From the Lectures of Titus Brandsma iii

Double End of Contemplative Life: Ascetical and

In this school the mystic life properly so called is
without reserve a pure gift of God. None-the-less, it
is set forth as the aim of Carmelite life, as the glory
with which God may crown our lives here below. This
carries with it the implication that Carmelite
spirituality must be concerned to produce these exalted
dispositions of soul with which alone this free gift of
God is compatible. It is true, however, that no
dispositions, however perfect, may demand this gift as
a right. It ever remains a free gift of God. On this
particular aspect of the mystical life, there has been
much discussion among the theologians and it is closely
connected with the question, which has been answered in
different ways, as to a special election or vocation to
the mystical life. On this question we have widely
differing opinions. Some lay great stress on the
mystical life as a special gift from God and as such
not the object of vocation. Others go further and say
we may not even desire such a grace, nor pray to obtain
it. In such a view there can be no preparation for the
mystical state, nor any question of suitable
dispositions; and although this school admits of
“receptivity,” still it declares that this receptivity
weighs as nothing in the balance because God grants His
gifts as He wills, nor can human effort increase or
augment that receptivity. This is the school of the
Oratio Infusa, in which the principal emphasis is on
the mystical grace as a free gift. Holding a contrary
position is the school of the Oratio Acquisita, which
rather puts human activity into the forefront and
sometimes in such terms as to imply that God, Who is
not to be surpassed in generosity, would be obliged to
grant this grace to those who use every effort to make
themselves worthy of it. This grace being the
legitimate crown of the spiritual life, the fact that
it is not granted to all is not a proof that He does
not wish to share it with all men. but only that few
have made themselves worthy of it.

Combination of Oratio Infusa and Acquisita: Happy Mean

The school of Carmel, at least in its representative
members, observes the happy mean between these two
extremes. According to the ancient document concerning
the Order’s spirit, the attainment of this high state
of mystical communion is put forward as the aim of all
Carmelites and all are obliged to conform their lives
to this lofty ideal, but at the same time the free
character of the mystical grace is insisted upon. St.
Teresa in her own masterly way describes how the life
of grace is built on natural foundations. The life of
grace even in its highest degree is ingrafted into the
natural and under its impulse the whole human
personality grows to its fullest maturity. She shows
how human nature is created by God with a
“susceptibility” for these exalted states of grace, but
on the other hand the practice of the virtues and the
actived contemplation must precede, accompany and
follow the mystical experience. That is why, after
giving glory to God as the giver of all gifts, she lays
particular emphasis on the practice of prayer and
virtue. May I say how gratifying it is to me to put
before you this idea of the spiritual life of the
Order? It has been the constant tradition of Carmel. We
find it in the beginning. It is the spirituality of the
“Institution of the First Monks.” The Carmelite life
has a twofold end. We obtain the first by our toil and
virtuous efforts, aided by divine grace. It consists in
offering to God a holy heart, free from actual stain of
sin-the other is communicated to us by a free gift of
God, ex mero Dei dono, not only after death but even in
this life, and consists in tasting in some way in the
heart and experiencing in the mind the strength of the
Divine presence and the sweetness of the glory from on

Carmel, unlike the children of our day, is not afraid
of the mystical life. The spirit of the Order does not
regard it as doing violence to nature but knows that
nature in the last analysis is destined for such
perfection. Nor is the mystical way the only way. Great
sanctity may be achieved without mystical graces and
favours. This is apparent from the lives of many
saints. It is enough for those on Carmel to live in
God’s presence, in loving humility, content with what
the good God may send. Time and place are of little
importance. Sometimes on earth the flower blooms in all
its glory in the garden of God but most often comes
only to bud. But in heaven all God’s flowers will open
in the glory of the Sun. If the good God, like a good
gardener, brings some to perfection here, others
hereafter, that is His own mysterious choice

So again let us insist that the school of Carmel
demands preparation, the exercise of the greatest
virtue. Our lives must be ordered, oriented in the
direction of the Order’s aim.

Common Way: Characteristic Virtues

In order to appreciate better in what this training
consists, let us consider in brief three points
emphasized by our Rule. The introduction reminds us
that many of the things in the Rule are common to all
who bind themselves by the three vows, to lead a life
of perfection.


But it brings the Vow of Purity into special
prominence. It is true that in the beginning, the Vow
of Obedience was understood to contain the other two.
Obedience is a virtue that implicitly contains all
others. But among these virtues there is one which has
a particular glory and the Rule singles out that of
Purity to emphasize its excellence. Our service of God
should be characterised, it says, by a pure conscience
and a pure heart. The Order sees as its good exemplar
the Mother of God, the Virgin of Virgins. In the
clothing ceremony of the Carmelites, the white mantle
is put on with the admonition that it should ever be a
reminder of the following of the Lamb without spot.


A second point emphasised by the Rule is silence and
recollection as a necessary condition for a life of
prayer. Active recollection, by which we put ourselves
and keep ourselves in the presence of God, has always
been regarded as the essential preparation for
communion with God in the mystic life. Just as the
Prophet did not hear the voice of God in the storm, but
in the gentle breeze, so the heart of the spiritual man
must not be shaken by the storm but must listen for
God’s voice in the silence of its own interior. The
constitutions of the Order have always stressed this.
To recover recollection of spirit has ever been the
first step of all reform.

Spiritual Armour

Thirdly, let me remind you of a third chapter of the
Rule, which recalls so vividly the crusading spirit.
That particular chapter is full of the noise of battle.
But it is no longer the battle against the Saracens,
but against a more terrible enemy of the holy land of
our own souls. It bids us buckle on a spiritual armour
of six pieces. The first is the cincture of chastity,
which must be put on in penance and mortification. By
mortification is meant not only corporal penances but
also the bending of our will to the will of God as the
most direct way to purity of heart. In His Will, says
Dante, is our peace. To unite our will with God’s means
a continual effort at self-conquest. So the Ritual
speaks of the girdle as a chain which binds us and
causes us to be led by another.

The second piece of spiritual armour, the breastplate,
protects the most vital part of the combatant. Your
breast must be protected with holy thoughts. They must
fill your heart and strengthen it inwardly and defend
it as with impenetrable armour. The cuirass of
righteousness is the third piece we put on. It is
difficult to walk in armour but facility comes with
practice. We must wear our armour as true knights of
Christ, not bring dishonour on our arms. We must wear
our habit with the understanding that it marks us out
as following Him, Who is God.

Then the shield of faith. Only a living faith can
sustain us against attack. Without a living faith, our
vocation is meaningless. Our faith is the source of all
our power. It is the faith which gives us our life’s
purpose and direction. Half-faith can accomplish
little. But a living faith is a creative and an
unfailing source of strength and energy.

The fifth piece is the helmet of salvation, symbol of
hope and confidence. The helmet protects the head —
with it we can walk with head erect and no fear can
overcome us.

But armour is to protect us; we need weapons for the
warfare. For a sword we have, sixthly, the word of God.
It must be in our hearts and on our lips. All is to be
done in His name. God’s holy name is the watchword
given to us by our Rule.

Through the parable of the two standards, St. Ignatius
taught his disciples to see life in terms of battle;
the following of the great leader for the greatest of
all causes. The same idea is contained in the chapter
of the Rule we have been considering. For if the spirit
of the Order is characterised by modesty and
simplicity, it also inherits the high and spirited
chivalry of the Crusaders. In this there is nothing
harsh and militaristic but it is the gracious gallantry
of the true knight who lays his sword on the altar of
his Lady to undertake in love and simplicity the most
lowly services she may demand.

Carmelites, Busy Bees

James of Vitry has compared the contemplatives of
Carmel to busy bees. Over the great moors they fly in
their quest for honey. Away from the dust and grime of
life, in the cool and open spaces, they collect their
honey-store. For worldlings it is an arid place and
uninviting, but for them the desert blooms as the rose.
In early autumn every little sprig of heather on these
moors puts on its royal livery and the rough places
glow from end to end in the purple symbol of penance.
Deep in those tiny bells the honey lies. Is not this a
perfect image of our lives? All the myriad sprigs, the
simple duties of our daily round, done in the spirit of
love and penance, bloom along the autumn moorland of
our lives. They are rich with honey. So like the busy
fees, let us build up our spiritual store from the
actions of our daily routine.


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