The Augustinian Province of Bohemia, or now more popularly called “the Czech Augustinian Province,” has Mary as its principal patroness under the title of Mother of Consolation. In December 1604 the Bohemian (Czech) Province was created upon the personal recommendation of the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, Rudolf II, who ruled 1576 – 1612. It must be remembered that in the early seventeenth century the Kingdom of Bohemia comprised not only the Czech-Moravian heartlands but also Upper Silesia, Lower Silesia and both Lusatias which now embraces large sections of southwest Poland and southeast Germany.
During the late Middle Ages shortly after the Augustinian General Chapter at Milan in 1298, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Upper-Lower Silesia, Styria and Carinthia were organized and remained as districts under the administration of the large Augustinian Province of Bavaria. Inevitably, with the daily advance of the Ottoman Turks and the inroads of the Protestant Reformation, governing such a wide territory became virtually impossible for the successive Augustinians who occupied the office of Bavarian Provincial. The first contact with humanism in Germany was brought about by the emperor Charles IV (1346-1378), and he sought to incorporate it into German culture, in the hope of establishing a national German culture. As its Chancellor the University of Prague had John of Neumarkt (Novoforo), played a key role in the imperial organization of this centre of culture. A number of Augustinians were counted among the friends of John. Most notable among these was Nicholas of Laun O.S.A.. For a number of years he was the Provincial of the Bavarian Province, and recognized as far-sighted and diligent in this capacity. He brought the Province to a new period of growth after the damage caused by the Black Death in the years 1348 – 1351. He reorganized the house of St Thomas in Prague, making it one of the principal centres of formation and culture north of the Alps.
Photos (at right) Picture 1: Former Augustinian monastery at Ceska-Lipa, Czech Republic. Picture 2: Former Augustinian church at Rocov, Czech Republic. Picture 3: Former Augustinian church and monastery at Rocov, Czech Republic.
The Augustinians of this community had frequent contact with their brothers in Italy, in particular with the Augustinian friary of Santo Spirto in Florence. They were acquainted with the tendencies of humanism and these stimulated in them new ideas as well as confirming them in their Augustinian orientation. They certainly were the persons most responsible for the diffusion of humanism in Bohemia at the time. In their libraries, along with theological works, there were not a few classical authors and writings by some of the first humanists. Laun enjoyed great favour at the court in Prague, for Charles IV referred to him as "our chaplain-counsellor, Ioyal and dear to us." When Charles was crowned King of Bohemia in 1347, Laun was called upon to deliver the congratulatory discourse. As the first master of Paris among those called to the new University in Prague, Laun for a time was the only one able to promote students to the grade of doctor in theology. He died in 1371 as auxiliary bishop of Ratisbon.
In 1370 the previously-mentioned chancellor John of Neumarkt invited John Klenkok O.S.A. to teach at the University in Prague. Klenkok was a renowned moralist from the Augustinian Province of Saxony. Before his teaching career with the Augustinians in Oxford, where he obtained his baccalaureate and doctorate, he had pursued the study of law in Bologna. While there he became famous for his opposition to the Speculum Saxonum, at that time still the prevailing code in Saxony; Roman law had been established in Saxony but played only a subsidiary role.
The theological works of Klenkok are medieval both in base and in form. However, the diligence of the author in identifying the patristic texts that he cites, comparing them with the original, indicating the book and chapter of the citation and applying the same rule to the texts of medieval theologians, constituted an undeniable step forward. The friendship of Klenkok with Neumarkt is clear in a letter of recommendation written on his behalf when he undertook the journey to the Augustinian General Chapter in Florence in 1371. Neumarkt stated that the Augustinian was his "dear associate and companion." Klenkok died in 1374 in Avignon. The chancellor spoke also of Angel of Dobeln (Dobelin) in similar words in a letter successfully sent to the academic authorities of the University of Paris (where the Augustinians had their famed studium generale to accommodate him) in support of the advancement of his Augustinian friend to the degree of doctor of theology.
Dobelin's Lectura super IV libros Sententiarum ("Lectures about Book Four of the Sentences of Peter Lombard"), preserved in the university library in Jena (Ms. E1ect. Fol. 47), cannot provide a complete picture of the author and his scholarly interests, but there are at least some clearly humanistic tendencies, as when he delays over a passage of the Paradiso of Dante (fol. 10r). The work also reveals that he was a doctor of theology at the University of Paris in 1379 when Luigi Marsigli O.S.A. of Florence was also there. From 1392 on he taught with his Augustinian colleagues at the University of Erfurt, that is, from the year of its foundation, and he served as the first dean of its theological faculty.
It would seem that he was well regarded within the Order, since he was chosen to be one of the theologians representing the Order at the Council of Constance at the conclusion of the Great Western Schism. As previously mentioned, one of his sermons at the Council merited the praise of Martin V for its oratorical perfection. He died in 1420. A major administrative change happened between 1568 and1578, when Styria (Steiermark) and Carinthia (Karntern) in what is now contemporary Austria were excised from the Province of Bavaria and erected into an autonomous Province of Bohemia by the Prior General. The neighboring region of Austria was in such a precarious state that by 1600 it consisted of only two impoverished monasteries, Vienna and Baden.
Photos (at left) Picture 1: A former Augustinian abbot at Brno, the geneticist Gregor Mendel O.S.A. Picture 2: The present Augustinian abbot at Brno, Czech Republic. Picture 3: Augustinian monastery and minor basilica, Brno, Czech Republic.
To remedy this situation, Felix Milensius O.S.A., an energetic friar and historian, was appointed by the Prior General, Hippolytus Fabriani O.S.A. on 9th October 1602 as his personal “Vicar General for Germany and other northern lands.” Milensius was authorized to implement much needed administrative restructuring. He wasted no time in doing do; he soon separated the two languishing Austrian monasteries from Bavaria by uniting them with the stronger Bohemian district then consisting of St Thomas and St Catherine monasteries in Prague, Domazlice, Sopka-Melnik, Ceska Lipa, Rocov, Pivon and Biele-pod-Bezdezem. Not everything went according to his expectations, however; Milensius unsuccessfully attempted to include in this union the monastery of St Thomas (Brno) and its dependent house of Jevicko.
After much wrangling, in 1608 the insistent Moravians were permitted by the subsequent Prior General, John Baptist d’Aste O.S.A., to establish their own Moravian vicariate. The Augustinian community of St Thomas in Brno was singularly honored in 1611 when Cardinal Dietrichstein conferred on the Prior, Jan Vincenzo Barnabe di Fiume O.S.A. and his successors, the rare privilege of wearing the episcopal regalia; this was later ratified by Pope Innocent XIII in 1721. The regional autonomy of the Moravian Augustinians was further confirmed in 1752 when the “Perpetual Prior,” Mathias Pertscher O.S.A., obtained from Pope Benedict XIV the singular abbatial title and dignity. Henceforth the Augustinian Prior of the Moravian Augustinians in Brno would be episcopally consecrated and appointed for life, becoming an “abbot” similar to the Benedictine tradition. This privilege still exists, with the Augustinian leader at the Augustinian monastery in Brno the only abbot in the Order of St Augustine.
Image (above): Unvieling of a statue of Augustine at the monastery in Prague.
With Emperor Rudolph II’s support, in 1604 a “Union Chapter” of Augustinians gathered at St Thomas Monastery in Prague. On 1st December 1604 the meeting elected Jan Krtitel Svitavsky O.S.A. (Johannes Baptista Chrystellius) of Bochova, as the first Provincial of Bohemia-Austria. This unlikely union of such disparate cultures and diverse areas lasted until 1626 when Prior General Jerome de Ghettis O.S.A. allowed the disgruntled Austrians to separate from Bohemia, which then comprised some fifty friars precariously surviving in seven houses the exactions and ravages of the Thirty Years War (1618 –1648).In addition to the pastoral work in the ministry of the sacraments the Augustinian friars in these houses often served as teachers in the schools run by the various monasteries. Saint Thomas in Prague also had a parish hospital and asylum for the homeless and aged. Some friars, too, became military chaplains and domestic praeceptors in the households of prominent families.
Assistance was given the Irish Franciscans (Hyberni) who, unable to effectively speak the paramount Czech or German languages in Prague (Hyberni) petitioned such prominent Augustinians as Ambrose Wilde, to act as Festival Preachers in the Czech language for the faithful gathered for liturgy in the great Franciscan church located just outside the Powder Gate in Prague.
In addition to teaching duties in their own internal school, other Augustinians in St Thomas were professors of Theology and Canon Law in the Charles University. Saint Thomas Church was a known cultural center with, as mentioned above, an internal house of studies organized by the Order in 1347 for its own postulants and students. In fact, the first Rector of the first central European University (now known as the Charles University) was Nicholas of Louny O.S.A., the Augustinian intellectual, personal friend of Emperor Charles IV and missionary in Poland and Lithuania, later bishop in Regensburg. This Augustinian tradition of public teaching at a high level continued locally until the suppression under Emperor Joseph II (r.1780-1790).
For the Augnet gallery on the Augustinians of the Czech Republic (Brno and Prague), click here.
St Thomas’ Church Prague. Some tourist photos taken on Palm Sunday, April 2011. http://wersthungarianadventure.blogspot.com/2011/04/prague-st-thomas-church-and-palm-sunday.html
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