Mary and Carmelite Spirituality
The Scapular
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There is a strong theme in Carmelite history and spirituality that assures us of Mary's patronal protection.  Carmelites do not have a Marian spirituality in the same sense that St. Louis de Montfort proposed, i.e. that is a spirituality that focuses around Mary as its organizing principle.  Our spirituality is Christo-centric; its goal is a life of discipleship of Jesus Christ.  Tavard dates the oldest Marian spirituality to St. Jeanne de Valois, a French princess who had visions at the end of the fifteenth century.  [19]  The influence of Jeanne de Valois will stamp some French spirituality, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Carmelite Michael of St. Augustine and later St. Louis de Montfort will be the high water marks of this type of spirituality.  But it was never characteristic of Carmel, and indeed is incompatible with the authentic Carmelite tradition which never looses its solitary focus on Jesus Christ.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is mentioned in neither of the Order's two great thirteenth century foundational documents:  the Rule and the Fiery Arrow.  On the other hand, Mary was profoundly important to the hermits.  The chapel on Mount Carmel was dedicated to her; she was the Lady of the Place, to whom the hermits had a particular loyalty.  (Of course, Mary was the most common object of dedication and titling of Churches in this period.)  The hermits were known as her hermits, her brothers.  At the end of the fourteenth century, the Order's third and final great foundational document, The Institute of the First Monks, presented a very thorough treatment of the Blessed Virgin in Carmelite heritage. As expanded as is the role given her in this work is, however, Mary cannot be called the "organizing principle" of the spirituality proposed in this document.  The role of Mary in the medieval Carmelite tradition is frustrating to many Lay Carmelites today who want to follow the Montfort tradition but call it "Carmelite."

Right from the beginning of the Order the Carmelites most likely saw Mary as the protector.  Their church, on the frontier of the Saracen world, was not put under the patronage of the warrior saints who could defend it with arms, saints such as Michael or George.  It was to Mary that they entrusted themselves and their foundation.

The most important defense of the Carmelite Order that its heavenly patroness would have to mount was not against the Saracens, however, but against the hierarchy.  At the second Council of Lyons in 1274 the Carmelites and Augustinians were threatened with suppression by the assembled cardinals, bishops, and abbots.  The monks and diocesan clergy did not like the mendicants who were very popular with the common people.  Vocations and financial support were going to these new orders rather than the traditional ones.  The Dominicans and Franciscans were too big and too close to the papacy for their enemies to eliminate, but the Carmelites and Augustinians were easy pickings.  The strategy was simple.  Lateran IV had decreed in 1215 that there should be no new religious orders. The Augustinians were clearly instituted after this date having been formed by the Great Union of 1256 uniting a number of Italian hermit communities under the Rule of Augustine. The Carmelites, for their part, claimed to predate the ban but the Holy See had no record of them before 1226. The two small mendicant orders would simply be abolished as having been founded contrary to the canons of Lateran IV.

The larger mendicant orders, the Franciscans and Dominicans, were reluctant to help the two smaller orders. The smaller orders provided a scapegoat to satisfy the blood lust of the mendicants' enemies.  The Dominicans and Franciscans had much to gain from eliminating the small competition -- they could feed off the carcasses of the demolished orders, taking what vocations they wanted, appropriating houses, wooing benefactors.  The Augustinians had a cardinal friend, Riccardo Annibaldi, who worked hard on their behalf, but the Carmelites were more or less on their own.  Their only help could come from their heavenly patroness. The date was set for the canon suppressing the order to be presented to the Council:  July 17.  It would take a miracle.

The miracle came through, though it is not clear exactly how.  Perhaps it was the confusion in the council caused by the death of one of the leading members of the papal household and council fathers, the Franciscan Cardinal (Saint) Bonaventure of Bagnoreggio in the night of July 15. Whatever the cause, the decree of the council changed substantially.  Whereas the text scheduled to be presented on July 17 read, "The Orders of the Carmelites and of the Hermits of Saint Augustine who allege that they had been founded before the said Council...", the final text promulgated by the pope on November 21 read, "The foundation of the Orders of the Carmelites and the Hermits of Saint Augustine took place prior to the said general council..."  In other words, the argument for suppressing the two orders was undermined in the definitive canon and they were given a reprieve.  Although that reprieve was not made permanent until 1298, the order's closest brush with extinction (though not its last) was overcome. [20]  The Carmelites had a close call, and they remembered the deliverance that Mary's protection had won them.  Cicconetti claims that from 1274 on the Carmelites associated July 17 with deep gratitude to our Blessed Lady for her protection.  [21]  This deliverance could not be celebrated on July 17, the feast of the very popular (in the Middle Ages) Saint Alexis, so it came to be celebrated on July 16.  It was only in the late fourteenth century that this date replaced August 15 as the preeminent feast in honor of the Virgin for Carmelites.  As the scapular stories emerge, the date July 16 will be associated not only with Mary's protection of the Order, but explicitly with the conferral of the sign of that protection, the scapular, to Saint Simon Stock.

I would like to suggest that many of the stories surrounding the scapular may have originated as "sermon stories" of Mary's protection.  Before I go too far down this road, let me say that good preachers, including Jesus, have always used stories to illustrate their points in sermons. The truth (or falsity) of those stories is not found in their historicity, but in the theological point they are trying to illustrate.  When Jesus said, "A certain man went down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho," he did not necessarily have a specific man in mind.  His audience understood the nature of a parable. Every blessing has a curse as its shadow.  We praise the invention of the printing press and the widespread literacy that it made possible, but the revolution in human learning that the printing press introduced has weakened our power to think imaginatively.  Oral cultures, as opposed to literary cultures, thrive on poetry and myth. Legends, sagas, and epics are not limited to the "factual" but they contain far more profound truth than our endlessly tedious prose dialectic.  There could be noting more foreign to either our biblical faith or Catholic tradition than to reduce faith to the words on a page or the facts in a book.

Medieval preaching was alive with stories and legends.  Didactic preaching belongs to the Reformation.  In the Middle Ages preaching was an entertainment art as well as a catechetical tool.  Much research has been done in recent years about medieval preaching and how the friars of various orders met with their confreres to plan preaching campaigns and exchange some of the most powerful stories they used.  Preachers then, as preachers now, robbed stories from one another -- and indeed from a wide variety of sources, not just other preachers -- redesigning them to suit their audiences.

Carmelites were familiar with, and perhaps jealous of, the legends with which the Dominicans surrounded the story of their habit.  At a debate at the University of Cambridge in 1375, the Carmelite, John Hornby, attacked the Dominican John Stokes, precisely over the claims the Dominicans made for having received their habit from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  According to Hornby, the Carmelites, ardent supporters of Mary's Immaculate Conception, were far more worthy of Mary's attention than the Dominicans.  They followed the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas who denied the Immaculate Conception.  Hornby says that if the Dominicans had received their habit from the Blessed Virgin, they show her little gratitude.  They are, he insists, "her greatest enemies" because of their denial of her Immaculate Conception.  [22]

Hornby testified in his debate with Stokes to a Dominican custom of having a picture or statue of the Blessed Virgin bestowing the Dominican scapular on them in each of their houses.  Her never mentions any such custom concerning the Carmelite scapular vision and there are no (surviving?) pictures of Mary bestowing the scapular on Carmelites from this period or earlier. Hornby seems totally ignorant of any legends concerning his fellow Englishman, Simon Stock, having received the scapular from the Blessed Virgin in the previous century.

Richard Copsey writes of St. Simon Stock:  "St. Simon Stock is an elusive thirteenth century Carmelite saint of whom very little is known but about whom much has been written."  [23]  Bartolomea Xiberta, a Catalan Carmelite scholar who wrote in the middle decades of this century, did a meticulous compilation of medieval references to Simon Stock.  There is one possible thirteenth century reference to him, but it tells us neither that he was general nor of the scapular vision.  In fact, Simon Stock is unknown even to the English Carmelite apologist John Baconthorpe (d. 1348).  English Carmelites William of Coventry, who wrote three essays on the history of the Order c. 1360, and John Hornby, who gave a spirited defense of the Order at Cambridge in 1375, never mention Simon Stock, although as English Carmelites they should have been aware of his role both as general and as receiver of the scapular vision if he were the character the legends portray.  It was only in the middle decades of the fifteenth century that the scapular story begins to circulate in England through the writing of Carmelite Thomas Scrope, and it was even later than this that the vision is associated with Simon Stock.

The earliest records of Simon do not mention the scapular.  They tell us that he was a friar of the English province and was buried at Bordeaux in France.  A local cult developed around his tomb.  Simon Stock was mentioned in the necrology of the Carmine of Florence which was composed by Giovanni Bartoli, c. 1374.  It is clear from the necrology, moreover, that Bartoli had taken the entry from an even earlier edition.  He was mentioned in a catalogue of priors general by Johannes Brossi, prior general of the Avignon obedience Carmelites, c. 1390.  Neither Bartoli or Grossi mention in their documents that Simon had received the scapular from the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Sometime after 1390, however, Grossi heard of the scapular vision and its connection with Simon. Originally the Simon connected with the story may not have been the Simon who was buried at Bordeaux and who was thought to have been a thirteenth century general of the Order.  But Grossi, if not his source, conflated the two Simons tying Simon Stock to the scapular vision a century and a half after its alleged occurrence.  [24]

I think it is entirely probable that the actual story of the scapular vision arises relatively late in the fourteenth century and is borrowed from stories common among religious orders regarding their habits and privileges accrued to the habits. According to Christian Ceroke, O. Carm., the text of the oldest surviving story of the scapular vision, dating from the end of the fourteenth century, is this:

    The Blessed Virgin appeared to him (Simon Stock) with a multitude of angels, holding in her blessed hands the Scapular of the Order. She said "This will be for you and for all Carmelites the privilege:  that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire, that is, he who dies in this will be saved.  [25]

Notice in this story the promise is made not to whoever wears the scapular but to Simon and "all Carmelites."  In order to share in the benefits of this propitio of the Blessed Virgin, one must have at least some degree of affiliation to the Carmelite Order. This is far different than the popular understanding of the scapular today.

The story of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to an early general of the Order at a time when the future of the Order was still very much in doubt and bestowing a sign of her protection and favor on the Order's members is a charming story that contains a profound truth which Carmelites have come to appreciate from the first two centuries of their experience.  From their days living on the Saracen frontier to the night of their deliverance at Lyons, from the tiny community of hermits in the wade-en-siah to a huge Order of friars with convents in every major city of Christendom, Mary had watched over her brothers and protected them.