The Augustinians are named after Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) and are among several Christian monastic orders and congregations of both men and women living according to a guide to religious life known as the Rule of Saint Augustine. Prominent Augustinians throughout history include the only English Pope Adrian IV, Italian Pope Eugene IV, mystic Thomas A Kempis, the Dutch Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus, the German Reformer Martin Luther, the Spanish navigator Andrés de Urdaneta, Italian composer Vittoria Aleotti, German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich and the Austrian geneticist Gregor Mendel. The Augustinian order has made a very significant missionary contribution to Christianity as well as establishing educational and charitable institutions throughout the world.

The Augustinian family worldwide is made up of either Friars or Nuns known as Canons Regular and Canonesses

The order is divided into five main branches:

  1. The Order of Saint Augustine; the friars subject to the jurisdiction of the Prior General (International leader)
  2. Augustinian nuns or sisters of contemplative life (enclosed nuns)
  3. Other Augustinian orders not under the jurisdiction of the Prior General such as the Ursulines and the Recollects
  4. Religious congregations of apostolic life (active congregations of men or women)
  5. Lay fraternities and societies established under the name and teaching of Saint Augustine.


The Order of Saint Augustine:

The O.S.A.’s, formerly called Augustinian Hermits, but today known as Augustinian Friars or Austin Friars in the UK, are a mendicant order. Being friars, they pray the Liturgy of the Hours throughout every day. This Latin Rite branch is active in society (i.e., not enclosed) and it is described in the article below. It is headed by the international Prior-General in Rome, and while spiritually and historically connected is now canonically separate from the other Independent Augustinian Communities such as the Canons Regular, Discalced Augustinians, Augustinian nuns, Premontres, Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception, Augustinian Recollects and the Dominicans.

History of the Grand Union

The year 1256 is usually quoted as the date of the Grand Union that brought the modern order into existence, but there is some scholarly discussion over the exact date of the formal constitution of the Augustinian order, as it occurred in stages. By the 11th century there had appeared historically identifiable groups of clerics in various part of Europe who renounced private property and lived together in community following the Rule of St. Augustine described above. The consolidation of this movement can be connected to the changes proposed by the Gregorian Reform. In 1243 the decree, Incumbit Nobis was issued by Pope Innocent IV, and it called together a number of monastic communities in Tuscany. The Augustinians owed their formal existence to the policy of Popes Innocent IV (1241–1254) andPope Alexander IV (1254–1261), who wished to counterbalance the influence of the powerful Franciscans and Dominicans by means of a similar order under more direct papal authority and devoted to papal interests.

The Augustinian Hermits (who are generally meant by the name “Augustinians”, one of whose most famous members was Martin Luther) became the last of the great mendicant orders to be formally constituted in the thirteenth century. It is historically verifiable that Innocent IV, by the bull issued 16 December 1243 united a number of small hermit societies with Augustinian rule, especially the Williamites, the John-Bonites, and the Brictinans.

Alexander IV (admonished, it was said, by an appearance of Saint Augustine) called a general assembly of the members of the new united order under the presidency of Cardinal Richard of Saint Angeli at the monastery of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in March, 1256, when the head of the John-Bonites, Lanfranc Septala, of Milan, was chosen general prior of the united orders. Alexander’s bull Licet ecclesiae catholicae, confirmed this choice. The new order was thus finally constituted with Italian, Hungarian, French, English, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swiss, Austrian and German Augustinian friars united into one international order. Pope Alexander IV afterward allowed some houses of the Williamites, who were dissatisfied with the new arrangement, to withdraw from the union, and they adopted the Benedictine rule.

Several general chapters in the thirteenth century (1287 and 1290) and toward the end of the sixteenth (1575 and 1580), after the severe crisis occasioned by Martin Luther’s reformation, developed the statutes to their present form (text in Holstenius-Brockie, ut sup., iv, 227–357; cf. Kolde, 17–38), which was confirmed by Pope Gregory XIII. A bull of Pius V in 1567 had already assigned to the Hermits of Saint Augustine the place next to the last (between Carmelites and Servites) among the five chief mendicant orders.

Organization of the Augustinian Order

The Augustinian Hermits, while following the rule known as that of St. Augustine, are also subject to the Constitutions, first drawn up by Augustinus Novellus (d. 1309), Prior General of the order from 1298 to 1300, and by Clement of Osimo. The Rule and Constitutions were approved at the general chapter held at Florence in 1287 and at Ratisbon in 1290. A revision was made at Rome in 1895. The Constitutions have frequently been printed: at Rome, in 1581, and, with the commentary of Girolamo Seripando, at Venice, in 1549, and at Rome, in 1553. The Constitutions were revised again and published at Rome in 1895, with additions in 1901 and 1907. Today, the Order follows the Constitutions approved in the Ordinary General Chapter of 2007.

The government of the order is as follows: At the head is the prior general, elected every six years by the general chapter. The prior general is aided by six assistants and a secretary, also elected by the general chapter. These form the Curia Generalitia. Each province is governed by a provincial, and every monastery by a prior (only the Czech monastery of Alt-Brunn, in Moravia, is under an abbot) and every college by a rector. The members of the order are both priests and lay brothers.

The choir and outdoor dress of the monks is of black woolen material, with long, wide sleeves, a black leather belt known as the Cincture, and a long pointed cowl reaching to the girdle (this is known as a Capuche).

Augustinian lay societies

The lay societies are voluntary groups, generally made up of people who are either married or single and have sympathy with, and interest in, the Augustinian approach to life. These lay people do not take the monastic vows, but offer support to the work of the Augustinian order through voluntary work, gifts of money and goods, and the study and promotion of Augustine and Augustinian teaching. The Brotherhood of the Virgin Mary of the Belt in Italy, the Friends of Augustine in the Philippines, the Augustinian Lay community and the Augustinian Friends in Australia are some examples of Augustinian lay societies.

Aggregated Communities

Other orders and groups belong within the Augustinian family either because they follow the Rule of Augustine or have been formally aggregated through their constitutions into the worldwide Augustinian Order. These are not dealt with in this article. Some of these include:

The Hieronymites, the Sisters of St Rita, the Ursulines, the Augustinian Sisters of Mercy of Jesus (South Africa), the Augustinians of the Assumption (which includes Byzantine Rite congregations), The Alexian Brothers (located in the USA, Europe, England, Ireland the Philippines and India), the Brothers of the Assumption (in the Congo), the Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation (Philippines), the Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions, the Hospitallers of the Mercy of Jesus (Canada), the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and the Sisters of St Joan of Arc, are just some of the Augustinian family of orders. Historically like the Benedictines, the Augustinain Order was by nature an order for laymen and women, the Canons Regular represent the clerical aspect of male religious life, while they are not Augustinians as such they follow the Rule of Augustine, hence the official name of the Order being the Canons Regularof St. Augustine and the false link with the Augustinian Order sometimes being made. The Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem are a newly founded Tridentine rite congregation.

The Discalced Augustinians have their own constitutions, differing from those of the other Augustinians. Their fasts are more rigid, and their other ascetic exercises stricter. They wear sandals, not shoes (and are therefore not strictly discalced). As an apparent survival of the hermit life, the Discalced Augustinians practise strict silence and have in every province a house of recollection situated in some retired place, to which monks striving after greater perfection can retire in order to practise severe penance, living only on water, bread, fruits, olive oil and wine.

The Augustinian Rule

The ancient Rule of life formally constituted for the hermits around 1243, had its origins established soon after St. Augustine was converted by Ambrose in Milan around the year 384 AD. He and some friends returned to his native Thagaste in North Africa (Modern day Annaba) gave away their possessions and began a life of prayer and study. The Rule was written by Augustine of Hippo.

The extant Augustinian orders claim lineage from the communities founded by Augustine of Hippo, and while the history of ideas is evident, historic continuity is not conclusively proven according to the standards of contemporary historical method. The most likely process of transmission occurred between the years 430 and 570 as the Roman empire collapsed – rapidly in Roman North Africa. Augustine’s style of communal living was carried into Europe by monks and clergy fleeing the onslaught of the Vandal tribes under Geiseric. Around 440 Quodvultdeus of Carthage established communities in Naples. St. Fulgentius of Ruspe arrived in Sardinia by 502 and introduced Augustinian teaching there. The 5th century Donatus and his monks probably brought a form of it to Southern Spain around the year 570 when he established the Monasterium Servitanum. The Third Order, a form of Augustine’s Rule, was later used as a basis for the reform of monasteries and cathedral chapters during the 11th century. The convent of Saint Clare of Montefalco was one of the first to adopt the formally constituted Augustinian rule 1291. The rule was also adopted by the Dominicans, Canons Regular of the Abbey of St. Victor in Marseilles (before its suppression), the Abbey of St Victor, Paris (a precursor to the University of Paris), the Premonstratensians, and the Lateran Canons.

The Augustinian ethos

The teaching and writing of Augustine, the Augustinian Rule, and the lives and experiences of Augustinians over 16 centuries help define the ethos of the order, sometimes “honoured in the breach”.

As well as telling his disciples to be “of one mind and heart on the way towards God” Augustine of Hippo taught that “Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love” (Victoria veritatis est caritas), and the pursuit of truth through learning is key to the Augustinian ethos, balanced by the injunction to behave with love towards one another. It does not unduly single out the exceptional, especially favour the gifted, nor exclude the poor or marginalised. Love is not earned through human merit, but received and given freely by God’s free gift of grace, totally undeserved yet generously given. These same imperatives of affection and fairness have driven the order in its international missionary outreach. This balanced pursuit of love and learning has energised the various branches of the order into building communities founded on mutual affection and intellectual advancement. The Augustinian ideal is inclusive.