The Order of Discalced Friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel sprang from the 16th-century reform inaugurated by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The Discalced Carmelites, whose mode of life was a return to the observance of the primitive Carmelite rule, had their origin in Spain, but soon spread to Italy, the rest of Europe, and across the world.
Reform Movement. Five years after Teresa of Avila had successfully launched the reform of the Carmelite nuns, she obtained permission, in 1567, from the prior general of the Carmelite friars, Giovanni Battista Rossi (1507–88), for the foundation of two monasteries of men who would follow the primitive rule. She acquired a small piece of property at Duruelo, a place equidistant between the Spanish towns of Salamanca and Avila, and there on Nov. 28, 1568, the first monastery was officially started. The original community comprised only three members: Joseph of Christ, a deacon; Anthony of Jesus, who had resigned as prior of the Carmelite monastery at Medina del Campo to become the new prior at Duruelo; and John of the Cross, then a young priest ordained only a year previously. Soon new members joined the reform in great numbers; some came from the Carmelite Order itself, while others were new recruits. Under the sponsorship of philip ii, king of Spain, the Discalced Carmelites enjoyed an instant popularity and new monasteries were rapidly founded. By the time of Teresa's death (1582), there were 15 monasteries.
Teresa of Avila's purpose in sponsoring the reform of the Carmelite friars was to reestablish Carmelite objectives and disciplines that had become weakened over the two preceding centuries. The official mitigations in the rule allowed by Eugene IV in 1432, as well as the other unofficial mitigations of the pre-Tridentine era, were eliminated. Perpetual abstinence from meat and the yearly fast from September 14 to Easter were reinstated, and more time was given to the exercises of the spiritual life, particularly mental prayer. Members of the reform were originally called Contemplative Carmelites, but soon became known as Discalced Carmelites, because of their custom of wearing sandals. The older group hence came to be known, by way of contrast, as the Calced Carmelites.
Despite its rapid development, the reform movement was involved in severe difficulties at the outset. The initial permission for the reformed monasteries was granted by the prior general on the condition that the new monasteries be founded only in the province of Castile in Spain and that the whole reform movement remain within the original Carmelite Order. The discalced, however, began to found monasteries outside Castile, and there developed a desire to separate themselves from the original order. The difficulty between the calced and the discalced was based on the dual ecclesiastical jurisdiction that regulated the activities of the reform. Philip II, intensely interested in the regulation of the religious orders of Spain, had obtained from the Holy See apostolic visitators for the various orders. The visitators appointed for the Carmelites, Pedro Fernández de Recalde (d. 1580) and Francisco Vargas, both Dominicans, possessed more authority over the order than the general himself. The difficulty was compounded in 1573 when Vargas delegated his faculties to a young Discalced Carmelite priest, Jerome gratian. In 1574 Gratian received even wider faculties from the apostolic nuncio, Niccolò Ormaneto (d.1577). In this peculiar jurisdictional arrangement, the discalced made new foundations with permission granted by Gratian. Primitive systems of communication and the uncertainty of both parties regarding the exact nature of Gratian's faculties produced a tense struggle.
At the general chapter conducted at Piacenza, Italy, in 1575, stern measures were adopted to curtail the activities of the discalced and limit them to a few monasteries in Castile. It was during the execution of these decrees that John of the Cross was apprehended by the calced friars in 1577 and imprisoned by them for eight months in the monastery at Toledo. Ultimately, through the mediation of Philip II and the apostolic nuncio, the difficulties were settled, and the discalced were established as a separate province within the order in 1581. Finally, on Dec. 20, 1593, Clement VIII established the Discalced Carmelites as an independent religious order with their own superior general and administration.
Expansion and Subsequent History. In 1582 the discalced friars sent their first missionaries to the Congo, but the entire expedition was lost at sea. A second group suffered the same tragic consequences, but finally a third group reached the Congo successfully. The Spanish discalced, however, were not enthusiastic about the spread of the order beyond the confines of Spain. The worldwide expansion of the order thus fell to the Italian branch. Monasteries of the reform had already been founded in Genoa, Venice, and Rome, when Clement VIII in 1600 separated the three monasteries and their 30 priests from the Spanish Carmelites, thus creating two separate congregations within the reform, Spanish and Italian, a division that lasted until 1875. From the Italian group the reform spread throughout Europe in the early 17th century—to Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and even to missions in England.
thomas of jesus (Díaz Sánchez de Avila), whose work influenced the establishment of the Congregation for the propagation of the faith, promoted missionary activity among the discalced. One of their more important mission endeavors was in Persia. In Sumatra two Discalced Carmelites, Bl. dionysius of the nativity and Bl. Redemptus of the Cross, suffered martyrdom (1638). Prosper of the Holy Spirit led a small group to Palestine (1634) and reoccupied Mt. carmel, the ancient seat of the order, which had not been inhabited by Carmelites since their expulsion by the Saracens in 1291. The monastery newly reconstructed there was twice destroyed by the Turks in 1720 and 1821. The present monastery on Mt. Carmel, completed in 1853, houses the international school of philosophy for the order. The superior general who resides at Rome, is, according to the legislation of the order, the prior of the monastery on Mt. Carmel.
The European provinces of the order were largely destroyed during the revolutions and suppressions of the 18th and 19th centuries. The restoration of the provinces took place after the middle of the 19th century, and in 1875 Leo XIII united the Spanish and Italian congregations. A new missionary movement ultimately brought Discalced Carmelites to Asia, South America, and the United States. In 1907 there was founded in Rome the College of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, an international house of theology for members of the order; in 1957 the Institute of Spiritual Theology was established there.
The first permanent foundation in the U.S. was made at Holy Hill, Wis., in 1906 by friars from the Bavarian province. In 1916 friars from the province of Catalonia founded a monastery in Washington, D.C. These two groups were united in 1940, and in 1947 the monasteries of this union were established canonically as the Province of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In 1915 Spanish friars exiled from Mexico established themselves in Oklahoma, and ultimately made additional foundations in Texas and Arkansas. These monasteries of the southwestern section of the U.S. were constituted as the Province of St. Therese (1935). Since 1925 friars from the Irish province have staffed monasteries in California. In 1983, the monasteries in the Western states were constituted as the California-Arizona Province.
Carmelite Way of Life. The daily life of the Discalced Carmelite combines prayer and apostolic activity. The Divine Office is recited in common, and two hours are devoted to meditation each day, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Silence is maintained in the cloisters throughout the day, except for an hour of recreation in the afternoon and an extra hour in the evening during the summer. Perpetual abstinence is maintained, as well as the yearly six-month fast. The friar lives in a cell, a small room containing only a simple desk and bed made of planks. Apostolic activities, such as preaching, administration of the Sacraments, and spiritual direction, are undertaken insofar as they are considered comformable to the contemplative ideal of the order. Discalced Carmelites teach their own friars who are studying for the priesthood but do not conduct schools for lay people. The order has always considered itself the custodian of the writings and doctrine of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, and the four centuries of its existence have witnessed a large production of books and periodicals concerning spiritual theology.
One of the early institutions of the reform was the "desert," a monastery of complete eremitical life where the friars could retire for a year at a time to engage in a life of solitude and silence. The first desert was founded by Thomas of Jesus at Bolarque in Spain (1592). The deserts were destroyed during the revolutions, but a number have since been rebuilt. Friars of any province may, with permission of the superior general, spend a year in one of these deserts.
Bibliography: O.C.D., Official Catholic Directory #0260. bruno de jÉsus-marie, St. John of the Cross, ed. b. zimmerman (New York 1957). e. a. peers, Handbook to the Life and Times of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross (Westminster, Md. 1954). silverio de santa teresa, Historia del Carmen Descalzo en Espãna, Portugal y América, 14 v. (Burgos 1935–49). joachim de l'immaculÉe conception, L'Ordre des Carmes (Paris 1910). h. peltier, Histoire du Carmel (Paris 1958). Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum (Rome 1926—). Ephemerides Carmeliticae (Rome 1947–).
[p. t. rohrbach/eds.]
"Carmelites, Discalced." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carmelites-discalced
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