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Continence and a certain religious profession were required of married women whose husbands were in Sacred Orders, or even received episcopal consecration.
This canonical life was led also by women, who retired form the world, took vows of chastity, dressed modestly in black, but were not bound to give of their property.
The constitution "Conditae" of Leo XIII (8 December, 1900) charges bishops not to permit sisters to open houses as hotels for the entertainment of strangers of both sexes, and to be extremely careful in authorizing congregations which live on alms, or nurse sick persons at their homes, or maintain infirmaries for the reception of inform persons of both sexes, or sick priests.
The Holy See, by its Regulations (Normae) of 28 June, 1901, declares that it does not approve of congregations whose object is to render certain services in seminaries or colleges for male pupils, or to teach children or young people of both sexes; and it disapproves their undertaking the direct care of young infants, or lying-in women.
This strictness led to the foundation of pious associations called secular because they had no perpetual vows, and leading a common life intended for their own personal sanctification and the practice of charity, e.g. As political difficulties rendered less easy the observance of solemn vows, especially for women, the Holy See from the end of the eighteenth century declined to approve any new congregations with solemn vows, and even suppressed in certain countries, Belgium and France, all solemn professions in the old orders of women.
The constitution of Benedict XIV, "Quamvis justo" of 30 April, 1749, on the subject of the Congregation of English Virgins was the prelude to the legislation of Leo XIII, who by his constitution "Conditae" of 8 December, 1900, laid down the laws common to congregations with simple vows, dividing these into two great classes, congregations under diocesan authority, subject to the bishops, and those under pontifical law.
In early times the nuns gave Christian education to orphans, young girls brought by their parents, and especially girls intending to embrace a religious life .
Nuns properly so-called have solemn vows with a strict enclosure, regulated by pontifical law which prevents the religious from going out (except in very rare cases, approved by the regular superior and the bishop ), and also the entrance of strangers, even females, under pain of excommunication.
Even admission to the grated parlor is not free, and interviews with regulars are subject to stringent rules.
Besides the taking of the veil and simple profession there was also a solemn consecration of virginity which took place much later, at twenty-five years. Clare founded in 1212 the Second Order of Franciscans. Dominic had given a constitution to nuns, even before instituting his Friars Preachers, approved 22 December, 1216. Augustine also had corresponding orders of women ; and the same was the case with the Clerks Regular dating from the sixteenth century, except the Society of Jesus.
In the thirteenth century, the Mendicant Orders appeared characterized by a more rigorous poverty, which excluded not only private property, but also the possession of certain kinds of property in common. From the time of the Mendicant Orders, founded specially for preaching and missionary work, there was a great difference between the orders of men and women, arising from the strict enclosure to which women were subjected.