The British Province of Carmelite Friars


I THE RULE OF CARMEL AND THE READING OF THE BIBLE

1 The way in which the Rule uses and presents the Bible

The Rule of St Albert appears to be a collection of phrases, almost all of which were taken from the Bible. It would be difficult to know how many times exactly the Bible is used to express the propositum presented by the first Carmelites to the Patriarch Albert. Some believe it is more than a hundred.

The author of the Rule knew the Bible by heart and he had made it so much part of his life that it is difficult to distinguish between his own words and those of the Bible. He uses the Bible without giving references. He quotes the Bible without checking the text. He joins and divides phrases at will, he changes and adapts texts to suit his own purpose, just as if he was dealing with his own word. This way of using the Bible is the result of long and assiduous reading, marked by familiarity, freedom and fidelity.

Even though Chapter XV shows a certain preference for the Letters of St Paul, the Carmelite Rules uses, cites and evokes, without distinction, the Old Testament as much as the New. The explicit recommendation to read Paul's Letters did not determine the spirituality of the Order. Its spirituality continued to be centred on the two Biblical figures - Mary and Elijah.

The framework in which the Rule uses and understands the Bible is:

I. The desire to live in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, expressed in the Prologue

II. The desire to imitate the ideal community of the first Christians, which we find throughout Chapters VII to XI. This was the point which inspired the renewal of the Church at the beginning of the 13th century.

The teaching of the Rule is not to be found only in what teaches about reading the Bible but also in the way in which the Rule itself uses the Bible. It is able to incarnate the Word of God even to the point of assuming it as its own. Paraphrasing the words of St Paul, it might say: I speak, but it is not I, but the Word of God which speaks in me (Gal 2:20).

2 How the Rule recommends that we use and read the Bible:

Directly and indirectly, the Rule of St Albert recommends eight times that we read the Bible:

o
Listen to the Sacred Scriptures during meals in the refectory (IV)
o
Ponder the Lord's Law day and night (VII)
o
Pray the psalms (the Hours) (VII)
o
Take part in the daily Eucharist (IX)
o
Be fortified by holy meditations (which come from prayerful reading) (XIV)
o
The Word must dwell in your mouth and in your heart (XIV)
o
Work at all times in accordance with the Word of God (XIV)
o
Read frequently the Letters of St Paul (XV)

In these recommendations, our Rule shows the three doors through which the Word of God enters the lives of Carmelites:

o The door of personal private reading.
Meditation in one's cell. Pondering the Word which passes from the mouth to the heart.

o The door of community reading:
Listening to the Word during meals in the refectory and in the Eucharist (we do not know whether in that remote beginning on Mount Carmel the Divine Office was celebrated in common).

o The door of ecclesial reading:
The Carmelites followed the Divine Office and the Eucharist and, in addition to that, in their own lives they assimilated and assumed the renewal of the Church which was going on at that time.

In these recommendations we can also see the pedagogy which the Carmelites followed in order to learn and assimilate the Word of God in their lives.

We can identify four points:

o First of all, the Word has to be heard or read
- in the refectory
- in the Eucharist
- in the Divine Office

o Afterwards, the Word which has been heard and read has to be pondered and ruminated.
- This meditation has to be done by day and by night, without ceasing, above all in the cell.
- By this mediation (rumination) the Word reaches from the mouth to the heart and produces holy thoughts.

o The Word, once it has been heard and pondered, has to be enveloped in prayer
- It must turn into prayer in the Divine Office, and in the Eucharist
- and in the cell where the Carmelite must keep vigil in prayer, day and night.

o As a result of this kind of reading the Word of God invades our thoughts, our heart and our actions and so everything is done in the Word of the Lord.

These points of pedagogy, taken from the Rule, reflect that the age-old practise of lectio divina. Lectio divina, or the prayerful reading of the Bible, was always the spinal column of religious life, going right back to the very beginning. It was an important part of the life of the first Carmelites.

The reflections which follow have the purpose of showing the value of the practise of lectio divina for us today. This is with a view to better fulfilling our duty to meditate day and night upon the Law of the Lord.

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