John Soreth is a Prior General who dramatically changed Carmelite life for the better. Some even credit his reforms for enabling the Carmelite Order to survive the spiritual earthquake of the Reformation. John was born near Caen in Normandy in 1394. He entered the Carmelites in that city, and was ordained a priest about 1417. He went to Paris to study advanced theology at the university. After he earned a Licentiate in Theology in 1437, and a Doctorate in 1438, he was named regent of studies at the sprawling house of studies at Place Maubert. He was quickly elected Provincial for north-central France, and served that office well from 1440 until 1451. In that year, John was elected Prior General of the Carmelites at the chapter in Avignon, and remained such until his death in 1471. He was a tenacious reformer at a time when reform was desperately needed in the entire Church, but not always accepted willingly The Carmelites of his time had largely slipped into a spirit of laxity in their prayer and community life, but especially in their failure to observe poverty. John set about his monumental task with a two-pronged strategy: good legislation, and personal visits to as many communities as he could possibly reach. He traveled so widely throughout the Order that his treks became something of a legend, especially in Germany, northern France and the Low Countries. After so many years on the road, John acquired a suntan so dark that some of his critics referred to him as “the Ethiopian.” But the personal contact generally brought very good results. John published a revised edition of the Constitutions in 1462, and wrote a detailed commentary on the Rule. He reinforced the formal legislation by receiving papal bulls and the endorsement of general chapters and provincial chapters as well. In his canonical visits to many houses, he frequently stayed longer, not only to enforce formal observance, but also to motivate the friars to elevate their spiritual and intellectual commitment to a genuinely virtuous life. In some cases, he put entire communities through a formal repetition of their formation, and then celebrated a renewal of their vows. It may seem to have been somewhat theatrical, but the process worked. Among John’s better known activities was his broadening the Order to include women, as well as an extension of Carmelite spirituality to lay men and women. In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the bull “Cum Nulla” which formally recognized communities of Carmelite nuns for the first time. John had already established communities of
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