Carthusian Silence

In the silence of the Carthusians one learn’s how to pray… 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 clean of heart: for they shall 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 our Statutes describe as such:

«Whoever perseveres without defiance in the cell and lets 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.» Statutes 3.2

All monastic life thus consists of this journey towards the heart and all the meaning of our life is oriented towards this end. It helps the monk unite his life to charity, introducing it to the depths of his heart. Honestly, it is not this end which distinguishes us from other contemplative monks (Trappist, Benedictines, etc.), but the borrowed path, of which the essential characteristics are:

  • solitude
  • a positive mixture of solitary and community life
  • the Carthusian liturgy
Carthusian Statutes on Silence – Statutes: book 2 Chapter 14
  1. 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.
  2. On this account, the brothers may not speak indiscriminately of what they wish, or with whom they wish, or for as long as they wish; with few words and with quiet voice, they may speak about matters affecting their work; but apart from this, they may not speak without permission either to monks or to strangers.
  3. Since, therefore, the observance of silence is of vital importance in the life of a brother, this rule must be kept with great care. However, in doubtful cases not foreseen by the law, let each one prudently judge according to conscience and the needs of the moment, whether, and to what extent, it is lawful to speak.
  4. Devotion to the Spirit dwelling within them, and love for their brothers, both require that, when it is lawful to speak they should weigh their words well and be watchful of the extent to which they speak; for a long and uselessly protracted conversation is thought to grieve the Holy Spirit more and cause more dissipation than a few words, that are indeed against the rule, but are quickly cut short. Often a conversation, that was useful in the beginning, soon becomes useless and, finally, worthy of blame.
  1. On Sundays and solemnities, and also on days specially set apart for recollection, they observe silence with special care and remain in cell. Likewise, every day from the evening Angelus to Prime, throughout the monastery should reign perfect silence, which the brothers may not break, unless in a case of true and urgent necessity; for, as appears from the examples of Scripture and the traditions of the monks of old, this time of the night is specially conducive to recollection and meeting with God.
  1. Let the brothers not presume to speak without permission to seculars who approach them, or to chat with them; they may merely return their greeting, as also that of those they happen to meet, and, if questioned, briefly respond and excuse themselves as not having permission for further speech with them.
  2. Observance of silence and interior recollection require special vigilance on the part of the brothers, since many occasions for speaking come their way; in this they cannot attain perfection, unless they diligently strive to live always in the presence of God.

200f43c15bdd0320d7df21e677bc8ed9--cardinals-domIn a world full of noise, the Carthusians are the happy exception. Their monastic life, in which silence and austerity prevail, contrasting a society of immediacy and technology. Which is why the Catholic Church has always asserted the value of silence to live in the present.

Silence and solitude bring terror to the people of today. But excessive noise prevents us from listening to God with the necessary clarity required and therefore silence is a fundamental tool with which to approach Him. A diocesan priest recently spent four months within a Carthusian community in Calabria, he explained the benefits of this experience not only for his life but also for his ministry.

The weekly letters sent to friends and family from the monastery have now become a book published in the United States by Ignatius Press and entitled by the Report From Calabria: a season with Carthusian monks.

In the book, the priest said that the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the Carthusians in Calabria (Italy) was born in 2014 and he lived with them for four months.

During his stay he never used a mobile phone . “Essentially, I lived my life in prayer, work, recreation and weekly walks “Spatiamentum“.

8f2321c0d89ddc858dd211c605272f99--dom-closedWhat does one draw from this experience? “When one enter a Carthusian monastery one lives in peace and tranquility. Loneliness is a distinctive sign. Being priests, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day, so this should already be a model in our lives. But after this experience, one tends to pray these prayers more slowly and spends more time with them. What you may discover is that the more one does it, the more one is present for people when they come to you. Priests are very busy and the tendency would be for some to reduce their prayer. But if one spends more time in prayer, one will do better in resolving all of their other priorities and in reality one will have more to give to the people when they come”.

The silence of the martyrs is also one of the themes that the cardinal addresses, recalling the martyrs of today who have shown a silent dignity. Bishop Tchidimbo was forbidden to speak during captivity, martyrs bear their testimony through silence.

But for Sarah it is also true that “silence is a barrier that gives man back a certain dignity”. Yet the cardinal also speaks of that silence which is guilty of those who do not clarify the truth of faith.

94020258-A70B-425F-BA25-0913D2DB02B1He has harsh words for those who, having responsibility in the Church, are silent before the profaning of the Eucharist.

Passion and truth intertwine with liturgy and doctrine in the book which opens and closes within the silence of the Grand Chartreuse, with the world of the Carthusians who make silence the greatest value, because it is only in the silence that God speaks to man.

God, logos, word, that the world too often forgets to listen. God who speaks with the sacrifice of Christ, with the absolute love he serves and silence is enough.

Just as silence is required for the sick, the suffering and those who are on the banks of death.

And so the silence of the contemplatives becomes like a cry in the desert. The citations of the Carthusian fathers are intertwined with Tomas Merton and Pope Paul VI, and it becomes clear the sense of sin that has been lost in the noise of those who cry that everything is allowed, and the difference between the poor in the vision of the Gospel and put into reality the world. “Poverty, writes Sarah, is a trial and a stripping that God imposes on those who want to live in his company”. Quite another thing is poverty, imposed by the world on those who cannot choose.

The danger of today’s world is unbridled activism, that is to say, instilling precisely the lack of silence, in the void which is full of God and is the music of creation.

The Prefect of the Papal Household Georg Gänswein presented the words of Benedict XVI and his personal reflection yesterday in Rome to present the German edition of Cardinal Sarah’s book. A book that is even more “radical” than the previous “God or nothing” because it has its roots up to “capturing the source” of Christian existence, that is, silence.

And of the Carthusian spirit, that spirit “of the only order in the world that never had to be reformed and something that is urgently needed and required in today’s Church more  than anything else, a revolution of silence is an absolutely necessary reform in capita et membris of the Church in which for decades and even on the altar itself ‘at the centre is no longer the cross but the microphone’ as the cardinal notes laconically ‘.

A heart in silence is a melody for the heart of God. The lamp is consumed without noise before the tabernacle, and the incense rises silently up to the throne of God: such is the sound of the silence of love “.

This is the centre of the Church because, “Holy Mother Church does not actually have or know any periphery, having its centre and its heart everywhere, in front of a tabernacle, the light burns day and night eternally”.

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