|Before the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, six Provinces of the Order had been founded in Latin America from the Province of Spain (or Castile): Mexico in 1568, Peru in 1575, Ecuador in 1579, New Granada (today the area of Colombia and Venezuela) in 1601, Michoacan Province (a second province in Mexico) in 1602, and Chile 1627.
As well, the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in the Philippines (established in Spain to evangelise in Asia) was formed in 1575.
Even as the Spanish wealth and power became depleted and eventually exhausted, the Order in Spain still attracted men for the missions in Latin America and the Philippines.
These 140 years after 1648 were the ending of the so called “golden years” of rapid Augustinian growth outside of Europe.
Since 1572, the Province of Portugal had its "Congregation of the Hermits of Saint Augustine of the East Indies."
Twelve men had left Lisbon in March 1572, and reached Goa off the coast of India six months later. Soon twelve other groups followed.
By the year 1650, thirty groups of Portuguese Augustinians had gone to Africa and Asia. Already by the year 1638, about 240 members of the Order from Portugal had gone to the colonies of their nation in West Africa, East Africa, Arabia, India and Asia.
This trend continued through the remainder of the seventeenth century, right up to the suppression of all religious houses in Portugal and its colonies in 1834.
In Italy, there were in 1750 sixteen Augustinian provinces and thirteen semi-autonomous Augustinian observant congregations, totalling between 4,000 and 5,000 members.
The Protestant Reformation had no great effect on the number of Augustinian priories in Italy, but one of the twenty popes between 1648 and 1789 certainly did.
Previously in March 1649 Pope Innocent X – the Pope ignored in the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 – began planning the closure of religious communities that did not have at least six members.
The pope published on 17th December 1649 a constitution entitled Inter caetera. Granted that the pope at the outset expressed his deep concern for the maintenance of religious observance (and temporarily forbade the reception of any further novices into religious orders), it is abundantly clear from the constitution that the Holy See was primarily interested in the amount of money that could be realised from the sale of the properties of small religious houses.
It was no secret that the monies were to be diverted for the provision and upkeep of diocesan seminaries, and hence to fostering vocations to the secular priesthood. How so? It has to be said in truth, however unpalatable, by holding out financial inducements to would-be aspirants in the form of extra parishes, new benefices and chaplancies - all at the expense of the religious orders - could be made available.
(Continued on the next page.)
For the photo gallery of Augnet on Augustinian ministry in Spain: Escorial, Madrid, click here.