The Carmelite Rule

“It is to me that you have come for a rule of life in keeping with your avowed purpose; a rule you may hold fast to, henceforward.” (Rule of St. Albert: Prologue)

We may never know with certainty the precise date of the formal beginnings of the Order or the circumstances which brought the hermits together near the fountain of Elijah. Some time about the year 1210 AD, they had become a definite community and decided to ask Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to give them a rule of life.

The Carmelite Rule keeps to the essentials but beneath its brevity, there is a great depth of spiritual insight and even a certain originality. Its very simplicity has given it a durability that has enabled it to last for almost nine centuries. If we bear in mind that the average lifespan of Religious Orders in the Church is between 200 and 300 years, it will be seen that the Carmelite Order is among those who are exceptionally blessed. The quality of its Rule is one factor that has contributed to its longevity. It is blunt yet gentle, short but deep. It has an unmistakably biblical flavor, a perennial quality and a hidden beauty.

The Rule was originally written as a letter from Albert to the leader of the group of hermits, who is referred to in the text as “B,” and still reads very well as a letter. In it, Albert is very aware of the life the hermits were already living and his text builds on that lifestyle.

The numbering of the articles in the text below follows that agreed by the General Council of the Order of Carmelites and the Order of Carmelites Discalced as promulgated on January 30, 1999. The additions approved by Innocent IV in 1247 are given in italics.

The Rule of St. Albert

1. 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 in Christ, B. and the other hermits under obedience to him, who live near the spring on Mount Carmel.

2. Many and varied are the ways in which our saintly forefathers laid down how everyone, whatever his station or the kind of religious observance he has chosen, should live a life in allegiance to Jesus Christ — how, pure in heart and stout in conscience, he must be unswerving in the service of the Master.

3. It is to me, however, that you have come for a rule of life in keeping with your avowed purpose, a rule you may hold fast to henceforward; and therefore:

4. 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 maturer part of you. Each of the others must promise him obedience — of which, once promised, he must try to make his deed the true reflection— and also chastity and the renunciation of ownership.

5. If the Prior and the brothers see fit you may have foundations in solitary places, or where you are given a site suitable and convenient for the observance proper to your Order.

6. Next, each one of you is to have a separate cell, situated as the lie of the land you propose to occupy may dictate, and allotted by disposition of the Prior with the agreement of the other brothers, or the more mature among them.

7. However, you are to eat whatever may have been given you in a common refectory, listening together meanwhile to a reading from Holy Scripture where that can be done without difficulty.

8. None of the brothers is to occupy a cell other than that allotted to him, or to exchange cells with another, without leave of whoever is Prior at the time.

9. The Prior’s cell should stand near the entrance to your property, so that he may be the first to meet those who approach, and whatever has to be done in consequence may all be carried out as he may decide and order.

10. Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord's law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty.

11. Those who know how to say the canonical hours with 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 the hours must say twenty-five ‘Our Fathers’ for the night office, except on Sundays and solemnities when that number is to be doubled so that the ‘Our Father’ is said fifty times; the same prayer must be said seven times in the morning in place of Lauds, and seven times for each of the other hours, except for Vespers when it must be said fifteen times.

12. None of the brothers must lay claim to anything as his own, but you are to possess everything in common; and each is to receive from the Prior — that is from the brother he appoints for the purpose — whatever befits his age and needs.

13. You may have as many asses and mules as you need, however, and may keep a certain amount of livestock or poultry.

14. An oratory should be built as conveniently as possible among the cells, where, if it can be done without difficulty, you are to gather each morning to hear Mass.

15. On Sundays, or other days if necessary, you should discuss matters of discipline and your spiritual welfare; and on this occasion the indiscretions and failings of the brothers, if any be found at fault, should be lovingly corrected.

16. You are to fast every day, except Sundays, from the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter Day, unless bodily sickness or feebleness, or some other good reason demand a dispensation from the fast; for necessity overrides the law.

17. You are to abstain from meat, except as a remedy for sickness or feebleness. But as, when you are on a journey, you more often than not have 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 your hosts. At sea, however, meat may be eaten.

18. Since man’s life on earth is a time of trial, and all who would live devotedly in Christ must undergo persecution, and the devil your foe is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for prey to devour, you must use every care to clothe yourselves in God’s amour— that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush.

19. Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness 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 flaming missiles of the wicked one, there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this — your 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 the Lord’s word for accompaniment.

20. You must give yourselves to work of some kind, so that the devil may always find you busy; no idleness on your part must give him a chance to pierce the defenses of your souls. In this respect you have both the teaching and the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, into whose mouth Christ put his own words. God made him preacher and teacher of faith and truth to the nations, with him as teacher you cannot go astray. We lived among you, he said, 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 your own selves, an example you might imitate. For the charge we gave you when we were with you was this: that whoever is not willing to work should not be allowed to eat either. For we have heard that there are certain restless idlers among you. We charge people of this kind, and implore them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that they earn their own bread by silent toil. This is the way of holiness and goodness, see that you follow it.

21. The Apostle would have us keep silence, for in silence he tells us to work. As the Prophet also makes known to us, 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 are to keep silence from after Compline until after Prime the next day.

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 then, 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 prove mortal. Like the Prophet, watch your step lest your tongue give offense, and employ every care in keeping silent, which is the way to foster holiness.

22. Your brother B., and whoever may succeed him as Prior, must always keep in mind and put into practice what our Lord said in the Gospel, "Whoever has a mind to become a leader among you must make yourself servant to the rest, and whichever of you would be first must become your bondsman".

23. You other brothers too, hold your Prior in humble reverence, your minds not on him but on Christ who has placed him over you, and who, to those who rule the Churches, addressed these 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".

24. Here then are a few points I have written down to provide you with a standard of conduct to live up to; but our Lord, at his second coming, will reward anyone who does more than he is obliged to do. See that the bounds of common sense are not exceeded, however, for common sense is the guide of the virtues.

 
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