Are Nuns Clergy? (Are Nuns Members Of The Clergy?)

As a devout Christian and theologian, I have always been curious about the various ranks in different denominations. I noticed that only men are at the top leadership ranks, besides so many women in dedicated service in the Catholic Church, such as nuns, sisters, and consecrated virgins. Similarly, even though offices such as that of bishops, deacons, and priests are known to many as clerical, most people are uncertain whether nuns are clergy. Years back, I visited one of the convents in my town, intending to get clear answers to these mysteries. Luckily, I met amazing nuns who gave me much more information than I anticipated. In one of our theology classes, one of my students asked me whether nuns are part of the clergy. Earlier, we discussed the leadership structure of the Catholic Church. Having researched extensively on the subject, I had the answers. So, are nuns clergy?

Nuns are not considered part of the clergy. Despite being among those who take solemn vows and dedicate their lives to special service, they are not ordained through Holy Orders and hence do not merit being clergy.

In this article, I explain the religious definitions of common terms such as laity and clergy, their contexts, and the delegation of the position of nuns with respect to these terms. I invite you to read on and find out whether nuns are clergy and whether they can be ordained into the clerical office.

Are Nuns Laity?

Yes, nuns are, in every sense, considered laity. According to the Roman Catholic tradition, the clergy consists of leaders who have been ordained through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The three levels of ordained life in this religion are bishop, priest, and deacon.

Nuns are also leaders in their own right since they are among those who take vows to devote their lives to a religious course. However, as opposed to the bishops, priests, and deacons, who are initiated into office through sacramental orders, nuns are initiated into office through religious vows. This excludes them from the clerical rank, only attained through sacramental orders.

What Is The Difference Between Clergy Members And Laity?

Are Nuns Members Of The Clergy?
The Difference Between Clergy Members And Laity. Image source: Pixabay

According to the Catholic Church, the term clergy refers to those who have received the sacrament. The members of the clergy are hence called into their respective offices through a sacrament called Holy Orders.

On the other hand, the laity has two contexts, both of which do not involve receiving a sacrament. In the first narrower context, laity refers to any person who is not ordained clergy. In this context, any non-ordained religious leader, even those strictly cloistered, such as nuns, are still considered since they are not ordained. The other wider context defines the laity as any member of the religion who is neither clergy nor in a recognized state of consecrated service life. In this context, nuns are not considered laity since they are consecrated through religious vows. In simple terms, therefore, laity means the life of the faithful outside the ranks of the clergy. The laity remains where they were placed by baptism, while the clergy are raised to a higher rank by ordination.

Can A Nun Be Ordained Or Become A Member Of The Clergy?

A nun cannot be ordained to become a member of the clergy. The Bible implies that only men were chosen by Jesus to be part of the twelve disciples, and this is believed to be the foundation of priesthood and church headship. Holding onto this example set by Jesus, the church has believed that only men can be ordained into clerical ranks, which head the church. The title nun refers to a member of the religious order of women with solemn vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Being a woman, therefore, a nun cannot be ordained into a clerical office.

Are There Nuns Who Are Members Of The Clergy?

Are Nuns Clergy?
Are There Nuns Who Are Members Of The Clergy? Image source: Freepik

As earlier stated, the Catholic Church has held onto the example, which is taken more as a directive, set by Jesus where he only appointed men to be part of The Twelve and form the foundation of church leadership and priesthood. This tradition has stood through time; until now, no woman has been ordained into a clerical rank.

However, the Catholic Church also recognizes that Jesus broke most of the cultural restrictions imposed on women and seemed to give them a place in service to the church and society. On this ground, women are allowed to occupy non-ordained but consecrated leadership and service ranks, such as nuns and sisters.

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