These documents were composed to address needs of the time, and not specifically written as “history” in the strict meaning of that term in the twenty-first century. Indeed, they were compiled as testimonies for the defence of the Augustinian position in those current ecclesiastical debates.
As well as being studied and evaluated separately, these documents need to be viewed as a whole because in general each of them successively influenced those composed after it.
The final “picture” that emerged at the hands of Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. contained excerpts – and sometimes further embellished by him – from the writings of these slightly-previous Augustinians.
In his Collectanea Augustiniana (“Augustinian Collection”) of 1343, he was one of the first-known copyists of these sermons. In Jordan’s day they were generally attributed to Augustine, but were later proved to be spurious.
Not all early manuscript collections of these sermons contained the same number of proported Sermones ad fratres in eremo - the number varies from twenty-three to seventy-six. Even with that variance, some of the sermons do not appear in all editions.
Using the word “myth” in the academic sense of being something believed rather than in the popular sense of simply being something fictitious, together these Augustinian writers had cumulatively developed and written down an operational myth for the Order of Saint Augustine.
Just as, for example, the myth of Romulus and Remus helped in the understanding of the origins and identity of the ancient state of Rome, here now was the Augustinian myth – a proposed origin (which was quite inaccurate historically) upon which a desired identity and ethos could be built and reinforced.
This is a myth of the kind that is used to underpin national identity, e.g., the honesty of George Washington, the brave boy in Holland who saved his town from being submerged by a failing dike, and the ever-brave ANZAC soldiers whose sacrifice on the battlefield at Gallipoli solidified the Australian national identity in 1915.
This page will simply look at the myth in its slightly later and more final form as developed by Jordan of Saxony O.S.A.
Making use of the recent writing of these other Augustinians, Jordan created the myth that gave the Augustinians of his day – and for centuries afterwards – much of their sense of identity.
The myth that he wrote down provided meaning for the Augustinian way of life, and supported their historically-unsustainable beliefs about their Order’s fifth-century origins.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photos (at right).
Picture 1: Sanctuary of Augustinian Church of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome.
Picture 2: Augustinian Church of S. Maria del Popolo, Rome.
Picture 3: Statue in interior of the rear wall of the church.
For the Augnet photo gallery of Italy: Santa Maria del Popolo (see photos at right), click here.