Saint Augustine and the Augustinian order
Augustine is one of the most important minds in the history of the church. He was born in 354 in the North-African city of Tagaste. Except for his father, everyone in his family was Christian. As a young man he didn’t care much about this and as a result led a life that he would later call depraved. He continuously postponed his christening-something mostly administered to adults in those times.
Augustine was a good student. Around the age of eighteen he went to the University of Cathargo. He lived there together with a girlfriend and conceived a child with her.In Carthago he became familiar with the work of Cicero and this awakened the thinker and seeker in him. Then, he studied the Bible. However, he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. Apparently, he found the Manicheans more attractive, due to; for instance, their belief that evil was an independent power in every man. To attempt to fight that power or the disposition of the stars would be impossible. This also made a life without feelings of guilt much easier to obtain. For nine years he would follow this sect.
After his studies he taught rhetoric in Cathargo. However, with the help of the Manicheans he was able to do this in Rome. This didn’t go very well though, since the students didn’t pay him. He decided to take a job in Milan. In the city he often listened to the sermons of the Bishop Ambrosius- at first in admiration of his technique and in time because of the content.
Inspired by Ambrosius he turned away from the Manicheans, but remained sceptical about Christianity. He would first have to take the detour of Neo-Platonic literature before finally arriving at an evangelical interpretation he could live with.
In the meantime his mother had come after him. She sent his girlfriend away, even though by Roman law they were married. He was intended to marry a more wealthy bride. Mother Monica had already located her, but she was not yet of age to marry. Augustine’s wait was then spent in the company of a mistress.
But, no marriage was to come. In the end, Augustine was christened Ambrosius and he chose for a life of abstinence. Not long after, he and his mother departed for Africa. She died there some time later. Augustine sold his possessions and donated the proceeds to the poor. After that he established a small religious community in Tagaste. Although he wasn’t a priest, he was asked to be the assistant bishop of the harbour city Hippo. He then converted to the priesthood in 391. Furthermore he was given permission by Bishop Valerius to build a house for his monastic brethren on the church ground. A few years later he became the bishop of Hippo, a position he would hold for about 35 years. He died in Hippo on August 28th 430.
Much is known about Augustine because of the many writings he left behind. Much of it he wrote or dictated himself, but there were also many devoted members that took note of his sermons. His correspondences are very important. Some are complete essays, for example the well known Confessiones.
At the end of his life Augustine went through all his writings again. In doing so he noted why he wrote the texts. In this fashion, we’re able to place the texts in context. Moreover, his friend Bishop Possidius not only made an inventory of Augustine’s work, but also wrote his biography.
The Rule and the order
The influence his theological writings have had on the catholic religion is tremendous. Aside from this were his writings over philosophical, societal, and individual issues. The letters and essays are less literary but equally essential is the so-called Rule of Augustine. This rule-not the first, but the oldest preserved in Christianity-was not written for the now famous Augustinian Order. It was more of a general instruction for religious communities. From his rule and guidelines from other texts-by Augustine and other authors-the standards were developed through the centuries for various cloister communities. It was only around the 10th century that the Rule of Augustine could be identified through certain groups in cloisters. In other words, the Augustinian order was not established by Saint Augustine. It would even take until the middle of the 13th century before the groups would unite into one single order. That happened as a result of the so-called Magna Unio of 1256. Only then was the Augusinian order a reality.
That this took so long to occur had much to do with the rule itself that contained few true requirements, but instead was more of an inspired summary of Augustine’s thoughts, a sort of reminder for those who knew his work. With the teachings and with the rule, much was left open to interpretation. And interpretations did vary. In this way the problems regarding the Observants couldn’t be seen as separate from the teachings and the Rule of Augustine. In fact, Augustine was also a great source of inspiration for Luther.