What do we mean by saying that it is a religious order?
The Order was born as a monastic community inspired by St John the Baptist in the Holy Land around 1050. The Hospitallers ran a hospice providing care and shelter for pilgrims of any faith. In 1113 it received formal acknowledgement as a religious order from Pope Paschal II, granting it the right to freely elect its superiors without interference from other lay or religious authorities and providing the legal basis of its indipendence. Before 1798 all knights were religious, having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Still today, some members of the Order of Malta are religious according to Canon Law, others have pronounced the promise of obedience, pledging to follow Christian principles more profoundly while living in society. Most of the Order of Malta’s 13,500 knights and dames are lay members.
Although they have not pronounced any religious vow, they are all devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity, and committed to developing their spirituality within the Catholic Church and to expending their energies collaborating in the medical and social works of the Order.