[From Lat. frater, through O. Fr. fredre, frere, M. E. frere; It. frate (as prefix fra); Sp. fraile (as prefix fray); Port. fret; unlike the other Romance languages French has but the one word frère for friar and brother].
A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders.
USE OF THE WORD
In the early Church it was usual for all Christians to address each other as fratres or brothers, all being children of the one Heavenly Father, through Christ. Later, with the rise and growth of the monastic orders, the appellation began gradually to have a more restricted meaning; for obviously the bonds of brotherhood were drawn more closely between those who lived under the rule and guidance of one spiritual father, their abbot. The word occurs at an early date in English literature with the signification of brother, and from the end of the thirteenth century it is in frequent use referring to the members of the mendicant orders, e.g. c. 1297, "frere prechors" (R. Glouc. 10105); c. 1325, "freres of the Carme and of Saint Austin" (Pol. Songs, 331), c. 1400, "frere meneours" (Maunder, xxxi, 139); c. 1400, "Sakked freres" (Rom. Rose). Shakespeare speaks of the "Friars of orders gray" (Tam. Shr., iv, i, 148). The word was also loosely applied to members of monastic and military orders, and at times to the convent of a particular order, and hence to the part of a town in which such a convent had been located.
The word friar is to be carefully distinguished in its application from the word monk. For the monk retirement and solitude are undisturbed by the public ministry, unless under exceptional circumstances. His vow of poverty binds him strictly as an individual but in no way affects the right of tenure of his order. In the life of the friar, on the contrary, the exercise of the sacred ministry is an essential feature, for which the life of the cloister is considered as but an immediate preparation. His vow of poverty, too, not only binds him as an individual to the exercise of that virtue, but, originally at least, precluded also the right of tenure in common with his brethren. Thus originally the various orders of friars could possess no fixed revenues and lived upon the voluntary offerings of the faithful. Hence their name of mendicants. This second feature, by which the friar's life differs so essentially from that of the monk, has become considerably modified since the Council of Trent. In Session XXV, ch. iii, "De Regular.", all the mendicant orders -- the Friars Minor and Capuchins alone excepted -- were granted the liberty of corporate possession. The Discalced Carmelites and the Jesuits have availed themselves of this privilege with restrictions (cf. Wernz, Jus Decretal., III, pt. II, 262, note). It may, however, be pertinently remarked here that the Jesuits, though mendicants in the strict sense of the word, as is evident from the very explicit declaration of St. Pius V (Const. "Cum indefessæ", 1571), are classed not as mendicants or friars, but as clerics regular, being founded with a view to devoting themselves, even more especially than the friars, to the exercise of the sacred ministry (Vermeersch, De Relig., I, xii, n. 8).
ORDERS OF FRIARS
The orders of friars are usually divided into two classes: the four great orders mentioned by the Second Council of Lyons (can. xxiii) and the lesser orders. The four great orders in their legal precedence are: (1) the Dominicans (St. Pius V, Const. "Divina", 1568); (2) the Franciscans; (3) the Carmelites, (4) the Augustinians.
These four orders are called by canonists the quatuor ordines mendicantes de iure communi. The Fourth Lateran Council ("De relic. dom.", III, tit. xxxvi, c. ix) had forbidden in 1215 the foundation of any new religious orders. In face of this prohibition a sufficient number of new congregations, especially of mendicants, had sprung up to attract the attention of the Second Council of Lyons. In canon xxiii, the council, while specially exempting the four mendicant orders above mentioned, condemns all other mendicant orders then existing to immediate or to gradual extinction. All orders established since the Council of Lateran, and not approved by the Holy See, were to be dissolved at once. Those since established with such approval were forbidden to receive new members. The illustrious order of Servite, founded in 1233 and approved by Alexander IV in 1256 (Const. "Deo grata"), happily survived this condemnation. Concerning the four greater orders, the council concludes: "Be it understood, however, that we do not conceive of the extension of this constitution to the Orders of Friars Preachers and of Friars Minor, whose evident service to the universal Church is sufficient approval. As for the Hermits of St. Augustine and the Order of Carmelites, whose foundation preceded the said Council (Fourth Lateran), we wish them to remain as solidly established as heretofore" (Lib. III, tit. xvii, c. un., in VI). The importance of the orders thus singled out and exempted was afterwards still further emphasized by the insertion of this canon into the "Corpus Juri" in the "Liber Sixtus" of Boniface VIII. The so-styled lesser orders, of which the following are today the most flourishing, were founded and approved at various subsequent periods: the Minims (1474), the Third Order Regular of St. Francis (1521); the Capuchin -- as constituting a different branch of the Franciscan Order -- (1525); the Discalced Carmelites -- as constituting a distinct branch of the Carmelites -- (1568); the Discalced Trinitarians (1599); the Order of Penance, known in Italy as the Scalzetti (1781).
REIFENSTUEL, SCHMALZGRUEBER, and other writers on titles xxxi and xxxvi of Bk. III of the Decretals of Gregory IX; FERRARIS, Bibliotheca: Relig. Regulares (Rome, 1885-96), I, 24; SUAREZ, De Virtute et Statu Religionis (Mainz, 1604), pt. II tract. ix; BARBOSA, Juri Eccl. Universi (Lyons, 1699), I, c. xli, n. 207; VERMEERSCH, De Relig. Inst. et Personis (2nd ed. Bruges, 1907), I, 38; WERNZ, Jus Decretal. (Rome, 1908), III pt. II, 262; HEIMBUCHER, Die Orden und Kongregationen (2nd ed., Paderborn, 1907) 1, 39; alas popular works, with plates showing the different religious habits, such as MALLESON AND TUKER, Handbook to Christian and Ecclesiastical Rome, III (London, 1900); STEELE, Monasteries and Religious Houses in Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1903). HÉLYOT, Hist. des ordres religieux (Paris, 1714-19); republished by MIGNE as Dict. de ordres religieux (Paris, 1847-69).