The term "mendicant" is also used with reference to some non-Christian religions to denote holy persons committed to an ascetic lifestyle, which may include members of religious orders and individual holy persons.
What is called the mendicant movement in Church history arose primarily in the 13th century in Western Europe. Until that time the monks of Europe worked at their trade in their monastery. Renouncing personal property, they owned all things in common as a community after the example of chapters 2 and 4 of the Acts of the Apostles.
With the rise of Western monasticism, monasteries attracted not only individuals aspiring to become monks and nuns, but also property, buildings and hence riches. In the view of some, the idea that Christ came down to earth poor and that the true Church must be the church of the poor clashed with this phenomenon. The desire for true Christian authenticity was thus seen by some to contrast to the empirical reality of the Church.
The twelfth century saw great changes in western Europe. As commerce revived, urban centers arose and with them an urban middle class. New directions in spirituality were called for. Church reform became a major theme of the cultural revival of this era. In response to this, there emerged the new mendicant orders founded by Francis of Assisi (c.1181-1226) and Dominic Guzman (c.1170–1221).
The mendicant friars were bound by a vow of poverty and dedicated to an ascetic way of life, renouncing property and travelling the world to preach. Their survival was dependent upon the good will and material support of their listeners. It was this way of life that gave them their name, "mendicant", derived from the Latin mendicare, meaning "to beg".