In this identity the myth and the vision outlined by Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. (also called Jordan of Quedlinburg) in his Vitasfratrum was the most detailed contemporary description of the Order’s identity throughout the late Middle Ages.
The Liber Vitasfratrum had two purposes. Firstly, it was to be a defence of the Order against its opponents. For this purpose, it gives a detailed and fundamental discussion of voluntary evangelical poverty and the mendicant way of life.
Secondly, it is an attempt to establish the Augustinian Order as an apostolic form of life, and to show the inner and historical connection between this apostolic activity and the Augustinian form of religious life.
At the same time, it wishes to elaborate the general norms of religious observance and discipline in the spirit of the Rule of Augustine and the Augustinian Constitutions. Thus the Liber Vitasfratrum served as a general directory in the work of reform by the Priors General of the Augustinian Order, and it is no wonder that they called upon Augustinians to study it and to adopt its principles.
Jordan saw the Order of Saint Augustine as attempting more than living according to the ideal of Augustine; indeed, he saw it as commissioned to perpetuate the Christian mission of Augustine.
To Jordan and to subsequent Augustinians in the later Middle Ages, Augustine was not only the origin of the Order of Saint Augustine in a way that was unique among all orders in the Augustinian tradition, but also very intimately bound with its identity and its very purpose for existing.
For the fourteenth-century Augustinians, as much as a person who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries could be imagined as commencing a religious order that was actually constituted in the year 1256, Augustine was seen as a founder of the Order of Saint Augustine in parallel to Francis of Assisi as founder of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), and Dominic de Guzmán as founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans).
This very specific conviction was one that had not existed in the minds of the participants of the Augustinian Grand Union of 1256; at least, there certainly is no evidence that it did. This conviction arose and was positively reinforced as part of the Order's response to the suspected threat of its existence as a result of the Second Council of Lyons of 1274.
Almost in parallel to the Augustinian term of the totus Christus being Christ and the Church, the Order of Saint Augustine was commissioned to fill what was lacking in the body of Augustine.
Augustine, the man and bishop of Hippo, was elevated to Augustinus, the head of the Order of which Jordan and his confreres were the members.
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Eric L. Saak, The Creation of Augustinian Identity in the Later Middle Ages, Augustiniana, Annus 49 (1999), fasc, 1-2 & 3-4. Published by Institutum Historicum Augustinianum Lovanii, Belgium.
For an article by Eric Saak written for this Augnet web site and published here permission, click here.