In the study of organisational theory, the needs of the different phases in the life of an organisation are detailed. In the usually-frenetic first phase, enthusiasm can carry the organisation rapidly forward, but in the middle phase something more substantial and something different is needed. At that stage, there is possibly more time to reflect, and to define the foundations and to search for the goals that will allow the organisation to continue to advance now that the initial first fervour has peaked.
This can be applied to the Order of Saint Augustine after the elation and energy of its Grand Union of 1256. The Grand Union was followed by a rapid expansion of the Order. Numerically, there were between 150 and 200 Augustinian communities after the Grand Union in 1256, 220 in 1278, and as many as 500 by 1356. This rapid expansion within a hundred years was significant not only as a numerical phenomenon, but also for the attitudinal shifts it required and involved.
Coming from religious groupings that before 1256 had been partially rural and eremitical (hermit-like) in focus, the Augustinians soon after 1256 had effectively changed under papal direction to an urban and apostolic priority. And from an Order with most of its origins and presence in Tuscany, by 1256 it had moved its centre to Rome and embraced at least five different nations and cultures. After these rapid changes, the Order had to explain itself and its origins to different cultures – and to itself.
Those joining the Augustinians not only in Italy but as far afield as Hungary and Ireland needed suitable answers to such basic questions as What does being an Augustinian essentially involve? (Augustinian identity) and As Augustinians, who are we? (Augustinian origins). The need to address these core questions was not an option. The legislation of Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 threw into doubt whether the Order would be permitted to continue if it could not fulfil the requirement of having existed prior to 1215 – which date, in the strictest literal sense, was well before the occurrence of the Grand Union of 1256.
Photos (at left) Picture 1: Side chapel, Augustinian Church of Maria del Popolo, Rome. Picture 2: Another side chapel, Augustinian Church of Maria del Popolo, Rome. Picture 3: Augustinian priest at the Church of Maria del Popolo, Rome.
When this prohibition was repeated at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274, the Augustinians had become increasingly concerned. As well, members of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine (a completely separate religious Order) challenged the assertion that the Order (of Hermits) of Saint Augustine was more truly founded by Saint Augustine than their Order had been. By 1330, therefore, not only were the Augustinians themselves and other interested parties increasingly asking the Order these fundamental questions, but also Augustinians in Italy, Paris and Germany were working defensively at answering them. In quick succession, a number of documents were composed in Florence, Paris and Erfurt (Germany). Some were short (as brief as eight pages), while others were in lengthy (400 pages). These documents were composed to address needs of the time, and not specifically written as “history” in the strict meaning of that term in the twenty-first century. Indeed, they were compiled as testimonies for the defence of the Augustinian position in those current ecclesiastical debates.
As well as being studied and evaluated separately, these documents need to be viewed as a whole because in general each of them successively influenced those composed after it. The final “picture” that emerged at the hands of Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. contained excerpts – and sometimes further embellished by him – from the writings of these slightly-previous Augustinians. He also used other sources such as the Sermones ad fratres in eremo (“Sermons to the brethren in the hermitage”). In his Collectanea Augustiniana (“Augustinian Collection”) of 1343, he was one of the first-known copyists of these sermons. In Jordan’s day they were generally attributed to Augustine, but were later proved to be spurious.
Not all early manuscript collections of these sermons contained the same number of purported Sermones ad fratres in eremo - the number varies from twenty-three to seventy-six. Even with that variance, some of the sermons do not appear in all editions. Using the word “myth” in the academic sense of being something believed rather than in the popular sense of simply being something fictitious, together these Augustinian writers had cumulatively developed and written down an operational myth for the Order of Saint Augustine.
Just as, for example, the myth of Romulus and Remus helped in the understanding of the origins and identity of the ancient state of Rome, here now was the Augustinian myth – a proposed origin (which was quite inaccurate historically) upon which a desired identity and ethos could be built and reinforced. This is a myth of the kind that is used to underpin national identity, e.g., the honesty of George Washington, the brave boy in Holland who saved his town from being submerged by a failing dike, and the ever-brave ANZAC soldiers whose sacrifice on the battlefield at Gallipoli solidified the Australian national identity in 1915.
Separate Augnet pages focus on a number of earlier Augustinians mentioned above as writing in Florence (the Anonymous Florentine), Paris (Nicholas of Alessandria O.S.A.) and Erfurt (Henry of Friemar O.S.A.). This page will simply look at the myth in its slightly later and more final form as developed by Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. Making use of the recent writing of these other Augustinians, Jordan created the myth that gave the Augustinians of his day – and for centuries afterwards – much of their sense of identity.
The myth that Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. wrote down provided meaning for the Augustinian way of life, and supported their historically-unsustainable desire about their Order’s having a fifth-century origin. He did not hesitate to reshape the biography of Augustine. Over and beyond details given by Augustine himself or by his biographer, Saint Possidius, Jordan copied and even re-edited legends about Augustine that supported his purposes in writing.
For example, Simplicianus is mentioned by Augustine in his Confessions as having told Augustine about eremitical (hermit) community life during the evolution of Augustine's moral conversion. Jordan greatly extended their contact by saying that Augustine as a baptised layman in Milan subsequently met an eremitical (hermit) community directed by Simplicianus, and then himself while still in Italy established a similar community, for whom he wrote a way of life, a prelude to his Rule. Jordan wrote that Augustine obtained from Simplicianus twelve monks - whose names are provided - for a hermitage (eremitical community) outside of Hippo, which Jordan alleges that Augustine established after he became a priest and before he became a bishop.
Photos (at left)Picture 1: Sanctuary of Augustinian Church of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome.Picture 2: Augustinian Church of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome.Picture 3: Statue in interior of the rear wall of the church.
Jordan then repeated what Possidius, Augustine's friend and biographer, had accurately reported, i.e., that, once Augustine became the bishop of Hippo, he formed a monastery of clerics in the church compound at Hippo, men who followed his Rule and worked in public ministry within the church of Hippo. By this multi-faceted myth, Jordan offered a legendary background to the various factors on to which the Augustinian Order of his day wished to hold.
That there was the personal involvement of Augustine with hermits in Italy, and particularly in Tuscany,
That Augustine founded a community of hermits outside of Hippo,
That he also formed an eremitical community of hermits in Hippo, who undertook church ministry (i.e., akin to the Order of Saint Augustine of Jordan’s day),
That only later did he form a community of priests of the diocese in ministry at Hippo (i.e., akin to the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine of Jordan’s day, but founded by him later than his Order (of Hermits of) Saint Augustine.
The intended implications were that the members of the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine were the legitimate sons (and also the first legitimate sons) of Augustine of Hippo, and that their role in the public ministry of the church would be as much approved by Augustine as would have been the pre-1256 eremitical (hermit) existence in Tuscany.(Continued on the next page.)
For the Augnet photo gallery on the Church of S. Maria del Popolo in Rome (including the above six pictures), click here.