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Ildefonso Moriones OCD


 Pages of history

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




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.




Notwithstanding a strict ban on any interchange of personnel between the two Congregations, personal appeals to the Pope brought a few exceptions and the Italian Congregation was thus enabled to receive reinforcements from Spain. The most important of those were Domingo Ruzola and Thomas of Jesus.

Domingo de Jesús María

(Ruzola) (1559-1630)

Fr.Domingo, a native of Calatayud (Zaragoza), joined the Calced Carmelites in 1578. In 1589 he moved to the Discalced and, after his novitiate at Pastrana, was professed on 22 November 1590. In 1598 he was appointed prior of Toledo and in 1601 he retired to the Desert of Bolarque. There he remained until his fellow-countryman Pedro de la Madre de Dios called him to Rome in 1604. In the Italian Congregation he became extraordinarily active: he covered the whole of Europe on missions for the Pope and became famous for his apostolic zeal and power to work miracles.

Having been several times definitor general, and general in the 1617-20 triennium, he contributed much to the Congregation's expansion, especially throughout the Empire. His decisive intervention at the battle of Mont Blanc (8.11.1620) endeared him to Emperor Ferdiand II and to Maximilian of Bavaria, and this opened the doors to foundations in Vienna (1622), Prague (1624), Würzburg (1627), Graz (1628), Munich (1629), etc(1).

Thomas of Jesus (1564-1627)

Thomas is the last of the series of great men in the vanguard of the Italian Congregation's expansion throughout Europe.

Born Tomás Sanchez Dávila in 1564, Thomas went to university in his native Baeza from an unusually early age, and had studied arts and theology by the time he was nineteen. Then, in 1583, he moved to Salamanca for further studies in the humanities and jurisprudence. While engrossed in his studies, one day in 1586 one of his professors recommended the writings of a certain nun for the excellence of their style... It was Mother Teresa's writings he was talking about. Thomas went to the Discalced college and asked if they had them. He returned home with a manuscript copy of the Life (the first edition was not until 1588), full of anticipation of the literary delights in store for him. But there was also a surprise in store for him. He opened the manuscript at chapter 18. The long explanatory title ran: "Discusses the fourth degree of prayer. Begins to offer an excellent explanation of the great dignity the Lord bestows upon the soul in this state. Gives much encouragement to those who engage in prayer that they might strive to attain so high a stage, since it can be reached on earth, although not by merit but through God's goodness. This should be read attentively, for the explanation is presented in a very subtle way and there are many noteworthy things". Such was the impression which Teresa's description of the fourth water made on him that before long he felt transformed and began to weep. Referring to himself in the third person, Thomas later wrote: "He felt he had discovered a new kingdom, a new horizon of light and truth, and though he had never in his life thought of becoming a religious, bur rather abhorred the idea, such was the effect of this reading that within a fortnight he had joined the Order"(2).

Thomas did his novitiate at Valladolid and made his profession in the hands of Fr.Gracián on 4 April 1587. (Gracián happened to be there for the intermediate chapter). Two years later, he was ordained and sent to teach theology at the recently founded College of the Holy Angel in Seville.

The facts we possess about Fr.Thomas's first years as a Discalced Carmelite are few, but even they are enough to provide us with the key to understand this somewhat puzzling and apparently contradictory character. Note the three quite different elements which surface in his training. First, there is the direct contact with St.Teresa, who, through her writings, won him over. Then there is his eager study of the history and spirituality of Carmel, about which he published a book in 1599. And, finally, there is the new orientation which Fr.Doria was giving the Order in those days, directly, through circulars and through local superiors. Thomas of Jesus is perhaps the clearest example of the effect which Doria's pedagogy could have on an enthusiastic young religious who had undergone no previous influence. Gracián did everything he could for the Teresian ideal, and it cost him his habit. John of the Cross was ultimately removed to a safe distance. The first generation prioresses never tired of opposing Doria's innovations in the name of Teresa's heritage. But what reaction to the new style of formation would a young man without previous orientation have?

Thomas himself has told was what they were, in the autobiographical information which he included in the Foundations he wrote at Fr.Fernando's behest in 1615(3). Speaking of himself in the third person, he says: "After his profession he felt particularly called to a life of solitude and quiet. Refelcting that all those who professed the first Rule were hermits, he longed to found some monasteries in these times modelled on those of our forerunners of Mount Carmel, where men would live in individual hermitages, devoted to continual prayer and contemplation, under obedience to a superior, for it is in this that the fruit and security of the eremitical life consists". He goes on to tell us that on the occasion of Fr.Doria's visitation of the Seville monastery (mid-1589) he availed of the opportunity "and wrote a paper in which he set forth some reasons why it would be good for the Order to have desert houses: that it would be in keeping with our Rule and initial way of life; that there were many who would welcome such a step, and it would keep them from going to the Carthusians; that it would be a means of producing prayerful, spiritual men; that since it combined the best elements of the cenobitical life (obedience and closeness to a superior) with the benefits of solitude, but without the danger of being alone and going their own way, it was a most sublime and perfect way of life -flowers without thorns, in fact. These and many other arguments he set forth in that paper. Fr.Nicholas read them and his answer was that to do so would ruin the Order; the better friars would all go there and the Order would be lost without their protection". This answer made him drop the project for a while.

Two years later, Thomas was transferred to the Alcalá college as vicerector and professor. One day, while rummaging through his papers, he came across the desert project again. He mentioned it to his Rector Juan Aravalles, and to his two colleagues Francisco de Santa María (the future chronicler) and Alonso de Jesús María (the future general). All of them thought it was a great idea and urged him to put it to Fr.Nicholas again. During the Summer vacation of 1592, Thomas was in Madrid and this time Fr.Doria had no objection. In fact, he fully supported the idea and complained that they should think him so lax as not to trust him. The first Desert of the Discalced Carmelites was inaugurated at Bolarque on 24 June 1593. It was the first link in a chain of 28 Deserts founded between then and 1973.

The reader who wants a detailed account of all the Deserts can consult a book such as Felipe de la Virgen del Carmen's La soledad fecunda (Madrid 1961), in which he will also find further bibliography on the subject. Here we have confined ourselves to the few facts given above, because they are significant in the interpretation of an important aspect of the Order's history, an aspect which has not always been treated as accurately as it ought to be. Indeed, some have so far ignored the laws of logic as to draw false conclusions from valid premises.
Obviously, Mother Teresa wanted her daughters to be hermits, and Thonas of Jesus wanted those who dwellt in his desert to be hermits, just as the first community to settle on Mount Carmel were hermits; and all of these were devoted to seeking the precious pearl of contemplation. The difference between them is to be found in the way they organised their lives, in the way they went about reaching their goal of union with God. The three types of community -Mount Carmel, St.Joseph's Avila, and Bolarque- really differed from one another in their approach. A comparative study would bring out the details of this, no doubt, but here it is sufficient to point out that the communities of "Teresian hermits" were formed after Teresa herself had 27 years experience and tried out the idea for five years at St.Joseph's, whereas the Desert which the friars had was the brain-child of Thomas of Jesus, a logical deduction from the training he had received as a novice and what he had read about the hermits of old. He had found a formula and had to try it out in practise. Is it not symptomatic that a similar venture for the nuns (Alcalá 20.5.1599) failed after a very short time?(4).

Once the project had been outlined, the man chosen to make it a reality was Fr.Alonso. Thomas moved from Alcalá to Zaragoza as prior in 1594. In 1597, at 33 years of age, he became provincial of Old Castille. As provincial he founded the Desert of Las Batuecas, and at the end of his triennium in office he retired there to live out and perfect his ideal of eremitical life. Early, in 1607, however, he received a disturbing letter; the prior of Genoa, Francisco del SS.Sacramento, wrote to him saying "it was selfish of him to remain in that solitude looking only to his own spiritual comfort while so many souls perished throughout the world for the want of somebody to help them"(5). The seed of his missionary vocation had been planted.

Having discovered this new ideal, Thomas took it so seriously that he broke with the superiors in Spain, and, thanks to a Brief from Pope Paul V, was in Rome by the end of 1607, throwing himself heart and soul into missionary projects.

Just as in 1592 he convinced Fr.Doria that the best way yo create contemplatives was to establish "Deserts", so now he convinved Fr.Pedro de la Madre de Dios and the Pope that the best way to provide missionaries for the Church was to found a new Congregation devoted exclusively to that purpose. On 22 July 1608 Pope Paul V established the Congregation of St.Paul with his Brief Onus pastoralis officii. Thomas was appointed Commissary to see it through its first experimental years, and it was envisaged that thereafter superiors would be elected regularly every three years. The Congregation consisted initially of Thomas of Jesus and Diego de la Encarnación (an ex-missionary to the Congo who had accompanied Thomas to Rome) from the Spanish Congregation, and ten fathers and two brothers from the Italian Congregation.

Fr.Pedro died in office and was succeeded by Fernando, who quickly had the execution of the Brief quashed and successfully channelled Thomas's enthusiasm within the framework already established by the Italian Congregation.

At first Thomas withdrew to Santa María della Scala in Rome, and wrote his missionary treatises, Stimulus missionum and the far larger De conversione omnium gentium procuranda. Then, in 1610, he set out for Flanders -his launching pad for missions to England, Ireland, Holland, and Germany.


1. For further details and bibliography see V.Macca, Domenico di Gesů-Maria, in Santi del Carmelo, pp.198-199.
2. Quoted by José de Jesús Crucificado in his thesis, El P.Tomás de Jesús, escritos místico, Rome 1951, pp.11-12.
3. An important fragment was published by Paulinus of the Blessed Sacrament in Etudes Carmélitaines,20 (1935), 248-265. It is from this that the quotations below are taken.
4. Cf. HCD, 7, pp.525-529.
5. Quoted by P.José, op.cit., p.13.

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