By Linda Frasier, O.C.D.S.
The Rule of St. Albert is the foundational document of the Carmelite family. After approximately a decade of living together as a praying community of hermits on Mount Carmel, they asked St. Albert Avogadro, the patriarch of Jerusalem, to give them a rule of life which would serve to identify their charism, their way of life, and to declare their sense of purpose and unity. The Rule, called a “formula for life” and given in the early 13th century, defined a manner of balanced living for the hermits, a life of solitude within community. Later on, when the hermits had to flee to Europe from the Holy Land because of invaders, the Rule allowed them to justify their previous establishment as an order in a time when there was a ban on new orders within the Church. The Rule of St. Albert was, therefore, the “birth certificate” for the Carmelite Order.
The Rule is the shortest rule of all religious orders and yet is rich in both scriptural references and in practical advice for living. Written sometime between 1206-1214, it was later modified several times before arriving at its current form by Pope Innocent IV in 1247 after the hermits had come to Europe and had to live a cenobitical vs their previous eremitical life. Today, the Rule still endures some 800 years later as the standard of conduct for Carmelite living and illustrates the very spirit of Carmel.
Some of the topics set out in the Rule include their purpose to live out a life of allegiance to Christ with purity of heart and steadfastness of conscience and service. The prior and his authority over the community was defined and the evangelical counsels of obedience, chastity and poverty were listed as requirements. Counsel on practical matters was given: the locations of foundations, separate cells, the common refractory, common life together, fraternal discussion and loving correction, the Oratory and daily Mass. Their manner of fasting and abstinence, work and silence were also set out in the Rule. Importantly, St. Albert reminded them to be clothed in all the armor of God and to live a life of prayer and meditation. In the epilogue, St. Albert reminded them that to do more than one is obliged to do will be rewarded by the Lord but pointed out that “common sense is the guide of the virtues.”
The fact that over the centuries the Rule has been read, reflected on and lived out faithfully shows the enduring wisdom with which it was written. St. Albert listened to what the hermits told him about their way of life and then gave them a structure saturated with the wisdom of scripture. Today the friars, nuns and Secular Order of Carmel still purpose to adhere to the spirit of the text which makes us part of the family of Carmel, journeying up that mountain of Carmel to discover and live in the presence of God who seeks us.