The Paris studium generale (international house for higher study by members of the Augustinian Order) was academically the best international study centre of the Order for a number of centuries. It lasted until it was forced to close with the coming of the French Revolution in 1789.
One commendable feature of early Augustinian history was the realisation that the education of its members was important -and even necessary - for the successful penetration of the Order into relevance within society. In this, the Order of Saint Augustine had the great benefit of few decades of proven insight that the earlier mendicant orders - the Dominicans and less so the Franciscans - had already by the year 1256 gained in this matter.
Coming into authority with the Grand Union of 1256, the Prior General, Lanfranc of Milan, only three years later had a house in Paris for the use of young Augustinians destined to study at the University of Paris, which then was the premier study centre of Catholic theology in the world. Lanfranc bought the house, garden and all, for 200 Parisian pounds from a widow named Theophania. It was located at the foot of Montmartre close to the present Rue St Eustace and near the stopping place named “Halles” on the Paris Metro today.
The conditions of sale, however, were onerous; the Augustinians were obligated to give 41 soldi (later four Parisian pounds) to the Bishop of Paris. The Augustinian General Chapter of 1260, however, authorised the purchase. Incidentally, a document in connection with the establishment of the Paris convento contains the only known example of Lanfranc's signature. This house was functioning by 1260. It was located outside the city gate of Saint Eustace and was inconveniently far from the University of Paris. Furthermore, within twenty-five years it was so successful that it was too small.
The second site The second site of the studium generale came about in 1285. It was located inside the city walls of Paris at Chardonnet. The land was bought on behalf of the Augustinian Prior General, Clement of Osimo by his delegate, Juvenal of Narni. This second Augustinian house was twice as expensive as the first one had been, i.e., it cost 400 Parisian pounds, plus an annual fee of two denaria to the Chapter of Paris. The property covered three acres of land. This property was in turn sold when this Augustinian studium generale moved to its third Parisian location. Clement of Osimo taxed all Augustinian provinces to pay for the new Augustinian studium generale. But even with new accomadation in Paris, the General Chapter of 1287 still had to temporarily restrict its availability to one student per Augustinian Province. Possibly this project also received the active assistance of King Louis IX of France.
The third Augustinian venue in Paris, the "Quai des Grands Augustins" obtained in 1293 (mentioned hereunder), was to solve this problem. It shall be discussed later in this article. To the stadium generale in Paris in 1260, in its second year of existence, had come a young man we now know as Giles of Rome, who was in 1260 both a future Augustinian scholar of theology and a future Prior General of the Order. Between 1269 and 1272 one of the teachers of Giles was Thomas Aquinas, who as well was the individual director of studies that the university assigned to Giles. It was in 1279 that the first Augustinian was appointed to a post within the University of Paris.Referring to the year 1285, an Augustinian with an interest in history wrote in 1727, "At that time the Augustinian Order was advancing in its masters at Paris, whereas formerly it had been impeded in that respect. Today it has reached a certain eminence by reason of its members who are well prepared and among whom stands out Brother Giles, a Roman who is the Archbishop of Bourges." Giles in turn performed the same role of director of studies for other Augustinians who were sent to study in Paris between 1285 and 1293.
It was owing to his influence that the University of Paris recognised the courses that various Augustinian students took in various study houses of the Order in their countries of origin. It also was Giles of Rome who as Prior General received from King of France, Philip the Fair, in 1293 another and larger house that went on to become academically the best studium generale in the Order for a number of centuries.
The third site
The house that served as the Order's studium generale in Paris was located on what is still called the "Quai des Grands Augustins." This is the Quay of the Great Augustins, which dates back to 1313 and is claimed to be the oldest quay (wharf area beside River the Seine) in Paris. This building on the Quai des Grands Augustins had come into possession of the king when the "Sack Friars" were suppressed by the pope, with assistance of the civil authority. (For the Augnet page on how the Order of Saint Augustine acquired this former Sack Friars convento, click here.) They had the bad fortune of being a religious group not protected by the Second Council of Lyons in 1275 because founded after the "cut off" year of 1215, after which any religious orders that had begun would neither be officially recognised nor permitted by the Church; this was a "threat" that the Augustinians had survived. (In an effort at reform and pastoral vigilance - which was not without foundation - the Church authorities in the thirteenth century were trying to amalgamate religious orders, rather than to increase their number.)
In 1285 the Augustinian Order was granted a nineteenth seat created on the board of the University of Paris. Of the other three mendicant orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans received seats before the Augustinians did, and the Carmelites were granted a twentieth seat that was created for this purpose in 1294. In 1303 the studium generale at the Quai des Grands Augustins had fifteen Augustinians from France, eleven from Italy, two from England, one probably from Germany, one from the Low Countries, as well as the new and former regent masters from Hungary and Provence. By 1316, which was only twenty years after the Order of Saint Augustine had acquired it, this house was so large that in 1316 it was recorded as sending 150 resident Augustinians to a celebration in Paris. As the premier studium generale (general study house) of them all, a member of the Order coming to study for a Lector's degree at the studium in Paris was required, by the Acts of the General Chapter of 1306, to have had two years of preparatory study at another Augustinian studium generale. Another bonus to the Augustinians from the suppression of the "Sack Friars" (officially the Friars of the Penitence of Jesus Christ) was the matter of books being received by the Augustinians.
The Augustinian studium generale (international house of study) in Paris had begun with 50 volumes, which was not an unusually small number for Augustinian libraries in the days when manuscripts had to be written by hand. Giles of Rome O.S.A. soon donated to it all the books he acquired from the closure of the houses in various parts of France of the Brothers of Sack Cloth. Some of these houses came into Augustinian possession. By 1776 the library of the Paris studium generale had 18,600 books and 426 manuscripts. Today over 200 of its former manuscripts still exist in various (non-Augustinian) libraries in Paris and further afield. In the studium, each student was given an allowance for buying books, not just for the immediate purpose of his own study but also so that he would have written materials to take back to him home province, where probably he would be conducting or teaching in the local studium of his Province. He could keep the books for life, but on his death they had to revert to his home Province. Any manuscripts that he copied himself or obtained privately could be disposed of at his discretion.
The student was assisted by the stationers of the University of Paris, who operated the pecia system. This was an ingenious system, which operated on a commercial basis. This system was subsequently initiated by other universities. In the pecia system, books were transcribed by stationers into loose quires or gatherings, which were then hired to students for a limited time in order that they could make their own copies. They thus transcribed and assembled their own textbooks from segments. It was a medieval equivalent of borrowing a book to photocopy it. When departing Paris (or the studium in Oxford or Cambridge also), the former Augustinian student was allowed to have a scribe. This was in the days before printing, and he thus had assistance in having manuscripts copied for him by hand. Although the house located on the Quai des Grands Augustins was larger than the previous house the Order had purchased in Paris for the studium generale, there still had to be a limit placed on the numbers who could live there and study at the University of Paris.
Because the university had the greatest prestige in Europe for the teaching of theology, most Provinces of the Order wished to send their most gifted students there. This was desired not only for the sake prestige, but also because each province needed to acquire excellent teachers for its own local regional house of study. With possible candidates for Paris not loath to attempt to bring the persuasion of influential people to bear on the studium generale, the person who was Prior General at various periods of history decreed that places would be offered to the Provinces strictly in sequence, and that all Provinces had to contribute to the expense of the house.
Other regulations required that any student who did not achieve a certain standard was, after a number of warnings, sent back to his home province. By 1361 the impact on the Augustinian studium generale on the study of theology at the University Paris was such that it was successful in having the university declare the feast of Saint Augustine (28th August) a holy day for the entire university, with a special sermon (homily) to be preached in the Grand Convent (the studium). The University of Bolonga then copied this practice.
Giles of Rome never lost his appreciation of what the studium generale in Paris had equipped him for his life as a scholar and an Augustinian leader. Shortly before his death he gave all of his books to the studium "out of whose abundance I was nourished from my early years." It possessed one of the largest Augustinian libraries in the Middle Ages. The house operated from 1259 to 1789, but not always without problems and controversy. The lustre of this studium generale diminished, mainly for external reasons that in turn reduced both the number and the quality of candidates it received. By 1326 internal reasons for a decline were emerging. In that year as well, an outstanding Augustinian was elected Prior General, William of Cremona O.S.A.. He immediately wrote a circular letter to all Augustinian Provincials; the document was named Ordinationes pro reparatione Ordinis (“Directives for the Renewal of the Order”).
Besides his vigilant care for the whole Order, William of Cremona paid special attention to the studium generale at Paris. There was, no doubt, justified reasons for his concern. In a letter, dated April 1328, William revoked the numerous regulations and ordinances made by his predecessors for that house, in order to preclude perplexity and the danger of non-observance. His new regulations stressed especially the performance of the religious and community exercises and the observance of regular discipline which appears to have suffered greatly at Paris. Professors and students alike were admonished to fulfil their respective duties carefully. For the benefit of the Order they should engage themselves also in the care of souls by preaching and hearing confessions. Like members in the other mendicant orders, they should also go out to collect alms in order to provide the necessary means of life. Other regulations are concerned with books necessary for study, which should not be alienated in any form, but preserved and kept together in the library. Finally, particular provisions are made to check the various forms of abuses against the vow of poverty. In a second letter, written on 8th May 1330, William of Cremona made additional provisions to remedy certain irregularities of the community life at Paris.
Another specialized rule for the government of an Augustinian studium generale which has been published is the Mare Magnum (literally "the great ocean," a list of rights, privileges and corresponding obligations) produced about 1354 under the direction of the Prior General, Thomas de Strasbourg O.S.A., for the Paris convento. Since the extant copy is dated 1468, it was clearly in force in the fifteenth century, and probably the rules for studia generale elsewhere (e.g., London, Oxford, Cambridge, etc.) were similar.
Much of the Mare Magnum is concerned with the handling of expenses, diet, choice of officials, and punishments allotted for failure to comply with the regulations. Hearing or reading of the mass was a daily requirement for all the brothers, with ordained students below the rank of master or bachelor ordered to celebrate it at least three times weekly). This is the only religious observance specifically mentioned, but certainly the liturgical Hours of the Divine Office would also have been celebrated. The Great Western Schism (1387 to 1418) reduced by half the number of Provinces and nations that would send young Augustinians there. It was reduced to having students only from France and Spain, whose Augustinian Provinces accepted the jurisdiction of the Antipope in Avignon, and of John of Basel O.S.A., whom the Antipope appointed as an Augustinian Prior General. (The numbers attending the studium generale at Oxford and Cambridge increased correspondingly at the same time.) Other universities improved in stature, and drew candidates, e.g., the English went to Oxford and Cambridge, and soon the quality of education at Bologna and Padua tended to keep Italians in their land of birth.
After the year 1500 Salamanca in Spain was the studium generale producing the most distinguished Augustinians. Its high reputation at that time surpassed all other houses of the Order, including Paris. Indeed, although Paris had been the most renowned site in the previous two centuries, its fame was due to theologians from Italy, Germany and other countries who had taught there. On the other hand, Salamanca was the product of Spanish professors and graduates, including some Augustinians who became exemplary bishops, such as Thomas of Villanova O.S.A., Agustin de Coruna O.S.A. and Luis Lopez de Solis O.S.A..
During the Protestant Reformation in England, the Irish Augustinian, William Tirry O.S.A. (1608-1654), was obviously unable to study in Oxford or Cambridge, where some Irish Augustinian candidates had been sent - but not without difficulty - previously. He studied first with the Spanish Augustinian house of study in Valladolid, Spain. He then moved to Paris to complete his studies by the year 1636. After five years at Brussels, Belgium, he returned to Ireland in 1641, and he was executed there in 1654 for persisting with his ministry as a priest. He is one of seventeen Irish men and women beatified (i.,e., declared "Blessed") in 1992.
The only other "Blessed" from the stadium generale in Paris lived three hundred years before William Tirry. He was William of Toulouse (1297?-1369), who was known as a man of prayer and a gifted preacher. Born around 1297, he joined the Augustinian Order as a young man of approximately nineteen years of age. He studied in Paris, but spent most of his life in Toulouse. He died in Toulouse on 18th May 1369. Pope Leo XIII declared him Blessed in 1893. Certainly, no other stadium generale could claim as lengthy a history.
Especially in its earlier years, an important secondary benefit was the excellent example it that this studium in Paris imprinted the high value given to quality education for Augustinians. Other Augustinian centres of study strove to imitate its high reputation. In 1776 the library of the studium in Paris contained 18,600 books and 426 manuscripts. The studium in Paris did not maintain its high reputation during the second half of its history. Its decline in standards was noted just before the Protestant Reformation by Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. He was one of the best scholars of the Order of Saint Augustine and from 1507 to 1517 one of the most capable men to occupy the office of Prior General. As part of his plan of reform for the Order of Saint Augustine, he was much concerned about the quality of educational preparation that was being given to Augustinian candidates.
Although he believed that it was outmoded to consider Paris as any longer the intellectual centre of Europe, he was greatly concerned with the quality of teaching at the studium generale in Paris because it greatly affected the four Augustinian provinces in France. (By then, it was also failing to be an international house of study, because Augustinian Provinces outside of France were opting to send their candidates to other Augustinian centres instead.) Giles used his usual methods to seek reform in Paris, but was resisted by a nationalistic spirit. Tension existed between the French King and the Pope.
The sending by Giles (an Italian in Rome, the papal city) of Italian Augustinians as his agents and delegates to France was not effective. After ten years of failures Giles began to have success with the studium generale in Paris. But it was historically too late. It was July 1517, when the Pope removed Giles as Prior General to go to Spain as papal emissary to the Spanish court. And then the Protestant Reformation began just three months later. The studium generale continued for another 281 years, but as a shadow of its former self. The studium in Paris was forced to close by the French Revolution, when the community was evicted and the house confiscated.
For further reading
In 1274 the Council of Lyons decreed the end of various "new religious orders." The book mentioned below deals comparatively with how four orders responded and reacted to this threat of suppression. Two orders, i.e., the Augustinians and Carmelites survived this challenge, but the other two orders, i.e., the Friars of the Sack and the Pied Friars, were forced to disband:
The Other Friars: Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages. By Frances Andrews, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 2006. ISBN 1 84383 258 5. Hardcover. 261 pp. http://www.boydell.co.uk/43832585.HTM
Couvent des Grands-Augustins. A Wikipedia history (in French) of the former great Augustinian convent. (Use translation facility to convert it into the English language.) https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couvent_des_Grands-Augustins
Blessed William Tirry O.S.A. He studied in Paris. A biography by Brother ThomasTaylor O.S.A. http://www.midwestaugustinians.org/saints_williamtirry.html
Blessed William of Toulouse O.S.A. A brief biography by the Chicago Augustinians.http://www.midwestaugustinians.org/saints_williamtoulouse.html