| St. Francis Father &
Teacher - Fr.
Lino Temperini, TOR
After an intense experience
of vocational discernment, Francis found light and strength in his decision to listen to
the evangelical exhortations to embrace a life of gospel mission (cf. Mt. 10: 7-10 and
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FATHER AND TEACHER OF THE THIRD ORDER
experience happened, most likely, on Tuesday, February 24, 1209, on the Feast of the
Apostle St. Matthew. A little later on, Francis and his earliest companions found a
similar religious orientation in their triple consultation of the Gospels on April 16,
1209, in the church of St. Nicholas, parish church of the town merchants. Beginning at
this time, in this little church and in the town squares of Assisi, the Franciscan
fraternity was born.
their itinerant apostolate these early Franciscan missionaries were known as the
"penitents of Assisi" (AP. 19; L3S. 37) and remained as such until April of
1210, when Innocent III conferred on them the tonsure and gave them permission to preach
penance (L3S. 52; 2 Cel. 192; LM. 3: 10). This event is very important because the men of
Assisi passed from the "penitential" state to the "clerical" state,
from Penitents they became Minors, the First Order of St. Francis was born.
However, the primitive, spontaneous, penitential and lay ideal lived on in the franciscan
penitential movement (c. 1211), called also the "Third Order of St. Francis."
his Testament, written in September of 1226, Francis reflected on the
direction of his vocation, his call to live a penitential life as a response to the
prodding grace of God. In the Church of that time "to do penance" identified a
form of religious life which demanded that one "leave the world," that is, to
free oneself from personal concerns and earthly worries and dedicate oneself to a radical
living of the gospel in order to progress in evangelical perfection. This ideal of
"penance" occupies a central place in the experience of St. Francis and is
characteristic of the evangelical expression of Franciscan spirituality. From its
inception, the "Order of Penitents" was meant to be particularly expressive of
this penitential spirituality.
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of all it is necessary to clear up an error that is prevalent among many people, including
those who have a fairly good grasp of Franciscan history and those who have not had the
opportunity to study. The term "third" (as in Third Order) does not have a
chronological significance, that is, the Franciscan penitential movement is not called a third
order because it began after the first and second orders, but ratherbecause it has a
mixed composition of men and women, cleric and lay.
idea of three orders has a very interesting development in the thought of the Church. From
the time of St. Gregory the Great (535-604) there has been a hierarchial understanding of
the progressive stages of Christian perfection: committed Christians, secular clergy,
pastorally committed monks and nuns, and those totally commited to contemplation. From
1161 the order of the Knights of St. James, approved by Alexander III in 1175, adopted a
pattern of "three orders" in order to distinguish categories of membership,
ranking from the least to most committed: a first order for the knights who
were married or who were open to marriage, a second order for celibates with an
obligation to remain celibate for life, and a third order for chaplains and tutors
(private teachers or masters). From 1201 the Umiliati of Lombardy broadened the
understanding of three orders, or means of incorporation, in that membership was open to a
wide range of people and not reserved solely for knights and celibates. Nevertheless,
according to the desires of the pope, it also reversed the hierarchical order and moved
from the most committed to the least: a first order for clerics and nuns; a second
for lay brothers and penitential women, and a third order of committed laity,
men and women, who remained in their homes and were free to enter into marriage.
historical and juridical reality of the Franciscan movement adopted the known terminology
to describe its own experience, even though it changed it to meet its own needs. From its
earliest history, the structure of the Franciscan order was made up of a first order, with
male religious and clerics in vows; a second order, made up of consecrated nuns;
and a third order, which included men and women, married, single, and celibates who
lived with their families, or on their own, and who were dedicated to service and work on
behalf of the Lord. Within this last group there were people, either living singularly or
with others, who desired to live a more intense life of evangelical perfection. The former
retired to hermitages and the latter to a community style of life, giving birth to the
"Third Order Regular." The major part of this movement constituted instead the
"Third Order Secular," which, since 1978, is more properly called the
"Secular Franciscan Order" or " S. F. 0. "
the historical and juridical sources of the Franciscan penitential movement (or Third
Order) many other names have been used to describe the Third Order, among these include:
"celibates of St. Francis," "brothers and sisters of penance,
" "order of brothers and sisters of penance, " "order of
penitents of St. Francis," "third order of penance,"
"brothers and sisters of the third order," etc. The name "Third Order of
St. Francis" began to be used more often after the middle of the 13th century, around
the same time as the decline of the Umiliati. However, the term can also be found in
sources that predate its more popular use of the name. For example in the Ufficio
ritmico of Julian of Speyer, which dates to 1231 or 1232, the author uses the
expression "third order of penitents. " (AF X 383)
an understanding of the historical texts it must also be kept in mind that other names for
the "third order" were used by a variety of authors. Among these include:
"brothers called to penitence," "men and women of penance,"
"society of penitents," "brothers of the third rule,"
"penitents and devotees (pinzocheri e pinzochere) of the third order,"
"poor brothers of the third order of St. Francis," "the brothers and
sisters of the third rule of St. Francis, also called of penance," "holy
order of the penitence of St. Francis." A knowledge of this terminology is
indispensable for any intelligent reading and interpretation of the historical sources and
Furthermore it is
necessary to clarify how other important terms were used in the historical writings in
order to have a better grasp of how they should be understood today. I refer especially to
the terms "secular," "lay," and "regular." The last
word will be dealt with first in order to spend more time with the first two. Regular indicates
a man or woman who leaves his or her family and occupation in order to be fully dedicated
to God while living "under a rule" in communitty or in a hermitage. The terms secular
and laity have different meanings in the ancient sources and in ecclesiastical
legislation. In the late middle ages the "laity" were understood to be the
ordinary faithful of the church (ordo laicorum), while the term "cleric"
referred to Christians who belonged to a sacred order (those who had received the tonsure)
and those Christians who were living a life of evangelical perfection; that is, hermits, conversi,
penitents, members of religious orders, and the like. Thus, the ordo clericorum in
the strict sense was comprised only of those in sacred orders.
in a wider sense, it also included Christians committed to an evangelical life of
perfection like religious and oblates. Franciscan penitents in their origin belong to
latter category: properly speaking, they are "clerics" in the wider sense and
not "laity" or ordinary faithful; they are religious seculars!
term "secular" simply indicates that one is living in the world, that is, in the
environment of one's own family and not in a monastery or in a religious community.
Therefore, not only a "laicus" but also a "clericus" is able to be secular
regardless of whether one has received sacred orders or is a religious brother or
sister. Unfortunately this terminology was not used equivocally in all respects and in all
the present Code of Canon Law in Canon 207, §1, the legislation of the Church
distinguishes Church members by two categories: sacred ministers and laity. Such
distinction, of divine law, is reflective of the hierarchical structure of the Church and
is tied to one's participation in the diverse reality of the priesthood of Christ. Between
the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood (or hierarchical
priesthood) there is an essential difference, a difference that is not only of degree (cf
LG. 10). On the other hand, the reality of God's call to people, as exhibited by a wider
interpretation of the canons, exhibits a triple distinction: clerics, religious, and laity
(Canon 207, §2) which expresses the full range of ecclesiastical life (LG. 44:4).
to this understanding, in canon law, therefore, "the brothers and sisters of the
SFO" are secular lay religious. Each of these distinct titles adds to and
clarifies the meaning of the tertiary vocation. Nevertheless, the code deals primarily
with only two unique and fundamental vocational categories: cleric and lay. One who has
not received Holy Orders properly remains in the group of the laity, even if there is a
commitment to a religious community. Religious do not, in fact, constitute a third
category, but belong either to the clerical state or to the lay state. Neither of these
should be seen as competing ways of life, each contributes in a vital manner to the life
and sanctity of the Church (LG. 44:4, 43:2).
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2. INITIALS - T.O.R.
order to avoid misunderstanding it is necessary to consistently and correctly use a common
language or terminology. In the areas of biblical and Franciscan study there is not yet a
uniformity in the use of abbreviations, which allows the use of arbitrary designations for
historical works, with a corresponding disadvantage for dialogue and study. This may seem
a marginal issue for people who can keep track of all the different references, or if one
were to use a computer with a database of all the variations.
order to promote a clarity and precision in the correct use of the initials used to
designate different aspects of the penitential Franciscan movement, I propose the
following: TOF (Third Order Franciscan) indicates the entire Third Order of St. Francis,
especially during the early years of the order when the movement included both seculars
and regulars without juridical distinction. In 1323, in the bull Altissimo in divinis, Pope
John XXII officially approved the regular life, which from the time of St. Francis
had been one with the secular expression of Franciscan penitence in a spiritual and
loving symbiosis. From this time, two historically and juridically distinct branches of
note: this lack of consistency is particularly evident in cross-cultural dialogue. For
example, biblical references in Italy include the following designations among others: Es
for Exodus, Eb for Hebrews, Gc for the letter of James, etc. In franciscaii studies the
following can be found: Atiper for the Anonymous of Perugia, 3 Coti?p for the Three
Companions, Legin and LegM for the Minor and Major lives of St. Francis respectively, etc.
As yet there is no universally accepted use of abbreviations for either biblical or
franciscan scholarship. Perhaps the use of Latin, as a common base, should be accepted in
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INSTITUTION OF THE THIRD ORDER
lived and worked in an intense and dynamic period of history, a period which saw the
decline of the medieval era and the discovery of a new age. It was an age of the towns
which were full of life, hopes and dreams. Likewise there was an awakening of an economic
awareness in many countries along with a reemergence of ethno-political identities, also
the laity emerged from its secular hibernation and began to assume strategic roles in both
ecclesial life and in the conduct and establishment of social welfare outreach.
Providence of God, which governs the world with the wisdom of love, inspired one simple
and extroverted man, one who was both dynamic and a lover of solitude, a rich man who
became poor in order to be free, one who was attentive to the problems of others, a man
nourished by the Gospels and by prayer, one who was faithful to the Church, a poet open to
the Spirit and the beauty of his fellow creatures, a brother among brothers and sisters.
of people thirsty for God gathered around Francis in response to his fresh call to respond
to the power of the gospel message. Not only friars and sisters, but also the laity were
inspired by him and merged with the penitential movement. "The brothers and sisters
of penance" multiplied in a climate of fervor and with extraordinary rapidity.
the sumnier of 1211 Francis, animated with greatest zeal, tried to reach the east (Syria,
Palestine, Egypt) in order to announce the gospel to the Muslims. But the ship was
battered by strong winds and ended up drifting to the coast of Dalmatia. A short while
later, Francis set sail again and reentered Italy around Ancona. Setting aside the
missionary attempt for a time, Francis, along with some companions, continued his
apostolate of itinerant preaching in the center of Italy evangelizing Umbria, the Marches,
is this environment which encouraged the Franciscan movement of penance or the Third
Order, and which allowed a large number of people to recapture and live the early ideals
of the "Penitents of Assisi." Various events combined to establish the
foundation and origin of this great movement, these took place in diverse locations and
can be seen in the effect the saint had on the population of Italy. Among these include
the people of Pian dell'Arca near Cannara (fall of 1211), Alviano near Orvieto (spring of
1212), Greccio near Reiti (summer of 1212), Gubbio (1221), Poggibonsi (1221), Florence
(1221), Rome (at various times starting in 1210 and continuing for many years afterward),
Faenza, etc. Eventually, and with great vigor of expansion, many areas of Europe were
attracted to the Franciscan way of life.
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ST. FRANCIS: "FOUNDER" OF HIS PENITENTS
the encyclical letter Sacra propediem, dated January 6, 1921, Benedict XV affirmed:
from the testimony of the sources one can deduce from the evidence that "St. Francis
was the true founder of the Third Order in the same way that he was of the First and the
Second, and thus, without doubt he was their wise legislator. 4 The assertion from this
pontifical document places us in step with a long line of such declarations from the
historical writings that deal with the Third Order, it is also tied closely with the
ancient and authentic writings of Franciscan history.
some researchers have expressed some doubt as to the role of St. Francis in the foundation
of the order of penitents, in some cases denying his paternity or reducing his role to one
of marginal importance. Among the questions that have been put forward in this regard
4 Cf Magistero dei papi e fraternita secolare, edited by M.Bagi and L. Monaco, Rome,
Francis be understood as the true and direct founder of his penitents, or did the movement
spontaneously develop after (or as a result) of the itinerant apostolate of the first
Franciscans? Did St. Francis simply give new energy and direction to an already ancient
penitential movement in the Church? According to some of these hypothetical questions it
is posited that it might be more exact to refer to the movement as the "Third
Franciscan Order" rather than the "Third Order of St. Francis"! Some have
even written that the merit of huius ordinis institutor (founder of this order)
should be attributed not to St. Francis but to Nicholas IV in 1289!
verification of the title "founder" for St. Francis can be cleared up in the
sources. The ancient texts, historical and juridical, consistently maintain that the Franciscan
Order of Penance, or the Third Order, was intentionally founded by St. Francis. The
distinction, made by some, between "institutor," "legislator," and
"founder" is much too sophisticated and alien to the mind of the biographers.
These use the same terms when they speak about the rapport that St. Francis had with the
brothers of the First Order, with the sisters of the Second Order, and with
the brothers and sisters of the Third Order. The causal connection is identical in
all three cases. According to the biographers and chroniclers, St. Francis was the true
founder and master of a triplice milizia and thus has the same connection with
look, even a hurried one, at the historical sources clearly sheds light for those who,
"from the sources," arbitrarily deny to St. Francis the institution or
foundation of this his "Masterpiece. "
of all, Francis himself wrote a fitting "forma di vita" for his penitents,
sending them the First (1215) and Second (1221) Letter to All the Faithful. Also
for this group, Card. Hugolino codified and complied the ancient Menoriale propositi (1221).
Further, the following biographers and writers affirm with certainty the direct paternity
of Francis: Thomas of Celano (First Life of St. Francis, 1228/29); Gregory
IX (Caput draconis, 1228); Julian of Speyer (Officium rhythmicum, 1231/32);
Pseudo-Abrincese (Legenda versificata, 1232/33); Julian of Speyer (Vita, 1232/35);
St. Bonaventure (Major Life of St. Francis, 1260/63), and Sermo II de S.
Francisco (1267); the Anonymous of Perugia (1266/70); the Legenda monacensis
(1275); Bernard of Bressa (Liber de laudibus, 1276); the Catalogus
pontificum (limited to the 13th century); the Legend of the Three Companions
(1290/1380); the Catalogus generalium (from the early 14th century); Ubertino
of Casale (Arbor Vitae, 1305); the Legend of Perugia (1311); and finally the
Fioretti (1327/1380), in order to end with a work that is well known and popular.
To these and other historical witnesses can also be added papal documents, as well as
documents from local churches and civic institutions.
most abundant, clear and consistent documentation does not permit us to doubt the direct
paternity of St. Francis in regard to the "brothers and sisters of penance," or
the Third Order.
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CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE HISTORICAL SOURCES
Francis lived at a time of tremendous religious upheaval, a period of renewal that was
experienced in the social world as well. During this time a variety of spiritual movements
were led to interpret the authenticity of their religious experience against the supreme
measure of Christ and his disciples. The Umiliati, the Poor Catholics, the Poor Men of
Lombardy, the Waldensians, and others, whether on an individual level or communally, were
profoundly involved in rediscovering the life of the evangelical perfection. Along with
these groups, the ancient penitential movement, which dates back to the early centuries of
the church, was still present and active in some areas of the church.
and his early companions also compared their lives and their itinerant apostolate with the
model of evangelical life and the inspiration of gospel living. However, unlike some of
the groups just mentioned, they were always concerned with being in accord with the Pope
and consistently sought ecclesiastical approbation and direction.
primitive sources reverberate with the ideals which animated the world in which the
Franciscan movement developed. The biographers were not concerned with presenting a
detailed and chronologically precise description of Francis and his apostolic activity.
Rather, they sought to present to the reader his evangelical identity, or to sketch with a
literary brush the complex movement of this charismatic figure. The continuous use of
biblical allusions, and the symbolic way Francis was often portrayed, captured the inner
spirit of the man and are able to bring him to life for us. This type of hagiography,
however, does not easily yield the kind of biographical information we would expect in the
modern age. Nevertheless, we are able to discover quite a lot of information about Francis
from his biographers and from the early chronicles that touch on his life.
spite of the design and intention of the biographies, the historical sources unanimously
assert a causal and close connection between St. Francis and the "Franciscan"
penitential movement. The time and the circumstances of the foundation of the primitive
expression of the Franciscan life and the early apostolates revolve around the existential
experience of Francis. According to the biographical testimony, at first he was involved
in his own conversion, his own response to the presence of God in his life, and was not
concerned with founding any kind of religious community. But the Holy Spirit chose the
Poverello as a focal point of gathering and as a reference for many who wished to respond
in a similar way to the gospel message. The early companions, Clare and other women, and a
crowd of laity all came to Francis and he received them as gifts from God. In this way three
Franciscan orders were born, each destined to express their own unique gift of gospel
spirituality and each graced by God with many vocations. As always, the driving force of
these orders was the Lord (cf. 2 Cel 204), but Francis intentionally cooperated with the
plan of God and became the father of many people, almost a new Abraham. The connection and
rapport between Francis and three institutions is identical, he is the founder, father,
and teacher of the First, Second, and Third orders.
is no justification to simply relegate to Francis, as some are wont to do, either the role
of a reanimator of a pre-existent group, or as a champion of a organization of laity
involved in personal and ecclesiastical renewal, while at the same time denying him the
title of the true founder of his penitents. To hold such an opinion would be like
building a bridge in mid air. Those who do so depart from the foundation of historical
truth and negate the paternity of Francis and his influence on the foundation of the First
and other orders. They unfortunately either ignore the strong witness of history, are
not aware of it, choose to ignore it, or try to explain it away without allowing it to
speak on its own. It serves us well to recall only some reliable historical sources to
prove this point. Thomas of Celano, an eyewitness of the first Franciscan experience,
presents Francis as an "excellent craftsman " of the evangelical life who
founded a "threefold army" each branch of which "he gave a norm of Iife,
and he showed in truth the way of salvation in every walk of life (I Cel 37). "
Gregory IX, already a friend and collaborator of St. Francis when he was simply Cardinal
Hugolino, affirmed that the Poverello "sent into the battle three battalions of
valiant soldiers (AF X 401). Julian of Speyer, also a direct witness of the early
Franciscan movement, wrote that Francis, "organized three orders: the first named the
friars minor, the middle those who are poor women, and the third of penitents" (Officium
AF X 383). He further asserts that St. Francis was the author of "three
celebrated orders" and "the third, of no mean perfection, is called the order
of penitents, made up of clerics and laity, single, celibate and married, heartily
comprising all at the same time" (Vita in AF X 346, n. 23). One finds similar
affirmations in official documentation, such as the early text for the liturgy of the
feast of the saint. Pseudo-Abrincense also clearly attributes "three orders" to
St. Francis, and further gives the first place to the "order of penitents" Leg.
vers., app. 11, lib. 7, vv. 60-66 in AF X 509). St. Bonaventure spoke about a great
number of people "clerics and laity, virgins and married of both sexes" who were
bound to the "new laws of penance according to the rule which they received from the
man of God" and that Francis "decided to name this way of life the Order of
the Brothers of Penance" (LM 4:6). The same affirmation is given in Serino
II, where the Seraphic Doctor writes that Francis, "instituted the Third Order,
called the Order of Penitents" (Opera IX 576). It is important to
note the consistency of this documentation and the fact that none of the early sources
deny the influence Francis had on three orders. Nor should we overlook two passages in the
Acts of the provincial chapter held in Bologna in November of 1289, only three months
after the Rule of Nicholas IV. The Acts show that the brothers and sisters of penance had
a clear idea of their Franciscan identity and their connection with St. Francis. Two times
the text identify Francis as the "father of the penitents": "Ad honorem . .
. beati Francisci confessoris, devotissimi patris fratrum penitentium, " and
"vigiliam beati Francisci ad honorem ipsius pretiosissimi patris fratrum
penitentium" (AFH 18, 1925: 348, 350).
historical texts place the Third Order firmly in the Franciscan movement and affirm that
the early members of the order recognized this fact. Those who approach the literature
with an open mind must be convinced that the biographers, chroniclers, and bulls
consistently affirm Francis' direct paternity of three orders in the same way and
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APPROBATION OF THE THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS
Anonymus Perusinus or Anonymous of Perugia (1266-1270) records one version of the
institution of the "Order of Penitents," which was growing at the same time as
the First and Second orders. The order was then, according to the text, "confirmed by
the Supreme Pontiff (41). 5 The Legend of the Three Companions (1290-1320) also
records the foundation of "three new orders," which symbolically reflected
Francis' devotion to the Trinity, and the fact that they "were each in due time
approved and confirmed by the sovereign pontiff (3S XIII:60)." The latter text may be
referring to the rule presented to the Third Order by Nicholas IV on August 19, 1289, with
the bull Supra Montem. However, this interpretation is not obvious, nor is
it very satisfying. Meersseman, for example, is convinced that the author of the text is
referring to a previous ecclesiastical approval of the Third Order (Dossier, p.4 #1).
It is this sense that is also indicated in the Anonymous of Perugia, which was
edited and completed some twenty years before Supra Montem. Since there exists no
other testimony which points to some other expressed papal intervention, we must conclude
that the Anonymous of Perugia and the Legend of the Three Companions allude
to an implicit approbation, confirmed and reconfirmed in various official acts, between
1221 and 1227.
Franciscan penitential movement did, in fact, obtain repeated and clear recognition by the
church. In the first place, the Memoriale, approved by Honorius III, given as a
rule to the penitents of St. Francis on May 20, 1221, demonstrates an obvious
ecclesiastical approval. There also exist various pontifical bulls that exhibit an
implicit, but indisputable, papal approval. In Significatum est, dated December 16,
1221, Honorius III clearly confirmed the movement and its ecclesial character. This
affirmation was repeated by the pope in his letter to all the bishops of Italy on December
1, 1225. Gregory IX, the former Cardinal Hugolino, vigorously confirmed the existence and
direction of the Franciscan penitents in his bulls Detestanda of May 21, 1227, and Nimis
patenter on May 26 of the same year. This pope made many other interventions on behalf
of the Franciscan penitents in which he clearly expresses the church's recognition of the
movement. Innocent IV many times reconfirmed the interest and the favor of the church in
regard to the
5 Translation used of the Anonymous of Perugia, is by Fr. Eric Kahn, O.F.M.)
Order of Penitents. In the same sense there were many other papal comments culminating in
the bull Supra montem in 1289, which gave the Penitents of the Third Order of St.
Francis a definitive rule based on the Memoriale of 1221. Therefore, it is
legitimate for us to posit, however implicitly, that the Third Order of St. Francis
received official approbation before the time of Nicholas IV, a Franciscan pope.
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DIRECTORY AND CHRONOLOGY OF ANCIENT SOURCES
THAT DEAL WITH THE THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS
documentation is extremely vast and considerable. The texts fall into the categories of
writings of St. Francis, biographies and chronicles, papal documents, and legislation. The
following are offered as a preliminary guide to these sources.
||Writings of St.
Francis, Biographies and Chronicles
first testimony is given to us in the First Letter to All the Faithful (ILF),
written by St. Francis in 1215 for the penitents. (see Legislation)
||One testimony of
particular interest is transmitted by Jacques de Vitry, preacher of the crusades against
the Muslims and the Albigensians, Bishop of Acre (c. 1216), Cardinal Bishop of Frascati
(c. 1228), Papal Legate, a studious and learned man. In a letter, written in Genoa in
October of 1216 before he left for Acre, he wrote about the life and tremendous expansion
of the Franciscan movement. (cf. Huygens, R. Lettres de Jacques de Vitry, Leiden:
1960, 71-78.) In no. 10 he mentions that already in 1216 the movement had produced various
communities of women of Franciscan penitents of the Third Order.
||The Second Letter
to All the Faithful (IILF), written around 1221 by St. Francis, is a development of
ILF. (see Legislation) Doctrinal and heretical ferment at that period of time apparently
called for a refinement of the text. The continued growth and diversification of the
penitents required a more detailed discipline for the movement.
propositi or the Regula Antiqua (RA), given to the Franciscan Penitents in
1221 in order to integrate, at a juridical level, the spiritual values present in IILF.
Life of St. Francis (IC 36-38 and 58-59), written in 1228-19. The episode in Cannara
and Alviano which speaks about the institution of the Third Order most likely took place
in approximately 1211 or 1212.
||Gregory IX, in the
sixth strophe of the sequence Caput draconis, writes that Francis "acies
trinas ordinat / expeditorum militum. " The sequence was written in 1228. (AF X
of Speyer, in his Officium rhythmicum sancti Francisci (AF X, cit.,
372-388). accents the three Franciscan orders in the 2nd Nocturn (here no. 380) and points
out most explicitly in the third antiphon of Lauds "tres ordines hic ordinat . . .
sed poenitentum tertius sexum capit utrumque" (here no. 383). The exceptional
importance of this testimony comes from the fact that not only was the author an
eyewitness of the early Franciscan movement, but also because the text was an official
document and part of the liturgy of the Feast of St. Francis that dates to 1231/32.
||Henry of Avranches
(Abrincensis), Legenda sancti Francisci versificata (AF X, cit., 405-488). The work
is an epic poem in 14 books and 2585 Latin hexameter verses. The biography of the saint is
contained in appendices which contain verses that are not authentic and have been
attributed to Pseudo-Abrincensis. In the second appendix we find two beautiful
testimonies: one regarding the three Franciscan orders (app. II, book 4; here no. 500, vv.
1-3), and the other dealing more explicitly with the Order of Penance instituted by St.
Francis (app. II, book 7; here no. 506, vv. 58-66). One very interesting fact to note
about this work is that Pseudo-Abrincensis inverts the traditional chronological order and
places the Order of Penitents first, then the Clares (here vv. 67-72), and finally the
Order of Minors (here vv. 73-77). The work of Pseudo-Abrincensis dates to between 1232 and
||Julian of Speyer Vita
sancti Francisci (AF X, cit., 333-371). At the end of the 2nd chapter (n. 14, here
341-342) and even more clearly in the 4th chapter (n. 23, here 346) speaks explicitly of
the "triplice milizia," that is, of the "three celebrated orders"
founded by St. Francis. He writes, ". . . tertius quoque non mediocris perfectionis Ordo
poenitentium dicitur, qui clericis et laicis, virginibus, continentibus coniugatisque
communis, sexum salubriter utrumque complectitur" (here, 346, n. 23). The work dates
to between 1232 and 1235.
||John of Compania, Vita
Gregorii IX papae, in Muratori, L.A. Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, III/1, 575-587;
Lemmens, L. Testimonia minora, Ad Claras Aquas 1926, 11-14. The author underlines
the growth of the Order of the brothers and sisters of penance at the time that Gregory IX
was simply Cardinal Hugolino. The work is from 1240.
liturgica vaticana, a transcription of a codice previous to 1250 attributing to St.
Francis of Assisi the "trina milizia," that is, the three orders.
Martirologio per tutto l'anno, a testimony previous to 1255, affirms the membership of
St. Elizabeth of Hungry in the Franciscan Order of Penance.
of Bagnoregio, Leggenda maggiore, written in the years 1260-1263. In 4:6 (the
institution and name) and in 12:3-4 (Cannara and Alviano) he describes for us the events
that occurred in the years 1211 and 1212. The institution of the Third Order and the
official name of the Order is presented in the text. As Francis had assigned the
definitive name of the First Order calling it the "Order of Friars Minor" (I Cel
38, Rnb 7:3), so also he called his followers in the Third Order the "Order of the
Brothers of Penance." (LM 4:6)
||We find a brief nod
given to the life of penance in the Leggenda minore in II: Lesson 2, 1, complied by
Bonaventure "ad usum chori" in the years 1260-1263.
Erphordiensis, in MGH, Sriptores XXIV, 172-204, written in the years 1261-1266. The
author affirms that St. Francis is the founder of his penitents which was then confirmed
by Gregory IX. This order, which "embraces both sexes, that is, clerics, married,
virgins and committed people" (here 198), it received an implicit, but clear,
approbation from the pope.
||The Anonymous of
Perugia, written in the years 1266-1270, in no. 41 records the institutions and the
name of "Order of Penitents." In fact, according to the context of nos. 31-33
and in harmony with the other sources, it refers to events that took place in 1211 or
||St. Bonaventure (Sermo
II de S. P. N. Francisco, in Opera omnia, IX, Ad Claras Aquas 1901, 576/1284) affirms
that St. Francis, "instituted the Third Order, called the Order of Penitents, those
who are called continent friars. " The sermon dates to 1267.
Leggenda monacensis (in AFX, cit., 694-719), written in 1275 by a anonymous author,
who apparently was not Franciscan, affirms that St. Francis "tres autem ordines
instituit in ecclesia . . . Tertius dicitur poenitentium, qui sexum capit utrumque ...
" (here 699, n. 14).
||Bernard of Bessa, Liber
de laudibus beati Francisci, in AF III (1897) 666-692. The work is from 1276. In
chapter 7 the author writes "de tribus ordinibus, statutis a sancto Francisco"
(here 679). Near the end of the chapter, after speaking about the Ordo fratum minorum (here
679-686) and the Ordo virginum matronarum (here 686), he deals with the Ordo
poenitentium (here 686-687, nos 25-30). The testimony is of extraordinary interest
because it refers to the complete name of the movement (Tertius ordo fratrum et sororum
de poenitentia) and because of the precision of its characterization of the movement
and thus of its historical and spiritual identity.
||Salimbene of Parma,
in the Cronaca (1284), presents to us a significant physical and spiritual portrait
of Luis IX, who the author personally knew and with whom he had a certain familiarity.
Other Franciscan penitents are also represented in the work.
Catalogus pontificum et imperatorum romanorum (in MGH, Scriptores XXII), compiled near
the end of the 13th century, affirms that Gregory IX "confirmavit duos ordines quos
sanctus Franciscus fecit, scilicet pauperum dominarum et poenitentium" (here 364).
||The Leggenda dei
tre compagni, compiled in the years 1290-1320, in n. 59 speaks of the astonishing
development of the First and Second Orders. In n. 60 the origin of the Franciscan
Penitents is recorded as well as their recent approbation.
generalium ministrorum ordinis fratrum minorum (in MGH, Scriptores XXXII), complied
beginning in 1300, presents an approximate chronology of the three orders of St. Francis
||Ubertino of Casale, Arbor
vitae crucufixae Iesu. This is a very lengthy work in five volumes, written in 1305.
Book V is dedicated to St. Francis and the Franciscan movement. In chapter 6 of this
volume we encounter a beautiful testimony on the Ordo poenitentiae sancti Francisci or
the third order: instituted through the work of St. Francis, its structure, schedule of
life, and providential mission in the church and the world.
Leggenda perugina, in n. 34 (in the edition Flores trium sociorum by J.
Cambell, vol. 95a in Compilatio assisiensis of M. Bigaroni, n. 74) reports a
testimony that is doubly precious. The work is a compilation from 1311, however the
redaction contains material that is much older. The text refers to three events that
happened at Greccio: 1.) many people entered the First Franciscan Order; 2.) many people
followed Francis in a life of penance or the Third Order; 3.) many young women, while
remaining in their own homes and in their own occupations, instituted a certain style of
community life, professed the evangelical counsel of chastity, practiced fasting, and
gathered together for prayer. This real community, or "regular" community,
existed and was thriving in the year 1217. Therefore, its beginning must be placed at some
previous year. (Cf. the testimony of Jacques da Vitry, reported above). Certainly this
evolution matured with numerous contacts with St. Francis during his frequent travels to
Rome (1206, 1210, 1212, 1215, etc.).
||Angelo Clareno, Chronicon
(IX: prima trib.) records that Bartholomew Baro, parish priest of Massa Trabaria,
became a Franciscan tertiary and was invested by St. Francis with the faculties to receive
people into the Order of penance.
||The Fioretti of
St. Francis, a work which that was extracted from the Actus beati Francisci et
sociorum eius (1327) and popularized and expanded around 1380. Chapter 16 records the
institution of the Third Franciscan Order "for the salvation of all people
everywhere. " The beginning of the institution, animated by the Holy Spirit, were the
men and women who, "in their great devotion wanted to follow him. "
||Arnaldo of Sarano, Chronica
XXIV generalium (Chronicles of the 24 Generals) in AF III, cit., 1-575. The
author records the institution of the Third Order of Penitents (here 27) given personally
by St. Francis and then approved by Nicholas IV (here 420). The compilation dates to 1374.
||Bartholomew of Pisa, De
conformitate vitae beati Francisci ad vitam domini Iesu, in AF IV-V, Ad Claras Aquas
1906-1912. The author presents a historical picture of the whole Franciscan movement up to
the 1300. He records the inspiration Francis had in the institution of the Third Order (AF
IV, 467); he underscores the sanctity, the nobility and the number of penitents (AF IV,
360-362); the author also recalls the story of Batholomew Baro, the Franciscan penitent
(cf. 7.1.26 above) (AF passim). This lengthy work was completed in 1390 and approved in
||John of Capistrano,
who wrote Defensorium Tertii ordinis in 1440, was a great promoter and defender of
the Third Order.
||La Franceschia of
James Oddi hands on to us a recollection of the TOF before its entrance into area of
||Regarding the history
of the 14th century, the Milanese Friar Minor Bernardino de Bustis wrote the Tractatus
de imitatione Christi per assumptionem Tertii ordinis de paenitentia (taken from
Sermon 27 of Rosarium sermonum, printed in Strasburg in 1496; the definitive
edition was printed in Venice in 1498). The author energetically affirms the paternity of
St. Francis in regard to the Third Order, and verifies that the Tertiary Franciscans are
numerous and that they incarnate many evangelical virtues (cf. Tractatus, passim;
Rosarium, n. II, Venice 1498, p. 261). But we are already beyond the period of the
early "sources" and are entering the area of commentaries and works that simply
repeat earlier sources.
testimonies concerning not only the movement, but also many other Franciscan penitents
such as Prassede, Jacopa, Bartholomew Baro, Lucchesio, Elizabeth, etc.
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of all it must be stated that, in this area, documents concerning the period previous to
December 16, 1221 are lacking. Overall, we are able to point out that for the 13th century
there exist some 60 papal documents that deal with the Third Order, other than those that
have been lost or those of dubious authenticity. For the 14th century we can produce 81
pontifical documents that relate to the Third Franciscan Order, 10 of which deal
specifically with the Third Order Regular. The 15th century produced 701 papal documents
concerning the Third Order of St. Francis. In the 16th century, with the diffusion of the
Third Order Secular and the expansion of individual communities and federations (or
congregations), the number of papal bulls likewise grew and have continued to be
promulgated up to the modern day. In order to find these documents, we must turn to the
following: the Archivium of Bordoni, the Apostolica privilegia of De Sillis,
the Indiculus of Alva y Astorga, the Bullarium Franciscanum (Bfns 1-3), the Bullarium
Romanorum Pontificum (28 volumes between 450 and 1740), the Regestum
pontificum attached to the Annales of Wadding (vol. 1-32), and to more recent
sources from the Roman Curia.
following papal documents are among those that contain integral sections that deal with
the Third Order of St. Francis:
Pontificum, from 450 to 1740, volumes 1-28
||A. Potthast. Regesta
romanorum pontificum, Graz 1957
||A. De Sillis, Studia
originem, provectum atque complementum Tertii ordinis de poenitentia s. Francisci
concernentia, Naples 1621, book II: Apostolica privilegia Tertii ordinis (attached
to the previous work, but with distinct pagination from I to 100). The collection contains
55 bulls that were promulgated in the 13th to the 16th centuries, including ones given by
||L. Wadding, Regestum
pontificum attached to the Annales ordinis minorum, finished in 1299. Reports
on 1,530 bulls, of which 26 concern the Third Order. For the 14th century it transcribes
2,534 bulls, of which 54 are relative to the Third Order. Finally, for the 15th century it
counts 1,050 pontifical documents, of which 143 deal with the Third Order of St. Francis.
compilatio privilegiorum apostolicorum, Lugindi 1614, which has attached, with
its own proper pagination, the "Statuta, constitutiones et decreta generalia
congregationes gallicae fratrum et sororum Tertii ordinis sancti Francisci de poenitentia
nuncupati. " It reports on 30 papal bulls and other privileges of the Third Order
Regular from 1442 to 1610.
||F. Bordoni, Collectio
bullarum, instrumentorum at aliarum scripturarum pertinentium ad Tertium
ordinem s. Francisci tam intra Italiam quam extra, year 1610, manuscripts in the
Palatine Library of Parma.
Bordoni, Archivium bullarum, privilegiorum instrumentorum et decretorum fratrum
et sororum Tertii ordinis s. Francisci, Parma 1658. Ending in 1655 it reports on 293
bulls relative to the Third Order Secular and Regular (pp. 1-673), followed by privileges
conceded by the Doge Vendramini and the Emperor Charles V (pp. 674-680) and 89 instruments
concerning the Third Order Regular (pp. 681-891), finally it contains 23 decreta which
were promulgated by the Sacred Congregation.
||Alva y Astorga, Indiculus
bullarii seraphici, Roma 1655. For the 14th century it records 3,393 Franciscan bulls,
of which 55 deal with the Third Order. For the 15th century it contains 3,931 papal
documents, of which 367 refer to the Third Order. And so it goes. (E cosi via.)
||I. Sbaralea, Bullarium
Franciscanum, etc., I-IV, reports on 3,190 documents up to 1299, of which 41 relate to
the Third Order. For documents written between 1300 and 1399 it contains or mentions 2,985
bulls, of which 81 deal with the Third Order. For the years 1400-1499 it refers to 7,272
Franciscan documents, of which 663 pertain to the Third Order. The work was continued by
Eubel, Huntermann and Pou y Marti.
||C. Eubel, Bularii
franciscani epitome, points out 2,176 documents, of which 58 are pertinent to the
||W.R. Thomson in AFH 64
(1971) 367-580, points out 3,036 "Papal Letters" relative to the three
Franciscan orders written previous to 1261, of which 25 deal with the Third Order.
||A. van den Wyngaert, De
tertio ordine..., in AFH 13 (1920) 69, notes 1-3, records 26 documents that refer to
the Third Order up to the year 1264.
||F. van den Borne, Die
Anfage ..., Westf, 1925, 145, n. 2, presents a directory of 40 bulls on the Third
||G.G. Meersseman, Dossier
..., Freibourg, Switzerland, 1961, reports on 56 documents regarding not only the
Franciscan Penitents, but the ordo poenitentiae in general (pp. 39-81), covering
the period of 1221 to 1296.
those who wish to delve deeper into these sources we would like to point out the
extraordinary studies done by G. Ordoardi in the spirit of inter-Franciscan cooperation on
the movement of penance. (6)
St. Francis affirmed
that the rule was "the book of life, the hope of salvation, the marrow of the Gospel,
the way of perfection, the key to paradise, the agreement of a perpetual covenant. He
wanted it to be had by all, to be known by all . . . He taught them to keep it ever before
their eyes as a reminder of the life they were to live, and, what is more, that they
should die with it." (2 Cel 208)
The first rule of the Franciscan Penitents was the living witness of St. Francis.
to All the Faithful (= penitents)
Letter to All the Faithful (= penitents)
propositi or Ancient Rule
Rule of the Penitents or Supra Montem of Nicholas IV
6 Cf. G. Odoardi, L'Ordine della penitenza di san Francisco nei documenti
pontifici del secolo XIII, in Aa. Vv, L'Ordine della penitenza di san Francesco
d'Assisi nel secolo XIII edited by O. Schmucki, Rome 1973, 79-115, esp. 80-94; L'Ordine
della penitenza nei documenti pontifici del secolo XIV, in Aa. Vv. I frati
penitenti di san Francesco nella societa del due e trecento, edited by M. D'Alatri,
Rome 1977, 21-49, esp. 23-27; Id, LOrdine della penitenzia nei "Bullarium
Franciscanum" 1400-1447, in Aa. Vv., IImovimento francescano della penitenza
nella societa medioevale, edited by M. D'Alatri, Rome 1980, 23-45; Id., La
vitacommunitaria tra i penitenti francescani nelle bolle papali dei secolo XXIII, in
Aa. Vv., Prime manifestazioni di vita comunitaria maschile e femminile nel movimento
francescano della penitenza, edited by R. Pazzelli and L. Temperini, Rome 1982,
To the extent
that such a project is possible, all the bulls dealing with the Third Order Secular and
Regular should be collected in one volume. This would facilitate the study and consolation
of the documents for those who do not have access to the originals.
THE THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS
1. In 1209, St.
Francis and his first companions constituted the primitive community of "Penitents of
2. In 1211, a
popular movement began among those "Brothers and Sisters of Penance" who wanted
to follow Francis (TOF)
3. By 1215 there
existed numerous examples of community life (in hospitals, hospices, hermitages, etc.
4. About the middle
of the 13th century there appeared throughout Europe the first confederations and
foundations from which would spring the male and female Congregations of the Third Order
Regular of St. Francis.
5. From the start of
the Franciscan era the Third Order (known as the Franciscan Order of Penance) was formed
as a institution distinct and different from the First and Second Orders. It has always
been characterized by the presence of men and women, namely of "brothers and
6. In 1289
Nicholas IV approved the Franciscan "Third Order" (TOF in fact already
delineated by two important orientations TOS and TOR).
7. In 1323 John XXII
formally approved a community or "regular" life in the Franciscan Third Order
(Bull: "Altissimo in divinis" of November 18th).
8. In 1397, the
first approval is granted to a Congregation of TOR Nuns (the Religious Institute founded
by Bl. Angeline of Marsciano).
9. Other male and
female Congregations, obtained their approval at different times, in different nations and
were independent of one another.
In the course of
centuries many Congregations have disappeared and many more have come into existence.
22 Male Congregations
382 Female Congregations
- ORDER OF FRIARS MINOR
Capuchin (OFM Cap)
Conventual (OFM Conv)
- Order of St. Clare of Assisi
or "Clares" (various subdivisions)
- THIRD ORDER FRANCISCAN
- Secular Franciscan Order
(Third Order Secular or TOS, until 1978).
- Third Order Regular (friars and sisters), in different
proper initials. (ex: OSF).
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