At theology school, I was pretty fascinated by the Catholic Doctrines and Groups, specifically the Orders that exist for the Catholic Church’s Nuns. During my research, I visited several monasteries and convents, interviewed retired nuns, and even spent some time in some of the convents that allow visitors. With my theology students raising questions about nuns and their strictness and others thinking that the whole Warrior Nun idea of nuns is real, my research made even more sense. Based on my research, I can confidently answer the strictest nun orders. So, what is the strictest order of nuns?
In the Roman Catholic Church, The Cistercians of the Strict Observance represent the strictest religious order of nuns and monks. These nuns are also referred to as the Trappistines or Trappists, representing nuns that believe in the powers of deep contemplative prayers. These nuns choose to pursue this contemplative lifestyle wholeheartedly and follow the teachings of the Century-old Rule that St. Benedict set.
In this post, I’ll share more insights into the life of the Trappists, what differentiates them from other nun orders, and how they live. So, let’s dive right in!
Where did the order of Trappist nuns come from?
The Trappists or the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO), which is the most contemplative Roman Catholic religious group, dates back to 1098 in France, but the group gained popularity in 1664. It was founded by one of the members of the reformed branch – Armand-Jean Le Bouthillier de Rancé, who belonged to the order of the Cistercians of the Roman Catholic Church. The group follows the rules laid out by St. Benedict. It was also in 1664 that Armand became the Trappist community’s regular abbot, running the abbot for at least 30 more years.
Notably, the Trappists get their name from the town of Abbey of La Trappe, located 85 miles away from Paris. Today, the order includes nuns and monks, the Trappistines, and there are about 1800 nuns and 2100 monks spread across 170 Trappist Monasteries found all over the world.
Why was the Trappist Order of nuns founded?
The Trappist order of nuns was founded to create a community of monks and nuns who followed a similar lifestyle. Trappists prefer a life of complete silence, penitential exercise, and extreme austerity in terms of their diet, and they founded this community as a way for them to have a community that allows them to live this exact lifestyle without interference from the rest of the world.
It’s worth noting that this strict order of nuns and monasteries dates to ancient times in Europe when the strict monasteries were facing different challenges. Amid the challenging times, and the 529 Benedictine Order grew weak, its reforming monk, St. Robert of Molesme, created a new monastery in Southern France (Cîteaux Cîteaux) in 1098. His followers were referred to as the Cistercians, named after the Latin name of the Monastery. After it was formed, this Monastery flourished, expanding into hundreds of locations and bringing forth several theologians and bishops like St, Bernard of Clairvaux.
The Cistercian Order, the parent group of Trappists, underwent a significant split in the 16th century, resulting in the two main groups – The Cistern Order and the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, the Trappists.
However, there was a decline in the numbers by the late 17th century as the monks became lax in their original practices. At the time, several of the monasteries were run by wealthy noblemen through a system referred to as the commendation, where the monks and nuns profited from revenues earned from the abbeys. The Trappist orders were re-ignited in 1664, not just to teach about the secluded and contemplative lifestyle but also to create a noble community of believers that wasn’t corrupted by the riches of the world.
What is the lifestyle of Trappist nuns?
Trappist nuns lead a strict life where they observe silence and lead a life of complete seclusion. Their days begin at 2. am and end at 8 pm. These nuns also abstain from eating meat and endure hard manual labor and penance. 4 of these hours are dedicated to manual labor, and they spend a few more hours in the liturgical prayer called the Divine Office, while the rest of the day is dedicated to quiet and contemplative prayers. The nuns live in dormitories on plank boards. This approach or lifestyle is regarded as a common observation. The simple life is why they don’t eat meat.
The Trappistines believe in the power of deep and highly contemplative prayer, a lifestyle they’ve chosen to lead wholeheartedly. They also lead a simple life separate from the mainstream or dominant culture. In addition to work and prayer, these nuns also spend a great deal of time reading and writing correspondence.
Their deep inner lives feature daily rhythms, spiritual/inner work, and a shared spiritual journey that allows them to be in a continuous prayerful life that keeps them closer to God. Trappistines believe that their deep contemplative and prayerful states allow them to meet Jesus and experience some of the greatest transformations. The nuns believe that heartaches help in awakening their spirituality.
Additionally, the nuns are expected to let go of their selfishness and lead a life free of fear and full of love. This involves letting go, allowing God into one’s life, and loving God fully. This lifestyle is also called conversion and is the fabric of the Trappistine nuns and monasterial life.
Generally, the Trappist nun lifestyle is nuanced by the following:
- A deep inner life is free of daily distractions.
It’s characterized by a free mind and a deep, contemplative heart that trusts in God deeply. As a result, the nuns wear simple clothes and engage in humble and simple activities. The deep inner life led by the nuns also involves a life of silence, with the nuns speaking only when necessary. Quiet chants are also common, and with the monasteries set far from the cities, the sounds of nature are quite welcoming for the nuns. All these help the nuns maintain a life separate from the outside world.
- Sharing in their spiritual journey
The nuns also lead a life meant to encourage spiritual growth for different people worldwide. They do this through their communities that bring together people from different backgrounds across age groups. The common ground for these individuals is to share a deep love and desire to know God and to discern God’s will while loving Him wholeheartedly.
- A daily distinct rhythm
While doing the inner contemplative work that involves prayer and silence, these nuns also lead a life characterized by distinct daily rituals which help balance the intellectual, spiritual, and physical aspects of life. Some things that punctuate their lives and set the rhythm include frequent prayer and worship sessions, studying sacred texts, and doing honest work. These activities are meant to help balance and engage their hearts, minds, and hands in response to God’s callings.
What is the strictest rule followed by the Trappist order of nuns?
The strictest rule followed by the Trappist order of nuns is the rule called the Rule of St. Benedict. This rule requires that its followers lead a life of complete uniformity in silence.
The Rule of St. Benedict was written in the 6th century, and it’s regarded as the way of life that brings meaning to all people seeking holiness and happiness. The rules give perspective and guidance on how to live a simple life, serving people like the infirm and being compassionate to all, especially strangers, while maintaining a balance in one’s daily life. While doing all these, the main goal for the nurses remains to revere Jesus Christ and His Words. This rulebook is a guide for the monastic life and is followed by monks and nuns worldwide.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.