St. Elijah, Prophet (Solemnity)
Elijah is the solitary Prophet who cultivated the thirst of the only God and lived in His presence. He is the contemplative enraptured by the ardent passion for the absolute of God, whose “word burnt like a torch”. He is the mystic who, after a long and tiresome road, learns and reads the new signs of the presence of God.
He is the prophet who is involved in the life of the people and, fighting against the false idols, he brings them back to the fidelity of the Covenant with the only God. He is the prophet in solidarity with the poor and those far away and he defends those who suffer violence and injustice. From the origin of the Order of the Carmelites inspiration is found in his person, who then permeates the whole history, so much so that justly the Prophet can be considered its ideal Founder.
ELIJAH AND THE CARMELITES.
At the time of the Crusades some warriors, attracted by the beauty of Carmel, by its geographical position and also by the memory of the prophet, retired to the mount. At the beginning of the XIII cent. James de Vitry traced a retrospective picture of the spiritual rebirth of the Holy Land after the Crusades of the XI and XII centuries: «Pilgrims devoted to God and religious men streamed to the Holy Land from the various parts of the world... Some holy men, however, renounced the world, drawn as they were by various affections and desires and inflamed with religious fervor; they chose for themselves places more suited to their purpose and devotion. ... Others, after the example and in imitation of the holy and solitary man, Elias the prophet, led a solitary life on Mount Carmel, and especially on that part which overlooks the city of Porphyria, which today is called Haifa, near the fountain, which is called the fountain of Elias, not far from the monastery of the blessed virgin Margaret. Like bees of the Lord, they produced the honey of spiritual sweetness in their honeycombs of modest cells» (Historia orientalis sive hierosolymitana I, capp. 15-52; ed. J. Bongers, Gesta Dei per Francos, Hanover, 1611, p. 1075).
Between the years 1206-14 a group of Latin hermits, who lived «near the fountain on Mount Carmel» received from the hands of Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, a «formula of life,» confirmed in 1226 by Pope Honorius HI. They are the Carmelites, the Friars of Our Lady of Carmel and the sons of Elias. It is not certain whether it was veneration of the prophet Elias that led these hermits to Carmel. The rule does not speak of the Carmelite life as inspired by Elias. Later, in his Fiery Arrow, Nicholas of Gaul, wishing to bring the Carmelites back to the purity of the hermitical life, will not evoke the example of the great solitary of the Old Testament. More probably, the fact of finding themselves on Mount Carmel and, later, the memory of this fact contributed to the birth and development of the hermits' devotion to St. Elias. Only in the course of their history did the theme of Elias become an «integral part» of Carmelite spirituality. Some allusion to the progressive legend of an hermitical life continued on Mount Carmel, from the times of Elias until the Crusades, is found in the first rubric of the Constitutions of the chapter of London in 1281: «We declare, therefore, in order to witness to the truth, that, beginning with the prophets Elias and Eliseus, who were devout dwellers on Mount Carmel, a number of saintly fathers of both the Old and New Testaments, duly impressed by the solitude of this mountain so well adapted to the contemplation of heavenly things, have doubtlessly lived there, near the fountain of Elias, in a laudable manner in uninterrupted, holy penance with holy results. During the time of Innocent III, Albert, patriarch of the church of Jerusalem, united their successors into one community (collegium) and wrote a rule for them which Pope Honorius, the successor of Innocent, and numerous others after him, in approving this Order, confirmed. This devout approval of the Order is evidenced by their various bulls. It is in this profession that we, their disciples, serve the Lord until today in various parts of the world» (Latin text in Anal. 0. C, XV /1950/, p. 208).
There was still a difference between the first hermits of the Old and New Testaments, and their successors in the epoch of Pope Innocent III. In the first rubric of the constitutions of 1324, however, the successors already appear at the time of Christ. It is thus that the idea was formed of the uninterrupted hereditary succession of the Carmelite Order. This conviction will lead to the sad struggle between the Carmelites and D. Papenbroeck. Meanwhile the figure of Elias became ever more significant in the spirituality of the Order; in the XV cent. Thomas of Walden wrote, without any further distinctions: «Our profession spurs us on to his outlook» (Mhc, p. 446).
It seems that it was John Baconthorp, who died in 1346, who for the first time united the Marian devotion of the Order of Carmel with the memory of the prophet Elias: «According to the prophets (prophecies?), the friars of Carmel originated especially for the veneration of the blessed Mary... And since /the blessed Mary/ is honored and preached through Carmel, it is fitting that on Carmel, which is dedicated to her, she should have the Carmelites who venerate her in a special way. This is how it was in ancient times; in reality, prophecies are understood in the light of subsequent facts... How many prophets and kings has Carmel had who through their deeds rendered honor to the Lady of the place, the blessed Mary! It was in order to continue the cult of the blessed Mary on Carmel that the Order of the Friars of Carmel had its origin. For, veneration given in places sacred to the saints is attributed, after God, to the saints themselves... But even if all those who were to be saved at the time of the prophets rendered honor to the Son Who was to come through the blessed Mary..., nevertheless, it was the friars of Carmel, venerating Him Who was to come at the time of Elias and Eliseus, who began their Order of the blessed Mary on Carmel... Therefore, it is by reason of this veneration that they took root» (Speculum de institutione Ordinis /Mirror on the institution of the Order/, cap. 1; the Latin text also in Élie, t. II, pp. 42-43).
The most complete form of this Elian and prophetic spirituality is found in a book of the XIV century, the Liber de institutione primorum monuchorum /Book on the institution of the first monks/; the text also in Anal. O. C, III /1914-16/, pp. 347-49.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Élie le prophete, (etudes carmelitaines), 2 voll. (Bruges-Paris) 1956; E. Magennis, The Life and the Times of Elias, the Prophet of Carmel, Dublin 1925; Soeur Jeanne d'Arc Élie dans I'histoire du salut, VS, LXXXVII, 1952, pp. 136-147; Élie et nous, p. 289-295; T. Brandsma, Canines, in DS II, coll. 157 ff.