Of Monks


The monastic movement originally arose as a movement among the laity for holiness. Individuals fled the world to live in solitude with God (hermits). Eventually, they began to live in communities and St. Benedict wrote his famous rule for monks. This was and is the essence of the monastic movement, and the ideal to which it always returns for refreshment in a sometimes bewildering world of activity. The Benedictines grew large and spawned other groups such as the Cistercians. The Rule of St. Benedict called for a vow of stability (within one monastery/abbey). Eventually the abbeys grouped together in congregations.

St. Benedict and the first Benedictines at Monte Cassino


Canons were originally the bishop’s clergy. They lived with and around him, serving the needs of the local church by celebrating the sacraments and the Divine Office in the cathedral. Eventually there were groups of canons living in other important churches and carrying out these functions there. Autonomous communities of clerics living in common according to the model of the Acts of the Apostles sprang up, each regulating its internal life and external ministry according to different rules of life. Also, the growth of the Church began to make it necessary for priests to live away from the principal communities of canons, creating thus what we now know as the diocesan priest. St. Augustine’s rule was adopted in the Gregorian Reforms of the 11th century. The canons developed along very similar lines as the Benedictines, with vows of stability, abbeys, congregations, etc.

The Canons Regular honor the father of the order, St. Augustine, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Friars introduced new realities into religious life with their coming in the 12th century. The idea of radical poverty, the abandonment of an attachment to a particular church and the novel notion of dividing men into provinces, with the equally novel notion of having a centralized government, were some of the chief contributions of the friars. Interestingly, both the Dominican and Trinitarian friars were founded by men who were Canons Regular. Some of the friars de-emphasized the clerical state within their new Orders, with the emphasis being placed on their membership in the Order itself and on the charism of the founder.


Diocesan Priests

The diocesan priesthood developed as noted above. While they do make promises of celibacy and obedience, they have never professed a promise or vow of poverty, as they need to provide for their own living. They do however intend a simplicity of life that is in keeping with their state of life. Ordained for the universal Church, they are attached to their local bishop and belong to a diocese. The Bishop assigns them to ministries and parishes according to the needs of the faithful. The Church desires that diocesan priests should enjoy some form of common life. This usually means living in a rectory. However, diocesan priests often live alone either by circumstance or choice.

St. John Vianney, patron saint of diocesan priests