History of Mendicant Orders
An history lesson about Christian monasticism would not be complete without mentioning the mendicant orders. Who are they? Surprisingly, they include the very priests, brothers, nuns, and sisters which most of us have probably met in our daily lives, including the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. Mendicant is a name given to those religious orders who require their members to take a vow of poverty, and to place their trust in God’s divine Providence.
Begun in the twelfth century, these orders came about in an effort to combat the widespread vice and materialism of the time, both in the Church and society in general. Individuals who adopted this lifestyle strove to respond to the Church’s call for poverty, chastity, obedience, charity, and trust in divine Providence. Among the most prominent figures of the mendicant movement were Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) who founded the Franciscans, and Saint Dominic (1170-1221) who established the Dominicans. Before long, the Carmelites and the Augustinians also joined these two orders by living their evangelical lifestyle.
Although the mendicants initially were the targets of a great deal of opposition from many priests and prelates, their orders quickly grew in popularity among the faithful, especially with the poor. After learning of their cause, the papacy warmly embraced them, giving their enthusiastic support. As well as bringing about considerable reform in the thirteenth century, these mendicant orders produced some of the most outstanding figures in history: Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Francis of Assisi, and Saint Dominic.