Totally Devoted – Extract Five

This is just a little bit of provocation for a Friday – taken from my forthcoming book Totally Devoted, due out (in case I hadnt mentioned it before) in September.

A lot of the controversy and misunderstanding about monasticism and related subjects is down to language, one of the key pieces of language is the distinction between monks and friars, or between monastics and religious.

I am fully expecting to annoy some people with this book, and one of the areas in which I’m bound to annoy some, is my take on the difference between friars and monks – as I say, my opinion is that is has more to do with language than anything else, and I do touch on this once or twice in the book – this is an example, from a bit where I mention some of the ‘Religious life’ orders…

there is some confusion in language between monastic orders and religious orders, but for our purposes I am calling the orders above monastic, and the orders below religious . . . well, it’s my book, after all.

In general, these [religious] orders aren’t populated by monks, but by friars or brothers. The word ‘friar’ comes from the word ‘frater’, meaning brother. Confusingly, sometimes the friars are referred to as monks. And in the case of some orders, the Jesuits for example, there are various types of membership; members might be priests, scholastics or brothers. The word ‘friar’, though, is usually taken to refer to a member of one of the four main ‘mendicant’ (begging) orders, brothers who were solely dependent upon charity for food and shelter.

Extract taken from ‘Totally Devoted, the challenge of new monasticism’ by Simon Cross. Copyright 2010 Authentic Media.  ISBN-13: 978-1850788683  Available Online via or

See previous extracts:  1, 2, 3, 4.

In its most basic form, the distinction between monastics and religious comes down to whether the person has a vow of stability or not – if not they aren’t a monk as they arent cloistered – if they have, they cant really be a friar. That’s my way of looking at it anyhow – feel free to argue/disagree/ be annoyed/ not care.  (delete as applicable).


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