The Franciscans are a group of related mendicant Christian religious orders, primarily within the Catholic Church. Founded in 1209 by Saint Francis of Assisi, these orders include the Order of Friars Minor, the Order of Saint Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis. They adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the founder and of his main associates and followers, such as Clare of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Elizabeth of Hungary. Several smaller Protestant Franciscan orders exist as well, notably in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions (e.g. the Community of Francis and Clare).
Francis began preaching around 1207 and travelled to Rome to seek approval from Pope Innocent III in 1209 to form a new religious order. The original Rule of Saint Francis approved by the Pope did not allow ownership of property, requiring members of the order to beg for food while preaching. The austerity was meant to emulate the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Franciscans travelled and preached in the streets while staying in church properties. Saint Clare, under Francis's guidance, founded the Poor Clares (Order of Saint Clare) of the Franciscans.
The extreme poverty required of members was relaxed in the final revision of the Rule in 1223. The degree of observance required of members remained a major source of conflict within the order, resulting in numerous secessions. The Order of Friars Minor, previously known as the "Observant" branch, is one of the three Franciscan First Orders within the Catholic Church, the others being the "Conventuals" (formed 1517) and "Capuchins" (1520). The Order of Friars Minor, in its current form, is the result of an amalgamation of several smaller orders completed in 1897 by Pope Leo XIII. The latter two, the Capuchin and Conventual, remain distinct religious institutes within the Catholic Church, observing the Rule of Saint Francis with different emphases. Conventual Franciscans are sometimes referred to as minorities or gGeyfriars because of their habit. In Poland and Lithuania, they are known as Bernardines, after Bernardino of Siena, although the term elsewhere refers to Cistercians instead.
The name of the original order, Ordo Fratrum Minorum (Friars Minor, literally 'Order of Lesser Brothers') stems from Francis of Assisi's rejection of extravagance. Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant but gave up his wealth to pursue his faith more fully. He had cut all ties that remained with his family and pursued a life living in solidarity with his fellow brothers in Christ. Francis adopted the simple tunic worn by peasants as the religious habit for his order and had others who wished to join him do the same. Those who joined him became the original Order of Friars Minor.
The First Order or the Order of Friars Minor are commonly called simply the Franciscans. This order is a mendicant religious order of men, some of whom trace their origin to Francis of Assisi. Their official Latin name is the Ordo Fratrum Minorum. St. Francis thus referred to his followers as "Fraticelli", meaning "Little Brothers". Franciscan brothers are informally called friars or the Minorites.
The modern organization of the Friars Minor comprises three separate families or groups, each considered a religious order in its own right under its own minister General and a particular type of governance. They all live according to a body of regulations known as the Rule of St Francis.
The Order of Friars Minor, also known as the Observants, are most commonly simply called Franciscan friars, official name: Friars Minor (OFM).
The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin or simply Capuchins, official name: Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap.).
The Conventual Franciscans or Minorites, official name: Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.).
The Second Order, most commonly called Poor Clares in English-speaking countries, consists of only one branch of religious sisters. The order is called the Order of St. Clare (OSC), but prior to 1263 they were called "The Poor Ladies", "The Poor Enclosed Nuns", and "The Order of San Damiano".
The Franciscan third order, known as the Third Order of Saint Francis, has many men and women members, separated into two main branches:
The Secular Franciscan Order, OFS, originally known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance or Third Order of Penance, try to live the ideals of the movement in their daily lives outside of religious institutes.
Members of the Third Order Regular (TOR) live in religious communities under the traditional religious vows. They grew out of the Secular Franciscan Order.
The 2013 Annuario Pontificio gave the following figures for the membership of the principal male Franciscan orders:.
Order of Friars Minor (OFM): 2,212 communities; 14,123 members; 9,735 priests
Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual (OFM Conv.): 667 communities; 4,289 members; 2,921 priests
Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap.): 1,633 communities; 10,786 members; 7,057 priests
Third Order Regular of Saint Francis (TOR): 176 communities; 870 members; 576 priests
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 wound."