FOCUS: History of the Order and the Role of Elijah and Mary in the Order
1. Carmelite Tradition by Stephen Payne, OCD, “The Carmelite Tradition” pp xxi-xxxiii
2. Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition by Paul Marie, pp 13-16, 28-32
3. “History of the Order” (see article below)
- Like all living institutions, the Carmelite Order has grown, developed, and evolved over time under the influences of society and grace. Read the assigned excerpts to discover the evolution of the Carmelite Order. After reading the selections, create a data chart to display the key points in this development and the significance of each event.
|History of the Carmelite order|
2. What does Father Paul-Marie mean when he writes, “In Carmel, God is the objective, but the soul will become more and more Mary.”
3. Summarize Carmelite Marian tradition.
4. Carmelites “have always claimed Elijah as its own’ and in Elijah, “Carmel sees itself as in a mirror” — Carmel is a reflection of Elijah.
Describe the characteristics that Carmel and Elijah have in common.
The following offers an outline of Carmelite History, necessarily incomplete, to serve two purposes: first, a source of information for formation; second, anyone can catch a glimpse of the beauty, value, interest and essence of the Carmelite vocation through the centuries. This document covers three general areas: the history of Carmel in general, the Secular Order in Carmelite history, and the Order’s Marian tradition.
The very name ‘Carmelites’ indicates tradition began: It began on Mount Carmel in Palestine, a mountain celebrated in the Scriptures for its verdant beauty. “The beauty of Carmel has been given her” – words used in the Saturday votive Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Carmel stands for beauty. The Carmelite’s hope is to catch sight of God’s beauty, the Beauty that is Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Image. We try to catch sight of Him and become like Him through contemplative recollection and union of will in this life and, perfectly in the beatific vision of the next life. Such is the way St. John of the Cross, presents the Carmelite vocation in his Spiritual Canticle.
To see Christ, Beauty, go atop the mountain. But it is a mountain which requires a difficult climb. St. John of the Cross’ Ascent of Mount Carmel, the arduous climb of the holy mountain, is a symbol of the Carmelite life: a comprehensive program of renunciation and meditation that leads to the union with God.
The precise date of the first Carmelite settlement on the holy mountain is uncertain, but probably dates back to the turn of the thirteenth century. The crusades had freed the Holy Land from Moslem hands and Christian pilgrims were free to visit the places of the Bible. Many Crusaders stayed on in the land of Jesus to devote their lives to their Lord in this “kingdom on earth” of His.
One of the holy places of pilgrimage was Mount Carmel. Besides being a Biblical symbol of beauty and abundance, it was also the scene of Elijah’s bringing the people back to Yahweh, renewing the covenant between them and their God.
Amidst the beauty of Mount Carmel, a group of Christians from the West settled and took up an eremitic life of renunciation and prayer. They made their settlement near the ‘spring of Elijah’ in imitation of the man portrayed in the book of Kings as the forerunner of the monastic life by reason of his total consecration and devotion to God and his life of solitude and poverty.
In the early years of the thirteenth century, the hermits on Mount Carmel asked St. Albert, the Latin-rite patriarch of the Holy Land to give them a written Rule of life. St. Albert came to the East in 1206 and was killed in 1214, giving an approximate date for the Carmelite Rule. The Rule the saintly bishop wrote for the hermits was brief but remarkably substantial and balanced. Written with only the original community of Mount Carmel in view, it has served every Carmelite community since as an inspiration, ideal, and framework of life.
The Rule of St. Albert was a simple, substantial, flexible, and evangelical rule of daily life. It was the original and providential expression of the Order’s spirit – expressed again and again in the writings of our saints and the lives of Carmelites though their times and circumstances differed from those of the hermits of Mount Carmel.
As consecrated servants of Jesus Christ, the hermits of Mount Carmel were to serve their Lord by taking up a solitary life of constant poring over God’s Word and communion with Him through prayer. Most of their time would be spent in their individual hermitages but they would gather each morning for Mass and have a meeting every Sunday to discuss the spiritual and temporal welfare of the community.
Each hermit was to join in the Church’s daily prayer at the hours appointed for the Divine Office. Fasting was prescribed from September to Easter and meat given up altogether, except for the sick. Manual work, silence and the traditional monastic virtues,were prescribed. The hermits received in the rule a program for a minimum undertaking in the service of Jesus Christ. “If any one can do more, our Lord Himself will reward him at his coming,” he assured them.
It is important to remember that the hermits of Mount Carmel were filled with the spirit of the Crusades. The whole Church was pervaded by it, just as all are called whenever the Holy Spirit is at work, for example, in the reforms and graces of Vatican II. The Holy Land was thought of as our Lord’s “kingdom on earth,” and pilgrims were drawn there. Some gave their lives in battle during the Crusades and some chose to stay there and give their lives to God as active or contemplative religious.
Thus, the hermits of Mount Carmel, though their life was a solitary one of prayer and renunciation on a slope of Mount Carmel, were every bit as apostolic as St. Teresa’s nuns in their hidden, cloistered life of prayer and sacrifice at St. Joseph’s three and a half centuries later.
A “buried treasure” lies in the hermits’ relationship with Elijah, the Prophet. The Rule is addressed to the hermits “who dwell by the spring on Mount Carmel.” which was the famous one sacred to Elijah. The fact that the hermits chose precisely that sacred spot for their life of solitude for Christ meant they saw in the prophet a real patron, model and inspiration. Carmelites have always looked to Elijah as their “dux et pater – leader and father,” even their founder.
Admittedly, we cannot today claim that great prophet of the ninth century BC as “founder” of our Order in the same sense as St. Francis founded the Franciscans. But Scripture presents him as the originator of a way of life among God’s people that was later taken up in Christ’s Church by the early monks of the fourth century AD, and later still by the hermits of Mount Carmel at the time of the Crusades.
Elijah is the prototype of one totally devoted to God, living alone with Him in solitude and renunciation of this world, ready to go and serve Him among humanity with utter zeal. The words on the Order’s shield: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord, God of Hosts,” will always remind us that Carmelites are the spiritual descendants of Elijah.
A third, important factor in the vocation of the first Carmelites was their relationship to Mary, Jesus’ Mother. The early Father’s great devotion to Mary does not appear explicitly in the Rule but St. Albert directed the hermits to “put up a chapel in the midst of the hermitages.” When they did so, they named the little chapel St. Mary’s. The title given a holy place had, in medieval times had great significance. The entire undertaking associated with that place was being put under the patronage of the person it was dedicated to. “Patroness” and “queen” and “lady” were the words they used. Today, our favorite titles for her are “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” and “Queen and Beauty of Carmel” and we regard her as our sister and model of the contemplaitve life.
So, solitude and renunciation for the sake of a life of communion with Jesus, undertaken together as a brotherhood, under the patronage of Mary, with the aim of devoting themselves totally to Christ, the Lord, in the spirit of The Crusades were the features of the vocation given to the hermits of Mount Carmel who began living under St. Albert’s Rule in the first decade of the thirteenth century.
III. MIGRATION FROM MOUNT CARMEL
In the course of the 1200’s the Saracens gradually took over all of Palestine once more. The last Christian stronghold to fall was, in 1291, Acre, the city at the foot of Carmel. The Carmelite hermits were massacred. After living some eighty years on the mountain under St. Albert’s Rule, the mother community of our Order came to an end – for the time being. These events had been foreseen, however, and settlements had been made in Europe, beginning as early as 1240. Foundations were made in England and France, on the islands of Cyprus and Sicily, and elsewhere. Circumstances were different in Europe, naturally, so the hermits encountered difficulties at first, some of which even threatened their future. They survived as a distinct Order in the Church but they were forced to modify their way of life considerably.
In Europe, the Friars were faced with two major difficulties. They needed to establish their legitimacy as a religious order. Thirty years earlier, in 1215, the Fourth Ecumenical Council of the Lateran had outlawed the foundation of any new orders. The bishops were surprised to see these strange looking men with long, striped capes which were later changed to the white mantles now familiar on Carmelite friars and nuns. They were asking to found monasteries. Bishops felt this would be contrary to the Council’s decree. Eventually, the Carmelites were able to show that Bishop Albert had given them their Rule before 1214.
Even when the refugees from Mount Carmel were allowed to settle in a diocese, poverty became a problem. Mount Carmel had been a famous, easily accessible place of pilgrimage where the constant stream of visitors provided for the hermits living on the slope. In Europe, however, they were unknown and they lived in forests or out-of-the-way places that no one had reason to visit.
These factors prompted the hermits to send an emissary to the pope with a request for approval of the Rule while permitting certain modifications. On October 1st, 1247, Pope Innocent IV promulgated the revised Rule of St. Albert, the one all Carmelites, Calced and Discalced, continue to follow. The original wording of St. Albert was changed in seven places.
Perhaps the most significant change was the permission to make foundations in and around towns and populated areas. The revised Rule was still a rule for hermits; but because they now began moving into the towns, a radical change occurred in their lives. People started seeking their services and asking for the sacraments and guidance. As a result the Carmelites gradually increased their active ministry.
The communal aspect of the Carmelite life, present since the beginning on the holy mountain under St. Albert’s original Rule, was extended much further by the revision of 1247. The canonical hours and the daily meals were now to be had in common instead of in the individual hermitages. The “hermits of Mount Carmel,” who had lived in separate hermitages scattered along a slope of the mountain now had individual rooms or cells, all under the single roof of a friary.
These two great changes in the Carmelites’ way of life – the extension of the common life and the taking on of a clerical apostolate – effectively turned them from a strictly contemplative and eremitical order into an order of friars, similar to the Dominicans and Franciscans who had started up around the same time and were extremely widespread and popular.
The Carmelites began moving into the towns and cities. In their friaries the way of life combined contemplation and action. The eremetic life was still led at the early foundations that had been made in out-of-the-way places. Vocations were many and the Order spread in Europe.
In time an internal conflict arose between those who wanted to return to an exclusively solitary life and those who advocated the mixed life of prayer and apostolate. An expression of this conflict was the booklet: Fiery Arrow, written by Fr. Nicholas, a superior general who resigned in 1270 because he thought the Order had lost its identity changing from hermits to friars. Father Nicholas’ view did not prevail, however; and the Carmelites continued on their adopted course. By the end of the 1200’s no strictly eremitic houses remained.
One of the most severe criticisms leveled at the friars by Fr. Nicholas was that they were theologically uneducated and, therefore, unprepared to carry out the apostolate they were rushing into. Fr. Gerard of Bologna tried to remedy this after his election as general in 1297. Gerard, himself, just two years earlier had received the order’s first doctorate of theology with a degree from the celebrated University of Paris. During his term of twenty years as general he promoted a high caliber of academic study among the friars. By 1324 there were eight international colleges throughout the Order, with more to come, and the Carmelites were a respected, full-fledged order in Europe.
The Fourteenth Century is sometimes called the Golden Age of the Order which continued to grow numerically during this century – there were thirty or so provinces by now. But the Black Death, a great plague, took a frightful toll on their numbers. While the intellectual life of the Order and the apostolic contribution the Carmelites were making to the Church was significant but, at the same time, there were many serious abuses of the religious life and tragic failures to live up to their fundamental calling as contemplative saints.
Even as the Order grew in numbers and prestige, a spiritual decline set in and got steadily worse. The plague which started on the battlefields of Hungary and swept westward in the years 1348 to 1350, is thought to have destroyed as much as 40% of the population of Europe, including Friars and put great strain on the way of life within their houses. One Sunday they may have had fifty or sixty friars in the sanctuary and choir for a solemn High Mass. The next week only half a dozen remained. The rest were dead or dying. The several that survived were exhausted from caring for, and burying the dead.
It is understandable that they could carry out very little of the Carmelite observance – the hours of prayer, the fasting, the solitude of their rooms and so on. The effect on vocations was drastic, too. It took a long time to fill up the depleted ranks and often, in a desperate haste to do so, candidates were accepted too young and untested. This inevitably led to a further lowering of the standards of religious life.
The year 1432 was significant. It was the year of the Mitigation so often mentioned over a century later in the letters of St. Teresa. The Carmelite General Chapter petitioned the Holy See for a relaxation of the Rule in regard to abstinence from meat and solitude. The petition was granted. The consequence of this relaxation of the Rule was a general observance, less austere and generous, of the rule – a far cry from the original observance of life given the hermits of Mount Carmel by St. Albert or that given the early Carmelites of Europe by Pope Innocent IV.
As ailing as the religious life of Carmel and the spiritual life of the whole Church was from 1300 to 1550, there were signs of God’s grace. In 1370, a work called The Book of the Institution of the First Monks was published by Fr. Philip Ribot, the Provincial Superior of Catalonia in Spain. Soon this book became the manual of training in Carmel throughout the Order. It contains one of the most beautiful and stirring expressions of the Carmelites’ vocation ever written:
“There are two aims to this life (of Carmel). The first…is to offer God a holy heart, free from all stain of actual sin. We reach this when we become perfect in charity. The other aim is to taste in our heart and experience in our minds, not only after death but even during this mortal life, something of the power of the divine presence and the bliss of heavenly glory. The first aim, purity of heart, can be achieved, with the help of God’s grace, by toil and virtuous living. The second is experiential awareness of the Divine Power and heavenly glory, by purity of heart and the perfection of charity.”
The presence of God’s Mother was a redeeming reality all during this time. Due to her patronage and merciful intercession Carmel not only survived but contributed abundantly to the Church.
Another sign of the Holy Spirit’s work in Carmel, was the constant call to reform repeated by every General Chapter, by general after general, and embodied in several concrete movements of reform within the Order, especially in Italy. One of these, the so-called Mantuan Reform, deserves special mention. It grew out of a house of reformed observance established outside Florence in 1413. The first novice of this holy friary was the Blessed Angelo Mazzinghi. From St. Mary of the Woods, as the friary was called, came other foundations, and eventually, a network of over 50 houses juridically organized as the Congregation of Mantua. This Congregation remained under the General Chapter of the Order and under the Prior General as well. Its most celebrated member was the Blessed Baptist Spagnoli, an outstanding poet and representative of renaissance humanism as well as a saint.
IV. THE DISCALCED CARMELITE REFORM
An important event of these centuries for Carmel was the beginning of the Second Order of Carmel, our cloistered contemplative nuns. The first convents were begun in Italy and Holland in 1452 under the supervision of the Holy Superior General, Blessed John Soreth, whose term of offices lasted from 1451 to 1470. The nuns in Holland soon spread to Belgium, France, Germany and Spain. Their spread in France was accelerated by the patronage and eventual entry of the widowed duchess of Brittany, the Blessed Frances D’Amboise. A great revival of the pristine fervor of Carmel was soon to come from the nuns, but not in France.
The Discalced Reform came from our Spanish Holy Mother, St. Teresa of Jesus. It was she who gave Carmel its most successful and lasting reform. Born in 1515, just two years before the beginning of the Protestant Revolt from the Church, she made her vows as a Carmelite nun at the convent of Our Lady of the Incarnation in Avila at the age of twenty two. It was not until she was nearly forty that she really began to live her vocation and give herself entirely to God. Several years after her ‘conversion’ she undertook, at our Lord’s command, the opening of a new reformed Carmelite convent in Avila. The convent was St. Joseph’s, on August 24,1562, the year after the closing of the Ecumenical Council of Trent, the Catholic answer to the Protestant Reformation.
St. Teresa herself describes her thoughts when the idea of such a convent came to her:
“I would wonder what I could do for God and it occurred to me that the first thing was to follow the vocation for a religious life which His Majesty had given me by keeping my Rule with the greatest possible perfection. And although in the house where I was living there were many servants of God, the Rule was not observed in its primitive rigor but, as throughout the Order, according to the Bull of Mitigation.”
Some nine months before St. Joseph’s was opened, the saint wrote to her brother, Don Lorenzo, about it:
“This task which is the foundation of a convent …they will live in the strictest enclosure, never going out, and seeing no one …and the foundation of their lives will be prayer and mortification.”
Years later, in her Way of Perfection, St. Teresa recalls her intentions at the time of the convent’s founding, telling us how grieved she had been at the news of Protestantism’s spread in France, with the attendant desecrations of the Blessed Sacrament and the breaking away of enormous multitudes of people from the faith of Rome and, consequently, from union with Christ:
“This troubled me very much. I wept before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil… I would have laid down a thousand lives to save a single one of all the souls that were being lost there… My whole yearning was, and still is, that as He (Our Lord) has so many enemies and so few friends, these last should be trusty ones. I determined to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could and to see that these few nuns who are here should do the same. I should thus be able to give the Lord some pleasure. We should do everything we can to aid the Lord who is so much oppressed by those to whom He has shown so much good. Oh, my sisters in Christ! …Help me to entreat this of the Lord, who has brought you together here for that very purpose. This is your vocation.”
Teresa’s intention was to found a single, new community of reformed Carmelite life where she and her companions might serve our Lord whole-heartedly. John Baptist Rubeo, the Father General of the Order, visited St. Joseph’s four years after its opening and was so impressed with what he saw that he urged the Mother to found as many convents as she could. And so, over the last fifteen years of her life, St. Teresa got to know all the roads of Spain, founding seventeen Carmels in her lifetime. She also wrote several classics of spirituality at the direction or her confessors and for the benefit of her Sisters.
She had an outstanding partner in the work of the reform, St. John of the Cross, a 26 year old Carmelite priest, half her age when she met him. He was the main figure in a reform of the friars life and he became one of the wisest, bravest, and holiest of saints before his own death in 1591 at the age of 49. Indeed, these two great saints of Carmel are gifts of God to the whole Church. Both have been declared Doctors of the Church because of their profound writings on the spiritual life.
The reformed friars and nuns were officially known as “contemplative Carmelites” at first, but the nickname “Discalced” or “barefoot” because of their bare or sandaled feet, was given to reforms in religious orders at the time. Now the Order stemming from the Teresian reform is known as the Discalced Carmelites, OCD.
Carmel’s traditional love and devotion towards Mary was part of the Discalced Reform. St. Joseph’s Carmel had been founded in 1562; Duruelo, the first reformed friary in 1568. After that there was almost one every year. By 1581, all the Discalced houses were united in a single province under the first Provincial, Fr. Jerome Gracian, an admired and trusted friend of St. Teresa.
There had been serious trouble between the new reformed religious and the Carmelites who did not follow the Reform – they came to be called “Calced” in contrast with the “Discalced” – and a separate province seemed the solution. Some years later it was a Congregation, on the model of the Mantuan Congregation, comprising several provinces but still within the Order. Finally, it became a new Order when, at the General Chapter of 1593, the Discalced delegates petitioned for total juridical independence and received, first the Chapter’s approval, then that of Pope Clement VIII. It was not long before disagreements and divisions began among the Discalced themselves.
Fr. Gracian’s term as provincial ended in 1585, when he was succeeded by Fr. Nicholas Doria. Doria remained in charge first as provincial, later as Vicar General, right up to the separation of 1593. He was a hard man, quite opposed to Gracian’s policies. One was the nature and extent of the friar’s apostolate. Doria wished it drastically reduced, whereas Gracian appealed to the mind of St. Teresa in favoring a fuller contribution to the apostolic activity of the Church, including foreign missions.
The friar’s authority over the nuns proved to be another problem. Doria was ready to change the Constitutions devised by Teresa herself in order to give the friars more control over the internal life of each convent down to the minutiae of daily living.
It was Gracian, along with a few of the nuns who had been collaborators of St. Teresa, that stood in Doria’s way. Even St. John of the Cross was perceived as part of the opposition. One of the great disgraces of the early Discalced Reform was the expulsion of Fr. Jerome Gracian engineered by Doria in 1592, just a year or so before the Reform became an independent order and only two months after the death of John of the Cross in exile. Doria expected to become the first General Superior of the new Discalced Carmelite Order but died on the way to the Chapter that would probably have elected him.
The first Discalced friary outside Spain was founded in 1584 at Genoa, Italy. From here a foundation was made in Rome, at the famous friary of Santa Maria della Scala, in 1590, at the invitation of the Holy Father himself. The pope thought very highly of the Discalced friars in Italy and wanted to avail himself of their service for the good of the Church throughout Europe. However, the General Superior in Spain resisted any plan to spread the Order outside Spain.
As a result, Pope Clement VIII, who four years earlier had approved the separation of Calced and Discalced into two orders in the Church, now in 1597, decreed the establishment of an Italian Congregation of Discalced Carmelites as an Order separate from the Spanish congregation. These two Discalced Orders continued to exist distinct and independent down to 1875 when they were once more fused into the single Order of Discalced Carmelites we know today.
V. LATE HISTORY
The friars of the Italian congregation spread to all countries of Europe: France in 1608, Belgium in 1610, Germany and Poland shortly after. The first foreign mission was sent to Persia in 1605. In 1615, missionaries were dispatched even to England where the Catholic faith was outlawed, and they risked death.
Although the early Italian Congregation could boast of a number of outstanding men, perhaps the most significant was the Venerable Father Thomas of Jesus. He brought the Order to France, Belgium and Germany. He also wrote a work on the theory of foreign missions which became the handbook for the then Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in which various Discalced Carmelites played major roles beginning with the expelled Fr. Jerome Gracian who found himself in Rome and there proposed the idea to Pope Clement VIII.
Another Discalced Carmelite institution that we owe to Fr. Thomas of Jesus, was that of the Holy Desert. Fr. Thomas had conceived the idea while still a young friar in Spain under the vicar-generalship of Doria, who gave his approval for the opening of the famous Desert of Bolorque in 1592. A strictly eremitic contemplative life was lived in the desert in imitation of the original life led by the Hermits of Mount Carmel as a source of deep union with God. This ideal was never reached but once there were many deserts throughout the Order and they were held in great veneration. Today, only a handful remain.
St. Teresa’s nuns also began to spread across Europe. In 1604, the Venerable Mother Ann of Jesus led a party of six Spanish sisters to France where the first Discalced Carmel was opened in Paris. Soon there were Carmels all over France. Differences developed between the Spanish foundresses and their French patrons over the approach to Carmelite life and the Spanish mothers left France for Belgium. Ann of Jesus founded a Carmel at Antwerp in 1606.
Later, when Fr. Thomas brought the friars to Belgium, Mother Ann and the nuns came under the jurisdiction of the Italian Congregation. Fr. Jerome Gracian, years earlier had been accepted into the Calced. Now in Belgium, he collaborated with Mother Ann of Jesus on publication of the writings of St. Teresa. The Italian Congregation eventually grew by the end of the 1700’s, to over 200 friaries with perhaps 4,000 religious.
A community of French Discalced came over to what was then the French territory of Louisiana in 1720 with a commission to find a house there. They stayed around Mobile, Alabama, for only two years and then returned.
Later in this century, a Discalced friar from Germany, Paul of St. Peter, was a chaplain for some French mercenaries aiding General Washington in the Revolutionary War. Present at the surrender of Cronwallis, he went back to France but returned to the United States of America in 1784, where he served as a missionary around Cahokia in East St. Louis and finally in Louisiana, at St. Gabriel, dying there in the 1820’s. Unfortunately, he was not succeeded by other Carmelites and the story of Carmel in the United States does not really begin until later.
The nuns of the Order in Belgium founded a second convent in Antwerp in 1619, destined exclusively for English – speaking candidates. This became the mother house for another English – speaking house in Hoozstroeten, Holland in 1678. Next century in 1754, when a catholic girl from the colony of Maryland wanted to be a Carmelite nun, this is where she entered, to be followed by two nieces. These three, together with an English nun from Antwerp, opened the first American Carmel near Baltimore in 1790: Port Tobacco. By that time the nuns of St. Teresa were widespread.
The French Revolution that began in 1789 and the subsequent revolution that swept Europe in the first half of the 1800’s almost wiped Carmel out, Discalced and Calced alike. Friaries and convents were closed and the religious disbanded; property, libraries, archives were confiscated, often resulting in the loss of valuable historical records we now long for. Many religious were executed, others entered the diocesan clergy, others returned to their families and lived their vows as best they could, while still others gave up religious life altogether.
The nuns fared somewhat better than the friars who could count only a half-dozen or so provinces left in Italy by the 1840’s. Virtually nothing at all remained of the Spanish Congregation after the government suppression of 1835. The nuns fared better, not withstanding the well-known guillotining of the sixteen Carmelites of Compiegne on July 17, 1784, during the fearful Reign of Terror. Perhaps it was their blood that brought a new life for many of the French Communities in the 1800’s. One of these was the Carmel of Lisieux founded in 1838. Fifty years later, young Thérèse Martin was to enter here and become, according to the pope who canonized her, “the greatest saint of modern times.”
Beginning in the 1840’s, the old Discalced Provinces in France, Belgium, Germany and Spain began, little by little, to build themselves up again and in 1875 after a General Chapter held in Rome, the Italian and Spanish Congregations were united. The modern history of the Discalced Reform dates from this chapter about a century ago.
VI. THE CALCED CARMELITES
A word should be said about the course of history followed by the rest of the Carmelite family in the church. The Order in Europe other than Spain and Italy was hard hit by the Protestant Reformation. Many left the Church and in some areas the Order was suppressed by authorities with Protestant allegiance. In eastern Europe, Turkish invasions took their toll. Two great reforming Prior Generals, Fr. Nicholas Ander, 1524 to 1562, and Father John Baptist Rubeo, 1562 to 1578, did a great deal to bring about reform. It had been Rubeo who favored St. Teresa in the early days of the Discalced Reform in Spain and it was he who gave the first “contemplative Carmelite friars” at Duruelo their constitution.
The ideal of reform was revived again during the pontificate of Pope Clement VIII and the generalship of Fr. Henry Silvio. The Holy Father carried out an apostolic visitation of the Carmelite friary of Transpontina in Rome, laying down a program of observance. Silvio, elected Prior General in 1598, visited all the provinces time and time again applying the program of Clement VIII.
Silvio came on visitation to France in 1602 and found some friars of the province of Touraine who were intensely eager for reform, notably Fr. Philip Thibault. Father General’s decree for the province became the basis for the “Reform of Touraine,” which was inaugurated on April 21, 1608, at the friary of Rennes. Their Constitutions, outlining a life of prayer and holy reading, poverty and community life, solitude and unworldliness, were published, and eventually adopted by the General Chapter of 1645 as the Rule for all reformed friars throughout the Order. The unreformed religious, called the “Old Observance,” had their own Constitution. This arrangement remained until 1904, when Fr. Pius Mayer promulgated new Constitutions for the whole Calced Order.
A pair of exceptional and saintly friars of this Reform of Touraine were the blind lay brother, the Venerable John of St. Samson (1571-1636), one of the great mystical teachers of the Church, and the Venerable Fr. Michael of St. Augustine (1621-1684). No one in the centuries old Carmelite family, Calced or Discalced, ever loved God’s mother more than this friar of Thent for whom she was “amabilis et super-amabilis mater” – the mother lovable beyond words.
The Calced friars and nuns were decimated by the same social catastrophe that reduced the Discalced and all Catholic religious orders at the turn of the last century. But God’s providence was evident. In 1841, there was one last Carmelite in Germany at the friary of Strasbourg. Then some novices came, the Order grew and, in 1864, two priests from Strasbourg made a foundation in Leavenworth, Kansas. This was the beginning of the eventual province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, the “Chicago Province” of the Calced Carmelites, set up in 1890, and now the largest in their entire Order. The New York Province was started by fathers from Ireland in 1889 and established in 1931
VII. CARMEL AT PRESENT
The current history of Discalced Carmel begins about a century ago. After the “Chapter of the Union” in Rome in 1875, the province gradually re-built in Europe and South America, in the United States and in the missionary countries of Asia and Africa, to about 31 provinces according to records in 1987 indicating about 3,592 friars staffing some 460 houses. Marvelous to tell, the province of Navarre in Spain, that had only a single monastery left about a hundred years ago, is now the largest in the Order with 51 houses and over 265 religious in perpetual vows.
As far as the United States goes, the province of Washington has 80 friars in final vows in 7 houses, while the Oklahoma province has 5 houses with 25 religious, and the provinces of California and Arizona has 37.
The origin of the Provinces of the United States: It was on June 5, 1906, Discalced friars from the Bavarian province founded a monastery at Holy Hill, Wisconsin. In 1918, a house was opened in Washington, D. C. by fathers from the province of Catalonia. In time these two houses became the nucleus of the present Washington Province established in 1947 and dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In 1914 and 1916 a group of Spanish Carmelite missionaries from the province of Aragon-Valencia, exiled from Mexico by a new anti-clerical government, settled at Pittsburgh and Hartshorne, Oklahoma. Foundations followed in the 1920’s in Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio. Finally, the Province of St. Therese was erected, the first province of the Order dedicated to the saintly young Carmelite nun who had recently been canonized in 1925.
The Discalced presence in California and Arizona, known as the Province of St. Joseph, traces its beginning back to foundations at Tucson in 1919 by Catalonian friars, and at Alhambra in 1924 by friars from the Anglo-Hibernian province in Ireland. It was established in 1983.
The first foundation of nuns in the US waat Port Tobacco, Maryland (near Baltimore) in 1790. It was not until 1862 that these nuns founded a second convent in St. Louis. New Orleans followed from St. Louis in 1877, and Boston from Baltimore in 1890, the centenary year of the coming of Discalced Carmelite Nuns to the United States. Philadelphia from Boston in 1902, became the fifth convent, the first of this century. There are now about 70 Carmels in the USA.
The second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 called for a return to living the Gospel in a truly Christ-like way, a revival for religious of the founder’s spirit and aims, and a thorough revision of laws. For Carmel this means a real poverty of life, a free and whole-hearted devotion to Jesus and constant union with Him by prayer.
As far as revision of Rules goes, our Discalced Carmelite Order began the task in a Special General Chapter in 1968, wherein the principles, style and substantial content of new legislation was formulated. Working from this, a new rule for the Secular Order was issued in 1975, a fresh set of Constitutions and Directory for the friars in 1976, and Declarations for the nuns of our Order in 1977. These have all been reworked in modern times. The Rule of Saint Albert is considered the only Rule for all Disclaced Carmelites. The Friars, Nuns and Seculars now have their own Constitutions and Provincial Statutes but the emphasis is now on the unity of all members under one Rule and with one charism.
These are what the Order lives by in God’s Church at present. They express in beautiful and moving way the age old spirit and ideals of Carmel in the past, from the hermits who dwelt at the summit of Mount Carmel to the Reform of St. Teresa in Spain of the 1500’s and 1600’s, to the order struggling to survive and begin again today.
1. Please refer to the OCDS Rule of Life, Foreword; Articles 1 and 2.
2. Journey to Carith, Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, OCD.
3. The Third Order (Secular) of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Father Benedict Zimmerman, OCD.
4. Three-Dimensional Living, Father Phillip Folsy, OCD.
ADDENDUM TO HISTORY OF THE ORDER
CHRONOLOGY OF IMPORTANT EVENTS
1. 1097 Monks were living on Mt. Carmel. There is no definite proof of when this residence began.
2. 1206-1214 Patriarch of Jerusalem, Albert, wrote the first rule.
3. 1247 Pope Innocent IV promulgated the revised Rule of St. Albert. The original wording of St. Albert was changed in seven places.
4. 1251 The Blessed Virgin gave St. Simon Stock the brown scapular.
5. 1253 The Carmelites became a mendicant Order.
6. 1265 The death of St. Simon Stock.
7. 1274 The Second Council of Lyons declared that all Orders founded after 1215 were subject to the rule of local bishops. The Carmelites, however, were permitted to remain in their present state.
8. 1287 Substitution of the white mantle for the traditional striped mantle was made in the Carmelite Order. Also, the terms “habit” and “scapular” were used interchangeably.
9. 1291 In May of this year, the Saracens massacred all monks on Mt. Carmel.
10. 1299 Pope Boniface VIII approved religious exemption for the Carmelites.
11. 1317 Pope John XXII issued the bull Sacer Ordo Vester in which he granted the Carmelites full rights of religious freedom and exemption enjoyed by the mendicant orders.
12. 1309-1376 The Papacy went politic! Pope Clement V took up residence in France and moved the Papacy to Avignon in 1316. Only in 1376 did Pope Gregory XI, by the imploration of St. Catherine of Sienna, return the Papacy to Rome.
13. 1322 Pope John XXII issued the Papal bull Sacratissimo Uti Culmine, in which he reported a vision to himself, in which the Blessed Virgin promised that scapular wearers would be liberated from purgatory on the Saturday following their death.
14. 1340-1453 The Hundred Years War. This included the years of the black death and a decadence of the Carmelite Order. Oppression was everywhere as a result of the skirmish and pillage of the English and French armies.
15. 1357 The Constitutions stated that the scapular “is to be regarded as the special habit of the Order.”
16. 1369 The penalty of excommunication was leveled against any Carmelite who attended Mass without wearing the scapular.
17. 1370 The Book of the Institution of the First Monks was published by Fr. Philip Ribot and soon became the manual of training in Carmel throughout the Order.
18. 1378-1417 The Great Western Schism, Pope Urban VI excommunicated Clement VII and Clement VII excommunicated Urban VI. The Council of Pias deposed them both and elected Alexander V, who died one year later. Pope John XXIII was elected but was deposed in 1414 by the Council of Constance. The Schism ended in 1417 when Pope Martin V became the universally acknowledged pope.
19. 1411-1430 John Grossi was elected general of the whole Order. He tried to pull the Order out of decadence.
20. 1432 The Carmelite General Chapter petitioned and was granted a relaxation of the Rule in regard to abstinence from meat and solitude in the room.
21. 1451-1470 Bl. John Soreth was elected general of the Order. In 1462 he issued new constitutions stressing the obligations of poverty, solitude and fidelity to religious vows. His most enduring accomplishment was the foundation of the Carmelite Nuns and the Carmelite Third Order.
22. 1452 The bull Cum Nulla of Pope Nicholas V established the 2nd Order.
23. 1455 John Soreth composed a rule for the Third Order.
24. 1479 Arnold Bostius wrote De Patronatu Et Patrocinio B. V. M., a careful exposition of Mary’s relationship to the Carmelite Order. This molded “scapular doctrine.”
25. 1513 Bl. Baptist Spagnoli was elected general of the Order.
26. Pope Clement VII issued the authentic bull Ex Clementi Sedis Apostolicae which stated that the Blessed Virgin would help the conferrers of Carmel after their deaths “with her continued intercession, with her prayers and with special protection to insure their speedy release from purgatory.”
27. 1562 Foundation of the first reformed Carmel, St. Joseph’s.
28. 1581 The Calced and Disclaced became seperate provinces.
29. 1591 Death of St. John of the Cross.
30. 1593 The Discalced Carmelites became a new Order.
31. 1613 Pope Paul VI said that “especially on Saturdays, the day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin by the Church, she will help after death the sodality who die in charity. They must have recited the Little Office or abstained from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”
32. 1883 Another, newer, Third Order Rule was composed.
33. 1890 Pope Leo XIII granted authority to commute the obligation of recitation of office or abstinence into other prayers or good works to obtain the Sabbatine Privilege.
34. 1913 A revised Third Order Rule was composed.
35. 1921 A revised Third Order Rule was composed.
36. New Constitutions and Statutes for the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites are now in effect.