The Carmelites

The Franciscans and the Dominicans were by far the largest of the mendicant orders. So popular did they become and so mightily did they stir the imagination of earnest Christians in Western Europe that they stimulated the development of similar bodies. Of these the most prominent were the Carmelites and the Augustinian Hermits or Friars.

The Carmelites ascribed their origin to Elijah who, it was said, founded a community of hermits on Mt. Carmel which continued to the time of Christ. Some of its members, so it was claimed, were then converted to the Christian faith and enrolled the Virgin Mary and the apostles as members. The order, it was maintained, then persisted unbroken as a Christian fellowship.

Actually, what became the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel can be traced only to the twelfth century. At that time a few pilgrims who took advantage of the Crusades to go to Palestine established themselves as a company of hermits on Mt, Carmel. About the year 1210, namely, while the Franciscans and Dominicans were taking shape, they were given a rule by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. They were not unlike the Carthusians and the Camaldulians. They were to live in silence and retirement: far from other human habitation and were to meet only at specified times but not for meals. Eventually several other affiliated groups arose in Palestine.

The reconquest of Palestine by the Moslems constrained the Carmelites to scatter. They went to Cyprus and to several countries in the south and west of Europe. In 1229 they won Papal recognition as mendicants. Many were attracted to their ranks. The younger group found the old way of the hermit unfitted to conditions in Europe and wished, like the other friars, to preach and in preparation for that mission to frequent the universities. A crisis arose which threatened the existence of the order. Rescue from this outcome was chiefly by some of its English members, led by Simon Stock, who became general of the order in 1247. He obtained modifications which brought the order more nearly into the pattern of life of the Franciscans and Dominicans. In spite of protests Simon's ideas eventually prevailed and at a chapter general in London in 1281 closer approximation to the programme of studies of the Dominicans was achieved. The Carmelites established themselves in the universities. Yet the love of the older type of life, that of the hermit, persisted among some of the members.

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