|The request of the Tuscan hermits to the Pope was not necessarily, however, a unique insight of their own making; Francis of Assisi had visited the Pope in similar fashion decades earlier, and the Sack Friars were to do so eight years later.
The four Tuscan hermit leaders proceeded not only from their own initiative, but also from their obedience to papal legislation, which saw in the combination of scattered groups and individual houses a means for a better monastic life, a greater safeguard against heresy, a stricter church supervision, and the better preparation of persons who would be asked to participate in active ministry on behalf of the Church.
The church was looking for opportunities to achieve what the Tuscan hermits were now requesting.
In a favourable response to the four Tuscan hermit leaders visiting him in Lyon, the Pope on 16th December 1243 issued two papal bulls. The first was Incumbit nobis.
Incumbit nobis of 16 December 1243 by Pope Innocent IV was addressed to “all the hermits living in Tuscany, except for the brothers of Saint William.” The latter, popularly called Williamites, already had the type of papal approval that the Tuscan hermits were then seeking from the Pope, hence were not involved in the Little Union of 1244; it is of interest to note, however, that they were drawn into the Grand Union of 1256, even if they soon afterwards departed from it.
The hermits of Tuscany were instructed by the papal bull, Incumbit nobis, to adopt the Rule of Augustine, to follow a structured community life, to elect for themselves a single Prior General and to codify their traditions into a set of Constitutions.
There is not plentiful evidence as to how many these communities were following the Rule of Augustine prior to this Little Union of 1244.
A variant of the official title of the Order, given by Pope Alexander IV in the Great Union of 1256, is found already in 1228 in the bull of Gregory IX, Conquesti sunt, addressed to the Archdeacon of Aretino concerning the rights and privileges of "the prior and brothers of the hermits of Rosia, of the Order of St. Augustine" - which would be a fair indication that the Rule of Augustine was in use there.
The second bull of 16th December 1243 was Preasentium vobis, which directed each house to send two delegates to the general chapter, which would be held at a date and place decided by Cardinal Richard Annibaldi, the Pope's appointed representative.
This gathering for the founding General Chapter occurred somewhere in Rome (at a location now unknown) during or shortly before March 1244.
It must be noted that the term "Tuscany" was then a larger region than is meant by that term today.
By 1250 these groups, although concentrated around Lucca and Siena, had at least sixty-one houses, some of which were as far away as Liguria, Umbria and Romagna. The names of these sixty-one foundations were included in a legal document signed in 1250; although the original document has been lost for centuries, the names were copied, and eventually used by the reputable Augustinian historian, Thomas Herrera O.S.A., in 1642.
They had expanded to Rome by 1250, to France and England before 1255, and to Germany and Spain before 1256.
There is no evidence that delegates from outside of Italy attended the Little Union; they had not been called to do so.
Furthermore, it is thought that communities originally begun by the Tuscan hermits outside of Italy may in fact have had a common superior - a "Prior General" - of their own.
(Continued on the next page.)