Instruction on the Renewal of Religious Formation: In the Light of Vatican II Documents

Author: LOR


L'Osservatore Romano

                                                                                                        See Renovationis Causam

The Second Vatican Council more than once in its documents, expressly dealt with religious and religious life. In two documents particularly, religious are given special attention, both from the doctrinal aspect and from the practical point of view of the life of the Church.

In the dogmatic constitution "Lumen Gentium" after long discussions and special votings on. specific queries, the Council Fathers reserved a separate chapter (chap. VI) for religious, with its proper title, and more important still, gave a wonderful doctrinal synthesis of the religious state in the life of the Church. The same title, "religious", in the heading of chapter VI of "Lumen Gentium", has assumed a theological significance. In this chapter also are to found the elements of a true theology of the religious state. The remainder of the chapter, as has already been noted, is a guide to a correct vision of and a preparation for the religious life. This formation constitutes the object of the Instruction.

"Perfectate Caritatis"

The Council did not limit itself to highlighting the theology of the religious state. In view of the general need for a healthy and necessary renewal in the lives of all the members of the Church it could not overlook the need for a similar renewal for members so qualified as religious. For this purpose then, it proposed concrete general criteria, especially in the decree Perfectae Caritatis, by which the religious of today must seriously set about an appropriate renewal that would lead them to a greater vitality and perfection in the life of the Church.

In the same decree, the Council, among other things, clearly cautioned that a healthy and opportune renewal of religious institutes depends mostly on the training of their members (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, n. 18). Consequently, the Congregation of. Religious and Secular Institutes, guided by this conciliar principle was careful in proposing and concretely determining the possibility, both from the disciplinary and canonical point of view, of experimentation with new methods of training for religious life. In this way the Sacred Congregation placed itself at the service of the post-conciliar Church which wasanxious to find the most effective means for stimulating the growth of religiouslife, beginning in the obvious place, with candidates to the life of evangelical perfection, themselves. From these, in fact, the Church awaits an ever more conscious and generous response in their own specific vocation.

The Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes was aware that a renewal in formation could not be achieved without a solid doctrinal basis nor without legitimate practical orientations. Guided by the Council principles it has issued the present document, which, in order to be well understood, has to be examined in the light of the doctrinal and practical principles which the Second Vatican Council has outlined.

Under the theologico-doctrinal aspect the Instruction Renovationis Causam is guided by Lumen Gentium to which it oftenexpressly refers.

"Lumen Gentium"

It first of all recalls that the religious state "constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, nevertheless it belongs inseparably to her life and holiness". This principle of Lumen Gentium (n. 44) with which the Instruction is introduced, is theologically relevant because it shows that the religiousstate, as such, forms part of its holiness, also indeed, of the whole life of the Church. This implies that the religious state can and must enter, not only into some, but into all sectors of the Church's life. For this reason also, Lumen Gentium reminds us of the hierarchy's competence and duty of guiding religious by its directive norms and precepts.

Likewise, the Instruction underlines theologically the principle, the importance and the competence of the Hierarchy's interference.

Secondly, the Instruction, both in its first and second parts, brings to light the various theological aspects of the religious state, which were mentioned at the Council, namely: the theocentric, the christocentric, the christoform, the ecclesiocentric, the apostolic, the unitarian and multiform, the apologetic, missionary and eschatological aspects of the religious state.

In harmony with Decrees

The theocentric aspect of formation for religious life is, in fact, brought out where the Instruction dwells on the characteristics of consecration, which the baptized accomplish in a very singular way with the religious profession of vows.

When the Instruction, like Lumen Gentium,reaffirms that there are other commitments similar to vows, it does so in order to recall that, to be a religious in the theological sense, one must have sacred, specific and direct links with God. Otherwise one could not be considered religious, theologically. If the Instruction admits the possibility of other commitments that are not linked directly with God, it does so precisely to confirm the possibility of preparing oneself with sufficient responsibility for that total and perfect consecration which is acquired through perpetual vows. For that reason, the Instruction again quotes Lumen Gentium, when it reaffirms that consecration to God will be more perfect to the extent. that the vows contracted are firm and stable (Lumen Gentium, n. 44). The firm call to union with God in the unity of charity, in which the Instruction wishes youth to be formed, is a clear indication of the necessity of their being formed for a life that is ever more theocentric. The link, therefore, with the virtue of religion constitutes the basis for the sacred bonds by which a religious places himself at the total service of God, as a holocaust which is realized in the vows, especially by means of obedience, as expressly noted in the document.

The Instruction shows also the christoform aspect of religious life and of formation for religious life, again expressly recalling the doctrine of Lumen Gentium (n. 46), with a text substantially changed from that of Mystici Corporis. The text is as follows: "Religious should carefully consider that the Church, through them, wishes to give an increasingly clearer revelation of Christ to believers and non-believers alike. Through them Christ must be seen contemplating on the mountain, announcing God's kingdom to the multitude, healing the sick and the maimed, converting sinners to good, blessing children, doing good to all and always obeying the will of the Father who sent him".

The aim of the Instruction, then, is to have youth formed in the imitation of Christ according to the specific aims of their own institute, because the religious state, by its nature, "more faithfully imitates and continually exemplifies the form of life which the Son of God accepted in entering this world to do the will of his Father and which he proposed that his disciples follow" (Lumen Gentium, n. 44). The Instruction, therefore, recalls the object of religious profession of the vows, which is constituted by the evangelical counsels, and invites candidates to evangelical perfection "to correspond in the first place with their vocation of following Christ" (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, n. 8).

The religious life is likewise ecclesial, not alone in the sense already mentioned, that the religious state belongs to the life and holiness of the Church and remains under the competence and the authority hierarchy, but also, in as much as the religious as such is joined in a special way tothe Church and to her mystery (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 44).

Therefore, "it is necessary that their spiritual life be dedicated also to the whole Church" (Lumen Gentium, n. 44). The Instruction insists on the formation of candidates in this ecclesial sense of the religious life, in harmony with the decree Perfectae Caritatis, and the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae, and requests that youth be trained to be religious not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of the whole ecclesial society. In other words, the Instruction requests a formation that will lead to a higher perfection in the religious life and so to greater perfection, above all, in the exercise of charity towards God and one's neighbour, and in consequence, to an increase of holiness and vitality in the Church. As Pope Pius XII once stated: "the religious state exists and is of such importance because it adheres strictly to the aims proper to the church itself, namely, of leading all men to holiness" (Discourse Haud Mediocri, A.A.S., L [1958) p. 153).

It would, therefore, be a mistake to interpret the innovations which the document has in mind for the formation of religious, as concessions to make their life easier and mediocre, when, on the contrary, it is seeking to open up new ways (and the experience will help to provide a safe and definite judgment) for training religious ever more qualified and fitted for their vocation.

In connection with these fundamental aspects, the religious life, as also the formation of young people for it, must be apostolic, unitarian, multiform and apologetic, as can be deduced from the Council's doctrine (Lumen Gentium nn. 44, 46).For this reason the document teaches that the religious state, even that given exclusively to contemplation, is by its intrinsic nature apostolic; an aspect, as the Council teaches, "in keeping with the nature of one's proper vocation" (Lumen Gentium, n. 44), therefore, even without the direct exercise of apostolic activities, so called.

The Instruction treats more widely of the method of educating those who are to live in Institutes dedicated to apostolic works, in order that young candidates may commence right from the first years to know and to judge themselves, not only with regard to the general apostolate in view, which is necessary for every religious and intrinsic to the religious life itself, but also with a view to the different activities and the external forms of the life to which they intend to dedicate themselves. In harmony, then, with the Council the document purposely avoids the use of expressions which might sound as having less appreciation of and consideration for the formation for contemplative life. On the other hand, the Instruction takes account of the great number of Institutes for which, as the Council notes (Perfectae Caritatis, n. 8), "the very nature of religious life requires apostolic and charitable works". For these Institutes in particular, the document opens up the possibility of new methods, even with regard to formation during the novitiate period. Taking part right from the start in various activities of the apostolate, so as to be more perfect religious in relation to the external aims to so many Institutes, is the motive for this opening to new methods and experiments. But, at the same time, and also in harmony with the Council (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 44; Perfectae Caritatis,n. 8), the Instruction requires unity in variety. This unity must be found in intimate union with God. Hence arises the necessity for Members of such Institutes of alternating the times given to contemplation with those given to apostolic works. This truth remains valid because, as the Council teaches (Perfectae Caritatis, n. 8),"there are many forms of religious life consecrated to the works of the apostolate".

Deeper knowledge of Commitment

All this must prove itself with a formation that follows the theological practical criteria which those concerned with the formation of novices must follow. There is no need to say that such criteria correspond fully with the doctrine and guidance that the Council has given. Their purpose, in fact, is to lead towards a healthy and renewed religious formation, capable of promoting greater perfection and holiness in the Church "in this way it will happen that love for God and neighbour will itself be nurtured and intensified" (Perfectae Caritatis, n. 8).

The preparation for the taking of perpetual vows, with the gradualness and the bonds with which the Instruction concerns itself, should lead the young candidates to a deeper knowledge of the sacred commitments that they are called to assume before God, before the Church and before the world, in dedicating themselves to the religious life. For this reason the document observes: "lastly, a religious formation more based on stages and judiciously extended over the different periods of the life of the young religious, should find its culmination in a serious preparation for perpetual vows" (n. 9).

The religious and those who, in fact, are definitely preparing to be religious must always keep in mind both the apologetical and eschatological aspects of their life, in conformity with the Council doctrine: "the profession of the evangelical counsels, then, appears as a sign which can and ought to attract all the members of the Church to an effective and prompt fulfilment of the duties of their Christian vocation. The people of God has no lasting city here below, but looks forward to one which is to come. This being so, the religious state by giving its members greater freedom from earthly cares more adequately manifests to all believers the presence of heavenly goods already possessed here below. It witnesses to the fact of a new and eternal life acquired by the redemption of Christ, and foretells the resurrected state and the glory of the heavenly kingdom" (Lumen Gentium, n. 44).

In this light it is necessary to study and really understand the Instruction Renovationis Causam.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 March 1969, page 3

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