Are Nuns and Monks the Same (What is the Difference Between Nuns and Monks)?

Christian monasticism fascinates me to this day. I first heard about it as a theology student. We had a guest lecture on Asceticism offered by a monk from the local monastery. Incidentally, that was the first time I saw a monk up close. As he spoke, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s the difference between nuns and monks?” After the lecture, I approached him with my questions. We had a fascinating discussion on the nuances within the orders of nuns and monks. Years later, I was confronted with a similar question from my student. He wanted to know if there were similarities between nuns and monks. I shared what I learned from my research and answered the seemingly endless follow-up questions that arose. So, are nuns and monks the same?

Obviously not. Nuns are female; monks are male. However, both have taken solemn vows and live in communities. Some may be cloistered while others aren’t. Furthermore, monks can choose to go into the priesthood, while nuns don’t have this option.

This article explores the differences and similarities between nuns and monks. Join me in learning about the vows and rules that nuns and monks live by.

What is the difference in the roles of nuns and monks?

The roles of nuns and monks are laid out by their orders’ charism and mission. As such, differentiating them based on whether they’re monks or nuns may prove difficult. However, the most significant difference in their roles is that monks can (and often) be ordained as priests, a choice nuns don’t have. Aside from this, nuns and monks differ only in their gender.

What is the difference in the vows taken by monks and nuns?

What is the Difference Between Nuns and Monks?
What is the difference in the vows taken by monks and nuns? Image source: Pixabay

Nuns and monks take similar vows, with modifications made within specific orders. Generally, they’ll take vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty. Monastic orders such as the Benedictines take vows of obedience, conversion, and stability.

Here’s an overview of what these vows entail:

  1. Obedience – this vow compels the monk or nun to submit to their superior as they would to Christ. They are to carry out instructions promptly and without grumbling.
  2. Chastity: Nuns and monks devote their lives entirely to God. The vows of chastity prohibit them from engaging in sexual relationships and marriage.
  3. Poverty: Monks and nuns renounce personal possessions. They only own what the order provides and share whatever they can among themselves and those around them.
  4. Stability: This vow is unique to Benedictine nuns and monks. It confines them to the community they took their vows in.
  5. Conversion to monastic life: Orders with this vow expect adherents to fully immerse themselves in the monastic life. Often, this vow incorporates evangelical counsels (chastity, poverty, and obedience). Additionally, they embrace simplicity, prayer, and contemplation.

Are there similarities between nuns and monks?

Yes. There are several similarities between nuns and monks. Here are a few:




Both take vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. These vows bind them to the monastic life and guide their day-to-day life.

Daily life

Nuns and monks follow a strict routine set out by their orders. These routines emphasize prayer, work, and contemplation. Besides these three, they’ll create time for recreation to allow them a balanced life.

Community engagement

Community engagement depends on whether they’re cloistered or non-cloistered. Cloistered monks and nuns rarely leave the convent; non-cloistered monks and nuns work within their communities.


Both dress simply in colors chosen by their orders.

What are the rules for monks and nuns?

Are Nuns and Monks the Same?
What are the rules for monks and nuns? Image source: Pixabay

Rules for monks and nuns depend on the order. Some are stricter than others, but they generally follow a similar pattern.

Similar rules

  1. Obedience: Nuns and monks submit to their superiors. They carry out instructions faithfully and promptly.
  2. Chastity: In keeping with their vows, nuns and monks are to abstain from sex. To ensure accountability, most nuns and monks walk in pairs.
  3. Poverty: Nuns and monks aren’t allowed to own personal possessions outside what the order provides.
  4. Work: Monastic orders frown upon idleness. Nuns and monks are encouraged to take up meaningful hobbies and to work hard.
  5. Silence: Silence and contemplation is part of the monastic life. As such, nuns and monks have extended periods of silence.

Different rules

  1. Hospitality: Augustinian monasteries have the superior’s rooms closest to the door, so they are the first to receive guests.
  2. Benedictine rules outline 12 steps to attaining humility, something unique to this order.

Are monks more secluded than nuns?

It’s hard to say. Seclusion depends on the charism and mission of specific orders. For instance, Carthusian monks and Carmelite nuns live secluded lives, while Dominican friars are more active in their communities. Generally, comparing seclusion between monks and nuns is difficult since they ascribe to the rules set by their orders.

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