The Founding of the Discalced Carmelites
A combination of political and social conditions that prevailed in Europe in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries- the Hundred Years’ War, Black Plague, the Protestant revolt and the Humanist revival – adversely affected the Order. Many Carmelites and even whole communities succumbed to contemporary attitudes and conditions diametrically opposed to their original vocation. To meet this situation the Rule was “mitigated” several times. Consequently, the Carmelites bore less and less resemblance to the first hermits of Mount Carmel.
St. Teresa of Ávila considered the surest way to prayer to be a return to the Primitive Rule embodying Carmel’s authentic vocation. A group of nuns assembled in her cell one September evening in 1560, taking their inspiration from the primitive tradition of Carmel and the Discalced reform of St. Peter of Alcantara, a controversial movement within Spanish Franciscanism, proposed the foundation of a monastery of an eremitical kind.
With little resources and often bitter opposition, St. Teresa succeeded in 1562 in establishing a small monastery with the austerity of desert solitude within the heart of the city of Ávila, Spain, combining eremitical and community life. On 24 August 1562, the new Convent of St. Joseph was founded. Her rule, which retained a distinctively Marian character, contained exacting prescriptions for a life of continual prayer, safeguarded by strict enclosure and sustained by the asceticism of solitude, manual labour, perpetual abstinence, fasting, and fraternal charity. In addition to this, St. Teresa envisioned an order fully dedicated to poverty.
Working in close collaboration with St. Teresa was St. John of the Cross, who with Anthony of Jesus founded the first convent of Discalced Carmelite friars in Duruelo, Spain on 28 November 1568.
The Discalced Carmelites were established as a separate province of the Carmelite Order by the decree “Pia consideratione” of Pope Gregory XIII on 22 June 1580. By this decree, the Discalced Carmelites were still subject to the Prior General of the Carmelite Order in Rome but were otherwise distinct from the Carmelites in that they could elect their own superiors and author their own constitutions for their common life. The following Discalced Carmelite Chapter at Alcala de Henares, Spain in March 1581 established the constitutions of the Discalced Carmelites and elected the first provincial of the Discalced Carmelites, Fr. Jerome Gratian, OCD. This office was later translated into that of Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites.