Franciscans (frănsĬs´kənz), members of several Roman Catholic religious orders following the rule of St. Francis (approved by Honorius III, 1223). There are now three organizations of Franciscan friars: the Friars Minor [Lat. abbr., O.F.M.] (the second largest order in the Roman Catholic Church; only the Jesuit order is larger), formerly called the Observants; the Friars Minor Capuchin (see Capuchins), the fourth largest of the great religious orders; and the Friars Minor Conventual [Lat. abbr., O.M.C.]. Within 50 years of St. Francis's foundation, the order had a very strong wing of zealots—the Spirituals, who advocated absolute poverty, thus deploring the convents or any settled life. They allied themselves with the anarchical monks who were preaching the teachings of Joachim of Fiore. St. Bonaventure tried to reconcile the factions of the order, but the Spirituals grew stronger and saw one of their heroes made pope as St. Celestine V. His abdication made their agitation one of the major social and religious problems of Italy. So far as the order was concerned, John XXII settled (1322) the matter by putting the Franciscans on a level with every other order with respect to owning property corporately. He also put a stop (1323) to a Franciscan boast that their way was more nearly perfect than any other. However, within the order there still remained a desire for reform, and in the following years a movement developed toward restoring primitive practice. The friars of this tendency (Observants) gained recognition within the order and eventually were made independent (1517) by Leo X. Soon afterward a movement among the Observants established the Capuchins (1525) as a still stricter adherence to the rule. All the Franciscan orders have shared in home and foreign missions; the Franciscans were in many parts of America the dominant missionaries. They have had a continuous role in education and were leaders in medieval university life. They have had a major place in preaching among Catholics: from them come the Stations of the Cross and the Christmas Crib. Since the 15th cent. the Observants have been charged with the care of Roman Catholic interests in the Holy Places in Palestine. Besides the friars, the Franciscans include the Poor Clares, the order of nuns founded by St. Clare, and countless members of the third order (see tertiary), an order consisting of both men and women, some of whom live in communities and many of whom live in the world. There are scores of religious communities of sisters of every sort of charitable mission who are regular Franciscan tertiaries. Of canonized and beatified saints, far more have been Franciscans than members of any other order. The best-known of them is perhaps St. Anthony of Padua. The Franciscans were called Gray Friars. Their habit is now typically brown. For the place of Franciscans among orders, see monasticism.
See studies by J. Moorman (1968), K. Esser (tr. 1970), and T. MacVicar (1986).