(ordo fratarum minimorum S. Francisci den Paula), a religious order in the Church of Rome, founded by St. Francis de Paula, of Calabria, in the year 1453. The new order was called at first Hermits of St. Francis (Eremite Minimoarum Firatrum S. Francisci de Paula).
Pope Sixtus IV, in 1474, confirmed the statutes of the order, thus uniting them in conventual order, and named Francis superior-general. He enjoined on his disciples a total abstinence from flesh, wine, and fish; besides which they were always to go barefoot, and not permitted to quit their habit and girdle night or day. Their habit is a coarse, black woollen stuff, with a woollen girdle of the same color, tied in five knots. The order increased rapidly; it gained many disciples, especially in France, where Francis was in high favor with Louis XI, Charles VIII, and Louis XII. Many houses of the order were established throughout the kingdom, and the friars themselves were called les bons hommes (Boni homines). In Spain they also gained influence, Ferdinand the Catholic building their first monastery for them at Malaga. A new name, "the Fathers of Victory," was bestowed upon them, because Ferdinand believed that only by their prayerful intercession Malaga had been captured from the Moors. In 1497 the emperor Maximilian called them to Germany, and founded three monasteries for the order.
For a long time the order had no special rules and regulations, the example of the superior-general serving as a pattern. In 1493 Franciscus finished lis threefold rules, and they were confirmed by pope Alexander VI. Humility and repentance, poverty, fasting, praying, and silence form the principal features of these ascetic rules, and Franciscus called his brethren "Minimos Fratres." This name was given them because they should be " the least among the brethren," and Christ's words (Mt 25:40), "Quamdiu fecistis uni de his fratribus meis minimis, mihi fecistis," should have a peculiar reference to them. The austerity of the rules is particularly great in the selection of food. The brethren are debarred not only the use of meat, but also of eggs, butter, milk, and cheese. In 1493 Franciscus also instituted a female order of Minims, and subjected it to the guidance of the older order.
The order is at present divided into thirty-one provinces, of which twelve are in Italy, eleven in France and Flanders, seven in Spain, and one in Germany. In the beginning of the last century the order had about 450 convents. At present their number has greatly decreased. The Minims have passed even into the Indies, where there are some convents which do not compose provinces, but depend immediately on the general. Their principal house is at Rome. The superior of each male body is called corrector; that of each female body, correctrix; the superior of the order is called generalis corrector. There are now but few houses for female Minims, The tertiaries of the order are secular persons; but while they are not obliged to retire from society, they are required to observe the abstinence from meat, etc. They have also correctors and correctrices, and are subject to the order of the general corrector. Their distinguishing mark is a girdle with only two knots. See Bonanni, Verz. der geistlichen Ordenisleute, 2:58 sq.; Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, 6:152; Herzog, Real-Encyklopddie, 9:538. (J.H.W.)