To understand Martin Luther in the context of the complicated origins of the Protestant Reformation, it is beneficial to understand the Augustinian observant movement.
This was a movement of reform within the Augustinian Order decades before Luther broadened his scope to call for broader reform within the Church generally.
The first observant house designated by an Augustinian General Chapter was the eremo (hermitage) of Lecceto. It was declared thus by the Augustinian General Chapter at Gran, Hungary in 1585, and again by subsequent chapters.
At the local level, an Augustinian convento (house) could be declared observant if a majority of the community desired it, and often won consent of their Augustinian Provincial (local superior) to only be assigned henceforth members who wished to adopt this more strict form of community life.
Whereas observants of the Franciscan Order emphasised poverty above all else, the Augustinian observants focused on an interiority that came from Augustinian spirituality - an inner existence of prayer and meditation, supported by the following of the vita communis (community life).
This was to be achieved by an unfailing attendance together at meals and set community prayer, as well as through the removal of personal possessions and of all exemptions and dispensations.
Augustinian observant houses in a geographical area then formed a unit called a congregation, located within a standard Augustinian province yet in certain issues autonomous from it.
In a nation (e.g., Italy, Spain, Germany and Ireland), therefore, there would be two bodies of Augustinians – the observants, and the conventional group, called "conventuals."