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New and Reformed Religious Orders

The Religious order most famously associated with the Reformation era, was the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). But many other new and reformed orders played a critical role in the regeneration of the Catholic faith in Europe.

Reformed Religious Orders

  • Capuchins (1520) — Order for Friars who sought a strict observance of the Rule of St. Francis, established by Matteo Bassi. The order played an important role in Catholic reformation both in Europe and foreign missions under leaders such as Lawrence of Brindisi   and Fidelis of Sigmaringen.
  • Discalced Carmelites (1588) — Teresa of Avila and her confessor John of the Cross   reformed the Carmelite order and established many houses in Spain. Both were contemplatives and mystics, who wrote classical works on spiritual formation and have been named Doctors of the Church.
  • Augustinian Recollects (1588) — Mendicant order of Augustinian hermits dedicated to strict observance of the Rule of Augustine. Most active in Spain. Saints John of Sahagun and Alonso de Orozco Mena were early members.

The Jesuits

The Society of Jesus, founded in 1540, trained their priests in classics, science, and theology. The order established hundreds of schools and provided Christian classical education to nobles and laymen alike. The Jesuits were also known for their missionary activity throughout Asia and the Americas, and for their theological contributions to council of Trent.

Most of the founders of the Jesuit order are listed here:

  • St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) — Former soldier who established rules for the order and served as first Superior General
  • St. Francis Xavier (1506-52) — Early Missionary who traveled throughout Asia and made thousands of Converts. Established missions in Japan, India, and China
  • St. Peter Faber (1506-46) — First priest and co-founder of the Jesuits order who emphasized reform. Traveled throughout Europe, especially to Germany helping to resolve religious disputes. After Peter Faber died en route to the Council of Trent, these Jesuit founders served as advisors
  • Diego Lainez (1512-65) — Brilliant Jesuit scholar who served as one of the chief theologians of the Council of Trent. Elected second superior of the Jesuit order after the death of Ignatius.
  • Alfonso Salmeron (1515-85) — Jesuit scholar best known for assisting Lainez at the council of Trent and Ignatius in drafting the constitutions of the Jesuit order.

At the time that the Jesuit order was founded the Spanish government and church were discriminating against those with Jewish heritage, so Jewish born Conversos were prohibited from joining most religious orders. Ignatius refused to comply and welcomed many notable Conversos into the order. Several of the early Jesuits, such as Diego Lainez, the second Superior General, were of Jewish descent. The Jesuits were therefore blessed with a number of brilliant theologians of Jewish heritage, but at the same time left themselves open to infiltration by enemies of the Church.

New Religious Orders of the 16th Century

  • Theatines (1524) — Religious order of clerics founded St. Cajetan and Pietro Carafa (later Pope Paul IV) that required members to take evangelical vows. Its object was to set a virtuous example and recall the clergy to a life of sanctity and service.
  • Barnabites (1530) — One of the earliest new orders founded during Reformation period. Established in Milan by Anthony Maria Zaccaria as an order of Clerics Regular to help revive piety and zeal for souls among the clergy. Members vowed to refuse offices, and to focus on missions, confessions, preaching, and catechizing.
  • Ursulines (1535) — Order founded by Angela Merici dedicated elevation of family life through the Christian education of young girls. Organized first in northern Italy as a group of lay women, the Ursulines became the first teaching order of women religious.
  • Oratorians (1575) — Society of secular priests organized in independent groups of at least four. Established in Rome by Philip Neri as a group of musicians who spread the gospel through plays and performances. Associated with Felix of Cantalice and composer Palestrina.
  • Brothers Hospitallers (1572) — Religious order of lay brothers who served sick and crippled. Founded in Spain by John of God, patron of hospital patients and those dying. Also known as Fatebenefratelli (“Do-Good Brothers”) or Brothers of Mercy.

New Religious Orders of the 17th century

  • Order of the Visitation (1610) — Religious order of women founded in France by a noble widow Jane Frances de Chantel and her confessor Francis de Sales. Order was intended as older women dedicated to service in community rather than being enclosed. Also known as ‘Visitation Sisters’.
  • Piarists (1617) — Religious teaching order founded by Joseph Calansanz dedicated to offering free education to poor children. Schools founded by Piarists functioned as first public school.
  • Lazarists (1625) — Congregation of the Mission, an order of priests and lay brothers dedicated to service and evangelization of the poor and common people. Founded by Vincent de Paul. Also known as Vicentians.
  • Daughters of Charity (1633) — Congregation of religious women founded in France by Vincent de Paul, dedicated to serving the poor through works of mercy.

The following excerpt is from 'Leading Events of Church History: Early Modernd Period'. It provides an overview of the early movement for Catholic Reform

The Jesuit Order

So many of the great works of zeal enumerated at the head of this section owe their existence either directly or indirectly to the Society of Jesus, that it would be impossible to follow their history without giving some brief account of the source to which they are due.

There is some analogy between the peace-loving patriarch of monks (St. Benedict) and the warrior general of the Jesuits (St. Ignatius of Loyola),and still more between the position held by their respective foundations in the ages in which their lot was cast. Owing something of their individuality to the times which gave them birth, both saints impressed strong characteristics on their own and later days—something of which is mirrored in the titles by which they are known to posterity. As the Benedictine Order embraced within its wide horizon every activity tending towards improvement in early mediaeval days, whether in literature, law, medicine, or ancient and contemporary lore, so did the Society of Jesus easily hold the front rank among the men who regenerated Europe after a worse than pagan scourge had smitten the nations. And what they did not accomplish personally was almost undoubtedly the result of their influence, for there is scarcely a measure of reform instigated in Europe subsequent to 1540—the date when the Society was approved by the Holy See—that may not be traced to a man brought up under Jesuit auspices or converted by the spiritual exercises.

Ignatius of Loyola, to whose marvellous personality these results are, under God, due, was a noble Spaniard, forming in his own person a link between medieval and modern times. A typical knight of the most romantic chivalry, he yet had all the clear intuition, practical common sense, and long-sighted prudence of a man of business of to-day; grace and an indomitable will wrought these constituents into a monumental sanctity whose effects the world will feel till its last day.

Converted on a bed of suffering, in 1522, while reading the lives of Jesus Christ and His saints, Ignatius, by severe penance, long prayers, and pilgrimages, sought to repair the frivolities of his early life. During this time he went through every kind of trial and suffering, both mental and physical, thus gaining that deep knowledge of human nature, with its aspirations, struggles, temptations, and victories, which made him henceforth a leader of souls. He early felt that the defects of his education would prove an obstacle to apostolic work of any kind, and on his return from Palestine in 1524 he bent himself to acquire the rudiments of Latin and philosophy, without giving up a species of missionary work in which he was engaged. But he soon found that his method was faulty, and that he must follow the beaten track of knowledge; and in the Paris University he began to lay solid foundations of scholastic learning. It was not until ten years had elapsed that, in 1534, he finally gathered round him the little band of men who were to form the nucleus of his Society, the idea of which, shown to him at Manresa, was not yet fully developed in his mind. Favre, Bobadilla, Rodriguez, Xavier, and Laynez—all professors or students of the University—were they who, on the now famous Montmartre, made their vows and prepared to enter on a life of apostleship. Gradually the plan of\ the great Society he was to found, and the work he was to do, unfolded itself before Ignatius. In 1539 he presented to Pope Paul III. the draft of the new Institute. This was approved the following year. Meanwhile, members had been multiplying, for the famous exercises learned by Ignatius from Our Lady herself at Manresa had been producing great fruits. Each of the disciples of Loyola brought the unanswerable logic of this master-piece of spiritual science to bear on the souls with whom they came in contact, and something like the enthusiasm which followed the preaching of the Dominicans or the ministrations of the Franciscans in the thirteenth century was witnessed wherever the new missionaries appeared. To follow the footsteps of any one of the first Jesuits throughout his career is to read.the ever-recurring story of spiritual renovation in belief and practice. Such is the glory of Laynez in Venice, Padua, Trent, Sicily, and among the fleets sent against the famous corsair Dragut. Rodriguez had equal success in Portugal. Salmeron, Le Jay, and Favre—with his great conquest, disciple, and successor, Canisius—did the same for Germany. Each nation had its apostles, and the same scenes are recounted again and again.

Meanwhile Laynez and Salmeron had been sent as papal theologians to Trent. Their action in the Council had enormous influence on the after-history of the Society. The virtue of the men themselves won universal admiration, their learning and the extreme prudence of their manner of acting conciliated esteem for their Order, and the solemn approbation of the Society given by the Council placed it on so secure a basis that it has weathered every storm by which it has hitherto been assailed. Before the Council closed, St. Ignatius was dead, and Laynez ruled the Society in his stead; but the founder had framed the grand plan of his Company, had laid down principles of guidance for his sons, and had started every class of work for souls which they have since made their own.

Unlike many another great originator, Ignatius had lived to see the chief desires of his heart realized: his institute had been confirmed by more than one pope, the book of the spiritual exercises had been approved, and the constitutions of. his Order had been promulgated in every place where his sons were labouring. This body of rules was solemnly adopted by the General Congregation of the Society which met on the death of St. Ignatius to nominate his successor, and it was also again approved by the Holy See.

Some of the works begun by this saint have since been taken up by other Orders as their special end, and the Society no longer engages in them, but St. Ignatius has perhaps made no greater mark on the subsequent history of the world than by his educational foundations. From the first, teaching was recognized as a fundamental duty of the Society, and there was not a centre in which Jesuits were stationed that had not its school, its college, or its university. When St. Ignatius died, about a hundred establishments already existed; and they multiplied with a rapidity that speaks volumes for the influence of the movement, when it is remembered how carefully the saint had laid down the law that the staff of professors should be not only adequate in number, but efficient in qualifications. It would be impossible to follow the spread of these centres of renovation and of culture. It must suffice to say that one hundred and fifty years after the death of St. Ignatius there were more than seven hundred of them scattered over the face of the globe, the lowest number of students recorded as attending any of them being given as three hundred. And it must be remembered that these colleges were directed by men eminent not only for virtue, but for learning, who gave as a sacred duty their best years to the cultivation of the minds and hearts of the youth committed to their care. St. Ignatius and his successors in the generalate required from those who demanded a college or a university for their town that a modest endowment should be provided, enough to cover the expenses of the professors. This was in order that no fee should be asked or received for tuition, and that thus the benefit of the most complete and thorough education should be within the reach of all. These Jesuit establishments were to the Catholic youths of the early modern times what the great universities had been to the European world in the Middle Ages, with this difference—that the students of the Jesuits, with no small gain to themselves, were more directly under the guidance and control of the masters than in the earlier scholastic bodies.

Under the fifth general of the Society, Claudius Aquaviva, a man of commanding sanctity and genius, a complete system of studies was drawn up—the famous Ratio Studiorum. It was the fruit of long experience, of wide research and broad principles, and was the work of a series of committees of great Jesuit educators called together from the most famous teaching-centres of Europe. It regulates not only the subjects to be taught, but lays down the scope and aims, the principles and practice, of the great art of teaching.

It would be an interesting but almost endless task to record the names of the most famous professors and students of Jesuit colleges, and the libraries of precious works which are due to their patient researches or inspired genius. In every walk of knowledge their names are to be found.

Perhaps the most famous of the Jesuit colleges were two begun by St. Ignatius himself. That established for the youth of the eternal city had for its temporal founder St. Francis Borgia, and came to be known as the Roman College. On account of its free tuition, it at first met with great opposition, but the unqualified success of its teaching silenced all criticism and defeated its enemies, while popes and cardinals were loud in its praises. It was here that public distribution of prizes, with an exhibition of the powers of the students in oratory, declamation, and music was first established—an institution due, it is said, to Laynez, the second general. Twenty colleges at different times sent their students to assist at the Jesuit courses, so great was their fame. Here the most promising of the young members of the Society were sent to study: hence we find St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Stanislaus Kostka, and St. John Berchmans numbered among the students of the Roman College, which has, moreover, given eight popes to the world, besides a crowd of men eminent in every line of intellectual life or moral excellence.

The second foundation which Ignatius also settled in Rome was the Germanic College. Its aim was—though not closing its doors to seculars—to form a highly educated body of clergy for Germany. The great disciples whom their founder had sent to labour among the nations in which Lutheranism had its head-quarters were instructed to send to Rome young men whom they considered fit for the priesthood. These were trained under the eye of Ignatius, and soon became so grounded in science and virtue that, on their return to their native country, they did wonders in bringing back to the faith many whom ignorance and heresy had perverted. It is a patent fact that Protestantism made no further advances after the Council of Trent; and that it did not is due to the heroic stand made against it by the Jesuits and their colleges. As Guizot says: "The Society was instituted to fight the Religious Revolt." In spite of its immense importance, the Germanic College suffered extreme penury for a long period. In 1573 Gregory XI II. placed it beyond the possibility of distress by an adequate endowment. The students of this college still form a marked feature in Roman streets, with their picturesque orimson cassocks and broad black sashes. Few of the great names of the next generation of German rulers, lawyers, prelates, warriors, and scientists but are to be found on the bead-roll of the Germanic College.

Rejuvenescence of Older Religious Orders

The reform of the older congregations of the Church seems to have been the work of numerous holy members, whose silent influence gradually leavened the whole body, and brought about a renewal of the ancient fervour which had made them such powerful instruments for good. The fresh fields of labour opened up by the discoveries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seem to have invigorated these holy federations with a new ardour; and the religious of several of them—notably the Franciscans and Dominicans—are to be found everywhere in the wake of the pioneers of the New World.

Teresa of Avila and the Discalasced Carmelites

The story of St. Teresa's grand work in the Church is an exquisitely finished example or a type of what was going on in the silent cloisters of many lands. It is unnecessary to rehearse the oft-told tale of the Spanish saint's holy childhood and girlhood, with its brief interlude of a vanity we should be tempted to call innocent had not Teresa, with eyes enlightened by heavenly intuition, looked on it as so grave a misconduct.

Thirty years of exemplary religious life (1533–1562), not unmarked by human faults and frailties, but closed with a complete surrender of her whole self—with all the rich treasures of heart and mind with which she was dowered—to the absolute following out of the Divine Will, prepared her for her life's work: the reform of the ancient Order of Carmel, which claims descent from the Old Testament Schools of the Prophets founded by Elias.

With no other thought but that of leading a life of perfection in company with a few generous souls, Teresa led the way by founding, not without great opposition, a poor little convent, which she dedicated to St. Joseph, in Avila itself, the city where she had been born, and in which she had lived so long as a religious in the convent of the Incarnation. Here the young community followed the primitive rule in extreme poverty and fervour. Nine years later (in 1571) the General of the Order, seeing the immense good likely to spring from the multiplication of convents such as Teresa governed, gave her leave to extend her work, and bade her make other foundations, not only for women, but also for men. Her inimitable narrative records the story of the seventeen convents for nuns and the fifteen for friars which she established during the eleven years of life which were left to her. In 1580 St. Teresa had the happiness of seeing her work placed on a firm basis by the separation of the reformed convents from those of the mitigated rule.

She died on October 4, 1582. It was the year in which the correction of the calendar, made by order of Pope Gregory XIII., was to take effect; the precise ten days to be omitted were those intervening between October 4 and 15. Hence the Feast of St. Teresa, fixed for the day after her death, falls on October 15.

Strictly speaking, St. Teresa did not reform existing convents—at least, of women; she founded communities which embraced the reformed rule. Her institute spread into other lands after her death, and in many a quiet cloister her heroic daughters still follow in her footsteps, and, like their glorious foundress, are a powerful means of grace to the cities which afford them, perhaps too often, only a grudging hospitality.

The Theatine order—St. Cajetine and Paul VI

Another widespread renovation of fervour was due to St. Cajetan of Thiene and his colleague, Cardinal Caraffa, afterwards Pope under the title of Paul IV. St. Cajetan, born in 1480, when still young, attracted great attention in Rome by his ability and holy life, and was named one of the Protonotaries Apostolic. He was, therefore, a member of the papal court, into which he introduced an unwonted spirit of piety and order. He also reawakened the religious element in the ancient confraternity of the Love of God. Similar fruits of zeal followed in Venice, whither his director bade him go for a time. On his return to Rome, he found that a considerable number of eminent men were formulating plans for the reform of clergy and laity with more zeal than success. Among these was Caraffa, in whom Cajetan recognized a kindred spirit, and, with two associates, they succeeded in carrying into effect the desires of the others. This was in 1524.

The Pope gave the four ecclesiastics leave to renounce their benefices, and to found an institute of regular clerks, whose object would be to train model priests, who, in absolute poverty, should devote themselves to realizing the sanctity of their state, and to rousing a corresponding fidelity in the people committed to their care. The members of the new institute soon became known as Theatines, for Caraffa was Bishop of Theatin. Their fervour was contagious, and a wonderful improvement began to manifest itself in those quarters of Rome where their influence was felt. The good work was abruptly interrupted' ,by the terrible sack of Rome in 1527. The narrative of the sufferings of the Theatines during this awful visitation is simply appalling. When liberated from their persecutors, they fled to Venice, where they set to work in the same devoted way. Another foundation was made at Naples, where St. Cajetan had great difficulty in preserving the poverty of his institute intact. He rendered great service to Naples by striving to control the excited populace. who were driven to excesses of all kinds by the attempt of the Spaniards to impose the Inquisition. The troubles were appeased on the very day of his death in 1547.

Meanwhile Caraffa had been created cardinal, and on the death of Pope Marcellus (1555), he was elected to the vacant throne. As Paul IV. he worked hard to spread his Order. Many Theatines joined the work of foreign missions, and evangelized Eastern Asia and part of the East Indies, notably Sumatra and Borneo. This brief sketch has taken us into the days when many another work of zeal was renovating the face of the Church.

Capuchins: Reform of the Franciscans

The Capuchin branch of the Franciscans was reformed in 1528. The movement originated in the Order itself, and quite a number of saintly members, especially lay-brothers, have left their mark on their Order. Of these, St. Felix of Cantalice, the friend of St. Philip Neri, was one of the most noted.

The first project of general reform was due to Pope Paul III. in 1536. He named a congregation composed of the most holy and learned among the cardinals and prelates who surrounded him. These good men seem to have taken a most gloomy view of the situation. Indeed, the picture they drew of the evils of the times is about as unfavourable as that given by the Church's enemies themselves; and the measures they proposed were most drastic in character: for instance, they would have had all religious Orders of men extinguished, by forbidding them to receive novices. But God was watching over His Church, and reform was already inaugurated; but, to take wide expansion, it needed the authorization of the supreme power on earth, and when the time was ripe this was forthcoming.

Angela Merici and the Ursulines

The first Order devoted exclusively to the education of girls dates from the sixteenth century. St. Angela of Merici is claimed as the foundress, though she did little more than suggest the idea and make a first essay. She was witness of the distressing state of things consequent on religious revolt, and with womanly intuition recognized the utter neglect of the education of girls as largely chargeable with the evils of the time. A vision in which Our Lord told her she was to found an educational Order, strengthened her convictions, and she gathered a number of little girls around her, and began to teach them household arts and sacred science. However, she seems to have interrupted the work for many years, until Our Lord reproached her for her neglect of His wishes. Then she set to work to draw up a rule and to gather helpers. There was no question of founding an Order, so the members remained at home, merely assembling for prayers, teaching, and visiting the poor for the purpose of giving religious instruction. They chose St. Ursula as their patron, and were called Ursulines. For five years all went on very prosperously, then Angela died (1540). In many different centres the work was taken up and separate foundations were made, though a kind of union was preserved by each being placed under the patronage of St. Ursula. Hence there is considerable diversity in the various branches or congregations of which the Order is composed. The freedom of action which St. Angela established was gradually exchanged for conventual life, and though some Ursulines are cloistered and others are not, all have adopted a religious costume, live in community, and take the vows of religion.

The Paris house, which became the model of many of the French convents, grew out of the attempt of Madame Acarie to found a Carmelite convent. While negotiating their coming, she was preparing a number of young girls to be presented to the daughters of St. Teresa when they should arrive. As she did not find signs of a contemplative vocation in all, she had them trained to teach, foreseeing the great good that would result from an institute which should devote itself to the education of girls. Her cousin, the celebrated Madeleine de Ste. Beuve, warmly took up the idea when it was laid before her, and in 1610 she built a convent which she dedicated for this purpose. She had the consolation of seeing a numerous and fervent community grow up, many affiliations started, and multitudes of young girls receiving the blessing of a thorough Christian training. From the Paris foundation sprang another yet more famous—that of Canada—shortly to be mentioned. The Bordeaux congregation was very numerous, and others had their centres in Dijon, Lyons, Arles, etc., each of which has some distinctive characteristic.

St. Charles Borromeo introduced the congregation into his diocese, endeavouring to get Ursuline nuns established in all the large cities of Northern Italy. He had founded eighteen convents in the Milanese province before his death. During the first hundred years of its existence the Order spread into almost every country of Europe.