THE LIFE OF FR. JEROME GRATIAN SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR AND CONFESSOR TO ST TERESA OF AVILA
At the present time there is very little information available about this holy man though a book of his life may be in the process of being written. It is believed that Fr. Jerome and St. Teresa of Avila wrote many letters to each other. These would provide a ‘spiritual-wealth’. If anyone knows where the letters are available please let me know (my contact details are at the end of this text).
Jerome Gratian was born on the 6th June 1545 at Valladolid in Spain. He was born of noble parents his father being secretary to Charles V and Philip II and to the daughter of the Polish Ambassador at the Spanish Court. He received his early education at the Jesuit College in Madrid and later studied philosophy and theology at the Monastery of Alcala de Henares where he took his degree and was ordained a priest in 1569.
His family connections could have opened the door for a high place in society. But he met some ‘Teresian Nuns’ (I have been unable to find any explanation of this title but assume that they are nuns influenced by Teresa who at that time would have been in either Toledo or Avila) he took the habit of the Discalced Carmelites at on the 25th March 1572 taking the name ‘Jerome of the Mother of God’.
He must have had special spiritual and organisational skills because even during his novitiate he was employed in the direction of souls and the administration of the convent, and almost immediately after his profession (28th March,1573) he was nominated pro-vicar of the Calced Carmelites of the Province of Andalusia. This province, which for years had given trouble, resented the nomination of one who had only just entered the order, and offered a stubborn resistance to his regulations, even after his faculties had been confirmed and extended by the Nuncio Hormaneto. In virtue of those faculties Gratian founded a convent of Discalced Carmelites in Seville, of which he became prior and approved the establishment of several other convents of friars and of nuns.
A Chapter in 1575 listened to the complaints of the Andalusians and decided to dissolve the reformed convents but the nuncio obviously disagreed with the findings of the Chapter and gave Gratian even fresh powers and for a while the reform continued to spread. In June 1577 Nuncio Horamento was succeeded by Nuncio Sega who, prejudiced by false rumours, turned against the followers of St Teresa. Gratian was censured and returned to the convent of Alcala where he had commenced his studies for the priesthood. Eventually King Phillip II intervened and at the next Chapter in 1580 the Discalced Carmelites were granted approval according to Canon Law and Gratian became their superior.
Ever since he met St Teresa in 1575 Gratian had been her spiritual director to whom at the command of God she had made a personal vow of obedience, while Gratian in all his works guided himself by the lights of the saint.
THE VOW OF OBEDIENCE TO FATHER GRATIAN WHICH THE SAINT MADE IN 1575.
St. Teresa writes:
‘In the year 1575, in the month of April, when I was founding the monastery of Veas, Father Jerome of the Mother of God Gratian happened to come thither. I began to go to confession to him filling the place of other confessors I had, so as to be wholly directed by him. One day, when I was taking food, but without any interior recollection whatever, my soul began to be recollected in such a way that I thought I must fall into a trance; and I had a vision that passed away with the usual swiftness, like a meteor. I seemed to see close beside me Jesus Christ Our Lord, in the form wherein His Majesty is wont to reveal Himself, with Fr. Gratian on His right. Our Lord took his right hand and mine, and, joining them together, said to me that He would have me accept him in His place for my whole life, and that we were both to have one mind in all things, for so it was fitting. I was profoundly convinced that this was the work of God, though I remembered with regret two of my confessors which I frequented in turn for which I had a great affection especially caused a great resistance. Nevertheless, not being able to persuade myself that the vision was a delusion, because it had a great power and influence over me, and also because it was said to me on two other occasions that I was not to be afraid, that He wished this, -the words were different, - I made up my mind at last to act upon them, understanding it to be our Lord’s will, and to follow His counsel so long as I should live. I had never before so acted with any one, though I had consulted many persons of great learning and holiness, and who watched over my soul with great care, - but neither had I received any such directions as that I should make no change; for as to my confessors, of some I understood that they would be profitable to me, and so also of these’.
‘When I had resolved on this, I found myself in peace and comfort so great that I was amazed, and assured of our Lord’s will; for I do not think that Satan could fill the soul with peace and comfort such as this; and so, whenever I think of it, I praise our Lord, and remember the words from Psalm 147: ‘He hath made thy borders peace’, and I wish I could wear myself out in the praises of God’.
After Teresa died in 1582 Fr. Gratian’s reforms were opposed by a party calling themselves zelant. At their head was a man called Nicholas Doria who must have been a strong character, fired with ambition and full of his own importance, because although Fr. Gratian was supported by St. John of the Cross and other prominent men Doria won the day and Gratian was charged with having introduced mitigations and novelties. Doria strengthened his position by introducing a new kind of government which concentrated all power in the hands of a committee under his own presidency.
Great was the consternation among Fr. Gratian’s supporters and greater still among the nuns who resented any interference in their affairs. Through the instrumentality of St. John of the Cross and Fr. Gratian the nuns obtained from Rome approval of St. Teresa’s constitutions, whereupon Doria resolved to exclude the nuns from the order. He also knew that as long as the opposition was led by Fr. Gratian (St John of the Cross having meanwhile died) his new government could never come into force. On the pretext that Fr. Gratian’s writings reflected unfavourably on the superiors he was summoned to Madrid and the information against him having been materially altered by a personal enemy, he, the director and right hand of St Teresa, the soul of her reform and for ten years its superior, was expelled from the order on the 17 Feb 1592. This sentence, based on falsified evidence, was confirmed by the king, the nuncio, and even by the authorities in Rome, who commanded Fr. Gratian to enter some other order.
The Carthusians, Capuchins and Dominicans would not accept him, but Augustinians in Rome consented to employ him in the foundation of some reformed convents. The journey to Rome was by sea and the ship was captured by pirates and Fr. Gratian was taken prisoner. Working among the Christian slaves in Tunis he strengthened those who were wavering, reconciled apostles at the risk of his life and liberated many with alms he succeeded in collecting. After eighteen months of captivity he obtained his freedom and completed his journey to Rome.
Pope Clement VIII, to who on previous occasions Fr. Gratian had revealed secrets made known to him in prayer, on hearing of his work and sufferings exclaimed, “This man is a saint” and caused the process of expulsion to be re-examined and on the 6th March 1596 the sentence was rescinded. But as his return to the Discalced Carmelites would have revived the former dissensions, he was affiliated to the Calced Friars with all the honours and privileges, and the right to practice the Rule of the Reform. After spending time preaching he eventually returned to Valladolid to assist his dying mother, and finally, in 1606, was called to Brussels by his friend and protector, Archduke Albers. There he continued his life of denying himself and apostolic zeal. His date of death is not recorded on any of the literature I have available but his remains were buried in the Chapter House of the Calced Carmelites in Brussels. His remains were repeatedly transferred but finally lost during the Revolution.
Extracts from the Book ‘The Life of Saint Teresa of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel’.
(From a footnote): The saint throughout her life was extremely careful of cleanliness. In one of her letters to Father Jerome Gratian of the Mother of God (Feb. 1581), she begs him, for the love of God, to see that the Fathers had clean cells and tables.
‘Once in deep reflection I was praying to God for Eliseus (This was Fr. Gratian: St. Teresa’s used code names when she was driven by persecutions raised against her, to distinguish her friends by other designations than they were usually known), I heard this: “He is My true son; I will never fail him,” or to that effect; but I am not sure of the latter words’. (Seville 1575).
‘I came across a letter, in which my good father (Fr. Gratian) had written that St. Paul had said that our God does not suffer us to be tempted beyond our power to bear. This was a very great relief me, but was not enough, yea rather, on the next day I was in great distress at his absence, for I had no one to go to in this trouble, For I seemed to be living in great loneliness’.
‘I was one night in great distress, because it was than a long time since I had heard anything of my father\ (Fr. Gratian); and. Moreover, he was not well the last time he wrote to me. However, my distress was not as that I felt before, for I had hopes, and distress like that I never was in since; but still my anxiety hindered my prayer. He appeared to me on the instant; it could not have been the effect of imagination, for I saw a light within me, and himself coming by the way joyous, with a face all fair. It must have been the light I saw that made his face fair, for all the saints in heaven seem so; and I considered whether it be the light and splendour proceeding from our Lord that render them thus fair. I heard this: “Tell him to begin at once without fear, for the victory is his”’.
‘I saw my Eliseus (Fr. Gratian) there, not at all swarthy, but in a strange beauty: around his head was a garland of precious stones; a multitude of damsels went before him with palms in their hands, all singing hymns of praise unto God. I did nothing but open my eyes, to see whether I could not distract myself from the vision, but failed to divert my attention; and I thought there was music also, - the singing of birds and of angels, - which filled my soul with joy, though I did not hear any. My soul was in joy, and did not consider that there was nobody else there. I heard these words; “He has merited to be among you, and all this rejoicing which thou beholdest will take place on the day he shall set aside for the honour of my Mother.” This vision lasted more that an hour and a half. In this respect – differently from the other visions – I could not turn away from it, and it filled me with delight. The affect of the vision was a great affection of Eliseus, and a more frequent thinking of him in that beauty. I have had a fear of its being a temptation, for the work of the imagination it could not possibly be’. (Seville 1575).
I would like to extend this work on Fr. Jerome Gratian. If anyone reads this work on my web site www.religiouswriting.com under the heading ‘Talk to the Carmelite Nuns’ and is able to offer further information about Fr. Gratian, especially details of the letters which passed between him and St. Teresa, please contact me either on e-mail email@example.com or phone 04122 352559.