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Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem Law-Giver of Carmel

Fr. Vincenzo Mosca, O.Carm.

Albert of Avogadro, presumably the name of his family, was born in 1150, in “Castro Gualtieri” a locality that today is situated in the diocese of Reggio Emilia and Guastalla. He received an education in the literary arts,

the custom for every child of noble origin. To further his studies, probably, he moved to the city of Parma, because of his particular interest in juridical studies. Left an orphan, he chose, not a brilliant career, as people might have expected, but rather the priestly life, among the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Mortara. This congregation, which had many members in northern Italy in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries had as its ideal the “perfect life in common”, following its own Rule, given by the “Holy Fathers” but inspired by the principles of the rule of St. Augustine. As he did in his studies, Albert also made progress in his spiritual and regular life, to the point that, first he was appointed Master to young members of his institute, and then he was Prior of the community of the Motherhouse of Mortara, around 1180. This was also the period in which he began to be known outside the confines of his own community and of his own congregation, taking up a number of assignments given by the Popes of the time, because of his juridical qualifications. Perhaps precisely for this reason, he was appointed bishop of Bobbio in 1184. However, he did not stay long in that See. On the 20th of April, 1185 Urban III, his predecessor in that local church, appointed him Bishop of Vercelli, bestowing on him the cathedra which had been the cathedra of St. Eusebius.

Vercelli in the 12th century was the most important cultural, economic and political centre in Piemonte. The bishop of that church was also a Count and therefore a representative of the Emperor. In the approximately twenty years that he spent there as bishop of Vercelli, the work he did for that church was consistent with the reform movements of the time, particularly in the way that he reorganised the spiritual and the financial life of his particular church. He took great care, first of all, of the formation of the clergy, setting up three chairs in the Eusebian Chapter, a theologus, a grammaticus and a scriptor. He expanded the chapter library through the donations of Canon Cotta. He gave clear directions in regard to a life in common for the clergy, following the objectives stated in the chapters of the diocesis of Vercelli, to the churches of St. Agatha, S. Maria Maggiore and St. Stefano of Biella, and for the last of these he wrote a proper statute. The highpoint of his pastoral activity was the diocesan synod that was celebrated at Pentecost in 1191, the statutes from which remained in effect up to approximately the year 1600. The great number of acts of administration performed by Albert, regarding which we have sizeable documentation, tell us that he was ever present in his local church and that he cared for it, in spite of the many jobs that he took on in response both to the emperor and the pope. He managed to keep a balanced relationship both with the representatives of the public authority of Vercelli, calming their desires for autonomy, and with the two great institutions.

His efforts in 1197 to bring those institutions together, represented at that time by Celestine III and Henry VI, did not unfortunately have the best of outcomes as both of them died unexpectedly. It was from Pope Innocent III most of all that Albert got his many important missions, such as to preside over a commission of study to produce a “regulare propositum” for the great movement of the Umiliati, whose members came from a variety of heretical and heterodox backgrounds. It was with these that the distinction between first, second and third orders came into use in relation to consecrated life. He was also asked to preside at an extraordinary general chapter of all the monasteries of the North-east of Italy. The same Pontiff, on the 17th of February 1205, gave him a pressing invitation to accept his postulation as Patriarch of Jerusalem, made by the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, by the suffragan bishops and by the King of Jerusalem, Almaricus II of Lusignano. On account of the esteem he had for Albert,  the Pope appointed him also Legate for the Holy Land.

Albert arrived in his new See in the first few months of 1206, and because Jerusalem was in the hands of the Turks, he set up his residence in St. John of Acre. In these territories, from the ecclesial point of view, his activities were somewhat curtailed to just the important aspects, such as the appointment of bishops to the local sees in the ecclesiastical province, the relationships with the military Orders, and the normal duties of a Patriarch. From the political point of view, his great skills as a mediator meant that he would be involved in problems related to the Cyprus succession, the principality of Antioch and of the kingdom of Jerusalem. In regard then to the crusade and the liberation of Jerusalem, he made great efforts to build up neighbourly relations with the Moslem princes, in order to guarantee access to the holy places for all the pilgrims who arrived.

On the 14th of September, 1214 on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, as he was walking in procession to the cathedral of Acre, he was murdered by the master of the hospital of the Holy Spirit, a certain cleric from Caluso in the diocesis of Ivrea, whom he had deposed from his position on account of a somewhat disedifying way of life. In general all that he did showed a considerable sense of balance and farsightedness, as we can see indeed from his work in support of the latin hermits of Mount Carmel, helping them to become part of the Church with their own specific charism. His work is identified by the Carmelite tradition and by the text of the “vita formulae” itself, in the following terms: he gathered into one college the group of hermits (in unum collegium congregavit); he gave them a formula for life in accordance with their own stated purpose (propositum),writing a rule for them; he gave a structure to the place and to the way of life of this group (monasterium construxit). In this sense Albert became identified with the future of the hermit brothers of Mount Carmel not only as a pastor, and then a legislator, but also as a master, a father, that is, a founder.  The “vitae formula” that contains the principle values of the Carmelite charism which in 1247 became “Regula bullata”, with the additions and corrections make by Innocent IV, may be looked upon as his spiritual testament.

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As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."