As well as continue the reform program of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, Pope Alexander IV undertook the Grand Union of the Augustinians because of his positive support of the mendicant movement.
Similar steps taken almost fifty years previously to form the Franciscan and Dominican Orders had already succeeded.
In October 1256, the Pope praised the Franciscans and Dominicans "for your zeal in the promotion of the Christian faith, in the advancement of religious studies, and in working for the greater spiritual welfare of the Church."
A general belief held until recently that the Grand Union was intended only for groups already living the Rule of Augustine is definitely incorrect.
The bull of 1256 by Pope Alexander IV clearly instructed his nephew, Cardinal Richard Annibaldi
, to combine "all hermits of any Order whatsoever" Richardus... qui auctoritate nostra omnes heremitas cuiuscumque ordinis uniens). The bull shows that Richard did not plan to unite only hermits following the Rule of St Augustine — as has subsequently been the earlier favoured opinion within the Augustinian Order — but to unite all Tuscan hermits, regardless of whether they belonged to the Augustinian tradition or to any other tradition.
It is reasonable to speculate if it was actually Annabaldi, who since 1244 had been the Cardinal Protector of the Fratres Heremitarium in Tuscia Ordinis Sancti Augustini ("The Brothers Hermits in Tuscany of the Order of St Augustine"), who first suggested the reorganization of the houses of the Little Union of 1244 with all other eremitical ("hermit") groups that were Tuscan-based, even this time including the Williamites who, living according to the Rule of St Benedict, had been pleased to have been exempted from the amalgamation that took place in 1244?
Certainly, as one of the most influential members of the Roman (papal) Curia, as a nephew who had the ear of his uncle, the Pope, and as a known advocate of such a Grand Union, the speculation is certainly far from being groundless.
The papal intention was to gather all hermit groups into one order of the mendicant model. Annibaldi partially failed in this goal, and possibly his failure was inevitable because only homogenous groups can be welded into a body that is uniform in its outlook and action.
The groups of Tuscan hermits, who had been amalgamated under the guidance of the Cardinal Annibaldi at the Little Union of 1244, would become part of a new Order of Brothers Hermits of Saint Augustine (i.e., no longer with "of Tuscany" as part of their official name), formed by the same Annibaldi at the Grand Union of 1256.
The document of invitation from the Pope stressed that all came to the Grand Union as equals so that they could form a mutual union in which no one previous group would dominate or prevail.
No group was to impose anything on the others, and everything was to be decided by common consent.
The Prior General was to be chosen by Cardinal Annibaldi. The Cardinal told them that it was for the delegates, by their consent, to make the intention of the Pope their own intention as well.
In other words, they were to accept the papal order to unite themselves "in a single profession and regular observance in the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine." The word hermit was included therein possibly to distinguish the new Order from the Canons Regular of St Augustine, and/or to acknowledge the eremitical (hermit) origins that the new Order was officially leaving behind.
It all happened as planned.
(Continued on the next page.)