Akin to the Franciscans but with far less difficulty, the Augustinian Order has its founding controversy about the degree of poverty to adopt.
Some groupings of Augustinian hermits brought the practice of absolute poverty to the Grand Union of 1256, whereas the more moderate option of permitting possessions by the community was authorized for the Order by a papal directive in 1257.
The above-mentioned divergence of opinion among the Augustinians endangered the whole program of the Order’s Cardinal Protector, Richard Annibaldi. Seeking to please everyone he declared in 1257 both forms of poverty permissible.
It caused unrest, however, among the strictest group, the Brettini (or Brictini), who then in 1260 were permitted to revert to their strict eremitical life in their hermitage at Brettino.
This did not, however, win the approval of the stricter party within the Order, of which Blessed Clement of Osimo O.S.A.was the main leader. Yes, it was a practical concession to the friars at Brettino, but they appreciated that it was not an ideological solution for the entire Augustinian Order.
Clement resigned as Prior General of the Order because Annibaldi insisted with great energy on his decision even in cases where it was clearly detrimental to the general welfare of the Order or at least not consistent with changed conditions.
The judgment of Annibaldi in these matters was directed by demands of the canonistic exigencies, and disregarded deeper and more important religious necessities. As a member of the Brettini group drawn into the Grand Union of 1256, Blessed Clement believed in the mendicant way of life and did not accept reelection until after the Annibaldi had died.
Then Clement of Osimo O.S.A. did not rest until the General Chapter of Ratisbon in 1290 accepted an absolute poverty as the fundamental law of the Order. Consequently, all hermitages with possessions were to be sold and only those retained which could live by begging.
That the Papal Curia never fully approved these unrealistic ways, is evident from its struggle with the Franciscan Spirituals (observant movement); the mendicants were expected to get settled and to conform in some measure with established monastic forms.
In March 1326, Prior General William of Cremona O.S.A. issued his Ordinationes pro reparatione Ordinis (“Directives for the Renewal of the Order”) to all the Provinces of the Order. In general terms, he complained that the Order, which was meant to be the third column in the house of God, had spiritually collapsed and had deviated from the observance of the old traditions and the Augustinian Constitutions.
He blamed the Augustinian superiors for their negligence, by allowing a life of worldliness and vanity to creep into the Order under the guise of the religious habit. William's first concern was, therefore, to have good Superiors appointed at the Provincial Chapters.
His Vicar who presided over those Chapters was commanded, by virtue of the vow of obedience, to make a thorough investigation about the character of the candidates to be elected to the offices of Provincial, Definitors, and Priors, whether they had by any illegal machinations, directly or indirectly, procured their own election to those offices.
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