AskDefine | Define friar

Dictionary Definition

friar n : a male member of a religious order that originally relied soley on alms [syn: mendicant]

User Contributed Dictionary



Via French from Latin frater ("brother"), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European.




  1. A member of certain Christian orders such as the Augustinians, Carmelites (white friars), Franciscans (grey friars) or the Dominicans (black friars).



Related terms

Extensive Definition

This article is about the religious order. For the surname, see Fryer (surname).
A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders.

Friars and monks

Friars differ from monks in that they are called to a life of poverty in service to a community, rather than cloistered asceticism and devotion. Whereas monks live cloistered away from the world in a self-sufficient community, friars are supported by donations or other charitable support.


The name Friar is a corruption of the French word frère ("brother" in English), and dates from the 13th century. The French word frère in turn comes from the Latin word frater, which also means "brother".
St. Francis of Assisi called his followers fratres minores, which G. K. Chesterton translated as "little brothers". However, another interpretation of fratres minores is "lesser brothers", because the Franciscan order stressed minority or humility.


There are two classes of orders known as friars, or mendicant orders: the four "great orders" and the so-called "lesser orders".

Four great orders

The four great orders were mentioned by the Second Council of Lyons (1274), and are:
  • The Dominicans, founded ca. 1215. The Dominicans are also known as the "Friar Preachers", or the "Black Friars", from the black mantle ("cappa") worn over their white habit. The Dominicans were founded by St. Dominic and received papal approval from Honorius III, in 1216 as the "Ordo Praedicatorum" under the Rule of St. Augustine. They became a mendicant order in 1221.
  • The Franciscans, founded in 1209. The Franciscans are also known as the "Friars Minor" or the "Grey Friars". The Franciscans were founded by St. Francis of Assisi and received oral papal approval by Innocent III in 1209 and formal papal confirmation by Honorius III in 1223.
  • The Carmelites, founded ca. 1155. The Carmelites are also known as the "White Friars" because of the white cloak which covers their brown habit. They received papal approval from Honorius III in 1226 and later by Innocent IV in 1247. The Carmelites were founded as a purely contemplative order, but became mendicants in 1245. There are two types of Carmelites, the Calced and Discalced Carmelites.
  • The Augustinians, founded in 1255. The Augustinians are also known as the "Hermits of St. Augustine", or the "Austin Friars". Their rule is based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo. The Augustinians were assembled from various groups of hermits as a mendicant order by Alexander IV, from whom they obtained papal approval in 1255.

Lesser orders

The lesser orders are:

Other name use

Friars have been used as a mascot. Schools using Friars as a mascot include Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, St. Anthony's in Long Island, New York, Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern, Pa, and Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa.


friar in Catalan: Frare
friar in German: Ordensbruder
friar in Spanish: Fraile
friar in Indonesian: Bruder
friar in Italian: Frate (religione)
friar in Dutch: Frater (religieus)
friar in Portuguese: Frade

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abbacomes, abbot, ascetic, beadsman, brother, caloyer, celibate, cenobite, conventual, conventual prior, grand prior, hermit, hieromonach, lay abbot, lay brother, mendicant, monastic, monk, palmer, pilgrim, pillar saint, pillarist, prior, religieux, religious, stylite
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