mendicant order

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Mendicant orders or Mendikanten orders (from the Latin mendicare "to beg") are Christian religious orders that, according to the rules of the order, are particularly committed to the evangelical council of poverty . They earn their living through work and donations to the order or to the respective religious branch , formerly also through the so-called "terminate" (from Latin terminare "limit") - the collection of alms in an assigned district.

Begging is not (or no longer) a necessary concept for the mendicant orders. The mendicant orders already owned property in the late Middle Ages. Their possession was confirmed by the Tridentinum . The term has faded to 'mere classification'. It is still used in the CIC/1983 . It is said to be "outdated in theory and practice".

historical development

Even before the mendicant orders, there was a broad effort in the medieval church to practice the Vita apostolica . Because these movements (e.g., Humiliates , Waldensians ) were not recognized and sanctioned by the Church, some of them developed into anti-Church movements and came under suspicion of being close to heresy . Only a new policy of the Church, especially of Pope Innocent III. , made these aspirations into the mendicant orders beneficial to the Church.

The occidental mendicant orders arose in the 13th century as reform orders . They go beyond the requirement of the previously existing religious orders to renounce personal possessions by also rejecting all possessions for their communities. Also, the male members are not - like the members of monastic orders - tied to a specific monastery , but can be transferred by the order's leadership.

The Second Council of Lyons (1274) banned all religious orders that only wanted to live from begging. The only exceptions were the Dominicans , the Franciscans (with the Minorites and Capuchins and the Poor Clares ); Carmelites and Augustinian hermits were temporarily tolerated and approved in 1298. These four are the classic mendicant orders. Smaller orders that survived the ban or were newly founded despite the ban, based on the classic mendicant orders, were later also counted among the mendicant orders, including the Servite , Mercedarian , Trinitarian and the Order of the Holy Cross (privilege of a mendicant order since 1318). In 1993 there were 17 mendicant orders in the Catholic Church.

Even in the 13th century, the mendicant orders spread very quickly across the whole of Christian western and central Europe. A major driving force behind its development were the eschatological expectations of that time, especially among the Franciscans, and the hope for a spiritualized Christianity, which had been fueled by the predictions of Joachim of Fiore . The imperative of propertylessness, however, brought about conflicts within the orders, especially when many students joined the orders, since it was difficult for them to lead an apostolic life in poverty in the cities and because the houses of study were not without their own property and could operate without libraries.

In 1250/1260 there was a mendicant dispute . Parisian secular clergy professors denied the mendicant order the right to exercise pastoral care and teaching at the university . Only Pope Alexander IV campaigned massively for them and renewed their privileges in 1256, after they had only been withdrawn in 1254.

John XXII However, in 1329 he rejected the radical Franciscan tradition and the ideal of apostolic life in his bull Quia vir reprobus , since the mendicant orders became dangerous competition for the official church.

However, the two great mendicant orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans remained the focal point of the religious and scientific life of the time for more than a century. Among them are numerous great theologians ( scholastics as well as mystics ), notorious representatives of the Inquisition , important pastors such as B. Berthold von Regensburg and poets like Jacopone da Todi and Thomas von Celano ( stabat mater , dies irae ) emerged.

Mendicant Orders in Medieval Society

Mendicant orders and city society

Unlike the religious orders known up to then, they did not seek spatial seclusion, preferring instead to settle in the cities. Their male religious branches developed a rich activity there as preachers , teachers and pastoral workers . This gave them great influence on the religious life of the up-and-coming medieval cities. The addressees of her preaching were not only the poor but also the religious women's movements (especially the Dominicans). The mendicant orders were an "indispensable task force of the church leadership" and dominated science for a long time. Having freed themselves from their eschatological radicalism and purified from heretical elements - with the Franciscans these were v. a. their Joachimite splits - they proved to be instruments for enforcing papal claims to power over the local bishops. With their new forms of piety and their striving for simplicity and comprehensibility of the teaching, they helped to anchor the influence of the church in broad and also poorer and uneducated classes of the fast-growing cities.


Pope Gregory IX (1227–1241) trod a new path in the fight against heretics: instead of the bishops who were actually responsible for this, who did their job only inadequately, he appointed his own papal special commissioners as inquisitors for the first time in 1227, who were to search for heretics in Germany. This procedure, in which not the bishops but the Holy See itself becomes active, is also known as the papal inquisition. As a result, Gregory IX gave birth. the bishops from the obligation to investigate and in future commissioned mainly Dominicans with the persecution of heretics. One of the most notorious inquisitors was the Dominican Heinrich Kramer , who in 1486 published a description of the inquisition process in the Hexenhammer (malleus maleficarum).


The mendicant orders – Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinian hermits – strove for a uniformly Christian culture. In the process, they developed an anti-Jewish attitude in the late Middle Ages . Neither the Franciscans nor the Dominicans were anti-Jewish by their namesakes Francis of Assisi and Dominic (in contrast to the Augustinian hermits and their namesake Augustine of Hippo ); However, all mendicant orders were committed to missionary work right from the start - also in the fight against heretics such as the Cathars - and in some cases advocated compulsory methods of mission to the Jews , such as forced baptisms . Forced sermons were also institutionalized at times: Jews were forced to attend Christian sermons under threat of punishment.

The Jewish trader and moneylender was set up as a counter-image to the idea of ​​poverty represented by the mendicant orders. Judaism thus served as a dark foil against which Christianity began to shine. The word "worse than the Jews" became the stereotypical key phrase used in the sermons to denounce and condemn vicious behavior among Christians.


The internal organization of the mendicant orders shows clear democratic elements: the perpetually professed brothers in a religious province elect representatives who elect the superiors of the order in supra-regional assemblies, the provincial chapters or general chapters, i.e. the provincial priors (Dominicans) or provincial ministers (Franciscans) or the Prior General or Minister General. Unlike the older monastic orders, these leadership offices are temporary offices.

Mendicant Churches

The spacious, initially quite simple mendicant churches were built as preaching churches for large crowds and influenced the church building of the High and Late Middle Ages, especially the later hall churches . The monasteries were adapted to urban conditions, in contrast to the traditional monastic communities, who settled with their monasteries in the countryside, mostly far away from the cities.


The Orthodox Church knows no mendicant orders; according to their ideal, monks should support themselves by their own work, and alms should benefit the involuntarily poor.

See also

web links

Wiktionary: mendicant order  – explanations of meaning, word origin, synonyms, translations


  • Dieter Berg : mendicant order and city. Mendicant Orders and Urban Life in the Middle Ages and in Modern Times. ( Saxonia Franciscana 1) Dietrich-Coelde-Verlag, Werl 1992.
  • Dieter Berg: Poverty and History. Studies on the history of mendicant orders in the High and Late Middle Ages. ( Saxonia Franciscana 11) Dietrich-Coelde-Verlag, Werl 1999.
  • Isnard Wilhelm Frank : Mendicant Order . In: Walter Kasper (ed.): Lexicon for theology and church . 3rd Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 341-342 .
  • Karl Suso Frank : History of Christian Monasticism. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1988, pp. 86-108.


  1. a b Isnard Wilhelm Frank: mendicant order . In: Walter Kasper (ed.): Lexicon for theology and church . 3rd Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 341 .
  2. Herbert Grundmann : Religious movements in the Middle Ages: Studies on the historical connections between heresy, mendicant orders and the religious women's movement in the 12th and 13th centuries and on the historical foundations of German mysticism. Berlin 1935, Darmstadt 4th edition 1977. The concept of the women's movement was introduced by: Herman Haupt : Article Beginen und Begharden . In: Realencyclopedia for Protestant Theology and Church, 3rd ed., 1 (1897), pp. 516-526.
  3. Kurt Flasch : Philosophical thinking in the Middle Ages. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2nd edition 2000, p. 395; on the role of mendicants at universities, see p. 394 ff.
  4. Klaus Lohrmann : The Popes and the Jews. 2000 years between persecution and reconciliation . Patmos, Düsseldorf 2008, ISBN 978-3-491-35014-4 , p. 200.
  5. Martin H. Jung: Christians and Jews. The history of their relationships, Darmstadt 2008, pp. 109-111.