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The question of poverty - 03

St Augustine : St Augustine in leadlight,  Colegio S. Agustin, Madrid
St Augustine in leadlight,
Colegio S. Agustin, Madrid

In spite of the promulgation of these strict regulations in 1326, the General Chapter held at Grassa in 1335 again had to legislate measures against brethren who had private possessions, by testament or inheritance or purchase, outside the monastery.

It was decreed that none of those concerned could stay with these possessions beyond three days continuously, without incurring the penalty of apostasy from the Order, unless, in particular cases, due permission was obtained from the Vicar General and the Definitors of their respective Augustinian Province.

The Chapter General held at Siena in 1338 strictly enforced the regulations concerning the administration of money as provided in the Constitutions against possible abuses.

Under penalty of removal from office, no Prior was allowed to receive, handle, or spend money belonging to the monastery, nor to interfere in any way with the office of the Procurator beyond the regulations of the Constitutions.

In addition, the Prior acting contrary to this decree was to be incapable, for the next three years, of any office to which the care of souls was annexed. At this Chapter also extensive regulations were made for reforming studies in general. Finally, special regulations for the house at Paris were added, in particular for the administration of money belonging to the community and to the fund for the Augustinians who were there as students or teaching staff.

As a means of protection for the brethren and in order to preclude scandals which might arise for the Order, the General Chapter of Toulouse in 1341 enforced a disciplinary precept of the Augustine's Rule and the Augustinian Constitutions. Accordingly, it was ruled that no brother was allowed to leave the monastery without a companion. Transgressors of this regulation were to be considered as apostates from the Order.

Towards the middle of the fourteenth century the foundation of a new Augustinian priory (house) was permitted only if sustenance for at least twelve friars was guaranteed. This regulation ended the ideal of a brotherhood unfettered by material necessities, free to move quickly to any place where its services were required.

Obedience to this regulation ironically enough was to create one and not the minor basis for the bitter attacks upon mendicant institutions during the last half of the fourteenth century.
 
By 1350 the Augustinians had given up all thought of absolute poverty. Intense study of St Augustine had taught them that he had never favored anything but the ideal of common life which according to his Rule consists in “not calling anything one's own, but having all things in common."

When in later years the voice of reform (i.e., especially the observant movement) arose in the Augustinian Order, it was never again a cry for absolute poverty but a call for common life. In becoming fundamental law of the Church for most religious institutes, this Augustinian type of poverty has exerted a vastly greater influence than absolute poverty.
 
Though the monastic ideal of personal poverty and communal possession appears today as in the past in many variations, the poverty of the Austin Friar must remain the vita communis perfecta. Personally he must practice absolute poverty, not calling anything his own; his community, however, can possess property and in contra-distinction to older Orders may send its members out to beg. 
 
Therefore, even the community should avoid any large estates. In this they are like the two other mendicant Orders, the Dominicans and Carmelites, and with them the Augustinians are bearers of the new religious life that arose in the thirteenth century.
ID2846


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