The second Augustinian appointed as Prior General for life served for a record term of thirty-two years.
He was Francisco X. Vazquez O.S.A. (1703 – 1785), who has been the only Peruvian-born Prior General. He served in that role from 1753 until his death in 1785.
His considerable achievements are even more noteworthy for having taken place during the particular difficulties experienced by the Church and Augustinian Order in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Vazquez worked energetically on many fronts. He was determined to reform the internal spirit of the Order. He successfully called for a compilation of Augustinian theology, and the publication of the works of the outstanding Augustinian theologian of the time, Gianlorenzo Berti O.S.A.
Vazquez faced well the difficulty of being Prior General for thirty-two years at a period when the so-called enlightened despots of Europe were expressing aggression towards the monastic and mendicant religious orders of the Church.
The long term of office as Prior General by Vazquez happened during the European historical period called the Enlightenment, which saw a secularization of society.
Under this pressure imposed by absolutist rulers who are sometimes described as “enlightened despots,” new Augustinian provinces were established to suit the boundaries of civil jurisdictions, and some semi-autonomous Augustinian observant congregations were suppressed.
This indicates the extent to the Order’s provinces, and hence the Order itself, were in a fluid state under the insistence of secular rulers determined to reduce the church to the role of being an instrument of the state.
This attitude was called Josephism, after the name of its chief practitioner, Joseph II of Austria, who had no time for the religious orders except insofar as their activities coincided with the prevailing ideas of the Enlightenment period about the public utility of institutions.
Vazquez was an energetic administrator himself, and was fortunate to have had four reputable Assistants General to convey and magnify his impact on various sections of the Augustinian world.
These Assistants General in the Augustinian Curia (central governing committee) were from Italy (Emmanuele Piognoine O.S.A. of Carretto), France (Joseph Andre Goubert O.S.A.), Spain (Francisco Gutierrez O.S.A.), and Germany (Kosmas Schmalfus O.S.A.).
The fact that Vazquez was appointed to be Prior General for life was almost unique in the 750 years of the history of the Order of Saint Augustine.
The only other instance was that of his immediate predecessor, Agostino Gioia O.S.A. of Giovinazzo, Italy. Elected in 1745, he died unexpectedly in 1751; this made his term of office no longer in fact that many other persons on the long list of Augustinian Priors General.
At this period in Church history, newer Post-Reformation religious orders such as the Jesuits (Society of Jesus) had lifelong generalship as their standard practice, just as in a parallel way the position of abbot in Benedictine monasteries had for centuries been a lifelong appointment.
After this experiment in the cases of Gioia and Vazquez, the Augustinians reverted to the earlier constitutional practice of a term of office equalling the duration between General Chapters.
For the Augnet photo gallery on Italy: San Gimignano (see photo above), click here.
For further reading
The European Augustinians in 1776, by John Gavigan O.S.A.. Rome: Analecta Augustiniana, Vol XXXVIII (1975), pp. 231-294.