Augustinians for and against Martin Luther
The prominence of members of the Order of Saint Augustine in the Protestant Reformation cannot be denied. Even so, it can be asserted that the number of Augustinians involved was a tiny fraction – and not even enough to be described as a sizeable minority – of Augustinian membership.
In Germany there were, to mention a few, Martin Luther, Wenzeslaus Link, Johaan Lang "the Greek", and Gabriel Zwilling. In England there were three Augustinians George Browne (the first Anglican bishop of Dublin), Miles Coverdale (the first to translate the whole Bible into English), and Robert Barnes (who was to be burned to death at the stake). In Ireland, Richard Nangle (the first Anglican bishop of Clonfert); in the Low Countries, a group of Augustinians with their prior (superior), Jacob Praepositus, and the famed Hendrick van Zutphen whose companions there and at Tournai supplied the first Lutheran martyrs - ones whom Luther lauded in a hymn he composed.
In France, the Augustinian houses (conventi) in Paris, Toulouse, Narbonne and Bourges became known as heretical centres, and the Augustinian, Jean Chatelain died at the stake at Metz. In Italy, Agostino Mainardi de Piemonte (who, paradoxically, implicated Ignatius of Loyola with the Roman Inquisition), Giulio della Rovere, Ambrogio de Milano, and Nicolo da Verona were apostles of the evangelism which in several cases fringed on defiant heresy. On the other hand an equal number of members of the order were prominent anti-Lutherans and participants in the Counter Reformation.
Photos (at right): Picture 1: Part of the cloister of the former Erfurt convento. Picture 2: The former Augustinian convento in Erfurt. Picture 3: St Augustine 's Church and the former convento in Erfurt.Many of these Augustinians wrote books and tracts in defence of Catholic doctrine. They do so out of personal conviction, and no doubt also as an attempt to rebuild esteem for the Order after Luther's actions. In Germany, there was the strength and unwavering conviction of two Augustinians who were professors at the University of Erfurt. They were Johannes Nathin and Bartholomäus von Usingen. The former had taught theology to Luther as a young Augustinian, and, even earlier again, von Usingen had taught him philosophy in the faculty of arts at Erfurt when both of them had still been laymen.
In 1512 Bartholomäus (Bartholomew) von Usingen had become an Augustinian at the age of fifty years. Later stationed in Wurzburg, he attended the Diet of Augsburg in 1850 to be part of the rebuttal of the Augsburg Confession. He published at least ten books against Lutheranism, and died in 1532. From the pulpit and by the written word, Nathin and von Usingen opposed Luther's teaching, and earned the wrath of Martin Luther for their opposition. The death in 1547 of Johann Hoffmeister before his fortieth birthday was a great loss to the German Catholic defence against Luther, and Wolfgang Kappelmaier (died 1531) of Munich was early in challenging Luther.
In Switzerland, Konrad Treger (died 1542) of Freiburg opposed the teaching of Luther, and in 1528 was authoritative in the religious discussions at Bern. In Italy, there were the outstanding Augustinian Priors General and theological scholars, Giles of Viterbo and Girolamo Seripando. When he began twelve years as Prior General in 1539, Seripando began a reform of doctrine in the Order, and made it the principal duty of his administration. He not only combatted Lutheranism but also positively promoted a wholesome spirituality based on a Catholic interpretation of the doctrine of Saint Paul and the writings of Augustine.
Italian Augustinians, Pietro Sanudo (died 1553), Pellegrino Naselli and Agostino Moereschini, who both died in 1559, wrote against the teaching of Luther. Moreschini detailed the clear distinction between Augustine's doctrine on grace and the one that Luther claimed he had taken from Augustine. In England, (Saint) John Stone O.S.A. was executed for his unfailing defence of the supremacy of the pope; in Portugal there was Luis de Montoya (1497-1567).
In Spain Saint Thomas of Villanova O.S.A., "the glory of the Spanish Church," had before his death in 1555 anticipated and implemented in his Diocese of Valencia many of the reforms of the Council of Trent. The best theologians in the Order of Saint Augustine in this period were not in Germany and Italy, as had been the case in the Middle Ages, but were now in Spain. Largely untouched by the Protestant Reformation in a direct way, the Church and the Augustinian Order in Spain - necessarily attentive to orthodoxy because of the feared powers of the Spanish Inquisition - was strong (although not creative) in theological scholarship.
In the Low Countries there was the Augustinian, Roger de Jonghe (1492-1579), who became a theologian at the Council of Trent in 1551 and 1552. He led Augustinian reform locally from 1532 onwards, and restored the Cologne Province of the Order (which included the Low Countries). His successors also were men of distinction. A few young Dutch Augustinians who had studied under Luther in Wittenberg incited some turmoil, but were quickly and sternly subdued by the imperial government.
Even so, four Augustinian houses came to an end in the Calvinist uprisings.
The Belgian Augustinians Augustin Ruviere (died 1621), Antoine Keerbeck (died 1629) and Henri Lancilottus (died 1643) wrote against Calvinism, as did William Patterson (died 1622), who was a Scottish-born Augustinian refugee in Belgium.
Photos (at left): Picture 1: A room in the former Wittenberg Priory that became Luther's house in 1522. Picture 2: The church doors at Wittenberg, on which Luther's theses may have been nailed. Picture 3: The castle church at Wittenberg.(Continued on the next page.)