By the fifteenth century, however, this spirit of humanism and Renaissance had touched Augustinian authors of note in France and England. In France there was the humanist scholar and author Jacques Legrand O.S.A. (died 1415). Another French Augustinian of this era, Jean Pasquerel O.S.A., is remembered as one of the military chaplains to St Joan of Arc, from 1428 until her execution in 1431. A fifteenth-century pope of great significance to the Order of St Augustine was Eugene IV, who occupied the papacy for twelve years from 1431 to 1443. He promoted the observantine movement within the Order. He had no intention of letting the Order be torn asunder by extremists of either the observants or the conventuals (non-observants) within the Order.
Eugene thus he stopped the efforts of the very numerous Augustinian Observants of Lombardy for complete independence from the Order. He consented to the opening of an observantine house of the Order at Banada in County Sligo, Ireland in 1432, after which some other Irish houses also became Observantine. But the greatest favour he bestowed upon the Augustinians was the canonization of St Nicholas of Tolentine in 1446. This process had begun more than a century previously but was delayed time and again through no fault of the Order. The impetus caused by this canonization to the morale and visibility of the Order was tremendous. In the same year as St Nicholas' canonization Eugene IV gave the Augustinians their greatest cardinal protector since the days of Richard Annibaldi, a Cardinal-Deacon. (There is no record that Annibaldi was ever ordained a priest.). He was William Estouteville, the Archbishop of Rouen, a blood relative of the royal house of France.
In England there were the noted authors John Capgrave O.S.A. (died 1464) and Osbern Bokenham O.S.A. (died 1467). Geoffrey Chaucer, who is called the father of the English language, had died only a generation earlier in 1400, hence Capgrave and Bokenham were certainly pioneering writers in the English language. Both of them wrote on spiritual and historical topics. In the fifteenth century John Barnard O.S.A., a theological writer, is said to have been chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1412. It is probable that John Lowe O.S.A., provincial prior of the English Augustinian Province in 1428, afterwards bishop of St Asaph and of Rochester, principal founder of the great library of the Austin Friars of London, studied at Oxford. Thomas Penketh O.S.A., English Augustinian Provincial in 1469, famous for his knowledge of Duns Scotus, taught theology there in 1473 and 1477. The Austin Friars at Oxford fell into decline after this period.
Historians often consider the years from 1484 to 1492 as among the darkest period in papal history because of the scandalous living of Pope Innocent VIII. An Augustinian Prior General from 1476 until 1485 had an impact but also a tragic death; he was Ambrose Massari da Cori O.S.A. Massari wrote Augustinian history in a way that was far removed from the objective standard that is expected today. In 1479 he wrote Defensorium ordinis fratrum heremitarum santi Augustini responsivium ad maledicta canonicorum assertorum regularium congregationnis Frisonariae (“A defence of the Order of Brothers Hermits of Saint Augustine against erroneous assertions of the Canons Regular of the community at Frisonari.")
This was a polemical attempt to prove a number of assertions that actually were not factual, e.g., that Augustine had literally founded the Order of St Augustine, and had done so before founding the non-mendicant Canons Regular of St Augustine. The Augustinian General Chapter held at Perugia in 1482 decreed that every graduate within the Order of Saint Augustine should be given a copy of Massari’s Defensorium Ordinis ("A Defence of the Order"). With the recent advent of early printing presses, Massari’s document was produced as a printed pamphlet; here was the latest technology being brought to bear. Ambrose Massari da Cori stated in his book, Chronica, in 1482 that the fresco had been carried by angels to the now-famous Augustinian shrine at Genazzano, near Rome, from Scutari in Albania, which is now known to be incorrect.
Ambrose was Procurator General (Treasurer) of the Order of Saint Augustine from 1470 to 1475, and then Prior General from 1476 until 1485. He developed close relationships with three successive popes, and particularly so with the third one of them, Sixtus IV (pope from 1471 to 1484), who chose Massari as his confessor and had paid for renovations at the Augustinian Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Massari’s interaction with the fourth pope in his experience, however, was going to be dramatically different. On the vague accusation that he had spoken in a slighting manner against the pope, in February 1485 Massari was imprisoned without charge and in isolation in the Castel Sant’Angelo.
Broken in spirit after a month there, he was then returned to the Augustinian Curia under house arrest and, thus imprisoned in his own convento, died there on 17th May 1485, only two months later.
In as much the protest against the Church by Girolamo Savanarola O.P. in Florence was a sign of troubles ahead, it can be mentioned here because of the Augustinian opposition to him. As he began his preaching in Florence in 1483, people instead flocked to the Augustinian Church of Santo Spirito to enjoy the elegant Renaissance rhetoric of Mariano da Genazzano O.S.A.. Mariano became the Augustinian Prior General in 1497, and died in office in 1498 - the same year as Savonarola's life ended.
Two particular popes of the fifteenth century showed marked favour towards the Order of St Augustine: Eugene IV (1431-1447), and Sixtus IV (1471-1484). Occasionally the mistaken claim has been repeated that Pope Eugene IV was actually a member of the Augustinian Order. Even the great historian of the papacy, Ludwig von Pastor (1854-1928), regarded this as a fact, but none of the reliable historians of the Order has ever done so.
There is not a single document known which supports this claim even though some aspects of the Pope's daily life seemed to favour it. For instance Eugene chose two Augustinians to recite the divine office with him daily together with two secular priests. He promoted the Observant Movement within the Augustinian Order, but had no intention of letting the Order be torn asunder by extremists of either group. Thus he stopped the efforts of the Lombard Congregation of the Order for complete independence.
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