Religious vows are the public vows made by the members of religious communities pertaining to their conduct, practices, and views.
In the Buddhist tradition, in particular within the Mahayana and Vajrayana tradition, many different kinds of religious vows are taken by the lay community as well as by the monastic community, as they progress along the path of practice. In the monastic tradition of all schools of Buddhism the Vinaya expounds the vows of the fully ordained Nuns and Monks.
In the Christian tradition, such public vows are made by the religious life – cenobitic and eremitic – of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, whereby they confirm their public profession of the Evangelical Counsels or Benedictine equivalent. They are regarded as the individual's free response to a call by God to follow Jesus Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit in a particular form of religious living. A person who lives a religious life according to vows they have made is called a votary or a votarist. The religious vow, being a ''public'' vow, is binding in Church law. One of its effects is that the person making it ceases to be free to marry. In the Roman Catholic Church, by making a religious vow one does not become a member of the hierarchy but becomes a member of a unique state of life which is neither clerical nor lay, the consecrated state.〔(1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 588 )〕 Nevertheless, many male members of the Consecrated life are members of the hierarchy, because they are in Holy Orders.〔( Chart showing the place of those making religious vows among the People of God )〕 The members of some Roman Catholic communities make "recognized private vows", which must not be confused with ''private'' vows but are similar to ''public'' vows in Church law.
== In the western church ==
Since the 6th century, monks and nuns following the Rule of Saint Benedict have been making the so-called Benedictine vow at their public profession of obedience (placing oneself under the direction of the abbot/abbess or prior/prioress), stability (committing oneself to a particular monastery), and "conversion of manners" (which includes forgoing private ownership and celibate chastity).〔Rule of St Benedict, ch. 58:17.〕
During the 12th and 13th centuries mendicant orders emerged, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, whose vocation emphasizing mobility and flexibility required them to drop the concept of "stability". They therefore profess ''chastity, poverty and obedience'', like the members of many other orders and religious congregations founded subsequently. The public profession of these so-called Evangelical counsels (or counsels of perfection), confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, are now a requirement according to modern Church Law.〔In the Roman Catholic Church, see canons 573, 603 and 654 of the Code of Canon Law 1983; only the Benedictines continue to make the equivalent Benedictine vow.〕
The "clerks regular" of the 16th century and after, such as the Jesuits and Redemptorists, followed this same general format, though some added a "fourth vow", indicating some special apostolate or attitude within the order. Fully professed Jesuits (known as "the professed of the fourth vow" within the order), take a vow of particular obedience to the Pope to undertake any mission laid out in their Formula of the Institute. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa centuries later (1940s), are another example of this, in that her sisters take a fourth vow of special service to "the poorest of the poor".
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