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Continence and a certain religious profession were required of married women whose husbands were in Sacred Orders, or even received episcopal consecration.
This canonical life was led also by women, who retired form the world, took vows of chastity, dressed modestly in black, but were not bound to give of their property.
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.
They were sometimes admitted among the deaconesses for the baptism of adult women and to exercise the functions which St. When the persecutions of the third century drove many into the desert, the solitary life produced many heroines; and when the monks began to live in monasteries, there were also communities of women. Pachomius (292-346) built a convent in which a number of religious women lived with his sister. The nuns of Egypt and Syria cut their hair, a practice not introduced until later into the West. There were, however, common houses, one wing being set apart for women and the other for men, more frequently adjoining houses for the two sexes.This strictness led to the foundation of pious associations called secular because they had no perpetual vows, and leading a common life intended for their own personal sanctification and the practice of charity, e.g. As political difficulties rendered less easy the observance of solemn vows, especially for women, the Holy See from the end of the eighteenth century declined to approve any new congregations with solemn vows, and even suppressed in certain countries, Belgium and France, all solemn professions in the old orders of women.The constitution of Benedict XIV, "Quamvis justo" of 30 April, 1749, on the subject of the Congregation of English Virgins was the prelude to the legislation of Leo XIII, who by his constitution "Conditae" of 8 December, 1900, laid down the laws common to congregations with simple vows, dividing these into two great classes, congregations under diocesan authority, subject to the bishops, and those under pontifical law.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 Cor., vii), 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.