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History of the order

Saint Augustine established three abbeys: following his baptism, he set up one monastic community on his father’s country estate at Thagaste (in what is today Algeria); after his priestly ordination he established the “Garden Abbey” at Hippo Regius (on the mediterranean coast of today’s Algeria) on a plot of land that the local bishop Valerius had given him; he founded the third abbey after his elevation to the episcopal see at Hippo Regius, in his residence together with the local priests. This last community was the model for the Augustinian Canons.

The Rule that Augustine wrote for the Order spread quickly over Europe and, by means of supplements (Constitutions) added according to local circumstances and changing needs, turned out to be quite flexible throughout history.

Again and again, bishops tried to gather their clergy into a community where they could live free from individual possessions and in celibacy in order to devote themselves wholly to the priestly and pastoral service (e.g. Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli, + 371, Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz, + 766).

In 816, Emperor Louis the Pious summoned a synod at Aachen in the course of which the Aachen Rule was issued, which determined exactly how the canons should live and made clear distinction between the two main movements in Western monastic life: the canons, following the Rule of St. Augustine, and the monks, for whom the Rule of St. Benedict became most important.

The idea behind the “Gregorian Reforms” (named after Pope Gregory VII, 1073-1085, but actually initiated before his time, at the Lateran Synod of 1059) was to raise the level of discipline and education among the clergy. In this endeavour, particular attention was given to the common life of the priests, without personal possessions. The Order of the Augustinian Canons proved especially suited for this reform. Through reforming existing communities in the South of Europe and through the foundation and endowment of abbeys in the Alpine area and north of the Alps in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Order developed into the community as we know it today. Many cathedral chapters also adopted the Rule of St Augustine to regulate their lives (e.g. Salzburg).

In the 14th century, the Augustinian canons gained great influence during the “Devotio moderna”, a renewal movement committed to opening up a personal path to God through prayer and meditation (Thomas à Kempis, Raudnitz reform).

Due to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the abolition of abbeys by Emperor Joseph II in the 18th century and secularisation in the early 19th century, many canonries were dispersed.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some communities of Augustinian canons formed congregations (e.g. the Austrian Congregation of Canons Regular in 1907).

In 1959, exactly 900 years after the Lateran Synod of 1059 (see above), the various congregations founded the Confederation of the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, which today unites nine congregations and can be regarded as their umbrella association. Thus the Order of the Augustinian Canons knows itself to be “in union with the universal Church”, it supports the life, the plan and concerns of the whole Church and “is involved in the building up of the whole mystical body of Christ and in the welfare of the local Church” (Constitutions of the Congregation of the Austrian Canons Regular).