The numerous family of men and women religious who trace their spiritual ancestry to St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The Original Rule written by St. Francis in 1209 is now lost. It was recast in 1221 and brought into final form two years later, when it was approved by Pope Honorius III. Its distinctive feature is the obligation of poverty of disposition, not only for individual members but for each community. The friars (from frères, brothers) were to own no property and were to earn their livelihood by manual labor or begging.
This ideal became the focus of two divergent opinions of poverty in the order. Successive popes gave approval to the more moderate view and, when laxity crept in, favored reform along stricter lines. Eventually three major groups of Franciscans came into being: the Friars Minor, who developed from the Observants allowing no corporate property; the Conventuals, who allowed corporate ownership; and the Capuchins, who strongly emphasized poverty and austerity.
Franciscans have emphasized popular preaching and missionary activity. They have also promoted such popular devotions as the Angelus, the Way of the Cross, and the Crib. They were always strong defenders of the Immaculate Conception, long before the dogma was formally defined by the Church.
The Second Order of Franciscans is contemplative, known as the Poor Clares. There are Third Order Franciscans among men and women engaged in apostolic work and under simple vows. Third Order Secular, popularly called Tertiaries, are lay men and women in the world who follow the Rule of St. Francis according to their states of life. In 1978 Pope Paul VI approved a new Rule for the Franciscan Third Order, and changed the name to Franciscan Secular Order.