1902 Encyclopedia > Carmelites


CARMELITES, one of the four orders of Mendicant Friars. It is perhaps difficult to say whether upon the whole the Franciscans or the Carmelites have invented and propagated the more monstrous fictions respecting their own commencements and subsequent story. But as regards the very tender point of their first foundation, the latter must be admitted to have distanced their competitors. For the history of the Franciscans at least commences with a basis of solid and indubitable historical fact, where-as in the case of the Carmelites we plunge at once into the region of fable, and fable of the most monstrous kind. Mount Carmel is celebrated in Scripture as the abode of Elijah and Elisha, the former of whom the Carmelites claim as their founder. Elijah, or Elias, say the writers of the order, became a monk under the ministry of angels ; and his first disciples were Jonah, Micah, and Obadiah. They declare further that the wife of the latter, having bound herself by a vow of chastity, received the veil from the hands of Elias himself, and became the first abbess of the Carmelite female order. They tell us also that Pythagoras was a member of this order, and that he had on Mount Carmel several conversations with the Prophet Daniel on the subject of the Trinity. They further assert that the Virgin Mary and Christ himself assumed the habit and profession of Carmelites. We first, however, reach the solid ground of something like history in the account left by Phocas, a Greek monk of the Isle of Patmos, who visited the Holy Land in 1185, and who concludes the narrative of his journeying by relating that the cave of Elias was then visible on Mount Carmel, and that there had existed there a large monastery, as might still be seen from the remains of the buildings ; that some years previously a monk in priest's orders, with white hair, had arrived there, coming from Calabria, and had established himself there in obedience to orders given him by Elias in a vision. He made, continues Phocas, a small enclosure among the ruins of the monastery, and built a bell tower and a little church. He then collected about ten com-panions, with whom, concludes Phocas, he still continues to live there. To these recluses, Albert, bishop of Vercelli, who had become patriarch of Constantinople, gave a " rule " about the year 1209. And this must be considered to constitute the foundation of the Carmelite order.

This rule consists of only sixteen articles ; and it appears from it that the monks on Mount Carmel were at that time eremitical, dwelling in separate little houses. The lodging of the prior was placed at the entrance into the enclosure, and the church was in the middle of the enclosed space. The rule contains the ordinary injunctions and prohibitions as regards masses and other services to be heard or said, and kinds of food to be avoided, with some unimportant specialities of dates and seasons. Albert further enjoined on them to labour constantly with their hands, and to practise much silence. This rule was approved by Pope Honorius III. in 1226.

It is related that two English crusaders, John de Vesci and Bichard de Grey, carried some of the recluses on Mount Carmel with them to England, and founded the first Carmelite monastery in England at Alnwick. Much about the same time—nearly the middle of the 13th century—Louis IX. of France, on his return from the Crusades, took with him to Paris some of the Mount Carmel monks, and established them under the name of Carmelites in a monastery there. Others passed from Mount Carmel into Italy and Spain under the special protection of the popes. The number of their establishments was very rapidly and very largely increased; and they held their first European general chapter at Aylesford in England in 1245.

The Carmelites, however, can refer to papal briefs, bulls, and rescripts of a much earlier time, in which their exist-ence is recognized John V, (ob 686), Stephen V. (ob. 817), Leo IV (ob. 855) Adrian II. (ob. 872), Sergius III. (ob. 911), Gregory VII. (ob. 1085), and Alexander III. (ob 1181) may be cited among the early popes who con-ferred privileges or special indulgences on the order. They further quote John XXII. (ob. 1334), Sixtus IV. (ob. 1484), Julius III. (ob. 1555), Pius V. (ob. 1572), Gregory XIII. (ob 1585), Sixtus V. (ob. 1590), and Clement VIII. (ob. 1605) as having all, in various documents, recognized the fact of their foundation by Elias. And, lastly, Benedict XIII. in 1725, permitted the order to erect in St Peter's, among the statues of the founders of the religious orders, that of Elias as their founder, with the inscription,—_ Universus Ordo Garmelitarurn fundato^i suo Sancto Elice prophètes erexit !

The term Universus in the above legend is intended to indicate that all the different branches of the order participated in the erec-tion of the statue, although they have become entirely separate so-cieties The monks of that portion of the order which had adhered to the ancient rule, modified and mitigated, however, in some respects by Innocent IV. (ob. 1254), and more largely by Eugenius IV. (ob. 1447), are termed Carmelites of the Ancient Observance.

Shortly after the changes made in the rule by Pope Eugenius IV., several local reformations were effected in the order in different countries,—one in France by the general Jean Soreth of Normandy in 1451, and another in the congregation at Mantua, which rapidly spread itself, and, much to the disgust of the general of that portion of the order which adhered to the old rule, obtained from the Pontiff the right to elect a vicar-general of their own, not subject to the jurisdiction or the approbation ot the general. Various other partial reformations were effected, and the members of those congregations which adopted them are styled "Reformed Carmelites." But a more important, oi at least a more marked and decided division into two branches was brought about by one of the most noteworthy personages in all the Catholic hagiology, Saint Teresa. This extraordinary woman, a native of Avila, in old Castile, became a Carmelite nun in a nunnery of the order in that city in 1535. She at once determined on carrying out the rule in all its primitive strictness ; but finding this insufficient to satisfy her abounding zeal and ambition, she obtained in 1562 a brief from Pope Pius IV. authorizing her to establish a separate branch of the order, the more austere observances of which should be modelled according to her own views. Very shortly several nunneries of " Barefoot Carmelite Nuns" were established, mainly in Spain. Her success thus far soon led her to the more ambitious project of introducing a similar reform among the Carmelite body of the other sex. And this also she accomplished by the assistance of two or three of the leading members of the Carmelite community. The members of the communities which received this reformed rule, or which were founded for the obser-
vance of it, were called Barefoot Carmelites (Carmes Déchaussés, or Carmelitani Scalzi), in distinction to those of the olderbodies. For some time, however, the monasteries and nunneries of the Barefoot Carmelites remained subject to the general of the parent body ; till
in 1580 Pope Gregory XIII. at the instance of Philip II. of Spain, permitted them to elect their own provincial generals, who were, however, still subject to the general of the entire order. But Sixtus V. having regard to the greatly increased and increasing number of their establishments, granted them, in 1587, the privilege of electing a vicar-general of their own. Finally, Clement VIII., in 1593, separated them entirely from the other Carmelites, empowered them to elect a general of their body, and constituted them a separate Order of Friars Mendicant,—dispositions which were subsequently confirmed by Gregory XV.

The Carmelites originally wore white woollen dresses. But inas-much as the Orientals among whom they dwelt deemed this colour a mark of nobility, they adopted striped dresses, specimens of which may still be seen in ancient paintings, the colours of such stripes being sometimes white, grey, and black, and sometimes white and dark brown. After their establishment in Europe, however, these striped dresses were abandoned, and by the authority of Honorius IV., they began in 1287 to wear a white cape and scapulary, which was, however, shortly afterwards changed for dark brown. Over this dress they now wear a white cloak and hood when they quit their convent.

The device, both of the original body and of the Barefoot Carmel-ites, consists of a mountain, topped by three stars, and above this a crown, from the middle of which comes forth an arm grasping a sword. The mountain represents Mount Carmel ; the stars sym-bolize the Virgin—Stella maris—to whom the order is more especially dedicated ; the crown figures forth her supremacy ; the. arm is the arm of Elias; and the sword it grasps is the token of his zeal. A line drawn across the top of the mountain differentiates the device as used by the Barefoot Carmelites. The order has been, and is indeed still, a very wide-spread one, in all quarters of the globe.

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