Discipline regularly caused at least some concern and was constantly given attention in the Order of St Augustine. This was not a greater challenge in the Augustinian Order than in the other mendicant orders, or in religious orders generally.
(This stance considers that the actions of Martin Luther were not a revolt against the discipline of the Augustinian Order, but against the theology of the Roman Church. In fact, Luther did not shed his Augustinian habit until 1521, well after a stage where he could “do no other.”)
Discipline was considered a necessary and important part of Augustinian formation and Augustinian community life. From the time of the Augustinian Order’s formal beginnings at Rome in the year 1256, especially with its background within the eremitical (“hermit”) tradition, the enhancement of a deep spirituality by a degree of dissociation with “the world” demanded the provision of a disciplined life that enforced regular prayer and an ordered routine of existence.
In the context of spirituality, discipline was an instrument in the formation each friar into the Augustinian Christian ethos.
Because to be spiritual required a person essentially to be self-disciplined, Augustinian life was buttressed by a milieu of communal discipline, the patient acceptance of others, the keeping of routine, and the acceptance of legitimate authority.
In a manner that was more strict than the expectation in today’s society, a person could enter the Augustinian Order at the age of fourteen – there were times and places where other Orders allegedly accepted pre-adolescents – and, when taking final vows one to five years afterwards, was committed to remain for life. This was a contract that contained mutual benefit; the individual was guaranteed security and sustenance for the rest of life, and the Order received the talents and services of the individual for the cost of his board, keep and his funeral.
The continuation of the contract, however, depended upon the individual’s having a sufficient degree of Christian Faith, a temperament suited to communal and celibate living, and a willingness to persist in this arrangement until death. It is easy to accept, therefore, that a disciplined existence enhanced the possibility that this contract would be carried out.
In Pre-Reformation Europe where Christianity was undivided and all rulers were members of the one Western Christian Church, this commitment to perpetual religious vows by monks and friars could be reinforced by civil law, such that a religious absent without leave of his religious superiors could be declared an outlaw by the civil authorities, detained, and sent back to his religious community.
If a friar departed from his designated religious community without testimonial letters that validated his movements, there was no need for any leeway for tolerance to be shown him. Knowing that a friar would never be sent forth from his designated community without a letter of authority from his Prior for his travel, the Prior of any other Augustinian community he entered had the right immediately to detain him in the community prison cell until the matter was satisfactorily clarified.
In medieval times, the Augustinian Constitutions demanded that a candidate join the Augustinian community nearest his place of birth or residence, and the person belonged to that community permanently (even if temporary sent elsewhere at their expense for higher education).
(Continued on the next page.)