Augustinian order

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Order symbol

The Augustinian Order ( Ordo Sancti Augustini , abbreviation O. SA ; until 1963 Augustinian hermits , Ordo Eremitarum Sancti Augustini , OESA ) is a Roman Catholic male and female order ( Augustinian women ).

It emerged in the 13th century as the fourth great mendicant order of the High Middle Ages (after the Franciscans , Dominicans and Carmelites ). The religious order named after the church father Augustine of Hippo is based, like other Augustinian orders , on the rule of Augustine .

The costume consists of a black habit , a leather belt and a black hood. There are currently six conventions in Germany and one in Austria.

Origin, internal organization and tasks

The order was created in the 13th century through the amalgamation of several older Italian, loosely organized groups of hermits to form a structured order. The "great union" was initiated by Pope Innocent IV , who held a founding meeting in Rome in 1244. The process of unification was concluded with the papal bull Licet ecclesiae catholicae by Alexander IV on April 9, 1256: From then on, the Tuscan Hermits , the Janbonites, the Brictinians, the Wilhelmites and the Hermits of St. Augustine together formed the Order of the Augustinian Hermits . The Augustine rule was chosen because since the fourth Lateran Council of 1215 the establishment of new orders was actually forbidden, so that new associations had to adopt an existing rule. The Rule of Augustine was particularly suitable for this, as it was not very extensive and left many practical questions unanswered. It could therefore be supplemented with the Augustinian hermits as well as with other orders by special customs (consuetudines) , which then made the particular order of the respective community. In the case of the Augustinian hermits, who lacked a central founder figure, the adoption of the Augustine Rule also led to Augustine being viewed as patron of the order - and soon even falsely as founder - and paying special attention to the theology of the church father.

Similar to the Franciscans and Dominicans, the Augustinian hermits were also oriented towards the ideals of “evangelical” (ie, evangelical) poverty and “apostolic” (ie, early Christian, apostle-like) fraternity; they are therefore counted among the mendicant orders or mendicants . This worked u. a. from the fact that there was no fundamental difference in status between priests and lay brothers, but the latter were also fully entitled to vote in the chapters (assemblies) and in principle had access to all offices. On the issue of poverty, the Augustinian hermits were less strict than the Franciscans. For example, the question of whether a brother was allowed to have private property within limits was not clearly decided.

Like the other mendicant orders, the Augustinian hermits had a constitution with clear democratic elements: each house (conventus, individual monastery) had a house chapter that met several times a year and discussed and decided on pending questions. The individual houses were united to form provinces, in which provincial chapters were held every four years, to which the individual monasteries sent representatives. There was also a general chapter every six years, to which all provinces sent representatives. The head of the general order, the general (prior generalis) was elected by this general chapter, but had to be confirmed by the Pope. The head of a province, the provincial (prior provincialis) , was elected by the provincial chapter, but the head of a single house, the prior, was not appointed by the brothers concerned, but by the provincial and his councilors.

Simultaneously with their union, the Augustinian hermits gave up their hermitic way of life, so that the name of the order was misleading from the start. The Augustinians did not retreat to lonely areas to cultivate contemplative prayer there, but usually settled in the cities. There they mainly took care of preaching and pastoral care, and later also of education and mission; these fields of activity have basically remained the same to this day.

middle Ages

Expansion, crisis and reform

Augustinian monk, around 1515

Shortly after the foundation there was a major crisis, as the numerous formerly independent groups, including the Wilhelmites and the Tuscan Brothers , wanted to continue their independent traditions and received official ecclesiastical permission ( dispense ) from the popes, which led to conflicts with who led the order, which was concerned with uniformity. The Wilhelmites even withdrew completely from the order in 1266. Nevertheless, the existence of the new order, which developed very dynamically in the first decades of its existence, was never endangered.

The Augustinian hermits had been granted the privilege of exemption from the episcopal jurisdiction by Innocent IV . that is, they could regulate their affairs independently of the wishes of the respective local bishops. The order spread over large areas of Europe. By 1295 religious provinces were founded in the areas of today's states Italy, Germany, Hungary, France, Great Britain and Spain. By 1456, a total of 30 religious provinces had been established, each with several individual monasteries; There were religious offices in large parts of Europe, from Portugal to Poland and from England to Cyprus.

In Germany, the first monastery called Marienthal was founded in 1256 near Wesel , in the forest near the village of Beylar. Due to the rapid growth of the German order province - at the end of the 13th century there were already around 80 monasteries - it was initially split into four smaller provinces. These are the Cologne-Belgian, Saxon-Thuringian, Swabian and Bavarian order provinces. More were added later.

In order to fulfill their duties as pastors and preachers, the Augustinians attached great importance to a good education of the friars from the beginning. For this purpose u. a. A study house of the order was founded in Paris in 1259, which was soon followed by others. In the German provinces there were such “general studies” for the training of theological offspring in Erfurt, Cologne, Magdeburg, Prague, Strasbourg and Vienna, of which Erfurt and Strasbourg were the most important.

After the order flourished in the first half of the 14th century, it began to show signs of decay from around 1350 - as was the case with most orders during this period. This was shown u. a. in the softening of the ideal of poverty and the community of property as well as in the neglect of common choral prayer. This development can be attributed u. a. to the general crisis of the church, which was expressed in the great occidental schism (1378-1414), that is, the division of the church into two parts, each obeying a different pope.

As a countermovement to the decline of the order, special groups soon formed within the order, the so-called observants, who wanted to follow the rule more closely and reform monastic life. During the 14th and 15th centuries, they formed separate congregations with their own provincial structure. In Germany, the Observants organized themselves in the Saxon-Thuringian Reform Congregation, which was headed by Andreas Proles and later the patron of Luther ( Johann von Staupitz ). The best-known member of this Reform Congregation was the later reformer Martin Luther . Due to the work of the forces of reform, the order of the Augustinian Hermits was overall in good condition again at the beginning of the 16th century.

The female order of the Augustinian hermits, the Augustinian hermits , was not particularly pronounced in contrast to those of the other mendicant orders in the Middle Ages. In the Archdiocese of Cologne, for example, there was only Merten a. d. Win such a monastery. This monastery was, however, a former Augustinian women's choir monastery , which was transferred to the Augustinian Order of Hermits because of considerable grievances.

Theological orientation

Naturally, the Augustinian hermits were strongly oriented towards the teachings of the patron saint Augustine. The Augustinian orientation had an effect a. from the fact that divine grace, which saves sinners regardless of human works, played an important role in religious theology, which certainly influenced the religious brother and later reformer Martin Luther. Great emphasis was also placed on Bible study; even this may not have remained without effect on Luther.

A completely different direction of religious theology was the commitment to the authority of the Pope in all - also in secular - matters in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the conflict between secular power and the papacy, the order stood firmly on the side of the popes. During the disputes between the French King Philip the Handsome and Pope Boniface VIII, the important Augustinian theologians Augustine Triumphus and Aegidius Romanus supported the popes' claim to power with their works.

Reformation time and Catholic reform

The Order and Luther

Martin Luther in religious habit

The order gained a special historical significance because it was the order of Luther . The reformer acquired his theological education as an Augustinian monk and got through the order to his position as theology professor in Wittenberg, which made it possible for him to be heard in the dispute over indulgences.

Luther entered the Augustinian order on July 17, 1505 in Erfurt. The Erfurt Convention was a numerically significant branch of the order. In 1508 52 monks are attested here. A special task of the monastery was the "general course" for the training of the theological offspring, which had existed since the 14th century. It was closely linked to the University of Erfurt : one of the theology professors was always provided by the Augustinian hermits. Why Luther decided to join the Augustinian hermits is unknown. What is certain, however, is that the Erfurt monastery, which was part of the Saxon-Thuringian reform congregation, which was independent within the order, was considered particularly strict.

Important for the further career of the young monk was his support by Staupitz , the vicar of the Reform Congregation. It was important that he tried to reunite the Observants with the other, non-Reformed convents in Germany under his own leadership to form a single province. The aim was to extend the reform to all monasteries. Resistance to this initiative came from the reformed conventions, who feared that the reform would be watered down and who ultimately successfully withdrew from unification. This resistance also came from the Erfurt monastery: In connection with this dispute, Luther was sent on his famous trip to Rome together with another monk. In the latest research, the view that has been widespread up to now is very controversial that he was sent to Rome by the Erfurt monastery in 1510 with the order to oppose this association. The greater part of the Erfurt Augustinian hermits consistently refused to accept Staupitz's concern. However, a small part of the Erfurt Convention, to which Luther also belonged, then decided to obey the superior of the order and advocated unification. Subsequently, in the late summer of 1511, Luther was transferred to Wittenberg in the direct sphere of influence of Staupitz. There the Augustinian Convention was involved in building up the new university. The latest research results believe it is more likely that Luther traveled to Rome from Wittenberg on behalf of Staupitz in 1511/12. In 1512, after receiving his doctorate in theology, Luther took over the Bible professorship in Wittenberg as Staupitz's successor and thus a position that was also highly respected among the non-church public. In addition, as head of religious studies in Wittenberg, he shaped a significant part of the theological offspring of the Augustinians and earned a reputation among his confreres as district vicar who was responsible for the supervision of a number of convents. All of this was not without significance for the great response that Luther found in the indulgence dispute that began a little later .

At the beginning of the Reformation controversy, Luther was supported by his order and especially by Staupitz. But while in the course of the increasingly dramatic events many Augustinian hermits unreservedly joined Luther, he and his patron Staupitz became estranged. In 1518 Staupitz released his protégé from his duty of obedience when there was an open confrontation between him and the papal envoy Cardinal Cajetan in Augsburg. If this was still a measure that probably served primarily to protect Luther, Staupitz's resignation from his religious offices in 1520 can only be understood as a distancing from the radicalizing development of the Reformation. Staupitz retired to Salzburg , where he converted to the Benedictine order and became abbot of the St. Peter monastery. Nevertheless, the contact between him and Luther remained; In Staupitz's last letter to Luther on April 1, 1524, it becomes clear that although he did not follow the path of the reformer, he still valued him as a human being. Luther still wore the habit of his order until 1524 , but had ceased to be a monk in the true sense of the word with his important program writings of 1520 at the latest, which subjected traditional church life to a fundamental criticism.

Crisis and resurgence

During the Reformation , the order experienced a serious crisis and lost many of its brothers and branches to the emerging Protestant churches. The Saxon-Thuringian Province to which Luther belonged dissolved completely, and the Cologne Province was also severely decimated. In the middle of the 16th century, only the monastery in the imperial city of Cologne existed in the Archdiocese of Cologne. A total of 160 Augustinian monasteries in the German provinces, which also extended across what is now the Netherlands, were lost to the order, be it because their inhabitants voluntarily joined the Lutheran or Calvinist cause, or because they were expelled. The Augustinian hermits even completely disappeared from England when Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries and orders in his sphere of influence.

In connection with the Catholic reform movement after the Council of Trent ( Tridentinum ), the battered order flourished again; some branches of the order could be regained, the spiritual life of the order strengthened. In addition to their traditional field of pastoral care, the Augustinians now also took care of educational tasks. For example, 19 grammar schools were founded between 1601 and 1651 in the Cologne province.

An important trend within the order during the time of the Catholic reform was the newly created congregation of the Italian Augustinian barefoot or Augustinian discalceates , which also radiated into the southern German, Austrian and Bohemian areas. Among them is the famous popular preacher Abraham a Santa Clara .

In addition, the emerging colonial empires of Spain and Portugal opened up a new field of work: the Augustinian hermits became an important missionary order. The Spanish Augustinians proselytized in Latin America and the Philippines , where a group of Augustinians led by Andrés de Urdaneta was already involved in the establishment of the first Spanish branch in 1565. The Augustinian missionaries in Japan and China were less successful . As part of the Portuguese expansion , missionary efforts were also made in India , but with no significant results.

Younger time

Crisis through secularization and revolution

In the 18th century the order experienced its greatest expansion. By 1750 there were about 20,000 members living in 1,500 convents. There were also around 200 nunneries in which the residents led a contemplative prayer life. Towards the end of the century, however, the Augustinians also had to endure the greatest crisis in their history. Even before the French Revolution , there were numerous abolition of monasteries by authorities influenced by the Enlightenment. Particularly noteworthy here is the secularization that the Roman-German Emperor Joseph II carried out in his Habsburg hereditary lands . In the course of the French Revolution and the secularization brought about by Napoleon in Germany since 1802, the order then suffered devastating losses. Most of the monasteries were dissolved, only about 250 remained, in which about 1900 members lived.

Augustinian habit
Habit of an August woman

Development since the 19th century

In the 19th century, the Augustinian hermits - like many other orders during this time - were able to slowly recover from the severe setbacks, but without ever regaining the size of earlier centuries.

In 1979 the order had 28 provinces with 483 houses. Around 2000 there were 50 circumscriptions (provinces, vicariates, delegates, one abbey) with around 2800 members. There were still six conventions in Germany in 2019. The historically grown fields of pastoral care, education and mission were retained. Lukas Schmidkunz has been provincial of the Augustinians in Germany since 2019, who took over the management of Alfons Tony after his regular eight-year term in office.

Monasteries and convents



There are currently six conventions in Germany

  • Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, since 2013
  • Guesthouse Zwiesel, since 1962


Czech Republic

Former monasteries

Around 1490 there were around 1,300 Augustinian monasteries in Europe from Scandinavia to Cyprus at the time of greatest spread. German provinces were the Cologne-Belgian, the Saxon-Thuringian, the Swabian, the Bavarian and others.

Known members of the order


Web links

Commons : Order of Saint Augustine  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Luther later describes the purpose of his trip to Rome in the table speeches as follows: "Romam profectus sum causa contentionis Staupitii" (WA.TR 2, no. 2717)
  2. ^ Going back to Böhmer, Heinrich: Luthers Romfahrt, Leipzig 1914
  3. One "must [...] assume a trip from Wittenberg in the winter of 1511/12" (Hans Schneider: Martin Luther's journey to Rome. Newly dated and reinterpreted, in: Werner Lehfeldt: Studies on the history of science and religion, academy der Wissenschaft zu Göttingen, Vol. 10, Berlin / New York 2011, 1–157, 146, ISBN 978-3-11-025175-3 ).
  4. Augustiner locations (as of 2019)
  5. Augustinian Monastery of St. Bruno Würzburg Wiki
  6. History of the Augustinian Order, (Dutch) for 1490
  7. Bernd Martin, Michael Wernecke (ed.): The struggle for religion and humanity. Diary of the Augustinian Viktor (Erwin) Hümmer - Wehrmacht paramedic in Hungary and during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 . Lit, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-643-13354-0