The New Religious Orders

  • Robert Bireley
Part of the European History in Perspective book series (EUROHIP)


Monks, nuns, and friars faced growing criticism in the late Middle Ages and encountered even greater strictures from the Reformers. Yet religious orders were to remain a distinctive feature of the Catholic Church. Indeed, early modern Catholicism experienced not only a revival but a creative adaptation of religious life to the new demands of the sixteenth century. This renewal consisted chiefly in two developments: first, an intensified commitment of religious, that is, members of religious orders or congregations, women as well as men, to new types of pastoral activity as well as to traditional ministries; secondly, in the creation of styles and forms of religious life that facilitated this commitment allowing religious more activity beyond convent walls. There was an effort to find a new synthesis of the contemplative and the active life in the world. As John W. O’Malley has written, ‘Although surely not without its debit side, ministry in the Catholic Church in the 16th and 17th centuries was perhaps the most innovative and exciting in history.’ There took place not ‘simply a “reform of morals”, but a reform of pastoral practice and an immense expansion of its scope’. New religious orders and congregations played the major part in this development, which was little related directly to Trent and Tridentine reforms.


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  1. 3.
    An English translation of Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae, the papal bull of 27 September 1540 establishing the Society of Jesus, is found in John Olin, The Catholic Reformation: Savonarola to Ignatius Loyola: Reform in the Church, 1495–1540 (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), pp. 203–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert Bireley, SJ 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Bireley
    • 1
  1. 1.Loyola University ChicagoUSA

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