What is called the Augustinian century is the period from 1256 until 1356 or a little later. That term is intended to convey that these were golden years for the Order - this period was a golden century for many other relogious orders as well. Here begins a series of Augnet pages that draw heavily from the writing of Fr Francis Roth O.S.A., a deceased historian who in the decades after World War II wrote much Augustinian history. Many of the names and topics covered hereunder are hyperlinked to respective Augnet pages that are fully devoted to them.
Image (below): The church and (at right rear) Augustinian Priory of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome. A small church was first built on this site about the year 1,100 AD; it was much enlarged in 1227. The Order of Hermits of St Augustine of Tuscany (formed by the Little Union of 1244) were given possession of the church circa 1250. The Augustinian Grand Union of 1256 took place there in 1256. The present interior design was installed in 1472-1479, and the present facade, designed by Bernini, was added in the seventeenth century. Augustinians still staff the Church, and live in the Priory at the rear. The most ancient part of the church building is the tower and steeple.
Some historians of the Order have called the fourteenth century the Augustinian century not only because of the leading role Augustinians played in the church but principally for the pre-eminence which the study of St Augustine and his cult attained through the Augustinians. During the fourteenth century, the Order experienced further growth in its self-esteem, in understanding its self-identity and spirituality, in the number of its communities, in its contribution to scholarship. These advances are all the more marvellous because the same century also simultaneously brought the negative effects of the Black Death, the Avignon Papacy and the Great Western Schism.
The growth of the Order, affected in the thirteenth century by Italian friars both at home and abroad, became in the fourteenth century mostly an ultramontane development. France expanded her two Augustinian provinces into four and established at least thirty-nine additional houses, her great leader being Giles of Rome O.S.A. who had been educated in France and was regarded as a Frenchman. Principally through his influence better and more spacious quarters were gained in a number of French cities through the acquisition of houses formerly belonging to the Friars of the Sack or the Templars.
Giles' reputation as the outstanding professor of the university of Paris also gave the Augustinian studium generale in Paris such pre-eminence that for seventy years every important doctor of the Order gained his magisterium ("doctorate" in today's terms) there. The Grand Couvent ("Grand Convent"), as the Augustinian house on the Quai des Augustine of the River Seine in Paris was later known, was so large that in 1316 it could send 150 friars to the celebration of the feast of St Louis. The four provinces covered a wide territory because they included also the monasteries in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Moravia and Poland.Image (below): Buildings previously all owned by the Order of Saint Augustine that occupy an entire city block in Rome. They are the Church of Saint Augustine (at centre), the Biblioteca Angelica (the Angelica Library, at right) and the Convento Sant'Agostino (the Generalate of the Order for over three centuries, then confiscated by the army of Napoleon and now in Italian government possession and occupancy).
While during the preceding decades German houses had been founded mainly along the Rhine and its neighbouring territories, now a strong wave of missionary effort carried the Augustinians eastwards, where the newly conquered Ruthenians and other Slav people needed to be either converted to Christianity or confirmed in it. The Bavarian Province bore the brunt of this work, but the Saxon Province also established houses on the easternmost boundaries of its territory and contributed to the conversion of the Prussians and Lithuanians. Some English Augustinian friars also went to Lithuanian territory, not so much to make converts as to provide for the spiritual needs of English merchants.
Although Italy founded but twenty new houses during the fourteenth century, it gave the Order its greatest medieval saint, St Nicholas of Tolentine (died 1303) and the Augustinian monastery at Lecceto earned a reputation for holiness. This attracted a number of foreign Augustinians to Lecceto, the greatest of whom William Flete O.S.A., the trusted adviser of St Catherine of Siena. Italy also provided leading theologians; the important part they played in the foundation of universities is, therefore, not surprising.
Hungary started to awaken towards the middle of the century. For a while the Augustinians held there first place in learning when some of its members were the only masters of theology in the entire kingdom. Spain had only five houses in 1305 but commenced striving under the leadership of Francis Salelles O.S.A. and gave the church an outstanding theologian in Alphonse Vargas Toletanus O.S.A. (died 1354). Some historians of the Order have called the fourteenth century the Augustinian century not only because of the leading role Augustinians played in the church but principally for the pre-eminence which the study of St Augustine and his cult attained through the Augustinians.
(Continued on the next page.)