Decree on Renewal of Religious Life


                           Perfectae Caritatis

Proclaimed by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965
1. The sacred synod has already shown in the constitution on the Church
that the pursuit of perfect charity through the evangelical counsels
draws its origin from the doctrine and example of the Divine Master and
reveals itself as a splendid sign of the heavenly kingdom. Now it intends
to treat of the life and discipline of those institutes whose members
make profession of chastity, poverty and obedience and to provide for
their needs in our time.
Indeed from the very beginning of the Church men and women have set about
following Christ with greater freedom and imitating Him more closely
through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in his own way
leading a life dedicated to God. Many of them, under the inspiration of
the Holy Spirit, lived as hermits or founded religious families, which
the Church gladly welcomed and approved by her authority. So it is that
in accordance with the Divine Plan a wonderful variety of religious
communities has grown up which has made it easier for the Church not only
to be equipped for every good work (cf. Tim 3:17) and ready for the- work
of the ministry--the building up of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph.
4:12)--but also to appear adorned with the various gifts of her children
like a spouse adorned for her husband (cf. Apoc. 21:2) and for the
manifold Wisdom of God to be revealed through her (cf. Eph. 3:10).
Despite such a great variety of gifts all those called by God to the
practice of the evangelical counsels and who, faithfully responding to
the call, undertake to observe the same, bind themselves to the Lord in a
special way, following Christ. who chaste and poor (cf. Matt. 8:20; Luke
9:58) redeemed and sanctified men through obedience even to the death of
the Cross (cf. Phil. 2:8). Driven by love with which the Holy Spirit
floods their hearts (cf. Rom. 5:5) they live more and more for Christ and
for His body which is the Church (cf. Col. 1:24). The more fervently,
then, they are joined to Christ by this total life-long gift of
themselves, the richer the life of the Church becomes and the more lively
and successful its apostolate.
In order that the great value of a life consecrated by the profession of
the counsels and its necessary mission today may yield greater good to
the Church, the sacred synod lays down the following prescriptions. They
are meant to state only the general principles of the adaptation and
renewal of the life and discipline of Religious orders and also, without
prejudice to their special characteristics, of societies of common life
without vows and secular institutes. Particular norms for the proper
explanation and application of these principles are to be determined
after the council by the authority in question.
2. The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes both the
constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original
spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions
of our time. This renewal, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and
the guidance of the Church, must be advanced according to the following
a) Since the ultimate norm of the religious life is the following of
Christ set forth in the Gospels, let this be held by all institutes as
the highest rule.
b) It redounds to the good of the Church that institutes have their own
particular characteristics and work. Therefore let their founders' spirit
and special aims they set before them as well as their sound
traditions--all of which make up the patrimony of each institute--be
faithfully held in honor.
c) All institutes should share in the life of the Church, adapting as
their own and implementing in accordance with their own characteristics
the Church's undertakings and aims in matters biblical, liturgical,
dogmatic, pastoral, ecumenical, missionary and social.
d) Institutes should promote among their members an adequate knowledge of
the social conditions of the times they live in and of the needs of the
Church. In such a way, judging current events wisely in the light of
faith and burning with apostolic zeal, they may be able to assist men
more effectively.
e) The purpose of the religious life is to help the members follow Christ
and be united to God through the profession of the evangelical counsels.
It should be constantly kept in mind, therefore, that even the best
adjustments made in accordance with the needs of our age will be
ineffectual unless they are animated by a renewal of spirit. This must
take precedence over even the active ministry.
3. The manner of living, praying and working should be suitably adapted
everywhere, but especially in mission territories, to the modern physical
and psychological circumstances of the members and also, as required by
the nature of each institute, to the necessities of the apostolate. the
demands of culture, and social and economic circumstances.
According to the same criteria let the manner of governing the institutes
also be examined.
Therefore let constitutions, directories, custom books, hooks of prayers
and ceremonies and such like be suitably reedited and, obsolete laws
being suppressed, be adapted to the decrees of this sacred synod.
4. An effective renewal and adaptation demands the cooperation of all the
members of the institute.
However, to establish the norms of adaptation and renewal, to embody it
in legislation as well as to make allowance for adequate and prudent
experimentation belongs only to the competent authorities, especially to
general chapters. The approbation of the Holy See or of the local
Ordinary must be obtained where necessary according to law. But superiors
should take counsel in an appropriate way and hear the members of the
order in those things which concern the future well being of the whole
For the adaptation and renewal of convents of nuns suggestions and advice
may be obtained also from the meetings of federations or from other
assemblies lawfully convoked.
Nevertheless everyone should keep in mind that the hope of renewal lies
more in the faithful observance of the rule and constitutions than in
multiplying laws.
5. Members of each institute should recall first of all that by
professing the evangelical counsels they responded to a divine call so
that by being not only dead to sin (cf. Rom. 6:11) but also renouncing
the world they may live for God alone. They have dedicated their entire
lives to His service. This constitutes a special consecration, which is
deeply rooted in that of baptism and expresses it more fully.
Since the Church has accepted their surrender of self they should realize
they are also dedicated to its service.
This service of God ought to inspire and foster in them the exercise of
the virtues, especially humility, obedience, fortitude and chastity. In
such a way they share in Christ's emptying of Himself (cf. Phil. 2:7) and
His life in the spirit (cf. Rom. 8:1-13).
Faithful to their profession then, and leaving all things for the sake of
Christ (cf. Mark 10:28), religious are to follow Him (cf. Matt. 19:21) as
the one thing necessary (cf. Luke 10:49) listening to His words (cf. Luke
10:39) and solicitous for the things that are His (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32).
It is necessary therefore that the members of every community, seeking
God solely and before everything else, should join contemplation, by
which they fix their minds and hearts on Him, with apostolic love, by
which they strive to be associated with the work of redemption and to
spread the kingdom of God.
6. Let those who make profession of the evangelical counsels seek and
love above all else God who has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10) and let
them strive to foster in all circumstances a life hidden with Christ in
God (cf. Col. 3:3). This love of God both excites and energizes that love
of one's neighbor which contributes to the salvation of the world and the
building up of the Church. This love, in addition, quickens and directs
the actual practice of the evangelical counsels.
Drawing therefore upon the authentic sources of Christian spirituality,
members of religious communities should resolutely cultivate both the
spirit and practice of prayer. In the first place they should have
recourse daily to the Holy Scriptures in order that, by reading and
meditating on Holy Writ, they may learn "the surpassing worth of knowing
Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). They should celebrate the sacred liturgy,
especially the holy sacrifice of the Mass, with both lips and heart as
the Church desires and so nourish their spiritual life from this richest
of sources.
So refreshed at the table of divine law and the sacred altar of God, they
will love Christ's members as brothers, honor and love their pastors as
sons should do, and living and thinking ever more in union with the
Church, dedicate themselves wholly to its mission.
7. Communities which are entirely dedicated to contemplation, so that
their members in solitude and silence, with constant prayer and penance
willingly undertaken, occupy themselves with God alone, retain at all
times, no matter how pressing the needs of the active apostolate may be,
an honorable place in the Mystical Body of Christ, whose "members do not
all have the same function" (Rom. 12:4). For these offer to God a
sacrifice of praise which is outstanding. Moreover the manifold results
of their holiness lends luster to the people of God which is inspired by
their example and which gains new members by their apostolate which is as
effective as it is hidden. Thus they are revealed to be a glory of the
Church and a well-spring of heavenly graces. Nevertheless their manner of
living should be revised according to the principles and criteria of
adaptation and renewal mentioned above. However their withdrawal from the
world and the exercises proper to the contemplative life should be
preserved with the utmost care.
8. There are in the Church very many communities, both clerical and lay,
which devote themselves to various apostolic tasks. The gifts which these
communities possess differ according to the grace which is allotted to
them. Administrators have the gift of administration, teachers that of
teaching, the gift of stirring speech is given to preachers, liberality
to those who exercise charity and cheerfulness to those who help others
in distress (cf. Rom. 12:5-8). "The gifts are varied, but the Spirit is
the same" (1 Cor. 12:4).
In these communities apostolic and charitable activity belongs to the
very nature of the religious life, seeing that it is a holy service and a
work characteristic of love, entrusted to them by the Church to be
carried out in its name. Therefore, the whole religious life of their
members should be inspired by an apostolic spirit and all their apostolic
activity formed by the spirit of religion. Therefore in order that their
members may first correspond to their vocation to follow Christ and serve
Him in His members, their apostolic activity must spring from intimate
union with Him. Thus love itself towards God and the neighbor is fostered.
These communities, then, should adjust their rules and customs to fit the
demands of the apostolate to which they are dedicated. The fact however
that apostolic religious life takes on many forms requires that its
adaptation and renewal take account of this diversity and provide that
the lives of religious dedicated to the service of Christ in these
various communities be sustained by special provisions appropriate to
9. The monastic life. that venerable institution which in the course of a
long history has won for itself notable renown in the Church and in human
society, should be preserved with care and its authentic spirit permitted
to shine forth ever more splendidly both in the East and the West. The
principal duty of monks is to offer a service to the divine majesty at
once humble and noble within the walls of the monastery, whether they
dedicate themselves entirely to divine worship in the contemplative life
or have legitimately undertaken some apostolate or work of Christian
charity. Retaining, therefore, the characteristics of the way of life
proper to them, they should revive their ancient traditions of service
and so adapt them to the needs of today that monasteries will become
institutions dedicated to the edification of the Christian people.
Some religious communities according to their rule or constitutions
closely join the apostolic life to choir duty and monastic observances.
These should so adapt their manner of life to the demands of the
apostolate appropriate to them that they observe faithfully their way of
life, since it has been of great service to the Church.
10. The religious life, undertaken by lay people, either men or women, is
a state for the profession of the evangelical] counsels which is complete
in itself. While holding in high esteem therefore this way of life so
useful to the pastoral mission of the Church in educating youth, caring
for the sick and carrying out its other ministries, the sacred synod
confirms these religious in their vocation and urges them to adjust their
way of life to modern needs.
The sacred synod declares that there is nothing to prevent some members
of religious communities of brothers being admitted to holy orders by
provision of their general chapter in order to meet the need for priestly
ministrations in their own houses, provided that the lay character of the
community remains unchanged.
11. Secular Institutes, although not Religious institutes involve a true
and full profession of the evangelical counsels in the world. This
profession is recognized by the Church and consecrates to God men and
women, lay and clerical, who live in the world. Hence they should make a
total dedication of themselves to God in perfect charity their chief aim,
and the institutes themselves should preserve their own proper, i.e.,
secular character, so that they may be able to carry out effectively
everywhere in and, as it were, from the world the apostolate for which
they were founded.
It may be taken for granted, however, that so great a task cannot be
discharged unless the members be thoroughly trained in matters divine and
human so that they are truly a leaven in the world for the strengthening
and growth of the body of Christ. Superiors, therefore, should give
serious attention  especially to the spiritual training to be given
members as well as encourage their further formation.
12. The chastity "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:12)
which religious profess should be counted an outstanding gift of grace.
It frees the heart of man in a unique fashion (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35) so
that it may be more inflamed with love for God and for all men. Thus it
not only symbolizes in a singular way the heavenly goods but also the
most suitable means by which religious dedicate themselves with undivided
heart to the service of God and the works of the apostolate. In this way
they recall to the minds of all the faithful that wondrous marriage
decreed by God and which is to be fully revealed in the future age in
which the Church takes Christ as its only spouse.
Religious, therefore, who are striving faithfully to observe the chastity
they have professed must have faith in the words of the Lord, and
trusting in God's help not overestimate their own strength but practice
mortification and custody of the senses. Neither should they neglect the
natural means which promote health of mind and body. As a result they
will not be influenced by those false doctrines which scorn perfect
continence as being impossible or harmful to human development and they
will repudiate by a certain spiritual instinct everything which endangers
chastity. In addition let all, especially superiors, remember that
chastity is guarded more securely when true brotherly love flourishes in
the common life of the community.
Since the observance of perfect continence touches intimately the deepest
instincts of human nature, candidates should neither present themselves
for nor be admitted to the vow of chastity, unless they have been
previously tested sufficiently and have been shown to possess the
required psychological and emotional maturity. They should not only be
warned about the dangers to chastity which they may meet but they should
be so instructed as to be able to undertake the celibacy which binds them
to God in a way which will benefit their entire personality.
13. Religious should diligently practice and if need be express also in
new forms that voluntary poverty which is recognized and highly esteemed
especially today as an expression of the following of Christ. By it they
share in the poverty of Christ who for our sakes became poor, even though
He was rich, so that by His poverty we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9;
Matt. 8:20).
With regard to religious poverty it is not enough to use goods in a way
subject to the superior's will, but members must be poor both in fact and
in spirit, their treasures being in heaven (cf. Matt. 6:20).
Religious should consider themselves in their own assignments to be bound
by the common law of labor, and while they procure what is required for
their sustenance and works, they should banish all undue solicitude and
trust themselves to the provident care of their Father in heaven (cf.
Matt. 6:25).
Religious congregations by their constitutions can permit their members
to renounce inheritances, both those which have been acquired or may be
Due regard being had for local conditions, religious communities should
readily offer a quasi-collective witness to poverty and gladly use their
own goods for other needs of the Church and the support of the poor whom
all religious should love after the example of Christ (cf. Matt. 19:21;
25:34-46; James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17). The several provinces and houses
of each community should share their temporal goods with one another, so
that those who have more help the others who are in need.
Religious communities have the right to possess whatever is required for
their temporal life and work, unless this is forbidden by their rules and
constitutions. Nevertheless, they should avoid every appearance of
luxury, excessive wealth and the accumulation of goods.
14. In professing obedience, religious offer the full surrender of their
own will as a sacrifice of themselves to God and so are united
permanently and securely to God's salvific will.
After the example of Jesus Christ who came to do the will of the Father
(cf. John 4:34; 5:30; Heb. 10 7; Ps. 39:9) and "assuming the nature of a
slave" (Phil. 2:7) learned obedience in the school of suffering (cf. Heb.
5:8), religious under the motion of the Holy Spirit, subject themselves
in faith to their superiors who hold the place of God. Under their
guidance they are led to serve all their brothers in Christ, just as
Christ himself in obedience to the Father served His brethren and laid
down His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 10:14-18). So
they are closely bound to the service of the Church and strive to attain
the measure of the full manhood of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
Religious, therefore, in the spirit of faith and love for the divine will
should humbly obey their superiors according to their rules and
constitutions. Realizing that they are contributing to building up the
body of Christ according to God's plan, they should use both the forces
of their intellect and will and the gifts of nature and grace to execute
the commands and fulfill the duties entrusted to them. In this way
religious obedience, far from lessening the dignity of the human person,
by extending the freedom of the sons of God, leads it to maturity.
Superiors, as those who are to give an account of the souls entrusted to
them (Heb. 13:17), should fu]fill their office in a way responsive to
God's will. They should exercise their authority out of a spirit of
service to the brethren, expressing in this way the love with which God
loves their subjects. They should govern these as sons of God, respecting
their human dignity. In this way they make it easier for them to
subordinate their wills. They should be particularly careful to respect
their subjects' liberty in the matters of sacramental confession and the
direction of conscience. Subjects should be brought to the point where
they will cooperate with an active and-responsible obedience in
undertaking new tasks and in carrying those already undertaken. And so
superiors should gladly listen to their subjects and foster harmony among
them for the good of the community and the Church, provided that thereby
their own authority to decide and command what has to be done is not
Chapters and deliberative bodies should faithfully discharge the part in
ruling entrusted to them and each should in it own way express that
concern for the good of the entire community which all its members share.
15. Common life, fashioned on the model of the early Church where the
body of believers was united in heart and soul (cf. Acts 4:32), and given
new force by the teaching of the Gospel, the sacred liturgy and
especially the Eucharist, should continue to be lived in prayer and the
communion of the same spirit. As members of Christ living together as
brothers, religious should give pride of place in esteem to each other
(cf. Rom. 12:10) and bear each other's burdens (cf. Gal. 6:2). For the
community, a true family gathered together in the name of the Lord by
God's love which has flooded the hearts of its members through the Holy
Spirit (cf. Rom. 5:5). rejoices because He is present among them (cf.
Matt. 18:20). Moreover love sums up the whole law (cf. Rom. 13:10), binds
all together in perfect unity (cf. Col. 3:14) and by it we know that we
have crossed over from death to life (cf. 1 John 3:14). Furthermore, the
unity of the brethren is a visible pledge that Christ will return (cf.
John 13:35; 17:21) and a source of great apostolic energy.
That all the members be more closely knit by the bond of brotherly love,
those who are called lay-brothers, assistants, or some similar name
should be drawn closely in to the life and work of the community. Unless
conditions really suggest something else, care should be taken that there
be only one class of Sisters in communities of women. Only that
distinction of persons should be retained which corresponds to the
diversity of works for which the Sisters are destined, either by special
vocation from God or by reason of special aptitude
However, monasteries of men and communities which are not exclusively lay
can, according to their nature and constitutions, admit clerics and lay
persons on an equal footing and with equal rights and obligations,
excepting those which flow from sacred orders.
16. Papal cloister should be maintained in the case of nuns engaged
exclusively in the contemplative life. However. it must be adjusted to
conditions of time and place and obsolete practices suppressed. This
should be done after due consultation with the monasteries in question.
But other nuns applied by rule to apostolic work outside the convent
should be exempted from papal cloister in order to enable them better to
fulfill the apostolic duties- entrusted to them. Nevertheless, cloister
is to be maintained according to the prescriptions of their constitutions.
17. The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should
be simple and modest, poor and at the same becoming. In addition it must
meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of
time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved. The habits of
both men and women religious which do not conform to these norms must be
18. Adaptation and renewal depend greatly on the education of religious.
Consequently neither non-clerical religious nor religious women should be
assigned to apostolic works immediately after the novitiate. Rather,
their religious and apostolic formation, joined with instruction in arts
and science directed toward obtaining appropriate degrees, must be
continued as needs require in houses established for those purposes.
In order that the adaptation of religious life to the needs of our time
may not be merely external and that those employed by rule in the active
apostolate may be equal to their task, religious must be given suitable
instruction, depending on their intellectual capacity and personal
talent, in the currents and attitudes of sentiment and thought prevalent
in social life today. This education must blend its elements together
harmoniously so that an integrated life on the part of the religious
concerned results.
Religious should strive during the whole course of their lives to perfect
the culture they have received in matters spiritual and in arts and
sciences. Likewise, superiors must, as far as this is possible, obtain
for them the opportunity, equipment and time to do this.
Superiors are also obliged to see to it that directors, spiritual
fathers, and professors are carefully chosen and thoroughly trained.
19. When the question of founding new religious communities arises, their
necessity or at least the many useful services they promise must be
seriously weighed. Otherwise communities may be needlessly brought into
being which are useless or which lack sufficient resources. Particularly
in those areas where churches have recently established, those forms of
religious life should be promoted and developed which take into account
the genius and way of life of the inhabitants and the customs and
conditions of the regions.
20. Religious communities should continue to maintain and fulfill the
ministries proper to them. In addition, after considering the needs of
the Universal Church and individual dioceses, they should adapt them to
the requirements of time and place, employing appropriate and even new
programs and abandoning those works which today are less relevant to the
spirit and authentic nature of the community.
The missionary spirit must under all circumstances be religious
communities. It should be adapted, preserved in accordingly, as the
nature of each community permits, to modern conditions so that the
preaching of the Gospel may be carried out more effectively in every
21. There may be communities and monasteries which the Holy See, after
consulting the interested local Ordinaries, will judge not to possess
reasonable hope for further development. These should be forbidden to
receive novices in the future. If it is possible, these should be
combined with other more flourishing communities and monasteries whose
scope and spirit is similar.
22. Independent institutes and monasteries should when opportune and the
Holy See permits, form federations if they can be considered as belonging
to the same religious family. Others who have practically identical
constitutions and rules and a common spirit should unite, particularly
when they have too few members. Finally, those who share the same or a
very similar active apostolate should become associated, one to the other.
23. This synod favors conferences or councils of major superiors,
established by the Holy See. These can contribute very much to achieve
the purpose of each institute; to encourage more effective cooperation
for the welfare of the Church; to ensure a more just distribution of
ministers of the Gospel in a given area; and finally to conduct affairs
of interest to all religious. Suitable coordination and cooperation with
episcopal conferences should be established with regard to the exercise
of the apostolate.
Similar conferences should also be established for secular institutes.
24. Priests and Christian educators should make serious efforts to foster
religious vocations, thereby increasing the strength of the Church,
corresponding to its needs. These candidates should be suitably and
carefully chosen. In ordinary preaching, the life of the evangelical
counsels and the religious state should be treated more frequently.
Parents, too, should nurture and protect religious vocations in their
children by instilling Christian virtue in their hearts.
Religious communities have the right to make themselves known in order to
foster vocations and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should
observe the norms laid down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary.
Religious should remember there is no better way than their own example
to commend their institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.
25. Religious institutes, for whom these norms of adaptation and renewal
have been laid down, should respond generously to the specific vocation
God gave them as well as their work in the Church today. The sacred synod
highly esteems their way of life in poverty, chastity and obedience, of
which Christ the Lord is Himself the exemplar. Moreover, their
apostolate, most effective, whether obscure or well known, offers this
synod great hope for the future. Let all religious, therefore, rooted in
faith and filled with love for God and neighbor, love of the cross and
the hope of future glory, spread the good news of Christ throughout the
whole world so that their witness may be seen by all and our Father in
heaven may be glorified (Matt. 5:16). Therefore, let them beseech the
Virgin Mary, the gentle Mother of God, "whose life is a model for
all,"[1] that their number may daily increase and their salutary work be
more effective.
1. St. Ambrose, De Virginitate, 1, II, c. II, n. 15.