This was a very conscious and intentional attempt at re-moulding the public perception of Augustine. Primarily Augustine had been regarded (and in fact is still generally regarded) as a bishop, operating out of his bishop’s house in Hippo, which he made into a simple form of monastery by inviting his priests to live there with him with pledges of common ownership of possessions and of being - and remaining - unmarried. Even the Augustinians at the time of their Grand Union in 1256 would have accepted this image.
Along with some of his writing contemporaries in theof Saint Augustine, Jordan promoted an image of an Augustine with an eremitical (hermit) disposition, who founded and led a hermit community – maybe as a layman in Italy soon after his baptism and/or in an arid area outside of the North African port of Hippo, in which town in obedience to the Church Augustine reluctantly became the local bishop. Although these purported Augustine-founded communities did not exist and were myth, this myth became incorporated into the history of the Order of Saint Augustine in the fourteenth century and for years afterwards because it influenced the Order’s self-identity and how it functioned.
Professor Eric Saak, a leading contemporary Classical scholar and expert medieval historian on the Order of Saint Augustine (see references below) has indicated that, in the course of time, history and myth blend into one another, with the result that a new history is created. In this way, the thirteenth-century history of the Order of Saint Augustine and the myth about an eremitical (hermit) Augustine blended to produce a fourteenth-century history in which Augustinians accepted as history – as “true” aspects about Augustine that a century earlier either were non-existent or accepted as myth (in the sense of being “untrue.”) In words, an Augustinian myth was created, which included an embellished and historically unsustainable biography of Augustine that “explained” his eremitical (hermit) connections, his founding of an order essentially similar to the fourteenth-century Order of Saint Augustine, and his impetus through a dream or vision by which he prompted Pope Alexander IV to convene the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256.
Photos (at right) Picture 1: Pulpit at Augustinian Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome.Picture 2: Main altar at Augustinian Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome.Picture 3: Looking at the main altar of the Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome.
These various key steps created a mythical Augustinus who was pater noster (Latin words for “our father”) to the members of the Order of Saint Augustine both a father figure and their founder, akin to how Francis of Assisi was to the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans). (Latin words for “our father”) to the members of the Order of Saint Augustine both a father figure and their founder, akin to how Francis of Assisi was to the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans).
This Augustinian myth allowed them to claim to be the first and the true sons of Augustine, and to claim Augustine as the inspiring founder of their religious order more so than of any other order or congregation that followed the Rule of Augustine.
Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. did not assert that the Order of Saint Augustine of his own day had come in an unbroken line from a hermitage outside of Hippo or a second hermitage with apostolic ministry in Hippo itself. Rather, he used the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256 as a watershed between the status antiquus (“the ancient state”) and the status modernus (“modern status”) of the Order. He showed Augustine as having directly established the status antiquus (”ancient ststus”) of the Order by his alleged actions in Italy and Hippo. How did Jordan also show Augustine’s involvement in establishing the “status modernus “?
Three of the slightly-earlier Augustinian writers mentioned above wrote of a dream about Augustine that had prompted Pope Alexander IV to convoke the Grand Union in 1256.
The Initium sive processus Ordinis Hermitarum santi Augustini (“The Beginning and Development of the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine”), written in 1331 by an Augustinian described henceforth as the Anonymous Florentine, stated: Pope Alexander, from his love of blessed Augustine, [who] appeared to him in a vision with a large head, but small body, in the first year of his pontificate increased the Order as much in members as in privileges, bringing together into this Order the Brictinenses ("Brettini"), the Brethen of Favali, the followers of Friar John Bonus ("Gianboniti"), and the Williamites, granting the Order privileges as never before to any other religion." If this dream was considered a “legend” in 1357 it had to be no more than a hundred years’ old.
Jordan went one step further by adding that in this dream Augustine told Alexander IV to “draw my Order together.” Thus, said Jordan, the primary inspiration for the Augustinian Grand Union came not from Pope Alexander IV, but from the long-dead Augustine of Hippo himself. In making this distinction between the status antiquus and the status modernus of the Order of Saint Augustine, Jordan intended to provide a defence against the ban of the Fourth Lateran Council against orders formed after the year 1215. He provided evidence of the Order's antiquity and continuity.
He was suggesting that the Grand Union was not the beginning of the Order (of Hermits) of Saint Augustine, but merely an ecclesiastical and papal confirmation of the ancient Order, and additionally its commissioning to preach and teach in the cities - an apostolate that Augustine himself had initiated by allegedly establishing a hermitage with an apostolic mission within the city of Hippo, distinct from his monastery of clerics established in the church grounds at Hippo.
In summary: During the century that separated the Grand Union of 1256 from Jordan’s Vitasfratrum of 1357, the Order of Saint Augustine moved rapidly from being a number of separate eremitical groups to an international religious order whose members believed they were the true heirs of Augustine of Hippo, and the group most formed in his identity of community life and apostolate.(Continued on the next page.)Photos (above)
Picture 1: A side chapel at Augustinian Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome.Picture 2: Another side chapel at Augustinian Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome. Picture 3: Bell tower of the Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome.
For the Augnet photo gallery on the Church of Sant’Agostino in Rome (including the above six pictures), click here.
Eric L. Saak, The Creation of Augustinian Identity in the Later Middle Ages, Augustiniana, Annus 49 (1999), fasc, 1-2 & 3-4. Published by Institutum Historicum Augustinianum Lovanii, Belgium.
For an article by Eric Saak written for this Augnet web site and published here with permission, click here.
Eric L. Saak, High Way to Heaven: The Augustinian Platform Between Reform and Reformation, 1292-1524, published in 2002 by Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 90041 10992. 886 pages.