The Carmelites and St. Albert of Jerusalem. Origins and Identity
As with individuals, the origins and identity of the particular charism that gives rise to a Religious Order are closely intertwined. The Carmelites can trace their documented history back to the Formula of Life (c. 1206-14) that Albert, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, addressed to some Latin hermits on Mount Carmel and to their leader, known only as ‘B.’ Originally a group of hermit-brothers living under obedience to their chosen Prior, the group were formally recognised as a Religious Order of hermit-brother-friars when Pope Innocent IV approved an adapted version of Albert’s Formula of Life as the Carmelite Rule in 1247. The following centuries witnessed the gradual rise and slow demise of the so-called ‘Elijan succession’, the claim that being founded on a monastic basis by the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, the Order had a much earlier origin (nine centuries before the Incarnation rather than twelve centuries after) and a different identity (monks rather than friars) than would have appeared to be the case during the middle years of the thirteenth century. The Elijan succession has had its critics and its supporters since it was first proposed and this book traces both its gradual emergence and its gradual decline following the advent of critical Hagiography from the late fifteenth century. As the Elijan succession grew to become the dominant tradition in the Order, the role of Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem in the foundation of the Carmelites was first sidelined and then obscured. By the sixteenth-century, for example, even such a significant Carmelite figure as St Teresa of Avila makes no mention of Albert in any of her extant writings. With the slow decline of the Elijan succession, however, Albert’s role has increasingly been recognised. Although, from an historical point of view, the Formula of Life is the foundation expression of the Carmelite charism and the two founding figures were Albert and ‘B.’, some preconceived notion of what founders should be seems to prevent many from recognising them as the founders and there are some who even claim that the Order has no founders at all. By presenting the whole process of development within the covers of a single volume, this book hopes to shed light on both the true nature of our origins and on the true nature of charismatic identity that is the common heritage of all Carmelites, an identity whose first expression Albert shaped so indelibly.