In these most recent years we have been celebrating a number of centenaries that have great importance for the life of our Carmelite family: St Albert of Jerusalem and Jerónimo Gracián, the eighth and fourth centenaries of whose deaths occur respectively; and St Teresa of Jesus, the fifth centenary of whose birth occurs.
We would like to share some reflections on Fr Jerónimo Gracián with the whole Carmelite Family. We begin from the story of his life, not always well known to everybody. It is true that in these last few years, thanks to the publication of a series of bibliographies, studies and the edition of some of his writings, Gracián is beginning to find some space in Carmelite bibliography. It is also worth noting that in this process of recovery, his own La Peregrinación de Anastasio has had an important place.
1. A Man of his Times – 1545-1572
Jerónimo Gracián was born in the Castilian city of Valladolid, on June 6th, 1545. It was there that he received the imprint that would develop to maturity in later life. Spanish and Polish blood ran through his veins. His father, Diego Gracián de Alderete, was ‘Latin Secretary to his Majesty’, King Philip II, and a humanist worthy of the name. He was distinguished for being an excellent calligrapher, polyglot and a connoisseur of classical culture. He worked as a secretary to bishops and as a translator of books, especially Greek and Latin books. In his youth he had a very close friendship with the one who would become his father-in-law, Juan Dantisco, Polish ambassador to the court of Charles I of Spain, and Charles V of Germany. With the passage of time he became a bishop, first of Culm, and later he was promoted to the Church of Warmia (Poland). Jerónimo Gracián would inherit both from his father and from his maternal grand-father a passion for literature and for classical culture.
Jerónimo Gracián was the third of twenty brothers. Teresa of Jesus used to sing the praises of his mother, Juana Dantisco on account of her deep piety, which she passed on to her children of whom seven entered religious life. The Carmelites were: María de San José, Isabel de Jesús, Juliana de Santa Teresa y Lorenzo Gracián. From his earliest years Jerónimo had a Jesuit as his spiritual director. He studied in the well-known university of Alcalá de Henares. At nineteen years of age, he was already a Master of Arts, a proof of his intelligence and his aptitude for study. He then studied theology, and came very close to the degree of Doctor. He was ordained a priest at twenty four years of age. His love for literature is widely known: “Reading and study of good books (principally from when I began to study Theology, which is my profession) has been something very ordinary, since the time when I was ten years old and I began to study, up to the present day” (PA, c. XV). The light of the Word, the cornerstone of his academic and theological formation, directed his reason and intellect towards the mystery of God (cf. Ps 108,109): “Our Lord helped him to understand that to knowledgeable people, whom he has enlightened through the ordinary pathway of study, it is not necessary to give particular revelations and visions.....” (PA, c. XV). Hence he affirms, “I set about writing” and “I did not hide the talent for writing that the Lord had given me” (PA, c. XV).
2. His encounter with Saint Teresa of Jesus – 1572-1592
When he was ordained and had finished his studies for a doctorate he began to think about the possibility of joining the Jesuits. In this time of searching he got to know the Carmelite nuns in Pastrana and the prioress of the community, Isabel de Santo Domingo. The life and spirit of these women fascinated him:
I received the habit in Pastrana, in 1572, having fought for a year and a half with this vocation, which was a real torment. All the natural reasons were against me at that point: poor health, natural laziness, study fatigue, obligations towards my parents and brothers (...) All of this, on the one hand, battled against a burning desire to serve our Lord, and, on the other hand, since the reform of this Order was beginning at that time, it seemed to me that my Lord was calling me for that (PA, c. I).
Our Lady of Mount Carmel would be his companion on the journey from the very beginning. Teresa of Jesus attributed his choosing the Carmelite Order to his great devotion to Mary and his great desire to serve her. He said, indeed, that when he was a child, he very often prayed before a statue of Mary, for whom he had a deep devotion and to whom he referred as his “lover”: “I am blinded by the love of such a lady.... I would lose my life, which I would give so willingly to my Lady, the Virgin Mary” (PA, c. I). In the view of Teresa of Jesus, it was the intervention of the Blessed Virgin that led him to choose the Carmelite habit (cf. F 23, 4-8).
His Carmelite adventure began with a lot of responsibilities, even though he was still only a novice. He recounts:
I received the habit, and straightaway the jobs began, and I was soon worn out from preaching and hearing confessions in the Carmelite house and in the town of Pastrana and in the towns and villages round about, where we had benefactors (...) I had to instruct thirty novices that later were the pride of the Order; and we were alone, so alone that we had to be careful that they were not affected by the antics of some of the professed who tried to tell them what to do, so that they would not leave the order, and we had to do no small amount of work in this regard (PA, c. I).
He went on to illustrate the rigours and penances that the professed wanted to inflict on the novices. The first novices were young men who could neither read nor write, and had little experience or wisdom..... All of this was the cause of a crisis for Fray Jerónimo: “... I was about to leave the Order and not make my profession on its account”. He persevered in Carmel, however, under the wise direction of Mother Isabel de Santo Domingo (PA, c. I).
His Commitment to the Reform
In Jerónimo Gracián there is a unity in his love for the Rule of Carmel and for the reform that Saint Teresa had begun, for the initial ideals and for the ability to achieve them in ways that were new and renewing. This convergence was an expression of the springtime that the Church was experiencing in the aftermath of the Council of Trent. In a certain sense, it is the same as we see in our own time. The Second Vatican Council reminded us that the Church is faithful to its vocation only by being reformed constantly, and Pope Francis has noted:
There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s ‘fidelity to her own calling’, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.
Teresa was a woman who exercised the gift of friendship intensely. In the first meeting with Fr Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios, in Beas de Segura in 1575, we find a certain empathy, openness and confidentiality between them:
The master, Gracián, was here for twenty days ... I think well of him, and for us it were best that we ask God for him .... I can now stop worrying about the running of these houses, for such perfection with such gentility, I have never seen” (MC 81, to Mother Isabel de Santo Domingo, May 12th, 1575).
Following his profession, Jerónimo began to carry out tasks of some importance in the newly-born Reform of Carmel. Just a few months after his profession he was appointed Apostolic Visitator of the Carmelites in Andalucia: “Here I am, at 28 years of age, and a half year of profession, appointed the Prelate of the Carmelites in Andalucia, against the will of the General and Protector of the Calced Order” (PA c. I). In 1575, he would become the Apostolic Visitator of all the Carmelites in Andalucia, including the Discalced. At that time, he acted as the head of the Reform, the white-headed boy of Teresa of Jesus, to bring to completion the creation of the Discalced Province. In time, he would find himself in prison. In the end, and with the help of Philip II, a Brief from Rome confirmed the creation of the Discalced Province as part of the Carmelite Order. At the Chapter celebrated in Alcalá de Henares, in March 1581, Fr Jerónimo was elected Provincial of the Reformed Province. This is how he told the story:
The Fathers gathered for the Chapter in Alcalá; the province was set up; the laws were agreed; they elected me as their first Provincial, I governed the Province for my four years, opening houses of friars and nuns in the company of mother Teresa of Jesus, which involved all the ordinary work of travelling, doing business, writing letters, hearing confessions, preaching sermons and studying, etc. (PA, c. III).
On October 4th, 1582, Teresa died in Alba de Tormes: “Blessed be God, for giving me such a great friend, whose love, now in heaven, will not grow cold and I can be sure that it will be a great help to me” (PA, c. XVI). The reformer found in him, providentially, the person who would consolidate and direct all that she had begun. Writing about him, she said that he was “a man who was very well educated, with great understanding and modesty, graced by many virtues all his life, it seems as if Our Lady chose him for the good of this primitive Order”. What was notable, in talking about his style of governing, was the combination of goodness and firmness:
His manner is pleasant which means that for the most part those who deal with him love him (a grace from the Lord), such that he is loved very much by those who are under him, both men and women, and while he does not forgive any fault – because in this he cared very much about the spread of devotion – he was always able to act with such a pleasing gentleness that no one ever had reason to complain about him.
St Teresa confided in him, promising him obedience (CC 30, 3) and, thanks to this vow, Fr Jerónimo could ask her not only to open new monasteries but also to complete the writing of her book on the Foundations and to write about her spiritual life which she did in the Interior Castle. Similarly, out of obedience to him, Teresa posed for her portrait to be painted by Fray Juan de la Miseria, thus leaving behind the well-known portrait which has been handed down to us (cf. PA, c. XIII).
Jerónimo Gracián, for his part, followed the teaching of Teresa of Jesus. This gave him the imprint of the evolving charism, and became a source of great spiritual and human sustenance in his apostolic activity. Teresa’s regard for Jerónimo had many features that covered the spectrum from loving mother to grateful child. The intense correspondence that went between them is legendary (CC 29,1; 30,3) and his friendship provided a valve for Teresa: “I am happy that Fray Antonio is not with you, because, they tell me, when he sees so many letters of mine and none of them for him, he gets upset” (MC 170 to Padre Jerónimo Gracián, around December, 1576). Fr Gracián remembered it as well:
She shared her spirit with me, not hiding anything from me, and I did the same with her, revealing everything I had inside, and in that way we were certain that we were in agreement on everything that had to do with the task in hand and she, as well as her religious vow, made another vow of obedience to me for the rest of her life, because of a particular revelation that she received (PA, c. XIII).
Fr Jerónimo also gave of himself, by accepting all that she taught. Teresa gave him his dreams and, much more, his ideals and his charismatic commitment: that is why, as well as being a friend and confidante for him, she was also ‘mother’. Not only that, he found in her the master that guided him through the pathways of the interior life, inspiring his ministry to the friars and nuns of the Reform.
The Brothers say ‘No’
In Lisbon, in 1585, Fr Nicolas Doria was elected Provincial and Fr Gracián remained as Vicar Provincial. Then, later, he was elected as the Vicar Provincial of the new province of Mexico at the intermediate Chapter that was held in Valladolid in 1587. He could not leave with the fleet that sailed to the so-called West Indies, because in 1587 and in 1588 no fleet set sail. He would instead spend two years in Portugal at the request of Cardinal Alberto, the Viceroy of Portugal, and he became the Apostolic Visitator of the Portuguese Carmelites. He was called to Madrid in 1590 and this was the beginning of his Calvary. He would end up being expelled from the Discalced Carmelites on February 17th, 1592, among whom he had been the first provincial, after being accused of not being strict enough and of devoting more time to the apostolate than to the regular life and of having dishonest dealings with Maria de San José, formerly the prioress of Seville and, at that time, prioress of Lisbon.
They stripped Fr Jerónimo of his discalced habit which he had worn for twenty years, and dressed him in secular attire. “Finally they have taken away my habit, after a long period in prison. I was sorry that then they gave me a mantle and cassock of very good material, that belonged to a novice that had entered” (PA, c. IV). He finished by confessing the pain that he felt: “Only the one who has suffered it can tell what it is like, for one who entered the Discalced Order with the vocation with which I entered, and suffered so much to build the Province, and given the habit to the ones who now have taken it from me” (PA, c. IV). From that moment, he went back to being the priest, Don Jerónimo Gracián.
3. The test of Fidelity – 1592-1596
The new stage in the life of Fr Jerónimo Gracián runs through a continuous pilgrimage, from one place to another, from one experience to another, passing through the quest for justice, the search for a place where he would be welcomed, and a bitter captivity in a strange land. This was a time of purification that was providential in that it helped him to centre himself in the heart of the Gospel, and in his religious life, helping to confirm his choosing to enter Carmel. In the most adverse situations, when things were falling apart, Fr Jerónimo always managed to look far ahead, by living in allegiance to Jesus Christ (Rule, Ch. 2) and by preaching the Gospel. Perhaps he is a more than significant witness for religious life today, in a time of crisis, and apparent disheartenment.
Later he would say that he asked the Lord for the “desire to suffer” and to carry a “naked and shameful cross” because “it appeared to him as the straightest and safest way to reach heaven” (PA, c. VIII). God heard his prayer. In time, he would say that the Lord did not delay in granting him what he had asked with such insistence: “Not long after this prayer I began to see that God was giving me his grace and was granting me all that I asked” (PA, c. VIII). Indeed, he came to know persecutions, displacement, fears, dangers, insults and other labours, that taught him a very sweet science: “that every virtue comes from the love of God and of neighbour and every virtue has that same love as its ultimate aim” (PA, c. XV). Fr Jerónimo discovered that we cannot decaffeinate the Gospel, and that anyone “who does not love the one who hates him is not a Christian, because love for enemies is a fundamental law” and “the supreme quintessence of virtue”. In his Peregrinación he illustrates this with an example:
I thought of my adversaries as images of Christ .... If a tabernacle or a pyx of poor stone can contain the Most Blessed Sacrament, I would never not want to adore him and reverence him, even though I might like to see him dressed in gold and fine clothing. I know that God is in essence, presence and power in the one who persecutes me. Yes, I would love the tabernacle to be more beautiful, but I close my eyes to all that is outside and not to what is contained within (PA, c. XI).
Fr Jerónimo Gracián did not share the view of those who made a virtue out of strictness of observance, the banner of the reform and an end in itself. The conflict that led to his expulsion could be summed up in a paragraph that he left us in his writings:
Because there are spirits to whom it seems that all Carmelite perfection lies in not leaving their cell, or in never missing choir, even though the whole world may have gone up in flames, and that the good of the Order consisted in multiplying houses in the small towns and villages in Spain, and leaving the rest, and that think that every other way of thinking is restlessness and laxity. God did not lead me by this route, but rather by the way of saving souls; and in relation to the people that we employ in small places, we should begin with them to found houses in the more important cities in the different kingdoms for the real spread and benefit of the Order. And, as I talked about this many times and in great detail with Mother Teresa of Jesus, whose zeal was for the conversion of the whole world, this way of doing things stuck to me even more (PA, c. III).
One question went round and round in Gracián’s head: “Where is God?” The answer was clear: “there where love is uppermost” (PA, c. X). Gracián was faithful to the premise that “flexibility” is a good companion on the journey, that love is “creative” and that the one who does good is never lost.
Perseverance in the test: “Adam’s habit”
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine or nakedness or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). Gracián’s pilgrimage continued with his journey to Rome to seek the protection of the Pope and he succeeded in speaking to Clement VIII. The Pontiff, through his secretaries, expressed the view that he should join another religious Order. He asked to join “the Capuchins, the Cistercians, the Discalced Franciscans, and all the other orders, asking to receive their habit: none would give it to me, and I saw myself rejected by every Order, as if I was the most despicable religious that you could find on the earth” (PA, c. V). He passed through Naples, and Sicily (where he stayed for eight months, helping out and hearing confessions in a hospital). On January 27th, 1593, the Pope wrote a Brief, Uberes fructus, in which he confirmed Fr Gracián’s expulsion from the Discalced Carmelites, ordering him to join the Augustinians or some other observant Order. He left the port of Gaeta to travel to Rome:
As I came to the end of Mass, in which – against the interior pressure that came from the Virgin Mary and from Teresa of Jesus never to leave their Order – I decided to join the Discalced Augustinians, as the wind began to die down, the ships, on account of that, began to slow (PA, c. V).
The Gospel proclaimed, by one in chains
God worked hard on Fr Jerónimo Gracián. He asked God for “humility” and life offered him more than enough “humiliations” and opportunities to demonstrate how right his petition was. One more episode was added to his turbulent biography: his captivity in Argel. In his Peregrinación, Gracián writes about his ups and downs, his interest in evangelising and, finally, his freedom. More than once, while spending a long spell in prison he was sure that he was going to be executed. Gracián, zealous as ever for the salvation of souls, did not waste time. He writes about the conversations he had, how he preached, heard confessions and helped in getting release for people in prison. In the midst of the torment and restrictions of his own imprisonment he recounts:
I heard the confessions of my captive Christians ... comforting them when they were beaten with a stick, pacifying their quarrels and visiting them when they were sick. If they wanted to cut somebody’s nose or ears, I would manage to get forgiveness with a little money, which I got faithfully from the same Christians (PA, c. VI).
In many ways, throughout his whole life, Jerónimo was devoted to the mission of evangelisation. During his four years as Provincial he gave a missionary and expansionary slant to the Province that he governed: thus he had houses opened in Genoa (1584), the Congo (1584) and in Mexico (1585). Despite being held in captivity, he still managed to preach the Gospel to his companions and his captors. Returning to the Order he was at the Pope’s disposal to take on any missionary expedition and he dedicated some of his writings to this. This missionary zeal came out of his great desire to “save souls” and to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. He said to Teresa that
sometimes it seemed to him that (a statue of the Blessed Virgin) had eyes that were swollen from weeping over the many offenses committed against her Son. As a result there arose in him a strong impulse and desire to help souls, and he felt it very deeply when he saw offenses committed against God. He has so great an inclination toward the good of souls that any hardship becomes small to him if he thinks that through it he can produce some fruit. I have seen this myself in the many trials that he has undergone.
Teresa, evidently, did not imagine that still more trials awaited him, nor the greatness of spirit that he would show in them.
4. In Mary’s Habit – 1596-1614
On April 11th, 1595, the Bajá of Tunisia signed his letter of freedom. He arrived in Genoa where began a new and final stage in his life which covered the last eighteen years, as a Carmelite (O.Carm.). Gracián himself recounts that he arrived in Rome, threw himself at the feet of the Pope and got his permission to return to wearing the Carmelite habit. That is what Gracián tells us, as he summed up in just a few lines all that happened in his life until he got to Belgium:
He ordered me to put on the habit of the (calced) Carmelites despite the fact that the conclusion of the Consultation was that I was not to wear any habit, neither Carmelite nor Discalced Carmelite. I spent a short time in San Martin in Montibus (sic) with the (calced) Carmelites. From there the Protector of my Order sent me to the home of Cardenal Deza, the protector in Spain. I worked for him for five years as a theologian, writing and printing books. From the memos that I had written to the Pope it emerged that to the Congregation of Cardinals of Propaganda Fide De and to the Pope it seemed that I should return to Africa with a mission that they gave me to bring the Jubilee of the Holy Year to the Christians in those places. I had letters from the King for the guards at the borders that they should afford me safe passage. I was present for my mother’s death. I went to Cueta, and from there to Tetuan: I accomplished my mission; I returned with orders to make peace between our King and the Jarife; it didn’t work. I came to the house in Madrid: from there I went to Valencia and Alicante and then back to Rome to report to Pope Clement VIII: God took him to himself; I remained preaching and printing books in Valencia. They sent me to Pamplona to preach for Lent. From there I came to Flanders (PA, c. VIII).
Fr Jerónimo – in his Peregrinación – never ceases to express his joy and contentment with the treatment he received in the Carmelite Order.
They showed great pleasure in seeing me wearing their habit. The General soon made me Master of the Order and they gave me the seniority that I would have had if I had made my profession with them when I made my profession with the Discalced, and I have held on to that always, which is no small thing for which to be thankful (PA, c. XIV).
While the time he spent with the Reform was particularly fruitful in terms of his work in governing, his time with the Ancient Observance was distinguished for his gifts as a preacher and prolific writer. Jerónimo now wrote on behalf of prelates and of the Prior General of the Order and his works include everything from missionary activity to the history and spirituality of Carmel. On the instructions of Fr Enrique Silvio, then Prior General of the Order, elected in Rome in 1598, he wrote his famous commentary on the Rule of the Order – Della disciplina regolare – to stimulate the members of the Order towards greater observance. At that time he was also working tirelessly on printing the writings of St Teresa into other languages and on promoting her beatification. Flanders was the last stop on his journey. There he finished the writing of his Peregrinación de Anastasio, Dialogues of the persecutions, works, tribulations and crosses that Fr Jerónimo Graacian de la Madre de Dios suffered.
Gracián arrived in Brussels in 1607. He would spend the next years alternating an eremitical life, in a hermitage in the garden of the house, with his preaching and hearing confessions and working with the Discalced Carmelites who were beginning to open houses in that country. He had the joy of being alive when Mother Teresa of Jesus was beatified on April 24th, 1614, by Paul V. On September 21st, 1614, at six o’clock in the evening of that Sunday, Jerónimo Gracián died, a Carmelite. We have to include in his missionary activities the publication of the works of Teresa in Protestant areas, as well as his own works: Diez lamentaciones del miserable estado de los ateístas (Ten Lamentations of the Miserable Condition of Atheists) and Leviatán engañoso, suma de algunos engaños (The Deceitful Leviathan: an Account of Some Deceits). Just like Teresa, he wanted to respond, in a certain sense, to the schism that was created in the Church by the Lutheran separation, by opening monasteries in which there would be faithful and joyful witness to the Gospel. Jerónimo, through the diffusion of Teresa’s teaching, had the intention of offering a model of life transfigured by the Gospel and at the service of the Church.
Conclusion: victoria amoris – the victory of love (PA, c. x)
Clothe the naked is the first work of mercy according to the Hebrew tradition (cf. Matthew 25:36). Fr Jerónimo Gracián spent his whole life looking for clothes to put on: “I received the Discalced habit”; “they dressed me up in secular dress”; “they gave me a cloak and cassock of the finest material”; “they made me wear the habit of wretchedness”; “I saw that I was naked and I put on my new Adam’s suit”; “they gave me once again the calced habit”, etc. At the end of his life, with wisdom and discernment, he was able to say: God is well able to see that there is as much fruit from one habit as from another, as my own experience has shown me (PA, c. XVI). The ‘habit’ that he received went beyond his expectations: it was not an external garment, but an interior one. Gracián, just like Joseph in the book of Genesis, was stripped of his cloak (Genesis 37:3, 23, 31; 39:12; 41:14) in order to put on the “cloak of fine linen” (cf. Genesis 41:42) Linen, in order to be woven and become softer and more bright and luminous, has to be beaten and pounded. The linens are the good works of the saints ... (Acts 19:8). The epitaph of a Jewish rabbi illustrates what Jerónimo Gracián went through: “For every good work that a man does on the earth, a thread of light lights up in the heavens. Many good works make many threads. Why? In order to weave a garment of light. A garment of light that gives glory to the Master of the works”. A ‘garment of light’ made from threads of mercy, goodness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and the love which binds everything together in perfect harmony (cf. Colossians 3:12-15).
Fr Jerónimo Gracián invites us to become craftsmen and craftswomen of peace and reconciliation, so that, seeing our good works, the Father who is in heaven may be glorified (Matthew 5:16). Gracián’s peregrinación (pilgrimage) is the expression of a deeper spiritual journey, which is a response to the love that God poured into his heart through our Blessed Mother, in his desire to take on the Rule of Carmel in accordance with the teachings of Teresa of Jesus and his passionate desire to give himself to others for their salvation. This victoria amoris – victory of love – (PA c. X) lived, above all, in moments of tension, was an ecstasy of love for him, but not in the sense of a momentary flash, but as something permanent, a going out from the “I” closed in on itself, towards the liberation that comes from committing oneself and by so doing comes to find oneself again, and even more, to find God. In Gracián’s pilgrimage we begin to see the pilgrimage of every disciple, and for that reason, our pilgrimage too, as we endeavour to follow that same path marked out by Jesus “which, through the cross brings him to the resurrection; the route of the grain of wheat that falls on the ground and dies, and so gives abundant fruit.” We give thanks to God because we can reap the fruit of the witness and the message that our brother Jerónimo Gracián has left us.
Fernando Millán Romeral, O.Carm., Prior General
Saverio Cannistrà, O.C.D., Provost General
 Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios: Peregrinación de Anastasio. Ed. Juan Luis Astigarraga. Roma: 2001. Hereafter: PA with the number of the chapter.
 Cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 6; Lumen Gentium, 8; Gaudium et Spes, 21.
 Pope Francis: Evangelii Gaudium, 26.
 Teresa de Jesús: Foundations 23, 1.
 Ibid, Foundations 23, 7.
 2 Epistle of Clement, 13ss.
 Tertulian: Tract on Patience, 6.
 John Chrysostom: Sermons on the Gospel according to Matthew, 18, 3.
 Teresa de Jesús: Foundations 23, 5.
 Nicolás Antonio: Bibliotheca Nova Hispana. Madrid: 1684.
 Fr Jerónimo Gracián: Della Disciplina Regolare. Venice: 1600.
 Fr Jerónimo Gracián: Diez lamentaciones del miserable estado de los ateístas. Brussels: 1611.
 Fr Jerónimo Gracián: Leviathan engañoso, suma de algunos engaños. Brussels: 1614.
 Pope Benedict XVI: Deus caritas est, 6.
 Ibid, 6.