On the matter of apostolic visitations
At the very time that [Carmelite Prior General Juan Bautista] Rubeo had been in Spain on his mission of reform , Philip II was engaged in plans for his own reform of the religious orders, the Carmelites among them. This comes as no surprise when it is pointed out that according to Philip’s information, the cause for the success of Lutheranism in the north of Europe could be attributed to laxity among the friars.
With the brief Maxime cuperemus obtained from Pius V on 2 December 1566, the king, in a first move, instructed bishops to carry out visitations of religious orders. These visitations were to be done through delegates who in turn were to be accompanied by serious religious appointed by the provincial of the respective religious order.
But as for Carmelites, Trinitarians, and Mercedarians (orders that were considered to be lacking in the number of observants who would be able to assist the bishops in carrying out the reform of the conventuals), another brief, Superioribus mensibus, 16 April 1567, instructed that two Dominicans were to accompany the bishop’s delegate [observants were religious who desired to observe their charism in a more primitive form than those who resided in convents].
This action of the king ignored the privilege of religious exemption held by these orders, and also the decree of the Council of Trent that entrusted reform to the religious superiors. Moreover, the Carmelites in the general chapter of 1564 had pronounced themselves to be observants and denounced conventualism. Rubeo made a report to the Holy See, both giving an account of his visitation in Spain and asking that the king’s visitation be revoked.
But in the meantime, Philip’s first steps toward reform failed. The situation, in fact, worsened when Philip decided to dispense with the assistance of the Dominicans and leave everything in the hands of diocesan clergy and laymen. The Carmelites in Andalusia who had been expelled or removed from office by Rubeo managed to find favor with the new visitators, were reinstated, and were absolved from excommunication. Learning of this, Rubeo indignantly pointed out that the excommunication he had imposed was reserved by Pope Callistus III to the Holy See.
Perhaps because of the complaints of the superiors general, Pius V decided to remove the visitation from the hands of the bishops. Formally revoking the brief Superioribus mensibus, on 13 January 1570, the pope turned to another solution and put the work of reform into the hands of the generals, each being responsible for his own order. He made a careful exception, however, regarding the Carmelites, Trinitarians, and Mercedarians, entrusting their reform to Dominican friars who would remain in their offices as apostolic commissaries for four years. At the end of the four years, the mandate would be extended if necessary.
Pedro Fernández and Francisco Vargas, two Dominican friars, were named visitators of the Carmelites, the former of those in Castile, the latter, of those in Andalusia. They received powers to move religious from house to house and province to province, to assist superiors in their offices, and to depute other superiors from among either the Dominicans or the Carmelites. They were entitled to perform all acts necessary for the visitation, correction, and reform of both head and members of all houses of friars and nuns [in 1571, St. Teresa wrote concerning Pedro Fernández, O.P.: This Father Visitator brings me life, for I don’t think he is deceived by me as are all others; God wishes to enlighten him about how miserable I am, and so he catches me in imperfections at every step. I am very consoled by this and seek to make them known to him. It is a great relief to be transparent before one who stands in the place of God. In this way I will benefit from the time I am with him (Letter 34)].
Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D.
The Book of Her Foundations: Introduction
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.
Featured image: This is a detail from a mural painting in the upper cloister of the Convento del Carmen Alto in Quito, Ecuador. Depicting the reform of the Carmelite Order, in the foreground, you see St. John of the Cross (far right) and Fray Antonio de Jesús (Heredia), John’s companion in the reform at the first convent in Duruelo, Spain. They both carry books that represent St. Teresa’s “primitive rule,” which she explains in her book, The Foundations:
I went with Fray John of the Cross to the foundation of Valladolid about which I have written [Cf. The Foundations, Chap. 10; the year was 1568]. And since we spent some days before establishing the enclosure on account of the workmen who were getting the house ready, there was an opportunity to teach Father Fray John of the Cross about our way of life so that he would have a clear understanding of everything, whether it concerned mortification or the style of both our community life and the recreation we have together. The recreation is taken with such moderation that it only serves to reveal the Sisters’ faults and to provide a little relief so that the rule may be kept in its strictness. He was so good that I, at least, could have learned much more from him than he from me. Yet this is not what I did, but I taught him about the lifestyle of the Sisters (The Foundations, Chap. 13, no. 5).
In the image we see St. Teresa on the left, accompanied by two nuns who were her traveling companions, visiting St. John and Fray Antonio at Duruelo several weeks after they inaugurated the new foundation of discalced friars, who in due time would canonically renounce the conventual life to become observants. Teresa tells us that this visit occurred “during the first week of Lent” in the year 1569: “The following Lent, while on my way to the foundation in Toledo, I passed by there” (The Foundations, Chap. 14, no. 6). In the background, St. Teresa raises her left hand, pointing to the little convent at Duruelo. We see one of the friars holding an object, which may represent St. Teresa’s designs for the new convent.
Artwork details: Reformation of the Carmelite Order, a mural painting ca. 1653 located in the upper cloister, Convento del Carmen Alto, Quito, Ecuador. This artwork is based on an engraving by Adriaen Collaert (Flemish, 1555-1623) and Cornelis Galle the Elder (Netherlandish, 1576-1650). The inscription on the engraving reads: Novam quoque religiosorum restaurationem magnanima Virgo movente Deo molitur, eoque fine B. P. Ioannem a Crucem, et Vener. P. Antonium a Iesu, ad pristinum Carmeli institutum exhortata, instruit, et seriem gerendorum edocet (A new restoration of the religious life is also attempted on the part of the magnanimous Virgin [Teresa], moved by God, who instructs and teaches Blessed Father John of the Cross and Venerable Father Antonio a series of actions to that effect).