St. Albert of Avogardo, Patriarch of Jerusalem 1206-1214, who gave the hermits
on Mount Carmel their Formula Vitae or Way of Life
on Mount Carmel their Formula Vitae or Way of Life
Albert of Jerusalem 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 peace-maker. While he was Patriarch (1206-1214) he united the hermits of Mount Carmel into one community and wrote a Rule for them. He was murdered at Acre on 14th September, 1214.
From the rule delivered to the Brothers of Mount Carmel by Saint Albert of Jerusalem
(Chs. 14, 16; ed. Edwards-Clarke 1973, 1973, pp 87-89, 91-93) Spiritual exhortations
"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 armor, so that you may be ready to withstand the enemy’s ambush.
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. 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.
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. 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 your words in, keep a tight rein on your mouths lest you should stumble and fail in speech, and your fall be irreparable and 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."
Pope Benedict congratulates the Carmelite celebration:
“With their eyes fixed on Christ and trusting in the help of the saints who during the last eight centuries have incarnated the dictates of the Rule of Carmel, each member of the Order of Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel feels called to be a credible witness of the spiritual dimension of every human being,” Benedict XVI said.
The lay faithful, the Pope added, can find in Carmelite communities authentic “‘schools’ of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly ‘falls in love.’”
The approval [of the Rule of St. Albert] was the “first recognition by the Church of this group of men, who left everything to live in reverence of Jesus Christ, imitating the sublime examples of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the prophet Elijah,” the Pontiff said.
Albert ‘s rule, if we can condense it to one all important message is:
‘Each 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’”.
In honor of the 800 year celebration it was said, “Mount Carmel, in Carmelite terms, had ceased to be a mountain in Palestine. It had become a place in the heart – whose ascent is precisely the journey inwards, from the edges of our lives to the centre.” [Tony Leste: The Carmelite Way of Life: Commemorating the Rule of St. Albert]
Origins: The Primitive Carmelite Spirit.
The Carmelites must be located in the context of the lay hermit movements that arose in Europe during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. These movements, typified by the disciples of Francis of Assisi and by the various hermit groups of central Italy that were united in 1256 to form the Augustinian Hermits, were a product of the great 12th century renewal of the Church called the Vita Apostolica movement in which devout men and women strove to live in imitation of Christ and his twelve apostles. Central to this scheme was a radical poverty in which the hermit imitated the apostles sent out to preach with no bag, no spare tunic, no walking stick (Matt 10:10). Although the lay hermits were essentially contemplative, their identity cannot be separated from a mission of witnessing to the Gospel by both deeds and words. The medieval imagination did not dichotomize the apostolic and contemplative lives; the overflow of prayer was seen to be apostolic preaching. The hermits’ zeal to imitate the poverty of Christ led them to a profoundly incarnational spirituality by which they approached the Divine Mystery through the humanity of Christ, a feature that has always remained central in the Carmelite tradition.
The phenomenon of lay hermits was by no means limited to Italy; the Latin Crusader kingdom was a particularly fertile ground for those who wished to live like the desert fathers. Sometime after 1193 with the peace that concluded the Third Crusade, hermits began to gather in the wadi ‘ain es-Siah on the south-western slopes of Mount Carmel within sight of the Mediterranean. The names and origins of these hermits have not survived. Some were pilgrims to the Holy Land who decided to stay in the land of Christ as an expression of their religious conversion. Some had probably been hermits before Saladin’s victory at Hattin forced the Latin population to evacuate the majority of the kingdom they had held since the First Crusade. Some perhaps were adventurers who had come to the Holy Land and there experienced a conversion. There is no evidence that the hermits living on Mt. Carmel had any sort of organization prior to the time that they chose a leader and approached the Latin Patriarch, Albert of Vercelli (also known as Albert of Avogardo d. 1214), and asked him for a Way of Life (formula vitae) sometime between 1206 and 1214.
The Formula Vitae which Albert gave to the hermits on Mount Carmel was mitigated and recognized as a Religious Rule by Pope Innocent IV in 1247
It is arguable whether Albert gave them their formula vitae or whether he ratified a proposal they presented to him. The document shows some evidence of two hands, and perhaps the formula vitae was actually a composite of precepts that expressed the simple form of life which the hermits themselves proposed to lead and Albert's spiritual exhortation to them about living a life of discipleship to Jesus Christ (in obsequio Ihesu Chrisi).
The Way of Life which Albert gave to the hermits is extremely simple with only a minimum of prescriptions. There is no mention of a habit. Albert mandated perpetual abstinence and a great fast from the Feast of the Holy Cross until Easter. The hermits were to hear mass daily, but pray the psalms alone in their cells. As was characteristic of hermits in the vita apostolica tradition, they were to have no private possessions. They were to submit themselves in obedience to their prior whom—Albert reminded them—Christ had placed over them. The prior, on his part, was to remember the scriptural injunction about the one who would be greatest serving the needs of the others. Unless they were legitimately occupied elsewhere, they were to remain in their cells meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord. This last injunction has been seen by many as being at the heart of Carmelite Spirituality, but recent scholarship suggests that perhaps this is too narrow an interpretation. What is certainly central in the spirituality outlined in the Formula Vitae Albert gave the hermits is attentiveness to the Word of God. Albert exhorted them: “Let the Sword of the Spirit, that is the Word of God, dwell in your hearts and on your lips, that all that you do you may do with the Word of the Lord for accompaniment.” Carmelite Spirituality is a Spirituality of the Word of God. It was this immersion in the Word of God that generated the dynamism of their spirituality.
The rhythm of Carmelite life, established by these first hermits, is marked by collective and individual solitude, which creates an atmosphere in which union with God is achieved through continuous prayer. Specific religious discipline mandates silence, fasting, perpetual abstinence from meat, manual work, vocal recitation of the psalms, the chapter of faults, and hearing mass. They were exhorted, in Albert’s paraphrase of Ephesians 6:11-17, to don the spiritual armor of the moral virtues.
The Latin Hermits on Mount Carmel receive their Formula Vitae form St. Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Jacques de Vitry, Bishop of Acre from 1216 to 1228, testifies to this primitive vision writing: (The hermits) … after the example of the holy prophet, Elijah live on Mount Carmel--on that part of the mountain that is near Haifa, by the fountain of Elijah, close to (The Abbey of) St. Margaret of Carmel. They live as hermits. And there like bees they store their honey, offering the Lord the sweetness of their spirit in their little cells.
(Jacques DeVitry, La Traduction de l'Historia Orientalis de Jacques DeVitry, ed. Claude Buridant (Paris: Klincksieck, 1986), p.96.)