Mendicant Orders

The early Mendicant orders developed during the thirteenth century when both the contrast between the church's wealth and the poverty of the primitive church, and the church's weakness in meeting the pastoral requirements of many people were being underscored by groups outside the church such as the Albigenses and the Waldenses. Orders such as the Franciscans* (1210), the Dominicans* (1216), the Carmelites* (1247), the Augustinians* (1256), and the Servites* (1256) provided a response to these challenges by uniting the concepts of apostolic poverty and obedience to the church, and often by proving quite effective in their ministry, particularly to the poor and destitute in the towns. At their founding the characteristic emphasis on poverty among the Mendicant orders was evident in their commitment to the renunciation of all common as well as individual possessions. Difficulties encountered in attempting to function in society while adhering to such a renunciation, however, induced a relaxation of this commitment. Furthermore, although Francis at least intended the members of his order to support themselves normally by work rather than by begging, growth in numbers and specialization led to an increasing reliance upon the latter method, from which arose the appellation “Mendicants” (mendicare, “to beg”).