Origin and Early History (§ 1).
Habit and Scapular (§ 2).
Reforms Within the Order (§ 3).
Controversies with Other Orders (§ 4).
Present Status (§ 5).
Carmelites (Ordo fratrum Beat; Virginis Mari de monte Carmelo) is the name of a Roman Catholic order founded in the twelfth century by a certain Berthold (d. after 1185) on Mount Carmel, whence the order receives its name. Carmelite tradition traces the origin of the order to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel that succeeded the schools of the prophets in ancient Israel, although there are no certain records of monks on this mountain before the ninth decade of the twelfth century. Berthold, who had gone to Palestine from Calabria either as a pilgrim or as a crusader, chose Mount Carmel as the seat of his community because it was the traditional home of Elijah. It was but natural that this community of Eastern hermits in the Holy Land should gain constant accessions from pilgrims, and in 1209 they received a rule from the patriarch Albert of Jerusalem. This consisted of sixteen articles, which enjoined strict obedience to their prior, residence in individual cells, constancy in prayer, the hearing of mass every morning in the oratory of the community, poverty and toil, daily silence from vespers until terce the next morning, abstinence from all forms of meat except in cases of severe illness, and fasting from Holy Cross Day (Sept. 14) to Easter of the following year. This rule received the approval of Honorius III. in 1226. With the increasing cleavage between the West and the East, however, the Carmelites found it advisable to leave their original home, and in 1238 they settled in Cyprus and Sicily. In 1240 they were in England, and four years later in southern France, while by 1245 they were so numerous that they were able to hold their first general chapter at Aylesford, England, where Simon Stock, then eighty years of age, was chosen general. During his rule of twenty years the order prospered, especially by the establishment of a monastery at Paris by St. Louis in 1259.
The original rule of the order was now changed to conform to that of the mendicant orders on the initiative of Simon Stock and at the command of Innocent IV. Their former habit of a mantle with black and white or brown and white stripes was discarded, and they wore the same habit as the Dominicans, except that the cloak was white. They also borrowed much from the Dominican and Franciscan rules. Their distinctive garment was a scapular of two strips of gray cloth, worn on the breast and back, and fastened at the shoulders. This, according to the traditions of the order, was given to Simon Stock by the Virgin herself, who descended from heaven and promised that all who wear it in this world, or at least in the hour of death, should be saved, she herself going each Saturday to purgatory to rescue those to whom this might apply. Thus arose a sodality of the scapular, which affiliated a large number of laymen with the Carmelites. The order speedily became infected with arrogance, however, contesting the invention of the rosary with the Dominicans, terming themselves the brothers of the Virgin, and asserting, on the basis of their traditional association with Elijah, that all the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as the Virgin and the Apostles, had been Carmelites. Their second general, Nicholas of Narbonne (1265-70), protested in vain, only to be deposed from his office.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Carmelites, like other monastic orders, declined, and reform became imperative. Shortly before 1433 three monasteries in Valais, Tuscany, and Mantua were reformed by the preaching of Thomas Conecte of Rennes and formed the congregation of Mantua, which, was declared independent of the order by Eugenius IV. In 1431 or 1432 the same pope sanctioned certain modifications of the Carmelite rule, and in 1459 Pius II. left the regulation of fasts to the discretion of the general. Soreth, who was then general, and had already established the order of Carmelite nuns in 1452, accordingly sought to restore the primitive asceticism, but died of poison at Nantes in 1471. In 1476 a bull of Sixtus IV. founded the Carmelites of the Third Order, who received a special rule in 1635, which was amended in 1678. The sixteenth century saw a number of short-lived reforms, but it was not until the second half of the same century that a thorough reformation of the Carmelites was carried out by St. Theresa, who, together with St. John of the Cross, established the Discalced Carmelites. In conscious opposition to Protestantism the order was now
By the middle of the seventeenth century the Carmelites had reached their zenith. At this period, however, they became involved in controversies with other orders, particularly with the Jesuits. The special objects of attack were the traditional origin of the Carmelites and the source of their scapular. The Sorbonne, represented by Jean Launoy, joined the Jesuits in their polemics against the Carmelites. Papebroch, the Bollandist editor of the Acta Sanctorum, was answered by the Carmelite Sebastian of St. Paul, who made such serious charges against the orthodoxy of his opponent's writings that the very existence of the Bollandists was threatened. The peril was averted, however, and in 1696 a decree of Rocaberti, archbishop of Valencia and inquisitor-general of the holy office, forbade all further controversies between the Carmelites and Jesuits. Two years later, on Nov. 20, 1698, Innocent XII. issued a brief which definitely ended the controversy on pain of excommunication, and placed all writings in violation of the brief upon the Index.
The French Revolution and the sequestration of monasteries in southern Europe were heavy blows to the Carmelites. At the present time there are five provinces of Calced Carmelites (Rome, Malta, Iceland, England, and Galicia) and eight of Discalced (Rome, Genoa, Lombardy, Venice, Tuscany, Piedmont, Aquitaine, and Avignon), in addition to a number of isolated cloisters and priories of both Calced and Discalced Carmelites in various countries.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: For sources consult: ASB for Mar. 6 and 29, and Apr. 8; D. Papebroch, Responsio ad expositionem errorum per Sebastianum a S. Paulo evulgatam, 3 vols., Antwerp, 1696-99; Chroniques de l'ordre des Carmélites de la Réforme de Ste. Thérèse . . . en France, 5 vols., Troyes, 1846-65, second series, 4 vols., Poitiers, 1888-89. Consult further: Heimbucher, Orden und Kongregationen, ii. 1-32; Helyot, Ordres monastiques, i. 282-399; H. E. Manning, Life of St. Teresa, London, 1865; H. J. Coleridge, Life and Letters of St. Teresa, 3 vols., ib. 1881-88; F. H. Reusch, Index der verbotenen Bücher, ii. 267-276, 520-521, 691, Bonn, 1885; H. H. Koch, Die Karmelitenklöster der nisderdsutschein Provinz, Freiburg, 1889; C. W. Currier, Carmel in America, Baltimore, 1890; idem. Religious Orders, pp. 284-304; L. A. le Moyne de la Borderie, Histoire des Carmes en Bretagne, Rennes, 1896; J. P. Rushe, Carmel in Ireland: Narrative of the Irish Province of Carmelites, London, 1897; B. Zimmermann, Carmel in England. Hist. of the Eng. Mission of the Carmelites, 1615-1849, London, 1899; Life of St. John of the Cross, transl. and ed. by David Lewis, London, 1897.
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