Augustinian Canons and hermits
One of the most prominent mendicant orders in the medieval Church was that of the Augustinian Friars. Officially referred to as the Order of the Hermit Friars of Saint Augustine, the order was created from the isolated communities of hermits who strictly adhered to the Rule of Saint Augustine.
In 1256, Pope Alexander IV brought them together, not just for the purpose of organization, but to entrust them with the task of becoming active preachers and religious in society, to follow a more Dominican lifestyle. As a single unit, the order eventually spread throughout Western Europe, evangelizing and preaching. During this time, other less austere congregations joined them.
Martin Luther, himself an Augustinian monk, belonged to the German Reformed Congregation. Although the Hermits were almost completely crushed by the Reformation, they survived intact. Today, they can be found throughout the world. (The more severe Augustinian Recollects were founded in 1588).
There was also another group which belonged to the Augustinian mendicant order called the Canons. Distinct from the Hermits, they were commonly referred to as the “Black Friars,” Black Canons, or Regular Canons. They were among the first in the Church to adhere to a common life yet still follow the Rule of Saint Augustine with its call for poverty, celibacy, obedience, and a strict monastic life. It is believed that the Black Friars originated from communities of diocesan priests in Italy and France, some time around the twelfth century.
Although they received sanctions at the Lateran Councils of 1059 and 1063, they subsequently became very popular. By the 1100s, most canons of the Church belonged to the Augustinians, but their prestige began to wane as they found it difficult to reconcile their Rule with the turbulent times of the 1400s and 1500s. Unfortunately, many of their houses were suppressed during the Reformation. In time, however, they recovered and, to this day, some of these congregations continue to exist, including the Premonstratensian Canons and Victorines.