Types of Catholic Monks

Updated April 17, 2017

Catholic monks are a group of devout men living together in a monastery or community set apart from society. Some types of monks live the solitary life of a hermit. The monks lead a simple life of contemplation, reflection and prayer. Monks take vows of poverty, chastity and allegiance to the church, according to the rules of their particular order.


Anchorite monks choose to withdraw from society and live as ascetic hermits after a period of disciplined religious education. Consecrated anchorite monks follow the example of solitude set by John the Baptist in the desert. Early Catholic anchorite monks were called desert-dwellers for their habit of living in the desert or other harsh environments. Hermit monks take their monastic vows from the church-approved orders of Hermits of St. Augustine and the Hermits of St. Jerome.


Monks from mendicant orders are known as friars and take a vow of extreme poverty. Their dependence on charity and the collection of alms earned them the nickname of "begging monks." Sects of mendicant monks originated in 13th century France and Italy. Mendicant friars, called brothers, solicited handouts from the towns hosting their monastaries. Mendicant orders from the middle ages include the Carmelites, Friars Minor and the Order of Preachers.


Benedictine monks follow the rule of St. Benedict. They live under the strict supervision and rule of an abbot. After a year as novitiates, the monks take vows to enter the order. Benedictine monks are known as the "black monks" for their dark robes. Congregations of Benedictines operate independently and are ruled only by the Pope. During St. Benedict's lifetime, 14 Benedictine monasteries were established in Italy. St. Augustine and a group of monks founded the first English Benedictine monastery.


Cistercians go by the common name of Trappist monks, after the Abbey of La Trappe where the Order of Reformed Cistercians originated. The most famous Trappist monk is the poet and writer Thomas Merton. Trappists live in abbeys apart from the world, eschewing material possessions and leading an austere life. Trappist monks wear white habits and sing the Mass in solemn Gregorian chants. They often take vows of silence and live by farming and other manual labour.

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