The first such post was about Elijah as the father of Carmel. The second was about the early hermits of Mount Carmel. The second of those posts contains some small mention of New Testament passages about Christianity spreading to the north and south of Mount Carmel during New Testament times, which may have some significance to this post too, although Mary was not much mentioned there. That post also quotes an excerpt from a fourteenth century French sermon about the history of the Carmelite order, which mentions that the early Christian hermits "built a Church or oratory in honor of the Holy Virgin, in a spot which, they had been told, she often frequented in her life, with her maiden companions. For this reason, they were the first among all religious orders to be called children of the Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel."
This post is about the references in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila about the order as the Order of Our Lady, and the habit as Our Lady's habit, and how the Carmelite devotion to Mary reflects the memory of Mary's life in Nazareth, which is not far from Mount Carmel.
The only part of Scripture that ties Mary to Mount Carmel is the proximity of the mountain and coast to Jesus's childhood home town of Nazareth. Of course, it is easy to imagine that a first century family living in Nazareth would have spent time together in the nearby mountains and by the sea. We know that the Holy Family traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, a much greater distance. We also know that the New Testament mentions Jesus going into the mountains and hills to spend long hours, even the entire night, in prayer. It makes sense to think that his mother might have spent time in the mountains praying and meditating, and that he felt comfortable there alone at night having spent time in the mountains as a child.
Aside from that kind of inference and guesswork, there is little historical evidence to tie the Holy Family, or Mary in particular, to Mount Carmel. The stories may have developed from exactly that kind of inference and imagination, or they may have been passed down through the centuries. It is not possible to know for sure, from historical records, whether she really walked there or not.
Also, we do not know a lot about how Marian the early hermits on Mount Carmel were in their faith. However, devotion to Mary is something that marked the faith of St. John of Damascus, who was born and was educated in seventh century Damascus (north of Israel) and who is thought to have later become one of the Palestinian monks of the Great Laura of St. Sabas in Israel, south of Galilee. The canons of St. Andrew of Crete, who was born in Damascus in 660 and
educated at the Monastery of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, also show
a strong Marian devotion. The worst opponent of St. John of Damascus in the crisis over iconoclasm was Byzantine Emperor Constantine V, who opposed the use of images and references to Mary as
the “Mother of God", and who later persecuted the entire monastic system. Thus, we know that other monks and hermits elsewhere in Palestine underwent persecution in the eighth century for their devotion to Mary, and it is thus likely that any monks and hermits then living on Mount Carmel were also persecuted for similar Marian devotion.
Present Day Carmelite Devotion to Mary
The present day Carmelite devotion to Our Lady is not based on legends and stories. Rather, as mentioned in this earlier post, Pope John Paul II wrote that "Those who wear the Scapular are thus brought into the land of Carmel, so that they may "eat its fruits and its good things" (cf. Jer 2:7), and experience the loving and motherly presence of Mary in their daily commitment to be clothed in Jesus Christ and to manifest him in their life for the good of the Church and the whole of humanity."
Sixteenth Century Carmelite Devotion to Mary
However, in the Middle Ages and in sixteenth century Spain, the Carmelite order was thought to date back to Jewish and Christian hermits who lived on Mount Carmel going all the way back to the time of Elijah. In that context, Mary, who was thought to have walked on Mount Carmel with her friends, was thought to offer special protection to the hermits on Mount Carmel.
The North American Carmelite Provincials wrote the following in "Pastoral Comments on the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel" (from Catechesis and Ritual for the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel:
"Stories and legends abound in Carmelite tradition about the many ways in which the Mother of God has interceded for the Order, especially in critical moments in history. Most enduring and popular of these traditions, blessed by the Church, concerns Mary's promise to an early Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock, that anyone who remains faithful to the Carmelite vocation until death will be granted the grace of final perseverance. The Carmelite Order has been anxious to share this patronage and protection with those who are devoted to the Mother of God and so has extended both its habit (the scapular) and affiliation to the larger Church."
St. Teresa of Avila's writings have numerous references to the Carmelite order as the order of Our Lady, and to the habit as the habit of Our Lady, especially in her later writings. When she wrote The Life, her first book, she did not speak of the order or habit that way as much, perhaps because of the circumstances of writing and the intended audience. She did call the 1248 Carmelite Rule the "Rule of Our Lady of Carmel" in Chapter 36. Moreover, she described visions of Our Lady. In Chapter 37, she described a vision of the Virgin that she had while at the Monastary of the Incarnation in Avila:
"While praying in the church, before I went into the house, and being as it were in a trance, I saw Christ; who, as it seemed to me, received me with great affection, placed a crown on my head, and thanked me for what I had done for His Mother. On another occasion, when all of us remained in the choir in prayer after Compline, I saw our Lady in exceeding glory, in a white mantle, with which she seemed to cover us all. I understood by that the high degree of glory to which our Lord would raise the religious of this house."
In The Way of Perfection and Interior Castle, there are at least a couple of references to the Carmelite order as Our Lady's Order, and quite a few such references in The Book of the Foundations. At the outset of The Way of Perfection, she described herself as "a nun of the Order of our Lady of Mount Carmel" and her nuns as the "discalced nuns who observe the primitive rule of our Lady of Mount Carmel" In The Way of Perfection (3:10 in Kieran Kavanaugh's translation) she asked for prayer for the bishop, and in the Toledo manuscript, she added, "and this Order of the Blessed Virgin, and all the other orders." [footnote 4 to Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh's Study Guide]
In The Book of the Foundations, more such references appear. In Chapter 23, writing about a man who became a Carmelite, she wrote:
"He left this care to God for whom he left all, and decided to be a subject of the Virgin and take her habit. So they gave it to him amid the great happiness of all, especially of the nuns and the prioress. The nuns gave much praise to our Lord, thinking that His Majesty had granted them his favor through their prayers."
In Chapter 27, she refers to the Rule of St. Albert as "the primitive rule of the order of the Virgin, Our Lady".
And in Chapter 28, she called the order "the order of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady".
In Chapter 29, she spoke of "an endeavor that was so important for the honor and glory of His glorious Mother since it concerned her order. She is our Lady and our Patroness. And this for me was one of the great joys and satisfactions of my life." In Chapter 30, she again calls it the "order of our Lady."
The Carmelite Habit as the "Habit of Our Lady" in the Writings of St. Teresa of Avila
The two Rubens paintings shown here depict the Discalced Carmelite habit as shown by an artist who lived in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By comparison, the last two photographs show Orthodox Church nuns of the present day, whose habit is different in some respects, similar in others, but which serves to illustrate that the idea of nuns wearing veils and habits goes far back in time. Present day Orthodox habits differ from each other, as Catholic habits differ from each other, although the two shown here are alike. What caught my interest was the similarity of the veil itself, although Teresa of Avila may have never seen an Orthodox nun, and the Orthodox habit seems too unlike the Carmelite habit on the whole to have been derived from it.
In his introduction to The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol III, Father Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, mentions that the Discalced Carmelite nuns at St. Joseph's in Avila, Teresa's first foundation, "made themselves externally recognizable through their coarse wool habits and their bare feet." About the veil, he wrote:
"The use of veils by women to cover their faces is a custom almost as old as humanity. The veiling of women in certain parts of the ancient Near East, for example, is manifested in the Middle-Assyrian law Code, in which a harlot or female slave may not veil her face, but all other women must veil themselves when appearing in public. The custom of women veiling their faces in public was common in Palestine in the first Christian century, but St. Paul found it difficult to enforce in some other places. Christianity, in fact, inherited the practice from three civilizations, Jewish, Greek, and Roman. . . . The custom for women to be veiled gradually fell into disuse in the West but was preserved in the East and among Moslems. Nonetheless, the use of the veil was still current in sixteenth century Spain, especially where there was Moorish influence.
"In one of its religious uses the veil became the sign of the consecrated woman. In Teresa's time it caused no surprise or annoyance to see nuns with their faces veiled; this was often done by other women as well when they ventured into the streets."
Accordingly, the veil itself did not necessarily mark the habit as Marian -- as the style could be worn by ordinary women and not only by nuns -- but its link to the Middle East and to first century Palestine was real. Our Lady is regularly depicted with a veil in both western and eastern artwork, and she indeed would have worn a veil.
The early Carmelite habit, like the Carmelite habit of today, held that tie with what Our Lady really would have worn.
In another sense, however, St. Teresa of Avila could have referred to the Carmelite habit as Our Lady's habit simply because she saw the Carmelite order as Our Lady's order, as she said in the sections quoted above.
Here are the references:
"Among [the women Jesus loved] was your most blessed Mother, and through her merits and because we wear her habit we merit what, because of our offenses we do not deserve." [The Way of Perfection 3:7]
"Let us, my daughters, imitate in some way the great humility of the Blessed Virgin, whose habit we wear, for it is embarrassing to call ourselves her nuns. However much it seems to us that we humble ourselves, we fall far short of being the daughters of such a Mother and the brides of such a Spouse." [The Way of Perfection 13:3]
"May the mercy of God help me. In Him I have always trusted through His most sacred Son and the Virgin, our Lady, whose habit I wear through the goodness of the Lord." [Foundations, Chapter 28]
In Interior Castle, St. Teresa mentions Our Lady in the context of telling the nuns to place their trust in the mercy of Christ, relying only on His mercy and fleeing to Him, rather than placing their confidence in Teresa. She calls herself unworthy of the habit, and encourages them to imitate Mary instead of herself. In Chapter 1 of the Third Mansions, she speaks of the importance of that aspect of the nuns' devotion to Our Lady of Carmel as their Mother:
"His Majesty knows that I have nothing to rely upon but His mercy; as I cannot cancel the past, I have no other remedy but to flee to Him, and to confide in the merits of His Son and of His Virgin Mother, whose habit, unworthy as I am, I wear as you do also. Praise Him, then, my daughters, for making you truly daughters of our Lady, so that you need not blush for my wickedness as you have such a good Mother. Imitate her; think how great she must be and what a blessing it is for you to have her for a patroness, since my sins and evil character have brought no tarnish on the lustre of our holy Order."
A few interesting points arise in the course of these references. One is the absence of any reference in these quotations to some of the legends, such as that of Simon Stock mentioned by Father Kavanaugh above. St. Teresa of Avila mentions Our Lady in connection with Jesus, and not in connection with any apparitions. Second is that these quoted references to Our Lady do not base her devotion on her own visions of Our Lady described in The Life.
Why was it important to her that the Discalced Carmelites remember themselves as the Order of Our Lady, and their habit as Our Lady's habit? In the vision quoted above from The Life, it was the Lord who she said would raise the order up. In The Way of Perfection, she mentioned Mary in connection with a discussion of Jesus's love for women, including His mother. The reference to her as Jesus' mother, and to the nuns as brides of Christ, is in the context of encouraging them to live holy lives, remembering their connection with the mother of God.
Graphics: (1)A collection of pictures of Our Lady of Grace, from the Divine Retreat of Ashram, Faridabad, India, the Divine Will Blog, and La Mésange; (2) St. Teresa of Avila interceding for the souls in purgatory, painted by Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish (1577-1640); (3) St. Teresa of Avila by Rubens; (3) Orthodox Church nun Nektarija Karajcic with two of the icons she wrote, from Der Spiegel, hat tip to Gerald Augustinus at The Cafeteria Is Closed; and (5) Orthodox Church nun from the website of St. Anthony's Monastery.