THE AUGUSTINIAN CANONS DESCRIBED
According to Saint Thomas Aquinas
, a canon regular is essentially a religious cleric.
Aquinas explained, "The Order of Canons Regular is necessarily constituted by religious clerics, because they are essentially destined to those works which relate to the Divine mysteries, whereas it is not so with the monastic Orders." (II-II:189:8 ad 2um, and II-II:184:8).
Here he defines what constitutes a canon regular and what distinguishes him from a monk.
Priesthood is essential to the Order of Canons Regular, whereas it is only accidental to the monastic way of life (i.e., a monk can be a religious brother, and not a priest).
Erasmus, who himself had been an Augustinian Canon Regular early in his life (and probably not a very satisfied one), declared that the canons regular were situated at a "point in between" monks and the secular (or diocesan) clergy.
And for the same reason Nigellus Vireker, a Benedictine monk of Canterbury in the twelfth century, contrasted the life of canons regular with that of his own brethren and the Cistercians, pointing out the advantages of the former.
He wrote that the canons were spared the long choral duties, the sharp acts of correction, the stern discipline of the Cistercians, and were not bound to the Spartan simplicity of clothing and diet of the monk who worked in the field.
In this moderation of life and in their priestly ministry, the canons regular followed the example of the saint from whom they took their inspiration, Saint Augustine of Hippo, of whom Possidius
relates that his style of life, his furniture, his clothes were always respectable, neither too expensive nor too shabby.
The advice of Augustine about community living was simple and direct. It therefore was easily adaptable to any particular circumstances. In his Letter 211 (P.L., 33, 958-968) he addressed the problem of religious women living together.
His advice was brief and very unspecific: hold all property in common, pray together at set times each day, dress plainly and without being competitive, and obey the person designated to be in charge of the community.
This suited the needs of the Augustinian Canons.
(Continued on the next page.)