Saint Bruno
St. Bruno

« 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.  In obedience to such a call, Master Bruno (›a man of always joyful countenance‹) and six companions entered the desert of Chartreuse in the year of our Lord 1084 and settled there; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they and their successors, learning from experience, gradually evolved a special form of hermit life, which was handed on to succeeding generations, not by the written word, but by example ». 

(Prologue to the Statutes of the Carthusian Order)

The Carthusians live a unique mode of eremitic and solitary life. Some moments within the community cut off this great silence in which they welcome the presence of God. Their prayers are continuous.

Carthusian sobriety, is the Alma Mater of spirituality which animates the Carthusians, who’s desire is to go straight to God through the means of abnegation and silence. This persistence for their love of God is reflected upon the men. In the Apostolic Constitution Umbratilem issued on July 8, 1924, Pope Pius XI wrote that « God… chose Bruno, a man of eminent sanctity, for the work of bringing the contemplative life back to the glory of its original integrity. » And in the message he sent to Fr. Marcellin Theeuwes (1936 – † 2019), Prior of the Chartreuse and 72nd Minister General of the Carthusian Order, on May 14, 2001,  during the ninth centenary of St. Bruno’s departure from this world on October 6, 1101, Pope John Paul II (1920 – † 2005) expressed: « Bruno witnessed the cultural and religious upheavals of his time, in a Europe that was taking shape. He was an actor in the reform which the Church faced with internal difficulties wished to fulfil. After having been an appreciated teacher he felt called to consecrate himself to that unique Good which God is». [1]155022733811218615-5

The Carthusian way

« …learn the breadth of love. »

Statutes 35.1

The only goal of the Carthusian way is contemplation, by the power of the Spirit, living as unceasingly as possible in the light of the love of God for us, made manifest in Christ. This implies a purity of heart, or charity: « Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God ». (Matthew 5:8). Monastic tradition also calls this goal pure and continuous prayer. The fruits of contemplation are: liberty, peace, and joy. O Bonitas! O Goodness, was the cry which issued from the heart of St. Bruno. But the unification of the heart and the entrance into the contemplative rest assume a long journey, which their Statutes describe as such:

« Whoever perseveres without defiance in the cell and let’s himself be taught by it tends to make his entire existence a single and continual prayer. But he may not enter into this rest without going through the test of a difficult battle. It is the austerities to which he applies himself as someone close to the Cross, or the visits of God, coming to test him like gold in the fire. Thus purified by patience, fed and strengthened by studied meditation of Scripture, introduced by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the recesses of his heart, he will thus be able to, not only serve God, but adhere to him. »

A life in God

The life in God and for God of the Carthusian Order and its monks, far from the changeable fashions and seasons of the Church, has unfolded for nine hundred years in the unity and the fertilising force of solitude, silence and of prayer. What the Carthusians bring to our time, preceding St. Bruno, is this permanence of the love of God, which reflects within men, never diverted, never seduced, never reduced despite the notches of history.

The Carthusians have a hidden apostolate that makes the gift of God incandesce into the world within the living force of their contemplation. « Separation from the world is made possible by the cloister. We only leave the monastery for an occasional walk. We do no receive visits nor exercise any outside apostolate. We have neither radio nor television in the monastery. It is the prior who receive news and tell the monks what they need to know. As such the necessary conditions for internal silence develop, which then permit the soul to stay alert and attentive to the presence of God. » The Carthusian heritage is considerable both by the truths they transmits in their long meditated writings, founding this « science written in their hearts » which evoked one of their theologians, Hugh of Balma in the XIII century, by poverty, humility and simplicity with which they have filled their daily lives: « God can live only in a humble, simple, pure and peaceful heart, he can only work in a heart that has relinquished and totally liberated, who sacrifices himself entirely to God, giving himself up without reservation, abandoning himself entirely, and who does not have anything for himself. »

An order of extreme austerity

« … in the measure that the way of life we have embraced is more austere, we are the more strictly bound to observe poverty in all we use; for we must imitate the poverty of Christ if we wish to share in his abundance ».

Statutes 3.2

The Carthusian Order is that Living Tabernacle of Divine dwelling expressed in the Heart of the Church and of the World in their present-day statutes: « Separated from all, we are united to all for it is in the name of all that we present ourselves to the living God » [Statutes 34.2] unity and peace in the intimacy of God. In a time shared between the wounds of faith, the neglect of the foundations of Christianity, and confused aspirations for superiority, there is much to learn from Carthusian austerity which wends its way straight to God through the means of renunciation and silence that fills with love and gives the weak man the opportunity to meet the divine peace in the depths of his weakness and his imperfection, as noted in the first half of this century by the Prior of Vedana Charterhouse, Dom Augustin Guillerand O.Cart (1877 – †1945): « The number of those who know how to give themselves (and want to do so) is not legion.  This is because our “being” is so limited, and consequently we have so little to give.  And amongst those who seem to themselves: in other words, they are not giving at all.  They are only seeking something in others to complete themselves; not that they may complete others ». (Author:  A Carthusian“the anonymous author was a Carthusian monk of a French charterhouse who wrote in the 1940’s.” [2] [3] 

ordine certosino Serra San Bruno

« Rigorous observance of enclosure would however be merely pharisaical, were it not the outward expression of that purity of heart, to which alone is it promised to see God. To attain this, great abnegation is required, especially of the natural curiosity that men feel about human affairs. We should not allow our minds to wander through the world in search of news and gossip; on the contrary, our part is to remain hidden in the shelter of the Lord’s presence ».

Statutes 6.4

The children of St. Bruno, in their hidden lives as hermits, far from watchful eyes and from glory, carry the outraged life of men in the wounds of Christ. With the rigour of their asceticism, they assume the poverty of the world, with the humble toil of their hands, they reflect the human condition renewed and lifted toward the scrutiny of God, by the substance of their prayer, they are « the light of the world » extended over 155022733811218615humanities suffering. Neither  in the order of the active apostolate or in that of preaching, they stand in a secret place of the heart praying that the Church’s life is internalised and deepened in gratuitous abandon and without reservation.

At the death of St. Bruno, « the Mortuary Rolls », which express the Church’s gaze upon a man with a reputation for holiness, have conserved this: « Bruno, … who gave up all the world had to offer, every fine trapping, for a poor desert that was dearer to him than a kingdom in this life ».[4] Our epoch of starvation and hunger has something to perpetuate from Carthusian spirituality for one’s happiness but also to illuminate universal goodness.

The intrinsic nature of the Carthusian

« Master Bruno and six companions entered the desert of Chartreuse in the year of our Lord 1084 and settled there ; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they and their successors, learning from experience, gradually evolved a special form of hermit life, which was handed on to succeeding generations, not by the written word, but by example ». 

Statutes Prologue 1.1

Saint Bruno did not write a rule but, by his own example, became the model for those who, follow him by embracing the vocation of seeking God within solitude. 

« At the repeated request of the other deserts founded in imitation of that at Chartreuse, Guigues, the fifth Prior of the Grande Chartreuse, committed to writing the organisation of their way of life ; this they all undertook to follow and imitate as the rule of observance and bond of love of their newborn family. Then, after the other Priors of Carthusian observance had for a long time sought the permission of the Priors and members of the Grande Chartreuse to hold a common Chapter in that House, during the priorate of Anthelm, the first General Chapter was assembled, to which all the Houses — the Grande Chartreuse included — pledged themselves in perpetuity. It was also at this time that the nuns of Prebayon spontaneously embraced the Carthusian life. Such were the beginnings of our Order ». 

Statutes Prologue 1.1

The example of solitude set by Master Bruno and his companions is not something that can just be cobbled together or improvised. It requires meticulous organisational planning and punctilious time management. Thus, the monastery in which the Carthusians lives is structured meticulously to espouse this life of union. It applies here just as it does in any mystical universe: it requires a cautious approach, since it brings one into the mystery of absolutes, infinites and indefinable divinity, a concept that can be extremely hard to grasp. Why entomb yourself from the world behind high walls and repudiate the comforts of life? We must abandon all of our prejudice and all of our misconceptions so that we can understand what the essence Carthusian life actually is, yesterday and today.


Enclosure is not an escape

« From ancient times it has been the mind of our Order that our absolute dedication to God be expressed and sustained by a great strictness of enclosure. How pressing the need must be before one goes out, can be sufficiently gauged from the fact that the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse never goes beyond the boundaries of the desert of Chartreuse. And since one and the same rule of life should be observed by all who profess it in a uniform and like manner, it follows that we, who have adopted the Carthusian ideal, whence we bear the name of Carthusians, do not readily admit exceptions. If, nevertheless, necessity compels us to go out, the permission of the Reverend Father must always be sought, except in a case of urgency and in the other cases provided for in the Statutes ».

Statutes 6.1

An enclosure will not prevent the monk from escaping a place in which he would only have entered at a moment of absolute despair, as a great number of would imagine; it only excludes the curiosities of the outside world from intruding. Monastic vocation is155022733811218615-2 not a repudiation of the world. It is an auspicious call, a call to a dialogue with God without a mediator. Fruitful only in undivided solitude, silence, rest and poverty; when the solitary is occupied in busy leisure, and at rest in tranquil activity, God rewards this athletes with the longed-for prize: peace that the world cannot realise and jouissance in the Holy Spirit. Penance is a means and not a goal. The Carthusians thus perpetuate the spirituality of union that the anchorites of the desert had arrogated during the early days of Christianity, in judiciousness and silence, in an entombed way of life. Sometimes buried without restraint, to the point that the solitary becomes isolated, shielded by the walls of his own free will.

« In solitude, then, let the monk’s soul be like a tranquil lake, whose waters well up from the purest sources of the spirit and, untroubled by news coming from outside, like a clear mirror reflect one image only, that of Christ ».

Statutes 13.15

Inside the hermitage, alone and in silence

« God has led his servant into solitude to speak to his heart; but he alone who listens in silence hears the whisper of the gentle breeze that reveals the presence of the Lord. In the early stages of our Carthusian life, we may find silence a toilsome burden; however, if we are faithful, there will gradually be born within us of our silence itself something that will draw us on to still greater silence. »

Statutes 14.1 

On that account, the brothers may not randomly speak of what they wish, or to whom they wish, or for as long as they wish; they may speak about matters affecting their work, with as few words as possible and with an unobtrusive voice; but apart from this, they may not speak without permission either to the monks or to strangers. The Statutes clearly explain ›Let the brothers not presume to speak without permission to seculars who approach them, or to converse with them; they may merely return their greeting, as also of those they happen to meet, and, if questioned, briefly respond and excuse themselves as not having permission to speak further with them.‹155022733811218615

So Master Bruno proposed an adventure which was altogether authentic. The Carthusian lives alone in a cell, but partakes in moments of communal life with his brothers, at least three times a day, which ease the harshness of this way of life and allow for the brothers in religion to support one another. « It is then », says Denis the Carthusian (1402–†1471) monk of the fifteenth century, « that God introduces into his cellar the soul who does not want to live and which lives only for him: it is contemplation, the fullness of vocation, emptying oneself to exist entirely for God ». So everything within the monastery is organised in such a way that the Fathers are as free as possible to attend to their vocation. It is for this singular purpose that the Carthusian lives in a hermitage, called a cell, alone and in silence. And where he leads an existence of mortification, with just what is necessary and without surplus.  In fact the very first Consuetudines written stated exactly what possessions the Carthusian was allowed to have in his cell in the XII century this has change somewhat:

28. The objects in use within the cell[5]

  1. for the bed: straw, resistant canvas, a cushion and a blanket of very coarse sheep’s skins and covered with a coarse cloth.
  2. for dress: two cilice, two tunics, two furs, one of which is less fine and the other better; two cuculla, with the same criterion, three pairs of socks, four pairs of pedalini, some skins, a hooded cloak, night and day shoes, grease to grease them, two lombari and a belt, both of coarse hemp. He also has two needles, some thread, scissors, a comb, a razor for the head, a cote, or a small stone, and strap, for sharpening.
  3. to write, then: a desk, some pens, argil (clay), two pumice stones, two inkwells, a penknife, two sharp knives or two razors to scrape the parchment, a single scratch awl, a single bradawl, lead, a ruler, a square, some tablets, a stylus. And if a brother will exercise another profession – something that happens to us very infrequently because to almost all those we welcome, if possible, we teach to write – will have the right tools for his art.
  4. he also receives two books to read from the library.

And do not pay attention, with regard to the bed or your dress, to how coarse everything is nor what colour they are. He in fact, knows with certainty that, if this applies to all the monks, especially befitting our humility, the meagreness of the cloth and its little value, the poverty and worthlessness of all that we use is suitable for us. 

A typical plan of a Charterhouse
A typical Carthusian plan drawn by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. 1856

The construction of the monastery is also extremely important and must favour this ideal of Carthusian life. As soon as one enters the cell, everything that is required to sustain the body for a regular life, from the farm to the laundry room and from the kitchen to the various workshops, providing for the needs of the House. The lay brothers are monks under slightly different types of vows from the Choir monks and spend less time in contemplative prayer and more time in manual labour called obediences; they provide material assistance to the choir monks: cooking meals, doing laundry, undertaking physical repairs, maintenance of machinery, bricklaying, baking, farming, animal husbandry, providing the choir monks with books from the library and managing supplies. The life of the brothers complements that of the choir monks, and makes the fathers’ lives of seclusion possible. Then there are the cells of the Procurator, responsible for coordinating the organisation of the lay brothers and the other officers; and the cell of the prior (the elected superior of the monastery) which is somewhat different in design to accommodate his function and duties. Around the small cloister, the communal areas, the church, the refectory and the chapter, the centre of the democratic life of the monastery, where all the Fathers decide in unison on the life and activity of the community. Further along, the great cloister, like a long covered gallery, folded upon itself and upon which each cell opens, numbering 12, 24 or 36, depending on the size of the monastery.

Monasteries near populated areas

Over time, the Carthusians realised that their original forest isolation was not essential for the development of a monastic life. It is very important that the disquiet of the world does not intrude and distract the monks from their cell. It was realised that the conventual parts  of the monastery act as a buffer zone. It was therefore agreed to establish charterhouse near cities from the 13th century onwards, like that of Chartreuse de Vauvert in Paris (founded 1257 under the impetus of Saint Louis (Louis IX King of France (1214 – †1270); on the site of the abandoned Château de Vauvert, adjacent to the site of the present Jardin du Luxembourg; at the gates of Paris (on the current site of the Senate) and which was closed and sold in 1790; or along roads or rivers, such as Chartreuse de Bonpas, in the town of Caumont-sur-Durance in Vaucluse, at the edge of the Durance River and not far from Avignon; and then even within built-up areas, like the City of London. The London Charterhouse is a historic complex of buildings in Smithfield, London, dating back to the XIV century. It occupies land to the north of Charterhouse Square, and lies within the London Borough of Islington, founded in 1371 until its dissolution in 1537. The monastic vocation is not therefore a rejection of the world. It is a positive call, a call to converse with God without intermediary.

screenshot 2019-01-15 at 16.25.32

[1]  John Paul II, (Karol Józef Wojtyła), 2001. Message of Pope John Paul II for the Ninth Centenary of Saint Bruno’s death to the Reverend Father Marcellin Theeuwes (Captivated by Him who is only Love). Charterhouse of the Transfiguration. Available at: http://transfiguration.chartreux.org/JPII-Message2001.htm [Accessed February 15, 2019].

[2]  By kind permission of Magnificat, Meditation of the day ‘Oupouring of Life’ September 2017, Tuesday Sep. 19th, pp. 280-281).

[3]  Also They Speak in Silences: p. 280; translated from the French by a Monk of Parkminster. Ⓒ 1995, Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., London. All Rights Reserved]

[4]  №. 44: [Moutiers-Saint-Jean, Benedictine Monastery Saint-Jean-de-Réome] Titulus Sancte Marie Sanctique Iohannis confratrum Reomensis cenobij.

[5] Rev. Ginex, Ugo-Maria Erem. Dio.,  Ⓒ 2018. The Consuetudines of Guigo I, 5th Prior of the Carthusian Order (Translated from Latin). p. 42. 1st ed., Canterbury, Kent: St. Mary’s Hermitage Press. Available for consultation at St. Mary’s Hermitage Press on Archive.

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