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discipline [dis-a-plin]  Noun


  1. training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior., especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.

  2. controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.

  3. control obtained by enforcing compliance or order; a systemic method to obtain obedience; order based on submission to authority.

  4. punishment to correct or train.

  5. a set of rules or methods, as those regulating the practice of a church or monastic order.6. a branch of knowledge or teaching.





Etymologically the word discipline signifies the formation of one who places himself at school and under the direction of a master. All Christians are the disciples of Christ, desirous to form themselves at His school and to be guided by His teachings and precepts. He called Himself, and we, too, call Him, Our Master. Such, then, is evangelical discipline. However, in ecclesiastical language the word discipline has been invested with various meanings.



All discipline may be considered first in its author, then in its subject, and finally in itself. In its author it is chiefly the method employed for the formation and adaptation of the precepts and directions to the end to be attained. More frequently, however, discipline is considered objectively, that is, as being the precepts and measures for the practical guidance of subjects. Thus understood ecclesiastical discipline is the sum of laws and directions given by the Church to the faithful for their conduct both private and public. This is discipline in its broadest understanding. It includes natural and Divine as well as positive laws and faith, worship, and morals; in a word, all that affects the conduct of Christians. But if we eliminate laws merely formulated by the Church as the expounder of natural or Divine law, there remain the laws and directions laid down and formulated by ecclesiastical authority for the guidance of the faithful; this is the restricted and more usual application of the word discipline.



The first duty of a Catholic is to believe. Thus we have doctrine, or dogmatic discipline, by which the Church proposes what we are to believe and so regulates our conduct that it shall not fail to assist our Faith. This doctrinal and dogmatic power springs from the magisterium or teaching office of the Church and is exercised by means of declarations and proclamations of the principle teachings of the Catholic Faith.


The second duty of a Catholic is to observe the Commandments, thus we have the moral discipline of the Church. We generally call moral discipline whatsoever directs the Christian in those acts that have a moral value, including the observance of positive laws both ecclesiastical and secular.


There still remain the obligations incumbent on the faithful considered individually, either on the members of different groups or classes of ecclesiastical society, or, finally, on those who are to any extent whatever exercisers of a portion of the authority. This is discipline properly so called, exterior discipline, established by the legislation of the Church for the good government of society and the sanctification of individuals. On individuals it imposes common precepts e.g. the Commandments of the Church; then it states their mutual obligations, in conjugal society by matrimonial discipline, in larger societies by determining relations with ecclesiastical superiors, parish priests, bishops, etc. Special groupings also have their own particular discipline, there being clerical discipline for the clergy and religious or monastic discipline for the religious.


The government of Christian society is in the hands of prelates and superiors who are subject to a special discipline either for the conditions of their recruitment, for the determining of their privileges and duties, or for the manner in which they should fulfil their functions. We may also include here the rules for the administration of temporal goods.


Finally, any authority from which emanate orders or prohibitions should also have power to ratify the same by penal measures applicable to all transgressors; hence, another object of discipline is the imposing and inflicting of disciplinary sanctions.



It is evident, therefore, that the disciplinary power of the Church is a phase, a practical application, of its power of jurisdiction, and includes various forms, namely: legislative, administrative, judicial, and coercive power. The Church is a society and, as such, it necessarily has the power of jurisdiction which it derives from Divine institution through the Apostolic succession. Disciplinary power is proved by the very fact of its exercise; it is an organic necessity in every society whose members it guides to their end by providing them with rules of action.


Historically it can be shown that a disciplinary power has been exercised by the Church uninterruptedly, first by the Apostles and then by their successors. The Apostles in the first council at Jerusalem formulated rules for the conduct of the faithful (Acts 15). St. Paul gave moral advice to the Christians of Corinth on virginity, marriage, and the agape (1 Corinthians 7:11). The Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul are a veritable code of clerical discipline. The Church, moreover, has never ceased to represent herself as charged by Christ with the guidance of mankind in the way of eternal salvation. The Council of Trent expressly affirms the disciplinary power of the Church in all that concerns liturgical discipline and Divine Worship (Sess. XXI, c. ii) : "In the administration of the sacraments, the substance of the latter remaining intact, the Church has always had power to establish or to modify whatever she considered most expedient for the utility of those who receive them, or best calculated to ensure respect for the sacraments themselves according to the various circumstances of time and place." In fact, we need only to recall the numerous laws enacted by the Church in the course of centuries for the maintenance, development, or restoration of the moral and spiritual life of Christians.



That ecclesiastical discipline should be subject to change is natural since it was made for men and by men. To claim that it is immutable would render the attainment of its end utterly impossible, since, in order to form and direct Christians, it must adapt itself to the variable circumstances of time and place, conditions of life, customs of peoples and races, being, in a certain sense, like St. Paul, all things to all men. Nevertheless, neither the actual changes nor the possibility of further alteration must be exaggerated. There is no change in those disciplinary measures through which the Church sets before the faithful and confirms the natural and the Divine law, nor in those strictly disciplinary regulations that are closely related to the natural or Divine law. Other disciplinary rules may and must be modified in proportion as they seem less efficacious for the social or individual welfare.

(Adapted and condensed from The Catholic Encyclopedia)

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