From its establishment in 1244 and its expansion in 1256, the Augustinian Order promoted education among its members. Since the Order’s engagement in apostolic activities was a condition of its new status as the third of the four mendicant Orders, the Dominicans (1216), Franciscans (1223), and Carmelites (1247), higher studies were seen as an essential prerequisite to that commitment.
Several of the early priors general of the Augustinian Order were themselves outstanding scholars and authors. In 1259, a house of studies was established in Paris by the prior general Lanfranc of Milan. One of the first to live there was the theologian Giles of Rome, a student of Thomas Aquinas, and the first member of the Order to earn the degree of Master of Theology. A renowned scholar and the author of numerous books on theology and philosophy, Giles was to become a professor at the University of Paris and in 1292, prior general of the Order. An early advocate of studies, one of Giles’ first acts was to urge each Augustinian provincial to “put all your energy into preserving and advancing theological studies, so that by means of studies, together with religious observance, our Order may grow with humility."
Two years before Giles became prior general, the Constitutions of 1290 mandated that each province establish a house of study for candidates to the Order. In addition, more prestigious “general study houses” were established for students from all provinces studying for advanced academic degrees. These houses were aggregated to universities in such centers as Paris, Bologna, Padua, Rome, Florence, Cambridge, and Oxford, and granted the academic degrees of bachelor, licentiate (licentiae docendi) and doctor (magister).
From this promising beginning emerged leaders of what came to be called the Augustinian School. James of Viterbo (d.1308), a pupil of Giles of Rome, and one of his successors in the university chair at Paris, distinguished himself as a philosopher. Augustine of Ancona (d. 1328) and William of Cremona (d.1356) wrote treatises on the papacy. Henry of Friemar (d. 1340) and Thomas of Strasbourg (d.1357) distinguished themselves by writing biblical commentaries. The most prominent of the Augustinians of this period was Gregory of Rimini (d.1358) for his teaching on freedom and grace from the anthropology of Saint Augustine. These scholars earned for themselves a place in the history of scholasticism because of their recourse to the authority of Saint Augustine and their view of theology as an affective science whose purpose was the love of God. Members of the Augustinian School in later centuries included Enrico Noris (d.1673), later Cardinal, whose Historia pelagiana outlined the Augustinian theory of grace, and Gianlorenzo Berti, whose contributions to the study of positive, non-speculative theology were contained in his influential eight volumes of dogmatic theology that appeared in Rome between 1739 and 1745.