T.O.R.:s historia



by  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 parallels).

This 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.

In 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."

In 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.


First 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 rather because it has a mixed composition of men and women, cleric and lay.

The 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.

The 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. "

In 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)

For 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 legislation.

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.

However, 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!

The 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 documents.

In 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).

According 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).



In 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.

In 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 the TOF

Translator's 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 both areas.


Francis 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.

The 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.

Thousands 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.

In 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, Lazio, etc.

It 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.


In 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.

Nevertheless, 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 include: Can

( 4 Cf Magistero dei papi e fraternita secolare, edited by M.Bagi and L. Monaco, Rome, p.95.)

St. 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!

The 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 each.

One 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. "

First 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.

This 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.


St. 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.

Francis 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.

The 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.

In 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.

There 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).

The 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 without discrimination.


The 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.

The 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.)

Franciscan 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.



The 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





The 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.




The Memorale 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. (see Legislation)




Celano's First 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 1926-41, 401)




Julian 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 1234.




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.




The Leggenda liturgica vaticana, a transcription of a codice previous to 1250 attributing to St. Francis of Assisi the "trina milizia," that is, the three orders.




The Martirologio per tutto l'anno, a testimony previous to 1255, affirms the membership of St. Elizabeth of Hungry in the Franciscan Order of Penance.




Bonaventure 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.




Chronica minor 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 1212.




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.




The 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.




The 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.




The Catalogus generalium ministrorum ordinis fratrum minorum (in MGH, Scriptores XXXII), complied beginning in 1300, presents an approximate chronology of the three orders of St. Francis (here 657).




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.




The 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 1399.




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 Gutenberg.




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.




Various other testimonies concerning not only the movement, but also many other Franciscan penitents such as Prassede, Jacopa, Bartholomew Baro, Lucchesio, Elizabeth, etc.




First 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.

The following papal documents are among those that contain integral sections that deal with the Third Order of St. Francis:




Bullarium Romanorum Pontificum, from 450 to 1740, volumes 1-28




A. Potthast. Regesta romanorum pontificum, Graz 1957

(years 1198-1304)




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 Honorius III.




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.




Collection et 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.




F. 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 Third Order.




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 Order.




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.



For 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)

7.3 Legislation

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)

7.3.1 The first rule of the Franciscan Penitents was the living witness of St. Francis.

7.3.2 First Letter to All the Faithful (= penitents)

7.3.3 Second Letter to All the Faithful (= penitents)

7.3.4 Memoriale propositi or Ancient Rule

7.3.5 Rule of the Penitents or Supra Montem of Nicholas IV

Lino Temperini, TOR

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, 21-38.

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.



1. In 1209, St. Francis and his first companions constituted the primitive community of "Penitents of Assisi".

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 sisters".

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.

Present statistics list:

58 Cloistered Monasteries

22 Male Congregations

382 Female Congregations



OFM Observant     (OFM) or earliet (OFM Observ)

OFM Capuchin       (OFM Cap)

OFM Conventual    (OFM Conv)

OSC - Order of St. Clare of Assisi

           or "Clares" (various subdivisions)


SFO - Secular Franciscan Order

         (Third Order Secular or TOS, until 1978).

TOR - Third Order Regular (friars and sisters), in  different

          Congregations with proper initials. (ex: OSF).