The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World

Article excerpt

The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of the Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World. By Elizabeth Rapley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2011. Pp. xii, 337. $24.00 paperback. ISBN 978-08028-6588-5.)

Elizabeth Rapley sets out to recount the story of religious "for those people for whom monks and nuns are only a distant memory, or who have never known them at all" (p. ix).This intended audience determines the mode of her presentation without footnotes or bibliography and only brief recommendations for reading at the conclusion of each chapter. She covers approximately 1 500 years of history in six chapters, and includes a helpful glossary and index.

Chapter 1 begins the story in the Egyptian desert; moves to St. Benedict of Nursia; and traces the Benedictine reforms through Cluny, the eremitical reforms, and Cîteaux.The beginnings of the apostolic life movements in the eleventh century, the revival of the canons regular, the origins of military orders, and an overview of monastic women concludes the chapter.

Chapter 2, covering the Middle Ages from 1200 to 1500, chronicles the origins of the mendicants, focusing on the growth of the Franciscan and Dominican orders through the Black Death and the Great Schism. Rapley describes the expansion, the pastoral role in the Western Church (and conflict with secular clergy), and the missions of the Franciscan Order to the Orient through the early-fourteenth century and the crisis of the Spirituals. The Poor Clares are treated briefly, as well as the Cistercian nuns and the Frauenfrage in general. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of the "Third Orders" and the Brothers of the Common Life.

Chapter 3 covers the period of the Reformation and its impact on religious life. The Reformers' critique of religious life and the turbulent history of the sixteenth century is the backdrop for the origins of the Capuchin reform and the Jesuits in particular, as well as for the Carmelite reform of Ss. Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. The growth of new women's orders is presented through the example of St. …