Regarding the third challenge, the Pope allowed those members who wanted to retain their eremitical (hermit) lifestyle and practice to do so. This was, however, solely on the condition that their Augustinian superior did not have a need to call them to apostolic service for any reason. There was the expectation that all who were able and qualified would engage in the apostolate, and that future generations of Augustinians would have no choice but to do so.
Regarding the fourth challenge for the new Augustinian Order, the Franciscans were not satisfied with the papal decision which dispensed members of the new Augustinian religious order from the wide-flowing sleeves, the very broad cincture (waist belt) and the wooden staff. (The staff was the sign of the wandering hermit, assigned to the Tuscan hermits by the papal bull Pia desideria of 31st March 1244 that confirmed the decisions of the Little Union.)
The Franciscans succeeded in having the bull, Recordamur liquido renewed. It demanded these things and, armed with this document, they attempted to have bishops proceed against the Augustinians and force them even to carry the staff. Three months later the Augustinians appealed to Pope Alexander IV, who in response wrote Litteras nostras to instruct the bishops that they should only demand the wearing of the black habit by the Augustinians, but should not do that before allowing a period of grace extending until All Saints Day.
The Augustinian opposition to the black habit had originated, no doubt, from the preference of the mendicant movement for the cheapest-possible material, which was grey sackcloth, while the dyed black material was associated with the older monastic orders. It is not surprising that the bishops did not wish to spend much energy enforcing the will of one mendicant religious order over another.
The question of the black habit was not fully settled for half a century. For example, there was a variety of colours in 1274 when Augustinians convened for the Second Council of Lyon. The Augustinian Chapter of the Province of Rome in 1290 was also noted for the variety of habits that different members wore. The black habit, however, became uniform in time. Indeed, some later Augustinian historians even claimed that the black habit was authentic to Augustine of Hippo. In truth, the black habit was assigned the Augustinians by the Pope to distinguish them from the Franciscans. Paradoxically, at a later date the Franciscan Conventuals adopted a similar black habit (but with a white cincture belt) to distinguish themselves from the other Franciscans.
Cardinal Richard Annibaldi was appointed by Pope Innocent IV at time of the Little Union and by Pope Alexander IV at the time of the Grand Union to supervise and advise the formative stages of the Order on behalf of the official Church. This he consistently and authoritatively did until his death in 1276, twenty years after the Grand Union. He thus was a point of continuity in the process, and a positive contributor to what eventuated during the terms of office of the first five Augustinian Priors General.
What follows are two examples of the effect of the change from an eremitical (hermit) lifestyle in the countryside to that of mendicant living in urban areas. It is a situation that was no doubt repeated many times. Firstly, in the year 1250, Guido, Prior de Valle Bona de Carfagnana attended the general chapter of the 1244 grouping of Tuscan Hermits that was held at Cavina - this man may in fact have been Guido de Stagia, who in 1265 became the second Prior General of the Order of St Augustine that was founded in 1256. After the Grand Union of 1256, this hermitage, being in an isolated location, began to decline. Though in 1300 it still had seven members, the first steps in disposing the property were made in that year, but no buyer was found. The site still appeared in the registers of the Prior General in 1387 and 1392. In 1461 it was united to the large monastery (convento) of S. Agostino in Lucca, and as such was still listed as one of the four grangie of S. Agostino as late as 1693.
As a second example, there is a letter of permission from Prior General Clement of Osimo O,S,A., written on 21st October 1290 (i.e., thirty-four years after the Grand Union). By then some hermitages in the Augustinian Province of Pisa were surplus to requirements, and two friars in Pisa were authorised to sell seven of them and to use the sale money for the new Augustinian foundation in the city of Pisa; the two friars, however, were not completely successful in their sales task. For example, one of the seven former hermitages, the heremus S. Salvatoris ("hermitage of the Holy Saviour") de Cavina supra Vicum, still remained within the property holdings of the Augustinian convento in Pisa as a grangia (subsidiary property) in the seventeenth century, five centuries later.
A tally of houses involved in the Grand Union
On Page 149 of the work cited below, the late Augustinian historian Francis Roth O.S.A. stated that to give an exact number of the communities involved in the Grand Union is an impossibility, and that only an estimate can be made. Nobody these days would disagree with that statement. There were approximately seventy houses of the Tuscan Hermits (i.e. the religious order formed at the Little Union of 1244). This includes their houses north of Tuscany over the Alps.
Another nine of their houses were located in territories to the south of Tuscany, including Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, the venue of the Grand Union. Their grand total, therefore, is placed at seventy-nine houses. The houses of the Gianboniti (the Order of Hermits of Brother John the Good) and of the Brettini (the Hermits of Brettino) in the March of Ancona and Romandiola were so intermingled that in many instances they cannot definitively be assigned to either Order. Roth has made an estimate of sixty-four houses.
(Because both orders had officially followed the Rule of Augustine since 1215 and 1228 respectively, often their houses were simply recorded as belonging to “Augustinian hermits.”) Another historical difficulty is that a community could be shifted to another location and, without our knowledge of the dates being definite, it is easy to make the mistake of actually counting the same community twice.
Beyond Italy, the Gianboniti had an estimated thirty-six additional houses in central Europe, Spain and possibly England. Excluding the houses of the Williamites (because they withdrew from the Grand Union soon after it began), this gives a conservative tally of 179 houses. Other Augustinian historians in the twentieth century have generally agreed on a tally of between 180 and 200 houses being involved in the Grand Union, even if different sub-sections within their calculations display some variance.(Continued on the next page)
For further reading
Cardinal Richard Annibaldi. By Francis Roth O.S.A. THis is a lengthy article that appeared in English in successive issues of the scholarly historical periodical, Augustiniana, of the Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain, Belgium in 1952-1954. The second section of this article, dealing with the details above, appeared in Augustiniana in August 1952, pp, 108-149.
The Foundation of the OESA: A Reconsideration. This scholarly article written by Assistant Professor Eric Saak Ph.D. is available on Augnet. To go to the article (a PDF file), click here.