The communications office of the Province of St. John of Sahagún brings us a reflection on the origin and evolution of the Constitutions of the Order of St. Augustine
Fr. Miguel Angel Orcasitas, former Prior General and Doctor of Church History, briefly recounts some important moments in the long history of the Constitutions of the Order of St. Augustine from the 13th century to the present. We reproduce the text in its entirety
The first regulations of the Order that we have preserved are the Constitutions of Regensburg, of the year 1290, approved in the general chapter celebrated in that city, with Blessed Clement D'Osimo as Prior General of the Order.
There are reports of Constitutions prior to 1290, but they have not been preserved.
Successive general chapters introduced "additions", so that the Regensburg text, with these additions, remained in force in the Order for several centuries. It is a normative code, regulating incorporation into the Order, formation, and the discipline that was to govern the internal life of the communities. It is enormously detailed and punitive, in a way that is very much at odds with our contemporary mentality. This normative meticulousness continued in later editions of the Constitutions, such as those drawn up under the generalate of Girolamo Seripando in 1551, which were hardly valid, because the legislation itself had to be adapted to the determinations of the Council of Trent. This adaptation was included in the 1581 edition of the Constitutions promulgated by General Thaddeus of Perugia. According to Balbino Rano, this edition suffered from the prevailing influence of Jesuit spirituality, giving less weight to the value of fraternity.
As early as 1753, the Peruvian general Francisco Javier Vázquez prepared a revision of the Constitutions, by mandate of the general chapter held in Bologna. The manuscript of this edition is preserved in the General Archives, but it did not come into force because it did not gain the acceptance of, among others, the Cardinal Protector.
The normative character: its validity over seven centuries
Subsequent editions were published in 1895, under General Sebastiano Martinelli, and in 1925, under the Spanish General Eustasio Esteban, in this case to bring the Order's regulations up to date with the 1917 reform of the Code of Canon Law. In all of them, the juridical structure and style basically followed the normative character prevailing since the 13th century. A substantial change in the Constitutions of the Order was the revision carried out at the General Chapter of Villanova (USA) in 1968, under the generalate of Fr Agostino Trapè, to bring them into line with the orientations of the Second Vatican Council. In this 1968 edition, a first part of charismatic character was incorporated into the Constitutions, turning this code into a rich manual of spirituality, which has found imitators in the constitutions of other institutes. Since that date, four new editions have been made, to include the modifications introduced by successive General Chapters. These are the editions under Theodore Tack, in 1977, Miguel Angel Orcasitas, in 1990, following the reform of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, Robert Prevost, in 2002 and Robert Prevost, in 2008, following a thorough revision of the Constitutions.
It is striking that, the Regensburg Constitutions having lasted almost three centuries, four editions have been produced in only forty years since 1968. But there is a certain explanation for this. Our Order enjoys the privilege of giving effect to the modifications of the Constitutions in the General Chapter itself which approves them, without having to go to the Congregation for Consecrated Life (CIVCSVA). It must communicate them to the Holy See only a posteriori. However, most orders and congregations must submit changes to the CIVCSVA in order for the modifications to enter into force. For this reason, the Constitutions of many institutes contain only fundamental norms, with many minor observances in directories, which they themselves can modify without having to go through the CIVCSVA. Our Constitutions contain normative details that could be in a directory.
We would thus avoid the ease with which we change constitutional norms in general chapters. Once the changes have been made, it is decided to print a new edition, as mandated by the Chapter itself, to avoid confusion and to facilitate the handling of the Constitutions.