The superiors of the provinces were obligated to safeguard the bulls and privileges related to the province or individual houses. They were likewise obliged to keep three different kinds of record books. The first listed the transgressions which the superior had not been able to punish (being always mindful of the norm in the Rule of St Augustine: to have "love for the person and hatred for the sin").
The transgression and pertinent information were to be recorded, along with the reason for the delay in the punishment. This was done so that punishment might be applied at an opportune time. A "complete and clear" inventory of all the goods of every house of an Augustinian Province was also to be maintained. Finally, "a large book was to be kept in which were written the expenses and receipts of each community of the province. This book was to be handed over to the newly elected Provincial at the Provincial Chapter.
The definitors (elected delegates)' of the General Chapter of 1497 ordered the new superior of the Order to draw up a Liber Ordinis (“Book of the Order”) with all due haste. In it must be recorded all the provinces and observantine congregations within the Order, including a listing of the various houses. "The most reverend father general will always have this book in his possession." Such a book (also now in electronic form) is still current practice. Another step in the direction of the catalogues of the modern age was the directive sent by Prior General Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. in October 1512. It requested all superiors of the Provinces to send to the Prior General a written list of "the names of the friars of each community." Unfortunately there are no extant examples of these books or catalogues that were prescribed in 1497 and 1512, and this explains the lack of documentation on the number of Augustinians during this period of the Middle Ages.
For a number of reasons, a new era in the history of libraries developed during the period from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Learning was more widespread, university centres increased, the mendicant friars put great emphasis on studies of all kinds, including secular subjects, and the cost of books decreased because of the use of paper in place of the traditional parchment. The Augustinians favoured the development of libraries in their houses. In this they followed the example of the older mendicant orders, and probably were aware of what the superior general of the Dominicans, Humbert of Romans, had written about the importance of libraries. No doubt they also were influenced by the example of St Augustine and the admonitions in his Rule, about the care and use of the library: "Those who have the care of books should serve their brothers with willingness. Books are to be requested at a fixed hour each day and anyone coming outside that hour is not to receive them."
It is clear, in any case, that the Augustinians of the Middle Ages placed great importance on the care of the libraries in their houses, a fact which gained for them a reputation for learning and enabled them to contribute to the progress of studies. In the opinion of one expert, "from the fourteenth century the Hermits of St Augustine surpassed the Augustinian Canons Regular, and with the founding of houses they contributed to the increase of libraries in Europe."The concern of the priors general for the protection of libraries did not begin, as Hermann Meyer believed, with Alexander of San’Elpidio O.S.A. and William of Cremona O.S.A., notable though they were in this respect, but with their predecessors a generation earlier, that is, Clement of Osimo O.S.A. and Giles of Rome O.S.A., and their collaborators in the years between 1284 and 1290.
In the capitular acts and in the constitutions prepared during this period we find the following directives: 1) All members of the Order were to assist the Augustinian library in Paris. The chapter held at Ratisbon in 1290 declared: "We exhort each and every one of the friars of our Order to support the growth [of the Paris library] through legacies left by the faithful and by other means." 2) With Paris as a model, other libraries should be established as soon as possible in the general study houses. 3) A common library should be established in all other houses, "according to the needs and possibilities of each place." 4 The local prior should assign a worthy friar to be "keeper of cabinets," for the preservation of codices. 5) The local librarian was to take care of the growth of the library by acquiring other manuscript books, by employing one or more copyists to make new ones, and by incorporating into the community library books left by deceased friars.
The last mentioned stipulation was not inconsiderable, because the Augustinian Constitutions of 1290 required every Provincial to provide a notable sum of money ("forty 'Tours' pounds") to each of the friars who finished his studies in Paris, so that, upon returning to his province, he might not find himself without the books needed for his work as a lector. Larger provisions were naturally made for doctors of theology who taught at Paris.
Alexander has been singled out for praise by the historians of libraries, by reason of the decree promulgated during his term of office by the general chapter of Montpellier in 1324: "Since the Order, from the point of view of its growth, stability and honour, possesses no treasure more valuable than its books for study, we order that all the books in a community library must be preserved whole and intact.” As an enforcement of this decree, the capitulars made known to local priors and officials that they were held to its observance in virtue of holy obedience and under the threat of excommunication. The repetition of this particular penalty in subsequent chapters of that century indicates that the decree was not always observed and that infractions of the law occurred then as always.
The books considered necessary or useful for studies, referred to in the aforementioned decree and recommended in the thirty-seventh chapter of the Augustinian Constitutions of 1290, were: the Bible and its ancillary books, commentaries, dictionaries and concordances, and the works of the Fathers, among which those of St Augustine were by far the commonest, both in Augustinian libraries and in others. Also considered necessary were the writings of the medieval theologians, exegetes, jurists, spiritual writers and historians. Of equal importance were the works of Aristotle and the many studies written about his thought, to which were added in the later thirteenth century the Platonic and Neoplatonic writers, and the copious literature of the Arabic and Jewish traditions.
The libraries of the general study houses had also the works of the great Scholastic theologians the modern doctors, as they were called, especially the principal Dominican and Franciscan masters. Finally, there were manuscript books that came out of the Greco-Roman and Hebrew Arabic traditions, studies on astronomy, geography, mathematics and medicine, and by degrees the classical Latin authors also found their way into these libraries. Various Augustinian writers in this early period dealt with many of the areas of study that we have mentioned, but the best evidence we have of the cultural richness of Augustinian libraries is to be found in the approximately thirty extant inventories of their medieval libraries. For want of sufficient information, we are not able to say how much the conventual "scriptoriums" contributed to the growth of libraries. When the General Chapter held at Ratisbon in 1290 required the establishment of libraries in general study houses, it ordered that there should be a copyist constantly at work in each of them.
The Augustinian Constitutions as promulgated at that time incorporated this decision in Chapter 37, and said that the copyists employed for the library were to be "one or more," according to the community's possibilities. Masters of theology had also their own secretaries or amanuenses, as may be seen in the legislation of the time and in the situation of men like Giles of Rome O.S.A. and James of Viterbo O.S.A. This privilege was terminated in 1354, however, because of an increase in the number of doctors and a decrease in resources, but the General Chapter of 1357 tried to make up for it by assigning secretarial duties as the responsibility of a professor's servant.
Pictures (at right) Picture 1: Bound manuscript of “lost” sermons of St Augustine, found in a library at Mainz, Germany in 1990. Pictures 2 & 3: Drawings of work in a medieval scriptorium.
The scriptorium was located outside the area of the cloister and somewhere near the entrance of the house, for we may assume that the following regulation made with reference to a doctor's copyist was valid also for one employed for the community library: "A secretary may not sleep in the house, nor is he to be allowed into the work areas and private affairs of the same." Among the copyists there were also some of the friars who transcribed codices for their own use or for the library of the house. Many of these would have been students who, with an eye toward their future work, made copies of books available in the general study house where they were, but which they did not expect to find in the libraries of their own provinces. Others were calligraphers by avocation, friars who loved books, hated idleness and wanted to serve the common good.
Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. recorded that in his time (before 1357) the Order had a number of these friars, whom he mentioned as praiseworthy for being good scribes and bookbinders. The names of others may be found in old inventories and in the explicit or colophon of more than 200 codices still extant in European libraries. After the year 1332 there were Augustinians among the caretakers of the papal library in Avignon, friars who looked after its development and who compiled one of its earliest catalogues. By contrast, nearly all the miniaturists and artists who illuminated Augustinian choir tomes and other precious manuscripts in Augustinian libraries were not Augustinians.