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An Augustinian Platform in the Middle Ages?

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Lucio Guttierez, OP — our professor in Church History at the University of Sto. Tomas — once said that Martin Luther could only have been produced by the Augustinians. That was almost thirty years ago. I didn’t understand what he meant when he said that, but I am beginning to get interested in the matter. Thanks to a book preview by Google for Saak’s “Highway to Heaven: The Augustinian Platform between Reform and Reformation 1292-1524″. The book, a hefty 880 pages, is published by Brill as the 89th volume of the series “Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought.”

I had a glimpse of the contents of the book through the scanned pages that were presented for viewing — a very small percentage of the 880 pages printed. And I found the book intriguing. Here is a quote that can also explain the title of the work:

Reform and reformation, the constant endeavor to bring to reality Augustine’s cultural ethic of brotherly love and living for God: there is the story. Political power and intrigue, moral exhortaitons, incarceration, theological speculation, impassioned preaching, a striving for observance, coercion, persuasion, conviction: the sons of Augustine, from Giles of Rome to Martin Luther, were striving with all means to do whatever they could to make real in their daily lives the ideal and the hope that the members of the Order and of all Christendom … in their common fight with the devil would finally indeed be changed and transformed by the holy. That it never came about, that it was never realized, was not for lack of effort. The reformation of the Order evolved into the reform of society precisely as society was being torn asunder by the very platform the Order had initiated and pursued. A battle for observance, a battle for religion, the impact of theology … In the tensions between reform and reformation something had to give way. It did. The world had become another, and the highway to heaven had unknowingly unleashed the horrors of hell. (p. 675)

I’ve been an Augustinian for twenty-five years but never have I read anything about “an Augustinian platform”. The last line of the quote makes it sound as if the Order of St. Augustine was a juggernaut that created a lot of damage in Medieval Europe despite their good intentions. Frightening. Right now there is an atheistic line of argument that blames religion for all the ills of society, declaring that religion has done nothing positive for humanity. Is Saak giving this line of thinking ammunition with his evaluation of the so-called “Augustinian platform”?

But Saak does provide some interesting data for a friar who got his History of the Order of St. Augustine from Balbino Rano with some tidbits from David Guttierez. I read with relish Chapter Two dealing with how the Hermits made Augustine their Father. Saak discusses this under the theme of myth-creation and the forging of the Augustinian identity. The table of contents for this section is indicative:

Chapter Two Creating Religious Identity: The Myth of Augustine
I. From Reality to Myth: The Politics of Augustine’s Body
II. The Medieval Augustine

A. Possidius
B. Philip of Harvengt
C. The Legenda Aurea

III. The Creation of the Augustinian Myth

A. The Vita Aurelii Augustini Hipponensis Episcopi
B. The Initium sive Processus Ordinis Heremitarum Sancti Augustini
C. Nicholas of Alessandria’s Sermo de beato Augustino
D. Henry of Friemar’s Tractatus
E. Jordan of Quedlinburg’s Collectanea Sancti Augustini

The whole chapter explains how the Augustinians got custody of the remains of St. Augustine from the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. As a student at St. Monica, I read an article by FX Martin, OSA on how the early Augustinians so made Augustine their own Father with the result that they even got custody of his remains from the Canons Regular. That event was the conclusion of a process whereby the Hermits defined themselves as “Augustinians.” Saak had his eyes on the politics and “myth-making” behind the event. Balbino Rano mentioned in our history lessons the spurious “Sermon of Augustine to the Brothers in the Hermitage” and its role in Augustinian myth-making. He even opined that it may have been the creation of Jordan of Quedlinberg himself. Saak gives more. He analyzes the texts that created the image of the Medieval Augustine from Possidius to the Legenda Aurea. He does the same for those texts that were used by the Augustinians in showing how they and no other are the true sons of Augustine. In this section, Saak refers to many of the names I already know: Arbesmann and Rano, especially.

Another section which I would have relished reading is the one on “the Passion of Christ.” The “Pasyon” as we know it in the Philippines was introduced by an Augustinian. The text that we use even now during Holy Week dates back to the 1800s. Saak’s book has the following on the topic:

Chapter Five Passion and Piety: Catechesis and The Power of Images in the Later Middle Ages
I. Passion for Passion
II. Jordan of Quedlinburg’s Meditationes de Passione Christi
III. Reading the Passion: Exegesis, Catechesis and Devotion to the Passion in the Later Middle Ages

A. Passion and Devotion
B. Teaching and Preaching the Passion
i. Ons heren passie
ii. Fasciculus Morum
iii. Antonius Rampegolus’ Figure Bibliorum
iv. Ulrich Pinder’s Speculum Passionis

IV. Passion Hermeneutics
V. Beyyond the Walls: From Exegesis to Catechesis
VI. The TrulyReligious

There is also an Appendix that shows how Jordan of Quedlinburg’s Meditationes compares with other “Passion” texts.

Finally, I should mention a Chapter that Saak dedicates to Pastoral Theology, and specifically, Augustinian Pastoral Theology in the Middle Ages and the Studia from which it derived. Here Google preview does not provide any pages. Below is a snapshot of the table of contents for this section


I tried to see whether the book can be purchased from the web. Amazon doesn’t have it; nor do the other bookstores that have links on the Google page of the preview. I wonder whether it is already available at least in the Order’s library. In any case, at this time when we are trying to recapture our own heritage as a Mendicant Order, this book is going to be valuable. It fills a vacuum for English readers in the Order.

Erik L. Saak. “Highway to Heaven: The Augustinian Platform Between Reform and Reformation 1292-1524″ in Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, vol. 89 (Brill: 2002) 880 pp

This volume reveals the political, religious, theological, institutional, and mythical ideals that formed the self-identity of the Augustinian Order from Giles of Rome to the emergence of Martin Luther. Based on detailed philological analysis, this interdisciplinary study not only transforms the understanding of Augustine’s heritage in the later Middle Ages, but also that of Luther’s relationship to his Order. The work offers a new interpretative model of late medieval religious culture that sheds new light on the relationship between late medieval Passion devotion, the increasing demonization of the Jews, and the rise of catechetical literature. It is the first volume of a planned trilogy that seeks to return late medieval Augustinian theology to the historical context of Augustinian religion. (Quoted from Google)

You can check out the book here.

Originally posted 2009-10-22 00:14:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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  1. 1

    Marion Duca

    Great info. Going to take a good amout of time to absorb this info!!

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