Instead of the normal annual write up on Saint Bruno on his feast Day we decided to share an article by Dom. André Louf OCSO (1929-†2010) Abbot of the Trappist Monastery of Mont-des-Cats (1963-1997) who wrote about Saint Bruno.
Dom André Louf, born in 1929 in Leuven, entered the Cistercian Abbey of Mont-des-Cats in the Diocese of Lille in 1951. He became Father Abbot in 1963, and demitted in 1997. He spent the last years of his life at a monastery of Benedictine nuns in southern France, from where he often went to the Certosa of Serra San Bruno for prolonged periods of solitude. In 2005 he was commissioned to write the meditations for the Pope’s Via Crucis at the Colosseum. He died in 2010.
Among the main works we highlight from Amazon:
Saint Bruno: In the Cistercian Studies Quarterly as follows:
Other free Pdf publications are available from:
St. Mary’s Hermitage (Hermits of Saint Bruno) on Internet Archive
The text on S. Bruno that is published below was written for one of Dom. Andre’s retreats at Serra San Bruno and published in French by Le bulletin Documents Episcopat magazine N° 12-13/2001 (opens PDF in French on the Episcopal Conference of French Bishops website).
The translation from French into English is by a Hermit of Saint Bruno
St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order died on 6 October 1101, in the tranquility of his Calabrian hermitage. His last words were those of a profession of Trinitarian faith, which his companions devotedly transcribed and in part they delivered in an encyclical letter annexed to his funeral scroll (1). Today these last words of Bruno are even more precious, considering that the saint has left few writings.
The loss of Bruno was a painful moment, not only for his companions in Calabria, but also for his brothers from Chartreuse, who, after his departure for Rome, had always hoped to see him again. For those who had known him personally, he was a “man of profound common sense”, an “incomparable father”, a “perfect spiritual guide”. However, many praises do not overshadow his status as a simple monk, whom he had loved above all else: his body was interred in the cemetery of the hermitage (2), as is still done for all the Carthusians, in the bare earth ( 3). After St. Bruno’s death we had to wait until 1514 to see Cardinal Luigi D’Aragona obtain his “canonizationem vivæ vocis oraculo”, followed then, on November 1 of the same year, by the exaltation of his relics, and later, in 1623, by the insertion of his name in the Roman breviary (4)
First of all it is through the unfurling of his personal history that Saint Bruno of Cologne will impress his seal upon the Order that will be born through him. A story written in a diptych of two tables, separated by a clear break. Around the age of fifty, Bruno discontinues rather brusquely with a life of service for the Church on the outside, as a university teacher, and partly in search of solitude in order to consecrate himself to a life of prayer and intimacy with God; this in a even more unexpected way, if seen from the external evolution of the events, bearing in mind that at that time his contemporaries awaited him on the archiepiscopal seat of Reims, to crown of a pastoral ministry an intellectual apostolate from which the best souls of his era had benefited.
Bruno, in fact, born in Cologne around 1030, had emigrated in his youth to Reims, then one of the most famous schools of the West, to spend a good part of his life in the shadows of this university, in turn a pupil and teacher, counting among his disciples many of the greatest luminaries of his epoch: Anselm of Laon, who became the master of Abelard, Hugh, the future bishop of Grenoble to whom he owed for the desert of the Chartreuse, and Odo of Châtillon, the later pope Urban II, who unsuccessfully tries to incorporate him more closely within his own pontifical ministry.
Bruno’s decisive choice for a solitary life comes at the end of a crisis which shook the Church of Reims, Bruno’s forceful opposition to the simoniac archbishop Manasse, who stripped Bruno of his benefices in addition to his office as Chancellor of the diocese, exiled him from the city of Reims. The crisis in question undoubtedly induced Bruno toward a solitary life which, as we know, has been stirring within his heart for quite some time. In a letter he sent to Rodolfo il Verde, which he sent from Calabria, where Urban II allowed him to withdraw, an ancient fellow who became provost of Reims, he mentions a resolution taken by, Bruno, Rodolfo the Green and Folco the Monocled, following a nocturnal dialogue in the garden of a certain Adam with whom Bruno was staying at the time. The scene had to take place around the year 1080. Bruno was therefore on the point of leaving in solitude, when some unforeseen circumstances forced him to postpone the execution of his design a little further. Alas! The delay was fatal for his two companions, as he himself says: “the soul cooled and the fervour vanished” (Letter to Rodolfo the Green 13).
A little later, whilst he approaches the age of fifty and after having refused episcopal consecration which the good people of Reims called for, was he will be able to realise his aspiration, again accompanied by two friends. No doubt Bruno intuitively already had a certain idea of the solitary life he wanted to embrace. New communities were then flourishing everywhere, representing the full range of monastic experiences possible. He is not oriented towards an integral form of hermitism: Bruno throughout his life has never been without companions. He therefore turns to an abbot and a community that already enjoyed a reputation as reformers: St. Robert of Molesmes gave him the monastic habit. But the monks of Molesmes are closer to coenobites who follow the rule of Saint Benedict. Some of them will later be at the origin of the foundation of Cîteaux and the Cistercian Order, also a cenobitic form of life. Bruno then looks for something else, and Robert of Molesmes allows him to retreat to nearby, Sèche-Fontaine, no doubt with the intention of building hermitages: a first glimpse of what will be the future Carthusian desert. Yet this form of life was not compatible with Bruno’s call. It could be that the cenobites of Molesmes were too close and did not provide sufficient solitude, or perhaps he sought a harsher desert than the delightful wooded slopes of the hills at the edge of Champagne could offer him? In any case, Bruno and his companions shift attention to the Dauphiné, where one of his ancient disciples had recently occupied the episcopal See of Grenoble. It is Hugh himself who, on 24 June 1084, the feast of St. John the Baptist, will lead them to the bottom of a valley set among the rocky slopes of the Chartreuse (5), where they will build the first wooden huts, even farther away higher up than the place on which today the whole of the buildings of the Grande Chartreuse stands, and from where they will be driven out some decades later by an avalanche, which caused the death of many brothers (6).
Bruno brings us a few explicit elements of the way in which this life was concretely organised in solitude, but we are allowed to think that the harmonious union of a very close solitary life with some elements of common life was already considered and represented exactly the personal project of Bruno. When, a few decades later, Guigo will write down the customs of the community, he will want to pass on, he says, “what we are in the habit of doing”, customs that no doubt go back to Bruno himself.
Where does Bruno get such an undertaking from? Latin monasticism of the time is inspired only by the Rule of St. Benedict, which practically became the only monastic rule in use for a couple of centuries. This rule is strictly cenobitic, even whilst St. Benedict does not entirely ignore eremitical life, having himself practiced it before founding his monasteries, and also discreetly leaves an open door for those monks of his who wish to undertake it, but only after a long period of training within a cenobitic journey. Saint Benedict does not seem to understand the eremitical life under its extreme forms, that is, of a solitary abandoned to God only, totally alone in absolute withdrawal.
In the richness of foundations and ‘new communities’, which characterised the monastic life of the 11th century, the specifically eremitical component and its various forms had taken its proper position. Most of these foundations rediscovered the path of true material solitude, far from inhabited centres. Some hermits had also gathered within small colonies, where the rigour of solitude was tempered by the presence of brothers animated by the same spirit of studies. Bruno several decades before, St. Romuald had scattered throughout Italy to some degree with this type of monasticism, the most famous of which, that of the Camaldoli, near Arezzo, gave its name to a monastic family that has been perpetuated and survives to this day. Beyond St. Benedict, Western monasticism was thus linked up again with other forms inherited from the East, which he always regarded as the cradle of monasticism.
Of this ancestry, Guigo, the legislator of the Chartreuse, seems to be well aware. Drawing upon the collection of customs that were practiced there, he makes explicit references, alongside of St. Benedict of Nursia (480–†547 AD), to the ancient Fathers of Egypt and Palestine: Paul of Thebes the First Hermit or Anchorite (c. 226/7-†c. 341), Saint Anthony (251–†356) and Hilarion the Great (291–†371). Even more surprising, at a time when the first Carthusians swarmed northward, the testimony of a Benedictine elder, later Cistercian, William of Saint-Thierry (1085-†1148), who addresses the brothers of the recent foundation of Mont-Dieu (1144-1145), in the French Ardennes, as to those who “brought the light of the East (Orientale lumen) and the ancient fervour of Egypt, that is the example of solitary life and the image of heavenly life, into the darkness of the West and the cold of the Gauls” (Epistola ad fratres de Monte-Dei – known as the Golden Epistle 1.1).
Bruno’s stay among the Chartreuse brothers lasted only a few years, until Urban II, his former pupil who had become pope, called him to his side for the preparation of synods or councils. Bruno complies with the request, but will never feel at ease at the Papal Curia. To some brothers who have accompanied him, the Pope, knowing their option in favour of solitude, offers the Baths of Diocletian, then in ruins as a venue for him to stay. Finally declining the offer made to him by the pope of the episcopal see of Reggio Calabria Bruno obtains permission from him to retire to another hermitage, where his days will end, surrounded by the affection of his brothers from Calabria, as that of the Chartreuse, whom they will never cease to consider as the founder of their order and their true father
Of what Bruno himself thinks of the type of monastic life which he propagated wherever he passed, we can find an echo in two letters of his own hand that tradition has preserved. The first, already cited, is addressed to Rodolfo il Verde, then provost of the chapter of the cathedral of Reims, to remind him of the vow they had once uttered together; the second is sent to his remaining brothers in Chartreuse, to encourage them to persevere in their vocation. To better grasp the fundamental intuition of Carthusian hermitage, we can add a third to these two letters of Bruno, that of Guigo which celebrates the praises of the solitary life, in favour of a friend, who remained anonymous, who he tries to persuade to join him .
To describe the Carthusian life, Bruno uses the image of the vigil twice: this life is summed up in delle excubiæ divinæ, in a divine vigil. In doing so, Bruno extends to the whole the practice of nocturnal prayer, learned from the example of Jesus, which has always been an important element and particularly dear to the heart of the solitary. It corresponds to a desire formulated by Jesus expressly at a crucial moment of his existence: “Are you not able to watch for an hour with me?” Bruno also specifies the object of the vigil: the Carthusian monk, with his brothers, mounts “a holy and persevering guard waiting for the return of his master, to open when he arrives”. The evangelical allusion is transparent. It immediately places the particular place of the solitary along the path of the whole Church. Today we would say, not without reason, that he is at the heart of this journey. But the eschatological image used by Bruno makes it possible to specify more clearly: the solitary is also in front in this journey that is going on through time, he finds himself, so to speak, in the lead, being invested with the particular mission of «hastening» mysteriously “the coming of the Day of God” (2Pt 3:12).
Another image, also used twice, implies the same spiritual reality: the image of the port. The solitary, in distancing himself from the world, has already arrived in port. He “escaped the troubled waves of this world, where dangers and shipwrecks multiply”, and “established himself in the quiet rest and safety of a sheltered harbour” (2,2). Each of these expressions has a very specific meaning —today we would call it ‘specialist’ — in the monastic vocabulary of the time. We note two.
This port is first presented as tutus et quietus. The terms that derive from the root quies (quiescere, quietus) designate realities that are those proper to what we call today the strictly contemplative life. We will come back to it later, because the term quies-rest designates one of the essential elements of the Carthusian experience. This rest, or “quiet”, is first of all attributed to the place where the Carthusian desert is established. When Bruno speaks of it, it is not the austere majesty of the Dauphiné Alps that he has before him, for which the medieval sensibility felt little attraction, but rather the delightful harmony of plateaus and rolling hills found in Calabria. Bruno delights in describing his desert: “How to speak adequately of the beauty of the place, of the mildness and wholesomeness of the climate or of the wide and pleasant plain that extends far between the mountains, with its green meadows and pastures covered with flowers?” And he adds: “Who could describe the appearance of the hills, which gently rise around and the secret of the shady valleys with the enchantment of the numerous rivers, streams and springs? Nor do we lack irrigated gardens and orchards from various trees” (1,4). This quiet of the surroundings is there to foster inner stillness, in which God reveals himself and where Christ meets. Guigo then condensed this orientation of the heart of the solitary into a well coined formula, both simple and strong: the Carthusian must be “Cristo quietus”: his peace is entirely ordered to Christ.
The other ‘specialist’ term of the contemplative vocabulary of the time, which we find under his pen, is that of the statio, the standing upright, which alludes to stability in a place, which will be left as little as possible, and to the ancient attitude reserved for prayer, which was done standing upright. If stillness is liberated and safeguarded with such care, then it is certainly in view of prayer. This term on the other hand is close to and alternates with another, which only in appearance is its opposite: the sessio, the sitting alone in the cell. Guigo uses it very clearly using the quotation from Lamentations 3:28, which at any time had been reserved for the solitary and silent life “He shall sit solitary, and hold his peace: because he hath taken it up upon himself.”
The term quies-rest then recalls another, also this frequently: this quiet ensures a sanctum otium, a holy idleness, also entirely available for God and for prayer. Bruno takes from Saint Augustine a particularly happy play on words, which frees at one stroke a similar expression from every possible ambiguity: it is an otium negotiosum, an active idleness; that although it is such, it must nevertheless remain a quiet actio, an active life in peace. Agostino had already taken it upon those who, in his time, envied him for the holy idleness he had at his disposal: “Let no one — he wrote — envy my idleness, ‘quia meum otium magnum habet negotium’, because my idleness conceals intense activity” (Letters 213.6).
For the solitary it is not so much a manual or pastoral activity as it is that inner work that he favours over all the others. This culminates in prayer, but is nourished by the ensemble of monastic works, among which the assiduous attendance of the Word of God occupies the first place, facilitated by the organisation of the day where each work is gradually considered, reaching as a relief of the previous one. The Carthusian life, writes Guigo, is a “poor and solitary life, (…) persevering in adversity, (…) modest in favourable events. sober in food, simple in dress, modest in words, chaste in behaviour. It can be coveted above all, because it is not absolutely ambitious, (…) Because of its usual fidelity to the cross, it is applied consistently to fasting, consents to food in the measure of the need of this body and regulates both with the most great measure, (…) applies to letters, but above all to the writings included in the canon and the monastic ones, in which it captures more the marrow of meanings that the foam of words, (…) it multiplies so much its duties that it happens more often missing a time frame rather than the occupation of some commitment. And it is more often affected by the lack of time than by the annoyance of work”. And still Guigo in finishing this long list — which we have moreover had to shorten – takes up the play on words of Augustine: “sic est continues in otio, quod numquam est otiosa”, our life perseveres in idleness even though it is never idle (3,4).
However, this intense activity always takes place in solitude. It does not imply an intellectual activity turned outwards, which Bruno has consciously left, nor a pastoral responsibility in the Church, which Bruno wanted to escape or which he will refuse, the same one from which he tries to divert his friend Rodolfo il Verde, chancellor of the archbishopric of Reims. Bruno has no qualms about doing it. It thus seems to identify pastoral activity with the many concerns that it almost necessarily determines, and with the worldly ambitions that it risks secretly nourishing. He admits that it is undoubtedly more fruitful, like Lia, who gives more children to Jacob than Rachel, who was nevertheless the most beautiful and the most sociable. Bruno takes this allegorical interpretation from Gregory the Great, in whose eyes a closer stage of contemplative life legitimately happens at a time of apostolic service (Pastoral Rule 1.11). “Less numerous, in fact, are the children of contemplation than those of action, — he writes — but Joseph and Benjamin are loved by their father more than all the other brothers”. In such a context, a discreet allusion to the Gospel passage, emblematic in the eyes of the Fathers for the value of the contemplative life, would not be out of place; and it is in this way that Bruno concludes: “This is the best part that Mary has chosen and which will not be taken from her”.
On the other hand, for the founder of Chartreuse, to abandon a university where he was a teacher means to reach another location, where from now on he becomes a disciple, but of a teaching that goes beyond all that human knowledge can dispense. It is undoubtedly his previous university career, abandoned for love of Christ, that Bruno thinks, when he presents the Carthusian life with the features of an alternative school, where he who wants to become a disciple of Christ comes to sit down and learn from the Holy Spirit in person the secrets of a totally divine philosophy. Thus he reached a recurring theme in the great Tradition, which he loved to see in a life entirely consecrated to the search for God, the most excellent form of ‘true philosophy’. “Whoever does not see how beautiful, useful and joyful he writes to his ancient disciple of Reims , to remain at the school of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to learn the divine philosophy, which alone can give true bliss?”(1,10).
Bruno raises a corner of the veil that covers the pedagogical method that the Holy Spirit uses, in a passage from his letter to his brothers in Chartreuse, where he turns more particularly to the group of lay brothers of the community, for a long time made up of illiterate lay people , and therefore habitually deprived of the reading of the Scriptures, which Bruno, moreover, has in great consideration. But that doesn’t matter! Even if these brothers ignore the letters, they receive an inner teaching, which is dispensed directly from the Spirit, in view of a wisdom to which the most learned monks of the cloister will have nothing to envy. It is worth mentioning this text, which is perhaps the only one of the time dedicated to the status of brothers conversi: “As for you, my dear lay brothers, (…) I also rejoice, since, although you are illiterate, Almighty God he writes with his finger in your hearts not only love, but also the knowledge of his holy law. In fact, with the works you demonstrate what you love and know. Because you practice true obedience with the utmost care and the greatest zeal, which is the fulfilment of God’s commandments, the key and the seal of all spiritual observance; it can never exist without a profound humility and great patience, and it is always accompanied by a chaste love for the Lord and by authentic charity. It is therefore evident that you gather wisely the very sweet and life-giving fruit of the divine Scriptures”(2,3). This text is of considerable value: in a correctly conducted contemplative life, the inner teaching of the Holy Spirit can replace that drawn from reading, even from the lectio of the Scriptures.
But this cannot be understood and talked about if not those who were actually called, and took the risk of paying the price for it. Bruno, in fact, is perfectly aware of the fact that not all the baptised are invited to follow Christ in a desert so rigorous and excluding any distraction. No one wants to be a hermit. If he allows himself to insist with Rodolfo the Green, it is because he believes that he has tied himself with the debt that a vote has made him contract. But when he addresses his brothers, Bruno rather emphasises the exceptional character of their vocation, and at the same time the outstanding grace that this represents on God’s part for them, and that it must be a cause for incessant joy and thanksgiving. This is how he addresses them in a passage where perhaps the memory of a certain number of aspirants shines through, who yesterday and today had to renounce the end of a serious period of trial: “Rejoice therefore, my beloved brothers, in your happy fate and the abundance of graces that God pours into you. (…) Rejoice that you have come to the quiet and safe rest of the most sheltered port, to which many wish to arrive, many even with a certain effort tend, but are unable to reach it. Many then, after having arrived there, were rejected because none of them had been granted from above. Therefore, my brethren, be certain and certain that anyone who has enjoyed such a desirable good, if for any reason comes to lose it, will suffer continually”(2,2).
The wonders that God usually works in the desert, beyond the trials and temptations on which Bruno dwells little, he recalls with these words “how much utility and divine joy the solitude and the silence of the desert bring to those who love them”, and he immediately describes them in a famous passage that is now part of all the anthologies devoted to the solitary life: “Here (in the desert), in fact, brave men can re-enter in themselves what they want and dwell in their heart, cultivate intensely the germs of virtues and enjoy the fruits of paradise with joy. Here one acquires that eye, whose serene gaze wounds the bridegroom with love and thanks to whose purity and brightness God is seen. Here one assiduously applies oneself to an active idleness and rests in a quiet action. Here, in exchange for the arduous battle, God gives his athletes the desired reward, that is, the peace that the world ignores and the joy of the Holy Spirit”(1.6).
A closely packed text, in which biblical or traditional images and allusions overlap each other. We see a discreet allusion to what the struggle of solitude can have severe: the struggle of combat requires “brave men” and “athletes”. ‘Re-entering oneself’ or ‘abiding with oneself’, this last expression still taken by St. Gregory who applies it to St. Benedict, designates the interior recollection that allows the solitary to watch over his desires and to guide them continuously and quietly to God; precisely what constitutes the very particular asceticism or effort of the one who lives only for God. Gregory states it in the following way: “In this solitude, the venerable Benedict dwelt with himself, insofar as he closed himself to interior of the cloister of his mind”, ‘in quantum se intra cogitationis claustra custodivit’ (Dialogues IV, 2, 3). The interior recollection allows to purify the heart that is in love with his God, and whose gaze wounds the divine bridegroom, who in turn is willing to let him feel his love in response, instilling in his soul the fruits of his Spirit: the peace and joy. Perhaps it is not told of Bruno who was often caught walking in the midst of nature, repeating what had become the cry of the heart in him, and undoubtedly his favourite prayer: “O bonitas!”
(2) Today Santuario di S. Maria del Bosco, Near the Certosa di Serra San Bruno.
(3) Around 1122, Bruno’s mortal remains were translated to the church of S. Maria. First placed under the pavement, the relics were then translated to the sanctuary of the church of the Charterhouse, where they are still found today..
(4) We quote Bernard Bligny, who in his work “Saint Bruno le premier chartreux”, gives us a appurtenant look at the circumstances of Bruno’s canonisation: “We will no doubt be surprised that the Church has waited so long to raise him to the honour of the altar, when other Carthusians, such as Anthelm of Belley and Hugh of Lincoln, were raised to the honour of the altar before their founder. A reason for this is connected to the fact that in the twelfth century, as well as in the thirteenth century, the popes canonised mainly bishops, and among them some monk-bishops, an honour which St. Bruno had refused; at that time it was a question of extolling the merits of a rehabilitated episcopate after a crisis around 950 and 1050, and from which it had very slowly recovered. The second reason can be found in the fact that, after having escaped the world even from burial, the Carthusians had nothing to offer but a mute testimony, the trace of which was not easily exploited by hagiography, no less, in the case of Bruno, than that of his school activity. There is also a third one, which is linked to their own way of doing things: they are allergic to any advertising, hostile to the abuses caused by the development of the popular cult of the saints, they aspired only to a glory, the one that comes from Above, ‘ in the company of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors and virgins, flowers of Paradise ‘; and to this vision, in which the Carthusian Adam Scot anticipates Fra Angelico, it is necessary to add their lack of interest in the carnal envelope with respect to the immortal soul, and above all a conception of miracle extraneous to common sense, which does not take into consideration if not the prodigy. Already in the Life of Saint Hugh Bishop of Grenoble (composed between 1134 and 1136), in § 23, 47 and 48, Guigo could not have been clearer in exalting an “everyday holiness”, which consists of the Christian in “seeing God” in one’s heart. Now, in the same way as martyrdom, the sensitive, evident miracle opened the door to canonisation, and San Bruno neither shone in the second, nor suffered the first ».
(5) Hugh of Châteauneuf, bishop of Grenoble for just three years, was very thoughtful about a dream: “he had seen in his dream, his confidant and biographer Guigo, writing in 1134, God who built for his glory a dwelling in the solitude of the Chartreuse and seven stars showed him the path “(Vita di Sant’Ugo (+1132), chapter 3, number II, PL 153). The prelate asked himself if it was a dream without importance, or if the Highest wanted to suggest some holy enterprise, when visitors were introduced. The arrivals, seven in number, wished to devote themselves fully to the contemplation of the divine perfections, and sought a deserted place where they could consecrate themselves to this vocation far from the world. When Bruno, the spokesman for the small group, had made his request, Ugo realised that God had made him know his will. On a day in June 1084, on the feast of St. John the Baptist, he decided therefore to lead the small group towards the most deserted point of his diocese, the Massif of Chartreuse: a site that later gave them the name of ‘Carthusians’. (excerpt from: the Ordre des chartreux, by a chartreux).
(6) This disaster occurred on Saturday, January 30, 1132, a half-century after the Carthusian presence on the original primitive site.