The threat of suppression
Between the thirtieth and fifty-fourth years of the existence of the Order, there was a possibility that the Order might be suppressed. Care needs to be taken not to exaggerate this situation, but it was nevertheless a real one. No doubt it was of great concern for the generation of Augustinians who had to live through it.
In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome had forbidden the foundation of any new religious orders, and in 1274 the Second Council of Lyons made that directive more specific. The Augustinian Prior General of that time, Clement of Osimo O.S.A., was present at the Council. Canon 13 of the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 proceeded to suppress all orders founded since 1215 that did not have the approval of the Holy See (the Pope), and forbade those that were approved since 1215 to admit any further candidates to religious profession, to establish new religious houses, or to dispose of any property in their possession. The Dominican and Franciscan Orders were specifically exempted, and the Augustinian and Carmelite Orders were permitted to continue "as they are until we shall have decided otherwise." In other words, they were exempt from Canon 13 of the Second Council of Lyons "until further notice." This was akin to a stay of execution that could suddenly be withdrawn at any time in the future. Until the Augustinians experienced how that "stay of execution" was or was not going to be applied in the future, the Augustinians had reason for concern.
The Order had not been drawn together until its Grand Union of 1256, although some communities within the various constituent eremitical groups that had joined the Grand Union had existed before the year 1215. In other words, would it be taken that suppression was possible because the Order as an official entity did not begin under its own name until the year 1256? Or would it be taken that, because some of its houses had existed before 1215, the whole Order would be exempt from suppression? The admonition about not over-dramatizing this development is included because the Popes of the era generally promoted religious orders. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 in the presence of the Pope the bishops wanted some control of and some protection against what they regarded as the excessive number and proliferation of religious orders. At the time of the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, the Cardinal Protector of the Order of Saint Augustine was Richard Annibaldi. By the year 1274 he was an old man who was crippled with arthritis. He was two years from death, and in retirement at Molaria near Frascati in northern Italy. He was physically far away from the deliberations at Lyons in France.
It is uncertain if Annibaldi exerted influence on the Pope; it has often been conjectured, nevertheless, that it was only the intervention of Annibaldi that saved the Order of Saint Augustine from suppression. According to the Franciscan chronicler Salimbene, Pope Gregory X had planned to suppress the Augustinians until Annibaldi intervened. An extant letter shows that the pope held Annabaldi in esteem. Furthermore Pope Gregory X shared Annibaldi's pro-Germanic policy, and the Augustinians had many houses in German lands and the support of the bishops and cities in which they served there. Certainly, an early draft of the Council of Lyons used the phrase that the Carmelites and Augustinians were Orders "claiming to have been established before the said council (i.e., Lateran IV)" - the word "claiming" was removed from the final draft.
Leaving aside the uncertainty about any involvement by Richard Annibaldi, what is certain is that the decree promulgated after the Council of Lyons in 1274 by Pope Gregory X (Pope from 1271 to 1276) acknowledged that the Augustinians and Carmelites both existed before 1215. Canon 23 of the decree, however, seemed to offer the Order a challenge and a way to move forward. Since this canon in principle suppressed all the religious orders given to begging, it endangered the very future of the Carmelites and Augustinians. Canon 23 stated: ""The Order of Carmel and the Hermits of Saint Augustine, whose foundations antedate the aforesaid council, we permit to continue in suo statu (in their present state) until we ordain otherwise. Decision will not have been taken in their regard . . . For we intend to provide for these [orders] . . . such measures as we may deem expedient for the salvation of souls and for their own welfare."
Since this statement directly followed a reference to the Dominicans and Franciscans, "whose eminent usefulness to the universal Church is apparent," the implication was clear. While awaiting Rome’s final decision on the matter, for the Augustinians and Carmelites it was not, however, “business as usual” because the Council of Lyons imposed some immediate restrictions on them. For example, they were not to dispose of any property, they were not to open any new communities, and no further religious profession could occur. In the broader church, it was not surprising that numerous people stopped making donations and bequests to these Orders and their building projects that could suddenly be closed down by Rome. In the civil sphere, town councils and local authorities became reluctant to make agreements with these Orders because of the uncertainty of their continued existence.
In some parts of Europe, the rumour spread that these Orders had in fact already been suppressed and that all was wanted was the motu proprio to enact it. For example, the rumour to this effect was so strong in the Archdiocese of Salzburg that he published a circular letter stating that the rumour about closure of these Orders was untrue. There was nothing for the Orders to do but to place themselves at the immediate service of the Church and to strive for a fruitful apostolate, according to the practice of the Dominicans and Franciscans during the previous decades. The Carmelites and the Augustinians understood and responded. But, in official terms, their future was not yet assured. This was a situation of uncertainly which could not continue, and indeed it might not have been the intention of Pope Gregory X to have it continue.
More recent and better informed historians of the pontificate of Gregory X state that the pope not only proposed and carefully directed the program for the Second Council of Lyons, but also succeeded in obtaining what he wanted from it regarding the religious orders. He had the well-established Dominicans and Franciscans confirmed, and the younger Augustinian and Carmelite orders continuing and obedient to the Pope in their struggling eagerness to be permitted to continue. He also had the support of the Second Council of Lyons for the suppression of other orders that were deemed to have less hope of continuation or of suitable integration into the ministerial needs of the Church. (Not that, strictly speaking, the Pope needed Conciliar permission, but it responded nicely to the bishops' call for action that Gregory request it.) In the two years that he lived after the Second Council of Lyons, Pope Gregory X continued to be benevolent to the Order of Saint Augustine.
Photo Gallery For the Augnet photo gallery on San Gimignano (including the three photos above), click here.
For further reading
In 1274 the Council of Lyons decreed the end of various "new religious orders." The book mentioned below deals comparatively with how four orders responded and reacted to this threat of suppression. Two orders, i.e., the Augustinians and Carmelites survived this challenge, but the other two orders, i.e., the Friars of the Sack and the Pied Friars, were forced to disband:
The Other Friars: Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages. By Frances Andrews, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 2006. ISBN 1 84383 258 5. Hardcover. 261 pp.
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