THE RULE OF ST. ALBERT OF JERUSALEM
Albert, called by God’s favor to be Patriarch of the Church of Jerusalem, bids health in the Lord and the blessing of the Holy Spirit to his beloved sons, B. and those who owe him obedience, the rest of the hermit brothers living beside the spring on Mount Carmel. Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how each, according to his station and the manner of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life of dedication to Jesus Christ—how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of his Master. It is to me, however, that you have come for the rule of life most in keeping with your own aspirations, a rule you may hold fast to henceforward; and therefore: The first thing I require is for you to have a Prior, one of yourselves, who is to be chosen for the office by common consent, or that of the greater and wiser part of you. Each of the others must promise him obedience, chastity, and the renunciation of ownership, and is to strive to make his whole life the true reflection of what he has promised. You may make foundations in solitary places, or on any plot of ground you are given if it be suitable, in the Prior’s opinion and that of the brothers, for the way of life proper to your Order. In addition, you are all to have separate cells, arranged as may be indicated by the lie of the land you propose to occupy, and allotted by disposition of the Prior with the agreement of the other brothers, or the wiser among them, but in such a way that you will be able to eat what you are given in a common refectory, listening together meanwhile to a reading from Holy Scripture, where that can be done without difficulty. None of the brothers is to occupy a cell other than the one allotted to him, or to exchange cells with another, without leave of whoever is Prior at the time. The Prior’s cell should stand near the entrance to your monastery, so that he may be the first to meet those who approach, and so that whatever has to be done in consequence may all be carried out as he may decide and order.
Each of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering God’s law day and night, and attending to his prayers unless some other duty claims his attention. Those who know how to say the canonical hours recited by those in Orders should do so in the way those holy forefathers of ours laid down, and according to the Church’s approved custom. Those who do not know them must say twenty-five Our Fathers for the night office, except on Sundays and feast days when that number is to be doubled, so that the Our Father will be said fifty times; the same prayer must be said seven times in the morning in place of Lauds, and seven times too for each of the other hours except Vespers, when it must be said fifteen times. None of the brothers must lay claim to anything as his own, but you are to possess everything in common; and each should receive whatever befits his age and needs from the Prior, or the brother he appoints for the purpose. You may possess asses or mules enough for your needs, however, as well as livestock or poultry to supply your table. An oratory should be built as conveniently as possible among the cells, where, if it can be done without difficulty, you are to gather every morning to hear Mass. On Sundays, too, or other days if necessary, you should discuss matters to do with discipline and your spiritual well-being, on which occasion the indiscretions or failings of the brothers, if any be found at fault, should in all charity be corrected. You are to keep fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross until Easter, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason, demand a dispensation from the fast, for necessity overrides every law. You are to deny yourselves meat, except as a remedy for sickness or feebleness, but as, when you are on a journey, you have more often than not to beg your way, outside your own houses you may eat foodstuffs that have been cooked with meat, so as to avoid giving trouble to those who entertain you. At sea, however, meat may be eaten.
As man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devoutly in Christ must undergo persecution, and your opponent the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking victims to swallow up, you must use every care to clothe yourselves in God’s armor, so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s treachery. Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for holy meditation, as Scripture has it, will save you. Put on righteousness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the fire-tipped arrows of your wicked enemy, nor can God be pleased without faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Savior, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts; let all you do have God’s word for accompaniment. You must give yourselves to work of some kind so that the devil may always find you busy: idleness on your part must not be to blame for his managing to pierce the defenses of your souls. You have in this both the teaching and example of Saint Paul the Apostle, through whose mouth spoke the voice of Christ himself. God made him preacher and teacher of faith and truth to the nations: if you pay him due heed you will not stray. We lived among you, said he, laboring and weary, toiling night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, not because we had no power to do otherwise, but so as to give you, in our own selves, an example you might imitate. For the charge we gave you when we were with you is this: that whoever is not willing to work should not be allowed to eat either. For we have heard of certain restless idlers among you . . . We charge such as these and implore them in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ that they earn their own bread by silent toil. This is a good and holy way, the way you ought to follow.
The Apostle enjoins silence, for in silence is it that he would have work done; as the Prophet makes known to us too, silence is the way to foster holiness. Elsewhere he says your strength will lie in silence and hope. For this reason I lay down that you must keep silence from after Compline each night until after Prime the next morning. At other times, although you need not keep silence so strictly, be careful not to indulge in a great deal of talk, for as Scripture has it—and experience teaches us no less—sin will not be wanting where there is much talk, and he who is careless in speech will come to harm, and elsewhere the use of many words brings harm to the speaker’s soul. And our Lord says in the Gospel: every rash word uttered will have to be accounted for on Judgment day. Make a balance each of you to weigh his words in; keep a tight rein on your mouths, lest you should stumble and fall in speech, and your fall should be mortal; like the Prophet, stand guard lest you offend in word, and employ every care in keeping silent, which is the way to foster holiness.
You, brother B., and whoever may succeed you as Prior, must always keep in mind, and put into practice, what our Lord said in the Gospel: whoever has a mind to become great among you must make himself servant to the rest, and whichever of you would be first must become your bondsman. You other brothers too, hold your Prior in humble reverence, your minds not on him but on Christ who has placed him at your head, and who, to those set over the Churches, addressed the words: whoever pays you heed pays heed to me, and whoever treats you with dishonor dishonors me; if you remain so minded, you will not be found guilty of contempt, but will merit life eternal as fit reward for your obedience. Here then are the few points I have written down for you, so as to provide a standard of conduct for you to live up to; but our Lord, at his second coming, will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to do. You must always act with moderation, nevertheless, for so must virtue ever be tempered.
Who was St. Albert of Jerusalem, the author of our Rule?
Albert Avogadro was born about the middle of the twelfth century in Castel Gualteri in Italy. He became a Canon Regular of the Holy Cross at Mortara and was elected their prior in 1180. Named Bishop of Bobbio in 1184, and of Vercelli in 1185, he was made Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1205. There, in word and example, he was the model of a good pastor and peacemaker. While he was Patriarch (1206-1214) he united the hermits of the Mount Carmel into one community and wrote a “way of life” for them. He was tragically murdered during a Church procession on the Triumph of the Holy Cross in Acre on September 14, 1214.
THE DISCALCED CARMELITE COAT OF ARMS
Just as nations, organizations, and individuals have their coats of arms, seal, or crest which are expressive of important facts in their history, or characteristics typical of them, so the order of Discalced Carmelites has its own crest, significant of its rich spirit and antiquity. Each part stands as a reminder of elements that make the Discalced Carmelite Order one of the most ancient, best established and ever beloved orders of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the center of the seal is Mount Carmel, cradle of the order, its tip reaching to the sky. It refers to Mount Carmel, the Carmelite’s place of origin in Haifa, Israel. In the 9th century BC the prophet Elijah lived and had a profound experience of God there. In that same place in the early 12th century some hermits, inspired by the memory of Elijah, gathered there, with a desire “to live a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ” (Rule of St. Albert). The cross on the summit of the mountain was added in the 16th Century as a distinctive mark of the Discalced Carmelites. On the seal there are also three, six pointed stars which represent the three great epochs in the history of Carmel; the first, or prophetic era, represented by the star inside the mountain, denotes the time of the prophet Elijah to the time of St. John the Baptist; the second indicates the era of those hermits living on Mount Carmel before the arrival of the Latin Crusaders; and the third signifies the present epoch spanning from the first Carmelite community living under the Rule of St. Albert until the end of time. Another meaning of the stars is that they stand as a remembrance to the members of the Carmelite order. The star inside the mountain represents the Carmelites who are still on their way to the summit of Mount Carmel (heaven), the other two stars in the sky represent all the Carmelites who have gone before us and have reached the goal of their life’s vocation; union with God in love in the eternal joy of heaven.
The banner surrounding the seal carries the Order’s motto. Taken from the mouth of the prophet Elijah it cries out with his prophetic spirit and absolute dedication to the one, true, God; “Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum” [“With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts”] (1 Kings 19:10).
Above the seal and through the banner is an arm and hand which holds a flaming sword. This, too, is a symbol of Elijah, his fiery spirit and his passion for the one, true, and absolute God whose words “burned like a torch” (Eccl. 48:1). For Carmelites, Elijah is the solitary prophet who nurtured his thirst for the one and only God and lived forever in His presence. Elijah is the biblical inspiration of the Carmelite life and, like him, Carmelites seek both to continually carry in their minds and hearts “the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God” (Rule of St. Albert) and to live constantly with a loving, contemplative awareness of His presence.
The crown of gold represents the Kingdom of God, who is the Sovereign Lord of Carmel. Carmelites indeed endeavor to serve God faithfully with “a pure heart and a steadfast conscience” (Rule of St. Albert). They see their vocation as a calling to unswerving allegiance to their Lord and King, Jesus Christ. In their service to this King they take their inspiration from the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose patronage they enjoy, and Saints Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross, the great reformers of Carmel.
The halo of twelve stars above the crown represents the prerogative of every Carmelite’s acclaim-the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom St. John saw in an apocalyptic vision as: “a woman clothed with the sun… on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). In the coat of arms of the Discalced Carmelites these stars also signify the twelve points of the rule, which are: obedience, chastity, poverty, reconciliation, mental prayer, the divine office, chapter, abstinence from meat, manual labor, silence, humility, and supererogation (defined as those works or good deeds performed by saints over and above what is required for their own salvation, the merit of which is held to be transferable to others in need of indulgence).