FALSE SERMONS (I)
One particular set of over fifty sermons attributed to Augustine are now universally accepted as spurious.
They were obviously written after the formal beginning of the Order in the thirteenth century to bolster the claim that the Order came directly from communities formed by Augustine – a fanciful hope that many Augustinians then entertained.
These sermons are called Sermones ad fraters in eremo (“Sermons to the brothers in the hermitage”), suggesting that Augustine preached to followers of his living in hermitages he had founded near Hippo.
The sermons are available in Latin in Jacques-Paul Minge’s huge 177-volume Patrologia Latina of 1844-1855; see PL 40, columns 1233-1358.
Minge included seventy-six sermons under the heading “Pseudo Augustine.” The first fifty of them appear to be by the same author, and are the ones being referred to herein.
Had it been true, it would have added prestige to the Order which, unlike the two larger mendicant orders commenced by Saints Dominic and Francis of Assisi, had no sole founder.
Additionally, this fiction would have meant the Order (of Hermits) of Saint Augustine was older that the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, thereby allowing the former Order to claim to be the “true sons” and the “first sons” of Augustine.
If these sermons were forged before the year 1327, there was the war of words raging because the Canons had sole guardianship of the tomb of Augustine. If these sermons were forged soon after 1327, there was the war of words resulting from Pope John XXII in January 1327 granting to the Order of Saint Augustine shared custodianship of the tomb with the strongly protesting Canons Regular.
It took eleven years, i.e., until 1338, for this dual arrangement at Pavia to be settled by a written agreement. This eleven-year period of contention at Pavia between 1327 and 1338, in which the whole Augustinian world was interested, is a key period in the history of these spurious sermons.
When were these spurious sermons written? They could not all have been completed before 1332, and were widely circulating by 1350.
For example, an English Augustinian and scholar, Geoffrey Hardeby O.S.A., (1320 – c. 1385) knew of them but refused to cite them in his work De vita evangelica (“The Evangelical Life”).
Geoffrey Hardeby refused to use them, not because he disbelieved them himself, but because he knew they would not assist his arguments because many other Augustinians held them as false. Thus, although these sermons certainly had achieved some circulation by about the year 1350, a degree of suspicion about their authenticity existed right from the beginning.
On the contrary, Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. included them in his manuscript, Collectanea Augustiniana ("Augustinian Collection") that he prepared and presented to the Augustinian studium generale (international house of studies) at Paris in 1343. Jordan used them in his subsequent formative handbook on the authentic Augustinian life, his Liber Vitasfratrum ("Life of the Brethren").
Douai, in 1651, Christopher de Wulf O.S.A. (sometimes called Christopher Lupus) published a thorough critique of these sermons, and conclusively proved that they were forgeries.
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