(νεόφυτος, a neophyte), one newly converted (literally, newly planted), not yet matured in Christian experience (1Ti 3:6). The ancient Greek interpreters explain it by "new-baptized" (νεοβάπτιστος), "proselyte" (προσήλμτος), etc. The word continued to be in use in the early Church; but it gradually acquired a meaning somewhat different from that which it bore under the apostles, when "newly converted" and "newly baptized" described, in fact, the same condition, the converted being at once baptized. For when, in subsequent years, the Church felt it prudent to put converts under a course of instruction before admitting them to baptism and the full privileges of Christian brotherhood, the term νεόφυτοι (novitii, novices) was sometimes applied to them, although they were more usually distinguished by the general term of catechumens (q.v.).
Novice eventually was technically the appellation given to persons of either sex who are living in a monastery in a state of probation previous to becoming professed members of a monastic order. Persons who apply to enter the novitiate state, on being admitted by the superior of the monastery, promise obedience to him during the time of their stay, and are bound to conform to the discipline of the house; but they make no permanent vows, and may leave if they find that the monastic life does not suit them. The period of the novitiate must not be less than one year, and the person who enters as a novice must have attained the age of piuberty. Richard, in the Bibliotheque Sacrae, article Novice, describes the qualities required, according to the canons of the Council of Trent, for the admission of a novice: they are health, morality, voluntary disposition for a monastic life, intellectual capacity, etc. No married person can be admitted unless by the consent of both parties; no person who is encumbered with debts, or whose assistance is necessary for the support of his parents, is admissible. Widowers and widows may be admitted as novices, unless their labor is required for the support of their children. After the termination of the year of probation, the novice, if he (or she) persists in his vocation, and his conduct and capacity have proved satisfactory, may be admitted into the order by taking the solemn vows, which are binding for life. Ducange, in his Glossarium, article Novitius, quotes the 34th canon of the Council of Aquisgrana, A.D. 817, in which superiors of monasteries are cautioned against admitting novices with too great facility, and without a full examination of their disposition, morals, and mental and bodily qualifications. But in after-ages, as the number of monasteries was multiplied beyond measure, prudential restrictions were disregarded, and all means were resorted to in order to induce young people to enter the monastic profession, and parents often forced their children into it against their will. The misery and guilt which resulted from this practice are well known; but few perhaps have exhibited them in so vivid and fearful a light as a modern Italian writer, Manzoni, in his Promessi Sposi, in the episode of "Gertrude." It was in order to guard against such abuses and their fatal results that the Council of Trent (sess. 25, can. 17) prescribed that female novices, after the expiration of their novitiate. should leave the walls of the monastery and return to their friends, and be carefully examined by the bishop of the diocese, or by his vicar by him delegated, in order to ascertain that they were under no constraint or deception; that they were fully aware of the duties and privations of the monastic life, and that they voluntarily chose to enter it. These humane precautions, however, have been evaded in many instances; and it may be doubted whether a very young person should be allowed to bind himself for life by irrevocable vows. Some authors designated the catechumens as novitii, novitioli, tirones Dei. See Penny Cyclop. s.v.; Eadie, Eccles. Cyclop. s.v.; Farrar, Eccles. Diet. s.v.; Hill, Monasticism in England, p. 15; Wolcott, Sacred Archaeology, s.v.; Lea, Hist. Celibacy; Ludlow, Woman's Work in the Church, p. 95, 126, 158, 173. SEE NEOPHYTE; Novi. (J. 1:P.)