In the eighth and ninth centuries a number of clergy of the principal churches of the West, without being bound by religious profession, chose to live in community and to observe a fixed rule of life. From the earliest times they were called the spouses of Christ, according to St. In the West, such double houses existed among the hospitallers even in the twelfth century.
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This rigorous enclosure usual in the East, was imposed on all nuns in the West, first by bishops and particular councils, and afterwards by the Holy See. Hence it was impossible for religious to undertake works of charity incompatible with the enclosure.
Boniface VII (1294-1309) by his constitution "Periculoso", inserted in Canon Law [c. The education of young girls alone was permitted to them, and that under somewhat inconvenient conditions.
The institution of nuns and sisters, who devote themselves in various religious orders to the practice of a life of perfection, dates from the first ages of the Church, and women may claim with a certain pride that they were the first to embrace the religious state for its own sake, without regard to missionary work and ecclesiastical functions proper to men. Paul speaks of widows, who were called to certain kinds of church work (1 Timothy 5:9), and of virgins (1 Corinthians 7), whom he praises for their continence and their devotion to the things of the Lord. Other monasteries allowed the nuns to go in and out.
The virgins were remarkable for their perfect and perpetual chastity which the Catholic Apologists have extolled as a contrast to pagan corruption (St. In Gaul and Spain the novitiate lasted one year for the cloistered nuns and three years for the others.
(3) As regards their , we distinguish (a) nuns properly so-called, having solemn vows with papal enclosure, whose homes are monasteries; (b) nuns belonging to the old approved orders with solemn vows, but taking only simple vows by special dispensation of the Holy See; (c) sisters with simple vows dependent on the Holy See; (d) sisters under diocesan government.