[From Lat. frater , through O. Fr. fredre, frere, M. E. frere; It. frate (as prefix fra ); Sp. fraile (as prefix fray ); Port. fret ; unlike the other Romance languages French has but the one word frère for friar and brother].
A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders.
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 Carme and of Saint 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 at least, precluded also the right 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 indefessæ", 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, xii, n. 8).
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: (1) the Dominicans ( St. Pius V, Const. "Divina", 1568); (2) the Franciscans ; (3) the Carmelites, (4) the Augustinians.
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 Capuchin -- 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).
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