T E R E S I A N
Pages of history
Pages from its history translated by
The Carmelite Order
C O N T E N T S
|I The Carmelite Order||XI The legacy of Father Doria.|
|II Teresa de Ahumada, Carmelite Nun||XII Break rather than Bend: the Discalced Split.|
|III St. Joseph's, Avila||XIII The Spanish Congregation.|
|IV The Teresian Constitutions||XIV A History that was difficult to write.|
|V The Radiation of a Charism||XV Leading figures in the Italian Congregation.|
|VI Teresa of Jesus, Foundress of Friars||XVI Reinforcements: Domingo Ruzola and Thomas of Jesus.|
|VII "Calced" and "Discalced" Carmelites||XVII The Spread of the Italian Congregation.|
|VIII The New Province under Father Gracián.||XVIII World-wide Expansion of the Daughters of St Teresa.|
|IX John of the Cross -The "Inner Man".||XIX Restoration (19th Century) and Renewed Expansion (20th Century) of the Order.|
Change of Superior, change of Direction:
Father Nicholas of Jesus and Mary, Doria.
|XX The Teresian Carmel and Vatican II Renewal.|
This book does not wish to supplant any of those which deal with Carmelite history or spirituality. It asks only to be allowed to take its place beside them and seeks to be a help in making better use of them.
Let me explain. In recent years quite a few studies have appeared on various aspects of Carmelite and Teresian history, and hitherto unpublished manuscripts have been edited. Understandably, these various contributions lie scattered in Journals or hidden in specialist series, until a new synthesis can incorporate their correction of antiquated views and the clarification they have brought to several obscure points.
The need for such a new synthesis has been felt for some time, especially by young members of the Teresian Carmel who study the history of their Order for the first time and by St. Teresa's own daughters, who have always had a keen historical interest and want to know what recent research has contributed to an understanding of their history
While we wait for such a synthesis, and perhaps also by way of preparing the ground for it, I offer these pages and call the reader's attention particularly to the subtitle of the book. It is not really a summary of Carmelite history; it is more a summary of the most important points in that history in the light of the most recent research. Anyone who wishes to know more about the subjects dealt with in each chapter will find in each a guide to further reading.
Naturally I devote special attention to the period in which the Order had its beginnings. This is the necessary point of departure not only for any historical research but for any renewal which would wish to guarantee its success. The brevity with which I teat of other periods does not mean that they are not important; it is due rather to the lack of any serious work on them. Nevertheless, I do try and bring together sufficient information to enable the reader to form some idea of the general progress of the Order down the centuries and to acquire sufficient background to be able to tackle all those other books which, as I have said, it is not my intention to supplant.
The publication of this book (1978) coincides with the Silver Jubilee of my religious profession. May I therefore offer it as a token of gratitude to those brethren whose fellowship I sought on that day in 1953, and express the hope that I may be able to offer them a more complete synthesis for my Golden Jubilee.
No one can undertake a serious study of the Teresian Carmel without consulting the collection of source material being published under the title Monumenta Historica CarmeliTeresiani (MHCT). To date four volumes have been published: vol. I (1560-1577) and vol. II (1578-1581), Rome 1973; vol. III (1582-1589), Rome 1977; vol IV (1590-1600), Rome 1985.
Then there is that great mine of information, Fr. Silverio's Historia del Carmen Descalzo en España, Portugal y América (HCD), 15 vols., Burgos, 1935-1953.
Other works will be indicated as necessary, and all of them will contain their own suggestions for further reading.
THE CARMELITE ORDER
Perhaps because none of them had had any experience of monastic life, they approached the Patriarch of Jerusalem for rules around which they could organize their lifestyle. The Patriarch at the time (1206-1214) was Albert and he lived in nearby Acre. Being himself a Canon of St. Augustine, over fifty years of age and quite experienced in the monastic life, he drew up for them a short document setting forth the characteristic features of the new lifestyle they wished to embrace. This is what has come to be called The Carmelite Rule, a document which was to become the basis and point of reference for all who subsequently joined this new religious family founded by crusader hermits early in the 13th. century.
If we might recall them very briefly, the elements of monastic tradition recalled by Albert in response to the desires of the hermits of Mount Carmel were:
1. Since they had decided to embrace the eremitical life as a group
(and not as individuals) they must elect one of themselves to preside
over them. The Superior 80 elected will then govern with the agreement
and collaboration of all; he will live in the cell nearest to the
entrance to their settlement so as to be more easily accessible to
anyone seeking to join the group; and he will be responsible for
2. Each hermit is to live in a cave or cell of his own.
As you can see, the little Rule is a perfect synthesis of the most important points of monastic community living , and these are expressed as explicitly as any adult fully committed to the monastic ideal would need.
This is the first historical document we have of the crucial coming into being phase of the Carmelite Order. That little group of men was to be followed by an uninterrupted chain of people, all enthused by the same ideal, all supporting one another in their pursuit of it. Each generation would conceive of this ideal in its own way, and historical circumstances would play their part too in how it found expression and in the way it was passed on down the centuries.
Two elements which very soon became characteristic of the group were not even mentioned in the Rule, but they were in evidence very early in their history: the presence of Mary, enthroned as patroness from the beginning (their first church was dedicated to her), and of the Prophet Elias, whose memory was preserved in the fountain which bore his name and in the souls of the hermits.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem's approval was followed by papal approval, that of Honorius III in 1226 and of Gregory lX in 1229, a step which marked the juridical consolidation of what was now a living firmly established reality capable of coping with any kind of difficulty.
Just as well, for soon circumstances changed and tested their resilience: Mount Carmel grew increasingly insecure as the Saracens regained their control. To the hermits one mountain or cave was as good as another, and they began to look for alternatives. Thus it was that from 1238 "Carmelite" communities began to appear in various parts of the West: Cyprus, France, England, Germany, and Italy.
This change of environment brought with it an internal evolution and, if we may so express it, a broadening of horizons for the Carmelites. Europe brought them into contact with the latest development in religious life called Mendicant Orders. They quickly adapted to the spirit and structure of this new form of Order and were officially recognised as such by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.
When the hermits had presented their request to Patriarch Albert forty years earlier, the thought of founding an Order had R probably never entered theiR heads; all they wanted were some guidelines for just one community. Now the Bull of Innocent IV turns the revised Albertine Rule into one of the monastic rules and established the Carmelites as a Mendicant Order. That is the chief significance of Pope Innocent's approval.
We have no completely reliable text of the Rule as originally given by Albert, but it can be reconstructed accurately enough by comparing that transmitted by Ribot with Pope Innocent's text, which has come down to us intact. Those clauses originating with Pope Innocent are: perhaps the requirement to recite the Divine Office in common, according to the Church's usage; certainly those clauses referring to a table, not eating outside the monastery, the right to make foundations in places other than the desert, the specific definition of the period of night silence (1)
The rapidity with which the Order spread and grew gives us some idea of how well it flourished under the Rule as amended by Pope Innocent IV: in 1287 it was divided into 9 provinces, by 1318 it had 12, there were 14 in 1321, and 18 in 1362, by which time it numbered some 12,000 religious.
Those who achieved the greatest fame for sanctity were: Albert of Sicily (late 13th century), Blessed Franco of Siena (d.1291), Peter Thomas (d.1366), Andrew Corsini (d.1373), and Blessed Nuño Alvarez Pereira (d.1431)(2). From the end of the 13th century the Carmelites also became very involved in sacred learning, reaching the high point of that involvement during the 14th century(3).
The various factors which contributed to the decline of the Church in the second half of the 14th century affected the Carmelites as well as the other religious Orders. First there was the Black Plague (1348-50). This so decimated communities and even entire provinces that tradition was entirely broken; when it was over, the communities were frequently built up again with people who had no vocation or were merely sent scurrying thither by the panic which the plague had caused in them; those who had a vocation could not always find someone to train them in the Carmelite way of life. The Western Schism (1378-1417) aggravated the situation: Carmelites were divided in allegiance between two popes - one in Rome, the other in Avignon. Besides, bad example in the upper echelons of the Church did nothing to improve the atmosphere in its lower reaches. To complete the picture, one must add that the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1435) coincided largely with the factors just mentioned. One can readily imagine what this meant in terms of fire, pillage and general disruption of that peace and stability which studies and the monastic life need in order to flourish.
If we are to understand the 15th and 16th centuries to any degree all these elements must be borne in mind. From the Council of Constance (1414-1418) to that of Trent (1545-1563) the most urgent problem facing both the Church and the religious Orders was that of Reform. The Carmelites were no exception, and they persevered until success finally crowned their efforts.
The situation in which the Order found itself at the beginning of the 15th century prompted its superiors to petition the Holy See to adapt the Rule once again. This, they felt, would serve as a basis for the renewal or restoration of the Order. The regulations concerning fast and abstinence contained in the old Rule were inhibiting the youth of the 15th century from entering the Order, and without youth there was no hope of revitalising it. Besides, they found that those already in the Order either observed these regulations and injured their health or did not observe them and then suffered from scruples. The passage in the Rule ordering the religious to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night in their cells and to be watchful in prayer also gave rise to some difficulties of interpretation, particularly when taken too literally.
For these reasons, the General Chapter held at Nantes in 1430 decreed that the pope was to be asked to clarify or mitigate these points. As a result, Pope Eugene IV granted the Bull Romani Pontificis; it was dated 15 February 1432 and promulgated in 1435(4).
What this Bull did, in effect, was to allow meat to be eaten three times a week and permit the friars to leave their cells at suitable times to walk in the cloisters or to spend some time in the church. Eugene IV did not amend the text of the Rule in any way; these were marginal glosses which left the text itself, as approved by Innocent IV, intact.
This latest papal approval gave fresh impetus to the work of renewal which, thanks to the lead of successive Priors General and sometimes stimulated by those grass-roots initiatives which led to the phenomenon of reformed Congregations, was already
making steady progress. These "Congregations" were features of practically all the Orders at that time. The most important to emerge within the Carmelite Order were that of Mantua (1413-1783)(5) and that of Albi (1499-1602)(6). What happened was that, faced with the inability to reform the Order as a whole, the superiors allowed reformed monasteries to group together, with a superior who was directly responsible to the General; that gave them sufficient freedom to proceed with their intent. It was looked upon as a temporary expedient, which would cease to be necessary as soon as the rest of the monasteries embraced the same measure of reform. Obviously, self-government would then be no longer necessary. What happened in reality, however, was that after variously lengthy periods of independence these Congregations were simply re-incorporated into the main body of the Order.
Not surprisingly, relations between the reformed Congregations and the central government of the Order were not always cordial, and this did nothing to help the effectiveness of the intended reform. Such dissension, quite understandable when a new group forms within an institution, sometimes arose from the rather excessive privileges granted to the reformed members, sometimes from the exaggerated zeal with which the reformed tried to take over further monasteries and disturbed the peace of those brethren who preferred a more leisurely pace. There were also those who joined reformed groups for their own selfish reasons rather than from a genuine desire for greater perfection; these only complicated matters still further.
The Priors General who won most acclaim for their promotion of reform within the Order were: Bl. John Soreth (general 1451-1471), Bl. John Baptist of Mantua (1513-1516), Nicholas Audet
(1514-62) and, finally, John Baptist Rossi (or Rubeo, as he was known to St Teresa). He became vicar general in 1562 and was general from 1564 to 1578(7).
Then came the Council of Trent and its reform of religious life generally. The Carmelite Order's response to its measures renewed its ancient vigour, so that by the time of the various suppression which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries it had reached a membership of 15,000(8).
Ever since Pope Innocent IV combined apostolate with contemplation for them, the Carmelite ideal had never changed, though the forms in which it has found expression have had to be adapted to changing circumstances, and the brief Rule has been explained and developed in the commentaries which the various Constitutions and spiritual treatises have made upon it.
The characteristic Carmelite devotion to Our Lady and St Elias has also found a variety of expressions down the centuries, but its development has retained continuity with the past. In Mary they found the perfect personification of the union with God to which the whole of Carmel aspires: «Mary is the Carmelite ideal come to life: a life of listening to God's word, of total commitment to His service in the work of salvation»(9). The figure of Elias, exemplar of the man of prayer, served as a model and inspiration to the whole monastic tradition from its very beginnings. Its influence on Carmelite spirituality increased steadily until it reached a point at which Elias was regarded for several centuries as the literal founder of the Order(10)
1. For further details see, C.
Cicconetti. La Regola delCarmelo: origine, natura, significato,
Rome, 1973; and B. Edwards, The Rule of St. Albert, Aylesford and
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