William of Cremona became Prior General during the second decade of the Avignon Papacy (1309 - 1378). Born about 1270, he gave many years of exemplary and well-documented work to the Augustinian Order and to the Church.
Not much is known of the life of William de Villana (William of Cremona) before he achieved the degree of magister (“Doctor”) of theology at the Augustinian studium generale in Paris in 1320.
William defended the authority of Pope John XXII against the attacks of theologians about papal superiority to the rights of kings, and against the imperialist claims of Emperor Louis (Ludwig) of Bavaria in this regard.
In about 1326 he produced his main polemical work in response to Defensor Pacis (“Defender of Peace”) of Marsilius of Padua and other secularists.
For this purpose, William wrote his tract, Reprobatio sex errorum (“The Refutation of six errors”). He prepared it at either the request or the order of Pope John XXII.
In this tract, he repeated the extreme views of Giles of Rome O.S.A
. (Prior General
1292 - 1295) on the relationship of temporal and spiritual power, on dominion and ownership. There is surprisingtly little of the thought of St Augustine or other Church Fathers in the tract, and much of Aristotle and Canon Law dressed in theological language. It was a polemical and political tract.
William of Cremona lit a time-fuse when here he proposed that a person could not legitimately hold power unless in the state of grace.
William of Cremona (and Giles of Rome O.S.A.
before him) had been thinking here of temporal rulers, but two centuries later Martin Luther
in 1520 used this argument to deny the legitimacy of the spiritual leadership of the Popes. Even before this it was also used against the Church by John Wyclif in England and John Hus in Bohemia.
Elected Prior General at the General Chapter in Florence in 1326, William of Cremona was then repeatedly re-elected at the General Chapters held in northern Italy and France in 1329, 1332, 1335, 1338 and 1341.
Sixteen years of his generalate coincided with the politico-religious struggles between Emperor Louis of Bavaria and two successive Popes (both Frenchmen, living in Avignon), and in 1327 the Emperor’s briefly invading Italy.
Previously in 1319, during the term of office as Prior General of William’s predecessor, Alexander of St Elphido O.S.A., John XXII had already shown his appreciation for the support of the Augustinian Order in the challenge to his authority from secular rulers.
At that time John XXII permanently granted the Order of Saint Augustine three privileges of filling three high offices in the papal court: papal sacristan, papal librarian and confessor to the Pope – the first of which was the last of the three privilege to be abolished, done late last century by Pope John Paul II.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photos (at right)
The Augustinian Director (Principal) and some students of the Real Colegio de Alfonso XII in the Escorial (Madrid).
For further images of Augustinian ministries at the Escorial, choose the photo gallery named Spain: Escorial after you click here.