In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Augustinianism in Renaissance Thought

  • Introduction
  • Order of Augustinian Hermits
  • Augustinianism and Italian Humanism
  • Augustinianism and Humanism outside Italy
  • Augustinianism and English Renaissance Poets
  • Augustinianism and the Reformation
  • Augustinianism and Renaissance Art

Renaissance and Reformation Augustinianism in Renaissance Thought
Sam Urlings
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0525


It is hard to overestimate the enduring impact that St. Augustine of Hippo (b. 354–d. 430) has exerted on the development of Western thought, from its most personal expressions to its broadly cultural reflections. Theology, philosophy, literature, visual arts, even politics—all were pervasively influenced by the Church Father’s thought and its reverberations through the ages. Situated at the crossroads of two hard-to-define descriptors, Renaissance Augustinianism (not to be confused with Heiko A. Oberman’s anti-Pelagian “Augustinian Renaissance”) in essence, but not unambiguously, refers to the reception and development of that thought in Europe from around the mid-14th to the mid-17th century. Such a broad definition naturally invites scrutiny—“Augustinianism” in se is an imprecise term that brings to mind a range of (sometimes conflicting) meanings—but, fundamentally, this entry concerns the ways in which Augustine was reappropriated and reconstructed in the transition to early modernity. The result is multifaceted by its nature: the bishop’s prolific output on a plethora of topics led to an equally diverse readership, from the early Italian humanists to the followers of John Calvin. A “late-classical” author in the eyes of many, Augustine, too, was the object of the ad fontes attitude thought of as characteristic of the Renaissance; and as many of his more neglected works were rediscovered, he proved a singular authority that was thought to embody the harmonization of antiquity with Christianity. The variety of interpretations—and opposition from certain circles—notwithstanding, the Church Father’s doctrines of trinitarianism, original sin, illumination, and the nature of the soul and of knowledge were widely prevalent; as was his conception of the City of God opposite to the city of man. In many ways, the friars that belonged to the mendicant Ordo Eremitarum Sancti Augustini (OESA) laid the foundation for this widespread awareness of his writings. No wonder that many scholars consider the Renaissance to constitute a “rebirth” of Augustine—and of Augustinianism—as well. For a general overview of patristics in the Renaissance, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article “The Church Fathers in Renaissance and Reformation Thought.”

General Overviews

In spite of—or perhaps due to—the relative breadth of the topic under discussion, scholars have long bemoaned the absence of a thorough overview of Augustine’s Nachleben in the Renaissance and early modern era (Kristeller 1956 under Augustinianism and Italian Humanism; Gill 2005 under Augustinianism and Renaissance Art). The following listing consists of those works that begin to address this shortcoming, including those that reflect on the term “Augustinianism” in the first place. Saak’s soon-to-be tetralogy on the subject through the lens of the Ordo Eremitarum Sancti Augustini (OESA) is unmatched in its depth (Saak 2002, Saak 2012, and Saak 2021). Additional information can be found in Oberman and Frank 1991, while an alternative approach with a very different viewpoint is offered in Bergvall 2001. The website Finding Augustine, Fitzgerald 2009, and Lee 2022 serve as useful points of departure, the latter especially an accessible introduction; as does Pollmann and Otten 2013, which offers a more wide-ranging overview of all things related to the Renaissance reception of Augustine. Pollmann and Gill 2012, finally, widens the framework of the Augustinian, putting the literary side of things in some much-needed perspective. See also Gill 2005 under Augustinianism and Renaissance Art.

  • Bergvall, Åke. Augustinian Perspectives in the Renaissance. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia 117. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University Press, 2001.

    A bold and occasionally provocative study of how Augustine’s paradigmatic dichotomy—between a “Plotinian” side resulting from his initial Platonist leanings, and a “Pauline” side in line with his later career and beliefs—resulted in a fundamentally divided legacy. Though Bergvall mainly devotes attention to Petrarch’s and especially Edmund Spenser’s Augustinianism, he covers a lot of ground, relating the humanist Renaissance to the Reformation in an interesting manner.

  • Finding Augustine.

    This website containing a structured catalogue of bibliographical references relating to Augustine—the result of a cooperation between the Leuven Augustinian Historical Institute and Villanova University—offers an accessible overview of material on the bishop’s “Influence and Survival.”

  • Fitzgerald, Allan D., ed. Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2009.

    Fitzgerald’s Encyclopedia somewhat makes up for its scattershot approach with its diachronic perspective, covering Augustine’s influence on such figures as John Calvin, Erasmus, and Martin Luther, as well as on the Renaissance in general. Primarily serves as a useful tool for further reference, albeit superseded in some ways by Pollmann and Otten 2013.

  • Lee, Alexander. “Augustinianism.” In The Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy. Edited by Marco Sgarbi, 264–268. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2022.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-14169-5_1188

    Lee’s entry on Renaissance Augustinianism provides an accessible introduction with a focus on particular philosophical issues—namely, theories of the human soul, theories of knowledge, ethics, political philosophy, and the relationship between philosophy and eloquence.

  • Oberman, Heiko A., and James A. Frank, eds. Via Augustini. Augustine in the Later Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1991.

    A collection of essays in honor of Damasus Trapp, whose work was foundational in bringing renewed scholarly attention to the Renaissance reception of the Church Father (see also Trapp 1956 under Order of Augustinian Hermits). Nine contributions of varying significance focus on the Augustinian tradition in all its diversity, with a particularly central role for Gregory of Rimini.

  • Pollmann, Karla, and Meredith J. Gill, eds. Augustine Beyond the Book: Intermediality, Transmediality, and Reception. Brill’s Series in Church History 58. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    The rare overview of Augustine’s legacy that moves beyond the written word, considering such diverse fields as drama and modern psychotherapy. Most relevant for our purposes are contributions on Augustinian motifs in Renaissance painting (pp. 59–94); the Church Father as a protagonist in early modern drama (pp. 95–109); the popularity of pseudo-Augustinian compilations in the Reformation era (pp. 147–165); and Augustine’s influence on Renaissance theories of music (pp. 215–243).

  • Pollmann, Karla, and Willemien Otten, eds. The Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    A monumental three-volume reference work consisting of over six hundred entries that cover Augustine’s legacy across boundaries and disciplines. Besides the excellent introduction, relevant sections are too numerous to recount—suffice it to say that a great deal of relevant figures, from Justus Lipsius to John Milton, are discussed. Saak’s entry on the Augustinian Renaissance can be found on pp. 58–67. Each entry also includes a selection of literature for reference.

  • Saak, Eric L. High Way to Heaven: The Augustinian Platform Between Reform and Reformation, 1292–1524. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought 89. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004474598

    A weighty and arguably unwieldy monograph that lays the groundwork for Saak’s subsequent studies by course-correcting scholars’ narrow attention for a select few Augustinian thinkers and revealing their ideological platform. Best read in conjunction with his later works on the subject.

  • Saak, Eric L. Creating Augustine: Interpreting Augustine and Augustinianism in the Later Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199646388.001.0001

    This work reflects on the appropriate understanding of historical Augustinianism and what we may deem as such, centered around the members of the OESA as flagbearers, in a sense, of a “genuine” Augustinian heritage. An important part of this approach is the detailed deconstruction of the spurious Sermones ad fratres in eremo in chapter 3 (pp. 81–138).

  • Saak, Eric L. Augustinian Theology in the Later Middle Ages: Concepts, Perspectives, and the Emergence of Augustinian Identity. Vol. 1. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2021.

    In many ways the culmination of Saak’s extensive scholarship on Augustinianism, the breadth and depth of this volume make it a valuable and informative contribution. It builds on the work done in his prior volumes (see Saak 2002 and Saak 2012) to turn more fully toward his conception of Renaissance Augustinianism, with typical attention for the OESA. One eagerly awaits the second volume, to be titled The Sons of Augustine.

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