Church and their distinctions canonically.

Technically speaking, a religious order strictly so called is only one canonical subset of religious life. Though the new code of canon law does not emphasize this distinction, and groups all foundations of religious life under the umbrella term "religious institute," traditionally a distinction came to be made between religious orders and religious congregations (a distinction that I think is maintained in the Annuario Pontificio).

An order, technically, is marked by adherence to a Rule and solemn vows (which also required strict papal enclosure for women). Various forms of this sort of religious life were created up through the Counter-Reformation, specifically (in chronological order) the monastic, the canons regular, the mendicant, and the clerks regular. The former two pledge stability to a specific monastery or canonry, the latter are potentially more mobile.

These forms of religious order exist along something of a spectrum between the religious aspect and the clerical aspect. The monastic orders are, in essence, religious. If they are also clerics, this is accidental to the vocation to monastic life. Though later the practice became to ordain most monks priests and make a strict distinction between the choir monks (clerics) and the lay brothers, originally it was mainly a lay vocation and priests were only ordained from among them on an as-needed basis for the community.

In this sense, they might be seen as opposite, on the other end of the spectrum, to diocesan priests who may be expected to be celibate, obedient, and live simply, or secular priests with similar expectations in societies of apostolic life. I say "opposite," because while the monastic vocation is essentially religious and only accidentally potentially clerical too (even if eventually they were usually put together), the secular priesthood is essentially clerical and the "religious" aspect is something accidental to it even if it has become widespread (something they should remember when trying to "enforce" mandatory celibacy!)

In the middle of the spectrum are classes which are essentially both religious and clerical, but in different proportions. The vocation of the canons regular is equally clerical and religious. Between them and the monastics in one direction are the mendicant friars who are primarily religious, but secondarily clerical. Between the canons regular and secular priests in the other direction are the clerks regular, who are primarily clerics, but secondarily religious (which is why their "habit" is simply the dress of secular clerics).

Furthermore, a specific feature of the original concept of the mendicant orders (whose name means "begging" after all) was that they would not just own property in common with each other like the monastics and canons regular, but that even the order itself would not own any property collectively; everything they used being held in trust by the Church as a whole (legally speaking, this meant the Holy See.) Later, all but the Capuchin Franciscans were given the right to administer their own property, and after Vatican II even they may, I think. One might also mention here a more unique class, the Military Orders, who combined the vowed life with fighting the Crusades. The only one of these left are the Knights Hospitaller ("of Malta").

Due to the decisions of the Fourth Lateran Council and the Second Council of Lyons, in order to spread superfluous proliferation, new orders were for a time limited to following one of only four rules: that of St. Augustine, of St. Basil, of St. Benedict, of St. Francis. Other Rules existed in a more limited way, most notably the Carmelite Rule of St. Albert and St. Bruno's Rule for the Carthusians ("the Statutes"). A few later orders have their own Rule (the Jesuits, the Passionists, etc) but one does not as often hear these called a "Rule," as it is subsumed into their constitutions.

Foundation of these religious orders strictly so-called (many of whom are distinguished by the word Ordo in their official Latin name) was reserved to the Holy See. However, the Spirit will not be stifled, and many local organizations began to be founded with the approval of diocesan bishops based on the life of the evangelical councils, but professing simple rather than solemn vows, having only constitutions rather than a Rule (even if the spirituality of a given order or Rule was taken as inspirational). Most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the women did not have to be under papal enclosure but could work in the world in apostolates.

Springing from the older concept of "third orders" and "tertiaries," these were/are known as "congregations" rather than orders, and though for a time it was questioned whether they really constituted "religious life" strictly so called, eventually that term was recognized for them, that they were truly a form of consecrated religious life (though, under the 1917 Code of Canon law, the term "regulars" was still reserved for members of the orders strictly so called). There was a proliferation of these congregations especially in the 19th-century, and their diversity is still with us today.

Unlike the rather straightforward distinction between temporary and perpetual vows, or private and public vows, the simple vs. solemn vows distinction is a rather mysterious one. For a long time theologians argued over what the essential difference consisted in. Arguments often involved the concept of "total surrender" of the self or such abstract ideas. Canonically speaking, the practical difference was basically that it was harder to get dispensed from solemn vows, that solemn religious profession introduced certain permanent canonical impediments even if the person were dispensed, and that they made it actually impossible for the person to legitimately carry out an action vowed against. Mostly this effects the vow of poverty; with a simple vow, the person can still technically own goods, they're just bound to give up their use to the community; whereas, with a solemn vow of poverty, the person cannot even (canonically speaking) own any goods, anything they acquire is automatically ascribed to the institute. The new code of canon law, while paying lip service to this distinction in one clause, very much de-emphasizes it.

Having explained this distinction between religious orders and religious congregations, to conclude this overview I should mention secular institutes, which are the newest form of consecrated life. Consecrated life is taken to mean profession, accepted by the Church, of the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Religious life, specifically, adds the concept of living in community to this, but the Church has lately come to realize that community life, while helpful, is not essential to the consecrated life. Secular Institutes, then, first canonically recognized by Pius XII, are made up of people living in the world, generally working for their own living, not wearing a habit or having communal life (even if some voluntarily group together for mutual support), who nevertheless vow the evangelical counsels.

Institutes of consecrated life may be founded by diocesan Ordinaries (known as institutes of diocesan right) and may later be approved world-wide by the Holy See (known as institutes of pontifical right). Generally, however, the foundation of a new order strictly so called would still be considered reserved to the Holy See.

So, long story short, my question is basically if anyone knows when was the last time this happened? The foundation of orders mostly seems to have stopped around the 17th century, after which congregations in simple vows became the predominant form of foundation. However, I can find a few later examples of foundation of orders. In the 18th century, three Maronite orders were approved by the Holy See. In 1925 the Hieronymite monks were re-approved by the Holy See, after having been suppressed for some time, at the behest of the Hieronymite nuns (who had never been suppressed). And the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception take solemn vows and were approved definitively in 1913, though they might not be considered a "new" order so much as a branch of an old one, given that they became part of the Confederation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine with many much older groups of canons regular.

So...does anyone know of any other religious orders, in the strict canonical sense of the word (ie, not "mere" congregations) approved by the Holy See later than the 17th century??


Han said...

Doesn't the Order of St. Benedict technically date to the late 19th Century? It was my understanding that prior to Pope Leo XIII, the "Benedictine" part of a Benedictine monastery was an adjective describing the tradition to which it adhered since each monastery was independent and not part of a larger body (other than the Roman Catholic Church as a whole).

A Sinner said...

Interesting point.

Still, there were clearly the Benedictines simply so called, and then other groups under the Rule of St Benedict like the Cistercians.

I want to know of separate Orders in that sense founded later in history.