THE ADAPTATION AND RENEWAL OF RELIGIOUS LIFE
PROCLAIMED BY HIS HOLINESS
POPE PAUL VI
ON OCTOBER 28, 1965
1. The sacred
synod has already shown in the constitution on the Church that the pursuit of
perfect charity through the evangelical counsels draws its origin from the
doctrine and example of the Divine Master and reveals itself as a splendid sign
of the heavenly kingdom. Now it intends to treat of the life and discipline of
those institutes whose members make profession of chastity, poverty and
obedience and to provide for their needs in our time.
Indeed from the
very beginning of the Church men and women have set about following Christ with
greater freedom and imitating Him more closely through the practice of the
evangelical counsels, each in his own way leading a life dedicated to God. Many
of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, lived as hermits or founded
religious families, which the Church gladly welcomed and approved by her
authority. So it is that in accordance with the Divine Plan a wonderful variety
of religious communities has grown up which has made it easier for the Church
not only to be equipped for every good work (cf. 2 Tim 3:17) and ready for the
work of the ministry-the building up of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:12)-but
also to appear adorned with the various gifts of her children like a spouse
adorned for her husband (cf. Apoc. 21:2) and for the manifold Wisdom of God to
be revealed through her (cf. Eph. 3:10).
Despite such a
great variety of gifts, all those called by God to the practice of the
evangelical counsels and who, faithfully responding to the call, undertake to
observe the same, bind themselves to the Lord in a special way, following
Christ, who chaste and poor (cf. Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) redeemed and sanctified
men through obedience even to the death of the Cross (cf. Phil. 2:8). Driven by
love with which the Holy Spirit floods their hearts (cf. Rom. 5:5) they live
more and more for Christ and for His body which is the Church (cf. Col. 1:24).
The more fervently, then, they are joined to Christ by this total life-long gift
of themselves, the richer the life of the Church becomes and the more lively and
successful its apostolate.
In order that the
great value of a life consecrated by the profession of the counsels and its
necessary mission today may yield greater good to the Church, the sacred synod
lays down the following prescriptions. They are meant to state only the general
principles of the adaptation and renewal of the life and discipline of Religious
orders and also, without prejudice to their special characteristics, of
societies of common life without vows and secular institutes. Particular norms
for the proper explanation and application of these principles are to be
determined after the council by the authority in question.
2. The adaptation
and renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the
sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and
their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time. This renewal, under the
inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Church, must be advanced
according to the following principles:
a) Since the
ultimate norm of the religious life is the following of Christ set forth in the
Gospels, let this be held by all institutes as the highest rule.
b) It redounds to
the good of the Church that institutes have their own particular characteristics
and work. Therefore let their founders' spirit and special aims they set before
them as well as their sound traditions-all of which make up the patrimony of
each institute-be faithfully held in honor.
c) All institutes
should share in the life of the Church, adapting as their own and implementing
in accordance with their own characteristics the Church's undertakings and aims
in matters biblical, liturgical, dogmatic, pastoral, ecumenical, missionary and
should promote among their members an adequate knowledge of the social
conditions of the times they live in and of the needs of the Church. In such a
way, judging current events wisely in the light of faith and burning with
apostolic zeal, they may be able to assist men more effectively.
e ) The purpose of
the religious life is to help the members follow Christ and be united to God
through the profession of the evangelical counsels. It should be constantly kept
in mind, therefore, that even the best adjustments made in accordance with the
needs of our age will be ineffectual unless they are animated by a renewal of
spirit. This must take precedence over even the active ministry.
3. The manner of
living, praying and working should be suitably adapted everywhere, but
especially in mission territories, to the modern physical and psychological
circumstances of the members and also, as required by the nature of each
institute, to the necessities of the apostolate, the demands of culture, and
social and economic circumstances.
According to the
same criteria let the manner of governing the institutes also be examined.
constitutions, directories, custom books, books of prayers and ceremonies and
such like be suitably re-edited and, obsolete laws being suppressed, be adapted
to the decrees of this sacred synod.
4. An effective
renewal and adaptation demands the cooperation of all the members of the
establish the norms of adaptation and renewal, to embody it in legislation as
well as to make allowance for adequate and prudent experimentation belongs only
to the competent authorities, especially to general chapters. The approbation of
the Holy See or of the local Ordinary must be obtained where necessary according
to law. But superiors should take counsel in an appropriate way and hear the
members of the order in those things which concern the future well being of the
For the adaptation
and renewal of convents of nuns suggestions and advice may be obtained also from
the meetings of federations or from other assemblies lawfully convoked.
everyone should keep in mind that the hope of renewal lies more in the faithful
observance of the rules and constitutions than in multiplying laws.
5. Members of each
institute should recall first of all that by professing the evangelical counsels
they responded to a divine call so that by being not only dead to sin (cf. Rom.
6:11) but also renouncing the world they may live for God alone. They have
dedicated their entire lives to His service. This constitutes a special
consecration, which is deeply rooted in that of baptism and expresses it more
Since the Church
has accepted their surrender of self they should realize they are also dedicated
to its service.
This service of
God ought to inspire and foster in them the exercise of the virtues, especially
humility, obedience, fortitude and chastity. In such a way they share in
Christ's emptying of Himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) and His life in the spirit (cf.
Faithful to their
profession then, and leaving all things for the sake of Christ (cf. Mark 10:28),
religious are to follow Him (cf. Matt. 19:21) as the one thing necessary (cf.
Luke 10:42) listening to His words (cf. Luke 10:39) and solicitous for the
things that are His (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32).
It is necessary
therefore that the members of every community, seeking God solely and before
everything else, should join contemplation, by which they fix their minds and
hearts on Him, with apostolic love, by which they strive to be associated with
the work of redemption and to spread the kingdom of God.
6. Let those who
make profession of the evangelical counsels seek and love above all else God who
has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10) and let them strive to foster in all
circumstances a life hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col. 3:3). This love of God
both excites and energizes that love of one's neighbor which contributes to the
salvation of the world and the building up of the Church. This love, in
addition, quickens and directs the actual practice of the evangelical counsels.
upon the authentic sources of Christian spirituality, members of religious
communities should resolutely cultivate both the spirit and practice of prayer.
In the first place they should have recourse daily to the Holy Scriptures in
order that, by reading and meditating on Holy Writ, they may learn "the
surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). They should celebrate the
sacred liturgy, especially the holy sacrifice of the Mass, with both lips and
heart as the Church desires and so nourish their spiritual life from this
richest of sources.
So refreshed at
the table of divine law and the sacred altar of God, they will love Christ's
members as brothers, honor and love their pastors as sons should do, and living
and thinking ever more in union with the Church, dedicate themselves wholly to
which are entirely dedicated to contemplation, so that their members in solitude
and silence, with constant prayer and penance willingly undertaken, occupy
themselves with God alone, retain at all times, no matter how pressing the needs
of the active apostolate may be, an honorable place in the Mystical Body of
Christ, whose "members do not all have the same function" (Rom. 12:4). For these
offer to God a sacrifice of praise which is outstanding. Moreover the manifold
results of their holiness lends luster to the people of God which is inspired by
their example and which gains new members by their apostolate which is as
effective as it is hidden. Thus they are revealed to be a glory of the Church
and a well-spring of heavenly graces. Nevertheless their manner of living should
be revised according to the principles and criteria of adaptation and renewal
mentioned above. However their withdrawal from the world and the exercises
proper to the contemplative life should be preserved with the utmost care.
8. There are in
the Church very many communities, both clerical and lay, which devote themselves
to various apostolic tasks. The gifts which these communities possess differ
according to the grace which is allotted to them. Administrators have the gift
of administration, teachers that of teaching, the gift of stirring speech is
given to preachers, liberality to those who exercise charity and cheerfulness to
those who help others in distress (cf. Rom. 12:5-8). "The gifts are varied, but
the Spirit is the same" (1 Cor. 12:4).
communities apostolic and charitable activity belongs to the very nature of the
religious life, seeing that it is a holy service and a work characteristic of
love, entrusted to them by the Church to be carried out in its name. Therefore,
the whole religious life of their members should be inspired by an apostolic
spirit and all their apostolic activity formed by the spirit of religion.
Therefore in order that their members may first correspond to their vocation to
follow Christ and serve Him in His members, their apostolic activity must spring
from intimate union with Him. Thus love itself towards God and the neighbor is
then, should adjust their rules and customs to fit the demands of the apostolate
to which they are dedicated. The fact however that apostolic religious life
takes on many forms requires that its adaptation and renewal take account of
this diversity and provide that the lives of religious dedicated to the service
of Christ in these various communities be sustained by special provisions
appropriate to each.
9. The monastic
life, that venerable institution which in the course of a long history has won
for itself notable renown in the Church and in human society, should be
preserved with care and its authentic spirit permitted to shine forth ever more
splendidly both in the East and the West. The principal duty of monks is to
offer a service to the divine majesty at once humble and noble within the walls
of the monastery, whether they dedicate themselves entirely to divine worship in
the contemplative life or have legitimately undertaken some apostolate or work
of Christian charity. Retaining, therefore, the characteristics of the way of
life proper to them, they should revive their ancient traditions of service and
so adapt them to the needs of today that monasteries will become institutions
dedicated to the edification of the Christian people.
communities according to their rule or constitutions closely join the apostolic
life to choir duty and monastic observances. These should so adapt their manner
of life to the demands of the apostolate appropriate to them that they observe
faithfully their way of life, since it has been of great service to the Church.
10. The religious
life, undertaken by lay people, either men or women, is a state for the
profession of the evangelical counsels which is complete in itself. While
holding in high esteem therefore this way of life so useful to the pastoral
mission of the Church in educating youth, caring for the sick and carrying out
its other ministries, the sacred synod confirms these religious in their
vocation and urges them to adjust their way of life to modern needs.
The sacred synod
declares that there is nothing to prevent some members of religious communities
of brothers being admitted to holy orders by provision of their general chapter
in order to meet the need for priestly ministrations in their own houses,
provided that the lay character of the community remains unchanged.
Institutes, although not Religious institutes involve a true and full profession
of the evangelical counsels in the world. This profession is recognized by the
Church and consecrates to God men and women, lay and clerical, who live in the
world. Hence they should make a total dedication of themselves to God in perfect
charity their chief aim, and the institutes themselves should preserve their own
proper, i.e., secular character, so that they may be able to carry out
effectively everywhere in and, as it were, from the world the apostolate for
which they were founded.
It may be taken
for granted, however, that so great a task cannot be discharged unless the
members be thoroughly trained in matters divine and human so that they are truly
a leaven in the world for the strengthening and growth of the body of Christ.
Superiors, therefore, should give serious attention especially to the spiritual
training to be given members as well as encourage their further formation.
12. The chastity
"for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12) which religious profess
should be counted an outstanding gift of grace. It frees the heart of man in a
unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so that it may be more inflamed with love
for God and for all men. Thus it not only symbolizes in a singular way the
heavenly goods but also the most suitable means by which religious dedicate
themselves with undivided heart to the service of God and the works of the
apostolate. In this way they recall to the minds of all the faithful that
wondrous marriage decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future
age in which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse.
therefore, who are striving faithfully to observe the chastity they have
professed must have faith in the words of the Lord, and trusting in God's help
not overestimate their own strength but practice mortification and custody of
the senses. Neither should they neglect the natural means which promote health
of mind and body. As a result they will not be influenced by those false
doctrines which scorn perfect continence as being impossible or harmful to human
development and they will repudiate by a certain spiritual instinct everything
which endangers chastity. In addition let all, especially superiors, remember
that chastity is guarded more securely when true brotherly love flourishes in
the common life of the community.
observance of perfect continence touches intimately the deepest instincts of
human nature, candidates should neither present themselves for nor be admitted
to the vow of chastity, unless they have been previously tested sufficiently and
have been shown to possess the required psychological and emotional maturity.
They should not only be warned about the dangers to chastity which they may meet
but they should be so instructed as to be able to undertake the celibacy which
binds them to God in a way which will benefit their entire personality.
should diligently practice and if need be express also in new forms that
voluntary poverty which is recognized and highly esteemed especially today as an
expression of the following of Christ. By it they share in the poverty of Christ
who for our sakes became poor, even though He was rich, so that by His poverty
we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9; Matt. 8:20).
With regard to
religious poverty it is not enough to use goods in a way subject to the
superior's will, but members must be poor both in fact and in spirit, their
treasures being in heaven (cf. Matt. 6:20).
consider themselves in their own assignments to be bound by the common law of
labor, and while they procure what is required for their sustenance and works,
they should banish all undue solicitude and trust themselves to the provident
care of their Father in heaven (cf. Matt. 6:25).
congregations by their constitutions can permit their members to renounce
inheritances, both those which have been acquired or may be acquired.
Due regard being
had for local conditions, religious communities should readily offer a
quasi-collective witness to poverty and gladly use their own goods for other
needs of the Church and the support of the poor whom all religious should love
after the example of Christ (cf. Matt. 19:21, 25:34-46 James 2:15-16; 1 John
3:17). The several provinces and houses of each community should share their
temporal goods with one another, so that those who have more help the others who
are in need.
communities have the right to possess whatever is required for their temporal
life and work, unless this is forbidden by their rules and constitutions.
Nevertheless, they should avoid every appearance of luxury, excessive wealth and
the accumulation of goods.
14. In professing
obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their own will as a sacrifice
of themselves to God and so are united permanently and securely to God's
After the example
of Jesus Christ who came to do the will of the Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; Heb.
10:7; Ps. 39:9) and "assuming the nature of a slave" (Phil. 2:7) learned
obedience in the school of suffering (cf. Heb. 5:8), religious under the motion
of the Holy Spirit, subject themselves in faith to their superiors who hold the
place of God. Under their guidance they are led to serve all their brothers in
Christ, just as Christ himself in obedience to the Father served His brethren
and laid down His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 10:14-18). So
they are closely bound to the service of the Church and strive to attain the
measure of the full manhood of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
therefore, in the spirit of faith and love for the divine will should humbly
obey their superiors according to their rules and constitutions. Realizing that
they are contributing to building up the body of Christ according to God's plan,
they should use both the forces of their intellect and will and the gifts of
nature and grace to execute the commands and fulfill the duties entrusted to
them. In this way religious obedience, far from lessening the dignity of the
human person, by extending the freedom of the sons of God, leads it to maturity.
those who are to give an account of the souls entrusted to them (Heb. 13:17),
should fulfill their office in a way responsive to God's will. They should
exercise their authority out of a spirit of service to the brethren, expressing
in this way the love with which God loves their subjects. They should govern
these as sons of God, respecting their human dignity. In this way they make it
easier for them to subordinate their wills. They should be particularly careful
to respect their subjects' liberty in the matters of sacramental confession and
the direction of conscience. Subjects should be brought to the point where they
will cooperate with an active and responsible obedience in undertaking new tasks
and in carrying those already undertaken. And so superiors should gladly listen
to their subjects and foster harmony among them for the good of the community
and the Church, provided that thereby their own authority to decide and command
what has to be done is not harmed.
deliberative bodies should faithfully discharge the part in ruling entrusted to
them and each should in its own way express that concern for the good of the
entire community which all its members share.
15. Common life,
fashioned on the model of the early Church where the body of believers was
united in heart and soul (cf. Acts 4:32), and given new force by the teaching of
the Gospel, the sacred liturgy and especially the Eucharist, should continue to
be lived in prayer and the communion of the same spirit. As members of Christ
living together as brothers, religious should give pride of place in esteem to
each other (cf. Rom. 12:10) and bear each other's burdens (cf. Gal. 6:2). For
the community, a true family gathered together in the name of the Lord by God's
love which has flooded the hearts of its members through the Holy Spirit
(cf.Rom. 5:5), rejoices because He is present among them (cf. Matt. 18:20).
Moreover love sums up the whole law (cf. Rom. 13:10), binds all together in
perfect unity (cf. Col. 3:14) and by it we know that we have crossed over from
death to life (cf. 1 John 3:14). Furthermore, the unity of the brethren is a
visible pledge that Christ will return (cf. John 13:35; 17:21) and a source of
great apostolic energy.
That all the
members be more closely knit by the bond of brotherly love, those who are called
lay-brothers, assistants, or some similar name should be drawn closely in to the
life and work of the community. Unless conditions really suggest something else,
care should be taken that there be only one class of Sisters in communities of
women. Only that distinction of persons should be retained which corresponds
to-the diversity of works for which the Sisters are destined, either by special
vocation from God or by reason of special aptitude.
monasteries of men and communities which are not exclusively lay can, according
to their nature and constitutions, admit clerics and lay persons on an equal
footing and with equal rights and obligations, excepting those which flow from
16. Papal cloister
should be maintained in the case of nuns engaged exclusively in the
contemplative life. However, it must be adjusted to conditions of time and place
and obsolete practices suppressed. This should be done after due consultation
with the monasteries in question. But other nuns applied by rule to apostolic
work outside the convent should be exempted from papal cloister in order to
enable them better to fulfill the apostolic duties entrusted to them.
Nevertheless, cloister is to be maintained according to the prescriptions of
17. The religious
habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor
and at the same becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health
and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the
ministry involved. The habits of both men and women religious which do not
conform to these norms must be changed.
18. Adaptation and
renewal depend greatly on the education of religious. Consequently neither
non-clerical religious nor religious women should be assigned to apostolic works
immediately after the novitiate. Rather, their religious and apostolic
formation, joined with instruction in arts and science directed toward obtaining
appropriate degrees, must be continued as needs require in houses established
for those purposes.
In order that the
adaptation of religious life to the needs of our time may not be merely external
and that those employed by rule in the active apostolate may be equal to their
task, religious must be given suitable instruction, depending on their
intellectual capacity and personal talent, in the currents and attitudes of
sentiment and thought prevalent in social life today. This education must blend
its elements together harmoniously so that an integrated life on the part of the
religious concerned results.
strive during the whole course of their lives to perfect the culture they have
received in matters spiritual and in arts and sciences. Likewise, superiors
must, as far as this is possible, obtain for them the opportunity, equipment and
time to do this.
Superiors are also
obliged to see to it that directors, spiritual fathers, and professors are
carefully chosen and thoroughly trained.
19. When the
question of founding new religious communities arises, their necessity or at
least the many useful services they promise must be seriously weighed. Otherwise
communities may be needlessly brought into being which are useless or which lack
sufficient resources. Particularly in those areas where churches have recently
established, those forms of religious life should be promoted and developed
which take into account the genius and way of life of the inhabitants and the
customs and conditions of the regions.
communities should continue to maintain and fulfill the ministries proper to
them. In addition, after considering the needs of the Universal Church and
individual dioceses, they should adapt them to the requirements of time and
place, employing appropriate and even new programs and abandoning those works
which today are less relevant to the spirit and authentic nature of the
spirit must under all circumstances be preserved in religious communities. It
should be adapted, accordingly, as the nature of each community permits, to
modern conditions so that the preaching of the Gospel may be carried out more
effectively in every nation.
21. There may be
communities and monasteries which the Holy See, after consulting the interested
local Ordinaries, will judge not to possess reasonable hope for further
development. These should be forbidden to receive novices in the future. If it
is possible, these should be combined with other more flourishing communities
and monasteries whose scope and spirit is similar.
institutes and monasteries should, when opportune and the Holy See permits, form
federations if they can be considered as belonging to the same religious family.
Others who have practically identical constitutions and rules and a common
spirit should unite, particularly when they have too few members. Finally, those
who share the same or a very similar active apostolate should become associated,
one to the other.
23. This synod
favors conferences or councils of major superiors, established by the Holy See.
These can contribute very much to achieve the purpose of each institute; to
encourage more effective cooperation for the welfare of the Church; to ensure a
more just distribution of ministers of the Gospel in a given area; and finally
to conduct affairs of interest to all religious. Suitable coordination and
cooperation with episcopal conferences should be established with regard to the
exercise of the apostolate.
conferences should also be established for secular institutes.
24. Priests and
Christian educators should make serious efforts to foster religious vocations,
thereby increasing the strength of the Church, corresponding to its needs. These
candidates should be suitably and carefully chosen. In ordinary preaching, the
life of the evangelical counsels and the religious state should be treated more
frequently. Parents, too, should nurture and protect religious vocations in
their children by instilling Christian virtue in their hearts.
communities have the right to make themselves known in order to foster vocations
and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should observe the norms laid
down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary.
remember there is no better way than their own example to commend their
institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.
institutes, for whom these norms of adaptation and renewal have been laid down,
should respond generously to the specific vocation God gave them as well as
their work in the Church today. The sacred synod highly esteems their way of
life in poverty, chastity and obedience, of which Christ the Lord is Himself the
exemplar. Moreover, their apostolate, most effective, whether obscure or well
known, offers this synod great hope for the future. Let all religious, therefore,
rooted in faith and filled with love for God and neighbor, love of the cross and
the hope of future glory, spread the good news of Christ throughout the whole
world so that their witness may be seen by all and our Father in heaven may be
glorified (Matt. 5:16). Therefore, let them beseech the Virgin Mary, the gentle
Mother of God, "whose life is a model for all,"(1) that their number may daily
increase and their salutary work be more effective.
1. St. Ambrose,
De Virginitate, 1, II, c. II, n. 15.