The Augustinians - also known as the Order of St Augustine - are an international religious order of Catholic friars, some of whom are priests and others are brothers. There are currently 2,700 friars in 50 countries.
The order was established in 1244. The friars took St. Augustine as their spiritual founder and his 'Rule' and way of life as a guide for living in community. They were a new religious movement, which sought to bring the ideals of monastic life into the urban setting and serve the needs of the people.
In Augustine's famous autobiography, 'The Confessions’, he recalls his life in a long prayer to God. His story displays his honest vulnerability, his sexual promiscuity and a careerism that led to great emptiness and disappointment.
"I HAD BECOME A GREAT ENIGMA TO MYSELF"
He, like many of us, struggled with vices, but he never gave up searching for meaning and happiness. Eventually, it was a combination of Augustine's natural gifts, like his intelligence, and the people and experiences in his life, which God patiently used to lead him towards conversion.
For example, when he broke up with his partner of fourteen years, with whom he had a son, he was badly hurt and questioned his direction in life. 'My heart was torn and wounded and trailing blood'.
Once again Augustine had to turn in another direction.
"I TRAVELLED FAR FROM MYSELF, LORD,
BUT YOU REMAINED WITHIN ME."
Only when hitting rock-bottom and experiencing emotional and spiritual breakdown was he able to surrender himself to the Lord. In letting go, God could finally take over. He realised it was only in the person of Christ that he would find the peace he so desperately sought. He searched inside himself and discovered that God dwelt within. "I travelled far from myself, Lord, but you remained within me." Augustine, like the prodigal son, had sought happiness everywhere
except in the one place where it would be found, deep within himself.
It is easy to feel a connection to Augustine, for many of his troubles are our own. However, as well as the story of his life, Augustine also left us a guide by which to live. It was based on the community life he lived both with his closest friends and then with others. Today the Augustinian friars endeavour to live community life inspired by this model and adapting it to our times.
The basic principles of the Augustinian spirituality of religious community life can be found in Augustine's Rule. This brief document presents Augustine's vision of the values that underlie the life of a vibrant and holy religious community.
The Rule of St. Augustine was written around the year 400. It is the oldest monastic rule that we have today. The Rule of St. Benedict came approximately 120 years later. The Rule of St. Francis of Assisi was composed more than 800 years later.
In spite of its ancient origin, the Rule of St. Augustine endures because it expresses enduring principles and manifests an understanding of the human condition. It is not concerned with regulating small details such as the daily schedule, the arrangement of furniture or the kinds of food that may or may not be consumed at meals.
Rather, Augustine’s Rule outlines what is essential for a religious life in community which is guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In reading the Rule, one must occasionally make allowance for references to certain time-bound customs of Augustine's fifth-century culture. These include, for example, attitudes about bathing in the public baths of Roman Africa (which, in Augustine’s time, had become centers of immoral activities), and the “one-size-fits-all” clothing style that was the norm (see Chapter Five)
THE MENDICANT ORDER
The spiritual richness of our Order drew from two sources existing in perfect harmony with each other: St Augustine and the Mendicant current.
The eremitical life was originally a lay movement, though we do find some monks and canons among its ranks. This desire to imitate the life style of Christ and the primitive Church in poverty and in the preaching of the gospel to the people (preferably in the cities) quickly took hold in Europe.
This spirituality clearly shaped the new Augustinian Order when it was created in 1244.
The mendicant spirituality of the late Middle Ages cannot be found in St Augustine's thought. However, it can be read and lived from the viewpoint of Augustine's thought.
The opening words of Saint Augustine's Rule give us direction: we are to be of one mind and heart on the way to God. We are travellers on pilgrimage together, wherein Christ is our constant companion, as well as our way and our goal.
The activity of our journey is shaped by Augustine's own life experience, and is characterised by three essential elements: the constant search for God by means of a deep interior life; the practical love of neighbour; and the constant pursuit of truth.
Augustinian spirituality is based on the life experience of St Augustine.
He experienced God's presence and guidance through his relationships with others.
Therefore community and friendship are at the heart of Augustinian life.
The community becomes a 'school of love' where we learn to put the needs of others before our own.