Canons regular are canons (a type of priest) in the Catholic Church who live in community under a rule (Latin: regula). They are often organised into religious orders. They are distinguished from clerics regular, a later form of religious life where members also live life under a rule, in that canons regular emphasise a life lived in community. Examples of religious orders of canons regular include the Crosiers, Premonstratensians, and some Augustinians.
All canons regular are to be distinguished from secular canons who belong to a community of priests attached to a church but do not take vows or live in common under a Rule.
Among canons regular most, but not all, have followed the Rule of St. Augustine and thus have been called Augustinian Canons, known sometimes in English as Austin Canons or Black Canons, from their black habits.
Canons regular live together in community. The first communities of canons took vows of common property and stability. As a later development, they now usually take the three vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience though some Orders or congregations of canons regular have retained the vow of stability.
When, in and after the 11th century, the various congregations of canons regular were formed, and adopted the Rule of St. Augustine, they were usually called Canonici Regulares Ordinis S. Augustini Congregationis, and in England "Austin Canons" or "Black Canons", but there have always been canons regular who never adopted the Rule of St. Augustine. In a word, canons regular may be considered as the genus, and Austin Canons as the species; or all Austin Canons are canons regular, but not all canons regular are Austin Canons.
By 1125 hundreds of communities of canons had sprung up in Western Europe. Usually they were quite independent of one another, and varied in their ministries. One obvious place where a group of priests was required was within a cathedral, where there were many Masses to celebrate and the Divine Office to be prayed together in community. Canons often came to be associated with cathedrals, but other groups of canons also established themselves in smaller centres.
All the different varieties of canons regular are to be distinguished not only from secular canons but also from:
Writing at a time before the foundation of the mendicant orders (friars), Pope Urban II (died 1099), said there were two forms of religious life: the monastic (like the Benedictines and Cistercians) and the canonical (like the Augustinian Canons). He likened the monks to the role of Mary, and the canons to that of her sister, Martha.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, a canon regular is essentially a religious cleric; "The Order of Canons Regular is necessarily constituted by religious clerics, because they are essentially destined to those works which relate to the Divine mysteries, whereas it is not so with the monastic Orders." This is what constitutes a canon regular and what distinguishes him from a monk. The clerical state is essential to the Order of Canons Regular, whereas it is only accidental to the Monastic Order. Erasmus, himself a canon regular, declared that the canons regular are a "median point" between the monks and the secular clergy. The outer appearance and observances of the canons regular can seem very similar to those of the monks. This is because the various reforms borrowed certain practices from the monks for the use of the canons.
According to St. Augustine, a canon regular professes two things, "sanctitatem et clericatum". He lives in community, he leads the life of a religious, he sings the praises of God by the daily recitation of the Divine Office in choir; but at the same time, at the bidding of his superiors, he is prepared to follow the example of the Apostles by preaching, teaching, and the administration of the sacraments, or by giving hospitality to pilgrims and travellers, and tending the sick. St. Augustine's teaching and example has become the heritage of the Church as it sets about bringing to life again the common life of clerics.
The canons regular do not confine themselves exclusively to canonical functions. They also give hospitality to pilgrims and travelers on the Great St. Bernard and on the Simplon, and in former times the hospitals of St. Bartholomew's Smithfield, in London, of S. Spirito, in Rome, of Lochleven, Monymusk and St. Andrew's, in Scotland, and others like them, were all served by canons regular. Many congregations of canons worked among the poor, the lepers, and the infirm. The clerics established by St. Patrick in Ireland had a Guest House for pilgrims and the sick whom they tended by day and by night. And the rule given by Chrodegang to his canons enjoined that a hospital should be near their house that they might tend the sick.
St. Augustine of Hippo did not found the order of canons regular, not even those who are called Austin Canons. There were canons regular before St. Augustine. Although Augustine of Hippo is regarded by the canons as their founder, Vincent of Beauvais, Sigebert, and Peter of Cluny all state that the canonical order traces back its origin to the earliest ages of the Church. In the first centuries after Christ, priests lived with the bishop and carried out the liturgy and sacraments in the cathedral church. While each could own his own property, they lived together and shared common meals and a common dormitory.
From the 4th to the middle of the 11th century, the communities of canons were established exclusively by bishops. The oldest form of canonical life was known as "Ordo Antiquus". The first who successfully united the clerical state with the monastic observance was St Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli. This way of living was also established by St Zeno, Bishop of Verona, and St. Ambrose at Milan.
It was under St Augustine that the "canonical life" reached its apotheosis. None of the holy fathers were as enthusiastic about and enthralled by the community life of the Apostolic Church of Jerusalem (Acts 4:31-35) as St. Augustine. To live this out in the midst of like-minded confreres was the goal of his monastic foundations in Thagaste, in the "Garden Monastery" at Hippo and at his bishop's house. The "rules" of St. Augustine intended to help put the vita apostolica into effect for the circumstances of his time and the community of his day. From the time of his elevation to the episcopal see in 395 AD, he changed his episcopal palace into a monastery for clerics and established the essential characteristics-the common life with renunciation of private property, chastity, obedience, the liturgical life and the care of souls: to these can be added two other characteristics typically Augustinian--a close bond of brotherly affection and a wise moderation in all things. This spirit permeates the whole of the so-called Rule of St Augustine which at least in substance can be attributed to the Doctor of Africa.
The invasion of Africa by the Vandals destroyed the Augustinian foundation but we can deduce it as almost certain that it took refuge in Gaul. The regulations which St. Austin had given to the clerics who lived with him soon spread and were adopted by other religious communities of canons regular not only in Africa, but in Italy, in France and elsewhere. Pope Gelasius, about the year 492, re-established the regular life in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran. From there the reform spread till at length the Rule was universally adopted by almost all the canons regular.
Over time there crept in the abuses in clerical life of concubinage and independent living with the scandals and disedification of the faithful which followed. Vigorous reforms were undertaken at the time of the emperor Charlemagne (AD 800). Important milestones for the Ordo Antiquus form of canonical life include the reform and rule of the Benedictine Bishop of Metz, Chrodegang (763), and the Synods of Aachen (816-819), which gave a rule of life for canons in the Carolingian Empire.
The ecclesiastical constitution or ordinance of Chrodegang, Regula vitæ communis (Rule of Common Life) was at once a restoration and an adaptation of the Rule of St. Augustine, and its chief provisions were that the ecclesiastics who adopted it had to live in common under the episcopal roof, recite common prayers, perform a certain amount of manual labour, keep silence at certain times, and go to confession twice a year. They did not take the vow of poverty and they could hold a life interest in property. Twice a day they met to hear a chapter from the rule of their founder, hence the meeting itself was soon called "chapter". This discipline was also recommended shortly after by the Councils of Aix-la-Chapelle (789) and Mainz (813).
In 816 the Institutio canonicorum Aquisgranensis was drawn up at the Council of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). This included a rule of 147 articles, known as the Rule of Aix, to be applied to all canons. These statues were held as binding. The principal difference between Chrodegang's rule and that of Aix was their attitude toward private property. While both permitted the canons to hold and dispose of property as they saw fit, Chrodegang counseled a renunciation of private property, while the Synod of Aachen did not since it was not part of the tradition of the canons. From this period dates the daily recitation by the canons of the Divine Office or canonical hours.
In the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries, laxity crept in; community life was no longer strictly observed; the sources of revenue were divided, and the portions allocated to the individual canons. This soon led to differences of income, consequently to avarice, covetousness, and the partial destruction of the canonical life.
In the 11th century the canonical order was reformed and renewed, chiefly owing to the efforts of Hildebrand (c. 1020-1085), later Pope Gregory VII, culminating in the Lateran Synod of 1059. Here for the first time the Apostolic See officially recognized and approved the life of the religious clergy, which had been founded by bishops and others. Gregory VII's reformation resulted in a distinction being made between the clerics who lived in separate houses and those who still preserved the old discipline.
Toward the end of the 11th century, the more cathedral and other chapters of canons opted for the vita apostolica after the example of St. Augustine, the more urgent became a separation and decision, first vis-à-vis those canons, who held to private ownership, but also vis-à-vis Benedictine monasticism, which till then was the mainstay of the Gregorian Reform. Pope Urban II deserves the credit for having recognized the way of life of the "canonici regulares" as sharply distinguished from the principles of the "canonici saeculares", and at the same time as an equal way of communal perfection apart from monasticism. In numerous privileges for reformed houses of canons he clearly emphasized the nature and goal, the rights and duties of the canons regular. Thus from the renewal of the vita canonica there inevitably arose a new "order"--which initially had not been the intention. In the privileges of Pope Urban II we find officially for the first time the new name Canonici secundum regulam sancti Augustini viventes, which would give the new ordo of canonical life a distinctive stamp.
The norm of life of the canons regular was concretized from the last third of the 11th century by a general following of the vita apostolica and the vita communis of the early church based more and more on the regulations handed on by Augustine. Secundum regulam Augustini vivere, first employed in Rheims in 1067, signified a life according to the example of Augustine that was known from his numerous writings.
From that time the Order of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, as it was already beginning to be called, increased rapidly. A great number of congregations of canons regular sprang into existence, each with its own distinctive constitutions, grounded on the Rule of St. Augustine and the statutes which Blessed Peter de Honestis, about the year 1100, gave to his canons at Ravenna. In some houses the canonical life was combined with hospitality to travelers, nursing the sick and other charitable works. Often a number of houses were grouped together in a congregation. One of the most famous houses was the Abbey of Saint Victor, founded in Paris in 1108, celebrated for its liturgy, pastoral work and spirituality. Also worth mention are the Abbey of Saint Maurice of Agaune, the Hospice of Saint Bernard of Mont Joux in Switzerland, and the Austrian Abbeys.
The high point of the canons regular can be situated in the first half of the 12th century. During this time they contributed not only a series of popes - Honorius II, Innocent II, Lucius II, as well as Hadrian IV shortly after mid-century and finally Gregory VIII in the second half of the century - but they also gave inestimable momentum for the area of the German Empire.
In the Middle Ages, some cathedrals were given over to the care of the regular canons, as were certain places of pilgrimage. The shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in England was just such a shrine, and the cathedrals of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Salzburg and Gurk in Austria, Toledo and Saragossa in Spain, St. Andrew's in Scotland, were among many others to be reformed by the regular canons. The canons also took a leading role in the intellectual life of the Church by founding cathedral and collegiate schools throughout Europe. For example, the University of Paris finds part of its ancestry in the famous Abbey school of St. Victor.
Later, congregations properly so called, governed by a superior general, were established within the order so as to maintain their common observances. Among these congregations, which gave new life to the order, were the Windesheim Congregation, whose spirituality (known as the "devotio moderna") had a wide influence. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Lateran Congregation added to the Order's luster by its spirituality and scholarship. In the 17th and 18th centuries the French Congregation of Saint Genevieve and later the Congregation of Our Savior founded by Saint Peter Fourier (1566-1640), responded to new needs by combining the religious life with pastoral work. Finally, in the 19th century Adrien Grea (1828-1917), founder of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception, in his writing put in its proper perspective the ecclesial dimension of the canonical life.
The canons regular were more similar to the Benedictines in their independence and their local character. Another similarity is that, aside from a few congregations, the canons regular maintained and still maintain the vow of stability to a particular house. The individual houses often have differences in the form of the habit, even within the same congregation.
Already in the Middle Ages canons regular were engaged in missionary work. Saint Vicelin (c. 1090 - 1154) took the gospel to the pagan Slavs of Lower Germany; his disciple Meinhard (died 1196) evangelized the people of eastern Livonia. In the 16th century the Portuguese Congregation of Saint John the Baptist took the good news of salvation to the Congo, Ethiopia and India. At the general chapter of the Lateran Congregation held at Ravenna in 1558, at the request of many Spanish canons, Don Francis de Agala, a professed canon regular from Spain, who for some ten years had already laboured in the newly discovered country, was created vicar-general in America, with powers to gather into communities all the members of the canonical institute who were then dispersed in those parts, and the obligation to report to the authorities of the order. From the 19th century onwards, the order has definitely undertaken the work of evangelization.
By the 13th century, there was universal adherence to the Rule of St. Augustine. This acceptance of Augustine's rule occurred over the 11th and 12th centuries in piecemeal fashion. There were in fact three different rules of St. Augustine from which to choose:
Of all the new monastic and religious groups to settle in the British Isles in the course of the 12th century the regular canons, known as the "Black Canons", were the most prolific. At the heart of their existence was the vita apostolica, but even more than other such groups the regular canons became involved in active spiritual care of their communities. Perhaps as a result of this feature they also enjoyed sustained support from founders, patrons and benefactors, and new foundations continued to be made long after the main force of the expansion of the monastic orders had declined.
In England, in the 12th century there was a great revival in the canonical order on account of various congregations newly found in France, Italy and the Low countries, and it was some of these new canons that came with the Conqueror. In England alone, from the Conquest to the death of Henry II Plantagenet, no fewer than fifty-four houses were founded where the canons regular were established. The first foundation was Colchester in 1096, followed by Holy Trinity, Aldgate, established by Queen Maud, in 1108. Andrew of St. Victor served as abbot of the newly founded abbey at Wigmore beginning in 1147. The first General Chapter of the Augustinian Canons in England, intended to regulate the affairs of the Order, took place in 1217.
In the 12th century the Canons Regular of the Lateran established a priory in Bodmin. This became the largest religious house in Cornwall. The priory was suppressed on 27 February 1538. In England houses of canons were more numerous than Benedictine houses. The Black Death left the canons regular fairly decimated, and they never quite recovered. Between 1538 and 1540, the canonical houses were suppressed, and the religious dispersed, persecuted, little by little disappeared from the land altogether. Abbot Gasquet's computation ninety-one houses belonging to the canons regular were suppressed or surrendered at the time of the Reformation.
The canonical order was in the early 20th century represented in England by Premonstratensians at Crowley, Manchester, Spalding and Storrington; the Canons Regular of the Lateran Congregation at Bodmin, Truro, St Ives, and Newquay, in Cornwall; at Spettisbury and Swanage, in Dorsetshire; at Stroud Green and Eltham, in London; the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception at Epping, Harlow, and Milton Keynes. Besides the occupations of the regular life at home and the public recitation of the Divine Office in choir, they are chiefly employed in serving parishes, preaching retreats, supplying for priests who ask their service, and hearing confessions, either as ordinary or extraordinary confessors to convents or other religious communities.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, anno 565, relates that Columba, Masspreost (Mass-Priest), "came to the Picts to convert them to Christ". Columba was the disciple of St. Finnian, who was a follower of St. Patrick; both then had learned and embraced the regular life which the great Apostle had established in Ireland. Tradition places the first landing of Columba on leaving Ireland at Oronsay, and Fordun (Bower) notices the island as "Hornsey, ubi est monasterium nigrorum Canonicorum, quod fundavit S. Columba" (where is the monastery of Black Canons which St. Columba founded). According to Smith and Ratcliff there was a homogeneity among the Augustinian houses in Scotland before 1215 which had much to do with David I who gave them a common economic policy, and Bishop Robert of St Andrews who had himself been an Augustinian and united the houses through his patronage and by engaging them as his advisors.
At the time of the Reformation the chief houses were:
Many of the houses founded by St. Columba remained in possession of the canons till the Reformation, including Oronsay and Crusay.
The Augustinian canons regular established 116 religious houses in Ireland in the period of church reform early in the 12th century. The role of the Augustinian Canons within the secular community was the main reason for their being the largest single order in Ireland. The canons regular were less rigorous in their observances than the Cistercians, and through this more flexible approach to religious life they participated in a great variety of pastoral activities in parishes, hospitals and schools. The Rule of Augustine was appropriate to the new monastic reforms and the pastoral activities were a significant instrument for the restoration of religious discipline which had seriously declined in Irish monasteries. St Malachy, archbishop of Armagh, was a prime mover in the reform movement in the Irish church in the 12th century and by the time of his death in 1148, there were forty-one Augustinian houses.
It is not improbable that at the outbreak of the dissolution by Henry VIII, some of the Irish canons may have retired to foreign monasteries. By 1646 the canons were sufficiently numerous to be formed by Innocent X into a separate "Congregation of St. Patrick", which the pope declared to inherit all the rights, privileges and possessions of the old Irish canons. In the year 1698 the Irish Congregation, by a Bull of Innocent XII, was affiliated and aggregated to the Lateran Congregation.
The Canons Regular of Saint Augustine (C.R.S.A. or Can.Reg.), also referred to as "Augustinian Canons" or "Austin Canons" ('Austin' being an anglicisation of 'Augustine'), is one of the oldest Latin Rite Orders. In contrast to many other orders of the Catholic Church, Augustinian Canons (Canons Regular of St. Augustine, Canonici Regulares Sancti Augustini, CRSA) cannot be traced back to an individual founder or to a particular founding group. They are more the result of a process that lasted for centuries. Because of their manifold roots they have undergone various forms in medieval and modern Europe. Since the 12th century, canons regular have been known as Augustinian or Austin Canons, taking their name from St Augustine, the great Doctor of the Church, "for he realized in an ideal way the common life of the Clergy". From that time the Canons have adopted the "Rule" of Augustine.
On 4 May 1959 Pope John XXIII founded the Confederation of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine with his apostolic letter "Caritatis Unitas" on the 900th anniversary of the First Lateran Synod. The Confederation is a "union of charity" which binds nine congregations of canons regular together for mutual aid and support. The initial four congregations were:
Subsequently, other congregations of canons regular joined the confederation:
The abbot primate, who is elected by all the congregations and serves for a six-year term, works to foster contact and mutual cooperation among the diverse communities of canons regular in the Catholic Church. On 11 October 2016, Mgr Jean-Michel Girard, Abbot of the Congregation of St. Nicholas and St. Bernard of Mont Joux (Great St. Bernard, Switzerland) was elected as the 10th abbot primate of the Confederation of the Canons Regular of St Augustine.
The order has houses in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, England, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Peru, Porto Rico, Spain, Taiwan, Switzerland, the United States and Uruguay.
Other orders sprang up which followed the Rule of St. Augustine and the canonical life. As canons regular became separated into different congregations they took their names from the locality in which they lived, or from the distinctive habit they wore, or from the one who led the way in remodelling their lives. Hence we have the White Canons of Prémontré; the White Canons of Saint John Lateran; the Black Canons of St. Augustine; the Canons of St. Victor at Paris and also at Marseilles.
The Premonstratensian Order was founded at Prémontré, near Laon, in Picardy (northern France), by St. Norbert in the year 1120. The order received formal approval from Pope Honorius II in 1126, the same year in which Norbert was appointed Archbishop of Magdeburg. According to the spirit of its founder, this congregation unites the active with the contemplative life, the institute embracing in its scope the sanctification of its members and the administration of the sacraments. It grew large even during the lifetime of its founder, and now has charge of many parishes and schools, especially in the Habsburg provinces of Austria and Hungary. The Premonstratensians wear a white habit with white cincture. They are governed by an abbot general, vicars and visitors.
The origin of the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross appears to be uncertain, although all admit its great antiquity. It has been divided into four chief branches: the Italian, the Bohemian, the Belgian and the Spanish. Of this last very little is known. The branch once flourishing in Italy, after several attempts at reformation, was finally suppressed by Alexander VII in 1656. In Bohemia there are still some houses of Crosier Canons, as they are called, who, however, seem to be different from the well known Belgian Crosiers, who trace their origin to the time of Innocent III and recognize for their Father Blessed Theodore de Celles, who founded their first house at Huy, near Liège. These Belgian Croisier Canons have a great affinity with the Dominicans. They follow the Rule of St. Augustine, and their constitutions are mainly those compiled for the Dominican Order by St. Raymond of Penafort. Besides the usual duties of canons in the church, they are engaged in preaching, administering the sacraments, and teaching. Formerly they had houses in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, England, Ireland and Scotland. Until about 1900 they also served missions in North America, they had five monasteries in Belgium, of which St. Agatha is considered the mother-house. To these Croisier Canons belongs the privilege, granted to them by Pope Leo X and confirmed by Leo XIII, of blessing beads with an indulgence of 500 days. Their habit was formerly black, but is now a white soutane with a black scapular and a cross, white and red on the breast. In choir they wear in summer the rochet with a black almuce.
Extinct congregations also include those of St. Rufus, founded in 1039, and once flourishing in Dauphiné; of Aroasia (Diocese of Arras, in France), founded in 1097; Marbach (1100); of the Holy Redeemer of Bologna, also called the Renana (1136), now united to the Lateran Congregation; of the Holy Spirit in Sassia (1198); of St. George in Alga, at Venice (1404); of Our Saviour in Lorraine, reformed in 1628 by St. Peter Fourier.
There are canonesses regular, as well as canons regular; the Apostolic origin is common to both. Communities of canonesses regular developed from the groups of women who took the name and the Rule of life laid down for the various congregations of canons regular. As with regard to origin and antiquity the same is to be said of orders of women both in general and in particular as of orders of men. St. Basil in his rules addresses both men and women.Augustine of Hippo drew up the first general rule for communities of women in the year 423.
The occupations of the canonesses consisted in the recitation of the Divine Office, the care of the church vestments, and the education of the young, particularly the daughters of the nobility. The regular canonesses, for the most part, follow the Rule of St. Augustine.
Some congregations still extant include:
Among the orders which sprang from the canonical life were the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, as well as the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinitarians. St. Anthony of Padua started his religious life as a canon regular in Portugal before moving to the Franciscans.St. Bruno was originally a canon living under the Rule of Aachen for over 20 years when, at the age of 51, he and several companions began a new community at the Grande Chartreuse, and founded the Carthusian Order.