As with all of the religious orders founded in the Middle Ages, the history of the Order of Saint Augustine has four or five distinct periods in its history. These periods were mainly brought about by forces that were external to the religious orders, and generally also outside of their control. Such forces of change included the politics of secular government and the general spiritual health of the Church and especially of the Pope and the bishops at any given time.
These five periods are:
 1256-1350: initial enthusiasm and progress.
After its Grand Union in 1256, the Order of Saint Augustine spread very quickly in Italy, France, England, Germany and Spain. From these centres, the expansion included all of Europe: from Hungary and Poland to Portugal, from Ireland to the Aegean Sea, Crete, the island of Corfu, Cyprus and the island of Rhodes with some establishments in Balkans, the Ukraine and the Baltic States.
Already in 1293, there was a foundation (convento) of Order of Saint Augustine in Paris. Already the third successive location of the Order in Paris, this site is still known as the 'Quay of Grande-Augustins' (this name recalls that this convent was a great centre of studies), previously a possession of the Friars of the Sack. In 1329, the Augustinian Order numbered 34 provinces. The expansion continued until 1350, although by then some signs of weakening were already evident.
 1350-1538: decline and movements of the observance.
By 1350 there was the plague ("Black Death"), which in some areas took from religious communities as many as a third of their members. In this way, earlier historians suggested that between 1348 and 1351 the Order lost possibly as many as 5,084 of its members. (Modern experts on the history of the Order of Saint Augustine are inclined to see this number as an exaggeration.)
After the Black Death (which returned in cycles of decreasing intensity for well over a century) regulations were relaxed in religious orders in a vain effort to attain once again the number of members that had been present before the Black Death had struck. As a result, there was decline in educational standards, and in dedication to the community life. There were several reasons for this regression: the weak theological formation, and the softening of the ecclesiastical authority. This was further exacerbated by the seventy years of the Avignon papacy between 1307 and 1377, which led immediately to the Great Western Schism (competing claimants to the papacy) from 1378 to 1414.
In response to this spread spiritual indolence, certain houses in most religious orders reformed themselves, especially in the low Middle Ages. These became a league of reformed communities within their respective order - they were often called observant houses (for their more strict observance of the rules of their order). Indeed, considerable monks had the nostalgia of the eremitic (hermit) life. The reformations went hand in hand with great tensions between the followers of the observance, the defenders of the renewal and the conventuals, defending the old practices.
Six of these houses formed the observant congregation of the Order of Saint Augustine in Saxony (1438), to which Martin Luther belonged. The Protestant Reformation that Luther ignited affected the numbers in the Order of Saint Augustine somewhat differently in different nations.
 1539-1785: centuries of gold.
This period starts with the election of Jerome Seripando O.S.A. as Prior General of the Order. He proposed the bases of a renewal of discipline and spiritual life. On behalf of the Pope, he led the activities of the third period of the Council of Trent in 1562. He became the first man who as Prior General travelled to visit the Order in Spain, where by then the order had been active for over three hundred years.
New reform congregations were created within the Order. The Order of Augustinian Récollects (O.A.R.) were in the search of a more rigorous and more contemplative life. They founded their first house in Spain in 1589. In 1621 they were constituted as a separate congregation inside the Order of Saint Augustine. It is only in 1912 that they became completely independent of the Augustinian Prior General. The Discalced Augustinians (O.A.D.) were founded in 1593 in Italy and became an autonomous order in 1931. Both of these Orders still exist. With Spain not directly affected by the Protestant Reformation, the Order increased there in such numbers that men were available to extend the Order into the New World (Latin America).
The Order moved into Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile. From Mexico, the Spanish Augustinians were established in the Philippines, which was the only colony of Spain in Asia.
From 1571 to 1835 the Augustinians of Portugal followed the movement of the Portuguese military forces and traders along the east and west coasts of Africa, the Gulf of Persia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Macao (China) and Japan. These ministries generally ended when the armed forces and traders of Portugal departed from or were expelled from these areas. About 1753, the Order counted approximately 1,500 convents and 20.000 members.
 1786-1880: a time of testing and decline.
Just as the Black Death had caused grave damage to the number of men in the Order of Saint Augustine, so too the French Revolution and other political changes it allowed caused the second great period of numerical decline for the Order of Saint Augustine. The birth of an anti-monastic climate and the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic political changes in Europe had catastrophic consequences for the religious life in Europe, and especially in France.
Even before the French Revolution in 1789, a wave of repression started under the reign of the French king, Louis XV. Many religious houses built before the Protestant Reformation were in the 18th century at less than half their maximum number for personnel. The formerly large Augustinian community at Toulouse in France was an example of this. In the time of Louis XV, any convent (convento) which, according to the definition of a special commission of the French government, "was in difficulty" was closed.
In 1769, the Augustinians of France were gathered together in connection with the removal of houses and as a consequence sixty-six houses of the Order in France were closed in 1773. Closures reached a climax during the French revolution (1789-1801, but the consequences were felt until 1811). Ecclesiastical properties in France were confiscated, religious orders were prohibited by law, and religious vows banned because they were considered to be inhuman.
Not that the enforced loss of Augustinian houses during the French Revolution was an isolated event. In the Empire of Austria under Joseph II in 1782, for example, religious orders were also systematically oppressed. It was only away from Europe, in the provinces of the Order in the Philippines and the United States, that the French Revolution did not cause damage.
Members of the Order from Ireland were assigned to the United States of America in 1796, and served briefly in India after 1832. In 1817, the Province of Malta was founded. The Order made its way from Ireland to Australia in 1838, and from the Philippines re-entered China in 1879. (They had been there previously from 1680 to the expulsion of foreign Christians in 1708).
The total number of Augustinians in 1900, however, was less than 2,000. This was the lowest number of members since the earliest years of the Order.
 1881-1990: difficult re-establishment and crisis following the lack of vocations
The final years of the 18th century probably saw the lowest point in the prospects of the Order. The Order managed to survive, thanks in no small part to men such as Pope Leo XIII and the Prior General he appointed, Anthony Pacifico Neno O.S.A. The organisation of the Order became increasingly international.
Today, the Order is present in Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta, Algeria, Nigeria, in the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Philippines, Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Argentina, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile, Cuba and Peru.
It was always a fervent hope of the Order to establish itself in the area where Augustine had been born and had served the church. After many efforts that did not come to anything, members of the Maltese Province moved to Algeria in 1933, and are still there.Photo GalleryFor an alphabetical list of the nations where the Order presently serves, go to the Augnet photo gallery named Augustinian World.