The Rule of St. Albert

by Fr. Michael Buckley, OCD

One of the criteria for renewal of religious life indicated by the Second Vatican Council was a return to the fountainhead of our charism and inspiration.(1) "The appropriate renewal of religious," to quote Pervectae Caritatis no. 2, "involves two simultaneous processes:

1. A continuous return to the source of all Christian life and to the original inspiration behind a given institute.

2. An adjustment of the institute to the changed conditions of the times."


The Council decree goes on to indicate some principles to guide us towards the desired renewal. Among them:

"It is in the best interests of the Church that each institute should have its own special character and purpose. Therefore, loyal recognition should be given to the spirit of the founders as also to all the particular goals and wholesome traditions which constitute the heritage of each institute."

For most religious orders, this calls for a return to one source. For us Discalced Carmelites, however, it involves a return to a double spring:

a) The source that comes to us beginning with Teresa and John: specifically our Teresian charism;

b) Still farther back, a return, so to speak, to the fountain of Elijah: the inspiration that comes to us from the Rule of St. Albert.

It is about this latter that I wish to speak. And I feel that St. Teresa will not mind us sidestepping her, so to speak, in doing that. In fact, we will not be sidestepping her. We will be treading common ground with Teresa precisely in what we are doing. You will recall from her writings how frequently and insistently she calls to mind, for the inspiration and edification of her nuns in the 16th century, the way of life of the first monk hermits of Mt. Carmel in the 13th century.

"Our true founders are those Holy Fathers from whom we are descended; those Holy Fathers of ours from Mt. Carmel, the hermits whose lives we try to imitate."(2)

"They sought their treasure (prayer), their precious pearl of which I speak-in such great solitude and contempt of the world."(3)


What is required of us, in the light of Council and post-Council documents, is first of all an attentive study of the sources. And that involves a truly historical and critical look at our origins. This is encapsulated for us in the text of our Rule and in the lives of those early pioneers near the fountain of Elijah on Mt. Carmel who gave it flesh and blood. I quote:

"A group (or community or nation) which does not know its history, is destined to disappear soon and without trace from the face of the earth."

Most recently I have seen this phrase attributed to a Spanish writer: in essence, it is a phrase which crops up repeatedly whenever our present theme is under study. It is a phrase we would have had to invent if it had not been said already.

But this look backward to the founts of our inspiration, this historical investigation, into all the circumstances which brought our Carmelite family to birth, must not remain a mere memory, like something conserved in a museum. That would be largely lifeless and almost completely lacking in inspiration. It is true that a very exact, scholarly, and painstaking study of the past is required: textual, historical, archeological, and so forth. We need to obtain, as accurately as possible, knowledge of the life and times of the monk-hermits of Mt. Carmel. That is the basis of everything.


But there is something further. We have to enliven all this with a dynamism and creativity that will help us to discover anew in our day the values (fraternity, Eucharistic worship, attentive study of God's word, prayer, a healthy work ethic, austerity, poverty, simplicity, and so on) which nourished the life of the first generation of Carmelites. We need to take seriously the gift of the Spirit which guides us personally and community-wise in the pursuit of spiritual renewal. This will take place in the context of our prayerful dialogue with the Church in our day.

Many recent studies on our Carmelite Rule have alerted our minds to the realization that we have in it a veritable treasure. And I do not mean those last two words to be accepted as a felicitous Cliché. It is the established and sober truth.


The rule of St. Albert never had the benefit of that good publicity - almost popularity - enjoyed for one reason or another by the Benedictine and Franciscan Rules. It is possible that its Eastern origin had something to do with this. Perhaps it was because Carmelite beginnings were not quite as explosive or exciting as those of the Franciscans especially. Undoubtedly, one reason was that our early leader did not seem to be of the caliber of Francis or Benedict, and certainly did not have the benefit of such enthusiastic historiographers. In fact, the Carmelite (leader) to whom the Rule (of Albert) was addressed is not even designated by his complete name. The Rule was addressed simply to Brother B., as if to someone so humble that he could be designated by a capital and a full stop. Undoubtedly, as a good hermit and self-effacing religious, he did not wish to impose his personality on an institute that did not need him as a father-figure. The prophet Elijah was, since the beginning of monasticism, regarded as the father and leader of monks and hermits. In Scripture, he was closely associated with Mt. Carmel. His was the figure, as we learn from Jacques de Vitry, which attracted the Carmelites to the Wadi-Es-Siah in the first instance. Elijah, therefore, quite naturally was for them a model and protector.


Our Carmelite Rule has in abundance the qualities which ensure perpetual relevance: a remarkable brevity and limpidity of style, a constant recourse to Scriptural inspiration (part of it a veritable stringing together of Scripture texts). It is transparent in its appeal to generosity of heart and spirit, kindly in its gentle consideration, allowing for exceptions, centered on contemplation, allegiance to Christ and Eucharistic worship. Please notice, there is not a hint of sanction or penalty throughout the entire Rule, if you except the phrase quoted from St. Paul:

"he who does not work, let him not eat"(4)

It opens with a reference (invitation) which goes right to the core of religious commitment:

"to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ, serving him faithfully with a pure heart and a good conscience."

It concludes with a classic appeal to the generosity of heart, in works of supererogation:(5) giving the assurance that "the Lord, when he returns, will repay:" a very subtle word reference (in Latin) to the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan. For our Rule, the Lord is the supreme and only judge.

Before I enter into the heart of this paper. I should like to note the following. Among the roughly seventy commentaries to date on the Rule of Carmel, we can distinguish a number of very distinct approaches. Each author is, of course, a child of his own age, and his commentary is colored by that. Reflect on the powerful influences of Church movements on various stages of our Carmelite history, and you will understand why throughout the ages we have commentaries on the Rule from the historical point of view; from the biblical viewpoint; studies emphasizing its eremitical aspect; others its ascetical qualities. There have been commentaries emphasizing community perspectives. Even recently we have had two studies on a reading of our Carmelite Rule from the point of view of the orthodox monastic tradition.

If I chose to mention just one reference point among many possible ones for a deep understanding of our Rule, it is largely because:

a) Our space is limited.

b) It is a reference point that is "biblical" and appeals to me.

c) I do believe it was very much in the mind of the first community near the Spring of Elijah close to Mt. Carmel.


Students of religious history of the 13th century are in very general agreement about the following: It was an era in which there was general dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the religious life then in vogue. The highly organized nature of religious life came in for special comment: Benedictinism, Cannons Regular and so on. It was generally felt that the purity, simplicity and attractiveness of the Gospel was somehow obscured by the complexities of large monastic establishments. Hence, every reform, every new religious beginning at this time wished to emphasize a fresh and simple, uncomplicated approach to God. One notices a kind of consensus emerging among religious founders concerning the early Jerusalem community as described in Acts. This community came to be seen as the ideal of monastic living: a model to be reflected in every new pattern of religious living. This was very much the case with the religious venture which developed into the Carmelite Order. There was a perceived relationship between the early Jerusalem community and the later established Carmelite community, located near the fountain of Elijah. Both of them arose in the context of the Holy Land; a fact which served to make a perceived relationship even more tangible.

The most evocative description of the early apostolic community comes to us from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke, with profound theological insight and artistry, describes it for us.


He first recounts Peter's Pentecostal speech - when the first converts were added to the apostolic community. And then he adds:

Those who received the Word "devoted themselves to the apostolic teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." And he goes on: "And all who believed were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and finding favor with all the people."(6)

This is repeated with some slight variations in Acts 4:32 - following on the cure of the crippled beggar man, and the arrest of John and Peter.

If we were to highlight from the description the various elements that characterized the early apostolic community, we could do so as follows:

a) Fidelity to the teaching and fellowship of the apostles: receiving the "Word."
b) Poverty, and an equitable distribution of goods.
c) A loving and caring community life.
d) A prayer-filled life.
e) A life centered on the Eucharistic liturgy.


How interesting it is, as we reflect on these salient characteristics of the early Christian community, to note in our Carmelite Rule a manifest preoccupation with the very same things.

a) Fidelity to the Word (which represents for us the apostolic teaching). The phrase of the Rule: "let all things be done in conformity with the Word of the Lord."

b) Poverty and an equitable distribution of goods. Our Rule: "No brother can claim anything as his own, but you are to hold everything in common; and each is to receive what he needs, taking into account his age and requirements." (The choice of words is from Acts.)

c) A prayerful life. Our Rule: "Each of you is to remain in his cell or its vicinity day or night, meditating on the law of the Lord and keeping vigil in prayer, unless attending to some other duty."

d) A loving and caring community life. The stipulation of the Rule given to a group gathered together as fratres - (Fratres eremiti) brothers, an evocative term - sets the tone of a loving community relationship. How delicately the Rule safeguards this by encouraging the sharing of goods, corresponding to the needs of each; by prescribing the respect for quiet and reflection; and even when there is need for mutual correction that the "indiscretions and failings of the brothers, if there be any, should be lovingly corrected."

e) A life centered on the Eucharistic liturgy. Our Rule: "An oratory should be conveniently built, centrally situated in regard to the cells, where, if it can be arranged, you are to gather each morning to celebrate Mass." Some who have studied eremitical rules have stated that our Carmelite rule is singular in having this prescription concerning daily Mass. This may be too sweeping a claim, on available evidence. But, it is well to remember that the Carmelite hermits were not bound originally to the choral office; they did not have a common dormitory, nor a kitchen, nor a refectory (this was added into the text approved by Innocent IV). There was only one building that they had for common use; and that was the oratory, so that daily they might encounter Christ in the sacred mysteries. Incidentally, we happen to know that this oratory was dedicated to Our Blessed Lady. A French pilgrim (c. 1225) describes "a very beautiful church of Our Lady," belonging to the Latin hermits of Mt. Carmel. And when Fr. Bagatti, O.F.M.(7) excavated the site of the monastery in the Wadi-es-Siah, the centerpiece proved to be the ruins of that little oratory (that, together with the Prior's cell). Therein lies a story and a significant factor in Carmelite devotion to Mary - but I cannot delay longer on it here.


Reflecting on these elements which characterized the lives both of the early Carmelites and of the early Christian community of Jerusalem, recent writers on the Rule have elaborated some other interesting conclusions.

They have pointed out that for the early monks on Mt. Carmel in the 13th century, the mystique of the Holy City Jerusalem would have been paramount. Let us savour for moment the religious atmosphere in the Holy Land at this time. The account comes to us from the pen of Jacques de Vitry, successor of Albert as Bishop of Acre (1216-28, died 1240).

"From that time, the Church in the east began to revive and flourish. Drawn by the fragrance of holy and venerable places, pilgrims devoted to God - along with religious men from all parts of the world of every tribe and tongue - flocked to the Holy Land. Old churches were repaired and monasteries of regulars were built. Moreover, holy men renouncing the world, drawn by various affections and desires and inflamed by fervor of religion, chose the most suitable places for their purpose and devotion. Others, after the example and in imitation of holy solitary Elijah the prophet, lived as hermits in the beehives of small cells on Mt. Carmel, near the spring which is called the Spring of Elijah."


We note that Jacques de Virty's account is a personal reflection rather than a chronicle of history. But, it reveals the situation at that time in the Holy Land. A little reading about the crusading period will show how the land of Jesus and its center and capital, Jerusalem, had, during those centuries, a magnetic attraction for Christians. Let us not be put off by the now obvious faults and failures of the crusading movement. Faults, mistakes there surely were. This, alas, is true. But they cannot altogether obscure the manifest idealism of generations of soldiers and pilgrims whose hearts could not rest in the realization that the holy places should remain in the hands of non-Christians. (Moslems). They could not contemplate with serene minds that Christians on pilgrimage should be harassed and even at times prohibited access to the places hallowed by Christ during his life on earth. From the poetic and artistic perspective, it is interesting to note in passing that Dante considers his own ancestor, Cacciaguida, who lost his life during the second crusade (1150), to be a martyr (in the heaven of Mars) because he fought against the Moslems.

Cacciaguida speaking to Dante:

"Then I followed Conrad the Emperor, who girded me with his knighthood, so much favor by good deeds, did I gain. With him I fought against the iniquitous faith whose believers, thro' the Shepherd's fault, now usurp your rights (to the Holy Land)."(8)

Dante's "magnanimity" is shown in his placing Saladin in limbo - not in hell!


We have solid backing for our belief that our earliest Carmelite community was interlaced with men who had come from the West as pilgrims and members of the crusading armies. Now they were taking up arms once again - this time for spiritual combat, as their Rule instructed them. They would have well understood paragraph 15 (Bede's ed.) of the Rule, which speaks so challengingly using St. Paul's language, of the armor that is so necessary to be victorious in the spiritual combat.

"Clothe yourselves in the armor of God - your loins girt with chastity - holiness as your breastplate - faith as your shield - on your head the helmet of salvation."

Hitherto, their minds had been fired by earthly ideals of conquering for Christendom the Holy Land and the sacred city of Jerusalem. Now, all this would be sublimated into a loftier spiritual ideal. But, it would be still in the land of Jesus and in association with the places that he loved and sanctified by his presence. The whole eremitical movement of the period was characterized by an intense devotion to the person of Jesus Christ. All accounts of religious life in the 12th and 13th centuries testify to this fact. Hence, at the head of the Rule, to live "in allegiance to Jesus Christ: (typical language of knighthood) is proposed as the central, unifying ideal of the community. The Rule, in this sense, is eminently Christocentric. The language and terminology, in allegiance to Jesus Christ, would have touched a sensitive and understanding chord in the heart of a monk of that era, especially in the context of the Holy Land. Jesus was the Lord of that land, sanctified by his salvific life and ministry. The monk would be enrolled as the vassal of Christ, with all the inspiring and complex relationships implied by that term. Christ would be his protector, defender and Lord. The vassal, in return for this, would strive to maintain fealty, loyal service, and unswerving faith in his Master. It was the perfect foundation, for the religious life. This tutelage was the first, most fundamental attitude to be learned. It would, in fact, be a lifelong task; and its achievement would certainly require a "pure heart and a good conscience."


But, let us look at the Rule and ask ourselves, "What is the heart of the Rule?" and the rest of the article will try to answer that.

If we were tempted to give a ready answer, we would be inclined to say: The heart of the Carmelite Rule is prayer, enshrined in the phrase:

"remaining in your cell, or nearby, pondering day and night the law of the Lord, and keeping watch in prayer, unless attending to some other duty."

A certain tradition recommends this answer, so that it readily comes to mind. Questioning it would seem to be temerarious.(9) But, if we do question the assumption, it is not to deny it. In fact, the result of our reflection will be to reaffirm it; not, however, in a kind of isolation, but to embellish it by placing it in a context which infinitely enhances it.

Keep before you, as you read, the diagram: the "Arch of the Rule."


The Arch is an effort to put the Rule in diagrammatic form. At the base of the Arch on the left-hand side is a box with the phrase: "The Following of Christ." In a series of numbers 1-20, each representing a paragraph of the Rule, the Arch extends up to the capstone (No. 11 the Eucharist) and down to the base on the right side: the epilogue: the judgment of the Lord when He comes.

To facilitate your understanding now, and your further study afterward, I have accommodated paragraph numbers to correspond to those of Bede Edward's edition of the Rule (1973).


As you look at the Arch, it falls easily into three sections:

1) No. 1-7, which might be termed the structures of community life. These are: the choices of prior, the location of monastic foundations, the cells of the brethren, meals in common, stability and loyalty, and finally the Prior's cell and his authority.

2) The second section 8-14, stretching across the apex of the Arch, represents what we may call the core or heart of the Rule.

First in this section comes No. 8: "Let each one stay in his cell or nearby..." - traditionally regarded as central. This however is no longer isolated, but part of a unitary structure (including the capstone No. 11) and extending to No. 14.

Integral parts of this section are No. 9; the recitation of the Divine Office; No. 10: poverty and community of goods. No. 11 at the apex: the capstone: the Eucharist.

"An oratory shall be built as conveniently as possible in the midst of the cells where you are to gather each morning to hear Mass where this can be conveniently arranged."

This is the capstone holding everything in place: Eucharistic celebration and presence: the Lord in the midst of his community.

That might also be regarded as the focus of the apostolic community in the Acts of the Apostles: "Day by day, frequenting the Temple together,"(10) the place that symbolized and recalled God's presence. The phrase that follows is also significant, "and breaking bread in their homes."

Whatever about its uniqueness, certainly the prescription for daily Mass in the Carmelite Rule is very noteworthy in the context of eremitical communities, and surely indicates a special preference.

Going along: No. 12; fraternal discussion and correction would take care of the spiritual welfare of the community: a method of reconciliation and a means for preserving its ideals.

No. 13 and 14: fasting and abstinence - a perennial element of religious life - have overtones also in respect of the apostolic community. These were very characteristic of the life and ministry of the apostles. How often we read in Acts, concerning Paul and the other apostles, that they fasted and prayed.


Following on this central section or core, the text goes on (No. 15) to arm us for the spiritual combat. In ancient times, the life of any hermit or eremitical group was very palpably a battle with evil and the Evil One. This paragraph is a stringing together of Scripture texts, all except one from the New Testament, and drawing heavily on the armor metaphor of Eph. Ch. 6: the breastplate of justice, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the sword of the spirit, etc. This section of the Rule might be termed the building up of the spiritual person.

Paragraph 16 deals with work, on which it places quite a lot of emphasis. It is here we find the only, let us say, "penal" aspect of the Rule in the context of a quotation from St. Paul:

"Whoever is not willing to work should not be allowed to eat either."(11)

Paragraph 16 is, in fact, one of the longest in the Rule. It is based completely on the example of the apostle Paul: Paul worked with his hands for his sustenance even though he was not obliged to, as he emphasized.

But the Rule also advances ascetic motivations deriving from monastic experience: avoiding idleness, which is the devil's playground. There are other ascetic and spiritual elements involved in this question of work even manual work. We are all conscious of a tendency to uphold an idea of contemplation, prayer and purification, which fails to appreciate or find place for the constructive value of work. The latter would even be considered less than "spiritual."


In our days perhaps, more than ever, it is necessary to create a spirituality of work which involves the whole person: body and spirit. It should embrace not only the usual aspects: physical, psychical and economic, but the entire personality, and man's dignity in the eyes of the Creator.

The encyclical Laborem exercens (n. 24): "If the Church deems it her duty to speak of work from the viewpoint of human and moral values at the present time, it also sees a particular need to highlight a spirituality of work through which all can come closer to God the Creator and Redeemer, and participate in his saving plan for the world and mankind."

The encyclical goes on to indicate three aspects of that spirituality:

1) work as participation in the work of the Creator

2) Christ as a man of work, and

3) work in the light of the Cross and the Resurrection

Words such as those, challenging us to a new theology of the spirituality of work, might lead us to take a close look at the whole question of manual work in our lives. The prescription, of our Rule is a constant reminder of this.

Par. 17 deals with another element in the building up of the spiritual man, namely, silence. We may surmise that it was the mention of "silent toil": earn their bread by silent toil at the end of par. 16, that led St. Albert to speak about the value of silence itself in par. 17.


This paragraph has an amazing modern ring, so evocative is it of the tone of religious constitutions today. First, we have the theological justification for it: three citations from Bible authority: first from the beloved Apostle Paul (2 Thess 3:12), and a second and a third, both from the prophet Isaiah (32:17 and 30:15). And then we have a practical embodiment:

"for this reason, you are to keep silence-from Compline to Prime." "And at other times-do not indulge in much talking"

This is not merely a silence for its own sake; it is also seen as a delicate consideration for the quiet and peace of the community, and exquisite deference by the monks to one another.

The final prescriptions of the Rule: paragraphs 18 and 19, near the base of the Arch, correspond very much to No. 3-4 at the opposite base. They concern the Prior and community in their mutual relationship. The leader must be the least and the servant of all, according to the Gospels. And, likewise, according to the Gospel, the brothers are to hold the Prior in humble reverence "He who hears you, hears me."(12)

This look at our Rule, in diagrammatic form, gives us an opportunity to see it (maybe for the first time) as ingeniously interrelated.

It has all the evidence of being a very well-constructed document. The Arch helps us to see, in a vivid manner, the central core or heart of the Rule, and the way in which all the other elements contribute to that. It allows us to expand what was traditionally considered to be the core of the Rule: solitude and reflection on the Word. This now becomes an integral part of seven paragraphs, which all culminates in the Eucharist (par. 11): the oratory and the daily celebration of Mass.

Even from the point of view of location, this idea was to be central: the oratory was to be constructed in the midst of the cells. Notice how well everything fits together in this reconstruction. The central core Par. 8-14, with 11 as apex, provides us with a beautiful theological synthesis. No. 8 - reflection on the Word - always reaches its highest reality in connection with the Eucharist. Likewise, the canonical hours (par 9) find their real context in Eucharistic celebration. A sharing of goods (par. 10) has symbolic overtones in relation to the sharing of the Lord's table. Reconciliation (n. 12) is a direct consequence of Eucharistic worship. And fasting/abstinence find their most congenial context here.

Two interesting sidelights on our Carmelite history in this respect: One, the Eucharist rite originally followed by our Order was: the rite of the Holy Sepulchre: reflecting once more, in a Eucharistic context, the mystique of the Lord's holy city of Jerusalem.


You will recall that about the year 1270, when the Order was acquiring a foothold in Europe and adapting to its new surroundings and challenges, the voice of an ex-General. Nicholas the Frenchman, grieved and exhorted by turns in a remarkable document the Fiery Arrow. He certainly did not feel at home with the new changes. But his words in one allegorical paragraph are worth pondering:

"Were not your sons in the past rightly called stones of the sanctuary, solid in steadfastness, hewn true by their resolute perseverance, polished by their harsh penances, colored with hues of virtues, all resplendently prepared by the labor of the Supreme Craftsman for the glorious building of the heavenly city of Jerusalem?"(13)

In this paper I am not even attempting to enter into the renewal process apart from referring to some guidelines, and indicating to the best of my ability the direction in which we should go....The process itself will require, for its realization, the combined wisdom and energy of us all. It is a life process that is ongoing, hopefully, at all levels in the Church. For us, it involves not just an archaic look at our past history. It is much more - a creative, dynamic process by which we, in the circumstance of our own day, as children of our time and place, learn to divine, by prophetic instinct, the perennial value and significance of our original inspiration and charism.


Just as the Gospel itself is ever old and ever new, capable of coming alive in every clime and time, evocative, exuberant and inspirational, arising often like a phoenix from the ashes when it was thought to be dead - so is everything else in the Christian dispensation that is of the Spirit.

So is our Rule: 770 years old and venerable, yet, in the context of spiritual realities which span the centuries, youthful and vibrant.

To the eyes of the young spirit, to the eyes of faith, ancient spiritual realities have a way of coming to life through memory and vital reflection. These are the sparks that will enlighten our minds and enkindle our hearts to experience a real Carmelite renewal in our day. The result will be a second spring, a second Thebaid (a word which goes well with our eremitical origins). It will lead us to see in our Rule a compact structure like an arch, solid in its foundations, delicately structured and well-proportioned throughout, and kept together by a keystone which perpetually reminds us of Jesus' presence with us in the Eucharist.

"Behold, I am with you all days, even to the end of the world."


1. Please refer to the OCDS Rule of Life, Decree of Approval by the Sacred         Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes; Foreword; Articles;     Declaration of Approval by the General Definitory.
2. The Rule of Carmel, Bede Edward's edition, 1973.
3. Second Vatican Council document: Pervectae Caritatis, no. 2.
4. Foundations.
5. Way of Perfection.
6. Mansions.
7. Fiery Arrow.


1. Pervectae Caritatis number 2.
2. Foundations ch. 14; Way of Perfection ch. 11; Mansions V.1.- conflated.
3. Mansions
4. 1 Thess. 3:10.
5. The performance of more than is required, demanded, or expected.
6. Acts 2:44-46
7. articles in Anal. O.C.D., 1958 and 1962.
8. Paradise, canto XV, 140-4
9 adj. Presumptuously or recklessly daring.
10. Acts 2:46
11. 2 Thess 3:10.
12. Luke 10:16
13. Fiery Arrow, Ch. 1.