From its establishment in 1256, the Augustinian Order promoted learning and education for its members. This followed the practice already established by the two major mendicant orders formed fifty years before the Augustinians, i.e., the Dominicans and Franciscans. Saint Dominic had included in his goals "study and preaching." Since the engagement of the Order in apostolic activities was a condition of its new status as the third of the four successful mendicant Orders, the Dominicans (1216), Franciscans (1223), and Carmelites (1247), higher studies were seen as an important prerequisite to that commitment.
Several of the early international leaders (Priors General) of the Augustinian Order were themselves outstanding scholars and authors. In 1259, a house of studies was established in Paris by the first leader (Prior General) of the Order of Saint Augustine, Lanfranc of Milan. One of the first to live there was an Augustinian scholar of theology, Giles of Rome. He was a student of Thomas Aquinas, the greatest scholar of the Dominican Order. Giles of Rome was the first member of the Augustinian Order to earn the degree of Master of Theology. A famous scholar and the author of numerous books on theology and philosophy, Giles was to become a professor at the University of Paris and in 1292 was elected as the international leader (Prior General) of the Augustinian Order. One of the first acts of Giles was to urge each Augustinian regional superior (Provincial) to "place all your energy into preserving and advancing the study of theology, so that by means of studies, together with religious observance, our Order may grow." The Order placed great importance on the provision of community libraries.
The Ratisbon Constitutions of the Order of Saint Augustine in 1290 contained much new material concerning the promotion of studies within the Order of Saint Augustine. Its thirty-sixth chapter contains the most complete plan for ecclesiastical studies for a religious order at the end of the thirteenth century. In this plan, the Prior General in the fortieth chapter is given a mandate that is unique. It stated, "He shall see to it that study houses, which are the foundation of the Order, be duly looked after everywhere, and that general houses of study especially be promoted enthusiastically and with great care." In consequence, significant "general study houses" (in Latin, studia generalia) were established for students from all provinces studying for advanced academic degrees. These houses were aggregated to universities in such centres as Paris, Bologna, Padua, Rome, Florence, Cambridge, and Oxford. They granted the academic degrees of bachelor (the first degree), licentiate (licentiae docendi) and doctor of theology (magister). This initiative gave the Prior General a direct role and a specific authority in any Augustinian house that he declared was to become a studium generale, a "study house of the Prior General." In such a house, for example, he had authority regarding who could or should be admitted there for higher-level studies after an individual had finished courses in a studium provinciale, i.e., a study house of the Augustinian Province of which he was a member.
Additionally, the Augustinian Constitutions of 1290 mandated that each province establish a house of study for candidates to the Order, i.e., a studium provinciale, as mentioned above. Furthermore, these 1290 Constitutions of the Order of Saint Augustine urged each community to exercise extreme care of books for the use of the friars: bibles, commentaries, dictionaries, concordances of the Bible; the works of Augustine and the other Church scholars; the works of theology from the Middle Ages, exegetes, studies of law, spiritual writers and historians; the writings of Aristotle and Plato, the Neo-Platonists and the Latin classics; Arabic and Jewish literature; works of astronomy, geography, mathematics and medicine. Augustinians enjoyed freedom of thought. Giles of Rome O.S.A. is quoted as saying, "No one is to be prevented from holding a contrary viewpoint when this can be done without danger to the faith, nor are students obliged to give approval to all the opinions of their teachers, for our intellect is not a captive in submission to man, but in submission to Christ." From this promising beginning emerged leaders of what came to be called "the Augustinian School" of thought in Christian theology.
James of Viterbo O.S.A. (died 1308), a pupil of Giles of Rome O.S.A. and one of his successors in the university chair at Paris, distinguished himself as a philosopher. Augustine of Ancona O.S.A. (d. 1328) and William of Cremona O.S.A. (d.1356) wrote treatises on the office of the pope. Henry of Friemar O.S.A. (d. 1340) and Thomas of Strasbourg O.S.A. (d.1357) distinguished themselves by writing biblical commentaries. The most prominent of the Augustinians of this period was Gregory of Rimini O.S.A. (d.1358) for his teaching on freedom and grace from the anthropology of Saint Augustine. These scholars earned for themselves a place in the history of Thomistic Scholasticism because of their recourse to the authority of Saint Augustine and their view of theology as an affective science whose purpose was the love of God. Members of the Augustinian School in later centuries included Enrico Norris O.S.A. (d.1673), later a Cardinal, whose Historia pelagiana outlined the Augustinian theory of grace, and Gianlorenzo Berti O.S.A., whose contributions to the study of positive, non-speculative theology were contained in his influential eight volumes of dogmatic theology that appeared in Rome between 1739 and 1745.
Reverting back to the mid-fourteenth century just one hundred years after the Grand Union, members of the Order of Saint Augustine began winning influential positions in university life in Italy. For example, the first master of theology in the University of Florence was an Augustinian, Francesco di Biancozzo de'Nerli. Five years later, another Augustinian, Ugolino da Orvieto drew up the statutes for the new faculty of theology in the University of Bolonga. He was assisted by another Augustinian, Bonaventura da Padova, formerly a Prior General of the Order and by then a cardinal of the Church. In 1389 Leonhard of Carintha O.S.A. was one of four members of religious orders called to establish the theology faculty of the University of Vienna. The emphasis placed right from the beginning on the education of Augustinians assisted the Order considerably towards its making a mark on the ecclesiastical history of Europe in the following centuries. The fortuitous convergence of various external and internal factors facilitated this high value and emphasis given to studies and the academic formation of Augustinians.
External to the Order was the powerful example of the two older and larger Dominican and Franciscan mendicant orders. These displayed to the Augustinians the fruit of their fifty years of experience. As well, Cardinal Richard Annibaldi, the official liaison of the Order with the Pope, was associated with the Dominicans, and personally with Thomas Aquinas, their greatest scholar. Cardinal Annibaldi ensured that the Augustinian Order received similar papal protection and incentives as had the Dominicans and Franciscans. Another factor was the pre-eminence of the University of Paris, which the Dominicans and Franciscans had helped bring about. Thomas Aquinas, possibly the greatest Dominican teacher, taught there. The Augustinian Order attached its very first studium generale (international house of studies for its members) to this university in 1259, only three years after the Grand Union that began of the Order. The studium generale in Paris was the most famous study centre of the Order of Saint Augustine for centuries, and one of its best ever. Even so, in the second half of its existence it unfortunately lost its lustre. It lasted until forced to close with the coming of the French Revolution in 1789. After shifting to larger sites twice previously, its final and longest-lasting address was on the Quai de Grand-Augustins, a street name that is still in use. The building there was called the "Grand Convent". By the year 1316 it was large enough to house over 150 persons
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