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Saint Teresa and the Carmelite Rule


Dear Sisters,

It was the wish of our Holy Mother that the Nuns and the friars form a single family to help one another in fulfilling our role in the Church.

In number 242 of your Constitutions, concerning the Superior General, he is requested to be «especially attentive to the faithful renewal of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns and promote, in dialogue with them, projects and undertakings in the fields of spiritual development and formation.»

It could not be otherwise. The Second Vatican Council, in speaking of renewal of religious Institutes, says that this depends mainly on the formation of their members.

Now that the long period of renewing the Constitutions has finished, we are finally able to resume the service of formation that you have been seeking and which the Centre of the Order has been offering to the monasteries in recent years.

To begin with we have chosen your own Constitutions. This work was handed over to Specialists in the Order to prepare an in-depth study of the various chapters, in a way that was clear and instructive. To make efficient use of the means at our disposal, we are offering this material as a booklet, in audio cassettes and video cassettes. Each monastery should let us know what medium they prefer.

I ask the Lord to bless these efforts and to help all of us to grow in knowledge and love for the charism he has confided to us in the Church to benefit humanity.

Fr Camilo Maccise, O.C.D.  Superior General


In the legislation of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, the Rule has a privileged place, since it is a primordial document with a two-fold value: spiritual and normative. It was, in fact, the first spiritual text of our Carmelite family. And likewise its first "formula vitae", first norm of life.
St. Teresa saw both values in it, and from the very beginning she incorporated them into the ideal of her Reform, and she continued to reaffirm them right up to the last years of her life.

It is this choice of the Saint that we are about to explain here. From the experience and thinking of the Mother Foundress, it will be easy for today's Discalced Carmelite Nun to begin to progress in meditation of the Rule and in assimilation of its spirit. For greater clarity, we will follow, as far as possible, the chronological unfolding of the life and thinking of our Holy Mother.

I. Before founding St. Joseph's

1. A knowledge of the Rule would have been part of the Saint's Carmelite initiation at the Incarnation. However, we know very little about her novitiate and the years of her religious formation. We do not know to what extent she had studied and assimilated the Rule before embarking on the foundation of St. Joseph's (1560). She herself tells what a shock it was to her shortly after (1562), on meeting Mary of Jesus, foundress of the "de la Imagen" Carmel in Alcalá de Henares, to find that this illiterate woman knew more about the Rule than she did.(1)

2. As one would expect, in the Incarnation the personal life of the Carmelite nun centered on the Rule. The nuns made profession "according to the Carmelite Rule". We do not know the exact formula of the Saint's profession (1537), but we do have the wording used a little earlier. According to this, the Carmelite nun in the Incarnation professed the vow of obedience (without express mention of the other two) according to the Carmelite Rule (without mentioning the Constitutions). This profession formula is dated 1521, and probably is the same one that Teresa de Ahumada would use 16 years later. This is how it reads:

"I, Sister x. x., make profession and promise obedience to God and to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and to Br. Bernardine, Prior General of the Order, and to you, Beatrice Guiera, Prioress of this monastery of Saint Mary of the Incarnation, and to your successors, according to the Rule of the said Order, until death".(2)

3. The Rule was not only a reference point in the profession of each nun, it was the juridical and religious basis of community life. The most recent historiographer of the Incarnation goes so far as to say that in fact the Rule was the only internal law of the monastery, which -- according to the same historiographer -- did not have Constitutions properly so called.(3)

4. Even so, we do not know how accessible the text of the Rule was to the nuns at the time who did not know Latin, and among them was Teresa. In the Constitutions of the Spanish Carmelite nuns of the XVI century (cf. previous note), there are several references to the prescriptions of the Rule, but nothing is said about reading it or on the formation of the nuns for a study of it. These Constitutions do not have the norm which prescribes that the Rule "should be explained four times a year" ("quater in anno debet exponi"). The Spanish text is not given at the side or at the beginning of the Constitutions. It will be non-Carmelite books (the one by Osuna, for example) that will arouse in the recently professed Teresa a hunger for personal prayer, introducing her to the way of interior recollection; not the text of the Rule which, however, prescribes for the Carmelite nun the ideal of unceasing prayer, "day and night..".(4)

5. The Saint herself will tell us that in the monastery the mitigated rule was followed: "just like in the whole Order, with the Bull of mitigation" (Life 32,9). This was one of the reasons which made it difficult for her to return to her community of origin: "..to return to the monastery of the Incarnation, where the mitigated rule is observed, which for me would have been an affliction for many reasons -- there would be no point in going into them. One reason would be enough: that in the Incarnation I wouldn't be able to observe the austerity of the primitive rule..." (Foundations 2,1)(5)

To sum up, we cannot say exactly how sensitive to the Rule the Saint was in this first half of her Carmelite life. Actually, her interest in it, the real discovery of its value and content will come later, resulting from the graces which, from the depths of the mystical life of the Saint, would set in motion her work as a Foundress: the final years of her life in the Incarnation.

II. The real discovery and the new option for the Rule

The Saint's personal encounter with the Rule was progressive. She herself tells us so.

6. She is still feeling the effects of one of the mystical graces which most impressed her. It was the vision of hell, which gave rise to her vocation as Foundress. The first reaction was at a personal level: she made up her mind that for her "the first thing was to follow my vocation to a religious life, which His Majesty had given me, by keeping my rule in the greatest perfection possible" (Life 32,9). The second reaction, somewhat more remote but no less firm, was her decision to found...(6)

7. This was in 1560. For the two years following (1560--1562) the Saint continued to experience the charismatic call to found. So she set about "informing herself" thoroughly. She read the Constitutions "so often" (Life 35,2). Much to her regret, she had to found the new monastery outside the jurisdiction of the Order, but she decided to establish it on the firm foundation of the Carmelite Rule. This is what she petitioned from Rome, receiving an affirmative reply in the foundation Brief. The petitioners (Dona Aldonza and Dona Guimor, who are merely "fronts" for the real supplicant, Teresa of Jesus) are given permission to establish the new house under the Carmelite Rule: "by the present we grant you the favour of founding and building a nuns' monastery... of the Rule and Order of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel", and "to draw up statutes and regulations" governing the life of the new monastery.(7) This first Roman Brief is dated February 7, 1562. The Saint received it in July of the same year.

8. However, before the Brief arrived in Avila, St. Teresa meets the other foundress, Mary of Jesus. This meeting took place at the house of Dona Luisa de la Cerda in Toledo in the Spring of 1562. At this time the Saint is very much taken up with the problem of poverty. It is a dramatic experience: inner demands, opposition from learned advisers, continuing pressure from St. Peter of Alcántara, followed by obstruction from the Provincial and the town. She herself alternated between certainty and doubt. It was then that Mary of Jesus arrived and told her about the type of poverty required by the Rule of Carmel "before it was mitigated" (Life 35,2). This was a decisive factor for the Saint: the ideal of poverty which she had in mind was endorsed by the Rule: "I knew that it was in the Rule and I saw that it was more perfect" (ib.2), and henceforth no theologian could dissuade her from her resolution (35,4).(8)

9. Thus, the Rule will continue to be the basis of the new petitions which the Saint will send to Rome to consolidate the recently founded house: Briefs of 5.12.1562 and 17.7.1565. It is from these facts that the house will be defined juridically as being under the Rule of Carmel (as at the conclusion of the account in Life: 36,26), and the nuns of Mother Teresa will be called: "the Discalced nuns of Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the first Rule".(9)

10. By this time, the Saint had read, meditated on and thoroughly assimilated the letter and the spirit of the Carmelite Rule. In Toledo, besides the chance meeting with Mary of Jesus, she had good advisers. The house of the Carmelite Fathers is nearby, and there the Prior is Fr. Anthony of Jesus (Heredia), the future companion of St. John of the Cross in Duruelo. All of this combines to enkindle the flame of the Rule in the Saint's soul.

11. In St. Joseph's, the novices make their profession according to the formula used in the Incarnation, but with some adaptations. One of these refers to the Rule: "I make my profession..according to the primitive Rule of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, etc". It would seem that at first neither the Foundress nor the other Carmelite nuns who came from the Incarnation saw any need to repeat their profession using the new text.. This concern arose only some years later, and then the Apostolic Visitor, Fra Pedro Fernández, insisted that all the nuns transferring from the Incarnation to the Teresian Carmels should formally renounce the mitigated Rule. Mary of St. Joseph (Salazar) mentions this in her Libro de Recreaciones: "the Father Visitor had made a law that any nun of the mitigation who sought admission to our monasteries, undertaking the obligation of keeping the primitive Rule, should publicly renounce the mitigated Rule, just like a profession, and this is how our Mother began (the practice)".

12. The Saint wrote in her own hand the text of her renunciation, in the following words:

Jesus -- I, Teresa of Jesus, a nun of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who made profession in the Incarnation in Avila, and who is now in St. Joseph's, Avila, where the primitive Rule is observed, and up to now I have observed it here with the permission of our Very Rev. Fr., Fray Juan Bautista, and he also granted that I could observe it in the Incarnation should the superiors command me to return there,(10) declare that it is my intention to observe it for the rest of my life, and thus I promise, and I renounce all the Briefs given by the Pontiffs mitigating this Rule, which with the grace of Our Lord I hope and promise to observe until death. In confirmation of which I sign my name. Done on the 13th. July, 1571. -- Teresa of Jesus, Carmelite".(11)

III. The Spanish text of the Rule used by the Saint: translation or adaptation?

Despite the attention and admiration of the Saint for her friend Mary of Jesus, there is something on which they do not agree. Neither of them knew Latin. They needed a practical text of the Rule, an intelligible translation. Probably each of them got one for herself. And the choice of the Saint is not without interest:

13. The original text of the Rule had men in mind. It was not for nuns. In the adaptation of the laws of the so-called "First Order" for the "Second Order", there was a determining factor in Carmelite tradition. When the Constitutions for the nuns were being drawn up in the second half of the XV century, the Constitutions of the friars were adapted for them. We can see this from the prologue of the nuns' Constitutions. Thus the first Carmelite nuns of Brittany could read them in French, and so too the Saint would read them in the Spanish text, dating from the end of the XV or the beginning of the XVI century, which has come down to us: the Constitutions which she read "so often" between 1560 and 1562. What it was, in fact, was a legislative text which adapted from the masculine to the feminine numerous directives of the Carmelite Constitutions. -- Would the same have been done with the Rule?(12)

14. Mary of Jesus favoured an affirmative reply. The passages of the Rule which referred to male hermits were adapted for the nuns. Thus, from the first subtitles we read: "Concerning the three vows and that they should have a Prioress". "The cell of the Mother Prioress", etc. Even the warrior's "breastplate" (= "the breastplate of justice") is changed to the woman's "coif": "Put on the coif of justice". Before founding the Carmel "de la Imagen", Mary of Jesus had visited the Carmelite nuns in Italy, in some of whose monasteries this way of adapting the text of the Rule was already in use.(13)

15. The Saint did not follow this path. She kept to the literal text of the Rule. It was poorly translated, but it had no feminine adjustments. In 1568 when she gave her Constitutions of St. Joseph's to Fray John of the Cross and Fr. Anthony so that they could draw up those of Duruelo, she included at the beginning of them the Spanish text of the Rule. Fr. Anthony re-wrote the Constitutions, changing the feminine in them to the masculine, but he left the text of the Rule untouched, despite its being an imperfect translation, because it did not need to be changed back.(14)

16. This gesture is of no little importance in evaluating the Saint's attitude to the Rule. She will keep to it when she draws up her Constitutions or when, at last, she decides to put them in print. Certainly, in them she will have no problem about adapting some directives of the Carmelite Rule to the communitarian life-style of St. Joseph's. But she will leave the text of the Rule intact.(15)

IV. The return to the "primitive" Rule

In recounting the foundation of St. Joseph's in Life 36,26, the Saint tells in meticulous detail about the Rule that is observed in the community.. It is "the Rule of Our Lady of Mount Carmel", and it is "observed without mitigation", "as was decreed by fray Hugo, Cardinal of Santa Sabina", "given in the year 1248, in the fifth year of the pontificate of Pope Innocent IV".(16) Although not all her facts are correct, the detailed account shows that the Saint was anxious to be informed and specific. Almost immediately (Life 36,27), having given some more details about the content of the Rule, she expressly calls it "first" ("as can be seen in the first Rule itself"). In fact, "first or primitive" and "without mitigation" are the two marks which, for the Saint, characterize the text of the Rule adopted by the new family. We shall explain both of those points.

17. "Primitive"? Nowadays it is usual to distinguish three stages in the history of the Carmelite Rule. They are designated by the name of the persons connected with the text: the first, the Rule of Albert ("Albertina"); the second, the Rule of Innocent ("Innocentiana"); the third the Rule of Eugene ("Eugeniana"). The Rule of "Albert" is the one drawn up by St. Albert of Jerusalem at the beginning of the XIII century; the Rule of "Innocent" is the one remodelled and approved by Pope Innocent IV in 1247; the Rule of "Eugene" is this same Rule but with the addition of the mitigations granted by Pope Eugene IV in 1432.

18. From these "three Rules", St. Teresa chose the second: the Rule of Innocent. But why speak to her nuns of the "first or primitive Rule"? Recently, the Saint has been accused of ignorance and of creating confusion. But this is not so. At that time, the name "first" or "primitive" was commonly used to describe the Carmelite Rule in its juridical stage prior to that then in force in the Order. Even in official circles it was so described. Not only was this so in the pontifical documents which the Saint received from Rome, but it was also verified in those written by the Superior General of the Order, Juan Bautista Rubeo. For him the Rule adopted by Mother Teresa and her nuns in St. Joseph's is "the first", "the primitive", the "prior Regula", "priorem et arctiorem Regulam", and even sometimes the "Rule of St. Basil". - The Saint's choice is very concrete: she renounces the Rule professed and observed in the Incarnation, in which penitential austerity and the practice of poverty had been mitigated, and she adopted the Rule as it previously was. It is not a question of rejecting one "text" of the Rule to return to another text of it. The text is the same: the same in the Incarnation (the Rule of Eugene) and in St. Joseph's (the Rule of Innocent). But in the Incarnation it is professed and observed according to a conglomerate of dispensations and adaptations -- pontifical and customary -- which in St. Joseph's were discarded. Historically, this text is not the first "formula vitae" given by St. Albert to the hermits on Mount Carmel. In fact, however, it was called the "first or primitive Rule". And this is the terminology which the Saint adopts.(17)

19. On one point the Saint was mistaken: when she states that the Rule adopted by her was the Carmelite one "without mitigation". Canonically this was not so. The Rule "decreed by Fray Hugo" -- as she writes -- and approved by Innocent IV on October 1, 1247, "clarified, corrected and mitigated" the Rule ("formula vitae") of St. Albert.(18)

20. Possibly this error of the Mother Foundress was due to the form in which she came to know the text; in the imperfect Spanish translation mentioned above. Not only did the translator omit the passage of the Apostolic Letter "Quae honorem Conditoris" which mentioned the correction and mitigation of the Rule, but he gave this Letter the exact opposite sense, and for good measure he prefaced the Rule and Constitutions with the heading: "The following are the Rule and Constitutions of the Discalced religious of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, of the primitive Rule without any mitigation.."(19)

21. For the Saint, the historical and canonical error was marginal. What concerned her above all was to establish a well-defined Carmelite life-style, born of her two-fold personal experience: her experience of God and that of fraternal community. In returning to the Rule and seeking there a norm for Carmelite living, it was this two-fold charismatic experience that guided her choice, and made her opt for a particular text of the Rule. Let us now consider this point.(20)

V. The Saint's reasons for choosing this Rule

We want to specify two points: why did the Saint choose the version of Innocent? and when did she make this choice?

22. First of all, let us recall some elementary facts, even though these are generally known:

Firstly, the three stages of the Rule, prior to the Saint. We will call them by the already mentioned conventional names, and they are:

a] the Rule of "Albert": written by St. Albert. This was for the Latin hermits on Mount Carmel. It was drawn up at the beginning of the XIII century (between 1206 and 1214). It was approved by Honorius III and Gregory IX (1226 and 1229).

b] the Rule of "Innocent": this is the Rule of St. Albert, but revised, corrected and mitigated by Cardinal Hugo of Santa Sabina and Bishop William, Bishop of Antarada, under Innocent IV (1247), for the Carmelites who were now living in Europe, and who were obliged to adopt new life-styles, while retaining the primitive eremitical inspiration. The text was approved by Pope Innocent IV: Lyons 1247.

c] the Rule of "Eugene": this is the same Rule, but mitigated in its penitential austerity by a series of pontifical concessions, especially from Eugene IV, with the Bull of mitigation "Romani Pontificis providentia" (1432).

23. Secondly, let us note the more important differences between these three stages, as far as possible from the Saint's viewpoint:

a] In the first stage, the Rule is clearly eremitical, although not without some elements of common life. Separate cells, dining alone, private recitation of the Divine Office, etc. But daily Eucharist in common...

b] In the second stage, without renouncing the original eremitical inspiration, new coenobitical elements are introduced: foundations are allowed not just in desert places; the recitation of the Divine Office in common is suggested; meals in common are prescribed and allowance is made for common ownership of some animals for sustenance; the law enjoining abstinence from meat is modified; the times of strict silence are abbreviated (no longer from Vespers but from after Compline), etc.

c] The third stage is characterized by the pontifical dispensations which are added to the text of the Rule and modify its observance. But there are no textual alterations.

24. Mother Teresa, coming from the difficult community situation in the Incarnation, had two concerns: solitude and community. Both should be happily interwoven. Solitude for the community, which she will effectually enshrine in enclosure. And solitude for the Sisters, but within the community, that is to say, solidly based on community life: prayer in common, shared recreation, but working alone, etc. A balance between these two elements will characterize from the beginning the life-style that she wishes for St. Joseph's.

25. This is exactly what she finds in the Rule of "Innocent", and that is why she chooses it. When in her writings she says that here we are a "college of Christ", "a house of the Virgin", "dovecotes of the Virgin", or the directive to "live as a community", she is stressing the cenobitical aspect of the Rule which she will develop and nuance abundantly. When she says that "we are hermits", that "solitude is her comfort", or that the ideal of those gathered in St. Joseph's in to live "alone with the Alone", "not to be together except at the appointed times", etc., she is reaffirming the primitive eremitical inspiration of the Rule. -- She will achieve the harmonization of this two-fold component by her presence and her creative ability with a new life-style. But faced with the text of the Rule, she finds it much better formulated and integrated in the text of Innocent than in that of Albert.(21)

26. When did the Saint make this choice? How much did she know about these differences? -- It would be an anachronism to expect that the Holy Foundress would have an historical or critical knowledge of the Rule, something which was altogether beyond her scope. Nor would this have formed part of the cultural concerns of her time. There are some indications that she knew the text of the Rule in its original formulation (Albertine). Above all, however, there was a definite moment when she grasped the drift of the Rule independently of the dispensations and privileges which modified its practical interpretation and religious observance. We can specify approximately when this occurred.(22)

27. In the Spring of 1562, Mary of Jesus draws the attention of the Saint to the authentic text of the Rule. By this time Mother Teresa had already sent to Rome her petition for permission to make a foundation. At that time, "to found a monastery" normally meant doing so under one of the Rules approved by the Church. She, obviously, wished to place her monastery under the Carmelite Rule, and an affirmative reply was already on its way from Rome. Both the "petition" of the Saint and the text of the Roman Brief (February 7, 1562) expressly refer to the "Rule of Carmel". There is no mention whatsoever of "the first Rule". This was precisely because both the petition and the Brief were prior to the flame enkindled in the Saint by the meeting with Mary of Jesus, and her interest in knowing in greater depth the Rule of Carmel.(23)

28. Immediately on her return to Avila from Toledo, the Saint sends a new petition to Rome, requesting a second Brief which would counteract the deficiencies of the former in the question of poverty. And now the correction is based on "the first Rule". The Mother "Abbess of St. Joseph's" and her nuns wish "not to have or possess in common or individually any goods, in accordance with the norm of the first Rule of the said Order...". This formula was repeated in the concession granted in the Roman rescript of December 5, 1562. Even three years later (July 17, 1565), the Bull of Pius IV, requested by the Saint to confirm the preceding Brief, will repeat and endorse this motivation based on "the first Rule".(24)

To sum up: the origin of the Teresian charism was due, firstly, to the influence of the interior graces of the Foundress. The discovery of "the primitive Rule" is slightly later. It happened along the way, about the same time as the establishment of St. Joseph's, and it notably influenced the first steps of the foundation. In turn, it indicates a very definite stance, not only with regard to poverty, but also and particularly in the "life-style" which the Saint introduces in her Carmels.

VI. The Rule in the Saint's principal writings

It would be impossible to analyze here -- or even indicate -- all the passages in which the Saint in her writings returns to the theme of the Rule. But we might get some idea of its importance from a simple perusal of her more important works: Life, Constitutions, Way, Foundations.

A] The Rule in the "Book of her Life"

29. The Life is principally an account of her personal vocation and the awakening of her charism as foundress. It also relates the history of the first foundation and of the group that began it. At the same time, it shows the thinking of the Saint at the very outset of her foundational initiative. The text of the Life that has come down to us was written in 1565, three years after she had begun her reform.

30. With regard to the Rule, two facts must be emphasized: that the Carmelite Rule entered into the very first decision of the Saint (32,9), and that the house of St. Joseph's was set up for it (36, 26). Hence she refers to it in great detail (36, 26--27). Judging by her account, it seems likely that at this time the Rule is the Carmelite legislation for the house. As well as the Rule, the community observes "other things which seemed necessary to us to in order to observe it (the Rule) with greater perfection" (36,27). However, it seems probable that these "other things" would not have merited the title of "Constitutions". Neither does it appear that the Foundress brought with her and put into practice the Constitutions of the Incarnation, if there were any, which we believe there were.(25)

31. The Saint's zeal for the Rule was born of a gospel maxim: the call to practise the poverty of Jesus. "But when I saw what the Rule required, and that poverty was the more perfect way, I could not persuade myself to allow an endowment. And though they did persuade me now and then that they were right (the learned men who opposed her view), yet, when I returned to my prayer and saw Christ on the Cross, so poor and destitute, I could not bear to be rich" (35, 2--3). A happy Christological dovetailing of Rule and Gospel.

32. And so, in the chapters of the "Life" devoted to the history of the foundation, the dramatic struggle for poverty continues right to the end, and we even get the final episode: the arrival of the pontifical Bull which would settle the problem definitively, and gives her the opportunity of weighing up her own contribution to what has been achieved (39,14).

B] The Rule in the Constitutions

For the moment we shall leave aside the question of the relationship between the two texts, Rule and Constitutions. This will be dealt with in the essay on the latter. Here it is sufficient to assemble the passages which show the Saint's attitude to the Rule.

33. Firstly, in the collection of laws observed by the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, the Rule precedes the Constitutions. This, in fact, was how it appeared in the first official edition of the Teresian Constitutions drawn up after the Chapter of Alcalá (1581), and inspired by the Mother Foundress. And without doubt, this must have been the case when she drew them up for the first time for her community of St. Joseph's, before the foundation of Medina and Duruelo.

34. Within the Teresian Constitutions there are some temperate but fundamental regulations taken from the Rule itself:

a] -- with regard to solitude, "the Rule orders that each one is to remain alone" (n.8).

b] -- regarding penitential practices, "meat is never to be eaten, except in case of necessity as the Rule ordains" (n.11).

c] -- "It is the duty of the Mother prioress to take great care that the Rule and Constitutions be observed in all things" (n.34. -- Cf. Manner of Visiting the Monasteries 22 and Foundations 18,6).

d] -- "(Those having these offices) should do no more for the Prioress and the older nuns than for all the rest, as the Rule prescribes, but should be attentive to needs and age, and more to needs.."(n.22).

e] -- Regarding the work of the Sisters, "they should take into careful account what the Rule ordains: that whoever wants to eat must work, and what St. Paul did" (n.24).

f] -- Concerning fraternal correction in the chapter of faults, "the faults of the Sisters must be corrected with charity, according to the Rule" (n.43).

g] -- And in summing up the content of the Constitutions: in these "almost everything is set up in conformity with our Rule" (n.31. -- The "almost" will be omitted in the Alcalá text).

35. In accord with this last statement, in the Saint's thinking the Constitutions are a prolongation and application of the Rule to the life of the Carmelite nun. The one should not be read independently of the other.

C] The Way of Perfection and the Rule

36. We know that when she was writing the Way of Perfection, the Saint at first intending following closely the Rule and the Constitutions, providing, as it were, a commentary on them. Thus, when she begins to discuss the indispensable virtues as a basis of the prayer life in the community, the heading she puts to the chapter is: "Urges the observance of the Rule and discusses three things that are important for the spiritual life" (ch.4). And in the first redaction of the book, she began the theme: "Do not think, my friends and my daughters, that I will require many things of you, because may it please the Lord that we fulfil perfectly all that our Fathers ordered in the Rule and Constitutions, which are, after all, the fullness of virtue" (Way E,c.6,1). -- And then, in fact, the exposition of the theme continues absolutely independently of the juridical code of the house. The Way of Perfection was to be a kind of spiritual code for the community: a pedagogical and formative manual for the Carmelite nun. In this sense it forms a composite with the legislative texts, which should be read in the light of these pedagogical pages of the Saint.(26)

37. However, in the book the Rule is always there, beginning with the title, where she twice reminds her readers of its connection with the Rule: the book contains "the advice and counsel Teresa of Jesus" gives to the Sisters of the monasteries "that, with the help of our Lord and the glorious Virgin Mother of God, our Lady, she founded. These monasteries follow the primitive Rule of our Lady of Mount Carmel..". And again, over the page, we read: "it is intended for the Discalced nuns who observe the primitive Rule of our Lady of Mount Carmel".

a] It was the Rule that she had in view when founding: "I would consider well worthwhile the trials I have suffered in order to found this little corner, where I have also sought that this Rule of our Lady and Empress be observed with the perfection with which it was observed when initiated" (3,5).

b] The Rule affirms the primacy of prayer in the life of the Carmelite nun: "Our primitive Rule states that we must pray without ceasing. If we do this with all the care possible -- for unceasing prayer is the most important aspect of the Rule -- the fasts, the disciplines, and the silence the Order commands will not be wanting" (4,2). And she appeals to this directive of the Rule in the polemical intent of the book against the adversaries of personal prayer: "Leave aside your fears where there is no cause for fear; if someone should stir up these fears in you, humbly explain the way to him. Tell him you have a Rule that commands you to pray unceasingly -- for that is what it commands -- and that you have to keep it" (21,10).

c] Side by side with prayer, there is the manner of working: "..it is a great thing not to be together except at the designated times....as is the custom which we now follow...as the Rule commands, but each one is alone in her cell. At St. Joseph's the nuns should be excused from having a common workroom..": this precept of the Rule helps "silence.. solitude.. and prayer": "this must be the foundation of this house" (4,9).

D] In the Book of the Foundations

38. "While I was praying to the Lord, He told me not to fail to go....and that I should bring the Rule and Constitutions" (F.17,3). In fact, the Rule and Constitutions accompanied the Saint to every foundation. The Rule is a bond of spiritual and juridical union between all the houses: nuns and friars of the same Rule (2,5), houses which are under the jurisdiction of the Order or that of the bishop (3,18), houses founded in absolute poverty and those with an income (ch.9). To all of them could be applied what was written about the second foundation: "In all matters they lived the same way as at St. Joseph's in Avila, since the Rule and the Constitutions were the same" (3,18).

39. However, the Saint can distinguish between the essential and the secondary (18,9). Two things of such importance to her as absolute poverty ("without income") and abstinence from meat, could be dispensed in exceptional cases for the whole community, without on that account failing in fidelity to the spirit of the Rule. This will be exactly the case in the third foundation (Malagón), referred to in a generic way in her book (9,3-4), but expressly laid down in the foundational documents signed by the Saint. In this house they "will observe the mitigated Rule of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and so they can eat meat and have an income in common. But despite this, in all other matters they are obliged to observe the Constitutions of the first Rule of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in conformity with what is professed and observed in the monastery of St. Joseph in Avila, and in that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Medina del Campo, and in all the other monasteries of the first Rule.."(27) Never, in her copious correspondence about the Carmel of Malagón, does she consider the house to be second class. Intentionally, in concluding the brief account of the foundation, she affirms the contrary: "I stayed there for some days. On one of those days, while in prayer after having received Communion, I understood from Our Lord that He would be served in that house" (9,5). And even more incisively in one of her Relations: "After Communion, the second day of Lent, in St. Joseph of Malagón....., the Lord said to me that I must hasten to make these foundations, for He would take his rest with the souls which entered the monasteries; that I should take all (the houses) they gave me, because there were many souls that had no place in which to serve Him, and that those set up in small places were like this one (of Malagón), which could have great merit if only they desired to do what was done in other houses, and that they should all be subject to a superior.."(28)

VII. The spirit of the Rule

40. Already in the Book of the Foundations, in a passage written about 1575/1576, the Saint remarks to her Prioresses that careful instruction would be required so that the Sisters "may come to understand perfection and the spirit of our Rule" (18,8).

41. For her, the Rule of Carmel is the Rule of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the Rule which unites us with the origins of Carmel, with the spirit of the first Saints -- those of the Bible who inspire us, and those holy fathers of ours of Mount Carmel who received the Rule and observed it. Hence the Rule is a source: it contains the essence of our spirit; it is a bond of union with the various types of holiness in which the Carmelite charism has been embodied.(29)

42. Among the many directives for religious life contained in the Rule, the Saint stresses poverty. But she highlighted above all the contemplative spirit: the injunction to pray unceasingly, listening to the biblical word, in silence and solitude.

43. The Saint prized the Rule in its totality rather than in its details and particular directives.(30) With its injunction to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ. With its eremitical inspiration and its nucleus of contemplative life. With its strong pauline stimulus, its esteem for work, and its frame of theological and ascetical virtues. Nothing could be more expressive than the Saint's own words:

May it please His Majesty to give us abundant grace..... and may He protect and favour all of us so that this excellent beginning, which He was pleased to initiate in women as miserable as we, may not be lost through our weakness. In His name I beg you, my daughters and Sisters, that you always ask Our Lord for this and that each one of you who enters in the future bear in mind that with her the observance of the primitive Rule of the Order of the Virgin, Our Lady, begins again and that she must in no way consent to its mitigation" (F.27,11).

VIII. Towards a text of the Rule in the spoken language

44. After what was said in the previous pages, a question remains: what text of the Rule did St. Teresa read during the first years of her Carmelite life: 1535--1562? Did she read it in handwritten form or did she have a printed version? There was no question of her reading it in the original Latin, which was available to the male branch of the Order, but ruled out for Dona Teresa, given her limited knowledge of Latin.

45. Unfortunately, it is not easy to answer these questions. We do not have serious studies of the Spanish versions of the Rule prior to 1562. We do know of some handwritten translations prior to this date. But we do not know if there were printed Spanish editions. This was an uncertain situation, which not only conditioned, but also made the personal reading of the Rule problematic in communities as large as that of the Incarnation in Avila.

46. We can get to know a little more about the "community" situation in this Avila monastery. We mentioned already that the so-called "Constitutions of the Incarnation" did not have the text of the Rule. However, recently an important text from the end of the XV century has been discovered, which probably belonged to the monastery, and it contains copious documentation on the Rule, as well as the Spanish translation. If, in fact, -- as is thought -- it belonged to the Incarnation at the time of the Saint, it could be her source of information for the years when the future Foundress was eagerly studying the Rule. -- Let us see what this arsenal of data contains.(31)

47. The bulky manuscript contains not only a series of old Carmelite texts, but it reproduces them in two languages: first Latin and then Spanish. Among those texts, it gives us the Rule no less than three times: twice the text we have called that of "Innocent" (which the Saint calls the "first Rule"), and once the one we have called that of "Albert", that is, the original, given by St. Albert to the hermits of Mount Carmel at the beginning of the XIII century. And all three times the amanuensis followed the principle of writing the original Latin first, and then the corresponding Spanish translation.(32)

48. Moreover, one of the sections of the manuscript explains in detail the differences between these two texts of the Rule, and the reasons for the changes introduced to the redaction of Innocent.(33)

49. The only regret among so many merits is in the quality of the Spanish version of the texts of the Rule. Not only are they defective; they are disastrous. They are full of errors and serious defects, so much so that it is unlikely that these texts were read in community or used by an educator or Mistress of novices (who also did not know Latin), without being corrected or rejected. None of these Spanish translations was suitable for public reading. And for a possible private reading, any of the three versions was a poor medium of information.(34)

50. We have already referred to the thirst for information which was kindled in the Saint during her years of Carmelite life at the Incarnation (1560/1562). Without excluding the hypothesis that at that time she came across the important manuscript and its translations of the Rule, it does not seem that she kept the text, or that she took it with her or used it in St. Joseph's, where -- as we know -- the Rule was the norm of life from the very beginning.

The original Latin was not available to the little pioneering group. For this reason, the Saint had to get a Spanish version, and the one she got was totally different from the three translations in the bilingual code. The one she seems to have handled was a none too perfect translation, but in clear Spanish. A twin sister of the one Mary of Jesus was using at the same time in the Carmel "de la Imagen" in Alcalá, but better. It was a version of the Rule that would accompany the primitive Teresian Constitutions until the time that Gracián intervened.(35)

51. The definitive version of the Rule for use by the Teresian Carmels would be obtained by the Saint almost on the eve of her death. It would accompany the official redaction of her Constitutions, promulgated at the Chapter of Alcalá (1581). These were redrafted by Gracián, and it is from his hand, too, that very probably the final translation of the Rule came.

When the Chapter of Alcalá ended, the Saint will press the Provincial Gracián to have the new legislation of the nuns printed as soon as possible. And Gracián hastened to please her. This same year, 1581, a pocket edition was published in Salamanca containing "the primitive Rule of Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem, confirmed, corrected and emended by our Holy Father Pope Innocent IV".(36) This book bore the title "The Primitive Rule and Constitutions of the Discalced Nuns of the Order of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary of Mt Carmel".(37) Gracián had the happy idea of printing under this title, on the cover of the book, a precious xylograph of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven, crowned as queen and lady.

52. By way of preface, Gracián himself placed before the text of the Rule a dedicatory letter "To the very religious Mother Teresa of Jesus, foundress of the monasteries of the Discalced Carmelite nuns". In it he wrote:

The principal and most usual counsel which I always heard her giving them (St. Teresa to her nuns) is that they never leave out of their hands the law of God, the Rule and the Constitutions of the Order, and to read them daily, nor do they lack intelligence to understand them, memory to meditate on them, nor courage to obey them and observe them perfectly. Indeed there is no way more clear, complete, safe and certain for perfection, than keeping the law of God, and obedience to the Rule and Constitutions and the commands of the superiors. And this is why I had them printed, so that all might have them, and in this compact form (referring to the format of the book), so that they can carry them around more easily....

The Rule comes first, which is that of St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, of which the great Basil wrote the first, drawn from the customs which the ancient monks of the desert lived by.

And so, Mother Teresa, in collaboration with Gracián, was the author of the first Spanish edition of the Rule of Carmel.(38) In future, every Discalced Carmelite nun would have for her private use a perfectly legible and intelligible copy of the Rule. A little personal treasure which "should never be out of her hands", as Gracián had heard from the mouth of the Holy Foundress.


1. Cf. Life 35, 1-2.
The Sister making profession pronounced the formula "three times one after the other", in Latin, in the hands of the Visitator, the Provincial or the Prioress of the monastery. The original text may be seen in: Nicolás González y González, El Monasterio de la Encarnacion de Avila (Avila 1976), tome I, p.129 - In the profession only one vow was expressly taken. This is how is was in the original Albertine redaction. And this is what was done in the Order for many years (cf. Analecta O. Carm. 15, 1950, 229). In 1564 (?) the formula used by St. John of the Cross in his profession has the three vows (cf. Biblioteca Mística Carmelitana, 14, 365).
Cf. Nicolás González, op. cit. in note 2, t. II, p. 76. - Actually we know nothing of a text of Constitutions in use in the Incarnation during the Saint's lifetime. However, references to it are not lacking. We do have the Spanish text of the Constitutions in use in other Spanish monasteries of Carmelite nuns and we will refer to them later.
The Rule "quater in anno debet exponi fratribus" was already prescribed in the 1281 Constitutions of the Carmelite friars. Cf. Analecta O.Carm. 15, 1950, p. 231. -- The text of the Rule in Spanish was at the beginning of the Constitutions of the Incarnation a century later: 1662. This edition reproduces the Constitutions drawn up in 1595, when the Saint was already dead, and the version of the Rule contained in them is later than 1581. -- Neither in the so-called "Constitutions of the Incarnation" (the codex is preserved in the monastery of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Seville), nor in that of Osuna is the text of the Rule transcribed. Cf. below, note 12.
This is when she first met the Superior General, Juan Bautista Rubeo.
We must remember that these resolutions of "the greatest perfection" (Way 1,2) are connected with the vow of doing what was most perfect, made at that time and commuted some years later (2.3.1565): cf. BMC. tome II, pp.128-129.
Cf. Life 35,2:"often as I had read the Constitutions.." -- The text of the Roman Brief of 7.2.1562 can be seen in: Tomás de la Cruz - Simeón de la S.F., La Reforma Teresiana (Roma 1962), pp. 139-145: the text of the "petition" ib. pp. 145-146.
This sensitivity of the Saint with regard to poverty was brought about by a combination of the text of the Rule, her experience of community life in the Incarnation, a monastery loaded with revenues and the resulting paper-work, and above all, her interior experience: She says: "I have a longing for poverty, though not free from imperfection. However, I believe that if I had much wealth, I would not keep any revenue, nor money for myself, nor do I care for it: I wish to have only what is necessary" (Rel. 1,9). And a little later, regarding the same things: "With regard to poverty I think that God has been very good to me, because I do not wish to have even what is necessary..." (Rel. 2,3). It is from this time too that the letter of St. Peter of Alcántara dates (14.4.1562), which made such a deep impression on the Saint (cf. BMC, t. II, p. 127-128).
This is the title of the Way of Perfection in the Valladolid codex. - The text of the pontifical documents (of 1562 and 1565) can be seen in La Reforma Teresiana (cf. note 7), pp. 150-151 and 181-186.
Although her return as Prioress to the Incarnation was several months later (October 1571), when she wrote this (July 13) she had already accepted the command of the Visitator to "return to the Incarnation" (cf. Rel. 20).
Cf. the text in BMC, t. II, pp. 214-215, followed by the signature of four witnesses and the confirmation of the Apostolic Commissioner. That same day and with a very similar formula Inés of Jesus made her renunciation. Cf. a study on the subject in the review Monte Carmelo (Burgos) 99(1991), pp. 85-98. - The tenor of the formula of profession used by the first novices in St. Joseph's can be seen in Monumenta Historica Carmeli Teresiani, I, (Rome 1973), pp. 33-34. - About the decision of Fr. Fernández, the account of Mary of St. Joseph can be found in the Libro de Recreaciones, Recr. 8.
The Constitutions of the Spanish Carmelite nuns began thus: "Although it is scarcely possible that the monastic legislation of any approved religious Institute, meant for the friars, could be formally observed by the women religious of that Order.... for valid and religious reasons it was decided and prescribed that the Constitutions of the said sisters of the sacred and approved Order of the glorious Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel be taken from the sacred legislation of the friars of the said Order and applied to the said religious sisters...". (BMC, tome 9, p.481). There is an identical text in the Osuna manuscript: cf. Carmelus 38 (1991) p.162. - The Constitutions of Vannes begin with the same Prologue: cf. V. Wilderink, Les Constitutions des premieres carmélites en France (Rome, 1966) p. 195.
The text of the Rule used in the community of "la Imagen" (Alcalá) preceded the text of the Constitutions of St. Teresa(!), which Mary of Jesus adopted. It was published by Vicente de la Fuente (Escritos de Santa Teresa, t. I - Madrid 1877 -, pp. 269-272), and previously in: Regla y Constitutiones de las Carmelitas Descalzas de la Purísima Conceptión, que llaman de la Imagen, de la Villa de Alcalá de Enares..." in Alcalá, 1672, pp. 3-29.
This edition of the Rule may be consulted in La Reforma Teresiana (Rome 1962), pp. 110ff. With regard to the defects of this improvised version, see pp. 93-96 of the same book. Despite the divergences between this text and that of Mary of Jesus (Alcalá), both can be traced to the same Spanish source.
One has only to recall the innovations of the Teresian Constitutions, both the first ones and those drawn up in 1581: the introduction of recreation into community life; the postponement of silence until after Compline.
Not in 1248, but in 1247.
For the texts of Fr. Rubeo, cf. Regesta Ioannis Baptistae Rubei (Rome 1936) pp.36, 132-133,139,142,146. Cf. BMC, t.5, p. 341 and 355. -- Some would justify the title of "first Rule" for that of Innocent, saying that the Rule of Albert was a simple "formula vitae" and would not qualify as a "Rule".
The Apostolic Letter Quae honorem Conditoris said:".... nos vestris piis desideriis annuentes, declarationem et correctionem ac mitigationem huiusmodi auctoritate apostolica confirmamus.." (cf. M.H. Laurent, La Lettre "Quae honorem Conditoris" in Ephemerides Carmeliticae 2 [1948] p. 11).
The Spanish translator rendered the papal text, cited in the previous note, as follows:"...ahora Nos, condescendiendo a vuestros piadosos deseos, confirmamos con autoridad apostólica la dicha declaración" ("..now, in deference to your pious wishes, We confirm with apostolic authority the said declaration"). And a little further on: "Las cuales cosas (modificadas en la Regla) sin la tal mitigación (!) son éstas que se siguen" ("which things (modified in the Rule) without such mitigation (!) are as follows"). This is an interpolation, totally at variance with the pontifical document. (Cf. La Reforma Teresiana (Rome 1962) p.110-111). -- The same defects, with slight variations, are found in the version of the Rule used by the Carmelite nuns of "la Imagen" (cf. de la Fuente, Escritos de Santa Teresa, t. I [Madrid 1877] p.269). These defects were still there in the edition which the same community of "la Imagen" published a century after its foundation (Alcalá 1678) pp. 6-9. Nor were these deficiencies fully corrected within the Teresian Reform in the official edition of the Rule got out by Gracián in 1581 (pp. 2-3).
Recall the meaning of the account in Life, 32-36.
Cf. Way (1st redaction) 20,1; Found. 4,5 and 7,8: Cons. 8; Way 13,6; Life 36,26.29.
Perhaps one can discern a trace of the "Albertine" Rule in the primitive Constitutions of the Saint. In n.10 of that Rule there is a passage which was not retained in that of Innocent. We give the passage in italics: "Nullus fratrum dicat sibi aliquid esse proprium, sed sint vobis omnia communia, et ex iis quae Dominus vobis dederit, distribuantur unicuique per manum prioris.." ("None of the brothers must lay claim to anything as his own, but you are to possess everything in common, and from what the Lord will have given to you, each one is to receive from the Prior..."). This passage is found in the Teresian Constitutions, n.26: "En la hora del comer no puede haber concierto, que es conforme a como lo da el Senor. Cuando lo ubiere...". ("The time for dinner cannot be fixed, since this depends on how the Lord gives.....").
A bilingual text of the "petition" and of the Brief (Latin and Spanish) can be found in La Reforma Teresiana, pp.139ff. -- For a critical edition of both, cf. Monumenta Historica Carmeli Teresiani, tome I (Rome 1973, pp. 4 and ff.
The respective texts can be seen in the two works cited (note 23) pp. 150-186 and 22, 48 respectively.
Cf. above, note 3.
See the Introduction to the facsimile edition of the Way of Perfection (Rome, Poliglotta Vaticana, 1965) pp. 37-42.
Cf. BMC, t.5, p.377.
Relation 9, probably written on February 9, 1570.
Cf. Way, 11,3; 13,5; Mansions 5,1,2; Found 14, 4-5; Cons. 32.
Generally, references to the Rule in the works of the Saint are generic, but they are abundant. The Bible apart, no other book has been quoted by her so often. Cf. Concordancias (Burgos 1965), where approximately 55 references to the Rule are given.
The manuscript called The Avila Codex is now in the O.Carm. General Archives in Rome (reference number II.C.O.II.35). It was found in the monastery of the Carmelite nuns at Jerez de la Frontera by Otto Steggink. There is an ample description of it by Gracian of St. Teresa in Ephemerides Carmeliticae 9 (1958) pp. 442-452.
There are two transcriptions of the text of Innocent, the first in Tractatus de Origine by Pedro Riera (p. 105-106); The second in De Institutione et peculiaribus..gestis religiosorum carmelitarum by F. Ribot (pp. 253-254). The text of Albert is also in this work by F. Ribot (pp. 239-240).
This explanation is given in book 8 of De Institutione, chapter six of which can be summarized thus:"why and in which passages the said Rule was, with the authority of the Apostolic See, declared, corrected or mitigated by Fray William, Bishop of Antarada" (p. 235).
In the same manuscript there are some insignificant emendations by another hand. There is no trace of the Saint's hand. Cf. the study by Tomás Alvarez: Santa Teresa y la Regla del Carmelo -- Texts of the Rule before the Saint -- In Monte Carmelo (Burgos) 93 (1985) pp. 239-294.
A comparative study of the two versions -- that of the Saint and that of "la Imagen" -- can be found in La Reforma Teresiana, pp. 93-96. There, too, is the parallel transcription of both texts, ib. pp. 110-120.
This is the title of the Rule: ib. p. 1.
A modern facsimile edition of this venerable booklet was got out by Tomás Alvarez (Burgos 1978), and a second facsimile edition by the same editor: Burgos 1985.
Up to now, at least, this is the first known printing of the Carmelite Rule in Spanish. -- Fr. Gracián also published at this time another book called. Primitive Rule and Constitutions of the Province of the Discalced Carmelite friars of the Order of Our Lady the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel (published in Salamanca in 1581 according to the colophon date, or in 1582 according to the date on the cover). However, despite the promise in the title, the text of the Rule was omitted from the book.

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