Last week’s article discussed Holy Orders and religious orders in the church. This article will give a brief discussion of what we mean by religious orders.
In the early church men and women developed communities away from society to live in deeper prayer and awareness of the greater kingdom. At first, these communities were away from society to avoid persecution. But, after the legalization of Christianity in 312 and 313, religious communities expanded as many people sought consecrated life to live more like the saints and angels. As these communities grew, some early leaders such as St. Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica and St. Basil the Great wrote rules to govern these communities. These rules became the basis of religious orders, such as the Augustinians, the Benedictines and the Basilians. In later centuries, other great religious figures drafted rules for new religious orders. Thus for example, St. Dominic founded the Dominican order, St. Francis and St. Clare the Franciscans, St. Bruno the Carthusians, St. Ignatius of Loyola the Jesuits, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal the Visitation sisters, and St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Merrilac the Daughters of Charity. Other founders developed new orders with a revised version of a current rule. Thus, for example, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton formed the Daughters of Charity with a rule based upon that of the Daughters of Charity. And the Ignatian rule was the basis for the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Theresa of Calcutta in 1950, and Miles Christi, founded by Fr. Roberto Yannuzzi in 1994.
Each of these rules reflects the type of spirituality that the founders promoted. For as the same principles of engineering lead to many different types of architecture, so the same Catholic principles have been the foundation of many different spiritual traditions. For example, the Benedictines emphasize fine, chanted liturgies and a clear ordering of the day to experience the peace and joy of heaven. The Dominicans promote the joining of faith and reason and of service and teaching. And the Jesuits focus upon training the intellect, emotions and imagination in service as soldiers of God. Although these rules were developed for consecrated religious brothers and/or sisters, many religious communities have a third order formed of faithful men and women in the world who participate in their spirituality. For all people are called to holiness; and all people can benefit from the great traditions represented by the wide variety of Catholic orders.