It is true that St. Augustine composed no monastic rule, for the hortatory letter to the nuns at Hippo Regius (Epist., ccxi, Benedictine ed.) can not properly be considered such; nevertheless three sets have been attributed to him (texts in Holstenius-Brockie, Codex regularum monasticarum, ii, Augsburg, 1759, 121-127), the longest of which, a medieval compilation from certain pseudo-Augustinian sermons in 45 chapters, is the one commonly known as the regula Augustini, and served as the constitution of the Regular Canons of St. Augustine and many societies imitating them, as, for example, the Dominicans.
The Hermits of St. Augustine (who are generally meant by the name "Augustinians;" known also as "Austin Friars;" the order to which Martin Luther belonged) were the last of the four great mendicant orders which originated in the thirteenth century. They owed their existence to no great personality as founder, but to the policy of Pope Innocent IV (1241-54) and Pope Alexander IV (1254-61), who wished to antagonize the too powerful Franciscans and Dominicans by means of a similar order under direct papal authority and devoted to papal interests.
Innocent IV by a bull issued Dec. 16, 1243, united certain 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 St. Augustine) called a general assembly of the members of the new order under the presidency of Cardinal Richard of St. Angeli at the monastery of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in Mar., 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 of Apr. 13, 1256, confirmed this choice. The same pope afterward allowed the Williamites, who were dissatisfied with the new arrangement, to withdraw, and they adopted the Benedictine rule. The new order was thus finally constituted.
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 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 St. Augustine the place next to the last (between Carmelites and Servites) among the five chief mendicant orders.
In its most flourishing state the order had forty-two provinces (besides the two vicariates of India and Moravia) with 2,000 monasteries and about 30,000 members. The German branch, which until 1299 was counted as one province, was divided in that year into four provinces: a Rheno-Swabian, Bavarian, Cologne-Flemish, and Thuringo-Saxon.
To the last belonged the most famous German Augustinian theologians before Luther: Andreas Proles (d. 1503), the founder of the Union or Congregation of the Observant Augustinian Hermits, organized after strict principles; Johann von Paltz, the famous Erfurt professor and pulpit-orator (d. 1511); Johann Staupitz, Luther's monastic superior and Wittenberg colleague (d. 1524).
Reforms were also introduced into the extra-German branches of the order, but a long time after Proles's reform and in connection with the Counter Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most important of these later observant congregations are the Spanish Augustinian tertiary nuns, founded in 1545 by Archbishop Thomas of Villanova at Valencia; the "reformed" Augustinian nuns who originated under the influence of St. Theresa after the end of the sixteenth century at Madrid, Alcoy, and in Portugal; and the barefooted Augustinians (Augustinian Recollects; in France Augustins dechausses) founded about 1560 by Thomas a Jesu (d. 1582).
See also: Bridgittines