We earn 8% in referral fees when you shop Amazon through our link. We make it easy! Click to learn how.
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

The MOST Theological Collection: Mary in Our Life

"Appendix VI: The Brown Scapular"


Browse by Title
New Search
Table of Contents for this Work


At one time the defenders of the vision of St. Simon Stock relied on the Swanyngton fragment, which purports to be a narrative of the vision by the secretary of St. Simon Stock; but it is too dubious to be used. Until recently, one of the chief supports was the Viridarium of John Grossi who was Carmelite General 1389-1430. But the recent researches of B. Xiberta, O.Carm., have given us far more solid evidence. We shall summarize it below, and add a few additional arguments. The evidence can be considered under four heads: 1. the Catalogs of the Saints; 2. the testimony of William of Sanvico; 3. supplementary historical facts; and 4. statements of saints and theologians.

1. The Carmelite Catalogs of the Saints:

These catalogs exist today in six different forms: 1. the long, more common text of the Bamberg and Oxford manuscripts (dating from the 15th century); 2. the long text of the Paris manuscript (dating from the late 14th century); 3. the short text of the old Speculum of 1507; 4. the short text as edited by Thomas Bradley-Scrope (in the fifteenth century); 5. the abbreviated text of the Brussels manuscript (of the fifteenth century); 6. the long text of the new Speculum of 1680. For convenience, we shall hereafter designate the various forms by their numbers.1

The earliest extant copy of the Catalogs which carries a date is the Oxford manuscript (of text 1), composed in 1426. But the Paris manuscript (text 2) is, in the opinion of paleographers, somewhat earlier; it probably comes from the last part of the fourteenth century. These, however, are merely the dates for the present copies of these Catalogs. The question is: When was the original Catalog composed, from which these are derived? For it seems that all six, though they differ considerably, must go back to some original earlier form. First of all, it is dear that the Catalog must have had a fairly large circulation in the fourteenth century, since it was able to appear in so many different forms at about the end of that century. Therefore, even without further evidence it seems probable that the original text must come from a time well before the end of the fourteenth century.

But further evidence is available. One of the manuscripts, the Brussels manuscript (text 5) gives us reason to suspect that it may have been written by John of Hildesheim, a German Carmelite, who died in 1375.2 Whatever may be the truth about the author of the Brussels manuscript, no student of the history of the Order could claim that the form represented by that text could be later than the fourteenth century, for after the collection of Philip Ribot appeared (late fourteenth century)3 no one could any longer neglect the role of John of Jerusalem as the Brussels manuscript does. Therefore the Brussels manuscript must have been written sometime before the work of Ribot, that is, at least by about the middle of the fourteenth century.4

Thus there is excellent reason for pushing the date of the first form of the Catalog back well into the fourteenth century (only about a century later than the date of the vision, which was 1251). But there is good reason to think that we can push the date of composition back into the first decades of the fourteenth century. If we compare the entry on Elias the prophet in the old Speculum text (#3) with the same entry in the long common form of the text (#1), we find this interesting difference: text 1 cites documents of Popes John XXII (March 13, 1317) and Clement VI (July 19, 1347) in favor of the Order. But the old Speculum text seems not to know these documents, and mentions only a Constitution of Pope Boniface VIII issued in 1298. Thus it appears that the old Speculum text goes back at least to the first few years of the fourteenth century. We are thus within about fifty years of the date of the vision.

Now, although the original text of the Catalog cannot be traced dearly any farther than this point, we may yet readily suppose that the vision narrative existed in independent form before the Catalog was composed.

2. The testimony of William of Sanvico.5

About 1291, William of Sanvico, a Carmelite in the Holy Land, recorded that at the time when the Order was suffering great difficulties in England, the Blessed Virgin, appearing to the Prior, instructed him to go to Pope Innocent, as he would receive help from him.

Sanvico does not give details of the vision, and this very fact helps to show his independence of the Catalogs. Yet he does agree with the Catalogs in reporting a vision as taking place at precisely the right time and in the right circumstances. The purpose Sanvico had in mind in writing explains why he does not give the details: he proposed simply to describe the fortunes of the Order in relation to its enemies and to authority. The fact that the Catalogs omit the mention of the appeal to Pope Innocent IV, which Sanvico gives, makes it extremely unlikely that Sanvico could be the source for the Catalogs. Hence we have at least two independent, early witnesses, within about fifty years of the vision.

3. Supplementary historical facts.

One of the tests of the credibility of any statement on a historical fact is this: How well does it accord with the background and known data of the era in which it lies? Viewed in this light, the account of the vision acquires new support. For Carmelite Constitutions at a very early date show a remarkable esteem for the Scapular.

This esteem is quite clear in the fourteenth century. The Constitutions of 1369 decree ipso facto excommunication for a Carmelite who would say Mass without his Scapular.6 Still earlier, the Constitutions of 13247 and the Bordeaux Constitutions of 12948 consider it a grave fault to sleep without the Scapular.9

The ritual of 1324 prescribes, at a certain point in the ceremony, that the novice be given the "habit." The Constitutions of 1357 and 1369, explaining the word "habit" in the Ritual, add "that is, the Scapular."10 The Bordeaux Constitutions of 1294 also use the words "Scapular" and "habit" interchangeably,11 in the ritual of profession.

But the high regard for the Scapular can be traced to an even earlier date. In 1287, only thirty-six years after the date of the vision, the General Chapter of Montpellier declared:

... the outer garment, which is commonly called the mantle, is not essential to the Order, nor is it our special habit....12

The outer garment mentioned was the old brown and white barred mantle. It was changed to pure white, and declared nonessential. The same Chapter also ordered that the outer garment be so arranged as to reveal the Scapular and tunic beneath. These facts by themselves alone do not prove the special esteem for the Scapular at that time, nor do they prove that the Scapular was identified with the habit. But we gain further light on the situation from two early editions of the Constitutions (by Peter Raymund in 1357, and John Ballester in 1369). In those editions, a description is given of the Chapter of 1287. Speaking of those present at the Chapter, they say:

They took a white cape as a sign of their religious profession ... keeping however, as before, the Scapular, which was once called the capuche, for the special habit of the Order.13 [Emphasis added.]

Thus, according to these early editions of the Constitutions, the Chapter of 1287 officially designated the Scapular as the habit. Furthermore, the words "as before" seem to indicate that, in declaring the Scapular the special habit, the Chapter merely confirmed officially an attitude that had already been in existence for some time.

These subsidiary facts do not, of course, constitute independent proofs that the vision of 1251 really took place. But they do provide some confirmation for the more cogent argument from the Catalogs.

We have also the minutes of the meetings of a Carmelite Confraternity for laymen in Florence, Italy. The records extant are from August 22, 1280, to November 1, 1298. In the record for November 1, 1298, we read that certain men who had been deprived of membership for some reason, came, with capuches, before the officers of the Confraternity to seek pardon.14 Now, if we recall that the editions of the Constitutions by Raymund and Ballester (quoted above) spoke of "the Scapular, which was once called the capuche," it seems that this Confraternity was wearing Scapulars. Another part of the minutes of the same Confraternity contains what may be an allusion to the promise of final perseverance. For in it we read that the members met:

... to render glory to God and to His glorious Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, that she may grant and give us the grace that we may be able to persevere in good and to come to a truly good end.15 [Emphasis added.]

We cannot be sure that these two texts of the Florence Confraternity prove that the laymen were then wearing Scapulars as a result of a belief in the vision.16 And the hope of final perseverance expressed might be founded on the general intercession of Mary,17 not on a belief in the St. Simon Stock vision. Yet the evidence is of great interest.

The evidence from the early Constitutions, while not absolutely conclusive by itself, is much more impressive than the evidence from the Florence Confraternity. And, of course, it is best to consider both groups of evidence together as providing a historical setting into which to put the more cogent arguments from the Catalogs. In that way the subsidiary facts add something to the proof from the Catalogs, and show how well the narrative of the vision fits in with the history of the period in which it is set.

4. Statements of saints and theologians.

Many learned and saintly men have strongly declared their acceptance of the Scapular vision. Blessed Claude de la Colombière, S.J., the confessor of St. Margaret Mary, wrote a great deal on the Scapular. Here are two of his statements:

I dare to say that of all the practices of piety ... in honor of the Mother of God, there is none so sure as that of the Scapular, since there is none that has been confirmed by such great, such wonderful and such authentic miracles as it.

It is not enough to say that the habit of the Holy Virgin is a mark of predestination as well as the other pious practices that have been devised to honor her. I maintain that there is none that makes our predestination more certain than it, and therefore none to which one should attach himself with more zeal and confidence.18

When the Gallican Launoy attacked the Scapular, the learned Daniel Papebroech, S.J., one of the greatest of the Bollandists,19 considered it a calumny when he was accused of siding with Launoy, and wrote:20

He would be base who would deny that the practice of devoutly wearing the Scapular of Mary has been adorned with many favors and privileges from the Roman Pontiffs, and approved by divine favors.21

Pope Benedict XIV (writing as a private theologian, not as Pope) quoted with approval the words of Papebroech, and added in his own words:

... let no one ever dare to reject the devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which the Roman Pontiffs have enriched with so many and such great indulgences; for, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, God has worked many miracles for the advantage of those who practice this devotion....22

In our own day St. John Bosco, who died in 1888, was a great lover of the Scapular. He was buried wearing his Scapular. When his body was exhumed in 1929 the Scapular was found intact beneath the rotted garments, though his clothing had decayed.23

The Popes have shown their esteem for the Scapular by enriching it with a long Iist of indulgences.24 To list all the papal statements would take many pages, but the statement of Pope Pius XII cited in chapter XXII should be sufficient. Additional statements may be found in Take This Scapular (Chicago, 1949), pp. 78-82.


The evidence from the Catalogs, from Sanvico, and from early Carmelite Constitutions and other records shows dearly that we are not dealing with a mere legend; they provide at least some degree of moral certitude concerning the historicity of the Scapular vision. The extraordinarily high favor shown by the Church lends further support, although we must remember that the Church does not give a positive guarantee on matters of private revelation.


1. The problem of the lost original Papal Bull.

Many documents of Pope John XXII have been lost, so that the loss of this document does not militate against its authenticity. But official transcripts of the Bull allow us to trace it to an authenticated copy made in 1421.25 Similar copies of the original Bull were approved by Popes Clement VII, St. Pius V, Gregory XIII, and others as well.

2. The problem of the variant readings.

The question of a number of minor variations in the reading of the text need not detain us: such variants were common in Carmelite documents of that age. Even some books printed before the sixteenth century, which are copies of other printed books, display small variations in wording. But, as to the two large variant readings, the copy of the Bull of Pope Clement VII, dated May 15, 1528, referred to liberation from purgatory, but this copy was never solemnly issued, and is therefore technically invalid. The disturbed state of Rome, after the sack of 1527, might explain the fact that it was never properly issued. Whatever the cause, the same Pope, on August 12, 1530, did formally issue a transcript, containing only a promise of special help, not liberation.

3. Approval of the Privilege by the Church.

On January 20, 1613, the Roman Inquisition, in the presence of Paul V, decreed that the Carmelites might lawfully preach the Sabbatine Privilege. The statement of 1613 was quoted with approval in our own day by the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences.26 Moreover, St. Pius X in granting permission to substitute the medal for the cloth Scapular, approved a decree of the Holy Office declaring that the medal would suffice for "all the spiritual favors and all the indulgences annexed to the Scapular ... the privilege ... called the Sabbatine Privilege not excepted."27 Pope Pius XI, in a letter of March 18, 1922, commemorating the six hundredth anniversary of the Sabbatine Privilege, urged all Carmelite Orders and Confraternities to strive earnestly for all the indulgences available to them and, "particularly ... that indulgence which is the principal and greatest of them all, namely, the Sabbatine."28 A quotation from Pope Pius XII on the same subject is given above in chapter XXII.


For many years it was debated whether or not the Scapular medal was a valid substitute for the cloth Scapular in all respects. It was dear that it was valid for most indulgences, and for the Sabbatine Privilege. It was debated whether or not it sufficed for the great Scapular Promise. Today we have an assurance in the form of an official declaration by the Carmelite Order that the medal suffices even for the great Promise.29 It is still to be noted, however, that one should not make the substitution without good reason. To encourage the use of the cloth, the indulgence for kissing the cloth Scapular is not given for kissing the medal. Furthermore, while only the first cloth Scapular, the one used in enrollment) needs to be blessed,30 every medal must be blessed by a priest having the proper faculty.

In blessing Scapular medals, the priest must use a separate sign of the cross for each kind of Scapular for which the medal is to substitute (for there are other kinds of Scapulars). And he must not convey any other blessing, such as the Apostolic indulgences, by the same sign of the cross.

A Scapular medal must have on one side the image of Our Lord showing His Heart, and on the other side, any type of image of the Blessed Virgin (not necessarily the Mount Carmel type). Some medals today are made with an image of Our Lord, but not showing His Heart: these do not fill the requirements for a Scapular medal, and must not be used. See AAS 3 (1911), p. 23.


1. According to the best canonists,31 the faculty often given to priests in the Diocesan Faculties, by virtue of the Bishop's Quinquennial Faculties, to bless and impose the Five Scapulars with one form presupposes that the priest already has the faculty to impose each of the five separately. Hence it is necessary to obtain, from the proper Carmelite Superior, or through various Mission Societies, e.g., the Pia Unio Cleri, the faculty to impose and bless the Carmelite Scapulars. He who has the faculty to bless and impose also has the faculty to bless Scapular medals. Unless there is an additional dispensation, names of those enrolled must be entered in the register of a canonically erected Scapular Confraternity.

2. Cloth Scapulars must be made of two rectangles (other shapes are not valid) of wool, woven, not matted or felt, of brown or black color, or any shade in between. Cords must be sewed to the wool directly, not directly to the picture itself (if used), and only indirectly to the wool. Pictures are not required. It is permitted to sew one of the four edges of the rectangles (the top edge) to the top edge of another Scapular (e.g., of a Third Order). Then only one set of cords is required, but the cords must be put in between the two Scapulars, so as to be sewed directly to each. Cords (as far as the Carmel Scapular is concerned) may be of any material (even chains) and any color. The Scapular must be worn with one cloth rectangle hanging down in front, one in bade. It may be worn inside, outside, or between other garments. It is not sufficient to carry a cloth Scapular in the pocket, nor to wear it in any way other than that described. The metal may be worn in any decent manner-on a chain, or cord, or pinned to the clothing.

3. It is necessary to be enrolled in the Scapular in order to share in the favors and indulgences. This is usually done on First Communion day, or the day before.


1 For a description of these Catalogs, see B. Xiberta, O.Carm., De Visione Sancti Simonis Stock (Curia Generalitia, Rome, 1950), pp. 84-93.
2 The Brussels manuscript has certain peculiarities which agree with the known ideas of John of Hildesheim, e.g., both make the mistake of calling Peter of Thomas the Patriarch of Antioch. Again, they have in common certain peculiarities in their view of the history of the Order: both ignore the work of John of Jerusalem, who was said to have adapted the rule of St. Basil for Carmelites. We are not sure, however, that John of Hildesheim is really the author of the text found in the Brussels manuscript, for in a few points (omissions) John differs from our Catalog.
3 Philip Ribot was a Carmelite Provincial in Catalonia in 1379 and author of De Peculiaribus Gestis Religiosorum Carmelitarum. His work is merely a collection of earlier Carmelite writings.
4 Similarly, our texts 2 and 4 contain certain additions which are not found in texts 1 and 3. These additions appear to have been made as a result of the work of Ribot. Hence, since Ribot died in 1391, and our texts 1 and 3 are written before his work appeared, the original texts of 1 and 3 must have been written (at latest) by about the middle of the fourteenth century.
5 See Xiberta, op. cit., pp. 83-84, 98-99, 212-16, 223.
6 Xiberra, op. cit., p. 148.
7 Ibid.
8 See Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum XVIII (1953), p. 140.
9 It is true that the 1324 Constitutions permitted the sick to sleep without the Scapular. But the reference is probably to the large Scapular, which was made in one piece with the capuche, and was bulky, going completely around the body like a dress. It is likely enough that the sick used a smaller Scapular. The Constitutions of 1357 and 1369 do speak of a nocturnal Scapular: see Xiberta, op. cit. p. 149.
10 Ibid.
11 See Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum XVIII (1953), pp. 152-53.
12 Xiberta, op. cit., pp. 146-47, 243.
13 Ibid., p. 150.
14 Ibid., p. 152.
15 Quoted in Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum IV, 3 (January-March, 1930), p. 174.
16 We have evidence for the existence of Carmelite Confraternities at a sell earlier date. For there is a Bull of Urban IV, dated May 8, 1262, which mentions permission to hear confessions of Confratres.
17 See chap. VIII.
18 Quoted in Xiberta, op. cit., p. 45, n. 1.
19 On the Bollandists, see note 1 on Appendix V.
20 Quoted in Pope Benedict XIV, De Festis Domini Nostri Jesu Christi et Beatae Mariae Virginis, II, vi, 10 (Prati in typographia Aldina, 1843), IX, 271.
21 Papebroech did, it is true, disagree with our position on some points: he thought the promise was attached to the old barred mantle, which the Order put aside in 1287—but he defended the vision. See Xiberta, op. cit., p. 47.
22 Pope Benedict XIV, De Festis, II, vi, 10 (IX, 271). This was written as a private theologian, not as Pope.
23 See Take This Scapular (Carmelite Third Order Press, Chicago, 1949) p. 67. See also pp. 65-77 for other saints and the Scapular.
24 For a list, see Seraphinus de Angelis, De Indulgentiis, pp. 270-72.
25 See Eugenius a S. Joseph, "Dissertatio Historica de Sacro Scapulari Carmelitico," Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum IV, 3 (January-March, 1930), p. 182.
26 July 4, 1908: ASS 41:609-10.
27 AAS 3:23.
28 AAS 14:274.
29 See Take This Scapular, pp. 48-52.
30 This is true only if each candidate has been given his own blessed Scapular during the enrollment. If only one Scapular has been used in the enrollment for all, then the first one worn will need to be blessed.
31 See Seraphinus de Angelis, op. cit., pp. 234-35.

Subscribe for free
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org
Shop Amazon

Recent Catholic Commentary

Social Media’s Vanity Fair: Danger on every side! 10 hours ago
The Ways of Evangelization March 3
Evangelization and the Gift of Meaning March 3
Two links - moral relativism in elementary schools and charges of "genocide" in the Old Testament March 3
Don’t touch that Smile! Helping CatholicCulture.org by shopping on Amazon. March 2

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Pope Francis to address Congress in joint session in September CWN - February 5