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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.




When studying the history of any human group we immediately become aware of how limited our knowledge is; it becomes painfully obvious that the number of people we establish direct contact with are very few compared with the number involved. Some stand out because of their administrative roles or doctrinal excellence and we can form some idea of the general characteristics of the group or some part of it, but the great majority of those whose effort and sacrifice contributed to the establishment and development of the institution either remain anomymous or we know little more about them than their names.

That said by way of tribute to the many "anonymous" collaborators in the work of those first years, we shall now turn our attention to a figure about whom we know much less than we would like to, but who fortunately did not remain anonymous: St.John of the Cross.

We shall firts briefly recall the various stages of his life up to the time he met St.Teresa in the parlour at Medina del Campo, and then follow his career in the Order which was just coming into being.

After an uneventful and happy childhood, during which Doña Catalina saw to it that straightened circumstances never meant a shortage of bread or affection, John faced adolescence already accustomed to helping at home or to doing any other work that would earn his keep; as the saying goes, "you may not earn much by weaving, but you'll earn less by looking on". As was only natural for an intelligent and enterprising youth. John moved from one employer and job to another as opportunity permitted, always seeking to improve his lot in life.

Finally, thanks to the interest taken in him by Don Alonso Alvarez of Toledo, director of the Hospital there, he found a way of combining work with study. From the age of 17 until he was 21, he attended the Jesuit college in Medina, and found his vocation to the religious life in that college of humanities and virtue.

We do not know what external circumstances led him to enter the Carmelite novitiate in 1563, but, in the light of what happened later, we may assume that it was Divine Providence that guided his steps in that direction. God's plan for the remainder of his life awaited him.

After his novitiate, John went to Salamanca to complete his studies for the priesthood; he spent four years at its famous University - three in Arts and one in Theology.

We know hardly anything about these first years in Religion. They were years of intense seeking after God through prayer and penance, and they led eventually to a crisis of disenchantment or disillusionment, caused perhaps by the gap between his own dreams of perfection and the rather uninspiring human reality that surrounded him. Accustomed as he was to changing his environment every time he tried to improve his own situation, it was natural that he should think of the same solution when faced by this latest problem. But this time the juridical structure within which he now lived decided his next step for him. According to the law of the time anyone who wanted to change from one Order to another had to have the expressed permission of the Holy See unless he chose the Carthusians. Joining the Carthusians was precisely what John was seriously thinking of doing when Mother Teresa crossed his path.

The only record that has come down to us of the first long conversation between these two great saints is the testomony of St.Teresa in her Foundations. It is great to have that much, but it would have been nice to have John's version too. There can be little doubt that the meeting made a tremendous impression on his young spirit; he changed the course of his life definitively as a result of it, and chose the reality presented by Teresa in preference to his own dreams. That new reality which unfolded before John's astonished eyes was primarily St.Teresa herself, in whose spiritual maturity he found the best expression of the ideal he was seeking after. Perhaps he also realised that at twenty-five he could not go on looking for solutions outside himself, that it was time to lend a helping hand to others, and that he could do this very effectively by helping to create an atmosphere of ferveur and enthusiasm among the friars as Mother Teresa had among the nuns.

From this moment on, he began to prepare for the work that characterised the rest of his life. Teresa tells us that she told him of her aims and plans, and John expressed his readiness to start working - "provided it was soon". Teresa did not keep him waiting: at the first opportunity she took him with her to the founding of the Valladolid convent (August 1568) so that he could do his "Teresian novitiate", and she let him live with her nuns for a couple of months so that he could learn "the style of brotherliness" practised in her houses.

When Fr.John set out for Duruelo in October, he bore impressed upon his soul a new vision of the Carmelite Rule, as re-interpreted by Teresa's Constitutions and, above all, as made flesh in the lives of her daugthers. This is the most important historical fact and the surest key to an understanding of St.John's activity in the ensuing years: to make Teresa's discovery his own and communicate it to everybody else.

From then on, Fr.John became the Mother Foundress's faithful and totally reliable collaborator. He accompanied her personally when she founded Alba de Tormes (1571) and Segovia (1574), and he gave her his full co-operation in the spiritual renewal of the Incarnation.

In the years 1572-74 they guided one another, and during the following three years he was her confessor.

On the significance of St.John's presence in the male communities of Duruelo-Mancera (November 1568-April 1571), Pastrana (October 1570), and Alcalá (April 1571-May 1572), the most direct testimony we possess is that of Anne of Jesus, who visited the Mancera community in November 1570 on her way to the Salamanca foundation. This is how, a quarter of a century later, she recalled her impressions of that first community of Discalced friars: "All of us visited the Discalced friars and they told us about what Mother Teresa and her companion, Antonia del Espíritu Santo, had taught them to do when they made that foundation. There were then only the first two Discalced friars ever, namely: Fr.Antonio de Jesús (prior) and Fr.John od the Cross (subprior). These had been instructed in everything that concerned their lifestyle by the Holy Mother. In fact, she loved to tell us of the details they used to ask her about, and the way God had brought our sisters these two fathers some five years after the first convent had been founded. They told me a lot about those early days themselves too, and from what they told me I am convinced that the Holy Mother was as much their foundress as she was ours; that is how they all regard her and always will"(1).

During the six and a half years from May 1572 to the end of 1578, St.John remained practically on the fringe of the unforreseen, and partly uncontrolled, development of the Discalced friars. When he returned to their midst, he found them in a state of fear and real crisis. Remember that his escape from imprisonment in Toledo was almost contemporaneous with Nuncio Sega's imprisonment of Frs.Antonio, Mariano, Roca and Gracián, and that shortly afterwards (16.10.1578), the Nuncio made the Discalced directly subject to the provincials. This measure of the Nuncio's was intended to establish peace and harmony in the Order while the whole question of the Discalced was studied more deeply. But its actual effect was to increase the tension and mutual mistrust of both sides, to focus the attention of the traditional hierarchy on obtaining the submission of the Discalced, and to strengthen the unity of the latter in their resolve to survive as an independent group.

This is the kind of situation Fr.John of the Cross came into when, in November 1578, he took on the responsibility of vicar of the friary of El Calvario and spiritual director to the Beas community of nuns. For the next ten years that was his job: to govern and direct the male and female followers of Teresa of Jesus.

The key to understanding this period of his life is to be found in a letter which St.Teresa wrote to the prioress of Caravaca on 13 January 1580: "Daugther, I will try and arrange for Fr.John of the Cross to visit you. Imagine he is me; discuss your spiritual affairs quite openly with him and take comfort in his presence, for he is a person to whom God communicates His spirit". We have already seen, in chapter 4, the importance St.Teresa attached to the role of the superior as a teacher in the realm of the spirit. The Mother Foundress had an extraordinary talent for this, as her writings and her daughters testify. The latter, indeed, missed her so much that they were always glad to avail of her passing visits in the course of some foundational mission to discuss their spiritual welfare with her. So, the phrase "Imagine he is me" is an unqualified recommendation of Fr.John of the Cross's style of spiritual direction, an assurance that he had fully assimilated the spirit of the Foundress.

Just as her daughters in Avila had asked Mother Teresa to leave them a written record of their conversations on spiritual matters so that they could continue to ponder on her words and benefit from them, so they now began to ask Fr.John of the Cross for the same thing. Thanks to this fact, we have sufficient material today to document the most important period in his life, and can benefit in our turn from his experience and teaching. The earliest writings of his that have been preserved -apart from the poems he wrote during his imprisonment- are: the drawing of the Mountain, some spiritual sayings and maxims, and two very short treatises entitled respectively the Cautelas and Counsels to a Religious. From these we can form some idea of the experience and Knowledge of the inner world of the spirit which St.John possessed ten years after he first met St.Teresa. They show us what he talked about in conversation and in more formal talks, and reveal the key points he used to guide people into and along the path to true contemplation.

Passing from the historical value of these documents to their spiritual usefulness, and they are as relevant today as they ever were, we would like to make two remarks of a methodological nature in order to avoid possible pitfalls. In the first place, bear in mind that the title which St.John himself gave his maxims was "Saying of light and love", and, as light and love do not lend themselves to encapsulation, these sayings, therefore, cannot be taken as mathematical axioms; they require to be pondered over in an effort to grasp the depth and fulness of meaning which they possessed on the master's lips, a meaning that transcends the particular circumstances of the person who sought them and the circumstances in which they were uttered.

The same can be said, indeed, of his two brief treatises. They contain an orientation, a real system for living, the spiritual usefulness of which is not conditionel by any circumstances: "resignation, mortification, the practice of the virtues, and spiritual and physical solitude". Each person must make a daily appraisal of where he needs to increase either his vigilance or his generosity. When St.John recommends resignation, he is teaching us not to want to set everything to rights, to mind our own business, and to be free from sterile and harmful anxiety which usually hides under a cloak of zeal. He recommends mortification especially with fellow-members of the community in mind, because all talk of imitating Christ crucified remains rather up in the air unless we can accept the real or apparent shortcomings of those around us with patience and humility. The surest way to practise the virtues, he feels, is to fulfil one's daily duties faithfully, persevering in them for the love of God, avoiding any inclination to show off, and seeking rather the tasks no one else wants to do. Finally, by physical and spiritual solitude he means the desire of the soul to return to God's presence as soon as his duties permit, the practice of living continually in God's presence, and the disowning, or rejection, of any thought not directed to His glory. To forestall any false mysticism, the Saint himself explained:
"I do not mean by this that one should fail to do the duties his office or obedience require of him with all possible and necessary care. I mean that the should fulfil them without a shadow of negligence, for neither God nor obedience would want that".

The Cautelas contain substantially the same teaching; they merely add a few practical orientations on the correct attitude to have towards one's superiors. A superficial reading might lead one to think these differed from St.Teresa's teaching on the subject, but to understand the apparent contradictions it must be borne in mind that the Cautelas merely emphasise some aspects more than others because of specific circumstances the author had in mind. It is necessary, therefore, to bring together everything an author says and to integrate them, if one is to understand him properly. For our purposes, let it suffice to indicate that when St.Teresa is speaking to her daughters she is addressing communities where peace and harmony reign; she does not need to explain to them -as St.John does in the case of the Beas community which was briefly in conflict with the provincial- the mystery of an inept superior or the way to benefit spiritually from bad government. That is why he, in perfect agreement with St.Teresa, distinguishes between what refers to a particular case and what is for the common good. St.Teresa recommends obedience at all times; if the superior is at fault the remedy must be sought through the competent authority and not by "murmuring". St.John recommends the same submissiveness and warns of the damage the devil can do among religious when they do not look upon obedience with the eyes of the spirit; but he does not forbid them to use their natural intelligence to help them. Indeed, he personally supported the nuns of the Incarnation in their "rebellion" againts the provincial: he encouraged them to prefer Mother Teresa as prioress and paid for his stance with imprisonment(2). He also supported the Beas nuns when, notwithstanding the nuncio's decrees, they took advantage of their undefined geographical position to refuse recognition to the provincials of both Castille and Andalusia.

The nuns who had the good fortune to experience the soundness of St.John's teachings and to share his confidences in matters spiritual christened him "the inner man". No doubt, that was what he spoke about most. But this emphasis of his on "inwardness" did not prevent him from getting through an extraordinary amount of activity in a variety of ministries whenever the service of God or the good of souls required it of him. Rather, it was the source of his energy.

This is a subject he dealt with several times in his writings, especially in the Canticle, where he find this saying of his which has become proverbial: "A little of this pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and of the soul, and does more good to the Church -though it doesn't appear to do anything- than all those works put together". This sentence follows an admirable exegesis of Our Lord's words to Martha: "Only one thing is necessary"(Luke 10), in which he explicitly invites us to avoid one-sided interpretations: "It is to be noted here that until the soul has reached this state of loving union it would do well to practise love through the active life as well as through the contemplative life"(3).

That the Saint continued to exercise himself in the active and contemplative aspects of life is clear form his writings and from biographies of him; his life was a model of the desired balance between contemplation and action which he recommends in his writings. With the help of Fr.Eulogio Pacho's biographical guide, let us now recall briefly the role played by Fr.John of the Cross in the life of the Order from the time he returned to it till the end of Fr.Gracián's term of office as provincial:

1578 October

At the beginning of the month he is in Almodóvar del Campo, where the chapter of the Discalced begins on the 9th. This results in his election as superior of the friary of El Calvario (Jaén).


After brief stays at La Peñuela (Jaén) and at Beas de Segura (Jaén), he arrived at El Calvario in the firts week of the month and took over there as vicar, an office he held for the next seven and a half months.

1579 April-May

He was busy with the arrangements for establishing a college at Baeza and frequently travelled from El Calvario for this purpose.


He setout for the new foundation at Baeza on the 13th. The following day the college was officially opened, and he became its rector.

1580 June

On the 22nd Pope Gregory XIII authorised the creation of an independent Discalced province.

This was the year of the general epidemic of influenza. Some time during it, the Saint's mother, Catalina Alvarez, died.

1581 March

St.John of the Cross took part in the Alcalá chapter (3rd to 16th) and was elected third definitor. Once the chapter was over, he returned to Baeza.


On the 28th he presided at the election of the prioress of Caravaca. The new prioress, Ana de San Alberto, was to be one of his favourite spiritual daughters. During the following months he made frequent visits to various Discalced convents and friaries throughout Andalusia.


Towards the middle of the month he wnet to Avila to discuss the establishment of a convent in Granada with St.Teresa, returning immediately afterwards to Baeza.


He travelled to Beas, with a companion and two nuns, and remained there until the middle of January.

1582 January

From Beas he went on to Granada, by way of Ubeda, Baeza, Ignalloz, Daifontes and Albolote. On the 19th he, Anne of Jesus and the sisters she had brought with her reached Granada and inaugurated the new convent there the following day.

In the last week of January he was installed as prior of Los Mártires in Granada, an office to which the community had elected his some time in the second half of 1581.

1583 May

He was present at the Almodóvar chapter, where he was confirmed as prior of Granada until 1585.


He was involved in moving the Granada nuns to their permanent home.

1584 While in Granada he finished the first version of the Spiritual Canticle, and wrote most of his other works as well.

1585 February

He moved to Málaga to help the sisters with the new foundation they inaugurated there on the 17th.


He travelled to Lisbon for the provincial chapter which opened in that city on the 11th. He was elected second definitor.


The chapter was suspended, so he returned first to Seville and then to Málaga to comfort the sisters.


He travelled to Castille to be present at the concluding sessions of the above chapter -an eventful journey, with visits to Caravaca, Baeza and several other communities.


He reached Pastrana in time for the chapter. He was appointed vicar provincial of Andalusia. Granada now became his headquarters, but he was no longer prior there(4).

At the Pastrana chapter, the new provincial took up office, and from that moment on there is a new personage for the historian and the reader to take account of; indeed, one cannot hope to understand the history of the Teresian Carmel without paying close attention to him. We must leave St.John, therefore, referring the reader to biographies and studies for further details, and resume the thread of this history.


1. BMC 18, p.464.
2. Cf.Hipólito de la S.F., La elección "machucada" de Santa Teresa. Documentos inéditos, in Ephemerides Carmeliticae, 20 (1969), 168-193. These documents have been included in MHCT,III.
3. Stanza 28. Some time ego, a doctoral thesis was defended on the subject of contemplation and action in the thinking of St.John of the Cross. It has not yet been published, but it is an excellent piece of work and I draw attention to it in case it ever appears. The reference is: Benedykt Cierzniak, Action und Kontemplation. Kontemplation als Voraussetzung der apostolischen Tätigkeit beim hl.Johannes vom Kreuz. Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktorgrades an der Katholisch-theologischen Fakultät der Universität Wien eingericht. Vienna, September 1974.
4. Eulogio Pacho, San Juan de la Cruz y sus escritos. Madrid 1969, pp.35-37. (The complete biographical guide occupies pp.31-41).

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