The Province of Belgium was commenced in 1679 as a sectioning of the extensive Province of Cologne into two smaller areas. Before that time, Augustinian houses in the Low Countries (Belgium and Holland) belonged either to German or French Provinces of the Order.
The River Scheldt constituted the natural border between these two jurisdictions. Augustinian monasteries in Flanders to the west of the Scheldt - namely those of Ypres, Bruges and Ghent - belonged to the French Province. In the other cities, the German Province had authority.
Between 1304 and 1314, when the number of monasteries in the single German Province exceeded eighty, the German Province was sectioned into four Provinces. One of these new jurisdictions was named the Province of Cologne, and included the Rhineland from Mainz, Belgium, Netherlands and French Flanders. (In a way that has confused some historians, the Province of Cologne was also sometimes described variously as the Province of Flanders, the Province of Lower Germany and the Province of Belgium.)
In the sixteenth century, the difficulties caused by the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath saw the closure of all Augustinian monasteries in Belgium, except the one at Leuwen (Louvain).
Two Augustinians in Brussels have been called the first martyrs of the Protestant Reformation. On 1st July 1523 Johann Esch and Henrich Voes (see above) were burned at the stake for heresy, to which event it has often been said that Martin Luther responded by writing his very first hymn, Ein neues Lied wir heben an (Now Shall a New Song Be Begun, aka With Help of God I Fain Would Tell), which appears in The Lutheran Hymnal as Flung to the Heedless Winds.
In the seventeenth century there was an Augustian rebirth in Belgium, with monasteries springing up at Brussels, Bubble, Antwerp, Herentals, Diest, Tirlemont, Lille, Huy, Termonde, Bouvignes, Douai, Based, Hazebrouck, Roulers, Bree, Valencians and finally, in 1743, at Binche. During the same period there were also forty-four unsuccessful attempts to form other Augustinian monasteries in Belgium.
This growth prompted in 1679 the formation of a Province of Belgium, separated from the Province of Cologne as indicated above. The new Belgian Province was then in 1682 made into separate French-Belgian and Flemish-Belgian Provinces. The French-Belgian Province began with eight communities, but by 1717 had reduced to five houses (Lille, Douai, Based, Valencians and Hazebrouck).
The Flemish-Belgian Province included all the Augustinian houses in what today is Holland. In Holland before 1700 there were ten Augustinian mission stations. A great evangelizing work took place in these stations resulting into many conversions of Protestant Christians. The French Revolution, however, prevented the functioning of most of these mission centers, and henceforth only three of them continued to operate: those at Ámsterdam, Nieuwendam and Utrecht. The four Augustinians working in these missions, under the authority of Fr Augustinus Naudts O.S.A., worked tirelessly, and it was largely through them that, from 1815 onwards, there began the slow work of the restoration of the Province of Belgium and the subsequent foundation of the Province of Holland.
At the time of its birth in 1697, the Augustinian Province of Belgium had 450 members. Twenty-one centers of teaching were founded between 1601 and 1656, and eventually catered for a total of 4,000 students simultaneously. The Province also enjoyed great prestige in university work, thanks especially to Augustinian friars such as Frs Nicolaus Backx, Mathias Pauwels (Pauli), Nicolaus van Tombeur, Joachim van de Bruele, and Christianus van Wolf, all of them experts in the field of classical and theological sciences.
During the years 1693 to 1699 about 112 Augustinians died of the plague, which reduced the membership of the Province in 1695 to 312 priests, 33 clerics, 11 novices and 158 lay brothers. In 1781 Emperor Joseph II took away from the Province of Belgium six convents, which he insisted be created as a new Province of Liege. Despite this, in 1793 the Belgian Province maintained sixteen communities with 103 friars living in them, not counting the professed seminarians and novices. The French revolutionaries occupied the Low Countries in 1792, and decreed in 1794 the Belgian territory was to become a part of the French Republic. In September 1796 the Province was suppressed and, as was the general practice in such straightened circumstances, was placed under the direct authority of the Prior General; this continued until 1901.
One year later, in 1797, the Augustinian Carlos Vollbrecht bought back from the French authorities the Augustinian convent of Saint-Etienne in Ghent, and this served as the base for the subsequent rebirth of the Province. On several occasions during the nineteenth century, attempts were made to re-open former Augustinian foundations (at Diest 1837, Enghien 1845, Bree 1860, and Antwerp 1889), but without success.
The Belgian Province, separate from the Augustinians in Holland, was re-established by the Augustinian General Chapter of 1901, and then had three monasteries: Saint-Etienne in Ghent (first founded in 1295), Saint-Jansberg with Maaseik (1897) and Ohain-Argenteuil (1900). The Province expanded, but without ever again reaching its earlier size. Of the eleven Belgian Augustinian foundations which existed sometime after 1901, seven have since closed. At present the Province has about thirty members, living in three communities from which multiple ministries operate. It has won a reserved reputation for producing and supporting friars of great scholarship and academic achievement. For example, its Augustinian Historical Instuitue at Heverlee, Belgium is a world leader in Augustinian historical matters.
With the reduced number of Augustinians in both the Belgian and Dutch Provinces from 2009 onwards, the prospect of the union of these jurisdictions into one combined Province is being undertaken.
The web site of the Belgian Province is http://www.osabel.be/