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The Spirit and

Prayer of Carmel


Translated by E. J. ROSS


Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2016



The Spirit and Prayer


( Vaux-sous-Chevremont, Belgium)

Translated by E. J . Ross



Imprimi potest:

Fr. Petrus-Thomas a Virgine Carmeli praepos generalis.

Romae , die 24 Aprilis 1946

Nihil oh st at:

Eduardus A. Cerny, S.S., D.D.

Censor Librorum


Franciscus P. Keough, D.D.

Archiepiscopus Baltimorensis

die 7 Maii 1951

Copyright ig$i by The Newman Press

Printed in the United States of America









author's bibliography











I HE ORDER OF OUR LADY OF MOUNT Carmel takes its name from Mount Carmel in Palestine

where it originated. Yet historical records give us no

clear idea of its beginnings. Mount Carmel was inhabited

by the Prophet Elias

and the


sons of the

prophets about the year 850 B. C. There are no records

extant of any disciples of Elias and Eliseus. Neither is

there any definite information about others who lived

on Mount Carmel in the centuries prior to the coming

of Our Lord, or about those who may have followed in

their footsteps at the dawn of Christianity. Saint Jerome,

Cassian, and several Fathers of the Church considered

the prophets Elias and Eliseus as the founders and mod-

els of the rhonastic life. Since both of them had lived on Carmel, it is natural to believe that others followed

their example. Some ruins mentioned by Phocas confirm

this view. 1



The Spirit and

In the twelfth century we find the first historical rec-

ords testifying to the origin of the Carmelite Order. A

Jewish pilgrim, Benjamin of Tuleda, who visited Mount Carmel about the year 1163 reports that he noticed a

chapel had been built by the Christians in honor of Saint Elias at the top of the mountain, near the grotto

named after the saint. 2 The Greek monk Phocas, in his

account De locis sacris (On the Holy Places) which

dates from about the year 11 77, 3 relates that he saw the

ruins of a very large building at the top of Carmel, at

the place where the grotto of Elias is to be found. “For

some years, he writes, a white-haired monk, who is a

priest from Calabria, has lived there in obedience to a

vision of the prophet Elias. He has surrounded these

ruins with a rampart and built a tower there and a chapel. He lives there with some ten brethren.” 4 This

old monk is Berthold of Malifaye, a native of Limousin.

His brethren were Crusaders and pilgrims. Between the years 1226 and 1228, Jacques de Vitry,

the bishop of St. John of Acre, also saw hermits on

Carmel. They lived in little cells in the rocks. Some of

these cells were to be found near what was known as the

fountain of Elias. 5 A French traveller in the twelfth

century speaks of “Latin hermits, called Brethren of

Carmel, living near the fountain of Elias, and those who

live near El Chader or the School of the Prophets.” 6

From these documents it appears that hermits were set-

tled on Carmel at least since the twelfth century. Some

of them lived in different parts of the mountain, or near

the fountain of Elias, while St. Berthold had gathered

Prayer of Carmel


others around himself in the ruins of an old building

near the grotto of Elias. 7

It seems that

his relative,

Aymeric of Malifaye, who was patriarch of Antioch and

who had visited Carmel about the year 1155, approved

his foundation and established him as superior of this community. He likewise outlined a rule of life to be ob-

served by his brethren. 8 Such was the origin of the Car-

melite Order.

Inasmuch as these first Carmelites tried to imitate the

life of the prophet Elias

(it was as the result of a vision

of the holy prophet that St. Berthold established himself

on the mountain), the Carmelite Order is justified in

claiming a spiritual relationship with Elias. From the be-

ginning, too, the Carmelites paid special honor to the

Mother of God. They dedicated their first monastery to

her. This is why they are called “Hermit Brethren of Holy Mary of Mount Carmel. 55 9 It seems that about

the year 1187 St. Berthold began the construction of a regular monastery near the fountain of Elias, but he died

before it was finished. St. Brocard, who succeeded him,

finished this work. 10

We know nothing about the rule which the first Car-

melites followed. It is likely that their religious life drew

inspiration from the rules of the first monastic founders

and legislators. 11 But their first way of life soon proved

to be insufficient. St. Brocard, elected about the year

1200, asked St. Albert, patriarch of Jerusalem, to give

him a rule adapted to their new kind of life in which the

religious lived together in a community. Albert Avo-

grado, the patriarch of Jerusalem, was the hierarchical


The Spirit and

and ecclesiastical head of the religious of Carmel. He

wrote the rule which still governs them. 12 It presents, in

broad outline, the fundamental principles of Carmelite


A life of solitude, of retirement in ones cell, and of


A life of renunciation and penance, by means of se- vere poverty, manual labor, perpetual abstinence from meat, and fasting for the greater part of the year;

A life of prayer.

All who could read chanted the Divine Office. The liturgy used by the Carmelites was that of the Holy

Sepulchre of Jerusalem, simplified and adapted to their

way of life, for the monks were mostly poor laymen. Al- though the life of the first Carmelites was thoroughly

contemplative, they did not refuse to go to the aid of their neighbor when the need of souls required it. 13 How-

ever, such occasions seem to have been comparatively


The Rule given the Carmelites by St. Albert in 1210

was approved by Pope Honorius III in 1226, and by

Pope Innocent IV in 1247. Meanwhile the Order grew

in numbers. William of Sanvic, in his Chronicle written

at the end of the thirteenth century, relates that the

Carmelites had established themselves in various places

in Palestine and Syria. But the increasingly dangerous situation resulting from the incursions of the Saracens

was soon to produce a great change for the Order. Al-

ready some Carmelites who had originally come from the

Prayer of Carmel


West were alarmed by the massacres and destruction

and decided to return to Europe. They established them- selves successively at Valenciennes in the year 1235; at Aygalades near Marseilles; on the Island of Cyprus in

1238; in Sicily; at Aylesford in England in 1242. Within

a few years the monasteries of Palestine and Syria were to disappear one after the other, destroyed by the Sara- cens. In the year 1291, the monastery on Mount Carmel

itself was destroyed and the monks were massacred while they sang the Salve Regina}*

Once in Europe, the Carmelites increased rapidly in

numbers. In 1229 Pope Gregory IX had included them

among the Mendicant Orders. From a purely con- templative Order they evolved into an Order combining

the contemplative and the active life. It became neces-

sary, then, to modify the Rule somewhat. St. Simon

Stock, who had recently been elected Prior General,

probably received a commission from the general chapter held at Aylesford in 1247 to ask Pope Innocent IV to

let him make certain changes and to approve the new

Rule. Innocent IV granted the desired modification that

same year. The Order itself was approved at the Council

of Lyons in 1274.

A final modification of the Rule, occasioned by the

calamities which had befallen Europe, was to be under-

taken later. While the earlier change had merely adapted

the Rule to the situation which arose when the Car-

melites were officially classed with the Mendicant Or-

ders, the final modification reduced the rigor of the Rule,

chiefly by lessening the requirements of fasting and


The Spirit and

abstinence, and of retirement in the monastic cell. This change was authorized by Pope Eugene IV in 1432.

Carmelite nuns made their first appearance in the

fifteenth century. In earlier times a number of pious

women had been associated with the Order, but now a community of Beguines at Gueldre in Holland asked

Blessed John Soreth for permission to be affiliated with

the Order. Their request was approved by Pope Nicho-

las V, who gave them the same rule as the Carmelite

friars. This was in 1452. Between 1455 and 1457, sev-

eral convents of Carmelite nuns were established in Belgium, and the house at Liege was especially impor- tant. From the Liege foundation, Blessed John Soreth

led Blessed Frances of Amboise and several other nuns

to found the convent at Vannes in France.

Meanwhile, some reactions against the mitigated rule

developed, but they did not succeed in becoming general

or persistent until the time of St. Teresa.

It was


Teresa who restored the Rule as sanctioned by Pope In-

nocent IV, and so she initiated a reform, first for the

Carmelite nuns on August 24, 1562, and then for the

friars on November 28, 1568. A brief of Pope Gregory

XIII, dated July 22, 1580, granted the Discalced Car-

melites the right to form a separate Province under the

jurisdiction of the General of the Order.


a new brief of Pope Clement VIII, dated

December 20, 1593, separated the Order of Discalced Carmelites from that of the Carmelites called Calced, or

of the Primitive Observance. Since then, the family of

Carmel has been composed of these two branches, both

Prayer of Carmel


originating from the same source: the Calced and the Discalced Carmelites. Each of these two Orders includes friars, nuns, and a

secular Third Order. Several congregations of religious

women engaged in various kinds of good works are also

affiliated with them. In almost all parts of the world

they have established either contemplative or missionary

cloisters, and everywhere they have produced a great

harvest of saints.

To mention a few, there are:


Berthold and St. Brocard; St. Simon Stock, who received

the Holy Scapular from Our Lady; St. Peter-Thomas

St. x\ngelus; St. Albert of Sicily; St. Andrew Corsini; St.

John of the Cross; the Blessed Martyrs Denis and Re-

demptus. Among the Carmelite nuns one may cite: St.

Mary Magdalen of Pazzi;


Teresa of Jesus;


Therese of the Child Jesus, patron of the mission; St. Theresa-Margaret; and Blessed Frances of Amboise,

Blessed Ann of St. Barthelemy, Blessed Marie of the In-

carnation, the Martyrs of Compiegne, Venerable Ann of

Jesus, Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity.

Faithful to the spirit of their Institute, the Friars have

spread devotion to their Patron, the Blessed Virgin

Mary, Mother of Jesus, wherever they go, and also the

habit which she gave to them. They were among the

first to propagate devotion to St. Joseph, the spouse of

Mary, whom they love to call by the name of Father. Finally, it may be said that no other Order has pro-

duced so many writers on mysticism as has Carmel.

Above all, from the beginning the reformed branch of

the Carmelites has had a great number of such writers.


The Spirit and Prayer of Carmel

It suffices to name St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross,

the Doctor of Mystical Theology. Their works are as au-

thoritative in this field as the Summa Theologica of St.

Thomas Aquinas in Dogmatic Theology. And side by

side with them, there is St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who by her little way of spiritual childhood, has taught

a simplified approach to God by emphasizing His merci-

ful love, and the virtues of humility, trust, and simplicity

of soul, without departing from the doctrines of her great





life is the perfection of charity . 1 But in addition to this

purpose, each religious Order pursues some special aim,

which is assigned to it by its Founder, and is ordinarily to be found in the constitutions of the Order. It is this

which gives a religious institute its specific character and

type of perfection, and which inspires its lawgivers in

drawing up the rules which are to govern the life of its members.

The aim of Carmel is not clearly indicated in the

Carmelite rule, although it can be inferred from what

the Rule says, since it prescribes that the religious should

“remain in their cells, there to meditate day and night

on the law of the Lord, unless a legitimate occupation requires them to attend to other things.” This is at least

a declaration that Carmelite life is characterized by a



The Spirit and

special application to prayer. The lack of a precise in- dication in the Rule is supplied by the book de Institu-

tions primorum monachorum (On the Rule and Life of

the First Monks), which is one of the main sources for

Carmelite spirituality in the middle ages, probably dat-

ing from the thirteenth century. It defines the aim of Carmel as follows:

“The Carmelite life has a twofold aim. We attain the

first by our work and by the exercise of the virtues with the aid of divine grace. It consists in offering to God a pure heart, free from all actual stain of sin. We reach

this aim when we are perfected in charity.

“The other aim of our life is something which is be-

stowed on us as a pure gift of God

our death, but even during this mortal life: namely, to

taste in some measure in one’s heart and to experience

in ones spirit the strength of the divine Presence and the

sweetness of the glory from on high.” Obviously, this second aim is infused contemplation.

furthermore, shows that the life of the first

Carmelites was purely contemplative. Later, when they

had emigrated to Europe, they were obliged to adopt a mixed life; but contemplation always remained their

chief occupation. Their active life derived its strength from contemplation, and was, in a sense, the fruit of contemplation.

The reform of St. Teresa reaffirmed the predominance

of the contemplative side of Carmel, so that the same principles are always at the foundation of the Carmelite

way of life. The Constitutions, indeed, say this: “God in


not only after

Prayer of Carmel


His goodness has given us the twofold blessing of prac-

tising the love of both God and our neighbor, but in

such a way that the principal part is contemplation and the love of things divine; and the second, action, espe- cially that which has to do with the salvation of souls .

55 2

Moreover, St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross ex-

emplified this lesson both by their manner of living and

in their writings. In these they manifested that the re-

ligious of Carmel are called to a life of contemplation,

and it was in order to direct their disciples in this way

of life that they wrote their books .


One could raise the objection: Since infused contem- plation is a gift which God grants to whom He pleases,

and which cannot be acquired by one’s personal efforts,

how can it be assigned as an aim? Obviously a true end

must be capable of attainment. How can one be obliged

to observe rules prescribed as a means of arriving at con-

templation, if their observance does not enable one to

attain this contemplation? There is, nevertheless, no real

contradiction here. Contemplation is not proposed as

the aim to be attained immediately by the Carmelite way of life, but as its ultimate aim. The immediate aim

of this life is to create the necessary dispositions for con-


has as its object the

preparation of the Carmelite for contemplation.

St. Teresa writes in her Way of Perfection: “It does not follow, because all the nuns in this convent practice

The Rule, likewise,

prayer, that they must all be contemplatives . 55 4


ever, she wished that all her daughters should apply

themselves to prayer, to humility, to detachment, and to


The Spirit and

the other virtues which dispose the soul to contempla- tion, so that they would be ready to receive this gift if

God deigned to grant it to them.” 5

Father John of Jesus and Mary, one of the principal

authors of the constitutions of the Italian Congregation,

speaks in the same vein:

himself to prayer,” he says, “and to the exercise of the

contemplative life, fulfils his obligation to tend towards contemplation, even if he never arrives at it. For it is

“The religious who applies

not the act of contemplation which is the means chosen

to make progress in charity, since this act is a gratuitous

gift from God; rather it is the contemplative life which is the means, and this has contemplation as its term and

goal.” 6

It is not,

therefore, necessary for the Carmelite to

reach the contemplative state to satisfy his obligation

within the Order and to realize his vocation. The imme-

diate end to which the Carmelite must tend, the proper

object of the Rule, is the contemplative life, that is to

say, the practice of continual prayer and complete self-

denial. And as this contemplative life itself leads to in- fused contemplation, one can say that this is the aim of


One may rightly aspire to this contemplation. The

hope of obtaining it from the goodness of God is a mo-

tive that can inspire the generosity necessary to foster

the dispositions that lead to it, and by acquiring these

one could move God to grant the gift of contemplation.

However, this contemplation itself has perfect charity as

its object. Actually, perfection consists in love of God


of Carmel



and neighbor. It will be realized when our will is com-

pletely united with that of God by love ; when it becomes one with the will of God.

To this principal aim, which is contemplation, there is added for Carmelites a secondary aim, which is action

because their life combines these two elements. This ac-

tion, in Carmel, more than in any other Institute that is

both contemplative and active, is derived from contem-

plation and is also directed towards it. From his con-

templation the Carmelite must draw the enlightenment

and the zeal which he puts at the service of souls, and

he will communicate to them the fruits which he has

derived from his relations with God. Further, without neglecting anything which, within the framework of the Carmelite life, can contribute to the salvation of souls, the main object of his ministry is to spread the spirit and the life of prayer which he himself lives. In its turn, this

action sustains the life of prayer of the Carmelite re-

ligious. Because from his experience he knows the needs

of souls, and because he understands that he will be so

much the more useful to them the more he is united to

God, he makes generous efforts to grow in Christ and to

perfect his union with God. Carmelite nuns, of course, are exclusively contemplative. Yet the salvation of souls plays so large a part in their prayers and sacrifices, that they are among the most apostolic groups in the Church.

Following the wish of their mother Saint Teresa, they

pray especially for priests.






way of thought and manner of life which are charac-

teristic of the Order; it is the guiding ideas and aspira-

tions which determine the daily life of its members in the

pursuit of perfection in their chosen state. This spirit is

derived from the Founders and the principal members,

and is directly related to the aims of the Order.

As we have said, the aim of Carmel is contemplation.

The means which its Founders and lawgivers have in-

dicated to attain this end are: continuous prayer, prac-

tised within the framework of solitude and silence, and

complete detachment from created things; each of these

being realized through the action of the theological vir-

tues. The spirit of Carmel is therefore a spirit of rec-

ollection, of prayer, of contemplation, of absolute

renunciation, all directed towards the attainment of

union with God.



The Spirit and

It is very necessary for a person to know the spirit of

his Order, to understand it thoroughly and to be pene-

trated by it. As long as an Order is faithful to the spirit

which inspired its Founder and his Rule, it lives and prospers. An Order which departs from the Founder’s

spirit naturally weakens and dies. This spirit must above

all inspire those who govern; if it is not alive in the su- periors, they cannot instruct and direct their subordi- nates as they ought. But it must also inspire each of the

other members, who otherwise run the danger of living an adulterated and diminished life and may infect


Enlightened by this spirit, religious will better under-

stand the meaning and the purpose of their rules and

regulations, and will adapt themselves more readily to them. Without this spirit, their training will be defective.

They will perhaps realize a certain degree of religious

observance, but they will not have the formation re- quired by their Institute. Consequently, they will not be

able to attain the end of their Order nor the perfection

of their state of life.

As the Founders of Carmel wrote their works ex-

pressly to inspire in their disciples the spirit of the Order,

let us review briefly the principles underlying their



Prayer is the characteristic of Carmelite life. It is its

very soul. The other constitutive elements of the Car-

Prayer of Carmel


melite spirit have no purpose except that of fostering the

life of prayer, which in its turn reacts on these elements,

because one cannot, without prayer, realize complete

detachment or develop the generosity necessary for con- templative life. The aim of prayer is to lead the soul as quickly as possible to contemplation. Even from the be-

ginning, the Carmelite method of prayer includes as its

central point an act called contemplation, accompanied by an affectionate colloquy. Little by little this colloquy

becomes simplified, leading finally to a simple loving look at God, which is the essence of contemplation. The

Carmelite must, then, keep his mind fixed on God, lov-

ing Him in silence, giving himself to Him, and enjoying

Him. This prayer is, of course, always nourished by

faith, but its essential act is love.

However, the Carmelite is not to devote himself to prayer only during the two hours which are especially

assigned for this. He is expected to pray the whole day

long. His love should lead him always to seek God, and

to keep himself orientated towards Him. Under the ac-

tion of the Holy Spirit, he must strive to keep himself

in constant contact with Christ living within his soul.

With Christ, he should always strive to live in sinu Patris

(in the bosom of the Father). If sometimes an occupa-

tion or distraction interrupts this communion, he should

hasten to return to it the moment he becomes aware of

the interruption.

Such is the life of prayer which the Carmelite seeks to

realize : to live in God with Christ.


The Spirit and


To practise this life of prayer more efficaciously, the

Carmelite seeks solitude and keeps himself in silence.

The Carmelite Order originated in solitude. The first Carmelites were hermits. The Order has retained this eremetical character. The Rule and the Constitution

want Carmelite convents and monasteries to be outside

the cities, so that the religious can live in retirement in

their cloisters and cells. St. Teresa wanted this eremetical

spirit to be maintained. She said expressly: “The end

we pursue



only to


as religious, but


hermits . This spirit is characterized by a profound silence. The

Rule puts great emphasis upon silence, and declares ex-