Rossi, Teresa, and the Discalced
On May 29, 1575, Teresa made a foundation of nuns in Seville and duly reported it to the prior general. Beyond a visit from Michael de Ulloa, the prior of Seville and a defender of the Order, who asked to see her patents, the Carmelites of the city caused her no trouble, even though the Order already had a monastery there, the Incarnation.
Rossi himself was trying to reach “his daughter.” He penned letters in October, 1574, and January, 1575, which showed up simultaneously at Seville on June 17. In them, the prior general had evidently expressed his displeasure with Gracián and Mariano whom he considered disobedient and with the acceptance among the contemplatives of Gabriel de la Peñuela; the Discalced houses in Andalusia would have to be closed. Teresa’s answer on the following day is characterized by the Teresian scholar, E. Allison Peers, as “one of the most striking in the entire collection” of her letters.
“Every day,” Teresa begins, “a special prayer for your Reverence is said in choir, and, apart from that, all the sisters are careful to pray for you, since they are aware how much I love you. They, too, knowing no other father, have a great love for your Reverence, which is not surprising, for you are all we have in the world. They are all very happy, and so they never cease to be grateful to your Reverence, since it is to you that the Reform owes its beginning.” She goes on to protest the loyalty and good intentions of her Discalced friars. (We already know what Rossi thought of Gracián’s good intentions.)
As to closing the Discalced houses in Andalusia, Teresa in her forthright manner reads the general a lesson in Realpolitik. “It may be that the whole Order is reformed already, but people certainly do not think so here: they consider every one of our friars, without exception, as saints. And they do in fact lead good lives, are extremely recollected, and are much given to prayer… They stand very well with the king, and the archbishop here says they are the only real friars there are. Now if your Reverence drives them out of the Reform – assuming you do not want them there – you must believe me that, even if you have all the right in the world on your side, people will not look at it like that.”
Her final suggestion is a saint’s and eminently correct, but perhaps not possible, given the state of men’s minds: “I beg you to commend the matter to His Majesty, and, like a true father, forget the past, and remember that you are a servant of the Virgin and that she will be offended if you cease to help those who, by the sweat of their brow, seek the increase of the Order.” The expansion of the Discalced reform in an atmosphere of unity and harmony did not lie entirely in the general’s hands – nor in Teresa’s.
Even as Teresa wrote these wise words the general chapter at Piacenza had passed into history.