Articles

THE CARMELITE SCAPULAR : HISTORY AND DEVOTION

- Rev. Fr. Paul D'Souza

In the following article, Fr. Paul D'Souza,OCD., after a historical analysis of the main events that led to widespread devotion to the Scapular devotion, shows that the Scapular devotion is based NOT on historical, BUT on Biblical and theological reasons.

  1. The Identity of Simon Stock
    Since Simon Stock is a key figure in the story of the Scapular Vision, it is fitting that we begin with some reflections on the life and work of Simon Stock

    The earliest mention in Carmelite documents is found in the Necrology of Fr. John Bartoli (d. 1396), where Simon Stoh (sic), and Englishman is reckoned the first general, reputed for his sanctity and miracles. He is said to have died in Bordeaux. Towards the end of the fourteenth century also we have what is known as the First Catalogue of Grossi, which independently of the above-mentioned necrology informs us that ‘Simon Stock’ was English by nationality, and died in Bordeaux. It does not say explicitly that he was general. But that can be taken for granted since we are dealing with a catalogue precisely of general superiors. 

    Here is Staring's opinion :
    Simon Stock General of the Carmelite Order, (d. 1265) “The only contemporary evidence seems to be a notice in ‘Vitae Fratrum’ (1260), ‘ Simon, the prior of this Order, a religious and veracious man’; it seems to indicate also that he was in the Holy Land (1237).” Two 14th century necrologies attest to his English origin, generalate, reputation for sanctity. In the earliest catalogue of Carmelite saints, he is called Simon “of Gascony” and his generalate is not mentioned. The earliest catalogue of Carmelite generals (John Grossi: c.1400) places his generalate from 1200 to 1250. There is no historical basis for much of what Grossi says. 

    It was generally accepted that Simon was elected general in 1245 or 1247. But Staring questions that view, maintaining that in 1249 a certain Geoffrey was general. Hence – concludes Staring – the change from eremitical to mendicant was not done in Simon’s time. He was probably elected general not at Aylesford but in London in 1254. Towards the end of the 15th century we have reports of his death in 1265. There are reports of the famous Scapular vision “ This account helped spread the devotion of the scapular among the faithful especially from the 16th century onwards.” Though Simon was never officially canonized, his feast was extended to the whole Order in 1564.

    Fr. Peter-Thomas Rohrbach comments that the above-mentioned view concerning the date of Simon’s generalate is based on ‘ recently discovered’ documents concerning the Pisa foundation, in which “ a hitherto unknown Godfrey was the prior general in 1249.” 
    For Kieran Kavanaugh, writing in 1984, " ... it now appears certain that the prior general from 1247-1256 was not Simon Stock but a certain Godfrey whose name appears as prior general on recently discovered documents." 
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  2. The Scapular 

    1. Early Significance
      There are many indications of aprons being used over the religious habit even from the times of St. Benedict, whose Rule mentions the scapular. In the course of time, this became part of the religious habit, and eventually acquired religious significance. The scapular symbolized the yoke of Christ. In medieval times, many Orders and congregations adopted and adapted the scapular --- including the Dominicans, who eventually conferred it on their third orders. 
      .

    2. The Carmelite Scapular 
      This is explicitly mentioned in extant constitutions in the second half of the 13th century : those of London in 1281; and those of Bordeaux in 1294. Considering these and other early constitutions as well as the acts of chapters such as those of Montpellier (1287), we discover that by the end of the 13th century, the scapular was regarded as the habit of the Order. It had to be worn day and night by the Carmelite. However even Riboti writing in the second half of the 14th century, does not associate it with Mary or Simon Stock, but – as among other religious using the scapular – calls it the “yoke of Christ.” In the proto-history of the Order, therefore, the scapular seems to have had a Christological rather than a Marian significance. 
      .

    3. The Scapular Vision
      No document on the scapular vision is available contemporary with the life of Simon Stock himself, though many have tried to vindicate the historicity of the vision as best they could. Among these, Fr. Xiberta deserves special mention. 

      Thus far, however, no document of the thirteenth century has been discovered that witnesses to the Scapular vision. Neither is there any such document of the fourteenth century as would satisfy the demands of historians of the third millenium. 

      The great Carmelite authors of the 14th century : Baconthorpe, Hildesheim, Chemineto, Sibert de Beka in their extant works don’t even mention the scapular, to say nothing of the Scapular vision. Rohrbach's opinion is slightly different. 

      In the opinion of Geagea, who has made a most thoroughly documented study of Carmel’s Marian heritage, the earliest text discovered to date, concerning the scapular vision, comes to us from the Brussels version of the Catalogue of Carmelite saints. This is how this version describes the vision:

      “ St. Simon Stock, a native of England, a man of great sanctity and devotion, used to plead with Our Lady whenever he prayed, for some singular privilege for the enhancement of Her order. The glorious Virgin appeared to him with a scapular in Her hand, saying : ‘ This is the privilege for you and for all Carmelites. One dying with this, will be saved.’” 

      Rohrbach, on the other hand, considers Grossi a reliable witness to the Scapular tradition. Both Geagea and Rohrbach assert that Grossi while admitting his dependence on earlier authors; scarcely ever names authors or sources. 

      This explicitly documented reference, at any rate, comes more than a century after Simon Stock. Even conscientious historians find it mysterious to note that the great Carmelites of the fourteenth century – some of whom wrote many pages on the Carmelite habit on the one hand, and on Carmelite devotion to Mary, on the other – kept such cryptic silence about the Scapular vision of Simon Stock. It seems doubtful whether even Sts. Teresa and John of the Cross had been informed in time of Simon Stock and his scapular vision.
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    4. Questions and Hypotheses
      In 1653 John Launoy, a priest and doctor of the university of Paris published a work that seriously questioned the historicity of the scapular vision to Simon Stock. That is what sparked a controversy that continued for many years. Cheron, a Carmelite produced a document, or rather a fragment, claiming that its author, Swanington, had been the personal secretary of Simon. This fragment states that O. Lady had appeared to Simon and bestowed on him the scapular on 16 July 1251 ... and that very day, it performed a miracle : the unrepentant brother of the dean of St. Helen's Church, Winchester , suddenly repented ... died ... appeared to the dean ... proclaiming he had been saved by the scapular ...

      Today, the Swanington fragment is considered a forgery by Cheron himself. 

      Did the Carmelites consciously fabricate the story of the vision in order – as the Dominican Stokes would suspect – to show their superiority over other Orders, ? Or merely to invent a strategy for their own survival ? Certain it is that the idea of history has been subject to historical evolution. But any charge of fabrication too would demand some historically satisfactory evidence for its foundation. Is it possible that the narrative took shape quasi-spontaneously from the repeated circulation of another but similar story being handed from generation to generation. behind the cloister walls ?

      This exactly is the conjecture of Lancelot Sheppard and others. 
      As the NCE article on St. Simon Stock points out, the only document contemporary with Simon is by a Dominican hagiographer, Gerard of Frachet who had been commissioned to write the lives of saintly Dominicans. With the intention of collecting data about friars who, like Jordan of Saxony, the second general of the Order, had anything to do with the Holy Land, Gerard visited the Holy Land around 1240 or somewhat earlier. And there he met a certain Simon who was prior of the Carmelite community. 

      Fr. Gerard tells his readers that this Carmelite prior, Simon, often used to tell the Dominicans that there was a Carmelite novice who being unsure of his vocation, was thinking of leaving the Order. During that period of doubt, news reached the Carmelites that Jordan had met shipwreck. This news put an end to his doubts. If people who served God all their lives and finally met with shipwreck – concluded the novice,-- it was better to return to the world. He had already decided on this course of action, when Jordan himself appeared to the novice reassuring him that no one who perseveres faithful to the end in the service of Jesus and Mary, will suffer spiritual shipwreck. Thanks to this apparition, the novice abandoned his decision to leave the religious life. 

      Sheppard conjectures that through frequent repetition of this episode among the Carmelites, slight alterations were made in such a way that in the course of time, the apparition of Jordan to the novice in the Holy Land, was imperceptibly transformed into the apparition of O. Lady to Simon in England. But this hypothesis, seductive though it appears, leaves unexplained the kernel of the issue under discussion, namely, the scapular itself. Of course, one could reply that Jordan’s words about the religious life, could well be applied to the religious habit.

      The discussion can continue indefinitely : if Jordan could appear to a Carmelite novice, why could Mary not appear to a Carmelite prior ? Yes, indeed, but there is no contemporary document to satisfy the historians as there is in the case of Blessed Jordan. Hence, all things considered, there is no mention of the Scapular Vision in the present Carmelite Proper even on the Solemn Commemoration of O. Lady of Mt. Carmel. 

      In the post-Vatican revision of the liturgical calendar, the memory of Simon Stock -- which was earlier celebrated with explicit mention of the vision -- was totally suppressed. 
      However, in 1979, once again the Carmelites were permitted an optional memory on condition that no mention be made of the “ problematic scapular vision.” 
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  3. The Sabbatine Connection 

    1. The Vision
      There were reports of another vision of O. Lady in the 14th century. This time apparition took place to a future pope, John XXII. A papal bull in his name was circulated describing how before his ascent to the papal throne he had a vision of O. Lady who assured him that scapular wearers who had recited Her office or practised some additional abstinence in their life-time would be liberated from purgatory on the first Saturday after their demise. Though Nicholas Calciuri and Leersius mention this document in 1461 and 1465 respectively, its historicity is vulnerable because it is just not found in the register of authentic papal documents. It is, however, the opinion of some authors that the absence from the registers is not an infallible sign of inauthenticity. However, it is today generally regarded as inauthentic.
      .

    2. The Sabbatine privilege
      What we mean here by "privilege" is not the vision or the privilege granted by the vision, but that granted by the Holy See. Several Popes granted and confirmed the Sabbatine Privilege. 

      In 1530, Clement VII issued Ex clementi sedis apostolicae where he stated that after their demise the Blessed Virgin would assist Carmelites with her continued intercession, and insure their speedy deliverance from purgatory ( not mentioning Saturday). 
      In 1613, the Holy Office, without mentioning John XXII, issued the following statement :

      “ The Carmelite Fathers can preach that the Christian people may piously believe in the aid of the souls of the brethren and confreres of the sodality of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel. Through her continuous intercessions, pious suffrages, merits, and especial protection, the most Blessed Virgin, especially on Saturday, the day dedicated to Her by the Church, will help after their death, the brethren and members of the sodality, who die in charity. In life they must have recited the Little Office, If they do not know how to recite it, they are to observe the fast of the Church and abstain from meat on Wednesday and Saturday, except on the feast of Christmas.” 

      In 1890 Pope Leo XIII granted confessors the faculty to commute the obligations for the little office and the abstinence, to other good works for obtaining the respective benefits. In 1910m Pope Pius X permitted the medal to replace the cloth scapular, and attached to the medal the Sabbatine privilege. 
      As recently as 1959, Pope John XXIII , recalling that Pope John XXII was the last Pope hitherto to take the name of John, also reminded his audience of that pope devotion to O. Lady, and that the Sabbatine vision was attributed to him. 
      .

  4. The Scapular as Marian Devotion
    Slowly and steadily in the 15th and 16th centuries, devotion to Mary’s scapular was spread by the Carmelites throughout Europe, first, and then in the missions, until the tiny trickle grew into a mighty river. Hundreds of miracles were worked through the scapular by Mary Who Herself saw to it that Her faithful should use this simple method of expressing and exercising their devotion to Her. On the other hand, the scapular was also the channel through which the Mother of Carmel manifested Her protection for Her children.

    For the convenience of the faithful, the scapular was adapted and reduced in size. 

    Arnold Bostius is one of the most important fifteenth century writers to mention the scapular and eulogize its merits. He goes so far as to call it a sacrament. What this acknowledged mariologist means is that the scapular is a sacramental – a sensible object to the proper use of which the Church attaches indulgences and other spiritual effects. Bostius calls it a sign of unity and a bond of charity. He reminds the scapular wearer of his/her commitment to Mary : ‘ to invoke her in necessities, to contemplate her life and virtues, to live in dependence on her.’ 

    Bostius also informs us of the custom of some lay folk who wished to join the confraternity of O. Lady, and secretly wore this garment and armour of our Order during their life-time, and wished to die wearing it. 

    The practise of giving the small scapular lay people so that they might share the benefits of devotion to Mary and also of the promise of salvation is a new development in the history of scapular devotion in the 14th century.

    In the fifteenth century, Audet organized scapular confraternities. And these were recommended repeatedly to the faithful by the popes.
    More than four centuries later, Pius XII writes in the same strain : Whoever wears “ the scapular professes to be like the knight of the thirteenth century --- the era to which the scapular traces its origin --- was inspired to bravery and confidence in combat under the eyes of his lady.” 

    In the beginning of the 16th century, the Carmelite general Nicholas Audet organized the scapular confraternity, the association of this who wear the scapular. Papal decrees frequently recommend the confraternity and encourage the devotion. Many decrees add one word to the traditional promise : “...those who die piously clothed in this ...” The scapular should not become a talisman !

    Astounding miracles, some of them quite well documented, have been worked by the Scapular, or, as some might prefer to put it, by the faith of scapular wearers. And this too has powerfully contributed to the spread of the devotion. 

    Eventually the scapular of Carmel came to be one of the most highly indulgenced objects in the Catholic Church before the second Vatican council. Today, however, after the post-Vatican revision of indulgences, objects and things are longer as important as human acts. 

    Fr. Joseph Elias of St. Teresa visited Kerala in 1634 and formed a scapular confraternity in the church at Kuravilangad. By 1657, when Fr, Vincent of St. Catherine visited the place, the confraternity numbered 5,000 members. 
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    1. Theological Reflection 
      The question of fundamental importance in our context is whether or not the Scapular devotion depends on the historicity of the vision or on the approval of the Church. To answer this question we need the guidance of our holy Father St. John of the Cross. For him, the question of historicity would be entirely secondary.

      Further research would be needed to find out whether the Popes who approved or confirmed the promise or the Sabbatine privilege considered the respective visions historical. 
      .

      1. Biblical Relevance of Clothing
        A great deal is said in the Bible about clothing and the spiritual symbolism of clothing. This latter can be summarized in the words of Henry Card. Vaughan in a Pastoral Letter :

        " The Holy Scriptures themselves show us that from the earliest times the bestowal of a garment has been used as an indication of love and favour. The Patriarch Jacob gave his favourite son Joseph, a many-coloured tunic as a sign of special love; Jonathan stripped himself of the coat with which he was clothed and gave it to David because he loved him as his soul. Elias ascending to heaven bestowed his cloak upon Eliseus as a sign of the descent upon him of his own prophetic spirit. 

        In the New Testament, we learn of Mary wrapping Her Son in swaddling clothes, and of Paul urging believers "to put on Christ," ; and of the importance of the "wedding garment" in one of the parables, which seems to refer to the "garment of salvation."

        Is there any wonder that the faithful should take to the scapular devotion, and that pastors should foster it ?
        Today's discipline concerning indulgences intends to shift the focus from the material to the wearer of the scapular, in order to ensure that his devotion personal and authentic.

Rev. Fr. Paul D'Souza
Pushpashrama
Institute of Philosophy
R.S. Naidu Nagar, Mysore- 7, Karnataka State, India
Phone 0821-2490638/ 2493949/ 3099005
mail:- paulantj33@yahoo.co.uk or panocd@yahoo.com 

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