The Real Essence Of Confraternities

The Real Essence Of Confraternities

By Tope Aisoni

A Confraternity is usually a Christian voluntary association of lay people created for the purpose of promoting special works of Christian charity and piety, and also approved by the Church hierarchy. Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the Western Orthodox are the major principals and host of these confraternities.

Some confraternities have the authority to aggregate to itself erected groups in other localities.

Majority of the people reckon confraternities as evil, degrading, demeaning and despicable on account of miscomprehension nonetheless, this account aims to shed a reasonable light on the history and functions of this body of devotees.

History And Functions Of Confraternities

Pious associations of laymen existed in very ancient times at Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) and Alexandria (a major Christian centre of the then existing five, others were Jerusalem, Antioch in Syria and Rome, of course Constantinople now Istanbul was also a part of these five) in Egypt. However, in France, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the Carlovingians (a Frankish dynasty founded by Charlemagne’s father that ruled from 751 to 987 AD) law mentioned confraternities and guilds (an organization of people who do the same job or who share the same interests), but the first confraternity in modern and proper sense of the word is said to have been founded at Paris by a clergy named, Bishop Odo (d. 1208).

Confraternities had their beginnings in early middle ages, and developed rapidly from the end of the twelfth century. The main objective and duty of these societies were, above all, the practice of piety and works of charity.

Confraternities could be important and wealthy Institutions for the elites, as in for example the Scoule Grandi of Venice. The purgatorial societies and orders of flagellants were other specialized medieval types. These confraternities promoted religious life but were independent of the church and offered an alternative form of service for these church members and potential converts or church members who did not want to commit themselves to the strict behaviours of convent life. Members of confraternities were usually wealthy and influential citizens with high profiles in the society, who assisted with religious rites by making financial donations and by reciting masses.

Some confratanities were guided by acts of mercy based on the new testament parable of the sheep in Matthew 25: 31-46. From this parable, the church had drawn seven acts of coporeal mercy, which included: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and burying the dead.

In Italy, especially, central Italy, their original aim was to help their members achieve personal salvation, however these confraternities became increasingly social and political during their formative centuries particularly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In some communities they became so involved that they provided dowries for young women, ransomed soldiers held hostage by enemy governments, and provided restitution and succour to victims of disasters and crimes.

Social benevolence, nonetheless, was not the sole focus of all these confraternities.

During the thirteenth century, confraternities were also founded on certain principles, one of which emphasized among other things, the need for personal mortification of the flesh as a way to salvation.

As a measure of mortification, these confraternities engage in flagellation, and in a Christian context, flagellation refers to  an episode in the passion of Christ prior to His (Jesus) crucifixion when he was severely whipped.

The practice of mortification of the flesh for religious purposes had been utilized by members of various Christian denominations since the time of the great Schism in 1054.

In the thirteenth century, a group of Roman Catholics Known as the flagellants took self-mortification to extremes. They would travel to towns and publicly whip and beat each other while preaching repentance.

Flagellation was also practiced during the black plague as a means to purify oneself of sin and thus prevent contracting the disease. Pope Clement vi is said to have permitted it for this purpose in 1348.

Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, regularly practiced self-Flagellation as a means of mortification of the flesh. Self –Flagellation remains a currency in Columbia, the Philippines, Mexico, Spain and a Convent in Peru.

In Judaism, according to the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:1-3 and Rabbinic Law), lashes may be given for offences that do not merit capital punishment, and may not exceed 40. However, in the absence of a Sanhedrin (the supreme judicial and ecclesiastical council of ancient Jerusalem), corporeal punishment is not practiced in Jewish law.

Halakha (the collective body of a Jewish religious laws derived from the written and oral torah specifies the lashes must be given in sets of three, so the total number cannot exceed 39. Also the person whipped is first judged weather he/she can withstand the punishment, if not the number of whips is reduced.

Jewish law limits flagellation to forty strokes, and in practice delivers thirty-nine so as to avoid any possibility of breaking this law due to a miscount.


Privilege: The privilege of fortune enjoyed by members, potential or actual made it a criterion.

Profundity: The supposed in-depth knowledge of Christ’s and Church’s doctrine gave them the impetus.

Passion: The enthusiasm to serve in such a capacity was also factored.

Propensity: The inclination to enjoy charity and piety engagements.

Propagation: The opportunity to serve and spread the gospel of Christ.

Prestige: It betokens and bestows prestige on members by reason of the humanitarian exploits they render.

This essay is unreservedly of the essence for all and Sundry to understand the root of confraternities and how they used/ought to function.

Tope Aisoni is a Social Relations Analyst; he writes from Abuja.

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