From: St. Dominic and His Work, by Pierre Mandonnet, O.P.,
        Translated by Sister Mary Benedicta Larkin, O.P., B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis/London, 1948.

The Rule Decapitated


THE Church had never at any time surrendered her ideal of fostering the apostolic life among the clergy, that is, the common life and the renunciation of private property.

Of all the efforts directed to this end, those of St. Augustine were among the most illustrious. He had succeeded in assembling in his episcopal monastery all the clergy of the Church of Hippo. His example, his spoken and written word, exerted a mighty influence on the whole Church in Africa. Many of his sons, called forth from his monastery, continued his traditions as bishops in other episcopal sees. Finally, the very persecution of the African Church helped to spread the spirit of these institutions in Europe. Suffice it to say that the clerical apostolate of St. Augustine, popularized by his writings, endured as the ideal which later reformers sought to realize in the same sphere.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the name and the institution of St. Augustine were hailed, almost as a standard, in the second half of the eleventh century when the movement for clerical reform resulted in the organization of the canons regular.

This movement for the religious reform of the clergy is studied little today. At least it is not given the attention it merits. In fact, its importance parallels that of the contemporaneous movement for monastic reform.(1)

The reform is connected, as an effect, with Gregory VII's attempt to re-establish the position of the Church by wresting from the civil power the sway it had arrogated to itself for domination in the ecclesiastical world. Persistently striving to emancipate the Church from interference of the secular power in episcopal elections and recognizing that a radical transformation in the Church required first of all a transformation in the habits of the clergy, this great Pope appealed to all men of good will to cooperate with him in his efforts. The actual accomplishment of the reform appears to us as something sporadic; and, in fact, so it was. The canonical institution, with the reform of the clergy, was not achieved at one stroke; it was not generally undertaken simply at the decision of a central authority. On the contrary, it sprang up now here and now there, impelled by individual initiative, aroused by the preaching of earnest reformers like Peter Damian. Moreover, these individual attempts received from the Roman Curia efficacious suggestion, exhortation, encouragement, and support. These efforts, tenaciously followed by a long series of reforming popes, acquired a real coordination.

Thus the movement for canonical reform presents a double aspect which is remarkable. On the one hand, it was spontaneous and to some extent subject to the hazard of local initiative. On the other hand, it possessed in the popes a centralizing force that ensured its continuity and development. This phenomenon should be kept in mind for an understanding of the unity of spirit and, in a measure, of organization animating a movement that apparently was so spontaneous and varied.

What influence did the institution and the Rule of St. Augustine exert in the canonical reform? It is hard to say. Too much obscurity still veils the origin of the movement. As we just said, however, the name of St. Augustine recurs frequently in the texts; but perhaps the use of this name does not always signify that the Rule of the Bishop of Hippo was adopted or that it was even known. The Augustinian institution was mentioned, because it was the synonym for a clerical life in common and for an absolute renunciation of individual property, which other forms of the "canonical life" did not exact so rigorously. It may also be ascertained that from the close of the eleventh century the Rule of St. Augustine was used in a number, of cases in canonical communities.(2) As further light is thrown on this phenomenon, it becomes evident that the part played by the Rule grew in proportion to the development of the movement, In the twelfth century, on account of the organized unity of the reform, the Rule of St. Augustine was extended to the whole canonical order, and its influence was so important that the two expressions, "Regular Canonical Order" and "Augustinian Order," could be regarded as nearly equivalent. Almost forgotten until then, the legislative text was more and more widely diffused up to the close of the Middle Ages.

The sudden and remarkable success of an institution and of a Rule seven centuries old could hardly be sustained without some repercussion. Marvelously adapted as the Rule of St. Augustine was to the use which the ecclesiastical reformers expected to make of it, inevitably it had to undergo a drastic modification in view of the very purposes it was to serve and from the contemporary conditions in which it was to be applied. What actually happened did violence to the Rule. This violence was its decapitation.


An understanding of the revivals of the Rule of St. Augustine during the twelfth century requires a study of the history of legislation. in the orders of canons regular which, like those of St. Victor and of Pr6montre', were founded in that period.

The text of St. Augustine in use among the Premonstratensians at the time of their organization (about 1120), included the Disciplina monasterii along with the Commentary. The ancient liturgical books of Pr6montre' -- the ultra-conservative character of this kind of writing is known to all -- preserved the text up to the seventeenth century.(3) In this text of the Disciplina only the Ordo officii is missing; this omission of the liturgical article occurs in such a way that it seems also to have been omitted from the primitive legislation.(4) Again, however, there is reliable evidence to show that the whole Disciplina monasterii was dropped from the legislation and the life of the Premonstratensians(5) about the middle of the twelfth century. Between the dates marking the passage of three decades of years, the Rule of

Augustine, which had been retained until then in its traditional and primitive form, saw its first part cut off in the legislation of the Order of Prémontre'.(6)

Apparently in other canonical foundations similar changes were made in the law. The general form of the text of the Rule in the next century shows this: the Disciplina isnowhere to be found.

The research required to verify the facts in these evolutions is, unfortunately, difficult to manage. Little is known about the primitive legislation of religious foundations. It seems that earlier legislation was naturally allowed to disappear as soon as it was supplanted by later legislation, which alone was of immediate interest to the contemporaries. In the age of manuscripts the out-of-date text often disappeared. Moreover, on account of the fragmentary character of documentation, research in this field could hardly result in the finding of exact data about the time and the cause of the disappearance.

But such a transformation could not have been effected by chailce or without leaving some evidence. The text of the Rule enjoyed considerable authority; it was a traditional law, recently restored to honor everywhere by the canonical reform, and its sanction was the name of St. Augustine. A suppression of the Disciplina monasterii,the most important part of this text, was indeed daring. It was not customary in that age to treat with slight consideration any authorized text, especially a legal text. Only a power equal to that of patristic authority could, while imposing the Rule of St. Augustine, dispense with some parts of it. Evidently the popes had that authority.

At this point a fundamental document testifies to the persistence of the Rule of St. Augustine in its traditional form through the first twenty, years of the twelfth century, and likewise notes the date and the causes of the official suppression of the Disciplina monasterii. The document is a letter of Pope Gelasius 11 to the canons of Springirsbach, dated August 11, 1118.

The brothers of this community of canons regular of the Diocese of Trier had followed, at least from the year 1107, the Rule of St. Augustine.(7) Then they found themselves face to face with a serious problem: what the Rule of St. Augustine prescribed in regard "to the Office, manual work, and fasting" was, they declared, impossible of fulfillment in their province. Therefore they referred the matter to the central authority of the canonical reform, the Pope.

Let us pause here. The text which details a number of prescriptions for the Office, manual labor, and fasting is not the Commentary, but the Disciplina monasterii. It suffices to reread these texts. The brothers of Springirsbach, therefore, had theDisciplina in their Rule of St. Augustine and regarded it as constituting an essential part of the Rule. They could not have conceived its not being a part of it.


Quite as much may be said of Pope Gelasius II. Moreover, he was in a position to know whether the Disciplina had not always constituted an integral part of the Rule in other localities. His reply to the canons' question shows eloquently that the Pope did not have the least doubt about the authenticity of the first part of the Rule. It must, therefore, be concluded that in 1118 the Disciplina monasterii was still officially part of the Rule of St. Augustine.

We should note that the three points enumerated by the brothers of Springirsbach include exactly all the positive prescriptions of the Disciplina, those by which it is distinguished from the Commentary. Further, they represent the three essential points to be regulated in a common life: prayer, work, and sustenance. It is the Disciplina,then, in its entirety that creates the difficulty. In the last analysis, it is the very Rule of the Bishop of Hippo; because, as we have shown, the Disciplina alone constituted a Rule in the strict sense of the word, a law capable of organizing the common life of a society of men.

A glance at St. Augustine's prescriptions will be enough to show how the difficulties of the German canons were justified. The Ordo Officii detailed by the Disciplina monasterii is the most archaic on record. The fast, which was to be broken only for a single meal at three o'clock in the afternoon, could indeed be kept in warm countries, but it was not practical in the twelfth century for people in Germany.(8) The Benedictine rules of the period assigned a single meal for the periods of the great fast; but the legislation of the Disciplina would thus have imposed upon the canons a fast for three hundred sixty-five days in the year. In regard to manual labor, the only kind mentioned, the Disciplina defined the necessity, amount, and schedule for a program suitable in the primitive state of Augustinian monasteries where clerics and laymen lived together. But it was no longer applicable in the same degree for the ordinary clerics in the service of a church. Consequently, in 1118 it seemed that the Rule of St. Augustine, in its essential prescriptions contained in the Disciplina monasterii, could not be applied.


What would be the Pope's reply to the question sent by the canons of Springirsbach? This reply must be examined in detail. We here set down the letter. The Latin text will be found in Migne (CLXIII, 496).

(Rome, August 11, 1118) To the Reverend Superior and his brethren of the Church of Springirsbach, health and apostolic benediction.

Our attention has been called to the problem raised among you concerning the Rule of St. Augustine: to wit: "Certain prescriptions are included therein for the Office, manual labor, and fasting, which cannot be observed in our provinces." Suitable moderation ought to be a guide in such matters. With the grace of God, whatever pertains to advancement in virtuous living ought to be observed. On the other band, what the same Doctor has written on the Office cannot be followed, because it does not now accord with the usage of Rome and other Churches. The Rule of St. Benedict likewise contains certain prescriptions on observances of this kind, but the practice in the monasteries now is quite different; nevertheless, the profession of the monks is not on that account invalidated. Therefore, we command that the Office be celebrated among you according to the custom of the Catholic Church. Indeed, manual labor and fasting should be undertaken with consideration for the climate of the country and the ability of persons, but in that regard the customs common among the regular brethren should be followed.

The sanctions of the holy Fathers teach us how we should refrain from intercourse with the excommunicated. Nevertheless, if, on account of such intercourse, any have fallen through weakness or through the influence of the wicked, the prior may absolve them and impose a suitable penance.

May your brotherhood never cease to intercede with the Almighty God for our tribulations and those of the Roman Church.

The text is clear. To the difficulty of the brothers, the Pope replies that prudent moderation should direct their observance of the Rule. He begins by excluding one class of propositions: "whatever pertains to advancement in virtuous living," that is, all the moral prescriptions of the Augustinian text. These maxims of the religious spirit comprise the ethical part of the Rule, which the Commentary expands in its development. Altogether they represent the essential observances which the canons will maintain and put into practice with the help of God's grace.

Gelasius commands the brothers to celebrate the Office according to the custom then approved by the Catholic Church. The Ordo officii in the Disciplina thus becomes obsolete. On this point the Pope is categorical; for it concerns a rule, the lapse of which in no way derogates from the religious profession.

The Pope's advice is less categorical about the other two prescriptions: it is proper to undertake manual labor and fasting according to the climate and the health of individuals. Lastly, in these matters, he urges them to follow the "customs common among the regular brethren."(9)

By direct order of the Pope, therefore, the three essential prescriptions of theDisciplinamonasterii were abolished. As a reference to the text of the Rule will show, articles 2, 3, and 9 thus became a dead letter; the other paragraphs of the Disciplinahad a moral impOrt, and in substance they were treated and developed in the Commentary. The suppression of the three categorical precepts was equivalent, therefore, to the suppression of the whole Disciplina monasterii. More significantly, it marked the elimination of what gave to the whole Augustinian legislation a definite and detailed constitutional character, making it, properly speaking, a Rule. Of the work of St. Augustine, there survived only the spiritual and moral Commentary, ea quae ad mores bonos pertinent; the Rule was decapitated.


A head had to be substituted; accordingly Gelasius II substituted for the invalidated articles the contemporary liturgy of the Church and that religious law which he calledcommunis fratrum regularium consuetudo, which was to organize the life of the canons.

There is something remarkable about the second injunction. From the ninth century on, the word "regular" signified a manner of life conformed to the Rule par excellence, the Rule of St. Benedict. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, when all the monks were of course Benedictine, regular life and monastic life were synonymous terms. Different in character was the vita canonica, organized by the canonical decrees (those of the Synod of Aachen in 816 were of particular importance) or by the rules of mitigated observance, like those of Chrodegang of Metz, which did not impose austerity, poverty, and the common life with the same rigor, or, above all, with the same efficacy. In the tenth and eleventh centuries the canonical life was really a clerical life. It might quite naturally be supposed that the Gregorian movement which sought to restore the apostolic life, or the perfect community, among clerics, had for an ideal a kind of transposition of the "regular" or Benedictine life. Thence was to emerge the life of the canon regular; the very expression seems pleonastic, since "canon" means "rule" (the authors of the twelfth century emphasize the fact); but with historical perspective it acquires a remarkable significance.

This should be well understood. The Gregorian reformers did not, as is sometimes thought, intend to impose Benedictine life on the clerics. In that case the choice, or rather the rediscovery, of the Rule of St. Augustine in view of the canonical reform would have been quite inexplicable. Was not the Rule of St. Benedict available, if their purpose was to Benedictinize the clerics? Indeed such an undertaking would not have been possible. What the reformers wished to ensure in the regular life was the ascetic observances, the customs of poverty, and the common life practiced in the cloisters of St. Benedict, yet compatible with clerical life in the economic and social environment of the age.

By 1118, "regular" customs of this type had been in practice for more than half a century in canonical foundations, established almost everywhere. The practices constituted the communis consuetudo fratrum regularium, which were enjoined as a substitute for the Disciplina monasterii. Like the latter, they guaranteed a precise and organized code of common life; they regulated the day, the work, the fast, the offices. Along with the Commentary of St. Augustine, these customs were adopted as the true Rule of the canons regular of Springirsbach. Thus, by the letter of Gelasius II, the Augustinian legislation of this community was organized.


The difficulty confronting the German canons proved to be general. The difficulties they encountered in the observance of the Disciplina monasterii were experienced in varying degrees by all the new foundations of clerics regular. The fact that the Rule of St. Augustine had been proposed to all the canonical communities established under the inspiration of the reform to meet the widespread needs of the Church meant that the problem of the brothers of Springirsbach by the same token extended through the whole canonical order. Was the solution of Pope Gelasius to be universally applied?

Without fear of error, we might reply a priori, because we know the outcome of the canonical evolution and the ultimate form of legislation in these institutes. All have legislation similar to that adopted at Springirsbach. Along with the Commentary severed from the Rule of St. Augustine, there are Consuetudines, or written customs, which constitute the true law. For this assertion there need be no mere reliance on pure deduction. Amort has published, together With the complete text of the Rule of St. Augustine (Disciplina and Commentary), a document which he found in a manuscript of the early twelfth century in the monastery of Ranshofen(10) in Upper Austria. It is entitled Determinatio Gelasii papae in regulam, beati Augustini ad regulares canonicos, and is the bull of Gelasius II to the brothers of Springirsbach, without its particular references, that is, without the address and the part treating of the excommunicated.

The document includes only the Pope's precepts which substitute the contemporary liturgy and the communis fratrum regularium consuetudo for the proscribed articles of the Disciplina. Lastly, certain minute but judicious variants gave it a universal import (in provinciis, ubique).

Evidently it represents a general legislative enactment addressed to all the canons regular to "determine," according to the technical sense of the word in the twelfth century, or definitively state what was to be done about the Rule of St. Augustine. What was ordained for the brothers of Springirsbach became in time a general rule. How did this happen?

Did the Pope himself remand the text of his bull for the purpose of extending his decree to all the canons? In that period a current practice in the Roman Curia was to draw upon an earlier bull to promulgate the same answer to the same question. As it is, the acts of Gelasius as they are now published contain no record of such a procedure.


It is more normal and more in harmony with the history under consideration, to suppose that the letter to the friars of Springirsbach, minus its individuating features, spread directly of itself from monastery to monastery, by way of personal initiative. For was not that the way the canonical reform spread? We have remarked that it was first advanced not so much by an act of central authority as by the zeal of individual promoters, approved and confirmed by the popes. Impressed by the renown of certain communities, founders decided to imitate them, and often adopted their legislation, rules, and customs. From St. Ruf, Marbach, and Springirsbach also(11) there radiated an influence upon houses which otherwise maintained their own independence. This influence was rapid and far-reaching. All Christian Europe was astir at the time: merchants, knights, crusaders, scholars, pilgrims, religious. Numerous and profound exchanges were not yet impeded by national barriers. This explains phenomena at first disconcerting, namely, the simultaneous renaissance of the Rule of St. Augustine during the second half of the eleventh century in widely distant foundations,(12) and the general and rapid extension of the Rule to the whole canonical order. It also makes comprehensible the way the Disciplina was generally relinquished in the first half of the twelfth century.

Another text, noted also by Amort, contributes light to the situation. It contains some decrees of the thirteenth century, edited by Duellius, containing reference to the decision of Gelasius about the Rule of St. Augustine in these terms:

Let it be the general custom in singing the Office
To follow the churches wherever we are . . .
And labor and fasting ought to be undertaken
As the location and custom of the land require.
The papal rescript teaches that those practices ought to be retained
Which up to now have been retained in the Springirsbach cloister.(13)

Gelasius' decision radiated directly from Springirsbach. In this way it gradually provoked or sanctioned the universal lapse of the Disciplina monasterii. The papal bull was all that was required to effect this transformation. As the voice of pontifical authority, it could correct and interpret the apostolic rule. The text cited by Amort indicates how its application became general. A history of this aspect of the canonical evolution would, no doubt, require further research; but that goes beyond the limits of our subject. It is enough that we are able to affirm with precision that the Rule of St. Augustine became acephalous, August 11, 1118, by the authority of Gelasius II on the petition of the brothers of Springirsbach.

The Disciplina monasterii truly exercised the part of a head in the Augustinian Rule; it was by far the shortest part, but from an institutional point of view the most important, because it and it alone contained the regulations necessary for the exercises of a common life: as in man it is the head that directs the functions essential to life. Consequently, from that time on, no Augustinian community was founded without immediately annexing to the decapitated Commentary some legislation more explicit and better adapted, in the way of customs or constitutions(14) to take the place of theDisciplina.

Customs or constitutions of this type thereafter formed the true rule, the living Augustinian Rule. After the decree of Gelasius 11, the Commentary which was retained under the incorrect name of the Rule of St. Augustine was no longer a rule, unless regarded as the complement of the new rules substituted for the Disciplina.Henceforth what were classed as pieces of Augustinian legislation resembled the statues of emperors during the decadence: the same body (minus the head) remained intact, but the head was changed with the time.


In this circumstance we find the key to the later history of the Augustinian institution. It explains the radical diversity among the branches of this religious family, a diversity that has no counterpart in the Benedictine Order. This disappearance of the Disciplinaaccounts especially for the foundation, the nature, and the remarkable expansion of Augustinian customs in the following centuries. Strange as it may seem, the transformation which deprived St. Augustine's Rule of its essential part, far from arresting its success, rendered it remarkably fruitful.

In conclusion, one last detail: the beheading of the Rule of St. Augustine was not effected at a single blow or without sutures. Even now there are traces indicating that delay attended the procedure. These traces are a sign of the intervention of Gelasius. He had not purely and simply ordered the suppression of the Disciplina. He had authorized the omission of only the regular prescriptions. Those treating of "virtuous habits" were to be retained. The Disciplina opened with the essential precept of the Christian life: "Let God be loved above all things, dearest brethren, and then our neighbor, because these are the principal comnwnds given to us"; this precept of permanent value was detached from the Disciplina and was made the first sentence of the Regula fratrum. In this revised form the Rule of St. Augustine was transmitted to posterity.(15) This introductory exhortation would of itself prove that the Disciplina was at the head of the Rule. Moreover, that is what Gelasius' letter established.

It seems, however, that this solution was not adopted from the first nor was it always accepted later. For example, Hugh of St. Victor, in his commentary on the Rule of St. Augustine, does not quote a word from the Disciplina. The text on which he comments begins: Haec sunt quae ut observetis ("These are the things which we command that you observe").(16) It is true that Hugh introduced his commentary with a short first chapter entitled: De charitate Dei et proximi, de unitate cordium et communitate rerum. Perhaps he considered that this chapter contained the equivalent of the thought in the precept of the Disciplina: "Let God be loved. . . ." Hugh might have adopted this method because he did not wish to pass over the formula of the Disciplina; yet, since it did not properly belong to the text on which he was commenting, he chose simply to substitute for it an equivalent explanatory passage in the guise of a prologue.

Amort gives several samples of beginnings of the Rule.(17) Humbert of Romans, in hisExpositio super regulam B. Augustini, says that in the thirteenth century certain texts began with Haec sunt; others with Ante omnia.(18) The matter would require still further investigation, but we have said enough for our purpose. The evidence of what happened to the Rule of St. Augustine in the twelfth century is sufficient. Let us now judge of the consequences.


1. This paragraph and the following were dictated to us in advance by Father Mandonnet. On the canonical movement, consult the recent studies of Wirges, Herding, and Mouraux.

2 Certainly in 1089; perhaps even in 1067; Schroeder, Die Augustinerchorherrenregel,p. 302.

3. G. v. d. Velden, Analecta Praemonstratensia, IX (1933), 148-56.

4 The Rule is divided into readings for each day of the week.

5 Van Voorlezen, p. 153.

6 It reappeared in the seventeenth century on the occasion of the reform of Ponth-Mousson, brought about by the Council of Trent. In 1614 the abbot of Pont-à-Mousson published a little volume containing the text of the Rule of St. Augustine with its two primitive parts along with a study on the regular reform and on the obligation of the Rule.
The author remarks that the Premonstratensians alone follow the Rule of St. Augustine in its entirety. Under this form it has never been changed or abrogated in the Order of Prémontré and is therefore part of the substance of its law "prout apud nos est compilata."
If what the author says is true, the Disciplina was therefore never suppressed in the law of Prémontré. But it is certain that from the middle of the twelfth century it was considered a dead letter.

7 Hauck, IV, 359, 363.

8 The case is similar for monastic abstinence. The Customs of Hirsau have a provision for meat, although this provision does not exist in the Customs of Cluny on which they were based. "Moreover, it was in the Clunysian province of Germany that the first licit derogations from abstinence from meat appeared (in the Order of Cluny). Peter the Venerable himself made note of it in his statutes." Guy de Valous, Le monachisme clunysien des origines au XVe siècle, I, L'Abbaye de Cluny, les monastères clunysiens(1935), p. 269.

9 The rest of the letter answers another question of the friars which does not concern us here.

10 Amort, p. 134.

11 Hertling in Zeitschr. für kathol. Theol., LIV (1930), 357.

12 Ibid., LIII (1929), 470.

13 Duellius, Statuta no. 3; Amort, p. 134.

14 The existence of customs along with the traditional rule was general in orders of the twelfth century, whether Benedictine or Augustinian. What was properly distinctive in Augustinian legislation was that these customs actually took the place of a rule.
The rule was an ancient text, authentic and confirmed by tradition (the Holy See began to intervene in the confirmation of rules only in the twelfth century), supported by the authority of the Fathers: specifically, St. Augustine, St. Benedict, and St. Basil.
The customs consisted of special regulations as complements of the rule. In the twelfth century there was never a question of the confirmation of the customs. Then what were originally simple and supplementary observances were later enriched by social and organic elements. The evolution of the titles applied to these ordinances is significant: consuetudines, institutiones, and only as the thirteenth century dawned, constitutiones.
In addition, there were statutes, a supplementary and variable form of legislation elaborated by a central authority, the head of the order, and especially the general chapter. The statutes conferred upon religious orders a perpetually adaptable legislation. Ultimately they might be assimilated to the customs. Among these statutes, one of the most celebrated was the Charter of Charity of Cîteaux, one of the first, if not the very first, religious prescription solemnly confirmed by the Holy See.

15 Adam Scotus, Liber de ordine, habitu, et professione canonicorum ordinis praemonstratensis (PL, CXCVIII, 514).

16 PL, CLXXVI, 881.

17 Amort, p. 135.

18 Cf. Humbert, De vita regulari, I, 61.