The Establishment of Religious Orders
The Year of the Consecrated Life has been observed by religious orders especially. Please can you give me some idea of how religious orders came about within the Church? V Lampert
Origen, who was a prodigious Christian writer in the 3rd century, recorded that there were men and women known as ascetics. They were individuals in the Christian community who renounced worldly pleasures and devoted themselves to ardent prayer and meditation while at the same time being exemplary in their spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Gradually some of them began to withdraw from the community and in imitation of John the Baptist to live in desert areas to avoid the distractions and temptations of social living. These hermits became known as anchorites, from the Greek word meaning to retire.
Although this kind of reclusive way of life was highly regarded, by the 4th century some individual anchorites began to band together with others, probably for self-preservation in uninhabited places.
In addition to that, it was argued that you could not obey the commandment to love your neighbour if you had none.
The first of these groups appeared in Egypt under the initiative of St Pachomius, St Anthony of the Desert and St Basil.
As superiors of their communities they composed lists of rules to regulate the daily life of community prayer and manual work to support themselves.
It was St Basil who asked his monks to take the now traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to affirm the religious way of life as opposed to the secular.
It did not take long for the monastic model to cross into Europe where it came under the supervision of bishops.
Monasteries of men and women were established widely around episcopal cities. Their members were mostly well-educated urbanites who tended to study and write more than to do physical labour, although they were self-supporting through their own labour.
St Benedict of Nursia was born in 480 and became known as the father of Western monasticism. He did not consider the consecrated life as an escape from the world, as many did, but as a means of serving Christ and neighbour.
Because the monks of other monasteries sometimes wandered from one place to another, he required his monks to take a vow of stability, binding them to one house only.
The Holy Rule he devised is the basis for most other religious rules to this day.
Its authoritative directives ensured that an abbot or superior could not make arbitrary decisions in the community but had to observe the letter and spirit of the Rule.