To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love. (Prologue of the statutes of the Carthusian Order.)
THE AIM : CONTEMPLATION
Union with God in intimate love is the aim of every Christian life; what singles out the Carthusians is that they strive more directly toward this goal (cf. St 10:1: rectius). The entire life in Charterhouse is geared to this, that “we may the more ardently seek, the more quickly find, the more perfectly possess God himself in the depths of our souls; and thus, with the Lord’s help, we may be enabled to attain to the perfection of love – which is the aim of our Profession and of the whole monastic life – and through it, to obtain beatitude eternal”(St 1,4). To attain ‘the one necessary thing’, the Carthusians developed their own characteristic way of life marked essentially by solitude and silence.
About the importance of contemplation as the ultimate goal of a human being, a Carthusian wrote, in a letter to Thomas Merton : “Most men find their balance in life through action or creation. A totally contemplative life demands a special grace and a special faithfulness. It also requires a maturity, a richness of soul not often found among the converts. At least this seems to be the case from our experience. But to contemplate, in the first sense of the word, i.e. to gaze upon God while staying immobile, repose and purity being both the condition and the result of such a gaze, is truly speaking the real life, the eternal life for which we have been created.”
Contemplative life requires a continual conversion. Each day anew a Carthusian monk tries to make himself transparent for God, to give himself to God with open hands, and with a mind free of worries and concerns. He thus keeps himself in a state of spiritual virginity.
In the interior and exterior silence of his solitude, the monk lives for God, and for God alone. The members of other monastic Orders also seek God in silence or solitude, but for Carthusians silence and solitude are the principal means to find Him. Inner silence – poverty in spirit – creates the empty space necessary to experience God’s presence in our heart, which transcends all words. “Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages.” (St 4,2)
Solitude and silence help the Carthusian monk ‘in a special way’ to become aware of a great mystery that is present in every Christian (St. 2:2). The whole of Carthusian life helps the monks to live in God’s presence: liturgy, work, study, community; everything is done in a climate of solitude and silence.
SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD
“Since our Order is totally dedicated to contemplation, it is our duty to maintain strictly our separation from the world; hence, we are freed from all pastoral ministry – no matter how urgent the need for active apostolate is – so that we may fulfill our special role in the Mystical Body of Christ” (St 3,9).
Carthusians have no special prayer method or technique; the only way is Jesus Christ. In the contemplative life it is not so much what we do but what God does in us. Our task is only to purify our longing of all that is not God, to seek “that purity of heart, to which alone is it promised to see God” (St 6,4).
The holy liberty is characteristic of our vocation. The Order’s rule prescribes few prayers or devotional exercises other than the sacred liturgy, so that each – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the help of the superior or spiritual director – may freely choose which means suits him to best attain the goal. On the other hand, whatever might hinder him or prove unprofitable, needs to be let go off, however good and holy it might be in itself.
The Statutes impose a strict observance, within which one is free to follow any Catholic spirituality, as has been done in the past with the Desert Fathers (Egypt, 4th century), Rhineland Mystics, Devotio Moderna, Saint Ignatius, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Theresa, Saint Francis of Sales, and others.
The greatest hindrance in the search for God is without any doubt one’s own will. We attempt to renounce our self-will with the help of the vow of obedience. Obedience comes from a Latin word which means ‘to listen’. Over the years a life of obedience brings about a thorough emptying of oneself, which enables us to open ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit with simplicity and trust. At the same time, this relieves us from all kinds of unrest and distress.
Our life takes place in the darkness and light of Faith. In solitude, we enter the depths of our Faith, which we have received from the Church. With time, the darkness of Faith changes into the light of Faith. We do not see what we believe, although the content of Faith becomes to us so present that we can live from it. When we let the Holy Spirit lead us, He will make us understand the depth and splendor of that, which lives in our hearts.
THE CARTHUSIAN VOCATION: A WORK OF GOD
What distinguishes the life of a Carthusian is not his works or his accomplishments, it is what God does in him, as he abandons himself to His Love. A Carthusian vocation is a work of God.
« Nil tibi laboriosus est quam non laborare,
id est contemnere omnia unde labores oriuntur,
universa scilicet mutabilia »
(Meditationes Guigonis, Meditatio L)
(There is no more urgent task for thee than to be without tasks, that is to leave off all changing reality, from which all tasks emerge. The Meditations of Guigo Ist)
THE JOY AND REWARD OF SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
Here strong men can return into themselves as much as they wish, and abide there; here they can with eager earnestness cultivate the seeds of virtue, and with gladness eat of the fruits of paradise.
Here is acquired that eye, by whose serene gaze the Spouse is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen.
Here the solitary is occupied in busy leisure, and at rest in tranquil activity.
Here God rewards his athletes with the longed-for prize: peace that the world does not know, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (St 6,16 – from Bruno’s letter to Raoul)
“vivo autem, jam non ego, qui eram secundum legem, sed vivit in me Christus, id est, vivo ego ipse factus Christus per conformitatem: et per hanc partem habemus operari bonum.” (sanctus Bruno, Expositio in epistolam ad Galatas, Cap. II)