THE EFFECT OF LUTHER ON THE ORDER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE (3)
The small number of English Augustinians affected by the influence of Martin Luther was due in part to the decisive action of the English King, Henry VIII in initially protecting his nation against Lutheranism.
After his Act of Supremacy was passed through the English Parliament on 3rd November 1534, however, his dissolution of all English monasteries was more thorough and universal that the effect of Lutheranism had been on the Augustinian monasteries in Continental Europe during the previous twenty years.
The English Augustinian Province was destroyed by King Henry VIII, who suppressed the last remaining Augustinian community in England at Hull on 10th March 1539.
Twenty Augustinian communities in Ireland also belonged to the Augustinian Province of England.
Although officially suppressed as well, as many as ten that were beyond the effective reach of the forces of the king continued, at least for a while.
For example, by a decree of 7th July 1542 parliament permitted that the priory at Dunmore, Ireland continue because Lord Birmingham, a descendant of the founder of that community, requested its preservation.
For that reason Dunmore priory became the mother house of the new Augustinian Province of Ireland.
The Provinces of the Order in Spain were largely untouched by the Protestant Reformation, where the Spanish Inquisition enforced an unwavering orthodoxy. The Augustinian houses in Poland, which previously had been part of the German Province of Bavaria, were re-constituted as a new Province of Poland in 1547.
In summary, the members of the Order of Saint Augustine who became Lutheran was numerically a fraction rather than even anywhere near a significant minority of the estimated 22,000 members of that period.
Unlike some other religious orders, the Order of Saint Augustine survived the onslaught of the Protestant Reformation. It was boosted by the reforms of the Council of Trent, which began in 1546, the year of Luther's death.
In comparison with the relatively small number of Augustinians who shifted to Lutheranism or to other forms of Protestantism, numbers in the Order dropped far more because of the enforced closure of Augustinian houses by governments, and the resulting expulsion of the occupants.
In spite of deep wounds, the Order of Saint Augustine survived perhaps its greatest - and worst - challenge in what is now its 750 years of history.
This was thanks to a number of superiors at the General and Provincial (i.e., international and regional) levels, who adhered tenaciously to their task of leadership and stayed focused on the goal of reform of the Order.
Their efforts were blessed with considerable success because a large majority of the members of the Order maintained their religious beliefs and monastic ideals in the face of external conflict, danger and privation.
The Augustinian Order, whose member Martin Luther gave great distress to the Church, also providentially gave the Church Girolamo Seripando, who as a theologian and ecclesiastical reformer at the Council of Trent helped to set in place the foundations of the Catholic Reformation which followed.
It is regrettable that it took the cataclysm prompted by Martin Luther to bring about the reform of the Roman church from which Luther initially had neither desired nor intended to depart.
Although fewer in numbers, the Order of Saint Augustine in 1575 was in a better condition than it had been at the outset of the Protestant Reformation in 1518.
Reform had taken place, but in a way and at a cost that no one would have fully anticipated.
Photos (at right):
Picture 1: Part of the cloister of the former
Picture 2: The the former Augustinian convento in
St Augustine 's Church and the former convento in Erfurt.