An association of those who live in the secular world while affiliated with a religious order. Although the members of the third order do not live in a religious community, they share the spirit and some of the practices of the order. The members of the third order, known as tertiaries, may have a distinctive rule of life.
Tertiaries originated among Franciscans in the early thirteenth century. The Franciscans (men, friars, founded by St. Francis) were the first order, and the Poor Clares (women, enclosed nuns, founded by St. Clare) were the second order. A Franciscan third order was created as an association of lay persons remaining in the secular world. They were admitted to participate in the spiritual life of the communities. Subsequently other religious orders created their own third orders. The Society of St. Francis in the Episcopal Church includes a third order. See Franciscan Spirituality; see St. Francis, Society of, Third Order, American Province.