The Augustinian canons success in modesty

The Rule of Saint Augustine was 'discovered' in the second half of the eleventh century. Various writings about living a monastic life were placed together with a letter of Augustine to some nuns.16 Even more so than the Rule of Saint Benedict, Augustine's recommendations were very general, but they had the prestige of his name and reputation. Augustine's own way of life after he became bishop in common with fellow priests provided a pattern for canons of cathedrals and other churches.

As Richard Southern has pointed out, communities of Augustinian canons could flourish without the huge investments required for making a traditional Benedictine abbey: 'The canons eschewed elaborate buildings and ornaments because they were generally too poor for ostentation.'17 The Cistercians had turned away from such showiness out of choice, while the Augustinians had no choice. Many of their communities were tiny, with a few canons, and with hardly any worldly possessions.

The Rule of Saint Augustine, however, provided the foundation for a successful new form of monasticism. Some communities concentrated on pastoral tasks, while others were more contemplative. The abbey of Arrouaise in the Artois became the head of a congregation inspired by the Cistercians but under Augustine's Rule and emphasising enclosure and austerity of life.18 In Paris the congregation of Saint Victor also followed the Augustinian way and made itself noticed with a number of outstanding teachers. Saint Victor reformed the secular canons of the Paris church of Sainte Geneviève and brought in Augustine's Rule. William, regular canon of Sainte Geneviève, was called to Denmark in 1165 by his former school friend, Absalon, then bishop of Roskilde. Absalon was concerned about a group of unruly canons living on an island in the Roskilde fjord and holding too many parties. William after his arrival created order and within a few years moved the canons to a less isolated location, ^belholt.19

Here the canons were dangerously close to the Cistercian monks of the abbey of Esrum, fifteen kilometres to the north. William's letter collection, a

16 George Lawless, Augustine of Hippo and his Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).

17 R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), 251.

18 Ludo Milis, L'ordre des chanoines réguliers d'Arrouaise (Bruges: De Tempel, 1969).

19 M. Cl. Gertz, Vitae Sanctorum Danorum (Copenhagen: Gad, 1908-12), 300-24.

unique source for medieval Denmark, indicates that differences and disagreements were worked out. There must have been some division of duties: the Cistercians concentrated on the contemplative life, while the Augustinians were pastoral. Written sources provide little information about either, but ^belholt's role in society has been made evident through archaeological findings. Among the canons were men who were skilled in medicine, for excavations have revealed the care given to wounded warriors or women experiencing difficult childbirths. At the same time the canons would have provided for the spiritual and sacramental needs of the pilgrims who, after Abbot William's death in 1203, began to flock to his grave.

The Augustinians had every reason to emphasise their devotion to vita apostolica. They lived together as monastic communities but usually also made themselves available to the laity in dispensing the sacraments and providing acts of charity. The Cistercians chose a select group of peasants and incorporated them into their monasteries as lay brothers. The Augustinians made their spiritual benefits available to all the laity.

The Premonstratensians also belong to the family of Augustinian canons. They were founded by a canon of Xanten in the Rhineland, Norbert, who resigned his benefices and began to live as a hermit preacher. In 1121 he and his followers made a promise to live in accord with the Gospels and the Rule of Saint Augustine. In the Augustinian mould the Premonstratensians combined community life with a pastoral mission. At the same time, however, their liturgy borrowed from the Cistercians, and the canons have a similarly contemplative orientation. At first there were a number of double monasteries, but eventually the canons decided not to involve themselves with women. In 1198 the order decided to debar women from entering.

During the second half of the twelfth century the Premonstratensians distanced themselves from their initial missionary form of vita apostolica. They became more contemplative. Norbert had been a friend of Bernard, and the two orders considered themselves to be cousins. Another order that had double monasteries was the Gilbertines, which were limited to England. Their founder, Gilbert of Sempringham, asked for his houses to be taken into the Cistercian Order, which refused him.

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