From St. Francis to Mother Teresa, from the caves of the Egyptian wilderness to Europe's majestic cloisters and beyond, the church has long been blessed and built up by those who single-mindedly sought after the things of God.
Aside from a few high-profile instances, nuns and monks today serve their church with heroic anonymity -- and, indeed, in many cases, their future is uncertain. Yet their past is undeniable. The religious orders throughout Christian history have been the strong right arm of the Catholic Church and a major force in the maturing of Western civilization.
Elizabeth Rapley beautifully tells their story in The Lord as Their Portion. Rapley has fit the sprawling history of the religious orders -- some seventeen centuries -- into a lively, accessible volume perfect for curious readers. Much more, though, than just a sweeping survey of the highlights (and lowlights) of monasticism past and present, this book also recounts the lives of many of the individual men and women who chose to take -the Lord as their portion- -- and whose piety, devotion, and energetic pursuit of a holy life have profoundly shaped the course of history.
Elizabeth Rapley is adjunct professor of history at theUniversity of Ottawa. Her books include TheDevotes: Women and Church in Seventeenth-CenturyFrance and A Social History of the Cloister: DailyLife in the Teaching Monasteries of the Old Regime.