The Order of Carmel is one of the oldest religious orders in the Church. It was founded in the Holy Land on Mt. Carmel at the beginning of the 13th century. The hermits living on the mountain asked the patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert, to give them a Rule of Life. This he did about 1208. The order was approved by Rome in 1226.
The Carmelite Rule is a relatively short document composed largely of scripture and is a jewel of inspiration. You may want to read it for yourself: The Rule of St Albert
The brother hermits placed themselves under the protection and patronage of the “Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel”, consecrating their chapel and themselves to her. Our Lady has been the exemplar and model of all Carmelites through the ages. She is the perfect disciple who surrendered her whole being to the Lord and pondered His Word in her heart.
Carmelites have always looked to the Prophet Elijah as their inspiration, he who lived on Mt. Carmel and embodied in himself the dual vocations of prophet and contemplative. His words from the Old Testament are emblazoned on the shield of Carmel: With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts!
The 16th century saw many renewal movements in religious life as the Council of Trent renewed the Church herself in the wake of the great sorrow of the Reformation and the schism which occurred. It was at that time that Saint Teresa, our Holy Mother, was moved by the Lord to begin a new monastery of nuns in a spirit of reform and the desire to return to the original inspirations of our Order. St. Teresa had an apostolic spirit and intended her nuns to be totally devoted to prayer and sacrifice for the Church and especially for priests.
St. Teresa wrote a number of books which share what the Lord had taught her in prayer and which guide others to discover the joy of entering into intimate relationship with Him. One of these books, The Way of Perfection, is a core source of advice and guidance for her nuns.
In her desire to have friars sharing the same ideals and able to minister to the nuns, St. Teresa taught St. John of the Cross her new vision for Carmel. He became one of the first friars to join the Reform and a teacher and guide for all who came after him. He, too, wrote extensively on the spiritual life and guided many – both religious and lay people – to union with God.
Both of these great saints were named Doctors of the Church and continue to speak to us and inspire us today.