Difference Between Nun and Sister (With Table)

The terms Nun and Sister are two terms often used interchangeably to describe ‘women religious’ in the Catholic church. They are usually considered to have the same meaning. However, in the view of the Church law and within Roman Catholicism, there are some differences between the terms. 

Nun vs Sister 

The difference between a Nun and a Sister is that a Nun primarily dedicates her life to prayer and work and lives in silence in a cloistered or semi-cloistered convent. On the other hand, a Sister usually lives an active life outside the community, serving in educational or health institutions.    

A Nun is a Catholic woman who takes solemn, perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, committing their lives to prayer and work, living in silence in a closed or semi-cloistered monastery. They live a contemplative life and wear a habit. A nun chooses to renounce all ownership of her property to devote her entire life to serving God.    

A Sister is a Catholic woman or ‘women religious’ in a Catholic church who takes simple/temporary or perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They may or may not choose to stay in the community. Sisters are usually known to spend an active life trying to serve in educational or health institutions. They work towards helping humankind. Sisters can choose not to wear habits.  

Comparison Table Between Nun and Sister 

  Parameters of Comparison   Nun   Sister  
 Lifestyle   Nuns live and pray in silence in a cloistered or semi-cloistered convent or monastery.   Sisters usually spend an active life praying and serving in health or educational institutions. 
 Vows   Nuns take solemn, perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.   Sisters take simple/temporary or perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.  
 Habit   Nuns choose to wear the habit.  Sisters may or may choose not to wear habits. 
 Ownership    Nuns choose to renounce all their ownership of the property to dedicate their entire life to serving God.   Sisters can retain their ownership over inheritance or trusts. However, they are not allowed to use the income from those assets.  
 Life   Live a contemplative life.  Live an active life. 

What is Nun?

A Nun is a Catholic woman or ‘women religious’ in a Catholic church who takes solemn, perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, committing their lives to prayer and work. They live and pray in silence in a semi-cloistered or cloistered convent or monastery.  

A Nun chooses to renounce the ownership of all their property to devote their lives to God. They do not live an active life and prefer to pray in the cloistered walls of a monastery or convent. They live a contemplative life.  

A Nun chooses to wear a habit. Hence, Nuns are women religious who profess vows and are a powerful and more extreme part of ‘women religious’ in the Catholic church. 

What is Sister? 

A Sister is a Catholic woman or ‘women religious’ in a Catholic church who takes simple/temporary or perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They may or may not live in a community/monastery/convent.   

Sisters are usually known to spend an active life trying to serve in educational or health institutions. They work towards helping humankind. Sisters can retain their ownership over inheritance or trusts. However, they are not allowed to use the income from those assets.  

Sisters may or may not choose to wear habits. Therefore, Sisters are the less extreme part of ‘women religious’ in a Catholic church. Though all sisters are not nuns, they are frequently used interchangeably, and both sisters and nuns are addressed as ‘Sisters.’   

Main Differences Between Nun and Sister 

  1. A Nun is a Catholic woman or woman religious in a Catholic church who takes solemn, perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. On the other hand, A Sister is a Catholic woman or woman religious in a Catholic church who takes simple/temporary or perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. 
  2. Nuns devote their lives to prayer and work. They live and pray in silence in a semi-cloistered or cloistered convent or monastery. On the other hand, Sisters may or may not live in a community/monastery/convent. Sisters are usually known to spend an active life trying to serve in educational or health institutions. 
  3. Nuns choose to wear habits, whereas Sisters may or may not choose to wear habits. 
  4. Nuns choose to live a contemplative life, whereas, Sisters are known to live an active life. 
  5. A Nun chooses to renounce the ownership of all their property to devote their lives to God. On the other hand, Sisters can retain their authority over inheritance or trusts. However, they are not allowed to use the income from those assets. 

Conclusion 

The terms Nun and Sister are two terms often used interchangeably to describe ‘women religious’ in the Catholic church. They are usually considered to have the same meaning. However, in the view of the Church law and within Roman Catholicism, there are some differences between the terms.  

A Nun is a Catholic woman who takes solemn, perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, committing their lives to prayer and work, living in silence in a closed or semi-cloistered monastery. A Nun chooses to wear a habit. Hence, Nuns are women religious who profess vows and are a powerful and more extreme part of ‘women religious’ in the Catholic church. They live a contemplative life.  

A Sister is a Catholic woman or ‘women religious’ in a Catholic church who takes simple/temporary or perpetual vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They may or may not choose to stay in the community/monastery/convent. Sisters are usually known to spend an active life trying to serve in educational or health institutions. Sisters may or may not choose to wear habits. Therefore, Sisters are the less extreme part of ‘women religious’ in a Catholic church.   

The main point of difference between a Nun and a Sister lies in the seriousness of the vows they take. 

References 

  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2001-17232-009 
  2. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9783110596717-039/html 
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