November 30, 2010

Document Religiosorum Institutio (1961)

I was recently alerted to a very interesting and telling document of which I had never known, Religiosorum Institutio of the Congregation for Religious, the "Instruction on the Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders."

Check out the whole thing over on, EWTN, which (also) preserves a lot of rare and largely forgotten documents. (For example, for all of you traddy priests out there, when some dear soul tells you that your maniple is no longer permitted, you can send him over to Adoremus where he may read in Tres abhinc annos that it is only "no longer required." But I digress.)

Religiosorum Institutio is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Sometimes I think that those of us who grew up after the Council--and who perhaps seek to retrieve religious life from some of its twentieth century wanderings--can get this idea that everything was stable up until the time of the post-conciliar reforms, or worse, that everything was just fine until the reform wrecked everything. This document, among many others, shows that there were deep shifts going on before the time of the Council and its subsequent reforms. Religious life in particular was changing along with the world around it; how vocations came about was shifting along with the questions of the religious themselves.

The document is especially concerned with the responsible pastoral care of vocations and the selection of those who are admitted to clerical institutes in particular. Some parts of it are quite sad, such as this section on those who stay in religious life because they don't know what else to do:

At times such candidates, on the verge of Sacred Orders or perpetual profession and somewhat mature in age, finding themselves without academic degrees and untrained in any art or liberal profession, were afraid to leave the religious life, feeling deep down in their hearts that if they returned to the world, they could not make an upright living unless by manual labor, or would be obliged to make difficult and uncertain efforts to acquire a liberal profession. Therefore they regarded the decision to continue in the religious clerical life as a lesser evil.

(By "liberal profession" we may presume that the document means a career derived from a liberal education.)

Other sections strike prophetically at the condition of religious life, even fifty years later:

Lastly, not infrequently there is adduced as a cause the loss of the religious spirit either because, under the insidious impact of present-day naturalism, these priests become incapable of discipline and religious observance, or because, living in religious houses an indolent and unproductive life, deceived by the desire of life outside and ill-regulated pseudo-apostolic activism and neglecting the interior life, they fall victims to dangers of all kinds, which they do not avoid and do not even recognize.

Make of the document what you will, but it's certainly interesting not only as a glimpse into concerns just prior to the Council, but even on its own and in its wisdom for our own time.


Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder how much the fear inherent in war (WWI and WWII trench warfare)impacted the deep shifts you talk about which later led to the council. I remember once my father telling me that he was sixteen in 1940 when he crossed the Adriatic Sea on a rowboat in order to avoid being drafted into the communist army. When he arrived in Italy, he stumbled across a convent and knocked on the door in the middle of the night looking for food and rest. The sisters peeked out the window and wouldn't open the door to him. He never got over it and from that day forward held a chip on his shoulder against religion. Similarly his sister, who was retarded (I believe she had Down Syndrome though no-one diagnosed her in their small hometown)ended up in the convent because no-one else knew what to do with her. Is this charity? or is this, as you say, instilling the seeds of the "future condition of religious life?"

Mark D. said...

Good post, Father. The excessive that occurred after the Council should not lead anyone to believe that the need for reform prior to the Council was non-existent. The Council was called to help the Church become more like what she is called to be -- to reform her life and manners (not doctrine) to conform more closely to what Jesus calls all of us to be -- clergy, laity and religious.

The Church prior to the Council was far from perfect.

RJ said...

Interesting document. I found it very relevant to my situation. Thanks for posting that, Father.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

Thanks for bringing this document to my attention to Cardinal Valerio Valeri's 1961 Religiosorum institutio. Very, very interesting. I am going to spend some time with RI. Would I be correct that RI was deep-sixed by religious superiors? Do you know if superiors in the Capuchins ever read and applied the thinking of RI.

No one who knows anything about religious life could ever say that religious life was perfect in way. Far from it. There were plenty of excuses of why thus-and-such happened; similar excuses are given to today's behavior of many religious. Don't misunderstand me: we need to be merciful and helpful; we don't need to empower pathology and ideology.

Chuck Instant said...

Someone doesn't want us to see the document, the link leads to a 404 error

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the heads-up! Links fixed.