A Brief History of the Church with regard to Religious Orders

The Divine Redeemer of mankind, Jesus the Messias, to whom the patriarchs, and the prophets of the Old Testament had looked forward with anxious expectation, was born in Bethlehem of Juda. The Son of David came unto His own, but His own received Him not. They refused to understand the signs by which they might have recognized the Prophet whom Moses had promised to their fathers, and they put to death the one who had come to save them. The life of Jesus until His death was one of self-immolation, so that His example laid particular stress upon those words which became the great lesson of the saints:

“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

The life of the Christian, like that of the Christ, was to be one of self-denial, and the life of the perfect Christian, one of perfect self-denial. The words in which this great lesson is conveyed form the very essence of the Christian’s life, as well as the core and heart of Christianity itself. Christ, we say, confirmed it by His example, and set the final seal upon it on the day when His mangled body hung lifeless upon Golgotha’s sacred wood. If we follow the history of the Church, we shall behold it put into practice from Apostolic times until now, and only those children of the Church partaking of Christ’s sanctity who have learned that great lesson of self-denial. To enforce the practice of that which was so necessary to salvation, and to render it comparatively easy, the Saviour became the Founder of a society to which all mankind was called in virtue of the divine commission given to the apostles of teaching all nations. The members of this society were all to be followers of Christ, and, with Saint Paul, to imitate their Divine Model. But there are various degrees in this imitation, nor do all seem capable of practising it to the same extent, and, for this reason, we find not only differences of sanctity and perfection in individuals, but also in different classes of Christians. The great practice of sanctity manifests itself in various ways, in different epochs and countries. To understand the reason of this, we must bear in mind that there is in humanity and in human society a twofold element: the natural and the supernatural; the former constituting the basis of the latter, one ascending from the earth, the other descending from above, and the union of the two constituting the union of the human with the divine. If we bear this two-fold element in view, we shall never be scandalized by what will appear too human in the Church and its subordinate societies. Were this human element entirely conquered by the divine, were it perfect, it would never require to be thwarted. But, to our great misfortune, it has a downward tendency, and, therefore, needs to be constantly drawn upwards, in order to be brought into conformity with the divine. Hence arises the necessity of self-denial, and of that Christian philosophy embodied in the words of Christ: “If any one will come after Me, let him deny himself.”

Hardly had the Divine Teacher ascended to heaven and the Spirit of Truth, the Paraclete, taken His place on Pentecost, than the infant Church began to practise the great lesson it had learned, to practise it even unto the heroism of martyrdom. But alas, for human inconstancy and the downward tendency of human nature! Even in the days of its first fervor, there were evils in the Church, as we learn from the Epistles of Saint Paul, from the Apocalypse, and from other sources. And that first fervor itself did not last, at least not through all ranks of Christian society. But what else could be expected? Was there not to be a constant struggle between light and darkness? This struggle we shall find again and again as we advance in the history of the rehgious orders. Let us bear constantly in mind that, besides the divine element, there is, also, a human side to the Church, and we shall be prepared for anything; nothing shall startle us, no matter where we observe it.

We shall find, as we proceed, that the first fervor of the early Christians never entirely ceased, not even in the most dissolute times. When it had become less general among Christians at large, the practice of perfection withdrew to the deserts and the cloisters, and, when relaxation of discipline had crept even into those asylums of virtue, some were always found who still fought valiantly under the banner of self-denial.

Christ had preached as necessary for all men the strict observance of the commandments, but He assured the world that there was a higher perfection, the abandoning of one’s earthly possessions for instance. His words were taken literally by His early disciples, for they sold what they had and laid the price of it at the feet of the apostles. Even from apostolic times it became customary to abstain, for virtue’s sake, from things which were good in themselves, but, not being absolutely necessary, were for some a hindrance to higher perfection. Thus we may say that Our Divine Teacher sowed the seed of the religious life, which, in apostolic times, began to make its first appearance, and which was gradually developed. This same religious life had been prepared in the Old Testament, for the Essenes, a sect among the Jews, probably the successors of the disciples of Elias and Eliseus, had followed a mode of life very similar to that of our Christian religious, and, if Baronius is correct, this institution flourished under a Christian form at Alexandria in Egypt, when Saint Mark the Evangelist was Bishop of that city. We are thus enabled to trace monasticism to the very dawn of Christianity and beyond it. It would even seem that there is something in a philosophic creed which requires its existence, for the philosophy of ancient Greece, Buddhism in India, and Mahometanism throughout the East have not been without it.

The first centuries of the Church were those of the great struggle for existence, when the blood of Martyrs flowed by torrents. All the apostles, with the exception of Saint John, gave their blood for the faith. But the blood of martyrs became the seed of Christians, and the Church progressed in spite of the fury of the Roman emperors. Nero, Domitian, and Trajan in the first century; Marcus Aurelius, and Septimus Severus in the second; Maximimus, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, Diocletian, and Maximian in the third, stand inscribed with letters of blood on the pages of history as having been the great persecutors of the early Christian Church. While fire and the sword were doing their deadly work throughout the Roman Empire, men were seeking safety for soul and body in the barren deserts of Egypt or the wildernesses of Palestine. Saint Anthony, born in the reign of the Emperor Gallus in 251, touched by the words of Christ: “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all thou hast and give it to the poor, and thou shall have a treasure in heaven, and then come and follow Me,” (Matthew 19), distributed his goods to his neighbors and to the poor, and retired into solitude. His example was soon followed by others, and he thus laid the foundation of the eremitical life that gave great celebrity to Egypt, the land of its birth, the deserts of which were soon peopled with holy solitaries. The only rule these men had was the living word of their masters in the spiritual life, which formed as many commentaries on the Gospel. Saint Hilarion, a disciple of Saint Anthony, introduced the same mode of life into Syria and Palestine, which, together with Egypt, became the great centres of oriental monasticism. Not only did the male sex thus devote itself to the exercises of a perfect life, for Christian women began at the same time to withdraw from the world and live together in communities. According to some authors, Saint Syncletica in the fourth century was the first one to establish monasteries for women.

It was about the year 363 that monasticism in the East reached its fullest development, when Saint Basil composed a rule for his monks and bound them by vows. The rule of Saint Basil was destined to eclipse all those of his predecessors, so that, for this reason, the Saint is called the Patriarch of the monks of the East. As an order, the one that bears his name is, if not the oldest, at least the most important of all the monastic institutions of the Oriental Church. Even before Saint Basil had composed his rule, monasticism had been carried to the West by Saint Athanasius, about the year 339, and monasteries were built in Rome and elsewhere. The persecutions of the Roman emperors had ceased more than thirty years before with the accession of Constantine to the Empire, but the Church was still passing through a period of great affliction on account of the Arian heresy, which waged a fierce war against it under the Emperor Constantius and his brothers. It was this persecution that drove Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, to Rome, and became the means of communicating the monastic life to the West. The holy Pope, Saint Julius II, was then on the See of Peter. Saint Basil, the great patriarch of Oriental monasticism, lived through the reigns of the Emperors Julian the Apostate, Jovian, Valentinian, and Valens, Gratian, and Valentinian II, while Pope Liberius was governing the Church. He died in the year 379. In the same century, the religious life flourished in France, and edified the Church by the lives of such men as Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Maximus. Spain, too, had, probably, at that time its monks and monasteries.

Saint Pachomius in Egypt had been the first to give a written rule to his disciples and to unite several monasteries under one head. To him also, it may be said the establishment of general chapters is due, though in his time they were not known by that name. He may thus be considered as the first founder of an order, and if we would discover the fountain head of religious orders we must ascend to Saint Pachomius. We may now sum up in a few words what we have said. Ascetics, Therapeutas, or monks existed from the earliest days of Christianity. Saint Anthony united these into communities and became the father of the Cenobites. Saint Pachomius gave a rule to his disciples and formed his monasteries into a Congregation. Saint Athanasius introduced monasticism into the West, and Saint Basil perfected the institution by imposing vows on his monks, by which it obtained a greater stability. It had always been considered weakness in a monk and infidelity towards God to abandon his state, in order to return to the world, but the vow rendered this doubly so. We also see from this that it was not the Church itself which established monasticism and monastic vows, but that they originated from private sources, or rather, they were the logical outcome, and, we may add, the necessary result of that desire for perfection which is, more or less, inherent in every human breast, and which assumes greater proportions in some, Monasticism was a legitimate child of faith, a necessary evolution in the bosom of Christian society. Though not of ecclesiastical origin the authorities of the Church have, nevertheless, seized upon it as one of their strongest bulwarks, and it has gradually assumed an ecclesiastical character.

About the year 388, Saint Augustine began to gather around him a few disciples and to follow with them the exercises of a monastic life. A few years later, he established a monastery of nuns at Hippo, of which See he was Bishop, and, in 423, addressed to them a letter, which has since been known as the Rule of Saint Augustine, and has been followed by persons of both sexes who acknowledge the Holy Doctor as their founder. Two kinds of religious orders, the Regular Canons, and the Hermits of Saint Augustine, dispute with each other for the right of seniority, as both claim Saint Augustine for their founder. This much appears certain, that the Saint founded and dwelt successively in two distinct communities: until he was made Bishop he lived in a monastery, first, near Tagaste, and, afterwards, in Hippo. When he had been promoted to the See of the latter city, he established a community of clerics in his episcopal dwelling, in which the life of the first Christians was imitated, and private property was absolutely forbidden. This may with probability be considered the origin of the institute of Regular Canons. The example of Saint Augustine was imitated by many of the Bishops, and thus the institution increased and flourished in the Church,

It was in the first half of the sixth century that the monastic life reached its fullest development in the West. The empire of Rome had fallen under the repeated blows of the barbarians, and a new order of things was slowly arising out of chaos and confusion. That which was to be, in the designs of Providence, most instrumental in producing this effect, and building up mediaeval civilization on the ruins of the empire came into existence with the Benedictine Order, shortly after the fall of Rome. There was indeed much to be done. Northern and Western Europe were to be converted to Christianity, barbarians were to be taught the arts of civilization, their manners were to be softened down, the lamp of knowledge was to be kept burning amidst the gloom of those ages called dark, and the last remnants of a classic past were to be preserved. All this the Order of Saint Benedict was destined to effect. His history will be told in that of his order; suffice it now to say that he was born in 480, and that at an early age he retired to the desert. It was at Monte Cassino that he laid the foundations of his order. Saint Benedict had the institutions of oriental monasticism to draw from, and the example of his predecessors to look up to, but these he made so completely his own that he fully deserves the title that has been bestowed upon him, that of Patriarch of the monks of the West. Though binding his religious to a life of contemplation, he nevertheless gives a strong tinge of the practical life of the West to his rule. He departs from the extreme mysticism of the East, and requires the bodies as well as the minds of his monks to be subjected to labor. In this, too, he had his predecessors in the congregation of Saint Pachomius, it is true; but in the Order of Saint Benedict, labor becomes one of the predominant features. The community life is also brought to its highest perfection by Saint Benedict, for the Benedictine is, above all things, a Cenobite, a man of community. The extreme rigor of oriental monasticism is also modified in this matter-of-fact, practical order, and accommodated to the exigencies of the Western character. Still the Benedictine remains a monk, a man of solitude, of contemplation, and of prayer. But his work was to go farther than Saint Benedict appears to have foreseen – he was to become the salt of the earth and the great factor in mediaeval civilization. He was indeed the man of his time, the providential man, nor has his mission ceased to the present day. The foundations of the Benedictine Order were laid on Monte Cassino, but it soon spread beyond the Italian peninsula to Sicily, where Saint Placidus founded a monastery in 534; France, into which country it was introduced by Saint Maurus in 543; Spain, where the rule began to be observed at least about a century later. It is beheved that England owes its conversion to the Order of Saint Benedict, which in 596 was brought thither by Saint Augustine of Canterbury, who was probably a monk of that order. The Benedictine monk, Saint Willibrord, preached the Gospel to the Frisians in 690, and, in the following century, Saint Boniface evangelized the Germans, so that in a comparatively short period the order had spread almost over the whole of Europe.

While it was performing its grand work of civilization, another institution had taken rise, which at one time threatened to become its rival. It was that of the Irishman, Saint Columbanus, who, about the year 590, founded the monastery of Luxeuil in France. Monasticism had taken root in Ireland at an early period, and it was flourishing when Saint Benedict founded his order on Monte Cassino. The celebrated monastery of Bangor was an illustrious ornament of the island.

The rule of Saint Benedict, however, triumphed over that of Saint Columbanus, after the death of the latter Saint, and took its place, as we shall see in the course of our history.

About twenty years before the foundation of the monastery of Luxeuil, a man was born at Mecca in Arabia who was to convulse the world, and, in consequence of whose work, a new kind of religious orders, those which are called military, were, some centuries later, to be established. That man was Mahomet, the founder of a new religion which was to become predominant in the East, and finally to triumph over that portion of the great Roman Empire which still retained its autonomy, namely, the Eastern or Byzantine, that was gradually degenerating.

In the West, a new empire was being formed, that of Charlemagne, and the political face of Europe was undergoing a complete change. In fact, the foundation was being laid for its present condition, and the nations were being formed which still exist. Gaul or France, Germany, and the greater part of Italy and Spain were subject to Charlemagne. His empire took the place of the western Roman empire which was no more. During the reign of his successor, Louis the Debonnaire, Saint Anscharius, a Benedictine monk, preached the Gospel in Denmark and Sweden. Louis the Debonnaire had a rule made for the Canons Regular by the deacon Amalarius. It was approved by the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 816.

Many years before, the canons in France had fallen into a state of relaxation, and they had abandoned the life of community. Saint Chrodegand, who became Bishop of Metz in 742, introduced a reform among those of his diocese which served as a model for similar reforms in France, Germany, and Italy. The rule which Amalarius composed was nearly the same as that of Saint Chrodegand. It was taken from the canons, the works of the Fathers, and, principally, from the Rule of Saint Benedict. Louis the Debonnaire had been preceded in his work of reform by Charlemagne, who undertook to enforce the observance of the community life among the canons. However the canons of Saint Chrodegand and those of the rule of Amalarius did not entirely relinquish their patrimony like the companions of Saint Augustine.

In the ninth century the Sclaves, who inhabited a part of modern Poland, and the Russians were being evangelized by missionaries from^ Constantinople, which was then still in communion with the See of Rome. The Bulgarians were also being converted by missionaries sent them by Pope Nicholas I in 866.

In the following century, Europe suffered greatly by the incursions of the Normans and the Huns, who laid cities in ruins, ravaged monasteries, and left desolation in their tracks. The tenth century became one a the darkest of the Middle Ages. Ignorance and a deplorable corruption of morals prevailed, and relaxation crept into the monasteries themselves But the heart of the Church was consoled m the midst of these afflictions by the conversion of its bitterest foes, the Normans in France and the Hungarians in what became the Austrian Empire. The work of reformation in the monasteries and in the Church a large was also carried on by Saint Odo and Saint Dunstan in England, Saint Benedict of Aniane in France, and Saint Bruno, brother of the Emperor Otho the Great, in Germany. The famous monastery of Cluny, which became the mother-house of one of the most renowned of the Benedictine Congregations, was founded about the year 910. Until then the monasteries of the Order of Saint Benedict had been more or less independent of one another, but that of Cluny, gathermg a number of filiations around it, became the centre of a congregation and the model of others which were created in course of time. Europe was then divided into the empire of Byzantium in the East, that of Germany in the West, the kingdoms of France, England, Scotland, and a number of smaller kingdoms, duchies and principalities in Spain, Italy, the North, and elsewhere.

The eleventh century witnessed the revival of the monastic spirit among the monks, and of fervor among the Regular Canons in various parts of Europe, and gave birth to different orders, either entirely new, or which at least were new branches of an older trunk. Thus, in 1012 Saint Romuald laid the foundations of his eremitical order in the solitude of Camaldoli. It became a branch of the Benedictine Order by its adoption of the Rule of the Holy Patriarch, but, at the same time, by its peculiar constitutions and government, it formed a separate and independent body.

A few years later, about 1038, Saint John Gualbert established the Order of Vallombrosa, also under the rule of Saint Benedict and in the form of a hermitage. The four great orders founded in the eleventh century, namely, the two just mentioned and those of Citeaux and Chartreuse, were orders entirely contemplative. It would appear that at that period there was a peculiar attraction for the comtemplative life, but the active life of the clergy was not neglected. We have seen that the Council of Aix-a-Chapelle in the beginning of the preceding century had begun a reform of the Regular Canons, or the clergy living in community. Its good effects were, however, of short duration, for the Canons had not only grown relaxed, but an immense number among them were living lives of incontinence, and acquiring their benefices by simony. Against these two great evils of the day the holy Pope, Saint Leo IX, exerted himself with the utmost vigor, undertaking journeys into France and Germany, assembling councils, and proceeding against the guilty. In every age of the world God has raised up men fitted for the special exigencies of the times as instruments of His providence. Such a man was Saint Peter Damian, Cardinal and Bishop of Ostia, who had been a monk in a monastery of Umbria. Considering the evils under which the Church was laboring, he besought Pope Nicholas II to remedy the abuses, and banish private property from among the Canons. A council was accordingly held at Rome in 1059 in which simony and incontinence were again condemned, and in which it was decreed that clerics should live together and put all their ecclesiastical revenues in common, while they were exhorted to imitate the lives of the early Christians, and renounce private property. The same decrees were enacted in another council held under Alexander II in 1063. The example of Saint Augustine and his community was cited to authorize these enactments. However, all the Canons did not submit to these regulations, and on account of the relaxation which continued to exist, several particular reforms were introduced, and congregations of regular Canons founded. Thus in the same century were established the Congregration of Saint Rufinus at Avignon and the Reform of Saint Quentin of Beauvais. At this period the Canons Regular were not yet, strictly speaking, religious, for it was only in the following century that they began to bind themselves by solemn vows.

One of the Canons of the period attached to the Church of Rheims, was Saint Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians. He instituted his order at Chartreuse near Grenoble, in 1086. The Carthusians formed an independent organization in so far that they did not constitute a branch of any existing order. It was not thus with the Cistercians, whose institution went forth from that of Saint Benedict in the year 1098. Its founder, Saint Robert, had made his profession in the monastery of Moutier-la- Celle. The Cistercian Order was in reality a congregation of that of Saint Benedict, whose rule it observed to the letter and with the strictest interpretation.

One of the most important periods of the Middle Ages had now arrived. Europe was suddenly awakened as if by an electric shock, and its attention turned toward the East. The followers of Mahomet had been constantly gaining ground; piece by piece the Byzantine empire had come into their possession, until the standard of the Crescent was reared near the gates of Constantinople itself; Egypt and a portion of Spain were subject to the Arab conquerors. The Turks, who had gradually gained the ascendancy, and who were also Mahometans, and supplanted the Arab race, took Jerusalem in 1086, the same year that Saint Bruno founded his order. The conquerors of the Holy Land began to exercise the most atrocious cruelties upon the numerous pilgrims who came thither from all parts of the world to visit the places hallowed by the life and sufferings of Our Redeemer. Europe, aroused by the heart-rending tales of woe which reached it from the East, especially through the instrumentality of Peter the Hermit and by the appeal of Pope Urban II, determined to fly to the assistance of the Christians in Palestine. The cry of “God wills it” was re-echoed over every country; the Crusades were inaugurated. Never in the history of the world was there so spontaneous a movement, never was there so gigantic a struggle as that between the Cross and the Crescent.

One of the effects of the Crusades was the establishment of the Military orders which forms an epoch in the history of the Religious state. Thus far no one had dreamt of being a religious except by leading the life of a monk – religious and monk were almost synonymous. Even the Canons Regular, as we have seen, were not religious. But the times were changing. The exigencies of the age required action; the world seemed to be awakening to a new life. We shall behold that action manifest itself in the battles of the Military orders and in the preaching of the Mendicant Friars. The time of entire seclusion from the world, it is true, had not passed, for the orders of Camaldoli, Vallombrosa, Chartreuse, and Citeaux, had but lately been founded, and other reformed branches were yet to spring forth from the ancient Benedictine tree, but the age was no longer satisfied with absolute contemplation; it required that monasticism should adapt itself to the circumstances of the times. The first of the Military orders was that of the Knight Hospitallers of Saint John, founded originally, as its name denotes, for the practise of works of mercy toward pilgrims and the sick, but which, a few years later, assumed a military character, and took up arms in defence of the faith. It was established at Jerusalem sometime before the first Crusade, but it did not become a religious order until after the year 1118 when the second superior, Raymond du Puy, gave to his subjects a rule which obliged them to take the three solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Soon after this they offered themselves to combat against the infidels.

A second Order of Knighthood, that of the Templars, was instituted in the year 1118, and about the same period various other Military orders, such as that of the Teutons, the orders of Calatrava and Alcantara, took their rise with the same object, that of fighting against the infidel in defence of the Christian faith. While the great Military orders were coming into existence in the East, monasticism was undergoing a development in the West. In spite of the effervescence of spirits, the enthusiasm of chivalry, and the excitement created by the Crusades, men were still found who sought their greatest happiness in solitude. Among these was Saint William of Verceil, who founded the Order of MonteVergine in 1119. It belonged to the Benedictine family, and it was eremitical in character. In the same year Saint Norbert established in France the Order of Premonstratensians, which became one of the first regular orders of Canons. A few years later, in 1139, Innocent II, in the Council of Lateran, decided that all Canons Regular should be subjected to the rule of the great Doctor of Hippo, and from this period they all took the name of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine.

Christian charity manifests itself in various ways, and always seeks new means by which it may be exercised. It found a grand field towards the close of the twelfth century. The cries of the Christians who languished in the captivity of the Mussulmans had reached the ears of their brethren, and the answer to their supplications was the foundation, in 1198, of the order of the Blessed Trinity for the Redemption of Captives, by Saints John of Matha and Felix of Valois. This order arose in France, and it was followed about the year 1192 by a similar order with an object of the same nature, that of Our Lady of Mercy, established in Spain by Saint Peter Nolasco.

Shortly before this, the Council of Lateran had decreed that no new religious order should be founded without the approbation of the Holy See. From this time there was a tendency in the Church to diminish the number of new orders, but in spite of it they went on increasing, and it appeared impossible to stem the current. The Order of Sylvestrins was founded in 1227, but as it followed the Benedictine Rule, it could not, strictly speaking, be called a new order. A few years before, in 1211, that of the Cross-Bearers, or Croisiers, was established in Belgium during the Pontificate of Innocent III. A similar order had already been founded in Italy, and, a few years later one with the same name was originated in Bohemia. About the year 1215, the Order of Hermits of Saint Paul the first Hermit, was founded in Hungary, or rather several hermits were united together into a congregation by one of the Bishops of that country. It was about the year 1250 that it began to assume the name of Saint Paul.

In the twelfth century that intellectual movement had begun which was to reach its highest pitch in the one that followed it by the labors of Albertus Magnus and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Saint Bernard may be called the last important personage who followed the contemplative method of the early Fathers. That method was being superseded by one more in accordance with the rules of logic, and Aristotle was taking the place of Plato. Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, had written his famous Book of the Sentences which was to furnish a subject for innumerable commentaries, and pave the way for the use of the dialectic or scholastic method in philosophy and theology.

While Christianity was being equipped to meet the intellectual weapons of its adversaries, the Arab philosophers, who were no mean opponents, the material sword lay not useless. Numerous orders of Knighthood were being founded, especially in Spain, where the Christians were brought into daily conflict with the followers of the prophet of Mecca. The twelfth century witnessed in that country the establishment of the orders of Calatrava, Alcantara, Evora, Saint Michael, and Saint James of Compostella. It was about the same time that a Priest of Liege in Belgium, Lambert le Begue, (the Stammerer) began the establishment of the Beguinages, or communities of pious women, who without taking the perpetual vows of religion, led lives of piety and seclusion. These have still continued to exist in Holland, and in the country of their origin.

The devil was also doing his work at the same time, and his emissaries, various heretics who went by the name of Albigenses, Cathari, Patarini, and Poor Men of Lyons, or Waldenses, were spread over Western Europe, busily engaged in disseminating their errors in the fold of Christ. Their antagonism to the Church gave rise to the tribunal of the Inquisition, which has been so calumniated by anti-Catholic writers. Lucius III, in a council held at Verona, in 1184, decreed that every bishop should, in person or by deputy, visit those parts of his diocese suspected of favoring heresy, call the accused parties before him, and, in case they remained obstinate, deliver them over to the secular power. A similar process had existed in Rome as early as the reign of Saint Leo the Great, in the fifth century. Heretics were in those days, considered not only enemies of religion, but also of society, the fundamental principles of which they attacked. And, as in our days, the secular power wages war against those who strive to subvert society, calling themselves socialists or anarchists, thus, in the twelfth century, the Church considered itself justified in invoking the arm of the State to protect both religion and society. The Pope positively affirmed that he had taken this step at the formal request of the emperor and the lords of his court. The punishments inflicted were in accordance with the spirit of the times, and must not be judged by that of our own. While the Church was fighting heresy in the West, Europe continued its wars by successive crusades against the Mahometans in the East, in which the Military orders distinguished themselves by the heroic courage of their members. In France, Simon de Montfort was waging a determined war against the Albigenses. Other weapons were used against the same heretics by a saint whose name stands in the front ranks of those who have been raised on our altars as objects of admiration and imitation. Saint Dominic, the great missionary among the Albigenses, became, also, the founder of one of the most illustrious of the religious orders.

An important period had now arrived in the history of monasticism. It is not hard to distinguish the great movements of that spirit which, from the earliest centuries of the Christian era, has drawn men from the world to a closer union with God. Thus the institution of the congregation of Tabenna by Saint Pachomius, as it placed an antecedent which was to be followed ever after, was an important event. The same may be said of the establishment of the monasteries of Saint Basil and of Saint Benedict, which served as a consolidation and strengthening of the monastic edifice, the former in the East and the latter in the West. A not insignificant movement was that which rendered the canons living in community truly religious or Canons Reg ularof Saint Augustine, and the establishment of Military orders marks also, a prominent epoch in the history of the Church and of monasti cism. The foundation of an order in itself need not be considered an event of great significance, but when that order exercises great influence on the monastic body at large, its institution certainly deserves to rank among the more important events of the history of that body. For this reason all agree in considering the foundation of the Orders of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis as such, for it gave rise to that branch of religious institutions known as the Mendicant Orders, and it may be said to have revolutionized the religious state. Thus far the religious, except in the case of the Canons Regular and the Military orders, had been a monk, a man of solitude, of contemplation, and of prayer. It is true he had frequently left his monastery, and aided wonderfully in the civilization of Europe, but this he had done, not in virtue of his peculiar state, but rather by going beyond it, though, at the same time, acting up to its spirit. But the time had now arrived when the religious was to become an active participant in the affairs of his day. a laborer in the vineyard, and that in virtue of his vocation. The disciples of Dominic Guzman and of Francis of Assisi were not to spend their lives within the walls of a monastery; they were to mingle with the world, in order to draw the world to God, and the monastery was to serve them as a place of retreat into which they might retire in order to regain strength of soul and body.

Both Dominic and Francis had also learned that riches could not fail to become injurious to monastic institutions, hence they established their orders on a foundation of the strictest poverty, forbidding them to possess revenues. They were to receive their support from the people to whom they ministered, and, according to the words of the Gospel, to possess neither gold, silver, nor money in their purses. They were to be beggars for the love of God. Thus began the Mendicant Orders, which the Sovereign Pontiffs have, at various intervals, enriched with spiritual privileges and honored among all other religious. The Order of Saint Dominic was founded about 1215; that of Saint Francis had been established in 1209. Not only did the male sex thus devote itself to a life of poverty, but beside it, there arose the second orders, the Dominican nuns and the Poor Clares, who were to lead lives of contemplation and austerity, and assist their brethren by their prayers.

Saint Francis also gave rise to a new institution which was to bring the religious life into the world itself, namely, his Third Order, by means of which seculars were affiliated to the Franciscans, leading the life of a religious as far as their state would permit. This example was followed by other religious, and thus most of the Mendicants came to possess their Third Orders.

Various congregations of hermits who had at different intervals begun to exist were united into one body under the rule of Saint Augustine by Pope Alexander IV, in 1256. Thus did the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine derive its origin. They, too, were placed among the Mendicants, and they became one of the four great orders of that class, together with the Dominicans, the Franciscans, and the Carmelites. The latter had received their rule from Blessed Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem, about the year 1205, and thus began to exist as an order, although the origin of the hermits of Mount Carmel ascends to a much earlier date, and, as many authors believe, even to the Old Testament. They passed over to Europe about the middle of the thirteenth century.

About this time the inquisition, which had thus far been attached to the province of the bishops, was by Pope Honorius III, in a certain sense, united to the Dominican order, Saint Dominic having been appointed inquisitor and charged with the duty of seeking the heretics, and pointing out to the secular power those who remained obstinate.

The Dominicans and Franciscans had entered by the middle of the thirteenth century into the arena of learning, and they were taking an active part in the intellectual movement of the day. The University of Paris, jealous of their superiority, placed itself as an opponent against the mendicants, but the Sovereign Pontiff protected them, while their most illustrious ornament, the Dominican, Saint Thomas of Aquinas, wielded his powerful pen successfully in their defence. Never was there such a glorious century in their history. The Franciscans, Roger Bacon, Alexander of Hales, Duns Scotus, and Saint Bonaventure; the Dominicans, Vincent of Beauvais, Albertus Magnus, and Saint Thomas Aquinas eclipsed all others by their learning and the productions of their genius. In certain opinions of philosophy these two orders were nevertheless divided, and this gave rise to the two opposite schools of Scotists and Thomists, the former following the doctrine of the Franciscan Friar, and the latter professing to adhere to the opinions of the Angelic Doctor.

In the same year that Saint Thomas Aquinas died, 1274, a celebrated council was convened at Lyons in France by Pope Gregory X for the special purpose of bringing about the union of the Greeks with the Latin church, from which they had so long been severed by a schism. There were present 500 bishops and 70 mitred abbots. King James of Arragon, and other princes and ambassadors, attended its sessions. The great doctor of the church, Saint Bonaventure, preached at the second and third sessions. The Greeks abjured their schism, and accepted the faith of the Roman Church. This union thus affected lasted during the reign of Michael Palologus, emperor of Constantinople, but his successor commenced the schism anew.

About the year 1319, a new branch sprouted forth from the ancient Benedictine tree when the order of Monte Oliveto was founded, during the pontificate of John XXII. More than fifty years previously another Benedictine congregation, that of the Celestinians, had been founded by Saint Peter Celestine, who afterwards became Pope under the title of Celestine V.

In 1309, Pope Clement V, who was a native of France, was forced by the violence of the Italian nobles to fix his abode at Avignon, and his successors followed his example until 1377, when Gregory XI, yielding to the entreaties of the people, returned to Rome. After his death, the Archbishop of Bari was elected Pope by the Cardinals under the title of Urban VI. The Cardinals had been frightened into making the election by the clamors of the populace, who demanded a Roman as Pope, fearing that if a Frenchman were elected he would again remove the See to Avignon. However, they afterwards deliberately confirmed the election, and they were all present at the Pope’s coronation. The new pontiff, a man of a stern and inflexible character, soon alienated by his severity the majority of those who had elected him. All the Cardinals, with the exception of four, who were Italians, retired from Rome. They maintained that the election had been null and void, it having been made under compulsion, and they chose another Pope under the name of Clement VII. This election commenced the Great Schism of the West, of which we shall frequently have to make mention in the course of our history of religious orders. Christendom was divided between two Popes, France, Spain, Scotland, and Sicily adhering to Clement VII whose seat was at Avignon, while England, Hungary, Bohemia, and a part of Germany recognized Urban. Unfortunately, the schism did not die with the Popes under whom it began, but it was perpetuated by their respective successors. Religious orders were also divided into two sections with separate generals at their head, one subject to the Pope at Rome, the other professing allegiance to the Pope of Avignon. A third claimant to the papacy came to the front, when the Cardinals and prelates of both parties met in a synod at Pisa, in the hope of extinguishing the schism, deposed both Popes, and elected a third in the person of Alexander V. Finally, in 1414, a council was held at Constance with the concurrence of all three claimants, and Gregory XII, the successor of Urban, voluntarily resigned, the two anti-popes, John XXIII and Benedict XIII being deposed. Martin V was then elected, and thus the schism was practically brought to a close, though Benedict obstinately persisted in asserting his claims until his death. Saint Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence, writing about this schism, says: “It is conceivable that a person might belong to one or the other party in perfect sincerity, and with a safe conscience; for, although it is necessary to believe that there is, and can be, but one visible head of the Church, it is not necessary to believe that this or that rival claimant is the legitimate Pope. All that is necessary to be beheved is that the true and lawful Pope is he who has been canonically elected; and an ordinary Christian is not obliged to discover which election has been canonical. He may safely follow the opinion and the conduct of his pastor.” Notwithstanding the evils caused by this schism, and the relexation of monastic disciphne which was the consequence, there were nevertheless on both sides persons whom the Church now numbers among her saints. Although in some orders relaxations crept in at this time, there were also reforms introduced, like that of the Observance in the Franciscan Order, as well among those who claimed allegiance to the Roman Pontiff, as among the adherents of the Pope of Avignon.

It was at the Council of Constance that the heresies of Wickliffe, John Huss, and Jerome of Prague were condemned; Wickliffe, who had disseminated his doctrine in England, was already dead, but Huss and Jerome of Prague, refusing to retract, were delivered over to the secular power, and they suffered the penalty of death by burning.

Martin V had summoned another council at Basle for the year 1431, but he died before it was assembled. Eugene IV who succeeded him was cited by the council to appear in person, and, on his refusal, he was deposed. The Pope then dissolved the council and convoked another at Florence. The Council of Basle hereupon excommunicated the Soverign Pontiff, and elected an anti-pope under the title of Felix V. This was the expiring effort of the spirit of schism, and the wound it inflicted was soon healed, for the Council of Basle ended by submitting to the rightful Pope in 1449. With this the seventy years of internal dissension had come to an end, and peace was restored.

Ten years before this, the Council of Florence had been convened with the intention of making an effort towards a second reunion of the Latins and Greeks, as the latter had relapsed into schism, and all attempts made by the Popes towards their conversion had been vain. In 1437, negotiations were resumed between Eugene IV and John Palaeologus II, emperor of Constantinople, and it was agreed that a council should be held in the West, composed of Greeks and Latins. It was attended by the emperor and patriarchs of Constantinople, with twenty oriental Archbishops, a number of subordinate clergy, and the representatives of the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. The council was begun at Ferrara, but, for convenience sake, was transferred to Florence. Once more a union was effected, and the decree containing its articles was signed by the Pope and all the the eastern bishops with the exception of the bishop of Ephesus, who refused to submit. The union was, however, of short duration. The people and the inferior clergy were opposed to it, many of the bishops retracted their assent to the decrees of the council, the three other patriarchs annulled all that had been done in spite of the efforts of the emperor and the patriarch of Constantinople, and, finally, an open revolt of the monks, the clergy and the people put an end to the union. It was the act of obstinacy which was to precede their down fall. A note of warning was sounded when Nicholas V wrote to them these words: “Long time have you abused the patience of God by persisting in your schism. God is waiting, as in the parable, to see whether the fig-tree which has been tended with such care will at last yield its fruit; but, if within three years it shall bear none, the tree will be hewn down, and the Greeks will be overwhelmed with the justice of God.” The words were prophetic; the fall of Constantinople verified the prediction. In 1453 the city of Constantinople was taken by the Turks, and the Byzantine empire, which had lasted 1,123 years, came to an end.

When Constantinople fell into the hands of the infidel, Saint Francis de Paula, founder of the Order of Minims, was thirty-seven years old. Although the foundation of his institute be not classified among the great epochs of the history of monasticism, it nevertheless marks a period worthy of notice, on account of the distinctive characteristic feature of the order, which was the quadragesimal vow, by which its members bound themselves to keep a perpetual Lent. Saint Francis de Paula died in 1507. The sixteenth century had begun. It was a memorable one in the history of the Church, the century of the socalled Reformation. To understand well its full value, it will be necessary to retrace our steps.

We have seen that monasteries had been instituted from the earliest ages of Christianity. Fervent in their origin, some of them had gradually degenerated. An entire regeneration of the monastic order was effected by the foundation on Monte Cassino by Saint Benedict of the great order which bears his name. But some of the Benedictine houses themselves becoming wealthy and powerful, had more or less deviated from their original spirit. Abbots became great and powerful lords, surrounded by a numerous retinue. The monk, as is natural to suppose, being an inhabitant of a magnificent dwelling, around which, sometimes, an entire town had grown up, and the superior of which was practically, and, not seldom, in the full sense of the word, lord of the surrounding country, was, even in the eyes of the world, a man to whom all looked up with respect. But there came a time, it was in the thirteenth century, when the religious, like those of old, descended down to the depths of humiliation, when he even astonished the world by becoming a beggar. At first, in the days of his fervor, he was an object of admiration and of veneration, but when the number of mendicants had greatly increased, men had ceased to wonder and had grown accustomed to them, and, especially, when their human side came out more strongly by frequent contact with the world, the admiration and veneration grew less. The misconduct of some threw discredit upon entire orders, and the respect for the orders themselves was thus diminished. The friars had, also, in their schools, fallen into a kind of routine of traditional methods which sometimes approached the ridiculous. Anything contrary to the teachings of masters was looked upon with suspicion, and what we now call progress was greatly shackled. Men in advance of their age, like the Franciscan Roger Bacon, were looked upon as visionaries, or even accused of witchcraft. But there was a moment of awakening. The fall of Constantinople had driven many of the Greeks to seek refuge in the West. They brought with them the knowledge and love of pagan antiquity. The spark was soon fanned into a flame, and the world beheld the revival of Roman and Grecian letters. The philosophy of Aristotle in its mediaeval dress began to appear barbarous, and its votaries, the friars, seemed to share in the contempt cast upon it. Poetry, painting, literature, began to assume a classic character. Rome and Greece seemed to live again, even in the very names that were assumed by scholars.

The invention of the art of printing had given a wonderful impulse to the dissemination of knowledge, and the discovery of America had overthrown many preconceived ideas, and opened a new field before men’s minds. Unfortunately there was evil connected with all this as well as good. Holy things became an object of ridicule, and none received a fuller share of this than the monks and friars. Poets and novelists made them the objects of their jests, while men like Erasmus of Rotterdam, who himself had been a monk, did not conceal their contempt for them. The time was ripe for a great moral revolution, and it came, or rather it swept over a portion of Europe like a cyclone. The voice of a friar was to set it in movement. Martin Luther was a member of the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine, and he belonged to the Congregation of Saxony, of which Staupitz, his friend, was the superior-general. The early portion of his religious life was a peculiar one. The soul of Luther belonged to that class which will remain a mystery until the great day when all secrets shall come to light. It had great aspirations, but either a wrong direction, or perhaps a secret pride, prevented them from reaching their mark. The unfortunate friar took a step when he mounted the pulpit of Wittenberg to preach against Indulgences, which hurled him headlong into heresy. Leo X condemned his propositions; he hardened his heart; the Protestant Reformation had begun.

Many of those who followed the example of Luther were men who, like the friar of Wittenberg, had consecrated themselves to God by the vows of religion. Oecolampadius was a Brigittine, Occam a Capuchin, and Giordano Bruno a member of the Order of Saint Dominic. These, with many others, abandoned their cloisters and threw themselves headlong into heresy or apostasy. The entire Augustinian congregation of Saxony was ruined by the defection of Luther. Heresy spread through Germany and Scandinavia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and caused the ruin of millions. Albert of Brandenberg, grand-master of the Teutonic Order of Knighthood, became a Lutheran, and appropriated the property of his order in Prussia. England, under Henry VIII, broke with the See of Rome, convents and monasteries were suppressed in that country and in Ireland, and the Catholic faith gradually disappeared in England, while in Ireland it underwent a series of bitter persecutions. This was a period of sore trial for the Church, but she was not without consolation, for God raised up saintly men to defend her. The sixteenth century and the one that followed it must ever remain memorable in the annals of the religious state. The sixteenth century was what the fifth and the thirteenth had been, an era of a new movement. The fifth century had witnessed the foundation of the Benedictine order, the thirteenth was the era of the Mendicants, and the sixteenth gave birth to the Regular Clerics. Undoubtedly the greatest event of that age was the establishment of the Society of Jesus: but we must not forget that Saint Ignatius had been preceded by one, who, more than the founder of the Jesuits, deserves a place beside Saint Pachomius, Saint Basil, Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, and Saint Dominic.

If the founder of Tabenna may be called the father of religious orders, if Saint Basil deserves the title of father of the monks of the East, Saint Benedict, that of patriarch of the monks of the West, and Saints Francis and Dominic may be justly styled patriarchs of the Mendicants, to Saint Cajetan of Thienna belongs that of Patriarch of the Regular Clerics. This saint was born at Vicenza in 1480. Together with John Peter Caraffa, archbishop of Theate, afterwards Pope Paul IV, and Fathers Boniface de Colle and Paul Consiglieri, he laid the foundations of the institute of Regular Clerics at Rome in 1524, ten years before Saint Ignatius and his companions bound themselves by vow in the crvpt at Montmartre. His object was to restore the apostolic spirit among the clergy. Clement VII, who approved this institution, gave to its members the name of Regular Clerics, which is truly their distinctive title, but which, afterwards, became common to all those relicrious who, in the sense of Canon Law, belong to the same category as the Theatines. Saint Cajetan had thus begun in the Church a mode of life which greatly resembled that of the Canons Regular, but without adopting any of the ancient rules, so that he approached nearer to the secular clergy than the monks, the friars, or the Canons had done. He had begun the work, another was to perfect it, as Saint Benedict had given the finishing touch to the monastic state. The institution of Regular Clerics obtained its fullest development in the Society of Jesus, an order which deservedly holds a place among the greatest religious institutions the names of which history has recorded.

Saint Ignatius de Loyola came into the world in 1491, eleven years after Saint Cajetan. His early years were given to the world, but at the age of thirty he consecrated himself entirely to God. In 1534 he instituted the Society of Jesus, which became a barrier to the Reformation that had been begun only a few years before. The Jesuits were to eclipse, in their spirit of truly military discipline, their unquestioning obedience, and their tact in making use of all the elements of nature and grace at their disposal, all religious orders that had preceded them. The beginning of the society was lowly, but it spread with lightning-like velocity, and in a short time it existed not only in every country of Europe, but it had founded missions in the East and on the shores of the New World. Jesuits filled chairs in the universities, they were at the courts of princes, and their theologians assisted at the Council of Trent. The world had never yet beheld such a compact body of men. Their strength lay in their unity.

The Society of Jesus and the Theatines were not the only orders founded in the sixteenth century. Other Congregations were established for the service of the sick and the education of children. Saint Phihp Neri founded at Rome his famous Oratory, in which his disciples led lives of the greatest edification without binding themselves by vows. In Spain, old orders were being brought back to a state of regularity. Foremost among these reforms was that of the Discalced Carmelites, established by Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross. Similar reformations were being set on foot among the Trinitarians and the Franciscans, the latter glorying in the possession of a Saint Peter de Alcantara. Saint John of God instituted at Granada the Brothers of Charity to tend the sick, and the Barnabites, in Italy, devoted themselves to missions, to preaching, and to the instruction of youth. The ancient order of Citeaux also witnessed a reformation when Dom Jean de la Barriere established the congregation of Feuillants. While the various orders and reforms of orders were being instituted in France, Spain, and Italy, the religious state was undergoing bitter persecutions in the British Isles, in northern Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, on account of the ascendancy Protestantism had gained in these countries which threw off their allegiance to the Church.

In the latter half of the sixteenth century the Duchy of Savoy gave to the Church Saint Francis de Sales, the founder of the order of Nuns of the Visitation, while France beheld the rise of the Congregation of Lazarists, and the life and virtues of its illustrious founder, Saint Vincent de Paul. From this period, congregations with simple vows began to grow numerous in the Church of God. Their members are truly religious in the sight of God, but not in a canonical sense. Their increase may be considered to form a special epoch in the history of religious orders. Saint Vincent also founded the institution of the Sisters of Charity, which is now spread over the entire world. In the seventeenth century the Cardinal de Berulle established the French Congregation of the Oratory, and M. Olier founded the Society of Saint Sulpice, both of which, like the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri, were without vows. In 1680, the Congregation of Christian Brothers was founded by Blessed John Baptist de la Salle. All these new Congregations were especially devoted to the active life, but the ancient monastic spirit was also revived by the reform introduced into the abbey of La Trappe, by the celebrated abbot de Ranee. Thus while iniquity abounded, grace super-abounded. In Europe, God had raised up orders to resist the encroachments which heresy was making, while those same orders sent their missionaries to the East and the west to evangelize the heathen. The Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, and others vied with each in laboring in the vineyard of the Lord in Persia, Japan, and other countries of the East, as well as among the Indian tribes of North and South America. Wherever the explorer went, the missionary of one of these orders was sure to follow, and many of these heroic men gave their blood in defence of the faith.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jansenist heresy swept like a whirlwind over France, and many of the religous orders were badly tainted by its breath. The abbey of Port Royal has become famous by its opposition to the bull of the Soverign Pontiff, by which the heresy was condemned. The Congregation of the Oratory in France was also badly infected. The Society of Jesus stood foremost among the defenders of the faith and the opponents of the heretics. God, at the same time, raised up in Italy a strenuous champion of the Church against Jansenistic tendencies, in the person of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, to whom the missionary congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer owes its origin. A short time before the establishment of the Redemptorists, Saint Paul of the Cross founded in the Papal States another Congregation, that of the Passionists, devoted to a similar object, but with a stronger tendency towards monasticism than that of the Redemptorists.

Meanwhile the false philosophy of the eighteenth century was preparing the way for the French Revolution. This momentous event was preceded by another of an importance not to be exaggerated. For more than two centuries the Society of Jesus had been doing its noble work, but, at the same time, drawing upon itself the hatred of the world. Portugal gave the signal for the persecution which was to end in the suppression of the Jesuits. The Fathers were imprisoned, some being executed, and the majority of them were thrown upon the Roman coasts. Spain and France followed the example of Portugal, and, finally, Pope Clement XIV, having exhausted every expedient of delay, and yielding to the pressure brought to bear upon him, signed the decree suppressing the Society of Jesus on 21 July 1773. Only a few years later, the countries which had most contributed to this event, were brought under the domination of one man with a firm will and an iron arm, the emperor Napoleon, for whom the French Revolution prepared the way.

Things had come to a crisis in 1789. A portion of the French people, led on by Paris and a few demagogues, rose up against their monarch and dragged him to the guillotine. This inaugurated the Reign of Terror during which that instrument of death ceased not to perform its deadly work. As usual, the religious orders became the object of the fury of those who undertook to persecute the Church. Those who served God in great fervor as well as those who had fallen into relaxation were dispersed in all the countries in which the French Revolution triumphed, and, for a time, the religious state nearly ceased to exist within the limits of the French Republic. Before this, as early as 1765, Joseph II of Austria had issued decrees of suppression against religious orders, but the French Revolution surpassed him in its execution of similar enactments.

Under Napoleon, the Catholic religion was re-established in France, and the religious orders began to return to the country whence they had, a few years before, been driven. Several educational communities were also established. Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus, first in Russia, and, a few years later, throughout Christendom. In 1815, the French empire came to an end, and its founder was imprisoned on the island of Saint Helena. The congress of Vienna brought back peace and order to Europe, that had so long been convulsed by political and revolutionary storms.

During the present century [late 19th -ed.], the enemies of the Church have continued to unite their efforts to overthrow it, but it has triumphed in spite of them. Religious orders have been persecuted in Spain, Germany, France, and in some of the republics of the New World, but they still continue their heroic work, and the monastic and religious state now finds itself in a flourishing condition.

– from History of Religious Orders, by Father Charles Warren Currier, 1894