Chapter 1, The Order of Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel, situated in Palestine, between Tyrus and Cesarea, was the spot where the Order of Carmelites originated. The traveller from Europe, approaching the coasts of the Holy Land, beholds with wonder and admiration the summit of a mountain, arising as it were out of the deep, covered with majestic pines and oaks. Gradually a lovely panorama spreads itself out before him; the sides of the mountain, adorned with fruit trees and smiling villages, come into view, until at length the whole scene appears in all its majestic splendor. Olive and orange trees cast their shadows upon the limpid waters that issue forth from the base of’ the mountain. This is Carmel, once the abode of the Children of the Prophets. Its name, according to Father Alexis-Louis de St. Joseph,1signifies Circumcision of the Lamb. Frequent
1Manuel des Enfants du Carmel.Manuel des Enfants du Carmel.
From a letter of the late James A. McMaster to the Carmelites:–” I spent over an hour this morning in the Hebrew and Syriac division of the ‘Oriental Languages Alcove’ of the Astor Library, and consulted more than enough authorities. Different from what I had thought, the general meaning of the Hebrew word is ‘a garden.’ In Isaias, x, 18, the Douay Bible translates ‘beautiful hill’ what the Hebrew and the Latin Vulgate following it call a ‘carmel.’ In good Catholic interpreters, I find that they consider the word ‘Carmel’ as mistakenly taken for a proper noun in Isaias,
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mention is made of it in the Scriptures. On this mountain Elias confounded the false prophets of Baal, as we read in the book of Kings.1 Even at the present day tradition points out to the pilgrim the grotto of Elias, held in high veneration both by Christians and Mahometans.
The Carmelites consider the Prophet Elias as the founder of their Order, and produce satisfactory proofs to sustain their opinion. This tradition is so ancient, says Father Alexis-Louis of St. Joseph, that its origin has never been assigned. It has been respected by the Church, for the statue of Elias
xvi, 10, and that the Prophet means ‘a choice orchard,’ or other excellently cultivated ground. This seems reasonable, except that these professors of interpretation apply the same measure of interpretation to Amos, I, 2; and most of all, Amos, IX, 3. I challenge that last interpretation.
” I think in the last cited God points to the dear Carmel from which Our Lady’s Order has come, as of old, the place dearest to His Heart-the Holy Mountain of Elias. Frequently, however, in the Old Testament, as in the fourth book of Kings, xix, 23, Carmel is used not for Mount Carmel, but, according to its Hebrew meaning, a ‘park,’ a highly cultivated ground. So far for the general meaning. In particular and as a proper name, Mount Carmel means not only a ‘garden on the Mount,’ but ‘the Garden Mount!’ I take this from Otto von Richter. And I have pleased myself in transcribing from his account of his journey in Palestine the following translation of his words: ‘There is no mountain in or around Palestine that retains its ancient beauty as Carmel does. Its groves are few, but they areluxuriant. No crags there nor precipices, nor rocks for wild goats. Its surface is covered with a rich verdure.’ And a Belgian traveller of note, M. Van de Velde, says: ‘I have not found in Galilee, or along the coast, or in the plains, any flower that I did not find on Carmel.’ I quote these, Rev. Mother, that you may draw spiritual fruit from it, and look to ‘the Pattern shown you on the Mount!’ These writers wrote not of your Order, or, rather, ‘the Order of our Lady; ” they wrote sentimentally. You live practically. ‘As is the natural,’ says the Apostle, ‘so is the spiritual !’ Von Richter and Van de Velde talked of what they saw with their natural eyes. You will read it with other eyes–thanking our Lord for your unshared privileges, and feeling the correlated responsibilities. I must not deny you the pleasure of a fragment I found while searching, though the author of the thought was not named: ‘Such is the graceful form and verdant beauty of Carmel’s summit, that in the Canticles the head of the Bride (Our Blessed Lady) is compared to it: ‘Thy head is as Carmel.'”
1Kings, xviii, 19.
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has a place in the Basilica of St. Peter’s at Rome, amongst the founders of religious orders. The following inscription, given by Benedict XIII himself, is upon it: ” Universus Ordo Carmelitarum fundatori suo sancto Eliae prophetae erexit. The entire Order of Carmelites has erected this to the holy prophet Elias, its founder.”
According to a very ancient tradition, there always existed upon Mount Carmel, or in its vicinity, a succession of solitaries, disciples of Elias and Eliseus. St. Jerome, writing to St. Paulinus, says that if the source of the monastic life is sought for in Sacred Scripture, it will be discovered that Elias was its founder. St. John Chrysostom, Cassian and Rupert agree that this holy prophet founded the monastic life. The opinions of these Fathers are in accordance with Scripture, for we are told in Ecelesiasticus that Elias had prophets to succeed him.1 St. Jerome, in his letter to Rusticus, calls them monks. St. Isidore of Sevilla, Theodoret and St. Jerome testify to their practice of poverty and chastity.
In the course of time the appellation of Children of the Prophets fell into desuetude, and these pious solitaries obtained the name of Essenes. Mention is made of them by Josephus and Philo. The prophet Micheas speaks of people who dwelt alone in the forest, in the midst of Carmel.2 John, patriarch of Jerusalem, who lived in the fourth century, says that Mount Carmel had always been inhabited by monks from the days of Elias down to his own time. This opinion, concerning the descent of the Carmelites from the prophet Elias, has been adopted by at least 393 writers and learned men, 57 of whom were Jesuits, 19 Dominicans, 19 Franciscans, 17 Benedictines and 11 Augustinians. It has been confirmed by the authority of the following Popes: Sixtus IV, John XXII, Julius II, Pius V, Gregory XIII, Sixtus V and Clement VIII. Sixtus V allowed the Carmelites to honor
1I Eccli., 48, 8.
2Mich., vii, 14.
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Elias and Eliseus as the patrons of their Order, by celebrating their feasts and reciting their offices.
After the Ascension of our Lord to Heaven a new era dawned for the Order of Elias. The lessons of the second Nocturn in the Office of Our Lady of Mount Carmel relate that on the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles, several men, who walked in the footsteps of the prophet Elias, were converted to the teachings of the Gospel, and having made the acquaintance of the Blessed Virgin, returned to Mount Carmel, where they erected the first Chapel in her honor. Thus can the Order of Carmel glory in being the Order of Mary by excellence. Joseph of Antioch tells us that the solitaries of Mount Carmel, followers of Elias, were very efficient helpers of the Apostles. Eusebius of Cesarea calls them men of the prophetic Order. Gradually these holy men spread throughout the East, and founded celebrated monasteries at Antioch and Alexandria.1
During several centuries the hermits of Mount Carmel followed the ordinary customs of the ascetic life, until Americ of Malifay, Latin patriarch of Antioch and legate of the Holy See, during the reign of Alexander III, in the twelfth century, united all their convents in the Holy Land into one congregation. At the request of the monks he appointed as their superior Berthold of Malifay, a priest born in the diocese of Limoges in France, who had received the habit of Carmel. St. Berthold began the construction of a Monastery on Mount Carmel, but death prevented him from finishing his work. St. Brocard, a native of Jerusalem, was elected to succeed him, and consequently became the second general of the Carmelites. He drew up certain regulations for the government of his community. Some historians style these the ancient constitutions. However, certain doubts having arisen, the monks addressed themselves to St. Albert,
1In the year 400 a Rule was given to the hermits of Mt. Carmel by John the 44th, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
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patriarch of Jerusalem, and legate of the Holy See. The Saint gave them a rule consisting of sixteen paragraphs. This was about the year 1207. It is addressed to the “Brethren who dwell on Mount Carmel, near the fountain of Elias.” By these rules the religious are ordered to have a prior whom they elect, and to whom they must vow obedience. They were allowed to accept monasteries anywhere, provided it were in a solitary place. Each brother was to occupy a separate cell apart from the others. They were allowed to take their meals in a common refectory; but during the repast the Sacred Scripture was to be read. For the rest of the day the religious were to remain in their cells, occupied in prayer and meditation, except when obedience called them elsewhere. A distinction was made between the choir religious and the lay brethren; the former were obliged to recite the Divine Office, the latter, a determined number of Paters and Aves. No religious was allowed to possess private property, but the Superior was to provide for all. They were permitted to have beasts of burden, cattle and poultry for the use of the house. An oratory was to be built in the midst of the cells, to enable the religious to hear Mass daily. Every week a chapter of faults was to be held. They were obliged to fast from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 14th, until Easter, except in case of necessity. They were to keep perpetual abstinence from meat. Silence was enjoined from Vespers until the following day after Tierce. These regulations are called the primitive Rule; it was approved by Honorius III on the 30th of January, 1226.
St. Brocard was buried on Mount Carmel where his tomb exists to the present day. His last words were: “My children, God has called us to the Order of hermits, and by a special privilege we are named brethren of the Blessed Virgin Mary; take heed after my death, to render yourselves worthy of such a beautiful title. Remain strong in that which is good, have a horror of riches, despise the world, walk in the footsteps of Mary and of Elias.”
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St. Brocard was succeeded by St. Cyril of Constantinople. During the administration of Brocard and Cyril monasteries were founded at Acre, Tyrus, Sarepta, Tripoli, Antioch, Jerusalem and other places. St. Cyril died about the year 1233 and was succeeded by Berthold II. Under this general two hermits of the Order passed over to Europe and obtained an establishment at Valenciennes, in France.
The original mantle of the Carmelites had been white, but because this color was reserved to the Mahometan princes, they were obliged to change it. They then adopted a mantle of two different colors; white and brown, succeeding each other in stripes.
In the year 1238 monasteries were founded in Cyprus, Sicily and Provence. Berthold II died about 1240, and Allan, a Briton, succeeded him. The Order continued to extend towards the West; some hermits brought it to Italy, others to England, where establishments had existed since the year 1212. The temporal founders of the hermitages in England were John, Lord Vesey, who established the hermitage of Holme, near Alnwich, in Northumberland; and Richard, Lord Grey, founder of that of Aylesford, near Rochester, in Kent. The persecutions of the Mahometans having forced the hermits of Palestine to retire to Phenicia, Blessed Allan left the Holy Land for Europe, after having appointed Hilarion as his vicar. In the year 1243 he assembled a general chapter of the Order at Aylesford in England, and resigned his office. St. Simon Stock was chosen general in his stead. In the year 1245 the Carmelites were admitted to the number of the mendicant Orders. Gregory IX placed them under the protection of the Holy See, and St. Louis, King of France, propagated the Order throughout his dominions.
About this time some changes were made in the rule. St. Simon Stock sent two of his religious to Innocent IV to expose certain doubts to him. The Pope deputed Hugh, Cardinal-Priest of St. Sabina, and William, Bishop of Anthera, to
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examine into the matter. Hitherto the Carmelites had only taken the vow of obedience, understanding the vows of poverty and chastity to be included in it. The same custom existed at that time among the Benedictines, the Carthusians and other orders. But the Apostolic commissaries deemed it advisable to make special mention in the rule of poverty and chastity. It was also decreed that the hermits might build monasteries in other places as well as in deserts, provided they could keep the rule. The time of great silence was changed. Originally it had been from Vespers until after Tierce, but the delegates decreed it should be from Compline until after Prime, in order to enable the religious to confer with those seculars who came to consult them on matters of conscience. The rule of St. Albert, thus explained, corrected and mitigated, was confirmed by a bull of Innocent IV, dated at Lyons, September 1st,1248. Notwithstanding the slight changes that had taken place, this rule was always considered as the primitive one. The Order had also certain constitutions that served as an appendix to the rule of St. Albert. Mention is made of them in a brief of Alexander IV.
Meanwhile the Order continued to spread. A monastery was founded at Brussels in the year 1260, one at Harlem, in the Netherlands, and one at Yperen, in Belgium, about the same time. Other monasteries were erected at different epochs in the Netherlands.
About the year 1257 the Order was introduced into Scotland, and founded its first establishment at Perth. During the reign of Henry III of England, who died in 1272, the Carmelites entered into Ireland. Two monasteries were founded: one on the river Barrow, in county Carlow, by a noble English family, established in Ireland, probably the Carews, and another by William of Vesey, at Kildare.
In 1259 Alexander IV had forbidden the Carmelites to be received into other orders not more austere than their own, but as the Friars Minors in Provence continued to admit them, St. Simon Stock applied to Pope Urban IV, who
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wrote on this subject to St. Bonaventure, at that time general of the Order of St. Francis.
St. Simon Stock, well known to all who wear the scapular, on account of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin, with which he was favored, governed the Order with great wisdom during twenty years. He possessed the gifts of prophecy and miracles. He died at Bordeaux, on the 16th of May, 1265, in the one hundredth year of his age. In the same year Nicolas, surnamed the Frenchman, was elected to succeed him. He resigned his office in 1270 and was followed by Radulph, a German, who also resigned after some time. Peter of Millaud was then elected in the year 1273.
In 1287 a chapter was held at Montpellier, in which it was decreed that as the variously colored mantle was displeasing to many, it should be changed, and a white mantle used instead. Permission to this effect had been obtained from Pope Honorius IV through the intercession of Cardinal Gervasius Giancolet de Clinchamps, a friend of the general and Protector of the Order.1
At this period the Order was divided into nine provinces, namely: the Holy Land, Sicily, England, Provence, Rome, France, Lombardy, Germany and Aquitaine. By degrees the monasteries of the Holy Land were destroyed by the encroachments of the Mussulmans, until the last one, that of’ Mount Carmel, was demolished. In the month of May, 1291, the Saracens set fire to the monastery on the mountain and massacred the religious, while they were singing the Salve Regina. Thus ended for a time the Order of Carmel in the Holy Land.
Peter of Millaud resigned his charge in 1294 and was succeeded by Raymond of the Island. Pope Boniface VIII
1We find the following manuscript chronicle of the 13th century, relating to the change of habit in the Carmelites: Feron fraires del Carmes lur capital general en Montpelier et muderon lur habits quar portavan davan mantels barrats de brun et de blanc, et preseron per habiz capas blancas.–An. 1297 (1287) (vide Du Cange, Glossarium, t. 1, col. 581, ed. Basel, 1762, Barrati Fratres).
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confirmed the decree of Honorius IV concerning the change effected in the Carmelite habit.
In 1297 Gerard of Bologna became the eleventh general of the Order of Carmel. About this time it was illustrated by the lives of three great servants of God : St. Albert of Trapano, St. Andrew Corsini and Blessed Peter Thomazi. At the general chapter of Toulouse, in 1306, it was decreed that the feasts of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin should be solemnly celebrated in the Order. The Carmelites have always been distinguished for their zeal in defending the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
In a chapter held at Treves, in 1362, the title of Master was given for the first time to the general, and in 1369, at the chapter of Montpellier, at which nineteen provincials assisted, he was styled Reverend Father.
During the dark days that afflicted the Church at the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century, when the great Schism of the West divided Christendom, and relaxation had introduced itself amongst religious in general, the Carmelites, with other religious orders, fell away from their first fervor. In the general Chapter of Chambery in Savoy, in the year 1430, it was deemed necessary to mitigate the rule of St. Albert, in order to preserve the life of the Order. In consequence of this, Father John Facy, the twenty-third general, besought the Pope to mitigate those points of the rule that were most difficult for the religious. He petitioned the Holy See first to change the long fast from September to Easter, so that the monks would be obliged to fast during that time only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and on ecclesiastical fast days. Further, he desired that they should no longer be obliged to abstain from meat except on fast days. He also requested that the friars should be allowed to leave their cells, and have permission to walk in the corridors and the gardens at the hours not otherwise employed.
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Eugene III. having examined the matter, granted the petition by the bull Romani Pontifices, of February 15th, 1431, in order to remedy the abuses that existed in most monasteries of Carmel; the privileges of the Order, however, remained intact. This mitigation brought about a considerable change for the better; for the religious, appreciating the indulgence with which they were treated, easily submitted to the other points of the rule.
Things remained in this condition until the administration of Blessed John Soreth, who died in 1471. He had left nothing untried to bring the Order back to its ancient splendor. From Blessed John Soreth down to St. Teresa, all the general chapters that were held endeavored to restore the primitive observance.
Blessed John Soreth is generally considered as the founder of the Carmelite Nuns, although some ancient documents prove that they existed long before his time. Father de Lezana relates that a convent of nuns of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had been founded at Louvain, in the time of St. Simon Stock, in the twelfth century. In the constitution of Alexander IV of March 7, 1261, nuns of the Carmelite Order are mentioned, and in a bull of Clement V it is stated that there were religious women who followed the rule of Carmel in Palestine, before the conquest of Ptolemais. John XXII granted indulgences to all who would visit the church of the nuns of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Messina, in Sicily. A historian of the Order relates that Thomas Walden, a Carmelite, was the first to introduce the sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel into England in the fifteenth century.
John Soreth himself founded five convents of Carmelite nuns after the year 1452, and is probably for this reason considered as the founder of the female branch of the Order of Mount Carmel.
In 1468 a convent of Carmelite nuns, established at Liege, was burned down, and the religious were afterwards transferred to Huy. Frances d’Amboise, duchess of Brittany, founded the
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convents of Vannes and Coets. After the death of her husband she took the veil in that of Vannes, and died at Coets, in the odor of sanctity, on November 4th, 1485. She was beatified by Pius IX, and her feast is celebrated on November 5th. A convent of Carmelite sisters was founded at Astorga, in Spain, in 1454. In 1467 one was established at Namur, and in 1490 another at Bruges, both in Belgium. Reggio in Italy possessed a community of the same nuns in 1485.
In the fifteenth century the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which had long before existed for people living in the world, was approved by Nicholas V and Sixtus IV. Several Popes enriched it with many privileges. The members of the Third Order possessed originally no other rule but that of St. Albert; but in 1635 Father Theodore Stratio composed a special one for their use. The members take the vows of chastity according to their state of life and of obedience in matters belonging to the statutes.1
In 1489 Cardinal de Ruvera confided the Holy House of Loretto to the Carmelite Fathers; it had previously been attended to in the Holy Land by the same religious.
Peter Terrasse, the twenty-seventh general of the Carmelites, visited the monasteries of France, Flanders, England, Germany, Italy and Sicily, and everywhere introduced a reformation by order of Pope Julius II. After the death of this general, in 1513, Father Baptist Spagnoli was elected to succeed him. He reformed the Carmelite monasteries of Milan and Pistoia, and died in 1517. The reformation of Mantua spread to fifty other Italian monasteries; they formed the congregation of Mantua. Eugene IV approved it in 1442, and exempted it from the jurisdiction of all the superiors of the Order except the Prior-general. The convent of Mantua had accepted the reformed rule before 1442.
1Those who desire a more ample knowledge of the Third Order of Mount Carmel may apply to the Carmelite sisters, or consult the Manuel des Enfants du Carmel, by Father Alexis-Louis of St. Joseph.
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Several Carmelite Fathers assisted at the Council of Trent, which lasted from 1545 to 1563. Amongst them we find especial mention made of Nicolas Awdeth, the general, Marinier, Mazzapica, Tiraboschi, Masio, de Leon and Laureto.
The Order had now reached one of its most important periods. A new light was about to shine on the Church in the person of St. Teresa, whom God in His eternal wisdom had raised up, not only to bring back the venerable Order of Carmel to its ancient splendor, but to elevate it to a higher eminence than it had ever before attained.