With the numbers in all religious orders declining in the eighteenth century, King Louis XV in 1768 decreed the closure of religious houses with fewer than nine members. Admittedly, there had been a decline in spiritual fervour within religious life in France, and of a post-Renaissance decrease of religious spirit in France generally. The King could thus decree such closures of monasteries without generating any overwhelming protest from either the bishops and their clergy (who often were antagonistic to the religious orders), or from the populace generally. The gradual but continuous numerical decline of the Augustinian Order in France for many decades preceding the year 1768 was a phenomenon that the Order (and religious orders generally) had been unable to counter.
Here were the older religious orders from the medieval era being reduced numerically as more active and more “modern” Post-Reformation religious such as the Society of Jesus (“the Jesuits” - but temporarily suppressed at this time), the Redemptorists (founded in 1732) and (especially in France) the Vincentians (which congregation began in Paris in 1624) gaining a proportion of candidates. The surviving medieval religious orders had to compete for candidates with the newer post-Reformation religious congregations and societies of priests and brothers, and to do this from a smaller pool of possible candidates now that considerably fewer Europeans were Roman Catholic. Later decrees against religious orders follow what King Louis XV had begun. In 1771 in France, the Commission on Regulars, instituted by the civil government and lacking all ecclesiastical authority, changed the Constitutions of the Augustinian Order. As a consequence of this action, the Augustinians at a Chapter in 1771 decided to give up 44 of their 123 monasteries in France, and their members were transferred to the larger Augustinian communities. In the space of twenty years the Order declined in membership from 846 religious to 561.
With the overthrow of the Ancien Regime in 1789 came the National and Constitutional Assembly which completed the work of the Commission. By a single decree all religious orders were suppressed. On the night of 4th August 1789, the Assembly voted for the abolition of all privileges and feudal rights. This was followed three months later by a decree (2nd November 1789), "...that the possessions of the clergy be placed at the disposal of the nation." Thus the suppression of religious orders was not something that had been initiated by the French Revolution, but previously by French royalty. The forces of the French Revolution merely continued to a ruthless finality the policies of the previous royal government in this regard; they differed only in extent, in degree, and in motive. In practice it had the same effect, that of the weakening and the domination of the Church by the State.
Although the success of the movement reflects a rather tepid Catholicism, the destructive blow resulted from the fact that the Assembly contained a majority, who were hostile in different degrees (such as Jansenists, Protestants, Masons and Freethinkers) to the existing ecclesiastical order. Because of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s subsequent ravage of Europe, nine provinces of the Order were suppressed in France, Germany, Alsace, and Belgium. In 1950 the great Augustinian historian, Fr Francis Roth O.S.A. compiled the following list of Augustinian foundations in France by consulting the archives of the Order and, with only a few subsequent queries, it has largely stood the test of time:
Before 1275: Aix, Arles, Avignon, Grasse, Marseille, Montpellier, Narbonne, Toulouse. 1275-1300: Agen, Bordeaux, Cahors, Carcassonne, Castellani, Draguignan, Limoges, Puget-Theniers. 1300-1350: Barjols, Bayonne, Baziers,, Brignoles, Cremieu, Ennezat, Figeac, Limoux, Lisle-sur-Tarn, Lyon, Marvejols, Mas-Saintes-Puelles, Montagnac, Montauban, Mortemart, Montflanquin, Nice, Nimes, Pamiers Pernes, Perpignan, La Rochelle, Saint-Geniez, Saint-Rome-de-Tarn, Saint-Savinien, Saverdun, Seyssel, La Voulte. 1350-1450: Arthez, Beaurepaire, Caudies, Domme, Fiac, Fleurance, Geaune, Marciac, Marquefave, Mezin, Montluel, Montrejeau, Morestel, Saint-Pierre-d'Al-bigny, Thonon.
In post-Napoleonic France early in the nineteenth century, the Order of St Augustine – like other international religious orders who had been present in France for many centuries before the French Revolution – found it difficult to re-establish themselves in France. This was caused by the combination of numerous factors, including their paucity of resources and personnel because of the disruption and losses caused to all religious orders by Napoleonic armies throughout the Continent, the decline in religious sentiment and interest in France during the French Revolution, the absence any longer of a large and wealthy French aristocratic class that could henceforth be benefactors to these religious orders, and the increase of national patriotism in France that was not partial to “foreign” religious orders returning to France from the conquering nations that had defeated Napoleon.
To cap it all, in the much-diminished Catholic Church in post-Napoleonic France there was no ready-made need or role in France for these Orders to fulfil. Nor, indeed, was there much of a French desire to welcome them back; the French Church was struggling to rebuild within a much more secular climate of national indifference to the Church’s problems and its plight, and even the French Church would have been likely to regard returning international religious orders as “carpet bagger” opportunists. Some Priors General of the Order of St Augustine generated a number of initiatives to return the Order to France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and also listened to specific invitations coming from within France to send an Augustinian community there. Some of these proposals never began. Those that did begin in Paris in 1870, Nantes in 1891 and Tours in 1922 were generally under-resourced; the first attempt was closed by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the third one – which proved to be the most promising of the three efforts - by the outbreak of World War II.
Longer-lasting efforts in the past sixty years were made by the Dutch Province of the Augustinians, but usually not with any grand vision in mind but with a more restricted and pragmatic focus of providing a base and some financial sustenance in Paris for Dutch Augustinians availing themselves of opportunities for highly-regarded postgraduate studies in theology, Scripture and church liturgy in that city. A church in the Place de la Louvre in central Paris, facing the Louvre Museum, was administered by Dutch Augustinians for a number of recent decades.
AssumptionistsIn what vacuum there was because of the reduced presence of the Augustinian Order, an autonomous French equivalent was able to germinate and prosper. The Augustinians of the Assumption were founded in Nimes, southern France, by Fr Emmanuel d’Alzon in 1845, initially approved by Rome in 1857 and definitively approved in 1864. Beginning with Fr d’Alzon himself in 1879, there was a desire in the Assumptionists to join the Order of St Augustine, which the latter Order and also Pope Pius IX favoured.
The matter was pursued until 1920 when, in a move that was subsequently regretted, the Augustinian General Chapter of 1920 added conditions to the merger that were unacceptable to the Assumptionists. The Augustinians of the Assumption therefore continued in their own right, and has itself become an international religious order, operating in over thirty nations and on most continents. There are five different branches within the Assumptionist family, most of them comprising female religious. The relationship between these two religious orders is fraternal and positive, The relationship between the Order of St Augustine and the Augustinians of the Assumption (“the Assumptionists”) is positive and cordial, and extends to active pastoral cooperation in a number of parts of the world. There is remarkable similarity in their range of apostolates, and even their religious habits.Link
The Assumptionist international web site is: http://www.assumptio.org/