Friar [from Lat. frater, through O. Fr. fredre, frere, M. E. frere; It. /rate (as prefix fra); Sp. fraile (as prefix fray); Port. fret; unlike the other Romance languages, French has but the one word /rere for friar and brother], a member of one of the mendicant orders.
USE OF THE WORD.—In the early Church it was usual for all Christians to address each other as fratres, or brothers, all being children of the one Heavenly Father, through Christ. Later, with the rise and growth of the monastic orders, the appellation began gradually to have a more restricted meaning; for obviously the bonds of brotherhood were drawn more closely between those who lived under the rule and guidance of one spiritual father, their abbot. The word occurs at an early date in English literature with the signification of brother, and from the end of the thirteenth century it is in frequent use referring to the members of the mendicant orders, e.g. c. 1297, “frere prechors” (R. Glouc. 10105); c. 1325, “freres of the Came and of Seint Austin” (Pol. Songs, 331); c. 1400, “frere meneours” (Maunder, xxxi, 139); c. 1400, “Sakked freres” (Rom. Rose). Shakespeare speaks of the “Friars of orders gray” (Tam. Shr., iv, i, 148). The word was also loosely applied to members of monastic and military orders, and at times to the convent of a particular order, and hence to the part of a town in which such a convent had been located.
The word friar is to be carefully distinguished in its application from the word monk. For the monk retirement and solitude are undisturbed by the public ministry, unless under exceptional circumstances. His vow of poverty binds him strictly as an individual, but in no way affects the right of tenure of his order. In the life of the friar, on the contrary, the exercise of the sacred ministry is an essential feature, for which the life of the cloister is considered as but an immediate preparation. His vow of poverty, too, not only binds him as an individual to the exercise of that virtue, but, originally st, precluded also the righimr+r of tenure in common with his brethren. Thus originally the various orders of friars could possess no fixed revenues and lived upon the voluntary offerings of the faithful. Hence their name of mendicants. This second feature, by which the friar’s life differs so essentially from that of the monk, has become considerably modified since the Council of Trent. In Session XXV, ch. iii, “De Regular.”, all the mendicant orders—the Friars Minor and Capuchins alone excepted—were granted the liberty of corporate possession. The Discalced Carmelites and the Jesuits have availed themselves of this privilege with restrictions (cf. Wernz, Jus Decretal., III, pt. II, 262, note). It may, however, be pertinently remarked here that the Jesuits, though mendicants in the strict sense of the word, as is evident from the very explicit declaration of St. Pius V (Const. “Cum indefessae”, 1571), are classed not as mendicants or friars, but as clerics regular, being founded with a view to devoting themselves, even more especially than the friars, to the exercise of the sacred ministry (Vermeersch, De Relig., I, xli, n. 8).
ORDERS OF FRIARS.—The orders of friars are usually divided into two classes: the four great orders mentioned by the Second Council of Lyons (can. xxiii) and the lesser orders. The four great orders in their legal precedence are: (I) the Dominicans (St. Pius V, Const. “Divina”, 1568); (2) the Franciscans; (3) the Carmelites; (4) the Augustinians. The Dominicans, or Friars Preachers, formerly known as the Black Friars, from the black cappa or mantle worn over their white habit, were founded by St. Dominic in 1215 and solemnly approved by Honorius III, December 22, 1216. They became a mendicant order in 1221. The Franciscans, or Friars Minor (Grey Friars), were founded by St. Francis of Assisi, who is rightly regarded as the patriarch of the mendicant orders. His rule was orally approved by Innocent III in 1209 and solemnly confirmed by Honorius III in 1223 (Const. “Solet”). It is professed by the Friars Minor, the Conventuals, and the Capuchins. The Carmelites, or White Friars, from the white cloak which covers their brown habit, were founded as a purely contemplative order, but became mendicants in 1245. They received the approbation of Honorius III (Const. “Ut vivendi”, January 30, 1226) and later of Innocent IV (Const. “Quae honorem”, 1247). The order is divided into two sections, the Calced and Discalced Carmelites. The Augustinians, or Hermits of St. Augustine (Austin Friars), trace their origin to the illustrious Bishop of Hippo. The various branches which subsequently developed were united and constituted from various bodies of hermits a mendicant order by Alexander IV (Const. “Iis, quae”, July 31, 1255, and Const. “Licet”, May 4, 1256). These four orders are called by canonists the quatuor ordines mendicantes de iure communi. The Fourth Lateran Council (“De relig. dom.”, III, tit. xxxvi, c. ix) had forbidden in 1215 the foundation of any new religious orders. In face of this prohibition a sufficient number of new congregations, especially of mendicants, had sprung up to attract the attention of the Second Council of Lyons. In canon xxiii, the council, while specially exempting the four mendicant orders above mentioned, condemns all other mendicant orders then existing to immediate or to gradual extinction. All orders established since the Council of Lateran, and not approved by the Holy See, were to be dissolved at once. Those since established with such approval were forbidden to receive new members. The illustrious order of Servites, founded in 1233 and approved by Alexander IV in 1256 (Const. “Deo grata”), happily survived this condemnation. Concerning the four greater orders, the council concludes: “Be it understood, however, that we do not conceive of the extension of this constitution to the Orders of Friars Preachers and of Friars Minor, whose evident service to the universal Church is stunt approval. As for the Hermits of St. Augustine and the Order of Carmelites, whose foundation preceded the said Council (Fourth Lateran), we wish them to remain as solidly established as heretofore” (Lib. III, tit. xvii, c. un., in VI). The importance of the orders thus singled out and exempted was afterwards still further emphasized by the insertion of this canon into the “Corpus Juris” in the “Liber Sextus” of Boniface VIII.
The so-styled lesser orders, of which the following are today the most flourishing, were founded and approved at various subsequent periods: the Minims (1474); the Third Order Regular of St. Francis (1521); the Capuchins—as constituting a different branch of the Franciscan Order—(1525); the Discalced Carmelites—as constituting a distinct branch of the Carmelites—(1568); the Discalced Trinitarians (1599); the Order of Penance, known in Italy as the Scalzetti (1781).