A general reorganization of religious life was decreed by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Henceforth no religious Rules but those of
St Augustine and St Benedict were to be permitted. Religious houses with similar ideals and modes of life could no longer remain independent but were required to form groups.
These groups were to be real centralized Orders with superiors general, provincial and general chapters and of course one of the two authorized Rules. It was permissible to have special statutes so long as they were compatible with whichever religious Rule had been chosen.
Furthermore, each of these Orders had to seek and obtain papal approval. In some cases approval was given as much as thirty years after the Fourth Lateran Council; this fact indicates not only lack of haste on the part of the Papacy but also and more importantly a real steadfastness in carrying out the original plan.
And so it was that four men representing four hermit groupings in Tuscany, northern Italy went together in 1243 to ask Pope Innocent IV to unite them under a single leader.
To understand better the establishment of the Order of Saint Augustine by a different pope thirteen years later in 1256, it is beneficial to know more about this eremitical (hermit) movement in Tuscany.
This movement began there before the year 1100, and it is actually misleading to presume it was literally a "hermit" movement in a strict definition of that term. Indeed, these men were not recluses.
Unlike hermits such as Anthony in the Egyptian desert before the time of Augustine eight hundred years earlier, these Tuscan hermits did not live in isolation from one another, but rather lived in a "commune" that possessed solitude from the rest of society.
Similar to the desert hermits, however, they sought a prayerful and penitential life that was physically separated from the general population. Even so, they had a positive policy of evangelisation of the people in the surrounding countryside.
This desire within these Tuscan hermit communities to unite was a process that evolved` over time. In 1223 five of these communities united in a loosely structured brotherhood, which was joined five years later by eight additional houses.
Indeed, when these and other four Tuscan hermit groupings together approached Pope Innocent IV in 1243, they were opting to join in a continuing program of reform being promoted by a series of thirteenth-century Popes.
It was a papal program that by then had been operating for thirty years. Its intention was to put an end to groups of penitents and popular preachers operating without much hierarchical control of the Church.
These men functioned in Tuscany somewhat independently, and were not necessarily coordinated with the program of ministry outlined by the local bishop.
(Continued on the next page.)
Photo: The ruins of the former Augustinian monastery of Santa Lucia at Rosia, Tuscany, Italy.
To view the photo gallery of Rosia in this web site, select Italy:Rosia after you click here.
For further reading
Cardinal Richard Annibaldi. By Francis Roth O.S.A. A long article that appeared in English in successive issues of the scholarly historical periodical, Augustiniana, of the Augustinian Historical Institute of Louvain, Belgium in 1952-1954. The second section of this article, which appeared in Augustiniana in August 1952, details the Augustinian Little Union.