Mary Stevens

Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics.
Doctoral Candidate, supervisor Professor Mark Elliott.
University of St Andrews

My research topic is the theology of Religious Life according to Pope John Paul II, with particular reference to the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptionis Donum of 1984.


The importance of Religious Life and Monastic life in the Christian church and in the world throughout the centuries is indisputable. The influence on civilisation of this way of life and of the people who lived it has been vast and wide-ranging. Religious Life continues in our own times, but its place in the Church and in the world may be less prominent and its meaning less obvious.

Most Religious Orders and Congregations were founded in past centuries since when both society and culture have evolved dramatically throughout the world. The understanding of human life itself and of the human person have changed in fundamental ways. One specific sign of the societal changes is that many of the works undertaken by Religious Orders and by Monasteries have been assumed by governments, other civil groups and individuals. Those which are still in the hands of Religious face profound new challenges. Yet in the eyes of many, the Religious were identified with these activities. This reality, itself a sign of deeper changes, has been instrumental in forcing a self-questioning for Religious Life.

This external stimulus is coupled with the call for renewal of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution Lumen Gentium provided a rich theology of Religious Life. The Decree Perfectae Caritatis called all Religious to renewal through return to the sources of the Gospel and the teaching and example of the founders and foundresses in the context of the contemporary world.

At the heart of the Second Vatican Council is found the emphasis on the universal call to holiness which devolves from baptism. This shines a new light on the life of all Christians and implies the need for a new reflection of the place of Religious within the universal church.

The understanding of Religious Life has been the object of serious theological reflection since the Second Vatican Council and it remains vital to the life of the Church. It has been undertaken by Religious and Monastics across the globe for decades. Academic theology must also play a role in this important work.

Religious Life has been described in its role as ‘witness’. I believe that the philosophical anthropology of Pope John Paul II can take this aspect to a new level, the cardinal point for which is his reflection on redemption. His soteriology, particularly in this reflection on Religious Life, demonstrates through the economy of redemption in the Religious Life in the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of what it means to be a human person.

Since I began this page I have submitted my thesis, the examination of which has lead to further thought. My examiners were not convinced by my use of the philosophy of Pope John Paul II. Listening carefully to their feedback and working on the necessary corrections, I have become more convinced than ever both of the importance of Redemptionis Donum, and of the philosophy of the author for the theology of Religious Life which he proposes in this Exhortation. I am now working on demonstrating its relevance and presenting the theology in such a way that the philosophical anthropology behind it is experienced as an essential elucidating tool.