Augustinian Scholars

The tradition of academic achievement was continued by other Augustinians, many of whom were priors general, and who over a long period of time taught at Europe’s most notable university centers. Hugolin of Orvieto (d.1373) and Bonaventure of Peraga (d.1386) were among the founders of the theology faculty of the University of Bologna. Nicholas of Neuss and Cyso of Cologne established the theology faculty at Cologne in 1389, while Nicholas von Laun (d.1371) was a founding professor at the Charles University in Prague and Stephen of Insula (d.1382) and his teacher, Stephen of Hungary, brought scientific and theological learning to Hungary. The literary works of Johannes Hiltalingen of Basil (d. 1392) have been described as a concise dictionary of fourteenth-century theology, while the Milleloquium Sancti Augustini of Bartolomeo of Urbino (d. 1350) contributed significantly to the development of the doctrine of the Augustinian School. Dionysius of Borgo San Sepolcro (d.1342), Bartolomeo of Urbino, and Bonsemblantes Badoer (d.1369) were among the forerunners of humanism. Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374), the founder of Renaissance Christian humanism, and considered the first modern poet, called them “luminaries” of the Order.

Among the more notable Augustinian scholars were Giles of Viterbo (d.1532), poet, Hebrew philologist, philosopher and theologian; Jerome Seripando (d.1563), prior general, theologian and later Cardinal legate to the Council of Trent; and Fray Luis de León (d.1591), who held the chair of theology and scripture at Salamanca and was one of the most famous literary figures of the Spanish Golden Age. They are among a long list of teachers and scholars who, in the succeeding centuries, distinguished themselves in the fields of literature, history, archeology, and the sciences.

The English Augustinian, John Capgrave (d.1464), wrote scriptural commentaries and historical works. His Chronicle of England is the first history of England written in the vernacular. Onofrio Panvinio (d.1568) is considered the forerunner in the science of Christian archeology and Angelo Rocca (d.1620) founded the Angelica library at Saint Augustine’s in Rome, the first public library in the city and the fourth in Europe. In Mexico, Alonso de la Vera Cruz, (d.1584), one of the founders of the University of Mexico, also authored Relectio de dominio infidelium in defense of Indians’ rights. In 1559, the Augustinian friar-navigator, Andrés de Urdaneta (d.1568) was commissioned by Philip II “to discover the Islands of the setting sun,” that is, the fabulous and hidden empire of China. Instead of landing in China, however, Urdaneta, in 1565, landed in the Philippines and was credited with tracing the sea routes between Mexico and the Philippines that were followed for the next 300 years.

Martin Luther, a member of the observantine congregation in Germany who became the father of the Protestant Reformation, entered the Augustinian Order in Saxony in 1505. A professor of scripture at Wittenberg, he first proposed his doctrine of sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fides, based on the understanding of the teaching of Saint Augustine and Gregory of Rimini. He left the Order in 1521, but continued to wear the religious habit until 1525.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries notable Augustinian scholars included the Austrian Sixtus Schier (d.1772) and the Spaniard Henry Flórez, (d.1773) who distinguished themselves in the study of Christian archeology and ecclesiastical studies; the Portuguese Joseph Santa Rita Durao (d.1784), who wrote the famous poem Caramuní; Julius Accetta (d.1752), professor of mathematics at the University of Turin and a member of the Academy of Science of Paris; and Dominic Joseph Engramell (d. 1781), an inventor and scientist, who contributed to the art of teaching deaf mutes.

In the nineteenth century, in what is now the Czech Republic, Augustinian friars from Saint Thomas' Monastery in Brno played an extraordinary role in the Czech national revival and in the development of the intellectual and public life in the country. Abbot Cyril Frantisek Napp (d. 1867) distinguished himself as a promoter of Slavic traditions and was a founder of the Agricultural Society of Moravia. Frantisek Tomás Bratránek (d.1884) received his doctorate in philosophy from Vienna, was a professor of philosophy at the University of Lemberg (now Lvov, Ukraine), and later became rector of the Jagellonian University in Cracow. A historian of German literature, he studied the literary and aesthetical explications of Goethe’s poems and published Goethe’s correspondence (which included three volumes of Goethe’s letters to scientists). Frantisek Matous Klácel (d. 1882), one of the pioneers of the modern Hegelian philosophy, published an extensive book on the origins of utopian socialism and communism in 1849, was the first to write a paper on ethics in Czech, the first to introduce social topics into Czech poetry, and is also considered to be a founder of Czech journalism. Pavel Krízkovsky (d. 1885), noted chamber musician, choir master, conductor, and composer in the classical and romantic tradition, was the teacher of the world renowned composer, Leos Janácek. Perhaps the most notable member of the Brno monastery, however, was Gregor Mendel (d.1884) because of his unique contribution in discovering the laws of heredity.

Using thirty-four different kinds of peas which had been tested for their genetic purity, Mendel tried to determine whether it was possible to obtain new variants by crossbreeding. Mendel established two principles of heredity that are now known as the law of segregation and the law of independent assortment, thereby proving the existence of paired elementary units of heredity and establishing the statistical laws governing them. He became the first to understand the importance of a statistical investigation and to apply a knowledge of mathematics to a biological problem. Mendel’s findings on plant hybridization were presented in two lectures before the Society for the Natural Sciences in Brünn in 1865. His paper, “Versuche über Pfanzen-Hybriden,” was published in the Society’s Proceedings in 1866 and sent to 133 other associations of natural scientists and to the more important libraries in a number of different countries. His work, however, was largely ignored until, in the spring of 1900, three botanists, Hugo de Vries (Holland), Carl Correns (Germany) and E. von Tschermak (Austria) reported independent verifications of Mendel’s work which amounted to a rediscovery of his first principle. It was then that Mendel’s work was recognized, giving birth to a new branch of biology—genetics.

St. Thomas of Villanova