Gregory of Rimini may have been the last great scholastic theologian of the Middle Ages. He had a long-lasting impact on European thought, and his role within the Augustinian Order as its Prior General was significant.
Gregory was born in Rimini around 1300, a town going back to the era of the Roman Empire on the Emilia-Romagna's Adriatic Coast in northeast Italy. Gregory joined the mendicant order of the Hermits of Saint Augustine, and received his basic education before going to Paris. Gregory studied for his baccalaureate in theology at Paris from 1322 or 1323 until 1328 or 1329. He then taught theology at various Augustinian studia in Italy, first at Bologna, where he is attested as lector in documents of late 1332, 1333, and early 1337.
Perhaps he was transferred to Padua by the Augustinians' General Chapter meeting in Siena in 1338, and then he was shifted to Perugia. The prevailing view is that Gregory returned to Paris in 1342 for a year of preparation for his theological lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which were probably delivered in 1343-44. Gregory probably became Master of Theology in 1345, holding at least one quodlibetal disputation at Paris. He continued to revise his written Sentences commentary until 1346. In late 1346 Master Gregory was in Rimini, and in 1347 teaching again in Padua, where he stayed until 1351. In that year, the General Chapter at Basel sent him to teach at the recently-established studium in Rimini.
He remained there at least until late 1356, but on 20 May 1357, at the General Chapter in Montpellier, he was elected the Augustinians' prior general, succeeding the late Thomas of Strasbourg. Gregory died in Vienna toward the end of 1358. Gregory's most important writing by far is his commentary on the first two books of the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Gregory’s Book I survives in twenty complete manuscripts, while there are about a dozen for Book II. The work was printed several times from 1482 to 1532, reprinted in 1955, and finally received a modern critical edition in six volumes in 1979-84 (Rimini 1979-84; Bermon 2002). Parts have been or are being translated into French, German, and English. (The work by Peter Lombard (c. 1100 – 1160) called Libri Quatuor Sententiarum, or the Four Books of Sentences, became the standard textbook of theology at the medieval universities. From the 1220s until the 16th century, no work of Christian literature, except for the Bible itself, was commented upon more frequently. All the major medieval thinkers were influenced by it. Even the young Martin Luther still wrote glosses on the Sentences.)
In addition to scriptural commentaries and his letters as prior general, Gregory was also responsible for smaller writings, including a work about the prohibition of usury usually known as De usuris, printed in 1508 and again in 1622, and a treatise on the four cardinal virtues, De quatuor virtutibus cardinalibus. Of his writings, his Commentaries on the Books of the Sentences of Peter Lombard have appeared in print (Lectura in primum et secundum librum Sententiarum, Paris, 1482, 1487; Milan,1494; Valentia, 1500; Venice, 1518); also a treatise on the prohibition of usury named De usuris, Rimini, 1522, 1622). Commentaries on the Epistles of St James and St Paul are also attributed to him.
His position in the history of Philosophy and Theology
Few philosophers in the later fourteenth century can have been unaffected by his ideas. Gregory's impact both inside and outside the Augustinian Order continued into the fifteenth century. More clear is Gregory's importance in the late Middle Ages and Reformation. Many Scholastics (i.e., disciples of the philosophical and theological school of St Thomas Aquinas) after 1350 copied large passages from his works. Perhaps the most central element of Gregory of Rimini's thought and influence is his adherence to Augustine and the nature of that adherence. For one thing, Gregory simply read Augustine more carefully and extensively than most previous thinkers.
Additionally, Gregory's interest in the works of Augustine has been seen as central to the development of a historico-critical method in philosophical theology, especially in the Augustinian Order, partly foreshadowing modern scholarly methods. In connection with this historico-critical method, Gregory was part of a general attempt to establish reliable texts of Augustine and to separate authentic works from the pseudo-Augustinian corpus. Quotations from Augustine, moreover, were cited with great accuracy and detail in Gregory's writings, and so his Sentences commentary, when not plagiarized for his own ideas, was often used as a source for Augustinian quotations. (And this was 165 years before the Omnia Opera S. Augustini (i.e., collected works) of Augustine became available.)
In the years before the Protestant Reformation, it is possible to speak of an “Augustinian school” of theology in the era of late Scholasticism. Found especially but not exclusively in the Order of St Augustine, Academic Augustinianism of 1300 saw Catholic theological tradition as coinciding with that of Augustine, in a continuation of the theology of the Apostle Paul. One representative of this school of theology in the fourteenth century was Gregory of Rimini O.S.A. Not surprisingly, Gregory's brand of doctrinal Augustinianism soon dominated the Augustinian Order's philosophy and theology. They were present in many universities such as Erfurt and Wittenberg, the university of Gregory's fellow Augustinian, Martin Luther.
The fact that each book of Gregory's Commentary on the Sentences was printed six times between 1482 and 1532 further helps explain why some of Gregory's ideas often influenced those of Martin Luther and John Calvin.
His role as Augustinian Prior General
Gregory of Rimini powerfully demonstrated that he was not a theologian who lived in an ivory tower of ideas. During his time as Prior General at the end of his life, he showed that he had his feel firmly planted on the ground. He was not afraid to exert leadership, and in that regard no issue was too minor to receive and benefit from his attention, the breadth of his intelligence, and his understanding of human nature.
As Prior General, Gregory was a most vigorous exponent of jail sentences for the friars. (The Constitutions stated that Priories with more than fourteen members were to have their own jail facilities.) As a jail, he demanded a strong and safe room in which the usual chains were available. When he heard that in the Roman Province some brethren condemned to jail walked about freely and even partook of good meals, he wrote to the provincial that such laxity could only lead to the decay of discipline and contempt for justice.
Brethren condemned to prison should be chained and no one was to talk to them except their guard and the prior; neither should they write or receive letters. While in prison a friar could not wear his habit, and anyone who by advice or deed helped a confrere to escape had to undergo the same punishment as the culprit. A list of those currently in jail had to be submitted to the provincial chapter. A friar who had been in jail could not henceforth be accorded academic advancement.
In the brief seventeen months during 1357 and 1358 that he led the Augustinian Order immediately before his death, Gregory was a very pro-active and a very mobile Prior General with an agenda of reform. Fortunately for historians, his Register (his official record of the written decisions he made) is still extant – the earliest extant Register of any Augustinian Prior General. In his seventeen months as Prior General, Gregory recorded 739 decisions, many of which were actually a series of decisions on different topics that were being dispatched simultaneously to the same recipient.
Contemporary scholar and author, Eric Saak (p, 319, see bibliography below) categorized Gregory’s entries as 32% administrative matters, 26% financial, 21% reform and discipline, and 20% pastoral care and education. What makes Gregory’s governance more impressive was the fact that during these seventeen months he worked in his office in Rome for only one five-week period of time. For the rest of the time, he undertook a continuous visitation of Augustinian Provinces that were still suffering and still weakened – both spiritually and numerically – by the after-effects of the Black Death of 1347 – 1350.
He had been elected Prior General at the Augustinian General Chapter at Avignon in mid-1357, was in Florence in September, in Siena and Perugia in October, in Nursia and Aquila in November, Naples in December 1357 to February 1358, to Rome in March, Viterbo and Perugia in April, San Elpidio in May, and then in ill-health in his birthplace of Rimini in the summer (June – August). He was in Florence and Bologna in September 1358, and in Ferarra, Venice and Treviso in October. At a time when the plague was again flaring up in Germany, he nevertheless travelled there.He crossed the Alps to Volchmarch in Bavaria by 4th November 1358. Gregory was in Baden on 14th November 1358, and then moved to Vienna. He died in Vienna later in 1358, probably aged fifty-eight years. Whereas Jordan of Saxony (Quedlinburg) O.S.A. had in 1357 written his Liber Vitasfratrum (which he, in fact, dedicated to Gregory of Rimini, whom he had met previously) as the ideal for living as an Augustinian friar, Gregory strove to implement this ideal by the correction of faults by a combination of vigilance, encouragement, coercion and decrees. Factors external to the Augustinian Order had adversely affected its spirit and discipline. These factors included the bubonic pandemic called the Black Death (1347 – 1350) and the disruption caused by the protracted Avignon Papacy (1309 – 1377) and the Great Western Schism.
Gregory attempted to develop corrective measures to restore the better standards that had been prevalent until a few decades previously. The vita communis (“community life”) had been adversely affected by a decline in the spirit of poverty, lapses against chastity, and the dilution of obedience to the religious superiors by the granting of privileges and exemptions. The newly elected Prior General Gregory of Rimini sent his reform decrees to all Augustinian Provinces. Like all reformers he generalized a very dark picture; he believed that the increased possession of material goods by the community and by individual friars had led to the decline of Augustinian values and the quality of community life within the Order.
Gregory wrote: “In order to restore the former zeal Gregory decrees the exact rubrical observance of the Prayers of the Divine Office day and night. In case of the failure to do so, graduates shall sit at a bare table and ordinary conventuals (non-graduates) on the bare floor in the middle of the refectory when taking their penitential meals. Lectors actually engaged in teaching shall be deprived of their weekly allowance if they do not attend choir on Sundays and feast days. Masters (who should be an example to all) failing twice in succession to attend the Prayer of Matins shall suffer the same punishment. If a Prior or Procurator should give them the allowance they shall pay it from their own allowance.”
“No one may excuse himself from the common table more than three times a week.” “A soft life must be avoided by a religious; therefore only the sick may sleep on featherbeds or use linen within the monastery. Anyone else caught using them loses his provisions for one year. All bedding of this type (except that for the sick) must be sold within three months.” “Since it is useless to make laws if one does not protect them and see to it that they he kept, the provincials and local superiors are deposed ipso facto if they do not carry them out.”
“The surrender of all personal property is part of the regular observance. No one may keep in his possession more than two florins for daily needs, the rest of the money must be placed in the common locker whose keys are kept by the Prior and Procurator. Money transactions with outsiders are prohibited. Mendicant friars must observe poverty more strictly than other religious and therefore all [personal] things made of silver must be sold within fifteen days and the money reposed in the common treasury. Failure to comply results in excommunication reserved to the Prior General.”
Gregory repeated a clause used by Pope Alexander IV in a certain privilege: “Neither the Prior nor the brethren assembled in a general or provincial chapter can grant any brother any personal property, because this is against the very substance of the Order. Nor can they grant the usage of movable or immovable goods obtained through testament or some other title. Any such grant shall be null and void.” Gregory, therefore, revoked all such grants, and forbade any Augustinian superior to make such grants henceforth.
It was also obvious that some Provinces that Gregory either visited or corresponded with were cursed with low morale and ineffectual leadership. Gregory attempted practical reform on all fronts, using hand-picked agents to go to geographical areas that he was unable to visit and inspect personally. His efforts were cut short, unfortunately, by his death so relatively soon after he embarked on this reforming quest. One of the “What if…?” questions that could be asked concerns the benefits that may have accrued had Gregory lived longer and been able to sustain and develop further the reform he began in Italy, and had been able to work longer on Augustinian reform north of the Alps.
His series of successors in the office of Prior General were – like Gregory – Italian, but, unlike Gregory, focused less than he did on the Order outside of Italy, and never visited there. Gregory of Rimini, nevertheless, lighted up a way of reform, but regretfully his successors either lacks the insight or determination to adopt it with the degree of persistent vigour that Gregory himself had deemed necessary. Even with the prospect of success for Gregory’s efforts having to be acknowledged as uncertain, it must be acknowledged that he attempted “top down” reform by his issuing of edicts and his “hands on” attention to failures of community and individual discipline.
In fact, a general mood for reform was not present and, unfortunately, would not be present before the cataclysm of the Protestant Reformation that was then still over 150 years in the future. Augnet additionalGregory of Rimini was not associated with Gubbio. For more Augnet information about Gubbio, click here. For the Augnet photo gallery on Gubbio, click here.