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The Franciscan Order has over 800 years of
history. St. Francis entered the penitential
movement in the first decade of the 13th century.
It was at St. John Lateran in Rome in 1209 that
Pope Innocent III authorized Francis and his
followers to live the life of a penitent and
preach the Gospel. From this event sprang the
three Franciscan Orders established by St.
Francis that, over time, brought about a
rebuilding of the Church, the Mystical Body of
Christ which at the time was falling into ruin.
The rebuilding continues today. For us, Secular
Franciscans, it is clearly a Journey of Living
faith from the Darkness of Sin to the Light of
Ongoing Conversion and Growth in Divine Wisdom
from Love of the world to Love of the Gospel
from Interior War and Emptiness to Peace and
Fullness of Joy in Christ Within and without and
from the Noise of the World to the Silence of
Listening to the Divine Presence in our hearts.
  This report presents a brief history of the
Secular Franciscan Order in the various periods
of its development including its Rules.
  • Penitential Movement
  • During the first five or six centuries of
    church history, members were required to avoid
    serious sin. The penalty for serious sin was
    excommunication from the community. However, one
    was allowed to rejoin the community on a second
    chance very restrictive basis. This
    reconciliation required severe penance such as
    lifelong fasting, abstinence from attending
    church functions and from reception of the
    Eucharist, external displays of self-degradation
    like wearing sack-cloths, and the like. In time,
    these strict rules became canon law, with the
    bishop authorizing and overseeing reconciliation.
  • Changes in restorative penance in Europe and
    Asia were influenced by Celtic monks who
    practiced private penance the priest would
    assign a penance at his discretion, the severity
    in accordance with the gravity of the sin.
  • About the same time there were those who
    volunteered to become penitents, with the same
    obligations of the canonical penitents, in order
    to become holy to live like Jesus and the
    Apostles. These volunteers were the precursor of
    the penitential movement, as embraced by St.
    Francis of Assisi.

  • Two kinds of Penitents the Public Penitents and
    the Voluntary Penitents
  • The public penitents made expiation for their
    sins in the manner prescribed for days, months,
    and years as established by the Penitentials
  • The voluntary penitents remained in the Ordo
    Poenitentium through the Middle Ages.
  • The same concept of conversion, as the internal
    and external act by which the Christians, not
    weighed down by serious sin, and therefore not
    obliged to do so, publicly decided to abandon the
    way of life which he had formerly led and to
    devote himself to God in one of the various forms
    of penitential life, reveals that the ultimate
    goal of such a choice was to make God ones point
    of reference and the very reason for life this
    end was obviously very spiritual. This interior
    decision, however, was also externally visible by
    means of the penitential habit.
  • The dominant element that seemed to be always
    present in the various religious movements of the
    twelfth century was the continuation and
    diffusion of the desire to return to the gospel
    life of the apostles, considered as the norm and
    model of poverty and of evangelization for the
    whole Church which set the tone for the new
    penitential climate of the century.

  • The Itinerant Preachers
  • At the same time, especially in the first fifth
    of the twelfth century, the concept of apostolic
    life acquired a new element in addition to that
    of poverty, namely, preaching, especially in an
    itinerant lifestyle.
  • The first itinerant preachers, canons regular,
    were the most significant examples of this. They
    left the canonical life first to become hermits
    and later to begin their itinerant preaching in
    strictest poverty, precisely because at that
    point they felt that these two elements a life
    of poverty and preaching were the essential
    components of a truly apostolic life.

  • Other Penitential Groups
  • There were those groups of penitents who
    preceded Francis, whose penitential lives were
    approved by the Holy See. Among the more famous
    were the Waldensians, started by Peter Waldo, a
    rich merchant from Lyons. The Pope approved
    their life of poverty but ruled that, in matter
    of preaching, Peter Waldo and his companions
    should have to submit to the decision of the
    local bishop. The Waldensians continued to
    preach, however, some say, without the permission
    of the bishop or preached in dioceses that were
    not appreciative of their preaching and in some
    locales, they were associated with those of
    suspect orthodoxy. In 1184 they were condemned
    by the Council of Verona.
  • The Cathari who adopted a Manichean dualism
    (the body was evil and the spirit was good but
    were marked as heretical.

  • The Humiliati arose among wool workers and
    merchants a decade before the birth of Francis.
    They humiliated themselves for God adopting
    rough clothing and untinted cloth, and developed
    three distinct but not separate groups. The
    clerical element formed the first order, also
    included nuns solemnly consecrated to the
    religious life as it was then understood an
    associate of monastic life- lay brothers and
    sisters, living in adjoining houses formed the
    second order the religious-worker association
    of men and women remaining in the married state
    comprise a third order and Innocent III
    approved them in 1201. Together with the
    Franciscans, they enjoyed the popular support of
    the people but in the 14th century their numbers
    began a slow decline and finally by 1569 the
    order was suppressed by St. Pius V.
  • Somehow the structure of the grouping left an
    impression on the penitential movement started by

II. Francis of Assisi 1181-1226
  • Time of Political Uncertainty Social Upheaval
  • Francis was born in Assisi, in the region of
    Umbria in 1182, of a rich merchant family that
    of Pietro di Bernadone and his wife, Lady Pica.
  • Time of Political Uncertainty As Well As Time of
    Dramatic Cultural Change. The feudal system with
    lords and fiefdoms was the society that was
    diminishing and a mercantile society was
    emerging. Francis was not of noble birth, but his
    father, a cloth merchant, was rich. So Francis
    did associate with the sons of nobles and,
    partied with them.
  • Time of Chivalry Francis heard stories of
    knights rescuing ladies fair. This Environment
    influenced Francis to don the armor of a knight
    and go off to battle, which made his father
  • Time When City States Had Allegiance To The
    Emperor Or To The Holy See. The main reason, that
    Assisi was imperial was that its traditional
    rival, Perugia, was papal.

III. Francis Conversion Process - 1206
  • Francis Servant or Master Dream in Spoleto
  • Pilgrimage to Rome Changing Clothes with a
    Beggar Spring 1206
  • Embracing the Leper Early 1206
  • San Damiano Giving Money to Priest 1206
  • Scene Before Mayor and Bishop Rejecting Money
    and Clothing 1206
  • Francis is Called to Rebuild San Damiano
  • FrancisApproval by Innocent III 1209
  • It was at this time at St. John Lateran in
    Rome, that Pope Innocent III authorized Francis
    and his followers to live the life of a
    penitent and preach the Gospel.
  • Francis Preached the Kingdom of God
  • 1. St. Francis appearance on the scene, with
    his strong resolution and simplicity, began the
    restoration of Italian society to a Christian way
    of living.
  • 2. Francis laid a spiritual foundation of a
    Christianity based on the simple and radical
    lifestyle of the gospel of Our Lord Jesus.
    Society was getting tired, restless and
    disenchanted with unnecessary conventions in
    their daily affairs.
  • 3. These positive changes were made possible
    specifically because of the lay aspect of the
    Third Order, whose peaceful influence was far
    reaching and penetrated many layers of society.

IV. Francis Exhortation to His Followers
  • Francis Exhortation to His Followers
  • The very first teachings that Francis set in
    writing addressed to the Brothers and Sisters of
    Penance was the first version of the Letter to
    All the Faithful (1209 1215) or the Volterra
    Letter so called because the document was located
    in the City of Volterra. It was introduced with
    these words These are the words of life and
    salvation. Whoever reads and follows them will
    find life and draw from the Lord Salvation.
  • It presently serves as a Prologue to the Rule of
    the Secular Franciscan Order. 
  • Letter to All the Faithful (Second Letter) Spring
    of 1220
  • It recalls Francis earlier exhortation to the
    Brothers and Sisters of Penance and encourages
    its observance in light of many of the teachings
    of the Fourth Lateran Council.
  • The earlier exhortation (Prologue to the Rule of
    the Secular Franciscan Order along with the
    second version, the Later Admonition and
    Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of
    Penance, was St. Francis invitation to the
    gospel way of life.

  • The history of the Third Order provides a few
    examples of individuals who accepted the call,
    some of whom became saints. Some of the earliest
    known tertiaries are Count Orlando of Chiusi,
    the donor of Mt. La Verna, Praxedi, the Roman
    recluse to whom Francis gave a habit and cord,
    and Lady Jacopa de Settesoli (Brother Jacopa).
  • After St. Francis visit with Cardinal Hugolino
    in 1221 and subsequent canonical establishment of
    the first Secular Franciscan Fraternity, the
    Third Order spread throughout the world.
  • Wherever Franciscan Friars and Poor Clares were
    to be found, so was the Third Order. It attracted
    many individuals, some of whom are well known in
    the Church and throughout the world. Individuals
    such as St. Louis of France, St. Ferdinand of
    Castile, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Margaret of
    Cortona, Angela of Foligno, St. Jean Marie
    Vianney (Cure d Ars) Petrarch, Raphael,
    Michaelangelo, Murillo and Christopher Columbus.
    Of all the Franciscan tertiaries, 53 are
    canonized saints with approximately 80 more who
    have been formally beatified.

V. The Four Franciscan Rules
  • Within the 800-year history of the Secular
    Franciscan Order, four Rules were established to
    help guide and govern how the laity were to live
    out the Franciscan Spirituality and Charism in
    the world
  • The Rule of Cardinal Hugolino - 1221 - Memoriali
  • The Rule of Pope Nicholas IV 1289
  • The Rule of Leo XIII - 1883
  • The Rule of Pope Paul VI 1978

VI. The Memoriali Propositi of 1221
  • It is universally accepted that 1221 is the
    official year in which the Third Order began.
    This year reflects the canonical establishment of
    the Third Order by Cardinal Hugolino. The
    Memoriali Propositi was the Rule given by the
    Cardinal to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance,
    detailing how they were to live holy lives.
  • Built on the concept of fraternity, that the
    Penitents are truly brothers and sisters, bound
    together by mutual charity. Like the 2 Franciscan
    Orders, the Third Order is the School of the
    Gospel and demands adherence to it in thought
    and action.
  • The Rule details the daily life of penitents
  • 1. Modesty in dress, prohibition to take part in
    public entertainment
  • 2. Rules of abstinence, fasting and prayer
  • 3. The Divine Office sacramental practice.
  • 4. Prohibition to carry arms and to avoid
  • 5. The Eucharist and meeting of the fraternity
    once a month.
  • 6. Visiting the sick, burying the dead and
    offering prayers for them.
  • 7. Obligation to make the last will.
  • 8. Rules regarding the reception of new members
    in the fraternity.
  • 9. The Visitor and disciplinary rule .
  • 10. The Election of the officials of the

VII. The Rule of Pope Nicholas IV
  • Became the first Franciscan Pope on Feb. 15,
    1288. The Rule of Pope Nicholas IV in 1289 was
    issued with the Bull Supra Montem.
  • This Rule did not add anything new to the
    existing Memoriali Propositi, but gave the
    document more legislative style.
  • The aim of the Rule was to establish a closer and
    juridical relationship with friars of the First
    Order. The aim was successful in that it proved
    to be beneficial in the early years, but it
    subsequently led to an overdependence upon the
    First Order. Issue arose between the Penitents
    and the Friars about the friars doing the
    visitations to the fraternities. As a result,
    Pope Nicholas IV issued another document
    (Unigenitus Dei Filius, reasserting that Friars
    would be the visitors.

  • The Rule has 20 chapters. The contents of the
    individual chapters are as follows
  • 1. The Order of Penitents, its catholicity and
    obedience to the Church.
  • 2. The reception of novices. Obligation of
    reconciliation with ones neighbor. A public
    profession binding the penitent to the observance
    of the divine commandments. Married women need
    permission of their husbands to join the Order.
  • 3. The penitential clothing of the penitents.
  • 4. Prohibition to take part in public
    entertainment and feasts.
  • 5. Penitential practices of fasting and
    abstinence, with insistence upon the Franciscan
    penitential seasons, but also with the
    evangelical liberty to eat whatever is presented
    to them. Pregnant penitents freed from
    obligation of fasting.
  • 6. The Reception of the Sacraments of Penance
    and the Eucharist on Christmas Day, Easter and
  • 7. Prohibition to carry arms and to render
    military service.
  • 8. The reciting of the canonical hours of the
    Divine Office, according to the Franciscan style.
    Participation in the liturgy in cathedral and
    parish churches.
  • 9. Obligation to draw up ones last will.
  • 10. The Ministers role to ensure that the
    Brothers and Sisters give witness to peace.
  • 11. Recourse to ecclesiastical authority to be
    defended against molestation by civil

  • 12. Prohibition to take oaths, without
    authorization of the Apostolic See.
  • 13. The daily Eucharist. The monthly meeting of
    the fraternity, including the celebration of the
    Eucharist, the preaching of the Word of God,
    charity to poor and sick members of the
  • 14. Visiting the sick brothers and sisters once
    a week. A decent burial and prayers for the
    deceased member of the fraternity.
  • 15. The role of the Minister of the fraternity.
  • 16. The Visitator of the fraternity, a member of
    the Order of Friars Minor, with the power to
    correct the shortcomings of the fraternity and to
    expel who rebel against obedience.
  • 17. An exhortation to avoid the scandal of
    division in the fraternity.
  • 18. The Ordinary or Visitator can dispense
    individual members of the fraternity from the
    ecclesiastical norm of abstinence.
  • 19. The disciplinary measures to be taken in
    the case of disobedient members of the
    fraternity, including expulsion from the Order.
  • 20. Conclusion The obligatory nature of the
    Rule of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.
  • Third Order Regular. Around the turn of the
    century the practice of profession of religious
    vows developed among those penitents living in
    community. This was the decisive step in the
    complete regularization of the order. Pope John
    XXII, with the Bull Altissimo in divinis of
    November 18,1323, approved and praised this
    action which represented an approval of the
    regular religious life within the Third Order.
  • During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Third
    Order was in crisis. To address the concerns of
    the Secular Franciscans, Pope Innocent XI issued
    the Bull, Ecclesiae Catholicae in 1689. This
    document was a commentary and adaptation of the
    Rule to the current times. Although Pope Innocent
    XI defended the autonomy of the Third Order, the
    Visitator still retained broad powers .
    Gradually, the Third Order was losing sight of
    its own identity.

VIII. The Rule of Pope Leo XIII
  • In 1883 Pope Leo XIII issued a rule of the Third
    Order for the society of his time. It was
    promulgated in the apostolic constitution
    Misericors De Filius of May 30, 1883.
  • His purpose for a new less rigorous rule was to
    make it more accessible and more appealing, to
    more Catholics.
  • 1. The text consisted of three Chapters,
    followed by another three in the form of an
    appendix setting out the indulgences and
    privileges of Tertiaries.
  • 2. Reduced to the bare essentials, it retained
    much of the old Rule Nicholas IV and
    modified/completed whatever parts seemed outdated
    and excessively harsh.
  • He lost no opportunity during the next few
    years of involving the whole Catholic episcopate
    in its propagation either by encyclicals or by
    exhortation and encouragement.
  • The hierarchy responded obediently to the
    Pontiffs wishes, ordinary Christians were fired
    with enthusiasm and within a short time there
    were several million Tertiaries all over the
  • The ferment generated by the action of Pope Leo
    XIII was also marked by the celebration of
    regional, national and international congresses,
    both during and after his pontificate.

IX. International Congress
  • the most important took place in Rome from 22
    to 26 October, 1900.
  • It was promoted by the Ministers General of the
    Friars Minor, the Conventuals, the Capuchins and
    the Third Order Regular.
  • Out of the Congress two factions became clear
  • 1. the individualists who intended to preserve
    the Third Orders character as an association for
    Christian perfection, and
  • 2. the socials who, without failing to assume
    the above fundamental point, wished to direct the
    activity of the Tertiaries towards social issues
    following the directive of the Pope.
  • In 1912, Pope Pius X issued Tertium Franciscalium
    Ordinem. In it, Pope Pius X asks the friars to
    take spiritual care of the Third Order with the
    aim of promoting spiritual reform. Unfortunately,
    this document made the Third Order excessively
    dependent upon the First Order. Secular
    Franciscan identity became an issue again!
  • In the International Congress of 1921 held in
    Rome, the following topics were treated
  • 1. The sanctification of the Tertiaries
  • 2. The running of the fraternity
  • 3. The Franciscan reform of society
  • 4. Promotion and apostolate

  • The major output of the 1950 International
    Congress was the declaration
  • Votum 10. The Ministers Generals response to
    the request by the national fraternities to
    better define Votum 10 resulted in the following
    statement, as part of larger response
  • 1. Of the importance of the Franciscan Third
    Order toward leading a perfect Christian life
    with all its demands, especially at these
    present times
  • 2. Of the religious and social activity of the
    Third Order,
  • 3. Of our (Ministers Generals) grave duty and
    responsibility with regard to providing for it
    and promoting collaboration and coordination of
    all forces.
  • Item 3 was welcomed by the Tertiaries the
    Ministers General directed the friars to assist
    the Third Order.
  • The Ministers General also provided their brief
    definition of the Third Order
  • Though it is not a religious order in the
    strict sense of the word, the Tertiary
    nevertheless shares the basic advantages of the
    religious life. He enjoys in fact
  • 1) A profession, which consecrates him morally
    to God,
  • 2) A rule, to serve as a discipline for him
  • 3) A special spirit to sustain and inspire him.

X. Declaration of Pope Succeeding Pope Leo XIII
All of them recommended the Third Order to the
Catholic world
  • Pope Pius X who succeeded Pope Leo XIII declared
    on Sept. 8, 1912 in Tertium Franciscalium, that
    the Third Order does not differ from the other
    two (First and Second Order of St. Francis) in
    nature, but only in so far as it pursues the
    same purpose peculiar to itself and that
    Personal sanctification, a movement inward, was
    seen as their duty.
  • Pope Benedict XV clearly stated in Sacra
    Propendiem, January 6, 1921 He (St. Francis)
    founded the Order of Tertiaries, an Order in the
    true sense of the word, not indeed bound like the
    other two by religious vows, but distinguished
    by the same simple life and practice of penance.
  • Pope Pius XI on April 30, 1926 stated in his
    encyclical Rite Expiates, The general
    restoration of peace and morals was advanced very
    much by the Third Order, which was a religious
    order indeed, yet something unexampled up to
    that time, in so far as it was not bound by vows,
    while it offered all men and women living in the
    world, a means of both observing the
    commandments of God and of pursuing Christian
  • Pope Pius XII in his discourse to the Tertiaries
    of Italy on July 1, 1956, said You are an
    Order a lay Order, but truly an Order in the
    true sense of the word, as our predecessor
    Benedict XV of holy memory called it.
  • All the sovereign pontiffs since Leo XIII have
    again and again recommended the Third Order to
    the Catholic world. All of them, as well as the
    predecessor of Leo XIII, Pope Pius IX, and Pope
    John XXIII have also set an example by joining
    the ranks of the Franciscan Tertiaries
  • The Third Order remained basically a devotional
    society over the years.

XI. The Pauline Rule of 1978 our present Rule
  • Many during the 1950 Congress voiced their
    concern for an updating of Pope Leo XIIIs Rule.
  • In 1957, the Third Order was given new General
    Constitutions with the aim of renewing the
    contents of the Rule and giving the Order a
    spiritual, social and apostolic orientation.
  • In November 1965, the revisions of the current
    Rule began with the request of the four
    Franciscan Commissaries General, now known as the
    General Assistants to the SFO.
  • The request for revision was also to the
    Constitutions and the Ritual.
  • In March 1966 shortly after the conclusion of the
    Second Vatican Council, the Ministers General
    gave their blessings to begin work on the
    formulation of a new Rule for the Third Order.
  • The request for changes were approved and so
    began the process to update the SFO documents to
    our current version.
  • Various commissions had worked on the revisions
    and by June 24, 1978
  • Pope Paul approved the new Rule and issued with
    it the Apostolic Letter, Seraphicus Patriarca.
  • The Rule presents the spirituality of the
    Secular Franciscans, at least as it had been
    defined within the Rule Project
  • 1. To Live the Gospel
  • 2. Following Francis
  • 3. Through Conversion/Metanoia
  • 4. In Community
  • 5. As Seculars
  • 6. In Life Giving Union with All Franciscans

  • The transition from a less devotional Order to
    a more apostolic Order was helped by the
    National Fraternity Council of the USA with the
    creation of 4 Apostolic Commissions. Currently
    this has been updated to JPIC (Justice, Peace
    and the Integrity of Creation) to conform and
    implement the Seven themes of the Catholic social
    teachings from USCCB.
  • The new Rule abrogated all other rules and gave
    the Third Order a new name, changed the previous
    name of, Third Order of St. Francis, to the
    Secular Franciscan Order.
  • The insertion by the Ministers General of
    Francis Earlier Exhortation as a Prologue to the
    Rule keeps the freshness of the Franciscan Spirit
    and Charism in every Secular Franciscan heart.
  • The Rule is preceded by two letters, the first
    from the four Franciscan General Ministers and
    the second, a letter of Pope Paul VIs approval
    issued by then Secretary of State John Cardinal
    Villot. The four branches of the First Order, all
    participated and assisted in the new Rule and the
    respective four ministers general of the
    Franciscan Family, Fr. Constantine Koser, OFM,
    Fr. Vitale M. Bonmmarco, OFM Conv, Fr. Paschal
    Rywalski, OFM Cap and R. Roland Faley, TOR,
    issued a letter to the Secular Franciscan Order
    of the approval of the new rule. In it, they
    collectively acknowledged the work of the SFOs
    participation of the new rule, encouraged all
    Secular Franciscans with it and offered their
    continued support to walk together in the way of
    the Lord.

  • The Ritual was approved on March 9, 1984.
  • Definitive approval of the General Constitution
    was on December 8, 2000.
  • The International Statute was approved on
    November 22, 2002.
  • The updates to the official documents of the
    Secular Franciscan Order was also accompanied by
    an expectation and encouragement from the Church,
    specifically Pope John Paul II, whose address of
    November 22, 2002 to the Secular Franciscan Order
    at the 10th General Chapter, stated
  • The Church expects from the unique Franciscan
    Secular Order a great service to the cause of the
    Kingdom of God in the world today. She wants
    your Order to be a model of organic, structural
    and charismatic union at all levels, so as to
    present yourself to the world as a community of
    love (SFO, Rule, art. 26). From you, Secular
    Franciscans, the Church awaits a courageous and
    consistent witness of Christian and Franciscan
    life that aims at building a more fraternal and
    evangelical world for the realization of the
    Kingdom of God.

  • 1. FUN MANUAL - A Brief History of the Secular
    Franciscan Order and Its Rules by William Wicks,
  • 2. of_1221
  • Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis
    Franciscan Connection
  • 3.
  • - Our Connection to the Franciscan Orders
  • 4. www.ofs/
  • - Order Franciscan Secular St. Peters
  • 5. The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order 1978
  • 6. The Franciscan Journey by Lester Bach, OFM
  • 7. St. Francis of Assisi Omnibus of Sources

PAX ET BONUM    Ana T. Graciano,
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