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4

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

THE TERESIAN CONSTITUTIONS.

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 IV
 

THE TERESIAN CONSTITUTIONS.

We have seen how the Patriarch Albert produced a masterly synthesis of the fundamentals of Carmelite life, and how, perfected by Innocent IV and partially obscured by subsequent extraneous elements, these reached Teresa intact. She wanted to return to the original ideal in her new house; she would free it of adhesions and present it to her daughters in all its pristine purity. Indeed, the elements contained in the Rule are sufficient by themsalves; properly and fully assimilated and lived , they have no need of additions. As she put it later: "I would like them to live the Rule fully; that will give them enough to do; one can go easy on the rest." (F.18,7).

However, those principles are not as easily understood or practised as might appear at first sight. To continue the above quotation: "There will be people who will take some time to understand the perfection, even the spirit of the Rule, and perhaps there will afterwards turn out to be the holiest. At first they won't know when to defend themselves and when not and many other details which when properly understood will come easily to them; but they don't understand them and, what is worse, they don't see what they have to do with perfection.' It is hardly surprising, then, that Teresa's daughters ask her to clarify and codify certain aspects of their new life for their guidance, just as the original hermits sought some orientation from Albert. Hence the Constitutions through which Teresa might be said to have re-interpreted the Rule in the light of her own particular charism.

Reading these Constitutions one should bear in mind that they are not the fruit of a lot of thinking about how things should be. Neither are they a collection of the best regulations

available on the subject of religious discipline. They are, rather, the expression of what was being lived, so that every regulation, every counsel, every word, had a meaning and connotations for Teresa's companions which a person who hasn't lived that same reality can never hope to appreciate fully. Bearing that in mind, we shall now summarise these Constitutions, which expressed even more than the Rule itself, the lifestyle of Teresa's communities and are the juridical synthesis of her founding spirit.

For the reader's convenience we shall follow the order of the Rule and relate the various points to the twelve we listed in Chapter I.

1. Concerning the prioress, Teresa added an important clarification to what was in the Rule: it is her duty "to provide for their needs, both spiritual and material, with a mother's love. She ought to make herself loved that she may be obeyed." (n.34). She also emphasised explicitly the prioress's role as spiritual mother and teacher: "Once a month, all the sisters are to give the prioress an account of how they have progressed in prayer, and how the Lord is leading them. His Majesty will give her light to guide them should they err." Should she fail to find a suitable person for novicemistress she is to look after their training herself (n.41). The note of humility and service which the Rule demands is graphically expressed: "The roster of sweeping duties must begin with the Prioress, that she may set a good example in everything". (n.22). ~No titles indicative of nobility are permitted to the prioress or to any of the sisters" (n.30).

The Rule made no provision for the duration of the superior's term of office. Neither did Teresa in the first Constitutions she wrote. But it is clear from ther role in the community that the figure of prioress had a certain stability in Teresa's mind. It is also clear from the chapter books of the early communities that there was-no fixed period of tenure. The 1581

Constitutions expressly state that the prioress could be re-elected as often as the community desired, provided she had three-quarters of the community in her favour (C,I, 5). In other words, when they found a true mother who satisfied the community's needs, no external legal obligation bound them to change her. But what if after the election the new priores does not live up to their expectations? Teresa answers with her usual realism: "It is impossible that all those elected to the office of prioress will have the requisite qualities; when this happens, no more than a year should be allowed to elapse before removing her. In one year she cannot do much harm, but in three she could destroy the monastery by allowing imperfections to become custom (Visitation of Discalced Nuns,9.

Finally, a principle of canonical equity that is most important to the understanding of a Teresian prioress: "In all of the above the prioress shall have power to dispense as she sees fit in the light of her discretion and charity". (n.31).

2. "All that time which is not spent with the community, or in duties connected with it, let every one remain alone in the cell or hermitage assigned to her by the prioress. In other words, they shall remain in their place of retirement doing some work, except on feast days, thus fulfilling to the Rule's prescription concerning solitude" (n.8).

3. "Our first Rule says we ought to pray unceasingly. That this may be done to the best of our ability, because it is the most important thing of all, the sisters shall not neglect the fasts, abstinence, discipline and silence laid down by the Order; because, as you know, for prayer to be real it must be accompanied by these things - prayer and self-indulgence are incompatible" (Way of Perfection, 4,2). Teresa completed this fundamental principle of the Carmelite Rule by adding in her Constitutions two hours of prayer daily: one, first thing in the morning before the recitation of the Divine Office in choir, the other, in the evening at whatever time the community found most convenient. It is worth noting here that St. Teresa confines herself in the Constitutions to ringing a bell to indicate the hour of prayer, leaving each nun free to choose where she will spend the time. This is remarkable, because at that time the custom of coming together for prayer and beginning and ending the period with a short prayer was becoming quite widespread. To the daily two hours of mental prayer Teresa added an hour's spiritual reading, "because this is almost as necessary a sustenance for the soul as food is for the body" (no. 6 and 8). She laid down an examination of conscience twice a day: a brief one at the end of the morning just before lunch, to be made wherever one happened to be at the time, and another while all were in choir before bedtime. The latter was combined with the reading of the points for meditation the following morning, both exercises taking a quarter of an hour between them. There was an important degree of flexibility allowed between spiritual reading and meditation, or mental prayer: "During this hour of prayer the sisters may do their spiritual reading if they prefer to spen~ the hour assigned to it after Vespers in prayer. They should do which ever they find most helpful to recollection." (n.7)

4. Concerning the occupation in which they engage as an alternative to being alone in their cells or praying,as well as those mentioned in No. 2 above, she indicates what visits they are allowed in the parlour, and remarks that "It is very important that anyone who visits us should benefit by it and that neither they nor we should find it a waste of time" (n.18).

5. Mass shall be celebrated at 8 a.m. in Summer and 9 a.m. in Winter. Those who receive Holy Comunion should remain on in the choir for a short time" (n.4).

Teresa followed the Church legislation where recitation of the Divine Office was concerned. She recommended simplicity and naturalness in the matter of chanting and established degrees of solemnity, a modern touch typical of her. "After private prayer the Hours up to None shall be recited, unless it is a solemn festivity or the feast of some Saint to whom the sisters have particular devotion, for on these days they may leave None to he sung before Mass. On Sundays and Holy Days Mass and Vespers are to be sung, and on the first days of Easter Matins as well. On other solemnities they may sing Lauds, especially on the Feast of the glorious St. Joseph" (n.2).

6. Teresa was enthusiastic in her espousal of the Rule's prescriptions on poverty. She enriched them with her doctrinal exposition in the Way of Perfection and with important details in the Constitutions: "In no circumstances is any of the sisters to own anything, nor are they to be allowed to , whether it is food or clothing. And, except for those whose office in the community requires it, no one may own any chest, cupboard or anything else; everything shall be common property. This is very important, because the devil can gradually undermine poverty through little things. For this reason the Prioress is to be very vigilant; as soon as she sees a sister becoming too attached to something, be it a book, a particular cell or whatever, she must take it from her" (n.10). ~

The Prioress and senior members of the community are to be treated just as the rest, as the Rule commands; age and need are the criteria, especially need. Sometimes a person may be older and yet need less. There are many reasons why it is well to see to it that this rule applies to everybody" (n.22).

"Each day, when the sisters are together after their evening meal, the turn sister shall report on what has been received in alms that day, and name the donors,so that everybody will make it their business to ask God to reward them" (n.25).

"No sister may give or receive anything, nor ask for anything, even of their parents, without the permission of the Prioress, to whom everything a sister shall receive by way of alms must be shown" (n.30).

7. On the subject of the weekly chapter, or community meeting, St. Teresa has an explicit reference to evangelical charity to add to what the Rule had laid down: "No sister shall reprove another for a wrong she has seen her do; if it is something serious, then let her go and speak to that sister about it, and if the latter does not mend her ways after three private warnings, then let her tell the prioress and no one else. Since there are persons appointed to point out faults, let the others turn a blind eye to whatever they see and not worry about it, but pay attention rather to their own. Nor ought they to interfere if someone fails in her appointed task, unless, of course, it is a serious matter which they are bound to report. Let them be most careful not to defend themselves, except in such matters as it is necessary to do so, and they will find this very beneficial" (n.29).

Later, that part of the Constitutions of the Incarnation which describe the ceremonial aspect of the chapter was added to St. Teresa's, namely the practice of reading a text from the Rule or Constitutions, followed by a short commentary by the prioress as she sees fit (n. 43-48). (Sister Isabel de Santo Domingo tells us that in the days when there were only the first four novices at St. Joseph's, "they held chapter of faults in which they helped each other in charity").

8. The Carmelite Rule has a tone of austerity where food is concerned, and Teresa preserved this in her Constitutions. However, she tempers it somewhat with a note of discretion and an emphasis on the evangelical aspect of penance. She begins with the prescription of the Rule itself: "You are to fast everyday, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (14 September) until Easter Sunday. As the Rule commands, you are to abstain from meat always, except in case of necessity"(n.ll).

Then Teresa adds her own little detail, intended to teach people to combine bodily penance with what St. John of the Cross was to call "penance of the mind": "No sister shall remark on either the quantity of the food or on how it was cooked" (n.22). And, to prevent excessive penance from being a health hazard, she continues: "Let the prioress and bursar see to it that such food as the Lord sends is well prepared. Since they cannot have any other let what they are given be such as may satisfy their needs. The sisters shall tell the prioress their needs, as shall the novices their novicemistress, both in the matters of clothing and food and whether they need more than what is usually provided, even if their need is not very great" (n.22).

9. Constantly throughout her writings, Teresa repeats the exhortations of the Rule to seek perfection in charity while we hope for salvation from Jesus Christ alone. In the Constitutions she delicately emphasises this aspect of community life: "Let all the sisters love one another, as Jesus so often commanded his apostles to (Jn. 15,12). Being few in number, this will be easy. Let them endeavour to imitate their Spouse, who gave His life for us. This mutual love of everybody for one another, as opposed to having particular favourites, is very important" (n.28).

10. Few have ever practiced the love of the universal law of work, or inculcated it in their followers, better than St. Teresa did. Not content with the long paragraph in the Rule on this subject, she added some details of her own in the Constitutions. These were of fundamental importance in shaping the lifestyle she established in the new Carmel. Notwithstanding the centuries old tradition of mendicancy which lay between the Rule and herself, she prescribed: "They are to live off alms always, with no endowments, and as long as it is at all possible, they are not to ask for alms. The need which forces them to ask must be great indeed; rather, let them live by the work of their hands, as St. Paul did, and the Lord will provide for their needs" (n.9).

The Teresian community decided, therefore, to live by work. But the Foundress wished this commitment, as everything else in her Constitutions, to be something accepted by everybody out of personal conviction. "No sister is to be given a deadline to meet; but let everyone work so that the rest may eat. Let great attention be paid to the Rule's injunction that anyone not willing to work has no right to eat and also to St. Paul's example (Thess. 3,10). A fixed amount of work to be finished each day may sometimes be permitted, but no penances may be imposed for not finishing it" (n.24).

In the Constitutions of the Incarnation there was provision for a workroom, where the prioress, or her delegate, would preside. St. Teresa chose to order the work to be done "by each in the cell or hermitage assigned them by the prioress" (n.8) As she said in the Way of Perfection, "At St. Joseph's the nuns should be excused from having a common workroom....... silence is better observed when each nun is by herself" (WP4,9). That way work would not interfere with prayer and recollection. For that reason she laid down "that their living should not be earned by intricate or elaborate work, but by weaving, sewing or some other form of work that would not so occupy the mind as to keep it away from the Lord" (n.9). Or, as she summed it up in the Way of Perfection, "let the body work ... and the soul rest" (34,4).

11. Concerning the sanctification of the night, so important an element in monastic tradition, the Rule adds to its prescription about meditating day and night and being watchful in prayer the further injunction of observing a stricter degree of silence. The Carmelite Constitutions went further again: matins had to be recited at midnight. St Teresa preserved the night silence, but broke with the practice of commencing it after Compline so that the sisters might have a period of recreation after the evening meal. She had it begin instead at 8 p.m.: At 8 o'clock, Winter and Summer, ring the bell for silence and observe it until after Prime the following morning. This is to be very carefully observed." (n.7) She abandoned the custom of reciting matins at midnight and chose, rather, to recite them between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. (n.l). However, she did introduce another custom designed to sanctify the night: a quarter of an hour before bedtime the community gathered together in choir for examination of conscience, after which "someone appointed by the prioress read a passage concerning the mystery to be meditated on the following morning" (n.10). This mystery would be the first things to occupy the sisters's minds in tne morning: "Tney shall rise at five in the Summer and remain in prayer until six; in Winter they shall rise at six and remain in prayer until seven" (n.2).

As far as silence during the remainder of the day was concerned, Teresa specified that a long conversation required the prioress's permission; things that had to be said in the course of duty, brief communications, or questions and answers did not (n.7).

12. The Rule ends with an invitation to generosity: "Our Lord, at his second coming, will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to do. See that the bounds of common sense are not exceeded, however, for common sense is the guide of the virtues"(1)

Teresa made this invitation her own, but with one restriction: "No one shall take more (disciplines) or do any other forms of penance without permission" (n.59).

To this nucleus of elements already contained in the Rule, and given new and vigorous expression in her Constitutions, Teresa added a whole chapter of her own on the reception of notices and on the qualities to be required in those who sought to embrace the kind of life she had to offer: "Take great care that those who are to be received are prayerful, that they are anxious to be perfect and to despise the world ... and that they are healthy and intelligent" (n.21).

Another chapter which may be considered entirely new is that devoted to the care of the sick. "The sick are to be looked after with all the love, sweetness and devotion which our poverty permits. They should praise God, our Lord, when they are well provided for. But if they lack the comforts which rich people enjoy when ill, they are not to be disconsolate; they should have come prepared for this. This lack of something just when you need it most is what poverty is all about. Nevertheless, the prioress is to see to it that the healthy are deprived of things they need rather than let the sick do without little comforts. They are to be visited and comforted by the sisters, and an infirmarian with the required ability and love for the task should be appointed to look after them.

It is now that the sick should show the degree of perfection, they have attained when well. Unless they are very ill, they can show this by their patience and by being as undemanding as possible. A sister who is ill shall obey the infirmarian, so that she may benefit by her illness and edify her sisters. The sick are to be provided with linen sheets and good beds, with mattresses that is, and they are to be treated with great cleanliness and charity" (n.23).

Finally, there is a third element which is not be found in the Rule and which St Teresa gives great importance to: that is the question of recreation. Two recreation periods a day were

allowed -one after the midday meal, the other after the evening meal. "After dinner, mother prioress may allow everybody to speak freely together about whatever they like, provided it is compatible with the behaviour of a good nun and that they all continue to work at their spinning"(n.26). "Under no circumstances are games to be allowed; the Lord will enable some to entertain the others. As long as this principle is observed, the time will not be wasted. The sisters shall try not to be a source of annoyance to one another; their playfulness and general conversation should be discreet. At the end of this hour together, the sisters may sleep for an hour in Summer. Those who do not wish to sleep shall keep quiet" (n.27). "After Compline and prayer (here 'oración' may have been written in error for 'colación ~ ... both Summer and Winter, mother prioress may permit the sisters to chat together while they work ...; the duration of this period is to be at the discretion of the prioress" (n.28).

From this summary of St Teresa's Constitutions one can form a complete picture of the orientations and principles which so effectively shaped the lives of her first disciples, that privileged generation which learned from the living model which her person provided for them(2)

Her joy at seeing them advance so rapidly on the way to perfection knew no bounds. With so harmonious a synthesis of the Carmelite life open before them in the live of the Foundress and her companions, later novices assimilated the new lifestyle quickly and new communities began to spread this lifestyle at an amazing rate. "It takes a new community only two weeks to settle", writes St. Teresa, "because those who are new have only to do what they see do by those who are already there"(3).

___________

1. Translation is that of Bede Edwards, op. cit., p.93.
2. For the relation between St. Teresa's original Constitutions and the Alcalá edition of 1581, see 0. Rodríguez, El testamentoteresiano, Burgos, 1970, first published in Monte Carnelo 78, (1970) 11-83.
3. Letter to Don Teutonio de Braganza, 2 January 1575.

     
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