Below are some short articles on some of our beloved Carmelite Saints:
St. Teresa of Avila
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912
(Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada)
Born at Avila, Old Castile, 28 March, 1515; died at Alba de Tormes, 4 Oct., 1582.
The third child of Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda by his second wife, Doña Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, who died when the saint was in her fourteenth year, Teresa was brought up by her saintly father, a lover of serious books, and a tender and pious mother. After her death and the marriage of her eldest sister, Teresa was sent for her education to the Augustinian nuns at Avila, but owing to illness she left at the end of eighteen months, and for some years remained with her father and occasionally with other relatives, notably an uncle who made her acquainted with the Letters of St. Jerome, which determined her to adopt the religious life, not so much through any attraction towards it, as through a desire of choosing the safest course. Unable to obtain her father’s consent she left his house unknown to him on Nov., 1535, to enter the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila, which then counted 140 nuns. The wrench from her family caused her a pain which she ever afterwards compared to that of death. However, her father at once yielded and Teresa took the habit.
After her profession in the following year she became very seriously ill, and underwent a prolonged cure and such unskillful medical treatment that she was reduced to a most pitiful state, and even after partial recovery through the intercession of St. Joseph, her health remained permanently impaired. During these years of suffering she began the practice of mental prayer, but fearing that her conversations with some world-minded relatives, frequent visitors at the convent, rendered her unworthy of the graces God bestowed on her in prayer, discontinued it, until she came under the influence, first of the Dominicans, and afterwards of the Jesuits. Meanwhile God had begun to visit her with “intellectual visions and locutions”, that is manifestations in which the exterior senses were in no way affected, the things seen and the words heard being directly impressed upon her mind, and giving her wonderful strength in trials, reprimanding her for unfaithfulness, and consoling her in trouble. Unable to reconcile such graces with her shortcomings, which her delicate conscience represented as grievous faults, she had recourse not only to the most spiritual confessors she could find, but also to some saintly laymen, who, never suspecting that the account she gave them of her sins was greatly exaggerated, believed these manifestations to be the work of the evil spirit. The more she endeavoured to resist them the more powerfully did God work in her soul. The whole city of Avila was troubled by the reports of the visions of this nun. It was reserved to St. Francis Borgia and St. Peter of Alcantara, and afterwards to a number of Dominicans (particularly Pedro Ibañez and Domingo Bañez), Jesuits, and other religious and secular priests, to discern the work of God and to guide her on a safe road.
The account of her spiritual life contained in the “Life written by herself” (completed in 1565, an earlier version being lost), in the “Relations”, and in the “Interior Castle”, forms one of the most remarkable spiritual biographies with which only the “Confessions of St. Augustine” can bear comparison. To this period belong also such extraordinary manifestations as the piercing or transverberation of her heart, the spiritualespousals, and the mystical marriage. A vision of the place destined for her in hell in case she should have been unfaithful to grace, determined her to seek a more perfect life. After many troubles and much opposition St. Teresa founded the convent of Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of St. Josephat Avila (24 Aug., 1562), and after six months obtained permission to take up her residence there. Four years later she received the visit of the General of the Carmelites, John-Baptist Rubeo (Rossi), who not only approved of what she had done but granted leave for the foundation of other convents of friars as well as nuns. In rapid succession she established her nuns at Medina del Campo (1567), Malagon and Valladolid (1568), Toledo and Pastrana (1569), Salamanca (1570), Alba de Tormes (1571), Segovia (1574), Veas and Seville (1575), and Caravaca (1576). In the “Book of Foundations” she tells the story of these convents, nearly all of which were established in spite of violent opposition but with manifest assistance from above. Everywhere she found souls generous enough to embrace the austerities of the primitive rule of Carmel. Having made the acquaintance of Antonio de Heredia, prior of Medina, and St. John of the Cross, she established her reform among the friars (28 Nov., 1568), the first convents being those of Duruelo (1568), Pastrana (1569), Mancera, and Alcalá de Henares (1570).
A new epoch began with the entrance into religion of Jerome Gratian, inasmuch as this remarkable man was almost immediately entrusted by the nuncio with the authority of visitor Apostolic of the Carmelite friars and nuns of the old observance in Andalusia, and as such considered himself entitled to overrule the various restrictions insisted upon by the general and the general chapter. On the death of the nuncio and the arrival of his successor a fearful storm burst over St. Teresa and her work, lasting four years and threatening to annihilate the nascent reform. The incidents of this persecution are best described in her letters. The storm at length passed, and the province of Discalced Carmelites, with the support of Philip II, was approved and canonically established on 22 June, 1580. St. Teresa, old and broken in health, made further foundations at Villanuava de la Jara and Palencia (1580), Soria (1581), Granada (through her assistant the Venerable Anne of Jesus), and at Burgos (1582). She left this latter place at the end of July, and, stopping at Palencia, Valladolid, and Medina del Campo, reached Alba de Torres in September, suffering intensely. Soon she took to her bed and passed away on 4 Oct., 1582, the following day, owing to the reform of the calendar, being reckoned as 15 October. After some years her body was transferred to Avila, but later on reconveyed to Alba, where it is still preserved incorrupt. Her heart, too, showing the marks of the Transverberation, is exposed there to the veneration of the faithful. She was beatified in 1614, and canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV, the feast being fixed on 15 October.
St. Teresa’s position among writers on mystical theology is unique. In all her writings on this subject she deals with her personal experiences, which a deep insight and analytical gifts enabled her to explain clearly. The Thomistic substratum may be traced to the influence of her confessors and directors, many of whom belonged to the Dominican Order. She herself had no pretension to found a school in the accepted sense of the term, and there is no vestige in her writings of any influence of the Areopagite, the Patristic, or the Scholastic Mystical schools, as represented among others, by the German Dominican Mystics. She is intensely personal, her system going exactly as far as her experiences, but not a step further.
A word must be added on the orthography of her name. It has of late become the fashion to write her name Teresa or Teresia, without “h”, not only in Spanish and Italian, where the “h” could have no place, but also in French, German, and Latin, which ought to preserve the etymological spelling. As it is derived from a Greek name, Tharasia, the saintly wife of St. Paulinus of Nola, it should be written Theresia in German and Latin, and Thérèse in French.
APA citation. Zimmerman, B. (1912). St. Teresa of Avila. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.Retrieved September 17, 2017 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14515b.htm
MLA citation. Zimmerman, Benedict. “St. Teresa of Avila.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company,1912. 17 Sept. 2017 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14515b.htm>.
Note: Teresa of Avila was named the first woman Doctor of the Church September 27, 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
St. John of the Cross
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910
Founder (with St. Teresa) of the Discalced Carmelites, doctor of mystic theology, b. at Hontoveros, Old Castile, 24 June, 1542; d. at Ubeda, Andalusia, 14 Dec., 1591. John de Yepes, youngest child of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catherine Alvarez, poor silk weavers of Toledo, knew from his earliest years the hardships of life. The father, originally of a good family but disinherited on account of his marriage below his rank, died in the prime of his youth; the widow, assisted by her eldest son, was scarcely able to provide the bare necessities. John was sent to the poor school at Medina del Campo, whither the family had gone to live, and proved an attentive and diligent pupil; but when apprenticed to an artisan, he seemed incapable of learning anything. Thereupon the governor of the hospital of Medina took him into his service, and for seven years John divided his time between waiting on the poorest of the poor, and frequenting a school established by the Jesuits. Already at that early age he treated his body with the utmost rigour; twice he was saved from certain death by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin. Anxious about his future life, he was told in prayer that he was to serve God in an order the ancient perfection of which he was to help bring back again. The Carmelites having founded a house at Medina, he there received the habit on 24 February, 1563, and took the name of John of St. Matthias. After profession he obtained leave from his superiors to follow to the letter the original Carmelite rule without the mitigations granted by various popes. He was sent to Salamanca for the higher studies, and was ordained priest in 1567; at his first Mass he received the assurance that he should preserve his baptismal innocence. But, shrinking from the responsibilities of the priesthood, he determined to join the Carthusians.
However, before taking any further step he made the acquaintance of St. Teresa, who had come to Medina to found a convent of nuns, and who persuaded him to remain in the Carmelite Order and to assist her in the establishment of a monastery of friars carrying out the primitive rule. He accompanied her to Valladolid in order to gain practical experience of the manner of life led by the reformed nuns. A small house having been offered, St. John resolved to try at once the new form of life, although St. Teresa did not think anyone, however great his spirituality, could bear the discomforts of that hovel. He was joined by two companions, an ex-prior and a lay brother, with whom he inaugurated the reform among friars, 28 Nov., 1568. St. Teresa has left a classical description of the sort of life led by these first Discalced Carmelites, in chaps. xiii and xiv of her “Book of Foundations”. John of the Cross, as he now called himself, became the first master of novices, and laid the foundation of the spiritual edifice which soon was to assume majestic proportions. He filled various posts in different places until St. Teresa called him to Avila as director and confessor to the convent of the Incarnation, of which she had been appointed prioress. He remained there, with a few interruptions, for over five years. Meanwhile, the reform spread rapidly, and, partly through the confusion caused by contradictory orders issued by the general and the general chapter on one hand, and the Apostolic nuncio on the other, and partly through humanpassion which sometimes ran high, its existence became seriously endangered.
St. John was ordered by his provincial to return to the house of his profession (Medina), and, on his refusing to do so, owing to the fact that he held his office not from the order but from the Apostolic delegate, he was taken prisoner in the night of 3 December, 1577, and carried off to Toledo, where he suffered for more than nine months close imprisonment in a narrow, stifling cell, together with such additional punishment as might have been called for in the case of one guilty of the most serious crimes. In the midst of his sufferings he was visited with heavenly consolations, and some of his exquisite poetry dates from that period. He made good his escape in a miraculous manner, August, 1578. During the next years he was chiefly occupied with the foundation and government of monasteries at Baeza, Granada, Cordova, Segovia, and elsewhere, but took no prominent part in the negotiations which led to the establishment of a separate government for the DiscalcedCarmelites. After the death of St. Teresa (4 Oct., 1582), when the two parties of the Moderates under Jerome Gratian, and the Zelanti under Nicholas Doria struggled for the upper hand, St. Johnsupported the former and shared his fate. For some time he filled the post of vicar provincial of Andalusia, but when Doria changed the government of the order, concentrating all power in the hands of a permanent committee, St. John resisted and, supporting the nuns in their endeavour to secure the papal approbation of their constitutions, drew upon himself the displeasure of the superior, who deprived him of his offices and relegated him to one of the poorest monasteries, where he fell seriously ill. One of his opponents went so far as to go from monastery to monasterygathering materials in order to bring grave charges against him, hoping for his expulsion from the order which he had helped to found.
As his illness increased he was removed to the monastery of Ubeda, where he at first was treated very unkindly, his constant prayer, “to suffer and to be despised”, being thus literally fulfilled almost to the end of his life. But at last even his adversaries came to acknowledge his sanctity, and his funeral was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm. The body, still incorrupt, as has been ascertained within the last few years, was removed to Segovia, only a small portion remaining at Ubeda; there was some litigation about its possession. A strange phenomenon, for which no satisfactory explanation has been given, has frequently been observed in connexion with the relics of St. John of the Cross: Francis de Yepes, the brother of the saint, and after him many other persons have noticed the appearance in his relics of images of Christ on the Cross, the Blessed Virgin, St. Elias, St. Francis Xavier, or other saints, according to the devotion of the beholder. The beatification took place on 25 Jan., 1675, the translation of his body on 21 May of the same year, and the canonization on 27 Dec., 1726.
He left the following works, which for the first time appeared at Barcelona in 1619.
- “The Ascent of Mount Carmel”, an explanation of some verses beginning: “In a dark night with anxious love inflamed”. This work was to have comprised four books, but breaks off in the middle of the third.
- “The Dark Night of the Soul”, another explanation of the same verses, breaking off in the second book. Both these works were written soon after his escape from prison, and, though incomplete, supplement each other, forming a full treatise on mystic theology.
- An explanation of the “Spiritual Canticle”, (a paraphrase of the Canticle of Canticles) beginning “Where hast Thou hidden Thyself?” composed part during his imprisonment, and completed and commented upon some years later at the request of Venerable Anne of Jesus.
- An explanation of a poem beginning: “O Living Flame of Love”, written about 1584 at the bidding of Doña Ana de Penalosa.
- Some instructions and precautions on matters spiritual.
- Some twenty letters, chiefly to his penitents. Unfortunately the bulk of his correspondence, including numerous letters to and from St. Teresa, was destroyed, partly by himself, partly during the persecutions to which he fell a victim.
- “Poems”, of which twenty-six have been hitherto published, viz., twenty in the older editions, and recently six more, discovered partly at the National Library at Madrid, and partly at the convent of Carmelite nuns at Pamplona.
- “A Collection of Spiritual Maxims” (in some editions to the number of one hundred, and in others three hundred and sixty-five) can scarcely count as an independent work, as they are culled from his writings.
It has been recorded that during his studies St. John particularly relished psychology; this is amply borne out by his writings. He was not what one would term a scholar, but he was intimately acquainted with the “Summa” of St. Thomas Aquinas, as almost every page of his works proves. Holy Scripture he seems to have known by heart, yet he evidently obtained his knowledge more by meditation than in the lecture room. But there is no vestige of influence on him of the mysticalteaching of the Fathers, the Areopagite, Augustine, Gregory, Bernard, Bonaventure, etc., Hugh of St. Victor, or the German Dominican school. The few quotations from patristic works are easily traced to the Breviary or the “Summa”. In the absence of any conscious or unconscious influence of earlier mystical schools, his own system, like that of St. Teresa, whose influence is obvious throughout, might be termed empirical mysticism. They both start from their own experience, St. Teresa avowedly so, while St. John, who hardly ever speaks of himself, “invents nothing” (to quote Cardinal Wiseman), “borrows nothing from others, but gives us clearly the results of his own experience in himself and others. He presents you with a portrait, not with a fancy picture. He represents the ideal of one who has passed, as he had done, through the career of the spiritual life, through its struggles and its victories”.
His axiom is that the soul must empty itself of self in order to be filled with God, that it must be purified of the last traces of earthly dross before it is fit to become united with God. In the application of this simple maxim he shows the most uncompromising logic. Supposing the soul with which he deals to be habitually in the state of grace and pushing forward to better things, he overtakes it on the very road leading it, in its opinion to God, and lays open before its eyes a number of sores of which it was altogether ignorant, viz. what he terms the spiritual capital sins. Not until these are removed (a most formidable task) is it fit to be admitted to what he calls the “Dark Night”, which consists in the passive purgation, where God by heavy trials, particularly interior ones, perfects and completes what the soul had begun of its own accord. It is now passive, but not inert, for by submitting to the Divine operation it co-operates in the measure of its power. Here lies one of the essential differences between St. John’s mysticism and a false quietism. The perfect purgation of the soul in the present life leaves it free to act with wonderful energy: in fact it might almost be said to obtain a share in God’s omnipotence, as is shown in the marvelous deedsof so many saints. As the soul emerges from the Dark Night it enters into the full noonlight described in the “Spiritual Canticle” and the “Living Flame of Love”. St. John leads it to the highest heights, in fact to the point where it becomes a “partaker of the Divine Nature”. It is here that the necessity of the previous cleansing is clearly perceived the pain of the mortification of all the senses and the powers and faculties of the soul being amply repaid by the glory which is now being revealed in it.
St. John has often been represented as a grim character; nothing could be more untrue. He was indeed austere in the extreme with himself, and, to some extent, also with others, but both from his writings and from the depositions of those who knew him, we see in him a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive.
The best life of St. John of the Cross was written by JEROME DE SAN JOSÉ (Madrid, 1641), but, not being approved by the superiors, it was not incorporated in the chronicles of the order, and the author lost his position of annalist on account of it.
APA citation. Zimmerman, B. (1910). St. John of the Cross. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved September 17, 2017 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08480a.htm
MLA citation. Zimmerman, Benedict. “St. John of the Cross.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 17 Sept. 2017 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08480a.htm>.
St. Therese of Lisieux
From the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1922
Better known as the Little Flower of Jesus, born at Alençon, France, 2 January, 1873; died at Lisieux 30 September, 1897.
She was the ninth child of saintly parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, both of whom had wished to consecrate their lives to God in the cloister. The vocation denied them was given to their children, five of whom became religious, one to the Visitation Order and four in the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux. Brought up in an atmosphere of faith where every virtue and aspiration were carefully nurtured and developed, her vocation manifested itself when she was still only a child. Educated by the Benedictines, when she was fifteen she applied for permission to enter the Carmelite Convent, and being refused by the superior, went to Rome with her father, as eager to give her to God as she was to give herself, to seek the consent of the Holy Father, Leo XIII, then celebrating his jubilee. He preferred to leave the decision in the hands of the superior, who finally consented and on 9 April, 1888, at the unusual age of fifteen, Thérèse Martin entered the convent of Lisieux where two of her sisters had preceded her.
The account of the eleven years of her religious life, marked by signal graces and constant growth in holiness, is given by Soeur Thérèse in her autobiography, written in obedience to her superior and published two years after her death. In 1901 it was translated into English, and in 1912 another translation, the first complete edition of the life of the Servant of God, containing the autobiography, “Letters and Spiritual Counsels”, was published. Its success was immediate and it has passed into many editions, spreading far and wide the devotion to this “little” saint of simplicity, and abandonment in God’s service, of the perfect accomplishment of small duties.
The fame of her sanctity and the many miracles performed through her intercession caused the introduction of her cause of canonization only seventeen years after her death, 10 Jun, 1914.
APA citation. Donovan, E. (1922). St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: The Encyclopedia Press. Retrieved September 17, 2017 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/17721a.htm
MLA citation. Donovan, Edith. “St. Thérèse of Lisieux.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 17 (Supplement). New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1922. 17 Sept. 2017 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/17721a.htm>.
Editor’s Note: After the publication of this article, St. Thérèse was canonized and later declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997. (She is the third woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church.)
Elizabeth of the Trinity, OCD
By Darrell B.
Elizabeth visited the sick and sang in the church choir. She taught religion to children who worked in factories.
Elizabeth entered the Dijon Carmel on August 2, 1901. She said, “I find God everywhere while doing the wash as well as while praying.” Her time in the Carmel had some high times as well as some very low times. Today, we know about all that she felt and experienced in her writings. She wrote she felt she needed a richer understanding of God’s great love.
She entered the Discalced Carmelites, although her mother strongly suggested her not to. Men had asked for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage, but she declined, because her dream was to enter the Carmelite monastery that was located 200 meters from her home.
Elizabeth died at the age of 26 from Addison’s disease, which in the early 20th century had no treatment. Even though her death was unbearable, Elizabeth still accepted that God gave her that gift and was grateful. Her last words were, “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life!”
Elizabeth was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 25, 1984. Her feast day is celebrated on November 8. Her best-known prayer is “Holy Trinity Whom I Adore”, which she wrote out of her love of the Trinity. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity is a patron of illness, sick people, and loss of parents.