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14

Ildefonso Moriones OCD

T E R E S I A N
C A R M E L

 Pages of history

Pages from its history translated by
S.C. O'Mahony  
Rome

 

A HISTORY THAT WAS DIFFICULT TO WRITE

C O N T E N T S

Introduction Bibliographic Note
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.
X Change of Superior, change of Direction:
Father Nicholas of Jesus and Mary, Doria.
XX The Teresian Carmel and Vatican II Renewal.

 

 CHAPTER XIV
 
 

A HISTORY THAT WAS DIFFICULT TO WRITE


An important aspect of the development of any institution is how it sees itself. This self-image emerges from the history it presents of itself, a history generally written as a guide to their own identity for members and as a source of admiration for outsiders.

From what he has read so far, the reader will realise that it was no easy task for a 17th century writer to describe the first fifty years of the history of the Teresian Carmel in a way that would please his brethren and "edify" outsiders. As well as the objective difficulty of reaching the truth, he also had that of writing it in a way which would please the superiors who then governed the Order, men who felt very close to the events being narrated, so close as almost to feel involved in them. For that reason, I think it necessary to bring together in this chapter a few thoughts on the Carmelite historical writing done in the 17th century and on the more recent works which have been influenced by it. They might help people to understand its limitations and to use it properly.

As a first premise, we should remember that the first history of the Teresian Carmel was written by its Foundress. But the Book of the Foundations, though widely read and copied by the nuns, contained a ch.23 about Gracián which some of the friars thought it better not to publish. It was Anne of Jesus and Gracián himself who first piblished it in Brussels in 1610.

Gracián, too, wrote a Book of Foundations, in which he complemented and continued St.Teresa's in what concerned the friars. For obvious reasons, the book remained unpublished and was eventually lost. A substantial fragment of it, however, came to light a few years ago, and was published for the first time in 1977. It covers the years 1568-1588(1).

Fr.Nicholas Doria had no time to think of writing a history; be was far too busy making it when death suddenly overtook him. It was his successor, Elías de San Martín, who in 1597, at a distance of some thirty years from the events of Avila and Duruelo, took the decision to have one written, and appointed the first "Historian General" of the Order.
 

José de Jesús María

The man appointed was Fr.José de Jesús María, who had only recently made his profession as a Discalced Carmelite. Born in Castro de Caldelas (Orense) in 1562, he had become a cleric and specialised in Canon Law. Thanks to his uncle, Cardinal Quiroga, he became a canon at Toledo cathedral on 13 July 1592. In the Carmelite convent in that city, he had an aunt and a cousin; so, when he felt called to the religious life it was hardly surprising that his liking for the Teresian family led him to the Discalced Carmelites.

He joined the Order in Madrid early in 1595 and was professed there on 2 February 1596. He was then 35 years old, had long since completed his studies, and so became available for any task that required doing at the time. Fr.Elías had known him in Toledo, being prior there when Quiroga was a canon, and now thought of him as just the man to fill the post of historian general.

Quiroga was, indeed, eminently suited to this task. Not having been personally involved in the controversies of the preceding years, he could listen to all sides and form an impartial judgement. Enthusiastically, he set to work, visiting all the monasteries in Spain and Portugal in search of firsthand witnesses of the early days and collecting material for his history. Then the gradually began to write and, though he did do other things, he considered this the most important task, his life's work.
 

When he presented his superiors with his Historia General de la Reforma del Carmen twenty-five years later, the censors objected to many things in it, including some points of view which Fr.Quiroga was unwilling to retract. And because he would not retract, he had to resign from his post as historian general(2).

Fearing perhaps that the work of so many years would lie gathering dust forever more, Fr.Quiroga decided to send part of it to Flanders through a relative of his. This was the biography of St.John of the Cross, a part which showed adequately the kind of idea he had formed of the origins of the Order. Thus, while his History remained unpublished and was eventually lost when the Order was suppressed, his biography of St.John of the Cross, published in Brussels in 1628, stood the test of time. It was translated into French, Italian and Latin, and republished in its original Spanish in 1927.

What was the Order's reaction to this first attempt at a comprehensive study of its history?

First their reaction to what the author did. The superiors charged him with publishing his book without due permission and applied the penalty laid down in the Constitutions: Fr.Quiroga was deprived of active and passive voice for two years, ordered to retire to Cuenca and forbidden to write any more(3). One might say his disgrace killed him; de died on 28 December of that same 1628.

As for the book itself, it was objected to on several grounds. Among other things, the censors said "it was harmful to what the Order had established regarding community acts professed by it"(4). An effort was made to collect the edition and burn it, bau by then it had been distributed throughout the whole of Europe and the task was impossible. As we have said, it continued to be translated and reprinted(5).

Fr.Quiroga did not succeed in pleasing his superiors; they found his account of the Order's beginnings to be at variance with the reality they knew. But neither did he succeed in pleasing the rank and file, and the reason for this is understandable enough: he attached too much significance to documents and witnesses which favoured Doria and thus inevitably fell foul of those who looked at things from the viewpoint of people like Gracián or Anne of Jesus. Here one testimony must suffice for all. Beatriz de la Concepción, writing confidentially to her friend María de la Encarnación, has left the following description of her impressions of Quiroga's book, particularly tha chapter in which he dealt with the quarrel between Doria and the nuns:

"I don't think they will say much about Mother (Anne) in the chronicles. I'm sure that the man who has been writing them up to now will have little to say that we will like. I've seen a book by him about our holy Fr.John of the Cross and I can see he is not very fond of St.Teresa. He is also pretty hard on Gracián. I can't bear to see some holy people praised at the expense of others, a thing he does a lot of... One thing is certain, all his fine style goes out the window when he comes to this chapter. It was read in the refectory yesterday evening and I found it so revolting that it turned me against even those parts where he writes well about the Saint. What will his history be like if here, as he says, he is only giving us a few pointers! If anyone in your community knows this good man, they can thank him for the favour he is doing us; those he is talking about were worth the lot of us put together... I am more anxious than ever that you see to it, Mother, that they include Mother Anne's virtues and all the work she did for the Order in their chronicles". Aware that she had been rather explicit in her letter and afraid that it might get lost or fall into the wrong bands, Mother Beatriz asked Mother María to acknowledge it and concluded the letter with a another outburst: "Be sure and tell me if anyone knows this good Fr.José de Jesús María who so honours the sisters who went before us. I can't get him out of my mind. The evening they read that chapter in the refectory the sisters were mortified, and I more than any, to hear people who ought to be held in such high esteem being spoken of with so little respect. I suppose we can only be patient. God give me patience!"(6).
 

Jerónimo de San José (Ezquerra) (1587-1654).

Quiroga's History began with St.Elías. The first two volumes traced the Order's development down to St.Teresa; the second two described her work as reformed and "re-vitalizer" of the ancient Order. His thesis was that "testimonies old and new tell us with certainty that the Lord did not intend this reform to become a new Order. All He wanted was a renewal of the Old Order, a re-kindling of the perfection which the Order of Elías had possessed in days gone by and which it had lost through successive mitigations"(7).

The desire to have a satisfatory history of the Order was becoming increasingly urgent; so, in order to have this massive work re-written as quickly as possible, the superiors appointed two men for the task: Francisco de Santa María, to revise the ancient history, and Jerónimo de San José, to do likewise for the contemporan period. The new historians were given all the material collected by their predecessor, together with instructions from the censors and superiors, and set to work immediately.

Francisco de Santa María printed his first tome, entitled Historia general profética de la Orden de N.Sra.del Carmen, in 1630; it was a large folio tome of 784, and brought the history down to St.John the Baptist inclusive. All that appeared subsequently was a reprint of this in 1641 and a defence of it in 1649. The second tome was never published. However, we shall leave the adventures of this "Prophetic History" for the moment and concentrate on the history from St.Teresa's time onwards.

Jerónimo de San José, who, as we've said, was responsible for this period, was born in Mallén (Zaragoza) in 1587. He first became acquainted with the Discalced Carmelites when studying Canon Law at Salamanca in 1605. He joined the Order in 1609, at the age of 22, and did his novitiate under Juan del Espíritu Santo in Toro. He then went on to study philosophy at Segovia until 1613, and theology at Salamanca (1613-1616).

In 1626 his novicemaster, who had become general the previous year, appointed him to revise Fr.Quiroga's history. Jerónimo did not just re-work the material given to him; he did his own throught and conscientious research. This is clear from manuscript material of his still in the archives. After nine years'work he presented his superiors with two tomes ready for the printer. They were examined by the censors and approved (subject to a few corrections) by the general, Fr.Esteban de San José, on 26 June 1635.

Well aware of what had happened to his predecessor, Jerónimo did not dispute the censors'amendments. But when the first tome came off the press in 1637 the censors were horrified to find that the printed book was not exactly the same as the corrected manuscript. After a serious study of the case, the definitory ordered that Jerónimo be removed from the post of historian, that the whole edition be buried forever and that a new edition be printed. This was to be prepared by Francisco de Santa María as a sequel to the early history he was still working on.

Of Jerónimo's edition only one copy survived -he had given some Jesuit friends of his a present of it. No critical study has been made of this either; it displeased the superiors and contains the same things which in Quiroga's history gave offence to the rank and file. We note just one little detail, and it would not appear to have been accidental: the censors referred to the book as the history of the Reform, and the title approved by the general was

"Primer tomo de la Historia General de la Reforma y Orden de Descalzos de N.Sra.del Carmen"; but the book that emerged from the printer bore the simple title (remember this in the Baroque period) "Historia del Carmen Descalzo"(8).

Francisco de Santa María (Pulgar) (1567-1649).

After the failure of men from Galicia and Aragón, an Andalusian was chosen, and this time the choice was a happy one. I think it would be over-simplifying matters to attach too much importance to the native stubbornnees of the first two historians and the imaginative approach which would have come naturally to the third. The real explanation of the different results they produced is to be found rather in their training and the way in which this affected their use of the sources at their disposal. The first two were relative outsiders; they had not witnessed what they were writing about. And although they did their best to give their writing that slant which their superiors wanted, they also listened, though not sufficiently, to the other side of the story and so ended up by pleasing nobody.

Francisco's situation was different. Born in Granada in 1567, he entered the Order in 1586 and practically grew up on the new orientation, so to speak. Having perfectly assimilated this, he found Doria's way of thinking as congenial as he found Gracián's alien and almost childish. He saw himself as a first-hand witnees of what he was describing, and did not feel at all guilty of Andalusian exaggeration when he said that Fr.Doria "was the incomparable embodiment of our Reforma, tha living Rule, and the man to whom we owe everything good that our Order possesses"(9).

Francisco de Santa María, then, was the man who re-worked Jerónimo's revision of what Quiroga had written, the man who finally signed the definitive text of the official history of the Order, entitled: Reforma de los Descalzos de N. Sra. del Carmen de la primitiva observancia hecha por Santa Teresa de Jesús en la antiquísima Religión fundada por el gran Profeta Elías. (The work is usually referred to either as the Reforma or the Crónicas).

The first tome (Madrid 1644) covered the period up to St.Teresa's death in 1582, the second (Madrid 1655, six years after its "author's" death) stopped at Doria's death in 1594.

Those who would like to know more about Francisco's work can read it for themselves; I shall confine myself to just one general remark which I consider rather important. When one has read St.Teresa's and Gracián's Foudations, or other first generation accounts such as those of María de San José or Isabel de Santo Domingo, and then proceeds to read Francisco's Reforma, one notices and immediate and fundamental change. First generation accounts are vibrant with life, and they just put down the bald facts leaving it up to the readers to form their own judgements or to check them againts other sources. In the official history, on the other hand, the preoccupation with presenting an ideology takes precedence over everything else. Facts are subordinated to it, even to the extent of sacrificing historical accuracy, and the reader's judgements are made for him. This is clearly a serious matter and it can have important consequences. There is a danger, for instance, that an unwary reader may well correct the factual mistakes in the Crónicas from other sources and still be held captive by the chronicler's interpretation.

Here are a few examples of what I mean. In that history certain ideas were more or less explicitly expressed and received some degree of official confirmation. They could be formulated as theses as follows:

1. God's purpose in sending us St.Teresa "was the reform of the ancient prophetic Order founded on Mount Carmel by the miraculous Elias"(10). Consequently, the Discalced are the true reform of the Carmelite Order.

2. This reform was brought to its perfection by the first four generals -Nicholas Doria (1585-1594), Elías de San Martín (1595-1600), Francisco de la Madre de Dios (1600-1607), and Alonso de Jesús María (1607-1613)- and all who came after them in government must follow in their footsteps.

3. In the overall evolution of the Order Gracián was only a passing danger; his timely elimination prevented others from being contaminated.

4. The three firm pillars which support the whole structure of the Order are contemplation, which excludes apostolic and missionary activity, retirement, which limits any going out of the monastery as much as possible, and rigorous penance.

5. St.Teresa es chiefly the teacher of the nuns, who share in the perfection of the friars as far as their womanly frailty allows them to. The friars have their own teacher in John of the Cross.

Obviously, if such theses are to be sustained, any contrary opinions have to be rejected as objections with no foundation in fact. Sometimes such opinions are explicitly rebutted; at others it is implicit. The theses thus explicitly or implicitly rejected by the official history might have gone something like this:

1. St.Teresa is the foundress of a new family, brought into being for the enrichment of Carmel and of the Church generally.

2. Consequently, she is the true model and guide, and her laws and style of governing ought to be preferred to those of the generals who changed them.

3. Gracián is a genuine representative of the Teresian spirit and his re-instatement, even posthumously, is to be desired.

4. The structure of the Order rests on two pillars rather than three -prayer and zeal for the salvation of souls-.

5. St.Teresa is the only foundress and mother of all.

Each of the Reforma's theses had innumerable practical consequences which forced the historian to reshape historical truths, to make up for lack of documentary evidence with revelations, or to cover over sufficient evidence with spiritual reflections. His main interest was to imprint the basic ideas firmly of the minds of his readers.

As soon as it became available, the history began to be read in the refectories of nuns and friars alike. At first only in Spanish, then in Italian (Tome I translated 1654; Tome II in 1662), and then in French (Tome I, pt.I in 1655; Tome I, pt.II in 1666). In 1659 Luisa de Jesucristo, prioress of Brussels, called them "disgraceful tomes"; she did not like the way events involving Anne of Jesus were treated. In many Spanish convents it soon became customary to skip certain chapters, especially those which spoke ill of Mother Foundress's favourite. But what was written remained written, and gradually it had the desired effect.

The effect, or influence, of the official version varied according to the ground it fell on: some swallowed it whole and entire, some criticised it on points of detail, and some, those who knew the other side of the story by oral tradition, paid no attention whatever to it. There were many who felt uneasy when they read those first two tomes, but it was 150 years later before Fr.Antonio de los Reyes (general 1796-1802) suggested a remedy. His critical analysis of the official history came to this conclusion:

"The principal aim of such a work ought to be to honour truth and justice, and to vindicate the innocence and virtue of the venerable servant of God Jerónimo Gracián, rather than discredit anybody. Since it was in the name of our Congregation that the excesses and character assassinations contained in this work, againts Fr.Gracián, our Holy Mother, St.John of the Cross (who died exiled to Ubeda by Doria's followers), María de San José, Anne of Jesus, and other great figures of the Congregation, were committed, it is incumbent on our Congregation to make satisfaction to all these people by suppressing the first two tomes of this History and having it rewritten by a competent, impartial person who is endowed with critical acumen and who is, above all, a lover of truth and justice"(11).

Continuation of the Chronicles

The subsequent tomes had no history to speak of; once the pattern had been established, others chroniclers followed it, though with ever diminishing conviction, until thay finally stopped.

José de Santa Teresa published tomes III and IV in 1683 and 1684, bringing the story to 1650. Tomes V and VI came from the pen of Manuel de San Jerónimo in 1706 and 1710, and covered a further seven years. In 1739 Anastasio de Santa Teresa published tome VII, bringing the story to 1666, and that was as far as they ever got. Actually, an eighth volume was written, bringing the story to 1675, but the Napoleonic invasion prevented its being published. So, as Fr.Silverius of St.Teresa remarked in 1935, "from the middle of the 18th century until now hardly a single worthwhile biography of a Spanish Dicalced Carmelite has been published"(12).

At the end of the 18th century there was a noticeable movement towards renewal. It was characterised by an increasing desire to return to St.Teresa and, logically, to a truer picture of the history of the early years of the Order. But this was rudely interrupter by the suppressions which took place early in the 19th century. The most qualified spokesman for this abortive attempt is Manuel de Santo Tomás (Traggia). Appointed "historian general" on 2 December 1817, he died just under two years later. He barely had time, therefore, to acquaint himself fully with the urgency of the task ahead of him. As he said himself, "I regard it as extremely necessary to face up to the deplorable state of the history of our Order". He went on to point out that among the causes of this deplorable state of history were the lack of means placed at the historian's disposal and the obstacle created by an inept censorship which destroyed in a minute the work of many years(13).

His successor, Juan de San Andrés, wrote nothing either; so, when the Spanish Congregation was suppressed in 1835 its Chronicles remained at 1666.

But until the arrival of Fr.Silverius of St.Teresa (1878-1954) was the dream of Fr.Antonio de los Reyes even partially fulfilled. The first six volumes of his Historia del Carmen Descalzo supplanted the first two volumes of the Crónicas, and from his tenth volume on he produced the first history of the period from 1666 to the present time.

____________________

1. MHCT 3, pp.533-694.
2. Cf. HCD, 9, pp.468-470.
3. Cf. Constitutions of 1604 and 1623, part.III, ch.7, n.10. On Quiroga see Fortunato de J.S., El P.José de Jesús María y su herencia literaria, Burgos 1971.
4. Cf. Fortunato, ibidem, p.24.
5. No one has yet made a critical study of the authors of the censure, their objections to the book, or the historical basis for the various positions adopted.
6. Cf. Ana de Jesús, pp.339-348.
7. HCD, 9, p.468.
8. For further details about Jerónimo de San José as a historian, see Ana de Jesús, pp.387-407, and Fr.Higinio de Santa Teresa's edition of his Genio de la Historia (Vitoria 1957), pp.1-199).
9. Reforma, t.II, bk.8, ch.79, p.706.
10. Reforma, t.I, p.9.
11. HCD 6, pp.697-703.
12. HCD,1, p.XXXVI.
13. The figure of Fr.Manuel Traggia has been the subject of a recent doctoral thesis by Fr.Alberto Pacho.

     
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