Augustinus de Dacia

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by Kurt Villads Jensen

Augustinus de Dacia (Aki, Haakon, Acho), OP (d. 1285), was the fourth provincial prior of the Dominican province of Dacia, comprising the present Scandinavia and Eastern Baltic and author of Rotulus pugillaris, the sole extant work of education from a Scandinavian Dominican.

Biography

Augustinus was elected provincial prior in 1261. He was responsible for the Dominicans’ violation of the interdict put on Denmark because of the bitter strife between the king and Jacob Erlandsen, archbishop of Lund. Augustinus was therefore deposed by a general chapter in Trier in 1266 and excommunicated two years later. In 1272, when an agreement was reached between king and archbishop, a general chapter in Florence reinstalled Augustinus in the priorate, which he held until his death.

One of the duties of Augustinus was to organise the friars’ crusade-preaching in his province. This seems to have been opposed in 1263 by the Norwegian King Håkon IV, who wanted the local bishops to preside over the preaching and, one can guess, especially over the collecting of donations for the crusade movement (DN 1, 46, no. 57). Preaching and missionizing in the Eastern Baltic and especially Estonia was another important function of the bretheren under Augustinus. Another important task was to promote the Dominican order in the province. Many convents had already been established before Augustinus became prior, but new ones were founded in Strængnæs (1268), in Helsingborg and Holbæk (1275), and in Næstved (ca. 1266). Convents for Dominican nuns, placed directly under the jurisdiction of the provincial prior, were established. One such was Roskilde St. Agnete, founded in 1263 on the initiative of Agnes and Jutta, daughters of the Danish king, Erik Plovpenning. They both left the Order soon after and the donations for the convent became disputed for more than half a century. Another nuns’ convent was founded in 1281 in Skænninge by Ingrid, a close relative of the fourteenth-century severe critic of the Dominican Order, St. Birgitta.

Rotulus pugillaris

One main object of a provincial prior’s supervision of the order’s internal life in the late thirteenth century was to ensure that the education in the convents reached the highest possible academic level as a preparation for preaching and hearing confessions. During the 1260s and 1270s, Dominicans produced a huge and varied literature for this purpose, which ranged from all-encompassing summas written at the universities to short manuals for beginners in the study of theology, composed by the lector in a single convent. Augustinus is the author of one such work, Rotulus pugillaris. It might be a condensed version of his Compendiosum breviarium theologiae, to which Augustinus refers in Rotulus but which is now lost.

Edition

WALZ, A. 1955: Classica et Mediaevalia 16, 136–95.

Summary of contents

Rotulus is a summula, a short concentration of all the useful and necessary knowledge that a friar was required to demonstrate he had acquired before he began preaching. Rotulus is divided into fifteen chapters, which treat the definition of the science of theology, symbols and the articles of faith, angels and souls, grace, the theological virtues, the gifts and works of compassion, blessedness and contemplation, prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer, commandments and plagues, vows, sins in general and specific sins, sacraments, distinction of times, and antichrist and the final judgement.

The work is a presentation, not a discussion, and almost all issues are presented in three, four or twelve categories. It is characterised by the use of mnemonic verses that sum up the teaching of some of the sections. The most famous of these became widely used during the Middle Ages. It summarizes the four ways of scriptural exegesis: Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria,/ Moralis quid agas, quid speres anagogia (The literal reading teaches what happened, the allegorical what you ought to believe, the moral what you should do, and the anagogical what you should hope for).

The matter of the science of theology, Rotulus begins, is the work of restoration by recognition of God through Christ, in contrast to other sciences that are occupied with the created world in its present condition. Theology is of God through God leading to God (a deo per deum ad deum). Faith is to believe what we cannot see, but to believe can be understood in three different meanings: to believe God, to believe God is, and to believe in God (credere deo, credere deum et credere in deum). Sinners, too, believe God, i.e. that it is true what He reveals in the Scriptures, and they believe God is, but only the just (boni) believe in God, i.e. they walk or strive towards Him through the works of faith and love. The theological exposition in Rotulus is generally common thirteenth-century theology. The Ten Commandments are explained as remedies against the ten plagues of Egypt, which are understood in their allegorical and spiritual meaning. The prohibition against killing is understood in the sense that if evildoers are killed on the command of a superior, it is not you who kills but the law, and therefore it is not prohibited. In the sixth commandment adultery is understood in an extremely literal sense only, as every kind of sin that can be perpetrated by the genitals (omnis usus peccati qui potest fieri per genitalia), which is a strong and less usual modification of the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount and its spiritual and much more general understanding of adultery. Legal canonistic definitions in the work are of direct practical use, e.g. that boys cannot legitimately give a vow of chastity before they are fourteen years old, girls when they are twelve, or that a marriage can be annulled for twelve specific reasons only, from error (you realise you have married another than you decided) to difference in religious beliefs.

Purpose and audience

The main purpose of the Dominican Order from its foundation was the preaching against heretics. Rotulus gives a good, short definition of heretics, schismatics, and different kinds of sorcerers from mathematicians to necromantics. Schismatics, Russians, were a reality on the border of the province of Dacia, and necromancy was considered a widespread phenomenon especially in Nordic countries (Johs. de Dacia, CPhD 1, 18 l.24–19 l.3). In a broader context Rotulus was also directed against the unorganised ”heretics” within the Church, the common, perhaps unconscious, doubting or misunderstanding of articles of faith. One example is the explanation of original sin: Baptism removes sin, but not concupiscence, which is in the flesh, because what belongs to the flesh as hunger and thirst is not removed by baptism. Baptism thus removes sin in its fundamental sense – it reconciles the creature with the Creator – but it does not remove the ability to commit sin that is in the flesh and that will always need penitence. This argument is specifically directed against the heretic who asks how original sin comes into a child which is born from parents who have been baptised and therefore have had their sin removed.

The last chapter of Rotulus is a discussion of time and its division into different epochs, which is a modification of St. Augustine of Hippo’s division of history into six ages corresponding to the first six days of the creation, which will be followed by a seventh age of peace and rest. Augustinus de Dacia believed that he and his contemporaries were living at the end of the sixth day, which would eventually see the coming of Antichrist. The concluding chapter describes in a relatively detailed manner the signs of Antichrist and the meaning of the number of the beast of the Apocalypse. One of the indications that Antichrist has come will be that both Saturday and Sunday will be holidays. The teaching of Rotulus is based on a great number of classical texts from patristic literature, mostly by Augustine, but also Ambrosius, Gregory the Great and others. Petrus Lombardus, Hugh of St Victor, Gratian and Raymund of Peñafort are referred to explicitly, but the work also shows similarities to Albertus Magnus and perhaps Bonaventura. It is more difficult to point to any direct influence from Thomas Aquinas, which might perhaps indicate that Rotulus was written early in Augustinus’s career within the order.

Medieval reception and transmission

Rotulus is known from two manuscripts only. Other works with a similar title are known from German libraries and might be reworkings of Augustinus’s book. It is, however, more probable that a common source (Augustinus’s lost Breviloquium?) has resulted in both his rotulus and the other rotuli. It is thus impossible to estimate with any certainty the influence that Augustinus’s Rotulus might have had among the Dominicans in Dacia. But we know from other sources that members of the Order in the decades around 1300 were actively engaged in preaching and composed huge manuals for preachers (e.g. Mathias Ripensis), many operated on an international level as intermediaries between kings and the papacy as penitentiaries or papal collectors, and some held high offices within the national Churches. This would not have been possible were it not for the systematic educational programme in the local convents, of which Augustinus’s Rotulus is a splendid example.

Bibliography

  • BOYLE, L. 1978: “Notes on the Education of the ’fratres communes’ in the Dominican Order in the Thirteenth Century,” in Xenia medii Aevi Historiam illustrantia oblata Thomae Kaeppeli OP, ed. F. Creytnes OP et Pius Künzle OP (Storia e letteratura raccolta di Studi e Testi 141), Rome, 249–67.
  • CHATILLON, F. 1964: “Vocabulaire et prosodie du distique attribué a Augustin de Dacie sur les quatre sens de l’Écriture,” in L'Homme devant Dieu. Mélanges offerts au Père Henri de Lubac (Théologie 57), Paris, 17–28.
  • GALLÉN, J. 1946: La province de Dacie de l'Ordre des Frères Prêcheurs I: Historie [sic] générale jusqu'au grand schisme (Institutum Historicum FF. Praedicatorum Romae ad S. Sabinae: Dissertationes Historicae 12), Helsingfors.
  • OTTO, A. and ROOS, H. (ed.) 1955: Johannes de Dacia, Opera I–II (CPhD 1), Copenhagen.
  • WALZ, A. 1954: “Des Aage von Dänemark ’Rotulus Pugillaris’ im Lichte der alten dominikanischen Konventstheologie,” Classica et Mediaevalia 15, 198–252.