Consecrated life through the ages (Religious Life Timeline)

By Vision editors

From ancient desert monasticism to contemporary forms of religious life, a small band of Christian men and women in every generation choose to consecrate their lives to God with unique vows of love and service that give radical witness to the gospel. 

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Since the call of the first disciples, some followers of Jesus have sought a different way to live their faith. In the early church groups of widows gathered to dedicate themselves to prayer and good works. Others craved solitary prayer, so they fled to the desert to commune with God and guide others in the pursuit of holiness. Monasteries, cloisters, and religious houses eventually came into being, and religious life as we know it began to take shape.

Consecrated life—in its diverse expressions around the globe—is a gift to the church and world. Its prayer lifts the entire church. Likewise, good works and the pursuit of justice shape society to more closely resemble the reign of God. A life of chastity, poverty, and obedience gives powerful witness to faith in Jesus without a word being uttered.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, religious communities of men and women rise up, serve a purpose, thrive, and live on or come to an end. This ebb and flow has occurred for 2,000 years and will continue for millennia to come as new members around the world take vows and join their lives to communities to live out the gospel in radical ways.

What follows is a timeline of the major events in the history of consecrated life through the ages.

A version of this article originally appeared in VISION 2015. 

Click here to view an updated Religious Life Timeline in the Vision 2019 digital edition.

consecrated life timeline

Download a pdf of the Religious Life Timeline: in English (updated), in Spanish, in French

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