*** This is a rough transcript of today's show ***
It is the 4th of May 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
Let's talk about Religious Orders!
Before denominations (western style), there were various religious "orders." These were men who voluntarily joined together to follow a specific rule to serve their community or inculcate certain spiritual disciplines.
You may know them as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carthusians, Benedictines, Jesuits, etc. They can be made up of priests, monks, and secular vocations such as teachers, authors, etc. Today we have an opportunity to zero in on one of the more influential and consequential of these groups: the Augustinians.
It was on this, the 4th of May in 1256, that (according to one historical tradition) Pope Alexander IV issued the Papal Bull, which confirmed the Grand Union of several monastic communities following the Rule of St. Augustine and established the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine.
So, who are these guys, and why do they matter?
First, there are variations on the Augustinian Order such that I'm trying to speak as broadly as possible. For instance, not all Augustinians are Hermits. "Hermit" btw comes from "eremetic," which means "solitary." Besides Old Testament prophets and Jesus, who else made the solitary desert life one to model? St. Antony, the same who is famous because of the book written about him by our pal Athanasius.
For the majority of Augustinians, you will find the acronym OSA. But there are others such as the recollects and the discalced Augustinians. So for my Lutheran and Presbyterian friends, you can know that you aren't alone in having multiple group variations with frustratingly similar acronyms.
While Augustinians came together on this day in 1256, they have claimed to be one of the oldest orders. The first document in the collection of works that makes up the Rule of St. Augustine comes from a letter written by him to a group of North African nuns. Other documents by Augustine on the monastic and contemplative life have been added to the Rule giving it a character, unlike other religious orders. The variety of Augustinian orders and the variety within the order has served it well. Augustinians could live cloistered lives but also semi-cloistered lives. They didn't take an extreme vow of poverty but tended to live simply. They would become mystics like Gerard Groote, who founded the Brethren of the Common Life. This would be the tradition of Thomas A Kempis and his work "the Imitation of Christ." Dominic of the soon-to-be Dominican Order started as an Augustinian. And the tradition of Augustinians sometimes dancing to a different beat continued.
One particularly rowdy group of Augustinians plagued Saxony around the year 1500. Many went rogue, including one Augustinian, Martin Luther. If you've ever seen Luther's house in Wittenberg, you might remember that it was 1) gigantic and 2) a converted Augustinian monastery.
If you are a Protestant, you probably learn about St. Augustine before many other early Church Fathers on account of this connection to Luther. And Protestants would come to adopt many of Augustine's theological particulars. For instance, his insistence on the depth of human sin and one's inability to save themselves. This was, in some ways, contra the humanist doctrines that many in the church were embracing around 1500.
Nevertheless, the Augustinians came out of the Reformation bruised but still growing. The Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions doomed so many of the monasteries long held by the monks. The group rebounded with a zeal for missions, and today they are called to the "cure of souls" in over 40 countries. Today we remember the founding, or re-founding, or Voltron-style conglomeration of Augustinians that officially came together on this day in 1256.
Let's give the last word to our boy, that neo-Platonist Augustine, maybe his most famous line, from his Confessions:
"Our hearts have been made for you, O God, and they shall never rest until they rest in you."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of May 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man with a thing for stolen pears, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who first learned about Augustine from an episode of the Simpsons in 1995. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.