As Cicconetti notes, the phrase “in obsequio Jesu Christi,” drawn from 2 Cor. 10:5, takes on somewhat different meanings in differing situations. Valabek summarizes the Pauline meaning of this obsequium. A disciple of Christ is a doulos, a slave or servant who totally hands over one’s self, one’s thoughts, will, wishes to Christ, who becomes the most important person in one’s life. In turn the disciple shares in the very life of Christ and becomes a new self created in God’s way.
This Pauline notion of obsequium took on specific connotations in feudal times. What images or overtones did this Pauline expression evoke in the Hermits of Carmel during this feudal period?
The basic feudal meaning of “in obsequio” was that of service, the service which a vassal rendered to a sovereign. Cicconetti notes:
Following of or allegiance to another (obsequium) implied duties on the part of master and subject. Those living in the patrimony of a feudal lord promised good and faithful service, assistance in time of war and participation in resolution of problems or questions. In return the lord promised protection . . . to his subjects.
This secular meaning of “in obsequio” was transferred in the religious realm to service owed to God or (especially) Christ.
In the XII and XIII centuries, relationship with Christ was judged in similar terms; traditional feudal values of service . . . , of fidelity . . . , of allegiance or following (obsequium), of being bound to . . ., of dedication . . . , governed a man’s responsibilities to Christ with a pervading influence that colored every aspect of daily life.
All Christians were bound to this obsequium Christi. But during the period of the Crusades, the concept took on even greater specificity. Christ had been expelled from his own patrimony and had suffered an injustice. Hence popes evoked the concept to induce Christians to support the liberation of the Holy Land. Hence, the obsequium Jesu Christi had a very pregnant sense for Crusaders and others, such as the hermits on Mount Carmel, who pilgrima¬ged to or resided in the land of Christ. All such Christians became Christ’s special subjects, were especially dedicated to his service (obsequium) and were to be completely faithful to him.
Of course the patrimony of Christ was to be regained not only through military efforts. Since the fall of Jerusalem was attributed to the infidelity and sins of Christians, true interior conversion to Christ and spiritual arms (prayer, penance, fasting) were more important than the earthly weapons of the Crusader. The soldier of Christ had to arm himself with the disarming attitude of Christ. This was a spirituality founded on the passion of Christ and realized only by taking up the Cross, through which Christ himself had acquired the land. The obsequium Jesu Christi was, therefore, very much a following of the crucified Christ. .
In the case of the hermits of Carmel, therefore, their particular allegiance (obsequium) to Christ was very much defined by the then current theology of reconquering the land of Christ through spiritual combat in imitation of the suffering and Crucified Christ. They were to embrace poverty, penance, silence, solitude, prayer and fasting, “to follow Christ’s law, be available to do all things in his name, to vest themselves in spiritual armor” to disarm the forces of evil and above all to meditate upon the law of the Lord. In all of this, but especially through meditat¬ing upon the law of the Lord and the recitation of the psalms, they were to be transformed into Christ. It is this specific form of “walking in the footsteps of Jesus” which is signalled in the Prologue and further specified in their “formula of life.”
How the Obsequium Informs the Rule
I do not intend to analyze or comment upon each reference to Christ in the Rule. I merely wish first to make some general observations and then show how the very structuring of the rule is Christocentric.
From the above, one can see how the basic project of walking in the footsteps of Jesus, signalled in the Prologue, is then articulated in the Rule itself: faithful following of Christ through obedience to his represen¬tative, the prior (chapters I, XVII, XVIII), solitude (chapter III), meditating upon the law of Lord, vigilance in prayer, reciting psalms (chapters VII, VIII, X), poverty (chapter IX), penance as fasting and abstinence (chapters XII, XIII), vesting in spiritual armor for spiritual warfare (chapter XIV), doing all in the Word of the Lord (chapter XIV), willingness to undergo persecution (chapter XIV), silence (chapter XVI). In all of this Christ is present to the hermit community as model, teacher, savior and eschatological judge (chapter XVIII and Epi¬logue). Within this Christocentric perspective, Elijah and Mary, present only implicitly in the Rule, become subordinate models or symbols who serve to con-cretize the obsequium Jesu Christi.
Even more important than seeing how the various elements of the obse¬quium Jesu Christi are taken up in the chapters of the Rule is the Chris¬tocentric structuring of the Rule. And here we discover the role which the ideal Christian community of the Acts played for those first Carmelites in their walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
We saw above that the hermits on Carmel were part of a larger spiritual movement which espoused a return to the scriptures and the life of the Jerusalem community. Their walking in the footsteps of Jesus was not to be done in a solitary way but as a community. “Reechoing the insights of Luke, Albert enjoins on the hermits a following of Christ by following the ideals and values of the apostolic Christian community.” Hence it is no surprise that chapters VII-XI of the Rule parallel Acts 2:42-47;4:32-35 (fidelity to the Word, perseverance in prayer, sharing in goods, fraternal unity, the centrality of daily worship). Within the Rule, daily Eucharist is structurally central, i.e. it lies at the very center of the text (chapter X). This textual centrality reflects the spatial centrality of the Eucharis¬tic oratory in the midst of the cells. This textual and spatial centrality in turn indicate the theological center of the Rule, the Eucharist.
This structural approach to the Rule, with the Eucharist as its textual center, reveals that the center of this hermit community is, as it was for the Jerusalem community, Christ. The Rule now appears visually as an arc. At the two ends of the arc are the following of Christ (Prologue) and the awaiting of the return of the Lord (Epilogue). At its apex is the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. “Between these three reference points all the rest of the Rule rotates, either as a consequent actualization or as a dynamic referent.” Structurally the Rule is saying that the whole Chris¬tocentric project of the Rule, namely to walk in the footsteps of Jesus (Prologue) in anticipa¬tion of his return (Epilogue), is focused upon, celebrated in and subsumed into the Eucharist (Chapter X), in which Christ himself is sacramen¬tally present to the community and which itself anticipates his return.
In concluding this first part dealing with the Chris¬tocentricity of the Rule and by way of introducing the second part of this paper, I cite the words of Secondin:
In the Rule, then, we find a Christology which esteems dis¬cipleship and revolves around a “life in Christ,” prayerful listening to the Word, celebra¬tion of the Mystery, a vision of meditation as a way of imprinting Christ into one’s life . . . , and the awaiting of his return. The same way-of-life . . . as a dedication to the Lord in the Holy Land . . . is now transformed into an open journey to be under-taken in any place or time.