The earliest Augustinian Constitutions followed the general structure and content of the constitutions of the fellow-mendicant Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), formed at the beginning of the same century.
A copy of these original Augustinian Constitutions no longer exists. Their last-recording sighting in full was late in the sixteenth century at the Augustinian convento at Lucca, Italy by Maurizio Terzi O.S.A. of Palma, Italy. Unfortunately, he did not make an exact copy of the full text but fortunately at least wrote a summary of parts of it, e.g., that the Prior General was to hold office for three years, and his visitors (i.e., associates who made official visitations of Augustinian houses on his behalf) for one year.
A General Chapter was to be held annually, but not always in the same place, unless the Roman Curia of the Church demanded otherwise. A General Chapter was to elect four of those present as definitors (i.e., official advisors to the Prior General). The latter, together with the official visitors mentioned above, are to conduct necessary business. Their roles and that of the Prior General were detailed. The constitutions stipulated that the clothing of the brethren was not to be dyed or out of the ordinary. All were to wear a leather belt over their habit, except when sleeping. They were not obliged to wear the habit while sleeping in an Augustinian community.
Augustinian habits (garments) were to be black in colour, and to have a cowl (a hood). The scapular, draping down the front and back of the tunic of the habit, was to be white, and held in place by a cincture. Novices were to wear a white tunic and white scapular, black ankle-length cloaks, leather belts and knives. Augustinians were not to enter cities and towns without their habit, nor to enter a town on horseback. The Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent were to be days of fasting, with only one course. At dinner on other days they might have two courses. On Friday in the first, third and final week of Lent they were to have only bread, water and vegetables. All were to drink the water from their two hands and while seated.
The Ratisbon Constitutions of 1290
The Constitutions were stable, and by Church law no part could be changed unless it was approved by two successive general chapters. The early writers of the Order’s history note the changes were made about the year 1284 by the twofold effort of Blessed Clement of Osimo O.S.A. (died in 1291) and Blessed Augustine of Tarano O.S.A.. Prior to becoming an Augustinian, Augustine had been a professor of law at Bologna, and then supreme judge of King Manfred's court and papal penitentiary.
This was during the period where the Order of Saint Augustine had reason to fear papal suppression, hence any movement towards a greater uniformity in Augustinian religious life was an important and a politically wise step. Jordan of Saxony O.S.A. wrote in 1357 that Clement and Augustine “collaborated with steadfast application to revise the Constitutions, and in their burning zeal for the Order they produced an edition more suitable to its needs. They clarified their layout by introducing chapters and headings, and at the same time made some additions and subtractions, in accordance with what seemed best for the spirit of religion and the good standing of the Order.” (Vitasfratrum II, 14).
The results of their combined efforts were the edition of the Augustinian Constitutions called forever afterwards the Constitutions of Ratisbon, (a town now called Regensburg, in Bavaria, Germany) where the document was approved at the General Chapter in 1290. Most of the regulations in the Ratisbon Constitutions were in force before 1284, when Blessed Augustine started their codification. His work largely consisted in the collection of existing laws, their unification and division into chapters. He also had to add the latest development in monastic rules. For this purpose he used the Dominican Constitutions of 1260 which differed from those of 1228 in austerity and an emphasis on general chapters.The sections on faults and their punishments were taken over almost verbatim from the Dominican Constitutions. The concept of loyalty to the general and his power over the Constitutions was also accepted, along with the process of elections through definitors and discretes. It is clear that Clement of Osimo and Augustine of Tarano made direct use of the Dominican Constitutions. Parts of the Augustinian legislation copied literally certain passages which are found only in the Constitutions promulgated by the Dominicans before the year 1256. The Dominican influence, however, was also a limited one, for the Augustinian text constitutes a book of more than ninety pages, while the Dominican is less than forty. In point of fact, the Augustinians copied portions from the Dominicans, as they in turn had previously copied sections from the pre-mendicant Premostratensians.
There are besides some other literal passages, extensive ones referring to faults, and some others that are briefer and less frequent, which are not peculiar to either the Dominicans or the Premonstratensians or the Cistercians, but are from some common and older source, namely, the liturgical books of the Church (employed in the chapters referring to divine worship) and the penitential books (used in the chapters referring to faults and punishments). The Constitutions gave the Prior General a direct role and a specific authority in any Augustinian house that he declared was to become a studium generale, a "study house of the Prior General" over which, for example, he had authority regarding who could or should be admitted there for higher-level studies.
The Ratisbon Constitutions accepted the peculium, the “little pebble” in the pocket that was actually a small financial allowance that was meant to be strictly monitored. The Prior General, Clement of Osimo O.S.A., had favoured absolute poverty, but the papal-appointed protector of the Order, Cardinal Richard Annabaldi insisted on this compromise. Augustine’s ideal of the perfect common life entered the Order only through the Augustinian observant movement and the separate reform congregations that were later established. As well, there is an emphasis upon the leadership role of the Prior General, that all members must be an example of Christian life for the laity, and that all members should stress the leading of all people to holiness.
Although various parts of these Constitutions drew inspiration for the constitutions of other religious orders (e.g., the Dominicans, Premonstratensians and Cistercians) the finished product was greatly different from all these sources, and was greatly helpful in promoting and directing Augustinian life. The Ratisbon Constitutions guided the Augustinian Order in its legislation until the Council of Trent in 1545-1563.
The Prior General, Clement of Osimo O.S.A., had favoured absolute poverty, but the papal-appointed protector of the Order, Cardinal Richard Annabaldi insisted on this compromise. Augustine’s ideal of the perfect common life entered the Order only through the Augustinian observant movement and other subsequent separate reform congregations. As well, there is an emphasis upon the leadership role of the Prior General, that all members must be an example of Christian life for the laity, and that all members should stress the leading of all people to holiness.
Although various parts of these Constitutions drew inspiration for the constitutions of other religious orders (e.g., the Dominicans, Premonstratensians and Cistercians) the finished product was greatly different from all these sources, and was greatly helpful in promoting and directing Augustinian life. The Ratisbon Constitutions guided the Augustinian Order in its legislation until the Council of Trent in 1545-1563. Although the Augustinian legislators conformed to the decision of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, when it endorsed and made applicable to all the Orders the longstanding Cistercian customs about chapters and government, they also proceeded in these matters with considerable independence.
Although their norms for the celebration of chapters and the election of superiors agree essentially, but not literally, with those of the Dominicans and Franciscans, they specified in greater detail the rights and obligations of the local prior and the officials of his community, the Prior Provincial and his Council, the provincial and general visitators (an office thenceforth permanent and of great importance for the preservation of discipline) and the superior general. As was the case in the two Orders just cited, the Augustinians also called all their superiors to account in Chapters, but they were more severe than the Dominicans and Franciscans in specifying in three long lists the reasons for the removal of unworthy superiors: local superiors in Chapter 31, provincials in Chapter 33 and the prior general in Chapter 40. In these chapters of the Constitutions there is present the fullness of that healthy democratic spirit, according to which the mendicant Orders were governed even in the Middle Ages.
In order to avoid any unjust sentences, judges were required to establish the truth of the charges, hear the accused superior and consider well whether his offense merited the penalty indicated. Moreover, the members of the general chapter were advised that if, "after recognizing, considering and discussing" the performance of the superior of the Order, they find he has done well in his office, they may proceed to a re-election rather than choosing a successor (Chapter 38). Lastly, Chapter 40 required that the prior general emeritus be regarded as "a venerable person and be shown honour and respect by all... He is not to hold any other office inferior to that of general, for the one who stood at the head of the entire community may not be placed into some particular office without bringing contempt and disgrace to the Order."
(Continued on the next page.)Source
Augustinian Origins, Charism and Spirituality, by Balbino Rano O.S.A. (edited in English by John Rotelle O.S.A.): Augustinian Press, Villanova, Pennsylvania, 1994.