Lay Movement

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A lay movement is an association of lay people, usually with a specific goal or task. Lay movements exist primarily in the Roman Catholic Church.


Christian lay movements became particularly popular in the Middle Ages with the rise of the mendicant orders. At the turn of the 13th century, a large number of lay people organized themselves into their own communities. Their characteristic was an ideal of life of the Vita apostolica or Vita communis. This included voluntarily chosen poverty, Bible study, works of charity and lay preaching. The most important early communities were the Cathars, the Waldenses, the Humiliates, the Beguines and Begards. Since these lay movements were carried above all by the ideal of poverty, they are therefore also called “poverty movements”. The Third Orders can be traced back to such pious lay associations of both sexes, which joined existing religious congregations for religious and social reasons. The Third Orders also arose from the intention of individuals to live according to the spirituality of a particular order, although they were prevented by life circumstances from entering a monastery. Such Third Orders can be traced back to St. Francis, who, when in 1221 a great many men and women demanded admission to monasteries, gave them a Rule.

In recent history Latin American liberation theology has been strongly shaped by lay people. Spiritual lay movements in the narrower sense are some of the Movimenti characterized as Spiritual Community. Many of the newer religious communities and congregations, for instance the Little Sisters of Jesus, began as lay movements.


  • Herbert Grundmann: Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte der religiösen Bewegungen im Mittelalter. In: Ders.: Religiöse Bewegungen, Vol. 1: Ausgewählte Aufsätze (Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Schriften 25/1). Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-7772-7614-6.
  • Herbert Grundmann: Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter. Olms, Hildesheim 1977, ISBN 3-487-00097-0 (Habilitationsschrift, University of Leipzig 1933; unchanged. Nachdr. d. EA Berlin 1935).
  • Adolf Martin Ritter, Hans-Martin Barth, Friedrich Wintzer: Art. Layman I. Church History II. Systematic Theology III. Practical Theology. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie, vol. 20 (1990), pp. 378-399, ISBN 3-11-012655-9 (with further lit.)
  • Rolf Zerfaß: Der Streit um die Laienpredigt. Eine pastoralgeschichtliche Untersuchung zum Verständnis des Predigtamtes und zu seiner Entwicklung im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert (Untersuchungen zur praktischen Theologie der Seelsorge; Bd. 2). Herder, Freiburg/B. 1974, ISBN 3-451-16626-7.