These nuns can be a burden for you, mi padre; but you are indeed indebted to them, for they have deeply felt your trials, especially in Toledo…
Saint Teresa of Avila
Letter 454 to Padre Jerónimo Gracián (excerpt)
Burgos, 25 June 1582
On 4 March 1581, in the chapter of Alcalá, Padre Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios was elected the first provincial of the Teresian Carmel. But not all were in favor of Gracián, and the vote was anything but unanimous. At the end of her life, Teresa herself warned Gracián against being arbitrary and authoritarian. He governed until 1585, attending to the organizational and juridical needs of the new province, extending the discalced friars’ presence outside of Spain and opening the first mission in Africa. He was forty years old at the time and had been superior for as many years as he was a professed religious.
Not all the friars shared Teresa’s judgment of Gracián as “the one who was best able to bring about a union between religious perfection and gentleness.” On finishing his provincialate, Gracián presented to the chapter of Lisbon (May 1585) a detailed defense of his government. According to the opposition, he had been too soft, should have given fewer dispensations, and done more to correct abuses in the strict observance. It seems there were always those who wanted him to do more punishing and threatening.
Gracián proposed Nicolás Doria as his successor. Doria had been in Genoa during the previous three years. He was accepted and Gracián was elected as his first councilor. When the chapter continued in Pastrana, Gracián was elected vicar provincial of Portugal.
At the end of 1586, Gracián published a work zealously promoting the missions, which marked the beginning of trouble with the new provincial. He was ordered to withdraw the book from publication. Furthermore, Gracián had begun to oppose the new form of government devised by Doria at the end of 1585, called the consulta. This was to be a government consisting of a body of five members who would decide matters by vote. He also supported those nuns who opposed changes in Teresa’s constitutions.
The result was a plan to send Gracián to Mexico to serve there as vicar. While Gracián was in Seville preparing to go to Mexico, orders came from the religious authorities in Portugal, commissioning him to make some visitations in Portugal. There was fear that the English would invade, and it was rumored among Castilians that the Carmelite prior in Lisbon, Padre Antonio Calderón, was an antonista [political supporter of Dom Antonio de Avis] hiding arquebuses and making plans for betrayal. Gracián’s task was to find the friars favoring the revolution, calm them down, and urge them to stay out of politics.
This new commission, of course, prevented his going to Mexico. In 1588, Doria obtained the authority to be a vicar general of the discalced friars and nuns. In the meanwhile Gracián was carrying out his assignment as visitator of the Carmelites of the observance in Portugal.
When the nuns obtained a brief from Sixtus V confirming their desire that the constitutions of St. Teresa not be changed, it was seen as opposition to Doria’s government. Gracián was reputed to have given his strong support to the nuns. After he finished his two-year visitation in Portugal, the time seemed ripe for Gracián’s brethren to begin a process against him. He was imprisoned in the monastery of San Hermenegildo in Madrid and forbidden to write any letters without permission from Doria. The investigations and interrogations went on for six months.
On 17 February 1592, the sentence was pronounced against Gracián. He was declared incorrigible, ordered to remove the habit of the discalced Carmelite friars, and expelled for sowing discord and opposition to the superiors.
Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
Biographical Sketch (excerpt)
We commend to our readers the letter, A Man on a Journey, marking the Fourth Centenary of the death of Padre Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios (1545-1614), issued in 2014 by the Prior General of the Carmelite Order, Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., and the Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites, Saverio Cannistrà, O.C.D. And as always, we continue to recommend O’Mahony’s translation of the magisterial history of the Teresian Carmel by Ildefonso Moriones, O.C.D.
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.