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Religious Life IN GENERAL








Present in the world as a sign of Christ's saving grace, the Church in its history is closely bound to the history of mankind, although it lives by its own inner force. Ecclesial development is always conditioned by the socio­logical, spiritual and cultural factors which influence human progress. In this context, the religious life is but one of the Church's many self-expres­sions in the course of its historical realization. Consequently, the history of the religious life is inseparable from that of the Church as a whole; and the latter bestows its own significance upon it.

This history is subject to the general laws of social life, where periods of vigour alternate with those of decline. It is insufficient however merely to note the succession of these periods; we must also attempt to grasp the meaning of their flow. For history is like a symphony, which delivers up its secret only to those who discern its internal rhythm.

There is no question, in the following pages, of tracing even schematically the history of the religious life. Taking this as known, we shall recall only its broad lines and shall endeavour primarily to grasp its vital rhythm. In this way we hope to gain some insights which will enable us to understand better the present situation of religious life and perceive more clearly how it should be inserted into the Church and world of our day.



I - The Origin and Initial Developments o f the Religious Life (First to Eighth Centuries).


It is in the Gospel, and nowhere else, that the source of Christian religious life is to be found. It does correspond, however, to the profound tendencies of the human soul. Wherever civilization has reached a sufficient degree of spiritualization similar forms of life have appeared.

Thus, in the Greek culture of the sixth century B.C., when the mythological worldview was giving way to the philosophical and theological explanation of reality, Pythagoras of Samos established at Croton a group of disciples dedicated to seeking God and to the contemplation of his mysteries. This was a fraternal life of asceticism and contemplation which already fore­shadowed that of the Christian ascetics. [1]  Similarly there appeared among the Jews the fellowships or haburoth of the Pharisees, at the moment when the Jewish soul was turned, by the spiritualizing influence of prophetic preaching and the spur of foreign domination and exile, to a religious expectation of the Messias. [2] The most obvious and closest kinship to the first Christian communities, however, is to be found in the form of life of the Essene communities, where the entire spiritual life was focused on fide­lity to the God of the Covenant. [3] This similarity is explained, not so much by some hypothetical direct influence, but much more by the fact that Essenism and Christian asceticism emerged from an identical Jewish­-Christian spiritual milieu.

Every Christian vocation is a personal call from Christ. From the begin­ning of his public life, the Lord called disciples to follow him and instructed them concerning the very radical demands of a life which aims at perfection. Nevertheless, it would be a mistaken effort to try to wrest from this or that text of the New Testament any kind of institution of the religious life by Christ Himself. The religious life is not founded upon any particular passage of the Gospel, but springs directly from the evangelical message in its entirety.

We are accustomed to a theology of the religious life based upon a rigid distinction between the precepts and the counsels. Granted that this under­standing of the evangelical "counsels" is still current and that it has solid supports in Tradition; nevertheless we are encouraged by recent Biblical exegesis to re-evaluate this position. It is clear in fact that this idea is born, not directly and immediately from the Gospel, but from an effort to com­prehend the life of Christian perfection. [4]

First of all, as Vatican II calls to mind (L.G., no. 40 and no. 42, 1 and 5), Christ has summoned every Christian without exception to the perfection of charity; nor has he established any degrees within this ideal. Even more, it is not theories on the Christian life that the Gospel offers us, but rather concrete instances which manifest clearly the radical demands of the sequela Christi. The call of Christ always seeks man's unreserved commitment and asks of him an unqualified obedience. Whenever in some way or other the profound unity of the Christian is threatened with dissolution or his heart is in danger of being divided, then radical steps are required of him (and not merely counselled): pluck out your eye; cut off your hand; go, sell what you have. Little by little-not through abstract reflexion, but by its own spiritual experience-the Church has disengaged from the corpus of evangelical doctrine the basic characteristics o€ a style of Christian living wherein these radical dispositions are freely assumed as a permanent state of affairs. In this sense, and in this sense only, is it possible to speak of the evangelical "counsels".

Christ had required of his apostles such a radical life-style. [5] In the sum­maries of the Acts of the Apostles, this life of Koinonia which the Apostles had lived with the Master is shown as the ideal which the first Christians strove to realize within their new circumstances. Here at Jerusalem on the morrow of Pentecost their life was one of fraternal communion, sharing in the one table of the Lord, and common ownership of goods. It is now recognized that these descriptions witness to the community's ideal rather than to the precise historical facts, which were certainly a bit more nuanced than that. But the very fact that this radical manner of living the Gospel was seen as the ideal of the whole community is significant. It is with good reason then that each time the religious life was initiated or reformed, reference was made to this precedent.

Beginning with the first Christian generation, we see virgins and ascetics present in the life of the local Churches. Acts 21, 8-9, for example, tells us about the four daughters of "Philip the evangelist", virgins with the gift of prophecy who lived in their father's house. The story of how Christianity spread with astonishing rapidity is well known. Profiting by the Pax romana and the means of communication furnished by the Empire, it was soon established in every part of the Roman world and even overflowed its borders into eastern Syria, the kingdom of Edessa or Osroene, and Persia. And in all these places we come upon parthenoi of both sexes, who lived in the midst of the ecclesial community and devoted themselves not only to celibacy but to a rigorous asceticism also. They manifested an equal zeal for liturgical worship and for visiting the poor, the sick, and the orphans. In the numerous writings of the second and third century which mention there, it becomes clear that these "virgins" come from every social class and occupation. During these centuries so marked by moral decadence they are the glory of the Churches, which consider them as a group apart and favour them with special deference in the Christian assemblies. Their resolve to live in continence is recognized by the Church, and even before there is any question of an explicit promise this resolve is ordinarily treated as irrevocable.

During these first centuries the Judaeo-Christian Churches were charac­terized by something o£ an ascetical and rigoristic tendency. [6]  This is manifest in a number of documents, such as the Liber Graduum and the apocryphal Gospels. We get the impression that these ecclesial communities in their entirety were living what we today would designate as a "monastic" life. In any event, it was in the midst of these communities and from this Judaeo-Christian soil that there sprang up the first groups of virgins and ascetics; these were the Sons and Daughters of the Covenant, about whom we are informed a little later by St Ephrem at Nisibis and Edessa, and by St Aphrahat in Persia. Along this same line and by a process of homo­geneous development in these groups of ascetics, there appears at the end of the third century that vast movement, so multiform, so diverse and so confusing in the variety of its manifestations, which has been designated by a name that has always been ambiguous: monasticism.

The rise of monasticism had been prepared by the rapid growth of the Church during the third century. While the Roman Empire, having deve­loped into a form of military dictatorship, was losing its vitality and showing signs of considerable decadence in the realm of art, morality, and literature as well as in the arena of politics, the Church was in a state of unceasing growth in spite of the trial of the persecutions. She had soon spread and become established in the most scattered countries of the Empire: Egypt, Spain, Italy, Gaul, and the regions of the Danube. By the time the Edict of Milan confirmed her victory, monasticism was already present and alive nearly everywhere.

Far from being a product exported from Egypt to all the other lands, the monastic phenomenon appeared almost everywhere at once, springing from the vitality of each Church. This accounts moreover for the extreme diversity of its forms.

In Egypt, when Anthony withdrew to his first solitude around 271, there was already in existence a community of virgins in his home town, since he arranged for his sister to stay there. Athanasius wrote a treatise De Virgini­tate addressed to the virgins of Alexandria; and several documents, notably the Lives of St Pachomius, witness to the communities of clerical monks existing in Alexandria. Monks had preceded Anthony into the desert proper, too, and legions were to follow him there. When at Pispir he was gathering his disciples, other anchorites were grouping about Ammon and the two Macariuses to form the great semi-eremitical centres of Nitria, Scete, and the Cells, south of Alexandria. And at the other end of Egypt, at the mouth of the Nile, Pachomius was laying the foundations of his great Con­gregation of cenobites.

Shortly afterwards, Basil organized in Cappadocia a similar form of ceno­bitism, but within the very heart of metropolitan Caesarea. He himself, under the guidance of Eustathius of Sebaste, had previously been. a member of a rigoristic ascetic community which was closely related, in its basic moti­vations, to the Sons of the Covenant of Syria and Persia. After he had become bishop and been formed by his travels through the important mon­astic centres of Lower Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia, Basil chan­nelled the energies of this movement, organizing its ascetics into fraternities which. were to become, throughout the East, the most prevalent form of monasticism. These brotherhoods, dedicated to seeking God and to contem­plative prayer, dwelt in the midst of the local Church while yet preserving a good measure of solitude. Within the great Basilian Monastery, a sort of "City of Charity" founded by Basil, the monks and nuns devoted them­selves to the care of the sick, the poor, and the pilgrims. They were also in some degree the source of vitality for the liturgical celebrations of the local community.

Although Basil, unlike Pachomius, was not the founder of a Congregation, his form of monastic life was diffused even into Northern Syria, the coun­tries of the Caucasus, and western Asia Minor, as well as in his own foun­dations in Pontus, Cappadocia, and Roman Armenia. Through the influence of Gregory of Nyssa, the principal theologian of Basilian monasticism, Basil's doctrine was communicated to the entire monastic world, including that of the West. This diffusion was assisted by the Pseudo-Macarius, Evagrius Ponticus, Cassian, John Climacus, the Pseudo-Denis, and Maximus the Con­fessor, among others.

The monastic movement also pervaded the whole of Palestine and both eastern and western Syria. Besides the Latin monasticism established at Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we find in Palestine from the beginning of the fourth century a system of lauras erected solidly by Hilarion and Chariton. At the end of the century Sabas, a disciple of Euthymius the Great, founded there many lauras, coenobia, hospices, etc. The hermits of Palestine were legion-and they allowed themselves every form of eccentricity. In Upper Syria the plain of Dana was covered with monasteries, and at the mouth of the Euphrates, in the environs of Edessa, Julian Sabas and James of Edessa multiplied the number of lauras and monasteries. Still further afield, at Niniveh and in Persia, the number of monks was also very great. Armenia, Georgia, and Constantinople too possessed their own monastic traditions.

In the West, where Eastern influences are soon apparent, the monastic phenomenon manifests the same spontaneity and vitality. From the second quarter of the fourth century the monastic life was propagated in Gaul among all the social classes, but especially in the rural areas. After a slight let up in the fifth century, during the invasions of the Vandals, Huns, and Visigoths, it flourished anew in the sixth century. The Merovingian saints often showed considerable versatility in their careers, they were by turns hermits, cenobites, preachers, bishops...Among the important centres which developed we should call attention to Marmoutiers, Léríns and Marseilles. Marmoutiers was surely one of the most original of these foundations, for there all the forms of monasticism were housed under a single roof, from the monk-cleric engaged in pastoral work with his bishop to the lay monk occupied in copying manuscripts.

In Italy, the ascetical inclinations inherent in any Christian life were awakened in souls by St Athanasius during the period of his exile; and St Jerome sharpened the edge of this ideal. About 340 Constantina, the daughter of Constantine the Great, had already established a community of virgins at Rome near the Basilica of St Agnes. Then in the days of Jerome the city's patrician ladies, in their mansions on the Aventine,. were leading a life of prayer, seclusion, and penance that was quite monastic. In 363 Bishop Eusebius of Vercelli organized the clerics of his cathedral church into a monastic community. Ambrose did the same at Milan. Sometime later, in the sixth century, in an Italy exhausted from its struggle against the Barbarians and at a time when Rome itself was witnessing a serious crisis for the papacy, St Benedict laid the foundations of the monastic tradition which was destined to dominate the whole of western monasticism until our own times.

In Africa, Augustine founded a lay monastery close to his cathedral, organized his clergy as a monastic community, and brought the virgins together for a common life. Like the ascetical groups which existed there from pre-Augustinian days, this monasticism was to remain alive in Africa until Christian life was just about wiped out in that region by the Arab invasion.

The same picture is presented by the far-off Celtic lands. Truly likeable, these Irish monks-simultaneously in love with solitude yet eternal pilgrims of God, sometimes taking refuge on a desert island, sometimes traversing the world to evangelize the pagans! They were to be joined in these distant reaches o£ the north by St Augustine and his monks; but they were not to appreciate their romanizing intentions. It was from these northern lands that the high-spirited and indefatigable Columban set out at the end of the sixth century to plant Christianity and monasticism across the whole breadth of northern and eastern Gaul. A little later Willibrord did the same in Frisia, and Boniface in Germany.

This rapid expansion of monasticism through the whole Christian world is truly an extraordinary epic. A movement so general, so vigorous, so spon­taneous, springing up everywhere at once and spreading like a spark in a trail of gunpowder, can find its explanation only in a breath of the Spirit.

Thus throughout the first six or seven centuries of the Church's history, both in the East and the West, we discover the Christian life being lived in accord with its most radical demands, the evangelical counsels, by people of every milieu and condition and from among both sexes. Within the local Churches there were virgins and ascetics who embraced the life of celibacy and asceticism without abandoning the normal setting of their life in society. There were others who dedicated themselves to the works of mercy; and some joined together in communities, which continued however to live at the centre of the local Church. Then there were those who took themselves off to a solitary place, into the desert, either to establish there ascetical brotherhoods or to live there in absolute solitude. Some bishops encouraged their clerics to share with them this life of community and asceticism. The "evangelical counsels" therefore were being lived under such diverse forms that there is no difficulty in claiming, from this point forward, that the Church possessed all the forms of religious life with which we are familiar today.

Nevertheless, from the end of the third century, this ascetical movement had developed especially in the specific direction of what was afterwards labelled the "monastic life" properly so called. The terminology though remained very uncertain, for the word "monk", notwithstanding its etymo­logical derivation, was used even at the beginning of the fourth century to designate any of the forms of life according to the evangelical counsels. This means that the word monk had at that time a meaning which was as broad as that .of the word "religious" in our own day. The ambiguity is surely unfortunate, but it is a simple matter of fact. In our day also, even if the word has taken on a more definite meaning, closer to its etymological con­tent, is it really possible for anyone to pride himself on having an infallible criterion for ascertaining which forms of the consecrated life can be con­sidered "monastic" and which cannot?

The extraordinary expansion of the strictly monastic movement was indirectly to have some very significant repercussions on the whole history of the religious life. Until this time the ascetics, whatever their form of life, had been dependent upon their local bishops, just as any other Christians and by the same title. The bishops did not meddle with the inner life of the communities, at least as long as the welfare of all the faithful was not at stake. The growth of the monastic movement, however, obviously neces­sitated a proportionate development of structures; and this itself occasioned the ever-increasing intervention of hierarchial authority aimed at specifying these structures and, when need arose, at reforming abuses. In this way it came about that the early legislation "for religious" was concerned almost exclusively with monks strictly so called. As the legislation grew but abstracted from other forms of consecrated life, these remained unrecognized and were gradually thrust to the periphery. This was true to such an extent, at least in the West, that the Carolingian. reform would acknowledge only one form of "religious" life in the Church, the monastic life lived within an enclosure, in solitude. Even the virgins, who had traditionally lived in the midst of the local Churches, would be more and more compelled to cloister themselves.

Let us not anticipate the facts however. We would only observe that a similar tendency was evident in the East. The Council of Chalcedon (canon 3) had already passed legislation dealing with monks, intended to put them explicitly under the jurisdiction of the local bishops Shortly afterwards, the imperial theocrat Justinian also took cognizance of the monks, in his Novellae (5, 123, 133) : he allowed only the cenobia, in which a complete communal life was observed under a hegoumenos, who possessed moreover a nearly absolute authority. Solitaries were merely tolerated, and they were to remain few in number. Control over the monasteries and their observance was entrusted to the officials of the patriarchate.



II -- From the Carolingian Reform to the Council of Trent.


The astonishing fact about the entire monastic movement described above is that it took place at the very moment when Europe was entering upon an age of darkness and barbarity. From the beginning of the fifth century we witness a disturbing retreat of civilization, evident in the moral decadence and in a frightful decline of culture. Even in the Church we perceive a con­tamination of faith and morals by pagan practices.

While the monks con­tributed greatly to the preservation of culture and the maintenance of moral values, they also were eventually affected. As the monasteries filled with barbarians who had only recently been coated with a light veneer of Christ­ianity, the monastic fervour and way of life, like that of the clergy, grew progressively worse.

While decline in the life of the clergy had been more rapid, their reform also came about more quickly. We recall how bishops such as Augustine at Hippo and Eusebius at Vercelli had tried to have their clergy lead a real monastic life. While this clearly could not be imposed universally, the ideal of common life pure and simple was more accessible to the majority of clerics. In the eighth century, St Chrodegang (+ 766) became the advocate of this renewal of common life (vita canonica) among the clergy. The idea was that of a simple common life within which each one would preserve his own personal possessions; there was no question of an integral practice of the evangelical counsels. Chrodegang drew up for his "canons" a Rule that was heavily influenced by that of St Benedict and which was to play a rather important role in the Carolingian reform.

As Justinian had done in the East, so also Charlemagne undertook the reform of the entire ecclesiastical polity within his kingdom---a fact that went hand in glove with his political aims. He was particularly attentive with regard to the canons and the monks. Attached to the churches were clergy who followed either an explicitly monastic life or else a simple com­mon life. Charlemagne decreed that this uncertain state of affairs should be terminated: either they were to adopt the monastic life within cloister walls and according to the Rule of St Benedict, or else they had to assume the common life of canons under the Rule of St Chrodegang.

This decision was of great consequence for the future of the religious life. First of all, the only form of religious life henceforth admitted, i.e., the only recognized manner of practising the evangelical counsels, was to be the monastic life properly so called. The canons of that era (who should not be confused with the canons regular of a later epoch) were not "religious" in the technical sense of the term; they corresponded rather to our com­munities of common life without vows. Moreover, the monastic life itself was reduced to a common denominator. Until then it had known a great variety of forms; and while a few of the major Rules, especially those of St Benedict and St Columban, had undoubtedly predominated in practice, still there had been no rigidity in this set-up. The Rules were put to use in a spirit of liberty, and monasticism had not ceased to evolve and adapt itself to temporal and local circumstances. The onset of the Carolingian reform, however, introduced a measure of rigidity and brought to light a novel con­cept of the "Rule". Hitherto a monastic Rule had been considered rather as a spiritual document whose profound inspiration was to be preserved. All the great Rules were the common property of the monasteries, with the result that a single community could simultaneously consider two or three different Rules as the basis of its spiritual life. There was no question of adopting literally the material organization provided by a Rule written for some previous century. But from now on the monastic Rule, viz. that of S t Benedict, is no longer considered simply as a spiritual document providing the fundamental inspiration of the life, but as a juridical code delineating the. monastic life even in its details. With this development, the Western religious tradition was tainted by a legalism that it has never succeeded in ridding itself of completely. [7]

Fortified with the support of Charlemagne and his successor Louis the Pious, Benedict of Aniane applied his energy to the furtherance of this reform. A capitulare monasticum, intended to specify the interpretation and application of St Benedict's Rule, was drawn up at the Synod of Aix-la­Chapelle in 817; and a sort of model monastery was even founded (Inden). In case of need, the imperial officials were to keep an eye on the implemen­tation of the reformatory decrees within the monasteries. During the lifetime of the dynamic Benedict of Aniane this reform knew some success, but after his death it collapsed. It was demonstrated once and for all that any reform of religious life grounded primarily on institutional reforms is destined to meet with failure. This reform of monastic life had the same fate as the "Carolingian Renaissance" in its entirety. Indeed this first attempt to erect an edifice of peace, prosperity, and civilization upon the ruins of the Roman Empire was brought to nothing and Charlemagne's Empire broke up. Before long new hordes of Barbarians burst upon Europe: the Vikings coming from the north, the Saracens from the south, and from the east the Hungarians. Another sombre epoch set in for the West.

In the East, after the cenobitic life had been somewhat weakened by the iconoclastic struggle, it experienced a great surge upward at the end of the eighth and beginning of the ninth century. This was due to the reform initiated by Theodore Studite in line with the monastic ideal of Basil and Dorotheus of Gaza.

Fortunately for the West the breath of the spirit, which had been lacking in the Carolingian reform, stirred up almost a century after the Synod of Aix-la-Chapelle the important monastic reform of Cluny. [8] This reform was to be a return, within the juridical framework established by Benedict of Aniane, to the basic exigencies of the monastic vocation: silence, labour, stability, prayer. The Cluniac monasteries were, and were to remain for a very long time, centres of a life of intense prayer and union with God in the midst of a world given more than ever to violence, dissoluteness, and in­justice. The extreme centralization of Cluny was intended to liberate the individual houses from their subjection to the feudal lords, for their times witnessed the ever growing power of the feudal system, whose foundations had been laid by the political organization of Charlemagne. Paradoxically this step was the cause of the "Congregation" of Cluny becoming an im­portant cog in feudal society and finding itself much involved in the political and social life of all Europe. [9]

During the eleventh century these feudal structures attained the apogee of their developments and within the new Ottonian Empire Church and State tended more and more to fuse. It was at this moment that a vast movement began to manifest itself within the Church, a movement of radical reform which was to establish Christianity on new foundations. This reform first became apparent in the Quarrel of Investitures and in the struggle against Simony and Nicolaism; but it reached its apex during the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-1085), so that it is quite properly spoken of as the "Gregorian reform". With this there commences for the Church in the West three magnificent centuries, which find their pure expression in Gothic art. This epoch is extraordinarily endowed with great men and with creative energy; it abounds in saints and mystics. How calamitous that at such a moment as this the great Byzantium fell under the blows of the Crusaders! in 961 however (hence shortly after the Cluniac reform in the West) the monk Athanasius, taking his inspiration from the Studite reform, had laid the cornerstone of the monastery of Lavra on Mount Athos, thus beginning a tradition which would come down to our own day through a millenium marked by alternating periods of grandeur and decline.

Within the Gregorian reform movement the need for a renewal of monastic life quickly came to light. [10]  This necessity did not arise from a situation of laxity in the monasteries; on the contrary, the Cluniac reform had borne excellent fruit. Quite simply, in a changing world, where the Church itself was assuming a new stance vis-a-vis secular society, all the components o€ ecclesial life were being radically questioned, and monastic life in the fore­front. Confronted with the large traditional monasteries, which held vast landed estates and were deeply entangled in the machinery of economic, political, and ecclesiastical life, a very strong tendency arose toward poverty, Solitude; and the ideal of a life of brotherhood such as characterized the pri­mitive community of Jerusalem. St Romuald founded Camaldoli in 1012; and about 1013 John Gualbert established Vallombrosa. Then there were Stephen of Muret at Grandmont in 1124, Robert of Arbrissel at Fontevrault in 1096, St Bruno at Chartreuse in 1084, and Robert of Molesme who foun­ded Citeaux in 1098.

The Gregorian reform stands out as a significant turning point in the history of religious life. Indeed, with the Carolingian reform of the ninth century, there had come about a thorough levelling of the religious life. Beginning with the Gregorian reform and the numerous foundations it occasioned we witness, however, even up to our own time, a sort of "recon­quest". Gradually the various forms of living the evangelical counsels re ain their right of citizenship. And the first reconquest consists specifi­c ally in the renewed recognition of the charismatic character of monasticism, which thus recovers its spontaneity and creativity. Breaking free of the canonical moulds, it blossoms in every shape and variety: urban monasti­cism and desert monasticism, cenobitic life and eremitism, varied mixtures of solitude and community life.

Parallel with this initial reconquest of monastic pluralism, the clergy dedicated to the pastoral ministry also recovered their right to live the evangelical counsels in a public manner, recognized by the Church. It is at this time that the canons regular put in their appearance. The word canonicus had served in the earliest centuries to designate the clergy listed in the registers or canon of a Church; but about the end of the sixth century it began to be reserved rather for clerics leading the common life. We have already seen that this common life was either a true monastic life or, espe­cially since the time of St Chrodegang, a common life without the renun­ciation of private property. From the time of the Carolingian reform, the canons leading this simple common life were clearly set off from the monks. In the tenth century the term canonicus reguIaris was already in use, though not yet with the sense in which we take it. This distinction lay between the canonicus saecularis (who lived independently in the world) and the canonicus reguIaris (who remained faithful to the ancient ideal of community life as found in the Rule of St Chrodegang). In the eleventh century many a reformer, St Peter Damian in particular, would attempt to impose the common life on all canons; nevertheless both types would continue to exist.

At the same time however a new movement arose among the clergy and a new form of clerical life appeared. Assuming for themselves the Rule attributed to St Augustine, several groups of canons regular (in the strict sense) were founded. They led a life fully according to the evangelical counsels, although they were not monks. They observed not only celibacy and the common life, but even the total renunciation of material goods. As early as 1039, in the little church of the St Rufus district of Avignon, four canons of the cathedral began what was to become the Order of St Rufus which was destined to experience a considerable growth (it would number 1,100 houses in 11.51). Among the many similar foundations we should at least mention the canons of St Victor (in 1113) and those of Prémontré (1120).

Life according to the evangelical counsels is therefore once again possible not only for the various types of monks living apart from the world but for the clergy in the service of the local Churches as well. Will it also be practicable for the laity in the world? The latter seem a bit forgotten in this religious context, where religion tends to become the business of clerics and monks.

The case of the "virgins" is typical. In the early days of the Church there had been numerous virgins who lived in the midst of the ecclesial community which recognized and esteemed them. When the monastic ex­plosion occurred, however, these women were absorbed by the movement. Wherever male monasticism developed, the feminine form of monastic life was established on its fringe. Nevertheless the local churches were not totally deprived of the virgins who adorned them. Some of these continued to live in the world, a fact that soon led to the distinction between virgines velatae (living the monastic life) and virgines non velatae (who remained in the world).The latter, however, became a source of anxious concern for the ecclesiastical and imperial authorities; councils, popes, and bishops all sought to gather these devout women into groups living in common. To this end they prescribed for them the rule followed by the canons; and desi­gnated. them "canonesses». In the course of the tenth century, with the decline of the canonical structure, they were separated into the same cate­gories as the canons: there were regular canonesses and secular canonesses. The latter; simply groups of pious women mostly of noble lineage, dropped entirely from view at the time of the French Revolution; while the former became true religious and as such have survived until the present day. Daring the Middle Ages groups of nuns were also affiliated to each of the principal monastic orders.

In practice, after the tenth or eleventh century a woman found it quite impossible to embrace a celibate life for the sake of the Kingdom unless; in one Fashion or other, she walled herself up within a monastic enclosure. Several centuries would still have to pass before the possibility of uncloi­stered women religious would be accepted. During these centuries of unre­fined morality people found it difficult to imagine a woman preserving her virtue if she did not enjoy the protection of either a consort or a convent; aut maritus aut murusl

With the start of the thirteenth century a new development occurred which was to have considerable influence on the evolution of the religious life. Nowhere else in the history of the religious life can we discover such a combination of poetry, charm. and mysticism, as we do in the origins of the Friars Minor. During the previous century we find serious reforms of monastic life and witness the establishment of sedate communities of canons regular. But here we have the spectacle of a youth from Assisi; moved by divine grace, roused by a word of the Gospel; freely and gaily casting off all his' riches and consecrating himself to Lady Poverty and to solicitude for the poor. Yet for all that-and here lay the novelty of it-he never dreamt of shutting himself up in a monastery! Besides, what cloister would have been. able to restrain this vagabond of God, what bounds could one think of imposing on the liberty of God's children possessed in such fullness? A few years later; in February 1209, another word of the Gospel touched his heart:, "Go; preach the message, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand!' " Without complications, without the least thought of getting himself made a cleric, yet without any intention of "founding" something new, Francis, the simple layman, began in all simplicity to preach-and how sublimely! Very soon a dozen young men were following him and sharing his unex­ampled life as a apostle. And the great reforming pope, innocent 111, offered them encouragement. Within a year, in 1210, Clare, a charming girl of Assisi, plunged into solitude, taking up residence in the neighbourhood of the house where Francis and his companions had established their brother- hood. In no time she had become the founders of the Poor Ladies. Other men and women; moreover, living in the world and pursuing their usual responsibilities, were moved by the preaching and example of the Friars Minor to gather together in order to renew and to live in depth their Christian life. This was the formula of the Third Orders, which would play such an important part in the slow struggle to declericalize the Christian religion during the following centuries.

It had been Francis's intention that his disciples should be ordinary laymen, living in the midst of the world and for the sake of Christians who were in the world. By penance, prayer, and preaching they would participate in the . life of Christ, the poor man. Development on the institutional level, however, brought with it the rapid transformation of his community into a clerical Order. Nevertheless his foundation holds a place of extreme importance in the patterns of change [la dynamique] of the religious life. With it the practice of the evangelical counsels once again appeared outside of monastic enclosures and canonries, on the open roads, with the full liberty of God's children. Although the Lateran Council of 1215, responding to the some­what chaotic proliferation of religious orders, forbade the authorization of new congregations and decreed the adoption of an already approved rule by would-be founders of religious societies; nevertheless, by the will of in­nocent III himself, the Friars Minor were exempted from this unfortunate law which once again froze the evolution of religious life.

At the very time when the Poverello was beginning his life as God's trou­badour, a young Premonstratensian canon regular named Dominic, in com­pany with his bishop, undertook a career o€ preaching among the Christians of Languedoc who were ravaged by the Albigensian heresy. From this ex­perience was to spring the foundation of a group which sought to combine the witness of brotherhood and of a poor and penitential life with a total consecration to teaching and preaching on every latitude of the globe. Dominic did not enjoy the last chance that Francis had to get his rule of life approved before the restrictive legislation of 1215; consequently he was obliged to adopt an existing rule, and chose that of the canons regular, attri­buted to St Augustine. Thus a new Order was born; similar on many counts to that of Francis; it was a successful blend of the apostolic life with the traditional austerity and renunciation of monasticism; and organized accord­ing to the rules of life of the canons regular.

The second half of the century saw the creation of other mendicant com­munities, most noteworthy being the Carmelites and the Hermits of St Augustine. This foundation o£ the mendicant Orders is important, since it implies recognition of the principle of a consecrated life combining the integral practice of the evangelical counsels with a lay or clerical life com­mitted . by vocation, to an active apostolate within the world. So too the creation of the Third Orders has its own significance in the history of the gradual advancement of the laity within the Church. Nevertheless, the decision of 1215 was to prove a considerable barrier in the subsequent evo­lution of religious life; it would force the new foundations raised up by the Spirit to be cast in moulds, which restricted the full expansion of their own particular charism.

Yet the twelfth century had also witnessed the founding of a few Orders o f a rather special character, and these also, in their own way, contributed to the recovery of pluralism in the forms of religious life. There is no point in lingering over the typically medieval example of the military Orders of knighthood. The Orders of Hospitallers surely approach more closely the ideal of religious life. These include the Antonines, the Brethren of the Holy Spirit, the Brethren of St Lazarus, the Croisiers, etc. On the whole, they were similar or subsequently assimilated to the canons regular; so, for example, the Antonines, founded in 1095 and reorganized by Boniface VIII ill. 1297 as a congregation of canons regular. Alongside these, another rather unusual enterprise was that of the redemptive Orders, such as the Trinitarians founded in 1198 or the Mercedarians in 1223. Although they had to fit into a framework which little suited them, these foundations al­ready anticipated our religious communities dedicated to specific corporal work, of mercy.

If this eruption of new Orders did not occur in the East; it is because there monasticism remained more supple and pluralistic, unaffected by the uni­formity which the Carolingian reform had imposed on religious life in the West. - In the East "monks" were ready when needed to perform all the services. (preaching, care of the sick, education) for which new institutes had been established in the West.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the West were truly golden ages for both the traditional and the new orders. Vitality abounded everywhere. The Monastic Orders multiplied their foundations and persisted in their fervour; and the Mendicant Orders carried the Word of God across Europe and even into the most distant mission lands.

This great movement of expansion stimulated a serious theological effort to reflect on and systematically explain the religious life. While this was necessary and useful in itself, such systematization nevertheless had its dis­advantages. Hitherto commitment to the religious life had included a pro­mise, a "professio", by which one pledged himself to a certain way of life. The commitment to celibacy, Or the "vow of virginity", was often explicitly mentioned. In the new Orders, and first of all among the Franciscans, the formula of profession rendered explicit the three vows which had become traditional: poverty, chastity and obedience. Simultaneously emphasis was being given to the already accepted distinction between the "simple vow" of chastity (i.e., an ordinary vow, without official recognition by the Church) and the solemn vow (vii., that recognized and consecrated by the Church in a ritual action). This distinction was subsequently extended to the two other vows. Since this solemn profession was practised in all the monastic Orders, the opinion quickly gained acceptance that religious conse­cration did not exist without the three solemn vows (though some of these might be stated implicitly), and that these three vows (called henceforth the three "essential vows" of the religious state) were a condition sine qua non of that "state". For the nuns, the situation became even more restrictive after the thirteenth century, for the solemn vows (constitutive of the religious state) were inseparably bound up with the obligation of strict papal enclosure.

Such systematization and the rigid legal forms engendered by it need not surprise us if we recall that this new flourishing of the religious life was rooted in the Gregorian reform, a period for the Church of institutionalization and centralization, marked by a rather pronounced development of canon law. Onto the new juridical conception of the vows was grafted a new theology of the religious life, based upon the idea of the "three evangelical counsels", which has prevailed to this day. It is beginning however to give way to a more comprehensive view of the Gospel's teaching about the perfect life.

The religious life was considered henceforth much more as a state than as a life-a view that manifests a distinctly medieval preoccupation. Only those were acknowledged as religious who met the necessary requirements for belonging to such a "state"; and the possibility of living the evangelical counsels outside of this fixed framework was not recognized. Life however, when sufficiently vigorous, has a way of breaking through forms that are too rigid and creating its own norms. There developed alongside the esta­blished religious life a full-fledged movement which heralded the forms of life of our numerous modern congregations. It was primarily the Tertiaries of St Francis and St Dominic who set this development in motion. In ever greater numbers they hastened to adopt the common life, with juridical bonds that were more or less rigorous. Sometimes they made vows o€ celi­bacy. In 1289 Nicholas IV greatly furthered the organization of these movements by his approval of the Rule for Tertiaries of the Franciscan Order. These communities often observed the "three vows" even though they were not solemnly recognized.

Somewhat later, especially in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the societies of "gray nuns" or "black nuns" appeared, and spread through northern France and Belgium. These were nursing congregations whose members attended the sick even in their homes. They took the three vows of religion, even publicly; but still they were not considered "religious", since their vows were not solemn and they did not observe the papal enclo­sure. A fact, however, that preserved them from the injunctions of the canonists !

With the end of the thirteenth century a crisis declared itself, a serious crisis of civilization in the course of which Europe would be taken to pieces and '''"Christendom' would collapse. As the crowning touch of calamity in this autumn of the Middle Ages, the Black Plague was added to the scourge o f war and by itself accounted for the death of a third of the European population. Shaken and convulsed by these misfortunes the Church, like the State, sank into a new period of decline.



III -- From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century


At the commencement of the sixteenth century mystics and prophets arose on every side proclaiming the need of reform. This cry rose to such pitch that when the official reform was not forthcoming Luther took matters into his own hands. However, even within the pale of the Church and long before the official Tridentine reform, fervent souls in many diverse situations not only perceived and proclaimed the need for reform but set themselves to the task. In the early years of the century, while the Protestant reformation was brewing, some sparks of fervour had given a jolt to the Church in one locale or another. It is a very significant fact that almost everywhere devout Christians were forming into groups in order to read Scripture together, discuss theology and mysticism, and confront the pro­blems of the Church. The most famous o€ these associations was the Oratory of Divine Love, which came into existence during the years 15710-1520 in a small church of the Trastevere district of Rome and gave rise to a number of religious foundations properly so called. At this time also an initial reform movement stirred most of the ancient Orders, which had pretty well fallen from their state of fervour. In most cases this reform followed an identical pattern of development. These great structures no longer possessed sufficient vitality to renew themselves. So God would raise up charismatic men to reform a single community, a particular house, as an initial cell around which would be organized a number of other houses; eventually this would lead to the formation of a congregation. A striking example is the reform of the Camaldolese by Blessed Giustiniani. Elsewhere, as with the sons of St Francis, the reform was more lively and ended up in the creation of several branches within the fold of a single Order.

Even before the Council this wind of reform was accompanied by the foundation of new communities, in particular by the creation o€ the Clerks Regular. The mendicant Orders as well as the canons regular, while they had launched out into the active apostolate, had nevertheless maintained a style of life quite similar to that of monks. As a result, the movements of reform affecting clerical life had always more or less bypassed the secular clergy in the parishes. The new communities of clerks regular gathered into fraternities those priests consecrated for the ordinary ministry who desired to live by the evangelical counsels, yet had no thought of separating themselves from the parochial clergy and their life work. There thus appeared successively the Theatines of St Cajetan of Tiene and Giovanni Pietro Carafa, the Barnabites of St Antony Mary Zaccaria, the Somaschi of Jerome Aemilian, and many more. Several of the new congregations pos­sessed a feminine branch alongside their own. These communities of women had already realized the dream of St Francis de Sales for his Visitandines, a dream he himself was unable to bring true. This was a life that was not confined within an enclosure but involved alongside the clergy in works of charity, education, and apostolate. Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that those communities which acquired any prominence were quickly obliged to accept the life style of the older Orders, beginning with papal enclosure. Such was the fate of the Ursulines in France.

The most important foundation of this period was undoubtedly the Society of Jesus. By the troops which it put at the service of the Pope for tasks anywhere in the Church, by its religious who were in no wise distinguished externally from secular priests, by the wide freedom of action left to each member within a tightly structured Order, religious life was for the first time fully liberated from the structures of monasticism. These had deter­mined its boundaries ever since the Carolingian reform limited the appro­ved practice of the evangelical counsels to the single form of monastic life. As with all the great foundations of this sort, Ignatius of Loyola's was the fruit: of a long evolution. It was prepared by the whole movement of reform which had quickened the Church during the previous decades.

The Council of Trent, in its twenty-fifth session, dealt only with those who were legally considered religious: de Regularibus et Monialibus, i.e., men and women religious with solemn vows. The Council prepared a com­plete armory of regulations, prescriptions and sanctions aimed at reforming the religious life. Although Pius V, the great papal reformer, addressed himself to the task, this reform, so juridical and institutional in character (like that of Aix-la-Chapelle), does not appear to have achieved very great results. If an effective reform of religious life did take place, it was due rather. to the breath of renewal which had already stirred the religious orders prior to the Council and which continued to gather momentum of its own 'accord. The most successful of the reforms was surely that of Carmel brought about by the energetic and untiring mystic, Teresa of Avila, and her faithful friend and collaborator, John of the Cross.

Simultaneously we witness the continued foundation of new communities. Among many others I shall single out that of the Oratory, founded by the exceedingly likeable, cheerful, and disconcerting Philip Neri. The Oratory is the first instance of what we know today as a society of common life walkout vows. It was made up of clergy and devout laymen whose lives were governed by a very simple rule. It offered a harmonious blend of prayers and activity, without the imposition of external discipline, without a narrow regimentation, without any other bond than that which sprang from mutual affection and daily association.

The effect of Pius V's reform was an increased centralization of religious life; which was henceforth more and more dependent upon ecclesiastical authority, and particularly upon the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, whose decisions would tend to impose an ever greater uniformity upon the religious orders and congregations. This reform constituted a new threat to the life of the Third Order communities and the "secular" religious esta­blished during the preceding centuries alongside the religious life properly so called. Certain abuses had led the Pope to take a radical step; by the Constitution Circa Pastoralis of 1566 he first prescribed a strict insistence upon enclosure for every monastery. This was followed by an invitation to the Third Orders and other similar communities to pronounce the solemn vows which they lacked and consequently to assume the papal enclosure. In some cases, bishops were authorized to sanction the continuance of such communities in their form of life, but the further reception of novices was forbidden them.... Fortunately, this measure did not receive a literal appli­cation and communities of this kind continued always to exist, although few in number. Restrictions, however, were lengthy and numerous. In 1572 Gregory XIII confirmed the measures adopted by Pius V with regard to religious, and in 1592 the Congregation o€ Bishops and Regulars granted bishops the authority to prohibit even the common life to Tertiaries who were unwilling to accept the papal enclosure.

The founding of the Society of Jesus, however, had brought a significant innovation into this matter. [11] It was not only that the scholastics and coadjutor brothers, throughout a quite lengthy period of probation, were allowed to pronounce only simple vows; but that the Society itself was composed of two types of professed, those bound by the solemn profession of four vows and others by a profession o€ simple vows. The common objection, according to which all the professed of simple vows were not "true" religious, was quashed by a solemn declaration of Gregory XIII in 1584 ; for nearly three centuries, however, the canonises continued to see in this only a very special privilege.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century the opposition to an apostolate of women religious who would be uncloistered and without solemn vows was still exceedingly deep-rooted. St Francis de Sales had planned a community of women religious who would not live behind the walls of an enclosure but would devote themselves in the midst of the world to the practice of charity. His Visitandines, however, were forced to change their plumage and become cloistered nuns. Nevertheless, hard on the heels of St Francis de Sales' failure came the success of St Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac; heedless of canonical distinctions and quite ready to do without the title of "religious", these women made private vows only and thus, under the form of a Society of pious women without public vows, they were able to enjoy the liberty of God's children and unite an authentic observance of the evan­gelical counsels to the service of the poor. The torrent had been released, and both France and Germany soon possessed numerous congregations of the same type. To the greater glory of the church-and of the religious state, from which they were officially excluded ! -these congregations, especially by their teaching and their care of the sick, secured the practice of Christian charity.

Throughout the course of the seventeenth century communities of men and of women were multiplied to such an extent that it would be foolhardy to attempt an enumeration. Although for the most part they were not religious in the strict sense, these men and women had the approval of their bishops; and often too their Statutes received the approbation of the Holy See. In spite of this, the Institutes themselves were refused approbation, since this would be contrary to the decision of Pius V !

With the French Revolution, however, Europe was again to be plunged into the darkness of night; and at least in France, almost all organized religious life disappeared. It is in these altogether extraordinary circum­stances that there was set afoot a novel foundation which is the best example the past provides of what secular institutes are in our day. [12]  Father de Clorivière, impelled by this situation which made ordinary religious life in possible in France, conceived the creation of communities whose members would bear no distinguishing marks, would wear no habit, would live with their families, and would fulfil their usual role in society. In this way, however, and unknown to anyone, they would discharge the function of the expelled religious.

After the Revolution the bishops and popes had to acknowledge the facts and admit the usefulness and necessity of the uncloistered communities, which dedicated themselves with genuine fervour to the works of mercy and of education. These communities, moreover, were multiplied by the stirrings of religious renewal which followed the Revolution. While the law recog­nized as religious only those Orders with solemn vows and enclosure, the bishops and the Holy See throughout the nineteenth century gave their appro­bation to dozens of religious congregations of simple vows. Care was always taken, however, to point out that they were not "religious in the proper sense". Finally Leo XIII's Constitution Conditae a Christo in 1900 and the Normae of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars in 1901 adapted the law to life by recognizing as -religious the congregations of simple vows.

On the other hand, these Normae systematized the concept of religious fife to the utmost. They concerned themselves with the detailed organization of the congregations and orders, and provided an exact pattern for consti­tutions In the constitutional revisions then carried out, many orders and congregations lost almost entirely the distinctive elements of their charism.

Concurrently, the laity was acquiring an ever greater self-consciousness and awareness of its own vocation within the People of God. Social Catholicism and Catholic Action developed together. It was this penetration E the whole social order by the spirit of the Gospel that prepared the way for' the official acceptance of a form of evangelical life that had long existed and which was gradually organizing itself: the secular institute. The Church had always included believers who sought to live fully the most radical demands of evangelical life but who, by force of circumstances or by the personal call of the Lord, were obliged to remain in the world and fulfil their role in society. They always had an inclination, easily under­stood, to gather together in pious associations or societies. With the nine­teenth century many of these groups began to request from Rome an appro­bation recognizing their moral and religious worth and offering a guarantee to prospective members. Unfortunately, the form of life of these groups did not square with the canonical concept of religious life, or even with the new idea of a "congregation of simple vows" which life itself was with difficulty forcing the curial canonists to accept. A decree of 1889, issued by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, contented itself with words of praise for the aim of such societies and a declaration that the only title which could be conferred on them was that of "pious associations". It was only in 1947 that Pius X11, in his Constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, gave official recognition to the secular institutes as a state of perfection and conferred on them a juridical status.

There has been lengthy discussion among theologians to determine whether the members of such secular institutes are "religious" or "lay". The members themselves have striven mightily to preserve their lay status. They succeeded, though only just, in having a clause inserted into article 11 of Vatican II's decree Perfectae Caritatis, affirming explicitly that they "are not religious institutes", though "the profession of the evangelical counsels made by their members in the world and with the recognition of the Church is genuine and complete". [13]



IV - The Lesson o f History and the Present Task


In casting a comprehensive glance over the whole course of the evolution of religious life, we easily distinguish two basic periods, one stretching from the origins down to the tenth century, and the other from the Gregorian reform to our present era.

In the first period, after a time of rapid and vast expansion, the range of the different forms of religious life contracts, like the folding of a fan. During the early centuries, Christians from every social class had determined to live their Christian life without compromise, according to the evangelical counsels. They either remained in society or withdrew into solitude, gathered in fraternities or lived as hermits; they belonged to both the clergy and the laity. The religious life was not absent from any form of social existence, but rattier expressed itself in all the forms. Gradually, however, the extra­ordinary growth of monasticism occasioned a legislative activity that slowly transformed religious life into an officially recognized "state of life" and ended up by withholding this recognition from the non-monastic forms of religious life. Ultimately, the Carolingian reform reduced monasticism itself, at least in the West, to a common denominator.

This "contraction" was not due to the mere fact of monasticism's extra­ordinary growth. It was above all due to the waning of the charismatic grace itself, which surely is not unusual in so vast and rapid a numerical expansion. Nor was the legislation as such responsible for this charismatic decline and the contraction of the forms of religious life. For the great monastic movements, such as those of Pachomius and Basil, had proved themselves capable of fostering the growth and survival of their charism by wise organization. The sclerosis was brought on when the absence of spiri­tual vitality and the institutional degeneration required that a legal code be imposed from without in order to ensure what St Benedict calls a certain "honestas morum" (RB, c. 73).

From the eleventh century onwards there appeared a trend in the opposite direction which has continued down to our own time. Diversity was once again restored to monasticism as a consequence of its own inner require­ments and within the context of the Gregorian reform. Then there reappea­red alongside monasticism new forms of religious life, whose gradual "recon­quest" of their right of citizenship within the institutional Church has con­tinued down to our own day. First there were the canons regular who joined the observance of the evangelical counsels to the service of a local Church. They were followed by the mendicant orders who united it to an apostolate as broad as the universal Church itself. Then there were the innumerable forms of uncloistered religious life which little by little acquired, in actual fact, a place within the bosom of the Church; and ultimately they gained her legal recognition, at the end of several centuries. Last of all, with the secular institutes, official recognition has been given to a state of evangelical perfection in the midst of the world, without the forms of canonical religious life.

This second period had its origins in the monastic reforms of the eleventh century; these, in turn, were rooted in the important Gregorian reform. Now it is common knowledge that this reform was strongly marked by a movement toward centralization and institutionalization. Within a civil society characterized by its absolute control, the Church was able to preserve its independence-or recover it-only by organizing herself with similar thoroughness. So the religious life too was cast into the rigid structures of the religious state. The immediate consequence o€ this step was to deprive it of its charismatic spontaneity. That idea of a religious state and those structures have been maintained until our own time, although the recovery of structural pluralism has periodically required the addition of new "man­sions" to this edifice and the creation of new species within the genus through conceptual dissection. After having distinguished the state of the contemplative life from the state of the active life (and the state of the mixed life for those who did not fit into either category), another distinction was made, between Orders and Congregations: then the latter were in turn distinguished among themselves according to their different "secondary" ends. Each time life itself called forth a new form of the religious life, the canoeists had to perform gymnastics in order to assign it a place within this framework. Suppleness, however, not being the characteristic grace of lawyers, they always went through these exercises slowly and laboriously.

Theologians, for their part, were easily led to consider these structures as constitutive of the religious state. The old medieval outlook that saw in every historical fact something acquired once and for all made it a foregone conclusion that every development of the religious life could only add a new form to the ancient ones. In effect, who would dare to call into question structures that had already received official approval from the highest eccle­siastical authority? In like manner, if we prescind from the cases where obvious abuses were suppressed, every reform ran the risk of culminating in a split of the order into two or more observances: the ancient observance and the modern, called and discalced, bearded and clean-shaven, etc.

We perceive then that it is in the religious life that the Church has ex­perienced most intensely the tension which is so characteristic of her-that between charism and institution. The charism of religious life, like any other, must accept organization if it wishes to endure. Since, however, perfect harmony between charism and structure is simply impossible in this life, history bears witness to a sort of give-and-take, a certain alternation of charisms being stifled by institutions which have become too cumbersome and institutions breaking up under the living pressure of grace, culminating in the creation of new institutions. And the whole process is punctuated by periods of relative equilibrium.

The charismatic nature of the religious life becomes quite evident in the course of these developments. Never has a form of religious life been created by hierarchical authority, and never has a reform initiated by authoritative decree done any more than prevent the worst. Whenever religious life appears in the Church or undergoes reform, there is always to be found at the bottom of this beginning or renewal, a charismatic person or persons moved irresistibly by the Spirit. The genuine reforms, those which bear fruit and open up new ways, are spiritual reforms.` The heart of reform is reform of the heart.

The task which faces religious today is gigantic. The Orders and Congre­gations, which have been in a hurry to revise the text of their Constitutions and books of regulations and now flatter themselves that their consciences ,ire clear and their task of renewal is accomplished are liable to discover that their attainment has been somewhat abortive. What is most urgently needed is a spiritual renewal which itself will beget, little by little, those structures necessary for life. To begin with the reform of structures, without sufficient concern for spiritual reform, is indeed to put the cart before the horse.

Exactly as in the days of Gregory VII, we find ourselves at a significant turning point in the history of civilization. Society has revamped its foun­dations, and the Church since Vatican II has entered upon a self-examination concerning her own identity in order that she also may create for herself now bases within this changing world. Religious orders too must undertake the same quest for their identity. It is no longer a question of continuing to multiply the forms of religious life or the "observances" within a given Order; Human ingenuity, after all, has its limits and new foundations would be compelled to imitate the existing communities. What is needed, rather, is an effort to complete the broad cycle of evolution which I have described by returning to a more perfect unity within a pluralism that has been con­sciously rediscovered. Thus of necessity we shall come to the point of asking ourselves whether the great monastic family needs so many juridically distinct Orders, whether it is opportune to maintain so man nursing and teaching institutes, possessing an identical way of life and Constitutions that -ire practically interchangeable, yet each under the obligation of keeping up a sizable curia, and so on.

A slow adapting of the legal situation to the factual conditions imposed by life is no longer the task we expect our canonists to perform; rather we look to them to develop framework sufficiently flexible to allow life its free development under the guidance of the Spirit. For in the last analysis the religious state is merely a concept. What exists concretely are religious persons, men and women who have been personally summoned by Christ and who must respond to this call in a personal way. The Spirit does not speak to institutions, but to men. What must concern us, more than the preservation and adaptation of a state, is the promotion of life.

During the pontificate of Paul III, the "Commission of Reform" charged with preparing for the Council of Trent proposed, purely and simply, the suppression of all existing Orders? A radical measure, indeed, that was not adopted by the Council - and no doubt with good reason, for all genuine evolution must be a synthesis of continuity and disruption. It remains true, however, that something must always die if life is to spring up anew. Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies.... The drama and the suffering undergone by more than one religious Order today offer us a glimpse of the seeds of new life.




Translated by James Jarzembowski, Mepkin.

* This study first appeared in Italian, as the first chapter of a book published by a group of specialists from different countries: Agostino Favale and others, Per una presenza viva dei religiosi nella Chiesa e nel mondo, Ed. LDC Rome 1970.

[1] Cf. P. Jordan, "Pythagoras and Monachism", in Traditio 1961, p. 432-441.

[2] Cf. J. Neusner, "The Fellowship (Chabourah) in the Second Jewish Commonwealth", in The Harvard Theol. Review 1960, p. 125-142.

[3] Cf. J. Carmignac and P. Guilbert, Les textes de Qumran traduits et annotés, T. I, La Règle de la Communauté, la Règle de la guerre, les hymnes, Paris 1961.

[4] Cf. K. VI. Truhlar, "Laïcs et conseils", in Laïcs et vie chrétienne parfaite, T. I, Rome 1963, p. 163-195; and especially S. Legasse, L'appel du riche, contribution à l'étude des fondements scripturaires de l'état religieux, Paris 1966.

[5] H. Schurmann  Le groupe des disciples de Jésus, signe pour Israel et prototype de la vie selon les conseils", in Christus no. 50, 1966, p. 184-209.

[6] J. Gribomont, "Le monachisme au sein de l'Église en Syrie et en Cappadoce", in Studia Monastica 7 (1965), p. 7-24.

[7] Cf. A. Veilleux, "The Interpretation of a Monastic Rule", in The Cistercian Spirit. A Symposium in Memory of Thomas Merton (Cistercian Studies Series - 3), Spencer 1970.

[8] Cf. R. Morghen, "Riforma monastica e spiritualità cluniacense", in Spiritualità cluniacense, Convegni del centro di studi sulla spiritualità medievale, II, Todi 1960, p. 31-56.

[9] Cf. C. Violante, "Il monachesimo cluniacense di fronte al mondo politico ed ecclesia­stico (secoli X et Xl)", ibidem, p. 153-242.

[10] L. J. Lekai, "Motives and Ideals of the Eleventh Century Monastic Renewal", in The Cistercian Spirit: A Symposium in Memory of Thomas Merton (Cistercian Studies Series - 3), Spencer 1970, and Cistercian Studies IV (1969), p. 3-20.

[11] See the recent study by E. Olivares, "Les vœux des premiers étudiants jésuites", in Vie consacrée 41 (1969), p. 233-238.

[12] Cf. M. Parodi, "Le charisme du Père de Clorivière", in Vie consacrée 41 (1969), p. 95­-112.

[13] Cf. J. Beyer, "Les instituts séculiers", in L'adaptation et la rénovation de la vie religieuse (Unam Sanctam - 62), Paris 1967, p. 375-384.