What distinguishes Franciscans, Benedictines and Jesuits?

Sometimes I hear religious make (apparently good-natured) jabs at each other concerning perspectives from Franciscan, or Benidictine or Jesuit individuals. Asside from founders and historical details, what is the ‘essential’ characteristics ascribed to these groups?


Dear Clint,

Benedictine monks live their motto of “Ora et Labora” in that they spend a good part of the day singing the Lord’s praises in the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office as it is traditionally known. They also work to support themselves either by manual labor or through teaching. They also spend time each day in “Lectio Divina” (divine reading) which is a way of seeking union with God by reading Scripture (mostly Scripture) and allowing Scripture to speak to them. This activity lies at the very heart of what it mean to be a Benedictine. The make one vow of Stability which binds them to one monastic community and the conversion of their ways which is a turning to a way of life that is immersed in God. The traditional vows of poverty, celibate chastity and obedience are included in this one commitment. Their whole way of life is dependent on the daily monastic structure which is punctuated by communal liturgical prayer and work.

Franciscans are not monks, but friars. They make the traditional three vows, but do not commit to one house of their order. They do live in community and engage daily in the Liturgy of the Hours, but their work is generally with the poor. Their distinct spirituality centers them around the poor Christ. As Friars Minor (little brothers), as they are called, they attempt to influence the world by their example of a life lived simply and completely for their crucified Lord. St. Francis is quoted as telling his friars to preach and if necessary to use words.

The Society of Jesus, which is the official name for the Jesuits differs greatly from the two religious families just mentioned. Unlike the monks and friars who live within a monastic framework, punctuated by the Liturgy of the Hours in common, Jesuits have an internal structure. Their monastery is in their heads, in a sense. They are free to live singly on in groups. It doesn’t really matter. St. Ignatius deliberately designed his order to available at a moments notice to go where they are needed. He fashioned his order with a fourth vow to be at the complete disposal of the Church in the person of the pope. There are some Jesuits today who would like to dispute this and suggest that St. Ignatius only meant that they would go where needed. But history shows a much more generous gesture on the part of their founder. He was most loyal to the vicar of Christ on earth.

This is all too brief, but it’s all we can do here. Certainly, all three orders are committed to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ as lived and celebrated in the community of the Catholic Church. Read more about them in the Original Catholic Encyclopedia: