During the late Middle Ages shortly after the Augustinian General Chapter at Milan in 1298, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Upper-Lower Silesia, Styria and Carinthia were organized and remained as districts under the administration of the large Augustinian Province of Bavaria. Inevitably, with the daily advance of the Ottoman Turks and the inroads of the Protestant Reformation, governing such a wide territory became virtually impossible for the successive Augustinians who occupied the office of Bavarian Provincial.
The first contact with humanism in Germany was brought about by the emperor Charles IV (1346-1378). Acquainted with the new mode of spiritual formation begun in Italy, he sought to incorporate it into German culture, in the hope of establishing a national German culture. The University of Prague was to play a key role in this effort. It was founded by Charles in 1348 and to it he called the learned doctors of Bologna, Padua, Paris, and Oxford.
The chancellor, John of Neumarkt (Novoforo), played a key role in the imperial organization of this centre of culture. A number of Augustinians who were beginning to take their own first steps into the world of humanism were counted among the friends of John.
Most notable among these was Nicholas of Laun O.S.A.. For a number of years he was the Provincial of the Bavarian Province, and recognized as far-sighted and diligent in this capacity. He brought the Province to a new period of growth after the damage caused by the Black Death in the years 1348 – 1351. He reorganized the house of St Thomas in Prague, making it one of the principal centres of formation and culture north of the Alps.
The Augustinians of this community had frequent contact with their brothers in Italy, in particular with the Augustinian friary of Santo Spirto in Florence. They were acquainted with the tendencies of humanism and these stimulated in them new ideas as well as confirming them in their Augustinian orientation. They certainly were the persons most responsible for the diffusion of humanism in Bohemia at the time. In their libraries, along with theological works, there were not a few classical authors and writings by some of the first humanists.
Laun enjoyed great favour at the court in Prague, for Charles IV referred to him as "our chaplain-counsellor, Ioyal and dear to us." When Charles was crowned King of Bohemia in 1347, Laun was called upon to deliver the congratulatory discourse. As the first master of Paris among those called to the new University in Prague, Laun for a time was the only one able to promote students to the grade of doctor in theology. He died in 1371 as auxiliary bishop of Ratisbon.
In 1370 the previously-mentioned chancellor John of Neumarkt invited John Klenkok O.S.A. to teach at the University in Prague. Klenkok was a renowned moralist from the Augustinian Province of Saxony. Before his teaching career with the Augustinians in Oxford, where he obtained his baccalaureate and doctorate, he had pursued the study of law in Bologna. While there he became famous for his opposition to the Speculum Saxonum, at that time still the prevailing code in Saxony; Roman law had been established in Saxony but played only a subsidiary role.
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Picture 1: Former Augustinian monastery at Ceska-Lipa, Czeck Republic.
Picture 2: Former Augustinian church at Rocov, Czech Republic.
Picture 3: Former Augustinian church and monastery at Rocov, Czech Republic.