The Order of the Holy Trinity (or Trinitarians) is a Catholic religious order that was founded in the area of Cerfroid, some 80 km northeast of Paris, at the end of the twelfth century. The founder was St. John de Matha, whose feast day is celebrated on 17 December. Pope Innocent III granted the order and its rule approval with his letter Operante divine dispositionis clementia, issued on 17 December 1198. Throughout the centuries, the Trinitarian Rule underwent several revisions, notably in 1267 and in 1631. It has been complemented by statutes and constitutions. From the very outset, a special dedication to the mystery of the Holy Trinity has been a constitutive element of the Order's life. The founding-intention for the Order was the ransom of Christians held captive by non-believers during the time of the Crusades.

Emblem Trinitarian Order Rome

Stone emblem of the Trinitarian Order on the façade of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1638-1641) in Rome.

Soon after papal approbation, the Trinitarian ministry to Christian captives was incorporated into the Order's title: Order of the Holy Trinity and of Captives ... Order of the Holy Trinity for the Ransom of Captives. In addition to the Order's purpose of ransoming Christian captives, each local community of Trinitarians served the people of its area. And so, their ministry included: hospitality, care of the sick and poor, churches, education, etc. Eventually, the Trinitarians also assumed the work of evangelization.

Brother John's founding intention expanded quickly beyond the three initial foundations (Cerfroid, Planels, Bourg-la-Reine) into a considerable network of houses committed to the ransom of Christian captives and the works of mercy conducted in their locales. The first generation of Trinitarians could count some fifty foundations. In northern France, the Trinitarians were known as “Mathurins” because they were based in the church of Saint-Mathurin in Paris from 1228 onwards.[1] Fundraising and economic expertise constituted important aspects of the Order's life. The Rule's requirement of "the tertia pars" -- that one-third of all income to be set aside for the ransom of Christian captives -- became a noted characteristic of the Order.

The thirteenth century was a time of vitality within Catholicism, whereas the following centuries brought periods of difficulty and even decline in some areas. As a result, the Protestant Reformation brought about radical changes in Church operation, and even belief. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was a major turning-point in the life of the Catholicism as Catholic bishops sought to bring about needed reform, but not in the area of doctrine. Its twenty-fifth session dealt with regulars and nuns and the reform of religious orders. Reforming interests and energies manifested themselves among Trinitarians in France with the foundation at Pontoise, north of Paris, during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Reform-minded Trinitarians in Spain first established the movement known as the Recollection and then, under the able leadership of John Baptist Rico, the movement at Valdepeñas (Ciudad Real) known as the Spanish Discalced at the very end of the sixteenth century. Far-reaching periods of growth and development followed this rebirth.

In succeeding centuries, European events such as revolution, governmental suppression and civil war had very serious consequences for the Trinitarian Order and it declined significantly. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Trinitarians began to grow slowly in Italy and Spain. Its members dedicated themselves to fostering and promoting devotion to the Holy Trinity, evangelising non-believers, assisting immigrants, educating the young and to becoming involved in parishes. Today the Trinitarian Family is composed of priests, brothers, women (enclosed nuns and active sisters) as well as committed laity. They are distinguished by the cross of red and blue which dates from the origins of the Order. Trinitarians are found throughout Europe and in the Americas as well as in Africa, Madagascar, Egypt, India, Korea and the Philippines.


  1. Alban Butler, Paul Burns, Butler's Lives of the Saints (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000), 5.
  • Text is from (2000), written by Fr. Joseph Gross, who is a member of the Order of the Holy Trinity and a scholar. He has done much research and study as well as writing extensively on the subject of the Order.

See also

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