Prophet of Carmel, The - The Life and Mission of the Prophet Elias

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Written by
Rev. Charles B. Garside, M.A.
Preface by
Rev. Edward F. Garesché, S.J.

Garnering his material from the last two of the four Books of Kings, Father Charles Garside, M.A., paints a portrait of a thundering visionary, who lights up the Old Testament perhaps more brilliantly than any other Biblical figure. A man of prayer and solitude, celibate and chaste, he moved courageously with every heavenly summons, never failing, never daunted. So much a contemplative and a teacher of eternal truth that, even though his inital mark on history falls in the Old Dispensation, he is nevertheless justly claimed as "the founder" of the Carmelite order. Taken by God, who came to seize him in a whirlwind, he was assumed into the heavens by way of a fiery chariot, and placed in the Garden of Eden from whence he shall come in the last days to do battle with the Antichrist.


Chapter One- The King and the Prophet
Chapter Two - The Drought
Chapter Three - Sarephta
Chapter Four - Mourning and Joy
Chapter Five - The Message of Mercy
Chapter Six - Troubling Israel
Chapter Seven - Necessary Antagonism
Chapter Eight - Carmel
Chapter Nine - The Torrent of Cison
Chapter Ten - Watching for Rain
Chapter Eleven - Fear and Flight
Chapter Twelve - The Vision at Horeb
Chapter Thirteen - Breaking of the Clouds
Chapter Fourteen - The Prophet’s Mantle
Chapter Fifteen - The Coveted Vineyard
Chapter Sixteen - The Iniquitous Plot
Chapter Seventeen - The Unexpected Meeting
Chapter Eighteen - The Man of God
Chapter Nineteen - The Parting and Ascension



There are, as we all know, different kinds of saints. There are those in whose lives, remarkable though they may be in various ways, we can, nevertheless, recognize much that is perfectly intelligible to the most ordinary mind; much that, pointing suggestively to our own individual position, duties, trials and graces, we can set before us, as an ideal at least, for our personal imitation. When we read about these saints, we feel as if it were possible to have boldness and trustfulness enough to put our tiny hands into their kindly grasp, and to endeavor to toil on, at all events for a short distance, in the sweet company of their example. In tracing what may be termed the geographical line of their spiritual journey, we meet, indeed, frequently with lofty peaks and profound depths where we and they must necessarily part; but it may be said that they attract and encourage rather than astonish or dismay. They are undoubted1y brilliant stars in the firmament of righteousness, but they move in a higher orbit far above the less brilliant luminaries.

It was said of Saul, the son of Cis, that “he stood in the midst of the people, and he was higher than any of the  people from the shoulders upwards.” (1Kng. 10:23) And so these saints are conspicuous for their spiritual stature, but there is, notwithstanding, sufficient in common between them and many inferior servants of God to enable them to be claimed by the latter, without gross presumption, as their brethren. However high they stand in comparison with others, still they may be described, in a limited yet true sense, as belonging to “the people.”

There are other saints whose names, when uttered, place at once between them and ourselves an immeasurable distance. They appear to have been cast in a mold altogether different from our own humanity and, as we walk around and contemplate their majestic forms, we are conscious of that fact at every step of our reverent survey. They are giants amongst giants; between their past career and the possibilities of our own we perceive scarcely a single point of contact and resemblance; everything within and around them was both uncommon and on a vast scale. On entering the very portals of the biography of some of them we seem to be passing instantly through the gates of another world.

If it be asked to which of the two classes Elias ought to be assigned, the answer unquestionably is, to the latter. He lived, indeed, under that dispensation of the Old Law which, although “glorious,” (2Cor. 3:7) was after all only a “shadow of the good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) We see him only by glimpses, but it is impossible to follow attentively his brief history, so far as it is disclosed to us in the pages of the sacred volume, without feeling that every glimpse is a revelation of wonderful grandeur, a grandeur of virtues, of deeds, of individual character and of supernatural powers. There is something so heroic, so awe inspiring about him, that by many persons it will be probably supposed that, in choosing Elias amongst other saints of the Old Testament for the subject of our reflections in the present work, we have selected a field not likely to be very fertile in practical instruction for the present day.

We believe that this supposition will prove to be unfounded. There is one point which it will be useful to remember — the purpose for which all such inspired accounts of the great saints of God as we possess have been originally composed and preserved in an imperishable record. They have not, like some secular biographies, been given to the world in order to satisfy a useless or unworthy curiosity, but to promote edification. They are not history embroidered with romance; i.e., compositions in which the real and the imaginative have been artistically interwoven for the purpose of relieving, by unexpected contrasts of light and shade, vivid coloring and a variety of fanciful illustrations, materials which would have been otherwise dry and monotonous, although in the main true. On the contrary, they are not only infallibly accurate both in substance and detail, but they are spiritual and practical in their general aim. They do not merely stereotype facts for the intellect, but they are intended to influence the heart. “All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” (2Tim. 3:16,17) All the accounts of the saints, therefore, which are contained in the scriptures (St. Paul, in the above passage, is pointedly referring to the Old Testament, in which Timothy had been instructed from his infancy) were written in order to promote the sanctification of man. They do not owe their origin to any accidental circumstances or to any human design. They have been handed down to posterity by the command of God. Thus the rays which were shed upon the world in long-past ages by the glorious conduct of such saints have been gathered together and fixed in a sacred and immortal lamp for the perpetual illumination of the lowest, as well as the highest, of the children of men in every land and age.

Even the vocations, miracles and events that characterized the most extraordinary amongst the spiritual heroes mentioned in the holy scriptures are pregnant with lessons of high practical value for ourselves. Their lives were not merely stupendous exhibitions of divine power moving in and working through a mortal framework without annihilating it by so tremendous a presence. They were not intended simply to be gazed upon with that mingled fascination of curiosity and awe with which we look upon unusually striking manifestations of creative power and beauty in the earth and heavens. They were, indeed, mighty handwritings traced by the finger of God upon the souls of those whom He had especially chosen thus to honor, but they were also spiritual maps and charts, although on a gigantic scale, which the most insignificant among us can even now contemplate with advantage.

Elias’s introduction to the reader’s notice in the Old Testament is singularly abrupt. He starts up in the pages of the sacred volume with a suddenness strikingly akin to that of his first appearance before Achab, king of Israel. He is described as “Elias the Thesbite of the inhabitants of Galaad.” (3Kng. 17:1) These words are an allusion, according to the general opinion of commentators, to the place of his nativity; but whether he was called “Elias the Thesbite” from Thisbe in Nepthali, and, therefore, was only a settler amongst the Galaadites, or whether he was born in some part of Galaad bearing at that time a name similar to Thisbe, is a still controverted question of biblical interpretation.

Beyond the above mentioned slight indication, not a syllable is told us of the antecedents of his life before the commencement of his great career as a prophet of God.6 We can picture to ourselves a Moses floating, unconscious of danger in his boat cradle of papyrus, on the waters of the Nile; or a Samuel sleeping a child’s slumber near the aged dim-sighted Heli “in the temple of the Lord, where the ark was . . . before the lamp of God went out;” or a David, “ruddy and beautiful to behold, and of a comely face,” watching with his young bright eyes the flock of his father Jesse in the pastures of Bethlehem; but we have no materials for tracing the Thesbite from a lesser point to a greater, from an acorn to the full-grown oak. About his parentage and early years holy scripture preserves a complete silence.


Chapter Twelve - The Vision at Horeb


Arrived at Mount Horeb, the prophet took up his abode in a cave. As he was one day pondering over the strange events of his life, and wondering what the future would bring forth, the hush of his usual solitude was suddenly broken by a supernatural voice, asking a question that must have electrified him into immediate and anxious attention. Had he been a man whose mind at that moment was wandering dreamily in the mystic regions of fancy, he must have fallen straight from the clouds, like an eagle pierced by some strong arrow shot from an unseen archer’s bow. “The word of the Lord came unto him, and He said to him, What dost thou here, Elias?” (3Kng. 19:9) There are questions that, in a few words, speak volumes, questions that turn the eyes of the soul, with a concentrated vision, straight upon itself; questions that, by their deeply suggestive and unerring appositeness summon a man instantaneously before the tribunal of conscience, and pour a stream of light upon his present position, his duty, his thoughts and his feelings. Such was the inquiry, put to the prophet. It lifted him up, as the angel seized Habacuc by the hair of his head. (Dan. 14:35) and carried him swiftly over all the thoughts, fears, hopes, motives and actions that had resulted in his flight to Horeb. It showed him by a single phrase the bearing of the past upon the present, and bade him look well into the separate threads of the link uniting them together. “What dost thou here? Art thou come hither from Carmel by My express command, or hast thou drifted hither scarcely knowing how or why? What dost thou here? Is the lone cave thy proper sphere of duty? Is it only a fresh hiding place, or is it a new starting point? A refuge, or another novitiate? Art thou come here to carry on, still more energetically, war against idolatry and idolaters? Or art thou sorrowing unprofitably over bygone woes?” Every syllable of the question had its significance, and since the prophet was not only alone but was addressed by name, there was no possibility of evading or parrying it. “What dost thou here, Elias?” The force of any question is increased when the speaker calls the person spoken to by his name. Familiar as our own name is to each of us, it is one of the very few words which, however worn by constant use, never loses its vitality. It is a chord of sympathy which always vibrates to the slightest touch. Our name may be to others a mere sound, suggestive of nothing distinctive, easily and quickly forgotten, but to the individual, his own name is a potent reality. Counsel acquires more weight, rebuke bites with more keenness, and kind expressions pour forth more sweetness, if they are invested with this personal appeal. Whenever our name is uttered, it perpetually renews within us the sense of our existence as rational beings, and often deepens the feeling of our responsibility in whatever state of life we may be. If only whispered gently, it will sometimes recall the wandering brain to its lost center, and awaken the dying sleeper when other more elaborate means have failed. Our name is part of our own self. It is the epitome of our varying life, the audible consciousness of our identity. Adam must have felt an additional thrill when, as he and his guilty partner were hiding themselves “amidst the trees of Paradise,” the “afternoon air,” awful in its very softness, wafted to him the sound of his own name. “The Lord God called Adam, and said to him, Where art thou?” (Gen. 1:8,9) So it must have been with the child Samuel in the Temple, when “the Lord called Samuel.” (1Kng. 3:4) So with Lazarus in the tomb, when the voice of Christ pierced its stillness with, “Lazarus, come forth.” (Jn. 11:43) So with the traitor Judas, when in the torch-lit gloom of Gethsemane he heard the unanswerable question: “Judas, dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lk. 22:48) So with the Magdalene, when from the lips of the “gardener” came a well-known voice, saying, “Mary!” in a tone which revealed at once her risen Lord. (Jn. 20:16) So with Peter, whose soul must have been rent with unspeakable emotion and poignant memories when the final commission, “Feed My sheep, feed My lambs,” was prefaced with “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?” (Jn. 21:15-17)

The question that was put to Elias may be usefully repeated in these days by others to themselves. It was tipped, arrow-like, with the pointed sheathing of his own name, in order to give it a special directness and force. If in the pagan times of Greece and Rome the child’s name-day was a religious festival, if the Jews were accustomed to connect it with such a solemn act as the initiatory rite of admission into the Mosaic covenant (Lk. 1:59), what should be the aspect under which we regard our Christian name — we, the children of a kingdom compared with which paganism was thick darkness, and Judaism only preparatory twilight?

If any one has a name full of meaning, a name which ought to affect him in a way different from other words, a name which should rouse him from spiritual sloth, and remind him of his true end and dignity, it is assuredly that which he received at the font. The Christian name was pronounced at the mighty moment when the regenerating water flowed over him, and its sound mingled with that august language by which is expressed the triune nature of God. “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!” What tremendous proximity! What an association of the creature with the Creator, of the redeemed sinner with the Redeemer, of the name of man with that of God!

Let not this Christian name ever be sullied by actions unworthy of its history. Let it never be quoted as an example sanctioning rebellion against that King to whose service it has been eternally devoted. Let it never be profaned by lips whose unlawful familiarity is a sign, not of pure affection, but of corruption and of fellowship in sin. Let it be unknown in places of dangerous resort, but be a household word in the mouths and habitations of the good. Imagine that Jesus Christ calls each of us by name, and says: “What dost thou? Art thou doing anything for Me, or only talking, and promising, and dreaming? Art thou, alas, doing something or many things against Me?” O man, born for eternity! Art thou living as if this world were thy real home instead of being only a place of pilgrimage, a battlefield, a race, a valley of penance? O vain, luxurious, indolent man! Is this sin smitten earth, which the Man of Sorrows has stained with His Blood, a fitting place for conceited dreamers and sensual loungers? It is meant for penitents, who, knowing that heaven is only to be taken by violence, “work out their salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil.2:11,12) before “the night cometh, when no man can work.” (Jn. 9:4) But “what dost thou here?” O Catholic, who, through no merit of thine, knowest the “one faith,” and art in the “one body of Christ,” and hast abundant means of grace; thou from whom much will be required, because much has been given; (Lk. 12:48) “what dost thou here” with all thy gifts and opportunities?

Now is the time for putting these probing questions, whilst we are still alive. In a little while the time for questions will be over, and the only voice that we shall hear will be that of a final sentence: either, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” or else, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Mt. 25:34-41)

Elias, in reply to the question, “What dost thou here?” made no allusion whatever to his fear of Jezabel as being in any respect connected with his present condition. This dread had probably lost much of its intensity. His journey, the miraculous food, and his solitude had all contributed towards allaying his panic. Boldly, yet calmly, he lays before God the plea, which he desires to be at once an explanation and a defense of his conduct. His zeal was his ground of justification, and it was also his stumbling block, for the more he hated the ungrateful iniquity of the Israelites, the more bitterly did he feel the apparent failure of all his efforts on the side of righteousness. Like the Psalmist, he “pined away” at the sight. “I beheld the transgressors, and pined away because they kept not Thy word.” (Ps. 118:58) This is his answer: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant; they have thrown down Thy altars; they have slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away.” (3Kng. 19:10)

Scarcely had he thus contrasted the overwhelming triumph of wickedness visible to his eyes on one side with his own sensation of weakness, abandonment and helpless isolation on the other, when a vision came before him which must have wrapped his whole being in awe, and in which he unexpectedly read a sublimely striking commentary upon his own words. As he stood on that desolate rock, “before the Lord,” a mighty wind passed near him, a wind so strong that it seemed as if it would have carried away with one resistless gust the whole mountain and the very heavens themselves. (3Kng. 19:11,12) The heights shook, staggered and left their massive foundations upturned and bare like an oak wrenched up by its roots. The hard rocks crashed fiercely together, and were shivered like frail glass into pieces. Then came an earthquake, and as the quivering ground parted asunder, the eyes of the prophet looked giddily down into abysmal depths, which gaped wide, and closed again, like some living monster into whose jaws the trees and rocks were sucked. “After the earthquake came a fire,” rushing with terrific velocity from every quarter at once, flashing from sky to earth, and earth to sky, “running along the ground,” (Ex. 9:23) “devouring the cedars,” (Judg. 9:15) and “enveloping all things far and near as with one vast shroud of flame, until the mountain burned into heaven “ (Deut. 4:11) and the air was the blast of a furnace which seemed to have no bounds.

When the “great and strong wind,” had ceased “over-throwing the mountains and breaking the rocks in pieces;” when the reeling and yawning earth had poised itself, closed up its fissures, and again become firm; when the scathing heat, lurid flames, and sulphurous smoke of the fire had vanished; there came the soft whisper of “a gentle air.” It was a change strikingly marked in its nature, impressive in its effects upon the spectator’s mind, and full of mystical significance. The wind, earthquake and fire seem to symbolize more particularly the awfulness of the omnipotence and majesty of God; whilst the “gentle air” represents the mercy of God, the delicate breathing of His tenderness and compassion, the caressing touch of His ineffable Fatherhood. The former remind us of the “terrors of the Lord,” which the thunder, lightning, clouds, smoke and trumpet blast produced upon the people of Israel when upon that very same mountain the Law was proclaimed. The latter is typical of Bethlehem, with its heavenly calm, and of that noiseless moving of the Holy Spirit over the souls of men, to which these words in the Canticle may be applied: “Come, O south wind, blow through my garden, and let the aromatical spices thereof flow.” (Cant. 4:16)

As the wind, earthquake and fire shadow forth the Old Dispensation in contrast with, and as a preparation for, the Gospel, so it may be said that they are figurative in a more general sense of the often rigorous discipline through which God is obliged to work upon the stubborn and sluggish hearts of men to fit them for the gracious gift of His more intimate presence. Hence it is said that God was absent from the more tremendous of the elemental forces. The Lord God was “not” in the wind, “not” in the earthquake, “not” in the fire. These were only the mighty heralds of God, the advance guard of the Lord of Hosts, the levelers and pioneers of the highway of the great King, the signals of His coming. When God Himself arrived, He indicated His presence by a figure which conveys to the mind nothing but peace, gentleness and comforting assurance. The wind, earthquake and fire produced a terrifying impression upon the senses. A confusing and appalling sound came from them. It was only “the gentle air” that was followed by an articulate, intelligible and, as it were, human voice. This shows that God wishes Himself to be known especially as a Father, and as such to speak with His children. He rejoices when He can dispense with the painful yet necessary discipline of fear. He is Love, “God is Love,” and He delights to reveal Himself in that character to us. He passes us in the tempest, earthquake and fire; He dwells with and in us through love. Elias had gazed with uncovered countenance upon the tremendous agitation of the heavens and the earth. He was a spectator in whom a brave curiosity was largely mingled with awe. He felt, too, that there was a bond of kinship, a moral likeness between these elemental forces and his own disposition; they were strong weapons and modes of decisive action which harmonized with his inner self. But as soon as he heard the “gentle air,” he was no longer an onlooker; he knew that this was the presence of the Lord God, so “he covered his face with his mantle.” This hiding of his countenance was more than usually significant. It was a confession of his utter nothingness in the presence of God. It was a dutiful and deliberate shrinking of the creature from the tremendous closeness of the Creator. It was a sign of his intense desire that nothing earthly, however fair or sublime, should at such a moment intrude itself upon his attention. If his eyes were as unworthy as they were unable to see God, they should at least be debarred from beholding anything else when He was so near. The covering up of his lips, eyes and ears in the deep folds of his rough garment was a kind of figurative death and burial of the outer man, showing that when the soul wishes to listen to God, it withdraws itself as far as possible from every avenue through which the sounds, the scenes and the influences of the world can enter. It abandons, in spirit, the tabernacle of the flesh and, wrapping itself around with the pall of mortification and recollection, its higher life quickened by this death, it is prepared, like the prophet, to hold undisturbed communication with God.

Rev. Charles B. Garside, M. A.

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