Q & A 07

Third Order of Saint Francis

The Franciscan third order, known as the Third Order of Saint Francis, has many men and women members, separated into two main branches:

The coat of arms that is a universal symbol of Franciscan "contains the Tau cross, with two crossed arms: Christ’s right hand with the nail wound and Francis’ left hand with the stigmata wounds

The Third Order of Saint Francis is the third order in the Franciscan tradition of Christianity, founded by the medieval Italian Catholic friar Francis of Assisi.

The preaching of Francis and his disciples caused many married men and women to want to join the Franciscan First Order as friars or the Second Order as nuns. This being incompatible with their state of life, Francis found a middle way: in 1221, he gave them a rule animated by the Franciscan spirit. Those following this rule became members of the Franciscan Third Order, sometimes called tertiaries.

The Third Order is divided into Third Order Regulars, who live in religious congregations, and Third Order Seculars or the Secular Franciscan Order, who live in fraternities. The latter do not wear a religious habit, take vows, or live in the community, but gather together in the community on a regular basis. In 1978, the Catholic Third Order of Saint Francis was reorganized and given a new Rule of Life, approved by Pope Paul VI.

Apart from the Third Order of Saint Francis in Catholicism, the Lutheran and Anglican traditions also have Franciscan third orders.

Tertiaries (from the Latin tertiarius, relative to "third"), or what are known as "Third Orders," are those who live according to the Third Rule of religious orders, either inside or outside of a religious community. The idea which forms the basis of this institute is to allow those who cannot enter a religious order to enjoy the advantages and privileges of religious orders.

When the immediate disciples of the saint had become an order bound by the religious vows, it became necessary to provide for the great body of laity, married men and women, who could not leave the world or abandon their avocations, but still were part of the Franciscan movement and desired to carry out in their lives its spirit and teaching. And so, probably in 1221, Francis drew up a Rule for those of his followers who were debarred from being members of the order of Friars Minor. At first, they were called "Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Penance," but later on, when the Friars were called the "First Order" and the nuns the "Second Order," the Order of Penance became the "Third Order of St. Francis" whence the name Tertiaries. According to the traditions of the Order, the original Rule was given by St. Francis in 1221 to a married couple, Luchesius Modestini and his wife, Buonadonna, who wished to follow him but did not feel called to separate as a married couple.

Francis was assisted by his friend Cardinal Ugolino (later Pope Gregory IX) in the creation of the order. Immediately on its establishment in 1221, the Third Order spread rapidly all over Italy and throughout western Europe and embraced multitudes of men and women of all ranks from highest to lowest. Everywhere it was connected closely with the First Order.

Because of the prohibition of bearing arms, the followers of this order came into conflict with local authorities and the feudal system of Italy, which customarily required men to carry arms for service in militias or for their lords. By the 13th century, local Third Order Confraternities with variations had been established. In 1289 Pope Nicholas IV confirmed the religious order in the bull Supra montem and put the Third Order under the care of the Friars Minor.

The Third Order was created by Francis of Assisi and was the exemplar after which the others were fashioned, but at an early date, the other Mendicant Orders formed Third Orders on the same lines, and so there came into being Dominican Tertiaries, and Carmelite, and Augustinian, and Servite, and also Premonstratensian and many others. These followed the same lines of development as the Franciscan Tertiaries and for the most part divided into the two branches of regular and secular Tertiaries. The Rules of the various Third Orders have proved very adaptable to the needs of modern congregations devoted to active works of charity, and so a significant number of teaching and nursing congregations of women belong to one or other of the Third Orders.

By the 15th century, numerous individuals living under the Rule of the Third Order were living in small communities and leading eremitical lives. A papal decree of 1447 organized the more isolated communities into a new and separate religious order with its own rule of life. The Third Order became defined between the Third Order Regular (TOR.; i.e. living under a Regula or "Rule") and the Third Order Secular, for those members of the Order who lived in the world.

The Franciscan Third Order was always the principal one, and it received a great impetus and a renewed vogue from Pope Leo XIII in 1883, in his approval of a new Rule for the seculars. In 1901 Paul Sabatier published a "Rule of Life of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance," which probably contained, with additions, the substance of the original Rule of 1221. It prescribed severe simplicity of dress and of life, and certain abstinences and prayers and other religious exercises, and forbade the frequentation of the theatre, the bearing of arms and the taking of oaths except when administered by magistrates.

In the nineteenth century, many new congregations adopted the Rule of the Third Order without connection with the First Order. In 1978 Pope Paul VI caused the separate Rules for both regulars and seculars to be recast and made more suitable for the requirements of devout men and women at the present day. The secular wing of the Order was renamed the Secular Franciscan Order.

After the Reformation, Franciscan third orders aligned with the Lutheran Churches and Anglican Communion were organized, such as the Evangelical Franciscans Tertiaries (Evangelischen Franziskaner-Tertiaren), which was founded in 1927 by Friedrich Heiler, a Lutheran priest in Germany.

Franciscan spirituality in Protestantism refers to spirituality in Protestantism inspired by the Catholic friar Saint Francis of Assisi. Emerging since the 19th century, several Protestant adherents and groups, sometimes organized as religious orders, which strive to adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The 20th-century High Church Movement gave birth to Franciscan-inspired orders among the revival of religious orders in Protestant Christianity.

One of the results of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church during the 19th century was the re-establishment of religious orders, including some of the Franciscan inspiration. The principal Anglican communities in the Franciscan tradition are the Community of St. Francis (women, founded 1905), the Poor Clares of Reparation (P.C.R.), the Society of Saint Francis (men, founded 1934), and the Community of St. Clare (women, enclosed). There is also a Third Order known as the Third Order Society of St Francis (T.S.S.F.).

There are three other U.S.-founded orders within the Anglican Communion – the Seattle-founded Second Order of The Little Sisters of St. Clare (LSSC) in the Diocese of Olympia, the dispersed First Order Order of Saint Francis (OSF) founded in 2003, and the Community of Francis and Clare (CFC) which is a dispersed, open, inclusive, and contemporary expression of Anglican/Episcopal Franciscan life open to men and women.

There are also some tiny Franciscan communities within European Protestantism and the Old Catholic Church. There are some Franciscan orders in Lutheran Churches, including the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, and the Evangelische Kanaan Franziskus-Bruderschaft (Kanaan Franciscan Brothers). In addition, there are associations of Franciscan inspiration not connected with a mainstream Christian tradition and describing themselves as ecumenical or dispersed.

Both the Anglicans and also the Lutheran Church have third orders in emulation of the Catholic ones. The Anglicans have a Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis (TSSF), with the same name as the Catholic third order, the Third Order of Saint Francis, and Lutherans have an Order of Lutheran Franciscans.

In addition, there are associations of Franciscan inspiration not connected with a mainstream Christian tradition and describing themselves as ecumenical or dispersed. The Free Episcopal Church in the USA sponsors the Order of Servant Franciscans; their members are committed to "the process of becoming" ministers of Christ's message of reconciliation and love, as demonstrated by the holy lives of Saints Francis and Clare.

The Mission Episcopate of Saints Francis and Clare, "an autocephalous (self-governing) ecclesial jurisdiction," sponsors the Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers, open to Christians male or female, married, partnered or single, clergy or lay. The Australian Ecumenical Franciscan Order is now an independent community in which most members live their everyday life in the world. They may be male or female, married, partnered or single, clergy or lay. They may belong to any Christian tradition. 

The Companions of Jesus, founded in the United Kingdom in 2004, is "a Franciscan Community of Reconciliation."

The Ecumenical Franciscan Society from Eastern Europe has Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and free Protestant members.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law (abbreviated 1983 CIC from its Latin title Codex Iuris Canonici), also called the Johanno-Pauline Code, is the "fundamental body of ecclesiastical laws for the Latin Church." It is the second and current comprehensive codification of canonical legislation for the Latin Church sui iuris of the Catholic Church. It was promulgated on 25 January 1983 by John Paul II and took legal effect on the First Sunday of Advent (27 November) 1983. It replaced the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which had been promulgated by Benedict XV on 27 May 1917.



An Abbey is a monastery of men or women under religious vows headed by a prior or prioress. Priories may be houses of mendicant friars or nuns (such as the Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans, and Carmelites), or monasteries of monks or nuns (as with the Benedictines). Houses of canons regular and canonesses regular also use this term, the alternative being "canonry".

Thomas-Judas Abbey is an apartment called Manse where clergies belong to the Franciscan Abbey of the Immanuel Communion of Love under Eric Michel Ministries International, an ecumenical Franciscan community. Members must be Christian by faith and live their everyday life, not living together. They may be male or female, married, partnered or single, clergy or lay. There is no discrimination, with a minimum age of 16 years old. We use the Abbey as a base from which we exercise our chaplaincy apostolate.

The Franciscan canons are an order of regular clergy within the hierarchy of the Catholic church. We held the position of monks. We were known as "Brown canons" because of the colour of our habits. In 2012, the first Manse of the order was established in Three Rivers, Quebec, Canada.

The Franciscan friary, also known as the friary of FAICL, was founded in 2020 by Archbishop Eric Michel and his wife Marie,, and completed two years later. It is currently in Brownsburg-Chatham in Quebec.

For information, please send an email to info@faicl.ca.