The Canonical Orthodox Old Roman Catholic


Franciscans of the Third Order Regular of Penance

The Third Order: The Brothers and Sisters of Penance
Tradition assigns the year 1221 as the date of the foundation of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, now known as Tertiaries, though evidence shows a much earlier date for their estabishment, as will be shown below. This Third Order was organized by St. Francis as a sort of middle state between the cloister and the world for those who, wishing to follow in the saint's footsteps, were debarred by marriage or other ties from entering either the First or Second Order. Saint Francis composed a simple rule of life for these Tertiaries which is known as the First (1215) and Second (1221) Letters To All the Faithful. It is generally admitted that the rule approved by Pope Nicholas IV, on 18 August, 1289 (Litt. "Supra Montem") does not represent the original rule of the Third Order.
The real origin of the Third Order is found in the ancient Order of Penitents, also known as the Conversi, which had been in existence within the Church since the 4th century. In the first centuries of the Christian Church, groups of penitents were established by the Church for those Christians who fell into grave sin and sought reconciliation with the Church. These sins included such things as adultery, murder, idolatry and magic, and theft. Doing penance was a visible sign of conversion. If the sinner refused to do penance, he or she was excommunicated. Public penance consisted of acts of mortification such as wearing a "hair shirt," covering the head with ashes, fasting and prayers. These acts were regulated by the bishops. After the period of penance was completed, the repentant sinner was readmitted into the assembly.
The Edict of Milan in A.D. 313 declared that the bishop could relegate the sinner into an Order of Penitents called Conversi. This was done in a liturgical ceremony with the laying on of hands and the application of ashes. They worshiped separately from the rest of the congregation, but were not allowed to participate in the Eucharistic celebration. Other restrictions imposed by the bishop were called interdicts, and by the 4th century, some of these interdicts came to be imposed not only for the penitential period, but for life.By the 4th century, there were those who entered the Order of Penitents voluntarily. They accepted the interdicts of the Order which by that time included:
not to participate in military service,
not to be merchants,
not to occupy public office,
to refrain from conjugal relations if married, and to be celibate if single,
not allowed to remarry if widowed, single penitents could not marry while in the Order (this was later abrogated)

The Third Order Regular

The early history of the Third Order Regular is shrouded in uncertainty and is susceptible of controversy. Some falsely attribute its foundation to St. Elizabeth of Hungary in 1228, others to Blessed Angelina of Marsciano in 1395. The latter is said to have established at Foligno the first Franciscan monastery of enclosed Tertiary Nuns in Italy. Records clearly show a vital religious life in the Order of Penance very early on. A number of hermits and recluses (true religious in the eyes of the Church) were received into the Order and were invested with the habit by St Francis himself, such as Veridiana of Castel Fiorentino, Praxedes of Rome, Gerard of Villamagna, and Bartholomew Baro who also had founded a religious community of Penitents living under the Rule of the Third Order. Francis and his first followers when asked by the people who they were, identified themselves as: The Penitents of Assisi, thus identifying themselves with the Order of Penitents during the time prior to their approbation as Friars Minor in 1209 and thus pre-dating the formal establishment of the Friars Minor. It can thus be seen clearly that the words of Scripture, "...the last shall be first and the first last", (St Matthew 20: 16) aptly apply to the Third Order of Saint Francis, as it was the first form of the Franciscan vocation to emerge and was embraced by Saint Francis himself prior to his later establishment of the Friars Minor, but was the last to receive formal and official approbation as a distinct Religious Order.


The TOR manner of life and apostolic activity thus truly reflects the earliest manifestation of the emerging Franciscan vocation, and continues the initial ideals of the Saint himself. It is certain that early in the fifteenth century tertiary communities of men and women existed in different parts of Europe and that the Italian Friars of the Third Order Regular were recognized as a mendicant order by the Holy See. Since about 1447 the latter body has been governed by their own Minister General and its members take Solemn Vows, as do the members of all of the branches of Friars Minor and the Poor Clares.  The Holy See has ranked these Friars of the Third Order Regular as one of the four principal branches of the one Franciscan Family, and has placed them on a par with the Friars of the First Order. The Minister Generals of the Friars Minor, the Friars Minor Capuchin, Friars Minor Conventual, and the Third Order Regular are regarded as the spiritual fathers of the entire Franciscan Family and are charged with providing spiritual guidance and assistance to the Second Order and the Third Order Secular.


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