While the veneration of their spiritual father was always practiced as a matter of course, it gained tremendous momentum when the Prior General William of Cremona O.S.A. (1326-42) achieved what no one had thought possible. He obtained from Pope John XXII not only a monastery in Pavia close to the church where the body of St Augustine lies entombed but also the custodianship of the saint's mortal remains. (See the next paragraph, and the image beneath it.)
Image (below): The sanctuary of the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro (“St Peter’s with the golden ceiling”) in Pavia (near Milan), Italy. In the centre of the image, the white marble structure is the “Arca” (tomb) that contains the bones of St Augustine. Read the text in the paragraphs below to see how the coming to this church of the Augustinians on 5th June 1331 was for them a major highlight of “the Augustinian century.”
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).
In England, Augustinian membership reached its highest-ever total before the coming of the Black Death in 1348, when new friaries began and other attempts failed because of opposition from the competing interests of civic and/or ecclesiastical authorities. Thetford in 1389 was the last Austin friary established in England during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For more than the next 120 years not a single effort at expansion was made, nor a single offer or request for a new foundation known to have been made. A sudden stagnation and numerical decline afflicted all religious Orders alike; the causes for this decline were numerous, including the psychological effects of the Black Death upon confidence in religion, the population decline and straightened economic times that reduced the number of possible benefactors to fund new foundations.
By 1350 the century-long debate about the degree of serverity of poverty in Augustinian community life was settled in practice by the general adoption of a moderate modus vivendi. Even so, 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.
Augustinian masters of theology strove consciously and with great energy to find an ever closer contact with Augustine's theology. To accomplish this they provided at least their main libraries with his works and made these manuscripts accessible and useful by tabulae or indices.
Image (below): The sanctuary of the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro (“St Peter’s with the golden ceiling”) in Pavia (near Milan), Italy. In the centre of the image, the white marble structure is the “Arca” (tomb) that contains the bones of St Augustine. Read the text in the paragraphs below to see how the coming to this church of the Augustinians One of the major fruits of this effort is the Milleloquium Sancti Augustini which is principally the work of Bartholomew of Urbino O.S.A.. It was a comprehensive, widely used treasury of the saint's teaching arranged in alphabetical order. The early lay humanist, Giovanni Petrarch, highly pleased with this publication, contributed a humanistic poem to it. The study of Augustine's writings came to a flowering in the Sentences of Gregory of Rimini O.S.A. whose knowledge of St Augustine seems unsurpassed in his day; the seventeenth century did not hesitate to call him tuba sancti Augustinae (“trumpet of St Augustine”). According to the present status of research it seems that this pronounced turn to St Augustine decreased the influence of Giles of Rome O.S.A. in Augustinian theological thinking during the remainder of the medieval times. It was, therefore, quite in harmony with the general sentiment of the day and the endeavour within the Augustinian Order that in 1361 Ralph of Castello O.S.A. successfully asked the university of Paris to declare the saint's principal feast (August 28) a holy day with a sermon at the Grand Couvent, the "grand convent" of the Order beside the Seine in Paris.
The university accepted and celebrated sometime later his feast of translation in like manner. Other universities followed the Parisian example, for instance, Bologna.
Augustinian life about 1350 is best expressed in three works: its law in the Augustinian Constitutions as edited by Thomas de Argentina, its thought in the theology of Johannes de Basilea, and its heart in the Vitasfratrum of Jordan of Saxony O.S.A.. Thomas of Strassburg O.S.A., Augustinian Prior General from 1345-57, ended the legislative confusion arising from the many changes in the Ratisbon Constitutions by declaring the original text unchangeable. Changes approved by two General Chapters should be added only as an appendix. His edition, therefore, is the comprehensive presentation of Augustinian law for this period.
With a keen eye to detail Thomas also devised a new order of studies for the Augustinian studium generale in Paris, and most probably did the same for the English students when he paid a visit to Oxford and Cambridge.GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on the Church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro (“St Peter’s with the golden ceiling”) in Pavia, plus images of Augustine's tomb, click here.
For further reading
The English Austin Friars 1249 – 1538 (Vol 1 & Vol II) by Francis Roth O.S.A. (Augustinian Historical Institute, New York: 1966 & 1961 respectively).