Geoffrey Hardeby (c. 1320 – c. 1385) was one of a number of notable English Augustinians in the fourteenth century, one who joined the Order of Saint Augustine before it was a hundred years old. He is somewhat of an enigmatic character, because much of the little that is known about him is secondary material from somewhat later sources.
There are also Augnet biographies on other early English Augustinians: Osbern Bokenham (born in 1392), John Capgrave (born in 1393) and Thomas Penketh (died 1487). Two generations earlier than both Osbern Bokenham and John Capgrave, Hardeby has not left very much primary material for later historians. This may not be surprising when we avert to the fact that he was born about twenty years before Geoffrey Chaucer (c, 1343 – 1400), the father of English language and literature. In his Chronicle of England, completed about 1462, Capgrave provides the earliest-surviving reference to his fellow-Augustinian, Geoffrey Hardeby: “But at the time there was a Frere Augustine; thei clepid him Geffrey Hardeby, afterward Provincial and Confessure to the Prince, which mad ageyn his opinion a notable book we clepe De Vita Evangelica.”
(The above sentence also happens to be the oldest-extant naming of Hardeby’s treatise by the title De Vita Evangelica, rather than as De perfectione evangelicae paupertatis.) De Vita Evangelica is his only work of Hardeby that is extant, except for his magistral sermon preached at Oxford in the First Sunday of Advent, 27 November 1356. Even the spelling of his surname has generated confusion, as there was a town of Herdeby or Hardeby in both Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, although the latter is usually taken as the birthplace of this Augustinian friar.
Born about the year 1320, Hardeby joined the Augustinian Order possibly at Leicester, and at Oxford was a philosopher and Biblical lecturer and scholar. He became the regent master of studium generale of the Austin Friars at Oxford from 1357 to 1359. He was a definitor at the Augustinian General Chapter at Padua in August 1359. Other than the one treatise and the one sermon mentioned hereunder, Hardeby has sometimes been listed by later historians as the author of other books (especially exegetical works), although these books no longer exist and there is no certainty that these writings were actually by Hardeby. Surprisingly, the usually-thorough Alphabeticum Augustinianum of Thomas Herrera O.S.A. (Madrid, 1644), makes scant reference to Hardeby.
Hardeby was a confessor of the Prince of Wales before he ascended to the throne of England as King Richard II. He became Provincial of the Augustinian Order in England in 1360, after his predecessor was arrested by the King in mysterious circumstances. Was Hardeby a royal nominee for this office? Further evidence is lacking, but it is clear that there was considerable opposition to him within his own ranks. He was Provincial from 1360 until 1372, except for a brief period in 1366 – 1367 when John Goodwhich held that office. His terms of office as Provincial in England coincided with the expansion of the English Province of the Order, which lends credence to the traditional view that Hardeby was influential in the court of King Edward III, and possibly also had been at some stage the king’s confessor. Hardeby was granted a royal pension several weeks before King Edward’s death; the pension continued, only if by the fact it was recorded as having been halved three years later.
Hardeby made his contribution to the defence of mendicant clergy against criticism from the secular clergy, and particularly from Richard Fitz-Ralph, who had become a Doctor of Theology at Oxford in 1331, Chancellor of the University in 1332-1334 and Archbishop of Armagh from 1346 to his death in 1360. With years of first-hand experience with the papal court at Avignon before becoming an archbishop, in England Fitz-Ralph became a champion of the secular clergy and a formidable opponent of the papal privileges given to the mendicant orders. He was a formidable opponent, although intemperate in his words from the pulpit on the controversy. This controversy between the friars and the secular clergy had long been simmering, and now in London had reached a particularly bitter phase.
Using privileges granted them by the Pope that often exempted them from obligations and taxes to the local bishop, the mendicant orders caused umbrage when they were too vigorous in insisting on their privileges, especially within the intricate internal legislation of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Some secular clergy accused the friars of misusing and of actually abusing their privileges. And increasing instances of the mendicants’ lifestyle demonstrating affluence rather than poverty were noticed by their opponents. As a line of argument, Fitz-Ralph adopted the thesis that the very absence of their vowed poverty was sinful and hence, by virtue of their sinfulness, the existence of these orders was no longer legitimate. Fitz-Ralph thus attacked not only the privileges of the friars, in particular their right of participating in the care of souls, but also questioned their right to exist and the merit of begging and voluntary poverty as being inconsistent with the teaching of Christ.
Complaints against the mendicant orders were formally raised at a London church council meeting of 16th May 1356, and Fitz-Ralph was in London only weeks later. In following months he delivered a series of sermons in support of the complaints, finishing on 25 March 1357. Representatives of the mendicant orders met in London on 7 March 1357. Hardeby was at regent master of the Augustinian studium generale in Oxford from 1357 to 1359. Fitz-Ralph’s accusations against the mendicant clergy were summarised in his bitter invective, his proposicio of 8th November 1357. This most probably occasioned Hardeby’s writing his treatise De Vita Evangelica, which survives in two manuscripts and in several fragments (as well as in numerous reprints subsequently). In recent times, it has been argued that De Vita Evangelica as it now exists may not have been written in its present final form until as late as 1385, as it lacks a controversialist tone and may in fact also refer to some events that happened after 1360.
Did Hardeby largely write it soon after 1357, but not finalise and publish it until many years later, i.e., long after the controversy had died? The only work of a fellow-Augustinian friar quoted in De Vita Evangelica is the Liber Vitasfratrum of Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. (Germany); it was completed in 1357 – how soon would a copy of it have reached Hardeby in England? This is not to suggest, however, that Hardeby was not involved in a combined mendicant effort of rebutting Fitz-Ralph, or that he may not have written something (no longer extant) in 1356 in order to do so. Even so, the rebuttal of Fitz-Ralph was largely undertaken not by tracts but by preached and published sermons, i.e., the identical method by which Fitz-Ralph had generally propagated his accusations. It is certain that, in countering Fitz-Ralph, the leader of the Augustinians (and also acting as a representative of the three other mendicant orders) in this rebuttal was not Hardeby in Oxford, but the Prior of the Augustinian convento in London, John of Arderne O.S.A.
The controversy was referred to the papal court in Avignon by both Fitz-Ralph and the mendicants. Gregory of Rimini O.S.A., the Prior General from May 1357 until his untimely death late in 1358, was so concerned about the threat to mendicant life posed by Fitz-Ralph that he levied a tax of ten florins on all Augustinian Provinces to cover the expenses of combatting Fitz-Ralph at the Papal Curia in Avignon. At that place the subsequent papal bull, Gravem dilectorum, of Innocent IV on 1 October 1358 cautiously supported the mendicants, yet did so in a circumspect way that would not exacerbate the conflict by raising any further the ire of the bishops and diocesan clergy.
In De Vita Evangelica, Hardeby, on the authority of Jordan of Saxony O.S.A., accepts as genuine the pseudo-Augustinian sermons known as Sermones ad fraters in eremo (“Sermons to the brothers in the hermitage”), but expressly stated that he deliberately refrained from using them because their authenticity has been challenged by others. Hardeby therein recorded the earliest known challenge – a correct challenge, in fact! - to the belief that these sermons were genuinely St Augustine’s. In the final three chapters of De Vita Evangelica, Hardeby defended the mendicant orders in a way that is followed in the fifteenth century by an Augustinian Prior General, Ambrose Massari da Cori (c. 1432 – 1485). Massari frequently used the same sources as Hardeby, although he treated them in greater detail. Cori gives no evidence, however, that he knew of Hardeby’s treatise; the only Englishmen Cori mentions is his own near-contemporary, Thomas Penketh O.S.A.
Something of what Hardeby stated in his Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences by Peter Lombard is known by its being succinctly summarised by Henry Butterfield O.P. in Prague late in the fourteenth century. According to Butterfield, Hardeby refused to accept the possibility of the Church’s granting indulgences for the dead.He also differed from many of his contemporaries is his estimation of the value and significance of an indulgence for the living. Hardeby was quoted as asserting that not all who performed the prescribed work would partake equally of the fruits of an indulgence, which depended on the worthy disposition of the penitent. Hence for the granting of an indulgence two conditions must be fulfilled – equal participation presupposes equal participation and worthiness, and, secondly, a plenary indulgence always involves the proviso of “the extent of the powers of the keys.” Butterfield thus effectively demonstrated to posterity that Hardeby was known to Continental theologians by 1393, i.e., probably only eight years after his death. In fact, probably at least one copy of his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard reached Prague decades earlier, for in 1359 an English Augustinian was sent as regent master of the Augustinian studium generale in Prague while Hardeby had been teaching at the Augustinian studium generale at Oxford, and possibly afterwards had materials sent to him from Oxford.
It is unfortunate that the only extant manuscript of Geoffrey Hardeby is his De Vita Evangelica. This is so for a number of reasons: Hardeby was not the main protagonist on behalf of the mendicant orders in the rebuttal of Fitz-Ralph, and, because De Vita Evangelica is Hardeby’s sole extant work, it has drawn so much attention to the Fitz-Ralph issue at the expense of other aspects of Hardeby’s life that would have been more significant in the eyes of his contemporaries, i.e., his theological scholarship, and his role within the Order and in the royal court during the twelve years when he was almost always the Augustinian Provincial. Hardeby died in about the year 1385.
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