The Carmelites came into existence towards the end of the 12th century from an indefinite, not well-known group of lay people. These were pilgrims and crusaders who, tired of war or desirous of waiting for the final coming of the Lord which, according to the apocalyptic mentality of the time, was to occur in Jerusalem. They withdrew to the mountain of Carmel, where they embraced the hermit life style in vogue at the time, in opposition and reform of the monastic movement. These first Carmelites devoted themselves to prayer and meditation on the Word of God.
These initial Carmelites, before being structured into a group, which would take place with the Rule, were free, independent hermits. They looked for perfection through solitude, in which they attempted to fight against the devil – the combat with the devil, proper to desert spirituality – and against the enemies of a truly Christian person: the passions.
Later on, in a second stage, between 1206-1214, they asked Albert Avrogardo, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to give them a Rule, a formula for life, by which to govern themselves. This Rule defines the Carmelite ideal as “living a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ, pure in heart and steadfast in conscience”.
Migration, Mitigation and Mendicancy
From 1220, the lack of security in the Holy Land caused the Carmelites to begin their migration to Europe, establishing themselves in Cyprus, Sicily, France and England. The mitigation of the Rule, adapting it to the new demands of religious life by Pope Innocent IV in 1247, was the point of departure in adapting the Carmelite Order from its hermit origins to a mendicant lifestyle, allowing Carmelites to found their monasteries in cities and devote themselves to preaching and confessing like the other mendicants. However, it was not until the 2nd Council of Lyons that they were officially considered as mendicants, as well as the Dominicans, Franciscans and the Hermits of Saint Augustine.
Established in Europe, and looking for signs of identity by which people could recognize them, they developed devotion to the prophet Elijah, presenting him in his double aspect, as a prototype of the hermit dedicated entirely to contemplation and, on the other hand, as a model of mixed life bringing together action and contemplation.
At the same time, they developed devotion to Mary, which identified them as the Order of the Virgin from the time they were established in Europe, when the title by which the Order is official known became widespread: The Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.
From late medieval times, the Carmelites who wished to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ were characterized by: contemplation, the foundation of Carmelite life and apostolate; prayer and together with it meditation, recollection and silence; asceticism, which implies sobriety of life; poverty, which implies dependence on others and humble life; the apostolate, both in their churches and outside them.
History of Discalced Carmelites
The Discalced Carmel acknowledges Saint Teresa as its mother and foundress. It is the only Order which has a woman as its foundress and, distinct from the other Orders which have male and female branches, the nuns were established before the friars.
In Saint Teresa there was a growth which ranged from her desire to be reformed in herself or reforming her Order, which motivated the foundation of St Joseph’s in Avila in 1562, to an ecclesial preoccupation: unity in the Church, the old Christianity and finally an apostolic preoccupation to discover their mission, the new areas opening for the Church in America, the New World.
The end result of this whole process was to be the development of the idea of foundation that occupies and fills the rest of her life, 1567-1582, and the birth of the discalced friars, which happened through St. John of the Cross and Fr Antonio de Jesus in Duruelo, 28 November 1568. This event carried on not only her style of life, but also her passion or concern for the Church and for the salvation of souls, her apostolic and missionary ideal.
History of Discalced Carmelites in Nigeria
The Discalced Carmelite Friars were invited to Nigeria in the year 1988. Precisely on April 6 of that year, two Irish Discalced Carmelite Fathers, Rev. Fr. Charles Newell, OCD and Rev. Fr. Thomas Curran, OCD arrived Nigeria. The Bishop emeritus of Enugu, Rt. Rev. Dr. Michael Eneja, of blessed memory, gave them No. 17 Nike Avenue, Ekulu GRA, Enugu as their place of residence. It was from this house that the friars grew and spread to other parts of the country.
Over the years, a great receptivity has been given to the Carmelite way of life by many young Nigerians with genuine vocation. At present, there are about 50 ordained Carmelite priests and about 30 friars in various stages of formation.