The paper “ Evangelical Vows in Women’s Medieval Religious Orders and Reform Brought about by Order of St Ursula” is an affecting example of a term paper on religion and theology. Female religious order underwent important transition prior to 1600. They were reformed in myriad interesting ways so that new orders began to blend with the older or conventional religious orders. Members of such orders were required to take evangelical vows before partaking in religious activities. These vows helped them become true members of an order after which they had to live under supervision of a superior. Prior to 1600, professing the evangelical vows at the time of taking membership of an order was an absolute necessity.
These were religious orders in a very strict sense because professing the vows at inception was required by the superiors. However, this requirement ceased to be seen as a necessity by some new orders which established later through 16th to 17th century which suggests that they were not as religious orders as those prior to 1600. This paper basically aims to illustrate the nature of female religious orders prior to 1600. Following discussion will explore this subject from a historical perspective to comment on how these orders were a lot different in the time period before 1600 than how they are observed now. Many changes have been introduced since 1600 which identify that religious orders for women were different back then at their core.
Teresa of Avila is worth mentioning when discussing religious orders for women before 1600 because she was considered a true superior (Tyler 113). She is also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus in history. She was a very important Roman Catholic saint and a nun who took great steps in successfully reforming the Carmelite Order. She was a visionary with a huge interest in reformation. Her religious orders prior to 1600 show that she totally reformed the Carmelite convents singlehandedly. Historical records of prior to 1600 show that the Carmelite Order was originally not based on contemplation or mental prayer which Teresa popularized later. Before actions taken by Teresa to introduce changes, this religious order attached huge importance to social prestige and wealth. Members of these orders also regarded title and wealth very highly. However, Teresa reformed this order by removing “ the canker of honor and social prestige” (Tyler 111). In place of status and power, she advocated poverty, modesty, chastity, and elimination of all but few comforts in life. Cloistered life or strict enclosure was the norm for all members of this order (Tyler 111).
Teresa made Carmelite a very strict religious order by way of her reforms which is why the reformed Carmelite Order is considered one of the strictest orders which existed prior to 1600. All members at the time of inception were required by her to give up all endowments which ensured a good income and high status. Instead, she advocated the process of begging the Lord for forgiveness which was one of the fundamental reforms of the Carmelite religious order. As a result of such reforms in religious orders before 1600, sisters or nuns began to observe extremely modest measures. Prior to 1600, religious orders for women also had another important mission like requiring sisters to implement a missionary focus in their prayer lives. Such reforms in religious orders attracted significant criticism from civil and religious authorities in the period before 1600 (Tyler 113). But, persistent efforts of Saint Teresa managed to popularize reforms in religious orders throughout the world.
Research also shows that though many common themes were found among religious orders in the period before 1600, it cannot be said that they were all completely similar. New religious orders began to emerge in which nuns sought an alternative to the cloistered life (McNamara 420). While Teresa in 1562 emphasized on a modest lifestyle with a missionary focus in sisters’ prayer life, other religious orders in that time had different principles and requirements. Reforms in religious orders for women prior to 1600 were not as common as they were for men. However, these reforms laid the foundation for distinguishing one order from another. For example, the reform brought about by a religious order named after Saint Ursula in 1532 was to take sisters away from a strictly cloistered lifestyle towards charity work done outside the cloister wall (Clark 19). Though the religious order of Saint Ursula founded by Angela Merici required all members of the order to profess the vow of chastity and total dedication to Jesus, it also attached great importance to urging nuns in combining a celibate life with charity work outside the cloister (Clark 25). This means that the Ursulines were not required to observe a cloistered life even after becoming members of the order.