The Carthusian liturgy – Which is older than the Tridentine Rite by 450 years (Marienau Charterhouse)

The Carthusians today would not have accepted St. Bruno as he was over 50 years old. Our limit is 45 years of age… Said the Prior

Crocuses stretch against the sun next to a shady piece of snow in the garden, birds chirping in every shrub. A toad on this first spring day has secured itself in the cold cloister of the Charterhouse, as one does, at a corner of the long corridor, frightened, cheeks puffed out. Normally no strangers ever come here. No manager is allowed to „dangle his soul“ in our silence. The Carthusians do not offer their „profound luck,“ as Goethe would call it, in any marketplace.

But even for ordinary fellow Christians there are no retreats or visits, nor can the priest monks be persuaded to help out a little with the pastoral care of the nearby village. „We have another task,“ says the Prior, „Representing the many who no longer have time for the living God, we stand before him for all of them.“ 

Our pastoral care is worldwide, to be honest! „For this they live in unconditional devotion, radically withdrawn.“ 

The Pope’s secretary, Georg Gänswein wanted to become a Carthusian before he was promoted to the Apostolic Palace and into one of the most unpredictable ways of life, where, however, he is not the master of his time any more than a Carthusian, who weave their minutes and seconds by day and by night to the rhythm of paradise. Completely renouncing television, radio and the Internet which they do without. The hard-drive of their memory and their networking with the world and with history are still extant and found in a large library. Night after night they rise at midnight for the first canticles of praise.

Early in the morning they return to the monastery church and celebrate the Eucharist together and again in the afternoon for Vespers. The rest of the time they pray, contemplate, read, study on their own – with a strict balance of handicrafts in their workshop or garden.

Are they archaic? Timeless? Certainly they embody an almost unbroken tradition like no one else. Every two years, its order is carefully adapted to the new challenges and requirements in the so-called General Chapters, but all major crises that have occurred have never been able to persuade the Carthusians to adapt to the zeitgeist. Worries about their growth in Germany they have none. Of course, they wear wristwatches under the long sleeves of their coarse white cowls, are well informed about the world outside of the walls, and have no fear of technological aids of any kind (where their use is required for certain jobs). But other than that, more or less everything has remained the same among them since the days of St. Bruno of Cologne, who founded his order in the 11th century. And thats why they have neither summer nor winter time, they only have pure time.

But the most precious substance of our lives is only a prelude to eternity. „Do you also celebrate the Tridentine Mass?“ We wanted to know from Brother Theodor. The porter smiles. „We have our own, we have the Carthusian liturgy. Which is 450 years older than the Tridentine Rite. The liturgical constitution of the last council have changed almost nothing at all.“ 

Brother Theodor is from North Holland. „Do not wait for those who slew St. Boniface,“ we ask, „the apostle of the Germans?“ Now he laughs loudly. „Yes, we were. That’s probably why I’m here too.“ Here, in the walled grounds of a huge forest, where the old tailor has been for over 30 years. 

Yes, they are considered the strictest order within the Catholic Church. But merriment and humour are the first thing we want to write down – and the play of light in the shadows of the cloister, the open skies above, their gardens. Anyone who would like to, should come to Buxheim in the Allgäu, near Memmingen, where a former charterhouse was converted into a museum, whose architecture 200 years after the expulsion of the Carthusians still sheds light on their secret as though kept in amber. It is one of the brightest Rococo establishments in southern Germany.

In ta small nook of the cloister, Dominikus Zimmermann has created a „little meadow“, a tiny chapel where the Risen One moves over the altar as a child and victor on the bright golden ground of heaven. There is a single glow within this jewel – and a fabulous generosity, where every monk has at his disposal, not just a cell, but his own little house for his seclusion around the cloister: in it an anteroom with a picture or a statue of Mary (who is the real Mistress of the Order), a room with work and dining table, a prayer niche, next to a straw bed. Behind it a workshop, with the stored wood for winter, which every monk himself saws and chops, a workbench, and a walled garden for their own design – and all this for just one person! Anyone who wants  to shows up here, could also consider the Carthusians as the inventors of the detached home. 

The food is handed to them at noon by Carthusian brothers, who follow another daily schedule, through a hatch next to the door into the little domain.

The partitioned rooms are almost mirrored in their structured time. Every Monday they walk together in the woods, in lively conversation.


On Sundays and other festivals, they eat together, there are even wooden spoons and forks, so that there is no clanging noise from the „Gamelles“, on which the food is served so that it does not disturb their listening to the table reading. 

On the old portal of the refectory of Buxheim carvings show half the menu of yesteryear: bread, vegetables, fish and shellfish, no meat, but beer and wine. This has changed little. And a figure in the choir stalls shows us the Prostratio, the particular prayer position of the Carthusians, which they have retained since the Middle Ages: an angled thrown upon the floor type posture, as we often see on the sidewalks in Rome around the Vatican of the demeanour of a professional beggars who still know how to lie on the ground and supplicate correctly. Since the founding of the Order, the Prior tell us, they live „from air and from love“ (Above all, the love of our generous donors who have never abandoned us).


Plainly they are only beggars before God. So they lie one by one in front of the altar, as do all the Priors every two years before the General Chapter at the great Charterhouse in France, where he is asked: „What do you want?“   „Mercy!“  „Stand up!“.  Afterwards, he is either granted his request (or is asked to continue for another two years). It goes without saying that the monks always address each other with the formal „You“. 

Even a certain form of nobility has been conserved within them as if encrusted in amber.

As an elite, the 300 Carthusian monks that exist worldwide would probably hardly be able to understand themselves. They are self-confident. Your probationary period lasts at least 7 years before a final commitment, and if the community thereafter refuses, in a secret ballot, to solemnly receive somebody, even the prior is powerless. In Marienau, not far from Buxheim, the monks of the only Charterhouse in Germany come from nine different nations, all religions, all professions. 

Most priests were also academics before. The highest age for entry is 45 years. „They would not have taken Saint Bruno today,“ the Prior jokes, „he was already over fifty when he founded our Order.“  

And today? Where do the new Carthusians come from? It has become difficult, he says, who once wanted to become a foreign correspondent before suddenly feeling „seduced and overwhelmed“ by God. „Because many already consider us as not being among the living. Many artisans, endowments, and even Carthusians, come through their wrongful life no longer able to fulfil the plan that God had with them before they were born, the God of life.“

The first monks from the Lower Rhine settled in Marienau in 1964, where the Old Motherhouse blocked the new runways at Düsseldorf Airport. The profit from the sale of the old parcels of land enabled the monks to acquire their clearing in the forest, during the years of the Council – and in a marriage of the ugliest architectural experiments – they built a new small monastic village, austere, classically beautiful, with a simple cemetery in the middle of the cloister.

They took their books with them, an old statue of St. Bruno from Cologne, the old Rule and the spirit of their foundation. What profit and divine enjoyment the loneliness and silence of the wasteland prepares for those who love it are known only to those who have experienced it,“ wrote Guigo of Chastel almost 70 years after the founding of the Order in 1130 in the Rule and also this: „The poor life in loneliness is difficult in the beginning, with time it becomes easier, and  is heavenly in the end.“

Is that still true? Yes, says the Prior, but the trials are difficult. „Most go again. The order remains. Some leave us after hours, others after days, some only after 20 years.“ So late? How is it possible to break away? „As in a marriage,“  says the monk, „if the dialogue withers and eventually stops.“  The dialogue with the men of this Order of Silence? „No, no, the dialogue with God, of course.“ The life of a Carthusian makes sense only through this constant conversation with Him, even if we argue and fight, even if we desperately shout at Him in desperation. But it’s over when we start to tell him! This is the end.

We live a love story. How else could we endure the hardships and loneliness? „Every day and night we wait for nothing other than this: to one day to look into the eyes of the one who loves me.“

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Review: Richard of Saint Victor: The Book of the Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark. By Grover Alfonso Zinn

“focusing more on the object of contemplation, on the possibilities that man has at his disposal”
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Richard of St. Victor (CWS): The Book of the Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark, Book Three of the Trinity (Classics of Western Spirituality Series) Paulist Press, Paperback – 1 Jan 1979 – Author: Grover Alfonso Zinn

Richard of San Vittore C.R.S.A., (Ireland or Scotland, c. 1110 – † Paris, 10 Mar 1173) was a Canon Regular of Saint Augustine of the twelfth century. Originally from Scotland, he entered the abbey of San Vittore, near Paris, where he also became Prior in 1162. Less well known than Hugh of San Vittore, he distinguished himself for a series of ascetical and mystical works, as well as for a De Trinitate. In a previous work Benjamin Minor, had discussed how to prepare one’s soul for contemplation. Here instead, in the Benjamin Major, he directly addresses his favourite theme.

The title of the work should actually be The Ark of the Covenant, because the letter „A“ makes an allegorical reading of the Ark built by Moses according to the divine specifications (cf. Ex 25:10-22). Such a reading was favoured by the different elements that made up the ark: the acacia wood structure; the purest gold overlay; the four golden rings; the two bars of acacia wood again covered with gold; the propitiatory of purest gold and the two golden cherubs with spread wings covering the Oracle and looking towards one another. This structure suggested the idea of an order, not however static, but dynamic.

Thus, Richard develops one of the most cherished themes of spirituality, beginning with Origen, namely that spiritual life is a journey, made of beginnings, successive stages and a conquest of the final goal. The image that dominates these pages is therefore “the metaphor of movement” (p.22). Following the Augustinian school, the A. favours an anthropological perspective, „focusing more on the object of contemplation, on the possibilities that man has at his disposal“ (p.21).

ugo di san vittore insegna riccardo e studenti
Miniature of Hugh of Saint Victor teaching the young canons of Richard’s abbey

Where to start, then? As a good medieval, Richard answers: from the senses, yes from the five senses. There is nothing in the mind that does not start from the senses first. Here too there is a long tradition, that of the „spiritual senses“, initiated by Origen, used by Augustine (just reread the sero te amavi!) And developed by Bonaventura. To contemplate with the senses is to see, to feel, to taste, to touch things for what they are, that is to say creatures that bear within themselves the trace of the Creator. This is the first step. The term is given by the “possibility of man to return to communion with God” (page XI). And it is really a question of „returning home“, since man was created „in the image of God“ and „according to his likeness“.

It is a path, however, that must take into account the historical condition of man, who, despite this internal push towards God, feels the resistances of his finitude, and above all of his pride, who does not want to recognise himself dependent on the other. But when the Other is God, that is the Good, the Truth and the Love, recognising oneself as dependent is not humiliation, but elevation. Therefore, although he is surrounded by grace, from beginning to end, man remains free. Richard’s claims about human freedom are surprising, because „while rationality has been blurred and conditioned by sin, freedom has not been minimally compromised: man has remained free, despite being in a condition made weak by sin“ (p. XIV).

The Preface by Abbot Prof. Jean Chatillon (1912- +1988) of the Institut Catholique, Paris, is an excellent premise to the understanding of a text in many respects far from today’s sensibility, but for other aspects still current. Labelling Richard „as a great spiritual figure, perhaps one of the greatest, of a Christian Medieval time that included so many.“  Suffice it to recall that „until the time of Teresa of Avila, Richard was considered the reference point for mystical theology and the doctrine of contemplation“. This is confirmed by some very prestigious witnesses, for example, by Dante Aligheri, who in the 10th canto of Paradise, vv. 130-132, does not hesitate in affirming that Richard “a considerar fu più viro“, as well as St. Bonaventure himself, who considers him „‚master’ in contemplation“ (page XXI).

Regarding the translator, Father Antonio Orazzo S.J., we know how reliable his work is, given his long association with patristic and medieval authors. However, it deserves pointing out what he himself notes, that is, that for the biblical texts he followed his own translation, to make the commentary to the text uniform as it was read by Riccardo. Recourse to modern translations of the Bible, which are based on the Vulgate, as many do, are very often different from the Hebrew text, and can render the patristic or medieval author’s argument incomprehensible.

The Testimony of a Cenobite

dom ugo-maria
By Frá Ugo-Maria ESB (csr)

The monastery is a desert with as many dwellings as the number of elect that are called to remain in it. It is a populated desert, with a peculiar distribution of gifts and an organisation „its purpose is for the monks to be intimately united to Christ, because only in the intimate love of each one for the Lord Jesus can the peculiar gifts of the Eremitic vocation flourish.“

The dialogue with the Word has preceded us in everything. Without consulting our will and desire, it embodied our encouragement for consecration. And in the present continues to shape our future by diverse channels; the most ordinary of all, that of fraternal life. It is the place where Love is verified. In that school and in the school of the Word is where you learn what Love is.

The Prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict begins with this exhortation: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Listen carefully my son…

Benedict seems to say: that with the open “ear” one you will notice the abyss of their nothingness, where other will gird you and lift you upon the rungs of a ladder, to a new heaven which is yet to be explored. Guardini described Christian intimacy as a reality coming from the „Other“: the hidden Trinity, who is the one who creates it within man. To enable the monk to access this he must develop his sense of hearing more than any other. That is why he will be, is bound  to silence more than anyone else: Silence, is considered one of the most peculiar values of Contemplative Orders; assures the monk of solitude within the community; favours the remembrance of God and fraternal communion; open their mind to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit; which stimulates the attention of the heart and solitary prayer with God alone.

Why else would St. Bernard have said in one of his letters that „he had  learned more by working among the beeches of the forest than by reading many books“? Hard work, and silence for the contemplative, have always been, the „school“ of contemplation. Those who allow themselves to be instructed within that school, and allow themselves to be united with the Word, learn, above all, not to separate knowledge from surrender, and to make the most platitudinous „service of praise“.

Bro. Cellerar.

St. Benedict in „Qualifications of the Monastery Cellarer“ ch. 31 s. 14 of his Rule, reminds the cellarer of the monastery that „A kind word is better than the best gift (Cf. Sirach 18:17).“ When a brother who has asked for something „unreasonable“ is denied what he asks for, the kind word transforms a formal gesture of denial into a word of affirmation that exceeds our limited possibilities of good. In this way we cooperate with the „yes“ of Christ. He exceeds all measure of good.

All of us, to some extent have had experience of people away from everything „commonplace“ and self esteem, in extreme situations with no real apparent way out, yet have been a channel for hope. Neither was his donation born by a human calculation. To the one who in this way has been neighbour to his neighbours, a biblical psalm (Psalms 111:4) gives him the name of „merciful“ „compassionate“ and „just“. The righteous has been a risen „light“ in the midst of resistant darkness deserves the praise as „the righteous.“

In the school of Love, however, the „thorns of scandal“ are not lacking: Maintaining unity among the brothers depends on a mutual and sincere commitment to reconciliation so that the thorns of the scandals disappear from the community, the brothers will not hold any resentment, but will make peace as soon as possible with his brother in discord.

Benedict promptly encourages us to make peace with our brother in discord. This cannot always be achieved. When discord has sown wounds, such a situation can be metamorphosed into years of dissension. Although some rules of courtesy in the treatment of others are respected, the experience of isolation and emptiness leads to a partial death of the soul: what a contemporary author once called „the dark night of the cenobite.“ We have all gone through it. And, sometimes, we are not always left unharmed by the experience …

st. peter at capernaum
St Peter

When violence overwhelms tenderness, the Word does not cease its unrelenting fervour for reconciliation. It always works. To those who fall into a spiral of criticism and bitter disappointment about the common life, grace will ask them to imitate the sentiments of St. Peter in the synagogue of Capernaum before the harsh language shift in the Bread of Life discourse: for Peter its a hard language as well, upalatable, but, unlike those who leave, he knows that “words of eternal life” sometimes hide behind a pitiful appearance. It is advantageous to meditate upon this: „It is better to keep silence and be [a Christian] than to talk and not to be(Benedict XVI writes from Vatican City on Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise). In our Christian lives, our purpose is not about understanding what to do, but to be – to stay – to understand“; Cephas was one who chose to stay!

That is why a baptised person should never be easily removed from their path by any of their peers, even if the small „reasons“ that assist us confront us with that decision. Basically, deciding to stay in love – as William de Saint-Thierry says in a famous „Meditativae orationes“ [Meditations on Prayer], – is to have located the “place” at a specific time of the day and set up our tent there, just as Andrew and John the first disciples did: «Rabbi, where do you live?». „Come,“ said he, „and you will see.“ «Do not you think that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?». «We thank you, Lord, we have found your place: your place is the Father, and the place of your Father is you».

The hermits of Saint Bruno pray fervently that others young and old, may find that safe and secluded place which most seek.  We will never stop thanking the Lord for the gift of the vocation that he given us „not to put anything before“ Christ, and that He may bring us all together to Eternal Life.

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The Carthusians – Lower Franconia

This is a translation of Prof. James Hogg’s article in “Historisches Lexikon Bayerns” I do not take credit for the article other than it’s translation which I hope will do Prof. Hogg justice, assist other (non german speakers) to read his articles on the this fascinating austere Catholic Religious Order.  I therefore dedicate this translation to Prof. Hogg and to all the future Carthusians, their supporters and friends.  May the good Lord accompany you in your knowledge seeking walk and being always guided by the Holy Spirit.  Pax +


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The contemplative life according to St. Hildegard of Bingen – Part One

It should be remembered that until now the Church has always encouraged contemplative life for religious men and women. The separation from the world to religious life constitutes a state of perfect life and is necessary for the Mystici corporis Christi  (The Mystical Body of Christ) as a manifestation of one’s holiness and as a permanent source of grace.

The sanctuary of the cloisters of female contemplative life has been violated by the latest stipulations issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on womens contemplative life [June 29, 2016], and Cor Orans [April 1, 2018] the “Implementing Instruction of the Apostolic Constitution for “Vultum Dei” on Women’s Contemplative Life, as was explained in an Italian article by Veronica Rasponi “La distruzione dei Monasteri femminili”[The Destruction of Women’s Monasteries – our translation can be read here], published in «Corrispondenza Romana» on October 10th last, states that the sole purpose of the Apostolic Constitution was to cause harm to the founding principles of cloistered monasteries, and to the juridical autonomy (sui iuris) of each monastery.  Corrispondenza Romana call’s it the ‘Sovietisation’ of the monasteries.

It should be remembered that until now the Church has always encouraged contemplative life for religious men and women. The separation from the world to religious life constitutes a state of perfect life and is necessary for the Mystici corporis Christi  (The Mystical Body of Christ) as a manifestation of one’s holiness and as a permanent source of grace.

However, the enclosure regime means a separation from the world, and not from the society that the nuns support with their prayer and penance. Pius XII in the encyclical Sacra Virginitas of March 25, 1954, explains that the renunciation of the world by nuns, protected by enclosure, is not the equivalent of social desertion, but rather allows a wider service to be given to the Church and society.


The same Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi of 21 November 1950, foresaw a birth of the federations of monasteries, as an instrument to help revitalise  the life of some monastic communities which, following the war, had found themselves isolated and in difficulties. The experience did not turn out to be a happy one and should have imposed an abandonment of these forms of structures, by contrast under the pontificate of Pope Bergoglio it has increase exponentially, delivering a mortal blow to the institutions of female monasteries.

The word “monastery” enters into the Italian language during the first half of the XIII century, from the late Latin monastērĭum, from the Greek word μοναστήριον, of μοναστήριοςmonasterios from μονάζεινmonazein “to live alone” from the root μόνοςmonos “alone” (all Christian monks were originally hermits); the suffix “-terion” indicates a “place for doing something”. The earliest extant use of the term monastērion is by the Alexandrian philosopher Judaeus Philo On The Contemplative Life, ch. III.

The monastery, therefore, by its very nature, must be a place of solitude (separation from the profane world), of silence (care of the intimacy of the soul with the divine realities), of prayer (communication of the soul with the Most Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary), these persona’s, have always been the pillars upon which the very fabric of the claustral life was founded on.

But it is evident that the emergence of the “Federation of monasteries”, “Association of monasteries” and the “Confederation of monasteries” is a calculated obtrusion inflicted by the Vatican, which inevitably, undermine with the addition of an irregular hybridisation of external influences that are now present in every single cloisters – it is being perceived by many religious as a sort of “globalisation” connecting different monastic charisms (in this manner they become less and less monastic and are steadily absorbed by the diktats that are foreign to the abbey’s), furthermore the disperse and confusing “refresher courses” – eventuate the suffocation and repression of the sacred independence that the Church, in its wisdom, had until now defended the custody and protection of every single consecrated soul.

The life of the cloister is a self-giving to the Bridegroom Jesus, which implies transcending the world to set out on a privileged path of greater communion with God and, precisely by virtue of this communion, the nun, bride of Christ, intercedes for the people who live in society and for the redemption of souls. A mission, that is irreplaceable.

The Cor Orans document concerns all monasteries and its application was immediate from the moment of its publication (April 1, 2018). “The provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere for all the monasteries concerning their obligation to enter a Federation of monasteries also apply to other structures of communion such as the Association of monasteries or the Conference of monasteries;” “This obligation also applies to monasteries associated with a male institute or gathered as an autonomous monastic congregation;” “Individual monasteries must comply with this within one year of the publication of these Instructions, unless they have been legitimately dispensed;” «Once this period has elapsed, this Dicastery will assign monasteries to one of the Federations or to other existing structures of communion».

In the course of the history of the Church, when the places of contemplation have dwindled, the saints have reacted with force and determination to restore the reality that in the world represents a more perfect connection between heaven and earth, respecting the chronological order, of the teachings of three saints who made the contemplative life the sole reason for their existence, acting and reforming what did not work and thus becoming an exemplar prototype and teacher for the Church: Saint Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Teresa of Avila.

Doctor of the Church Hildegard von Bingen O.S.B. (1098- † 17 Sept., 1179), a Benedictine nun and abbess, was unyielding in bringing back prelates onto the right path, monks and nuns who transgressed the dictates of Tradition. A spokesperson of God, who admonished and taught by divine command. With regard to Hermann I von Arbon, O.S.B. († 20 Nov. 1165), Bishop of Konstanz [Constance], his cry of solicitous conversion is

Herman I von Arbon Bishop of Constance
Hermann von Arbon

manifest in order to be saved and to guide others to salvation: “Many workers [in the building of the Church] come to you and seek the narrow and narrow path. But you – according to the disposition of your heart – speak with magniloquent presumption and arouse indignation in their hearts. Turn from the darkness to the right way and enlighten the spirit of your heart so that the Father of everything does not turn to you saying: «You, mad, why do you go up on a support that you have not built?». For the day will throw in the darkness that man whose work does not follow the right path” (Gronau, E., 1991. Hildegard von Bingen, Stein am Rhein: Christiana Verl. p. 398).

Hildegard’s peregrination from one monastery to another, giving life and realism to the tired, dejected and demotivated in the face of arrogance of those with civil or ecclesiastical authority, who kept them in check using power and money. But in spite of the distortions and sins of men in the beloved Church, Hildegard did not lose her hope or her conviction. She not only took care of the great sinners in the Church, she also gave life to those who, for example, the abbess Sofia of the Benedictine monastery of Kitzingen, who felt tired and had wanted to abdicate her office.

This prophetess of the Church, therefore, helped individual children to rediscover, their own responsibility be they little or great, the vigour’s of the Faith and the beauty of working for the Kingdom of God. The echo’s of this teacher, who brought a new and healthy ferment, salt and flavour to the different ecclesiastical realities, which then spread throughout Europe.  

She urged the strengthening of the soul and bear the burden’s of work and of one’s duties; she called them to combat, inviting them to go against the will of the ecclesiastical and/or the civil authorities who argued against contemplative life according to the will of God. Se wrote to the abbess Sophia: “Accept these words by virtue of the true vision of the divine mysteries! O daughter, born of the man’s rib when God created man! Why do you incessantly suffer pain, so that your spirit is like the variable clouds carried by the storm, now it is clear how the light then suddenly darkens? This is your spirit because of the scandalous customs of those who do not shine before God. But you say: ‘I want a little peace, I want to make myself a place where the heart can find refuge, where the soul is at peace’. O daughter, it is not a merit before God to throw away the burden and abandon the flock, for your heart does not shine in that weakness which causes you so much pain because of the innocence of earthly life. You, on the other hand, must live because God’s grace wants it. So watch yourself from getting away from it and letting your spirit wander. May God help you, so that you may be alert in pure knowledge!”(Gronau, E., 1991. Hildegard von Bingen, Stein am Rhein: Christiana Verl., p.p. 383-384).

She sustained the weak and the wavering, at the same time she responded to the heretics, particularly the Cathars, and solved detailed and difficult theological questions that bishops, abbots and monks had placed on them. She submitted to the Lord the questions that were asked of her and the Light, which had from her childhood always accompanied her, presented her with the visions in which she received the answers. From Paris they wrote to have explanations, as did the Magister Odo of Cheriton († c. 1246), who at the Synod of Trier had heard Pope Eugene III read aloud the pages of the work of Edward Scivias, and for this reason wanted to get in touch with the author, at the end of solving the theological diatribe of those who denied that God is fatherhood and divinity together.

St. Hildegard’s relations with the Bishops of Trier were excellent, both with Bishop Hillin de Falemagne († October 23, 1169) and with Arnaut I de Vaucourt († May 25, 1183). There was a special bond that linked them to the Benedictine monastery of St. Eucharius [St. Matthias Abbey in Trier], the oldest in Germany. The life of the bishop-princes were extremely complex, their power divided between the temporal and the spiritual; the prince-bishop being both a bishop and civil ruler of a secular principality and suzerainty.

Their divided consciences were petitioned by the prophetic voice of the “Holy Mother” as it was called, to which Archbishop Hillin of Falmagne († October 23, 1169) pleading, as a “sinner”, to have some droplets of her words as spiritual comfort for his soul.  Hillin had engaged in correspondence with Hildegard, having approached her for advice and under his auspices had visited Trier, to preached a stern sermon to the clergy and people thereof.

Mother Hildegard did not allow herself to procrastinate: «So wisdom resounds and says: this is the lukewarm weather of the donnicciole […]. [ed. donnicciola: a fishwife, or woman of humble condition, or mean, ignorant: gossip; a sissy or a man with weak fearful disposition]. But now listen, o shepherd: divine justice holds you firmly because the grace of God has not penetrated you in vain. However, when you undertake a good work, you tire quickly. Even when, summoned to the festive Mass, leading in prayer, you soon tire [ed. that is, during the Mass his mind wandered and his temporal thoughts intruded.]. […]. The tower is assigned to you [ed. the diocese]. Protect the tower and cause the whole city not to be ruined and destroyed. So watch out, keep the discipline with an iron sceptre and educate yourself. Grease the wounds of those who have entrusted themselves to you». Hildegard spoke of the negligence, corruption and misuse of power by the clergymen; her words regarding the hierarchy of the Church were anything but reassuring: she unrelentingly denounced the evils present in the church and her words reverberate like thunder within it.

Corrupt Clergy
Corrupt Bishops and Clergy…

So corrupt was the situation, both from a doctrinal and moral point of view, of the dioceses and monasteries in Germany, that the Lord allowed her to leave the cloister to reproach those who did not do their duty. On her first long journey, which she achieved when she was almost sixty years old, she had crossed the entire region of the Main River to Bamberg and Steigerwald (1158-1159). In 1160, during an illness that lasted three years, he reached the mountainous region of Hunsrück towards Trier, descending the Moselle to Metz, in the Lotaringia towards Krauftal, near Saverne.

Journey Made by Hildegard von Bingen Between 1158-1171 A.D.,
Journey Made by Hildegard von Bingen Between 1158-1171 A.D.

The third journey (1161-1163) led her to travel the Rhine in the direction of Cologne; then she reached Werden on the Rurh and, probably, Liege. Later she was seized by another disease that lasted three years, forcing her to bed and between 1170 and 1171 undertook the last journey of her life, in Swabia, above Maulbronn, Hirsau, Kircheim, up to Zwiefalten. It took a lot of physical and mental effort to scold monks and nuns, abbots and abbesses in an attempt to re-establish monastic discipline and order. Alas, it was not enough, she publicly preached conversion and penance, she did it on the road she travelled, in the marketplaces of the cities she visited, or in the great churches, in front of the clergy and the faithful.

This is what the Lord requires and this she willingly gives, remaining a cloistered nun, despite serving an itinerant apostolate, aimed at healing, with rigour, those who have been gravely and dramatically led astray. And her labours produced the prodigious fruits of a return to the spiritual and ecclesiastical order for the good of the Church and of civilisation, according to what is due to our Creator.

The destruction of female Monasteries

A literal or metaphrase (word-for-word) translation by a Hermit of Saint Bruno of the article “La distruzione dei Monasteri femminili” by Veronica Rasponi of Corrispondenza Romana.

monache di clausura
The Clarisse of Terni behind their enclosure.

(by Veronica Rasponi) The destruction of the female Monasteries is under way. Ever since the constitution on the contemplative life Vultum Dei quaerere appeared on 29 June 2016, The Corrispondenza Romana has denounced the program of the “sovietisation” of the Monasteries.

Now a further step have been taken by the Cor Orans instruction on the contemplative life of women, on April 1, 2018, which constitutes an application of the previous document. Few, with the exception of Vatican expert Aldo Maria Valli, who has dedicated three articles to this topic on his blog, have been aware of the gravity of the danger.

It should be remembered that the Church has always encouraged the contemplative life of religious men and women. The separation from the world of religious life constitutes a state of perfect life and is necessary for the Mystical Body of Christ as a manifestation of one’s holiness and as a permanent source of grace.

One of the main characteristics of the monastic communities was their legal configuration. According to the Church’s tradition, female monasteries are sui juris, i.e., autonomous and independent houses in relation to their internal regime.

The only form of dependency that they have is that from the bishop or, in some cases, from the superior of the male branch of the same order. This configuration reflects the proprium of each monastery, which is the separation from profane society. Monaco (monk) means “only”: solitude, and prayer are the pillars on which every monastery lives.

However, the enclosure regime means a separation from the world, not from the society that the nuns support with their prayer and penance. Thus Pius XII in the encyclical Sacra Virginitas of March 25, 1954, explains that the renunciation of the world of nuns, protected by enclosure, is not equivalent to social desertion, but rather allows a wider service given to the Church and society.

The same Pius XII, with the Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi of 21 November 1950, foresaw the birth of federations of monasteries, as an instrument to help the life of some monastic communities which, following the war, had found themselves isolated and in material difficulties. The experience did not turn out to be happy and would have suggested the abandonment of these structures, which instead under the pontificate of Pope Francis have multiplied, affecting a mortal blow to the female monasteries.

The new discipline envisaged by Cor Orans wants to suppress any form of legal autonomy, to create macro-communities presented as “structures of communion”. A series of bureaucratic and cumbersome organizations are born, which the Pontifical Instruction punctiliously lists.

We have the Federation of monasteries, because “in the sharing of the same charism the federated monasteries overcome isolation and promote regular observance and contemplative life” (n.7); the Association of monasteries, because “in sharing the same charism, the associated monasteries collaborate with each other” (No. 8); the Conference of monasteries, “in order to promote contemplative life and to foster collaboration among monasteries in particular geographical or linguistic contexts” (No. 9): the Confederation, as a “connecting structure between federations of monasteries for the study of topics related to the contemplative life in relation to the same charism, to give a unitary direction and a certain coordination to the activity of the single Federations »(n.10); the International Commission, as a “centralized body of service and study for the benefit of the nuns of the same Institute, for the study of themes relating to the contemplative life in relation to the same charism” (No. 11). Finally, we have the monastic Congregation, which is a “structure of government among several autonomous monasteries of the same Institute, under the authority of a President who is Superior Superior and of a general chapter which is the highest authority in the monastic Congregation” (No. 12). Missing only the Federal Assembly. Recites n. 133: “The communion that exists between the monasteries becomes visible in the Federal Assembly, a sign of unity in charity that has the primary task of protecting the charismatic patrimony of the Institute among the federated monasteries and promoting an adequate renewal that harmonizes with it. except that no Federation of monasteries of nuns or Confederation of federations represents the entire Institute “.

Membership of these bureaucratic bodies is mandatory. In the final provisions of Cor Orans it is specified that “what is laid down in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere for all the monasteries about the obligation to enter a Federation of monasteries also applies to another structure of communion such as the Association of monasteries or the Conference of monasteries”.

With the obligation of having to belong to these structures the monasteries lose, de facto even if not de iure, their autonomy to flow into an anonymous mass of macro-communities within which they organise training courses, debates, refresher meetings, moments of comparison that will see the nuns enter and leave the monasteries to live in a situation of perennial psychological and material instability.

Each community is called to develop a systematic and integral permanent formation program that embraces the whole person’s existence. The sisters need this “ongoing formation” to cultivate “the spiritual, doctrinal and professional capacity, the updating and maturation of the contemplative, so that it can carry out its service to the monastery, to the Church and to the world in an increasingly adequate manner.” (No. 236).

Every nun “is encouraged to take responsibility for her own human, Christian and charismatic growth, through the project of personal life, dialogue with the sisters of the monastic community and in particular with her major Superior” (No. 237).

The responsibility of formation belongs to the Major Superior, “who promotes the ongoing formation of the community through the Conventual Chapter, the days of retreat, the annual spiritual exercises, the sharing of the word of God, periodic revisions of life, recreations in common, days of study, personal dialogue with the sisters, fraternal meetings” (No. 238).

In order to guarantee this formation, the same papal enclosure is in fact abolished, because it also gives permission to enter the monastery to those whose skills are necessary for formation (No. 203), or to create chaos within the community.

The key words are “overcoming isolation” (n.7), “dynamic fidelity to one’s own charism” (n.70), the “undeniable value of communion” (n.86). Where these elements are missing, the monasteries can be suppressed. In those who survive, the atmosphere of peace, recollection and order that has reigned there has to be destroyed. Those who live in monasteries and those who aspire to enter it you have been warned.

At one time the nuns longed for diocesan canonical recognition and then for the pontifical recognition as the supreme guarantee of the stability of their life in common. Today, those who aspire to contemplative life and do not want to lose their vocation will be better oriented towards the establishment of de facto religious associations, independent of ecclesiastical authority, taking care not to ask for that canonical recognition that would mark the end of their spiritual life. (Veronica Rasponi)

Historically the Vatican has already caused its own version of the protestant led dissolution of monasteries.  The Sisters of Auerbach in Germany, the contemplative sisters of Saint John a French Catholic community founded by Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe at Fribourg in Switzerland, and the 15 dissolved cloisters of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate in Italy. With a Rescriptum ex Audientia: prior consultation with the Holy See for the erection of diocesan institutes, 20.05.2016, which was made public only last May 11th, Pope Francis has revoked the previously sui iuris in church history of the right of a diocesan bishops to recognise a new religious community. The approval of the Holy See was given on June 1. With this Rescript, Francis noted that the establishment of an order by a diocesan bishop without the prior consent of Rome will be considered as null and void. [Editor]


A day with Archbishop Don. Francisco Senra Coelho at the Cartuja de Santa María de Scala Coeli at Evora.

Cartuja de Santa María de Scala Coeli is an exceptional space of silence and spiritual exaltation.  



Archbishop Don. Francisco Senra Coelho

The Holy Father appointed Rev. Can., Francisco José Villas-Boas Senra de Faria Coelho, of the clergy of the Archdiocese of Évora as the Auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Braga (Portugal). He was installed into his See on the 2 September 2018.

D. Francisco Senra Coelho, has always been a great friend and admirer of the Carthusian Order and of the Cartuja de Santa María de Scala Coeli at Evora.  The Carthusians due to their strict enclosure rule could not attend the Archbishops instillation, so they invited His Excellency to preside at the solemn feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturday 8 September at the Charterhouse of Santa Maria instead.

D. Francisco Senra Coelho was delighted to accept the invitation of his friends the monks,  concelebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy.  After the Mass he shared lunch with some monks in the refectory which is traditionally eaten in silence.  After lunch D. Francisco then spoke with the Prior, monks and brothers, calling all present to mind that he was their parish priest and had prepared for his episcopal consecration at the Charterhouse with a spiritual retreat. The monks wished that this video of the Holy Mass be shared! Here.

Cartuja de Santa María de Scala Coeli is an exceptional space of silence and spiritual exaltation.  

The Monastery of the Cartuja was built at Evora between 1587 and 1598 by the Archbishop of Evora D. Teotónio de Bragança (1578-† 1602) of the House of Braganza, whom, whilst archbishop, had the monastery church artistically enriched. The church was declared a national monument in 1910.

It is here that the Carthusian monks lead a solitary life of prayer, dating from 1598.

The monastery is near Évora and its bell, especially the midnight bell, which is part of the allure, and now designated as a world heritage site. Today the Carthusian Monastery of Santa Maria Scala Coeli is considered by the Evoran citizens as one of its spiritual and artistic treasures.

In 1834, the revolutionary forces expelled the Carthusians, along with all religious. The monastery came under the ownership of the State which turned it into agricultural school (the monumental church served as a barn …). In 1871 the Eugénio de Almeida family bought the ruins from the State.

In the middle of the 20th century, Vasco Maria Count of Villalva, decided to restore the monastery and return it to the Order of St. Bruno. Seven founders in 1587 and seven restorers in 1960. The restoration to the Carthusian Monks was initiated in 1960, at the invitation of the Foundation’s Institution, who, for this purpose, undertook extensive reconstruction and restoration of the building. 

This simple but deep and exalted life, divine life in its term, although human in its conditioning, develops in the ample monastery, open to the Alentejo sky, seems cheerful with its lime walls and the evergreen plants, orange trees, cypresses, boxwood, myrtle, is a “desert” of 80-hectares surrounding and sheltering the house, with eucalyptus, cork oaks, olive trees and pastures for the white cows and helps to create a favourable environment for union with God. It is precisely this union with the Lord that kindles charity within their hearts, which moves them to pray intensely for the salvation of all mankind and also leads them to unite intimately with the other solitaries whom they live in the monastery.  This union is practiced and expressed on Feast days, which they celebrate with frequent community events: they sing in the church, they eat together, they talk in the afternoon. Every other week in the afternoon a they take a walk called the “Spatiamentum” talking among themselves, through the breathtaking Alentejo countryside, which to the north of the city is uninhabited and deserted.

It is a place of simplicity, silence, prayer and contemplation, and is currently the only Carthusian presence in Portugal.  This union is practiced and expressed at parties, which they celebrate with more frequent community acts: they sing longer in the church, they eat together, they talk in the afternoon. Another afternoon a week they take a walk, talking among themselves, through the Alentejo countryside, which to the north of the city are uninhabited and deserted.

And so Carthusian life was reborn and revived at Santa Maria Scala Coeli, and it once again opened its doors to the Noviciate.

You can read more about this event at Cartusialover here there is an online translator on this website on the top left hand corner which will translate it into your desired language.

From various sources.

Bernard of Clairvaux to the Abbots*

Bernard distinguished the abbots as vicars of Christ and the apostles. So he addressed them with titles such as: His Holiness, His Greatness, Reverend, Powerful, etc. However such titles were a bête noire to him which he feared and rejected, feeling uncomfortable when addressed to him in such a manner. Since being called “father” (abbot) or “lord” (abbot) is not in any way an honorific, but a burden that entails precarious responsibilities. In his own words: “there is only one father, the Heavenly Father, for that reason and taking into account our common origin and human condition, we are all brothers and companions in servitude”.

To see the article with complete footnotes please click here

[* Cuadernos Monásticos 70-71 (1984) 381-391]


ernard of Clairvaux O.Cist., (1090- †20 August 1153) wrote the guide “On consideration” for Pope Eugene III, an outline of the Rule for the Knights Templar, and summarised the duties of bishops, but he did not write a manual for abbots, although numerous times he referred to them and their obligations in his writings. Piecing together these references we will acquire an imposing picture on the foundation of abbots according to St. Bernard. His teachings ingeniously complement those of St. Benedict and also evinces a positive perspective of the first generations of cistercians, at a time when the role and office of the abbot underwent considerable reforms (for example in Cluny) or where totally abolished (among the Carthusians), which offers a extraordinary and contemporary interpretation, not only to the Cistercians of the 20th century, but “mutatis mutandis” to all those who discharge authority, over their jurisdiction and prudent exercise.

Bernard distinguished the abbots as vicars of Christ and the apostles. So he addressed them with titles such as: His Holiness, His Greatness, Reverend, Powerful, etc. However such titles were a bête noire to him which he feared and rejected, feeling uncomfortable when addressed to him in such a manner. Since being called “father” (abbot) or “lord” (abbot) is not in any way an honorific, but a burden that entails precarious responsibilities. In his own words: “there is only one father, the Heavenly Father, for that reason and taking into account our common origin and human condition, we are all brothers and companions in servitude”.

That being so the abbot is not so much a father but an equal, a self-sacrificing brother, a faithful co-worker, a partner. He must be, of course, imbued with affection like a father, but he should not aspire to the prerogatives of a patriarch, since his function is not one of domination but of encouragement, for example providing support and strength to his brothers. And this taking into account that the monks are, in general, good people, who do not need the tutelage of a father, while he, the abbot, can not do without their support.

St. Bernard hoped that a future abbot would have spent a sufficient period of time in the Order, acquiring abundant virtues and merit, and if he did not have them, he would have to procure them expeditiously. A candidate guilty of serious transgression should not be excluded as such, but should be allowed to spend some time in healthy penance, allowing him to recompose his conscience before accepting the care of others. Bernard also warned that young people chosen for office tend to evade regular discipline more than discharging what actually corresponds to their new responsibilities. Then, before accepting the abbatial position, the candidate should review his past and be sure of his present strength, and especially his knowledge and experience in the management of the spiritual life of others. Since a shepherd in charge of the welfare of his flock should be healthier and stronger than his sheep, it would be shameful if he were inferior to his monks in virtue. He should be a comfort for everyone, and should not seek solace in others.

This examination of conscience should reveal a sequence of specific gifts that indicate his will and competence to fulfil his role according to God’s will.

Bernard made a general list of prerequisites: personal holiness, humility, altruism, zeal and discretion. On one occasion he spoke of even more detailed qualifications: a candidate must be imbued with a spirit of compunction that will lead him to fight habits that are routinely entrenched. Zeal or fervour will give you a cheerful aspect, since our God is a God of mercy. As an expert in fasting, vigils and mortifications, you must know the proper food for the body. As a man of prayer, what is the necessary complement of diet, he will remain averse to the senses and thus be more pleasing in the eyes of God. Sated with such food and drink, it will become intrinsic to rest in contemplation and the vision of God. Finally, his fervour, prudence and firmness must be based on love, which he must receive from Love itself, God. (In practical terms it is a good choice if approved by the good and rejected by the wicked).

The above implies that the future efficiency of the candidate depends on how he manages to keep his own soul in good order.

That he must be a good guardian of himself is clear from the very nature of his function, since he is responsible for the salvation of all those entrusted to him and must render an account to God for them. If he is deficient in any way, he will not be able to contribute what he owes to those in his charge and he would also greatly displease God. Therefore he must be able to control himself, in order to know how to treat and guide others since everything that is allowed is not always the most profitable.

He must take care that he has been chosen by his brothers, not to take care of himself, but to be their guide, and he must fight hard to emulate those in his charge, making their virtues his own and fulfilling in advance that he ordain his people.

From this it can be deduced that the abbatial office does not confer a privileged “status” to the person chosen by the brothers, since he is not an abbot he will not dress in splendid clothes or use layers of luxury, nor will he surround himself with a court of subjects. There is no reason for you to change your bed of straw for another with ornaments or mattresses of colours and imported coverages, nor will your office require special ornaments – goblets or candlesticks of gold or silver – or different cloths, since the election of an abbot does not inaugurate them as lords of castles or princes of territories, but custodians of monasteries and shepherds of souls.

Accordingly, the abbot is not placed above his monks, but at the head of them. He never ceases to be a monk, since he has also made his vows as such. The truth is that the vocation makes the monk, while the abbot is only “product” of necessity. Since he remains a monk, the abbot continues with his vow of obedience. The greater your position, the greater your need for humility. If he were his own master would be subject to a fool. He will be able to preside, command and expect obedience from his monks only if he is, in turn, obedient. Therefore, it would be abhorrent that he himself fails to do what he commands others or demands obedience from his monks while disobeying his own superiors. Refusing obedience to his superiors, not getting along with his peers or not being willing to serve the least of the needs of his monks would invalidate his prelature accordingly.

Above all the abbot must obey the Rule of St. Benedict; he is not above or outside, but under that Rule. This means that he cannot follow his own will, nor manipulate the Rule at will in order to achieve his own desires.

You should not play with the Rule but follow it and fulfil it in all its details. Fulfilling his mandates, he will also obey the traditions of the Fathers and submit to the authority of the local bishop.

Last but not least, he must take care of his role within his vocation as a monk, respecting the wishes of his brothers gathered in Chapter and observing the laws of his Order.

Regarding the obedience that the monks owe to their abbot, Bernard stressed that the brothers do not promise blind obedience, but obedience as specified in the Rule. The monk makes his profession before the abbot, but not at his will, and his vow of stability does not imply a blind subjection to the abbot. Of course the abbot will be obeyed in everything, but only in the context of the monastic profession, and the work of the abbot is to pave and not hinder such compliance.

Consequently, he should not disapprove of what the monk promised in his vows nor demand more than promised.

The monastic profession is very similar to a contract that involves mutual obligations: the monk makes a vow of obedience to the abbot as specified in the Rule, the abbot promises to faithfully care for his professed and both agree to fulfil this common pact with firm resolve.


Consequently, the office of abbot is of service. As St. Bernard expressed it: domination is forbidden, what is necessary is the ministry, such is the teaching of the apostles. The abbot is simply another Joseph who takes the place of the Bridegroom; although called father he is only an administrator, a distributor (of justice), a guardian, who displays the affection and not the power of a father. He must not dominate his sheep but keep the wolves from the flock and take them to safe pastures. He must stop the wolves, not dominate his sheep despotically. He has been charged with nourishing, not oppressing his flock. For this reason he will try not to overwhelm or subjugate his monks, but, rather, to submit himself to the exhausting task of guiding them to their salvation.

He is not “superior” in the literal sense of the word but the “superior in charge of his well-being”, for example; responsible for cultivating their virtues and eradicating their vices. Then, he must provide rather than preside, he must stimulate rather than oppress his monks, on the road to perfection.

Immediately after his election the abbot receives the vow of obedience from his monks, in other words, he assumes the care of his brothers. As their pastor, he should not seek his own welfare or honours in the world, nor administer his monks according to his own preferences or the selfish inclinations of those, but strive to please God and serve their souls. Consequently, he must nourish them with the mind, the word and by action, that is, with prayers, with healthy exhortations and by good examples. His administration will include the services of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, that is, work, prayer and sacrifice. Denying himself, he will be everything to everyone, offering himself generously to the deficient as well as to the advantaged. He will praise and congratulate, forgive the repentant, raise the lazy, repress the reckless, comfort the weak and help all to persevere on the path that leads to salvation.

Since this responsibility includes the duty to instruct his monks on how to advance and persevere on the path of salvation, he will have to be instructed to be prudent in these matters, since his office will be sterile if he, the abbot, did not have such knowledge. Of course he will not present his own teachings which would make him guilty of pride, but he will speak with words of Divine Eloquence, with virtue and spiritual life.

But even so, this knowledge is insufficient: it would be rather an obstacle if it were not sustained by a virtuous life; a good example, the ability to observe oneself, and the ability to learn from oneself and others. Because an abbot must fulfil what he preaches, he must know and act, he must teach by example. His teaching will be effective, if it is transmitted not only with words but with acts, his own rather than those of others, and if he remains aware that the fact of possessing this knowledge is not the fruit of his own work but a gift from God. Aware of this, he will see himself, not as a teacher, but as a prophet who teaches how to exterminate vices, as an evangelist who nurtures and teaches with word and example and, above all, with prayer.

Being the guardian of the city, the abbot must be a strong man and, if necessary, a good fighter. He will have to strengthen his defences to avoid any damage or malfunction, and will have to expel intruders.

He has the duty to be the watchful custodian of his monks, so that before the temptations of the devil they keep their strength, do not lose courage, and are not defeated. If he is a strong man, he will expertly detect the deceptions of the devil and will quickly repel his attacks.

In the execution of his responsibilities he must also administer discipline, correct manners, foresee deficiencies and deal with all kinds of transgressions. However, he must never act as a mere administrator of discipline but must see himself as a doctor who prepares a remedy, rather than someone who applies a sanction, to his sick herd. He is a doctor, not a gentleman; a father, not a judge; a comforter, not an avenger. Using the rod  against the wolves, he will direct his sheep with his crozier [staff]: stimulating more than forcing, in order to lead the wayward and order the rebel. Reserve the blows for the wolves.

Consequently, he will proceed with the loving care of a mother and, like a father, he will act without severity, indignation or contempt both in his manner of speaking and in his countenance.

Avoiding all kinds of deception, he should be careful and guided only by affection. His mercy shall prevail over his justice. In this way his discipline will be paternal, not tyrannical: he will use kindness, he will abolish severity and punishment, he will offer instead the tenderness of his heart. According to the needs of the individual, he will approach the suffering brother with simplicity and love, with gentleness, salutary reprimands, private reprimands, public exhortations or disapprovals, and with that even more effective: his own prayers and the prayers of his community. Remembering that a friend’s rebuke is better than the kiss of an enemy, his words should have the nuance of a worried friend or a prudent father who does not want to increase the burden of his suffering son.

If in spite of such efforts the guilty remains obstinate, it will be necessary to use far stronger remedies: harsh words and even corporal punishment, because nothing will be so hard that it does not yield to something harder than it. If this had no effect, the abbot would not have no other course but to expel the culprit, because one rotten apple could contaminate your entire community.

To promote the welfare of his brothers, the abbot must also attend to the temporal affairs and goods of the monastery; He has the obligation to ensure its conservation and maintenance, and to preserve, protect and increase its possessions. But in the fulfilment of such tasks the abbot must not fall into pettiness or lose himself in trifles. Under no pretext should he allow himself an attachment to money, since the person who counts his money every day or asks for continuous justification of trifles, will fall prey to the fever of suspicion.

Of course, an abbot does not need money so he must treat it as if he did not have it, and spend it, not according to his fantasies, but in meeting the real needs. Money, which is not good or bad in itself, is reprehensible if it is misused, accumulated or squandered without meaning. Then, far from honouring Christ, he would create addicts surrendered Mammon.

The abbot should, therefore, be concerned about important matters and so, by handling the temporary affairs of the monastery, he will always place the welfare of souls above any other occupation. While striving to repair buildings and improve the monastery’s possessions, he will devote most of his time to moral reforms, and leave the details of temporary administration to his associates.

These associates or assistants should preferably be elderly people, not so much in years as in personality, that is, brothers who love the abbot and are well tested in their religious life. The more they help you, the greater your benefit will be. If they are good people, they will benefit more than anyone, but if they are not, it will be he who loses the most, since good people, stained by evil, are always dangerous.

In his wisdom, Saint Bernard wished the abbot to work on everything with advisors, as ordered by the Rule of Saint Benedict. The abbot had to listen to the opinions of his brothers before making a decision, because once an operation started, it would sometimes be difficult to belatedly undo it. Nor should he hesitate to renounce a decision he had taken on his own, if the brothers meeting in Council had reservations about it.

According to this, Bernard allowed his brothers to direct him and admitted, without reservations, that he had overly trusted his own criteria. He was convinced that all would consent to decisions taken through such consultations and that the authority of the abbot, which according to the Rule should always prevail, would not only be sustained but strengthened in that process.

This shows that the abbatial office has its risks and dangers. According to Bernard, a higher-level occupation is not automatically a risk-free occupation. Just as it is true that there are some ranks and places of honour within the Church, these do not justify any rejoicing in their achievement, but rather they must be a source of fear, given the danger of pride and the possibility of failure, which would lead to the failure of many.

The traps of the trade

Bernard described the “deplorable behaviour” of some abbots in great detail: some assume a solemn aspect, but act with levity; others display great authority, but their stability is precarious. Others have a splendid manner of preaching, but works slothfully, they converse a lot and proffer little. They constantly defend their dignity, yet do not worry about their own sanctity. They think only of power and do not fear God. They are permissive with themselves, but punish others with great severity. In their arbitrariness they order one thing first and then its opposite. They argue expertly in palaces and courts, but they have little regard for the laws of God. They act like princes of castles and forget that they are parents of monks. They appear as the Husband, but they are mere guardians. They are greedy for money, but they stop making profit on what is really appertains to them. They present themselves with gold and bubbles yet steal from the poor what belongs to them. They emptied the purses of their subjects, but have not emptied them of their vices. They rationale the pontifical insignia for themselves, and forget that St. Benedict gave his monks the twelve degrees of humility. They expect obedience from their monks, but are not willing to obey their bishop; They even seek to be exempted from this, through an expensive gift. They are more interested in power than in justice, and with independence move outside of the watchful eye of the Supreme Shepherd, and in this way prove that they are not monks because they refuse to be one who is obligated by obedience.

Some abbots excuse their lack of action by explaining that they are new to the trade and therefore lack experience. Bernard condemned this false humility by reminding such abbots that his is a ministry of generosity. An abbot is a debtor. Discarding sterile fears and false humility, you must give, give immediately and give without reservations.

Needless to say, it is important that an abbot knows how to deal with flatterers, because if he listens to them he will be more disappointed with himself than with those who do so. You must avoid them because they are superficial, insincere and overlapping detractors of the truth; their flattery could deceive you, their praise will not make you a better person nor his reproaches condemn you.

Nevertheless, they do not seek out the person but his possessions; They give words and extract gifts. Although they cleverly intend to make petitions of a general nature, yet always look for something well defined for their own benefit. And although they offer honey and oil with sweetness, they are poisonous and deadly, they should be treated like scorpions: without fearing their heads but taking care of the stingers of their tail. (An abbot should not tolerate even a well-meaning compliment, but ask his monks to judge his actions).

Considering such experiences, Bernard had to consider what attitude a monk should take with an abbot unworthy of such an office: should he stay in the monastery and be consumed by bitterness and malice, or should he seek peace elsewhere, for example, being transferred to another monastery and thus break your vow of stability? Bernard articulates in response the general principle that the monk must obey not “simpliciter”, but as specified in the Rule and by his profession. As a result, when an abbot orders “vice Dei” anything pleasing to God must be taken even from the unworthy superiors as God must be obeyed, because of Him from whom emanates all authority and power a monk in this condition should stay in his monastery and follow the mandate of the Gospel when he refers to the scribes and Pharisees: what they tell you to do but do not imitate their actions, or do what they say but not what they do, but if there is conflict, if an abbot orders something bad or omits something good, then the safest and best thing is not to offend God, obeying such orders disobeys God and subverts the correct order, leaving aside the supreme good to fulfil something unworthy or inferior. Finally the really sinful things or injurious acts cannot be legitimately ordered, therefore not fulfilling them does not violate the law of obedience.

The issue of choosing abbots for a limited time was not originated in the twelfth century; It is a more modern occurrence. But a large number of abbots, among them Cistercians, resigned their office in Bernard’s time for various reasons. Some reasons were apparently valid and important: to retire to the “desert,” to seek a life of greater poverty, to prepare for death. Others wanted to join Clairvaux under their charismatic leader, or driven by the fervour of the crusade had felt the need to move to the Holy Land. Others were also promoted to ecclesiastical office, the episcopate or the cardinalate. Finally some, overwhelmed by the magnitude of their responsibilities, did not feel capable of the responsibility. Bernard saw these incidents as an escape of their duties that would lead to serious consequences. He saw this as a cruel desertion of his brothers, as a rejection of burdens and responsibilities, and a preference for their own interests at the expense of what had been entrusted to them. A vineyard without a keeper will be exposed to wild beasts. A renunciate abbot is like a tree uprooted, with his exposed roots will not produce fruit, and if he has made a hasty decision it will adversely affect him for the rest of his life, since he may have yielded to the devil who tends to suggest something today and something different in the morning. To renounce is, moreover, an act of disobedience, since the thought of submitting to another master is simply false humility. Even the renunciation of his office to prepare better for his death is nothing more than an abandonment of his duty. The abbot who abandons his function also damages his Order, devastates his monastery and sets a harmful precedent for others. Therefore he must remain with his chosen “Wife”, his monastery and his brothers, there he will find what he really needs: peace and serenity of spirit.

In accordance with the above, Bernard insisted that the function of abbot only ceased upon his death or dismissal, in case he was not beneficial or profitable in the performance of his office.

Bernard measured the duty term of an abbot not in years but in the utility that he could lend to his brothers, a surprisingly modern day boy’s belief that he shared with the first Cistercians.

In spite of their misgivings, the abbots renounced their office and Bernard did not stop advising them on how old superiors should return to be disciples. He advised them to lead a simple life among their brothers, to be obedient to young and old as ordered by the Rule, and to treat everyone with humility and kindness, not expecting honours or preferences in consideration of their former state but to remain even more humble than any of the brothers.

From these reflections and thoughts, San Bernardo came to the conclusion that the office of abbot, although sublime, is not simple. The patrimony of an abbot is not glory or wealth, as some may think, but the cross of Christ and a host of obligations.

An abbot must work more than others and, in human terms, be satisfied with much less than others. Furthermore, he will never be able to complete all his projects, but he must leave achievements to his successors. If the magnitude of his duties discourages him, he will find strength in the certainty that he is working in the vineyard of the Lord, continuing the works of the prophets and the apostles and always being assisted by divine grace. You should also always think about the reward and blessings that await you. Since abbots and shepherds are friends of the Husband or to quote Saint Bernard, as he corrected himself: “No, I said too little, they are sponsi amicissimi”.


As previous investigations have shown, the statements of Saint Bernard in regard to the abbots are truly of a broad nature. The Abbot of Clairvaux spoke not only about the qualities, duties and responsibilities of the abbots, but also about their burdens and temptations as well as their resources and rewards. As he always had to work on real situations, his ideas are eminently practical. Bernard did not love pure abstraction, rather in his discourses he showed how to live. And he stressed that the abbatial office is of service and ministry, and a task totally dedicated to the care and healing of souls, through word, example and prayer.

Obviously, Bernard did not pioneer new teachings: Saint Benedict had already exhorted that the abbot of a monastery should not be an independent hierarch but a “representative” of Christ at the service of his brothers. As Christ must be a good shepherd, a doctor who helps to recover health, a faithful administrator of the appurtenances of God.

Avoiding all oppressiveness or imposition, should not seek the reward of “praeesse” but the joys of “prodesse”, for example, help your brothers to advance along the path of salvation of the Gospel.

With his genius Bernard showed how the image of an abbot delineated by Saint Benedict, should be understood in all its aspects and dimensions. In this way he provided a much-needed lesson not only to his contemporaries, but also to the moral strength of his teachings to all the monks of the twentieth century.

Translation from Spanish to English by: Fr. Ugo-Maria Ginex ESB – Eremo Santa Maria, Cantuariensis.

Nel grande silenzio con San Bruno il Certosino

Tuttavia, in uno di quei momenti dove la realtà supera la fantasia di cui la nostra Chiesa è piena, il Beato Papa Urbano aveva sentito parlare del grande lavoro che il suo ex maestro, il santo Bruno, stava facendo in Chartreuse e lo convocò a Roma come una sorta di consulente personale. (Il suo ruolo esatto non è stato chiaro). Il guadagno di Roma fu certamente la perdita di Chartreuse: anzi, sembrava impossibile immaginare come questo nascente monastero eremita potesse sopravvivere senza il suo fondatore.

❝Separati da tutti, siamo uniti a tutti, per stare a nome di tutti al cospetto del Dio vivente.❞ Statuti 34.2

Nel pantheon degli ordini religiosi cattolici – Carmelitani, Clarettiani, Camoldoli, Cistercense, Cappuccini e Francescani Conventuali, Cluniacensi, Canonici Regolari, Chierici Regolari (Barnabiti) – I Certosini si distinguono come uno dei più antichi e più austeri ordini millenari.

Stat Crux Dum Voltitus Orbis

I certosini sono, in effetti, così lontani dal “mondo” che non permettono visitatori, ritiranti o oblati. Lavorano e pregano, pregano e lavorano su un modello a due livelli: i monaci del coro pregano come eremiti quasi senza sosta – tutte le ore liturgiche e il Piccolo ufficio della Beata Vergine Maria, la Messa quotidiana e il Rosario – mentre i monaci laici mantengono il monastero (o “certosa”) canticchiando rendendo possibile ai loro fratelli del coro di pregare giorno e notte. Tutti i monaci, i certosini consacrano la loro vita interamente alla preghiera, per lavorare alla propria salvezza e a quella di tutta la Chiesa. Quest’Ordine contemplativo si fonda soprattutto su tre elementi:

+ la solitudine e il silenzio
+ la vita comunitaria come complemento di quella solitaria
+ una liturgia propria

Come la loro stessa letteratura recita: “Chi è chiamato a una vita come questa?” Non molte persone. C’è anche un monastero certosino negli Stati Uniti: la certosa della Trasfigurazione nel Vermont. Oggi l’ordine conta circa 450 monaci e monache e dispone di 24 monasteri in Europa e in America, in ognuno dei quali si vive la stessa vocazione contemplativa. La solitudine, vissuta per Dio solo, implica la separazione dal mondo, realizzata mediante la clausura, che si traduce, tra l’altro, in:

+ una sola uscita settimanale, per il passeggio comune “spaziamento”
+ nessune visite
+ nessun apostolato esercitato all’esterno
+ assenza di radio, televisione e giornali

Se i certosini hanno lasciato il mondo, non per questo sono diventati puro spirito. Devono pertanto sovvenire a tutti i bisogni propri della natura umana, anche se con austerità. Sono i fratelli a farsi carico di gran parte di questi impegni, ma anche i monaci del chiostro assicurano il loro aiuto; d’altronde ciò viene fatto sia per sovvenire alle necessità che per mantenere un certo equilibrio fisico.

Tuttavia, c’è l’attrazione dell’ignoto. Nel 2005 il documentario franco-tedesco “Il Grande Silenzio” è stato rilasciato con grande successo di critica. Porta lo spettatore a La Grande Chartreuse, la casa madre dell’Ordine Certosino situato nella zona più remota della Francia. E a quasi tre ore di lunghezza, dà allo spettatore un assaggio della storia del luogo.

È una lunga storia e una storia ininterrotta. I certosini sono le razze più rare – un ordine religioso pre-Riformato che non ha mai riformato o subito una revisione maggiore o addirittura minore. Come dice il proverbio, “I certosini non sono mai stati riformati perché non sono mai stati deformati”.

Tuttavia, il fatto che siano stati formati è notevole. Bruno, nato a Colonia intorno al 1030, divenne canonico e poi cancelliere diocesano prima di rendersi conto di volere solo una cosa: una vita di perfetta solitudine e contemplazione. Non ci sarebbero mezze misure, non uscire nel mondo, nemmeno per le opere corporali di misericordia. Bruno voleva la purezza non solo della vita, ma della preghiera. In breve, voleva imitare i primi Padri del Deserto.

È qui che il lettore contemporaneo può cadere nella trappola di pensare che Bruno in particolare, e monaci e religiosi di clausura in generale, stiano “scappando dalla realtà” o “in fuga dal mondo”, ma non è proprio vero. Se mai, con tutte le distrazioni rimosse, i Certosini scontrano nella realtà – ed è difficile. È la vita di un eremita, unita a una preghiera comunitaria occasionale (compresa la messa), insieme a una volta al mese “giorni di famiglia”, in cui i monaci parlano tra loro.

Ma perché Bruno ha fatto quello che ha fatto?

Due ragioni: primo, Bruno, ancora a quel tempo canonico e cancelliere diocesano, veniva perseguitato da un arcivescovo simoniaco, Manassès Ier de Gournay Arcivescovo di Reims, la cui vita era uno scandalo aperto. Secondo, e forse apocrifo, Bruno aveva avuto una visione del suo insegnante onorato e defunto, il canonico Raymond Diocrès, che, durante l’ufficio dei morti, sollevò la testa dalla sua bara e con voce tremenda parlò severamente: “Per giusto giudizio di Dio sono stato accusato!” Il cadavere eseguì lo stesso prodigio la mattina dopo, e ancora una volta una terza volta più tardi quel giorno, dicendo quelle terribili parole: “Per giusto giudizio di Dio sono stato giudicato!”

Come gli Irlandesi amano dire, “Questa non potrebbe essere la verità, ma è così che è successo”, e nel caso della formazione di San Bruno, la storia ha una sorta di senso regressivo. Il canone, il cui unico difetto noto era un certo grado di ambizione clericale, sembrava parlare direttamente a Bruno – sebbene secondo la leggenda tutti i presenti udissero la proclamazione del morto e alla fine gettarono il cadavere in una fossa.

San Bruno vide che anche la minima parte della vanità non era solo dannosa per l’anima, ma abbastanza per avere una persona giudicata meritevole almeno per un bel pò di tempo nel purgatorio, se non l’inferno stesso. Come molti santi, Bruno voleva andare direttamente in Paradiso e decise il modo migliore per diventare un monaco.

Si unì ai benedettini di Molesme, ma i compromessi si erano insinuati nella versione originale della Regola di Benedetto. Realizzando che il suo ruolo qui era insostenibile, ottenne il permesso dall’Abate nel 1084 e, insieme a sei compagni, cercò il posto più isolato e desolato che potesse trovare in Francia. Era qualcosa di affine agli originali Padri del Deserto: La Certosa, una combinazione di deserto e montagne intrattabili nella sede di Grenoble.

Il posto era poco invitante, disabitato e quasi inabitabile. L’ordinario locale, Vescovo di Grenoble (in seguito Santo) Ugo di Chateauneuf, sapeva di avere un “super-monaco” sulle sue mani e ha dato il suo pieno sostegno e benedizione all’impresa.

Per non pensare che Bruno stesse facendo tutto da solo, si dovrebbe notare che aveva fatto un convertito per tutta la vita e un amico in Landuino, uno dei sei seguaci originali che in seguito sarebbe diventato il secondo Priore. (Dopo Bruno, i certosini evitano il titolo di “Abate” e decidono invece di adottare l’uso del titolo “Priore”.) L’altra figura importante, dal tempo di Bruno come canonico e insegnante a Colonia, era un Eudes de Châtillon (detto di Lagery), uno studioso eccezionale che la storia conosce meglio come il beato Papa Urbano II.

Certo, Bruno ha rinunciato il suo titolo di Canonico, i suoi benefici, i suoi legami con il mondo di qualsiasi tipo – stava lavando non solo la macchia del peccato dalla sua pelle ma la sua vera pelle: lui e le sue coorti indossavano le camicie cilici e vivevano vite di privazioni indescrivibili. Mentre non seguivano nessuna regola scritta di per sé, i primi certosini presero la regola di Benedetto e la spogliarono fino all’essenziale. La loro vita era una Quaresima perpetua: niente carne, nulla che potesse essere considerato estraneo, per non dire stravagante. “Il pesce e il formaggio venivano assecondati durante le feste popolari”, ha scritto un contemporaneo. In effetti si dice che il loro unico inestimabile possesso era un calice d’argento per la celebrazione della Santa Messa. E così Dom. Alban Butler: “Se il loro monastero era povero, almeno la loro biblioteca era ricca.” Il silenzio veniva mantenuto in ogni momento, tranne le rare preghiere comunali – Mattutini e Vespri e la Messa settimanale.

Stranamente, questo oscuro ordine iniziò a crescere e in poco tempo si era raddoppiato il numero delle anime abbondanti originali che avevano acquistato nel sogno di San Bruno di un deserto Cristiano in Francia.

Tuttavia, in uno di quei momenti dove la realtà supera la fantasia di cui la nostra Chiesa è piena, il Beato Papa Urbano aveva sentito parlare del grande lavoro che il suo ex maestro, il santo Bruno, stava facendo in Chartreuse e lo convocò a Roma come una sorta di consulente personale. (Il suo ruolo esatto non è stato chiaro). Il guadagno di Roma fu certamente la perdita di Chartreuse: anzi, sembrava impossibile immaginare come questo nascente monastero eremita potesse sopravvivere senza il suo fondatore.

Ma è successo. Dopo un pò di difficoltà – compresa una manciata di monaci che seguirono fisicamente Bruno a Roma, e che dovette rimandare in Francia – Landuino prese il sopravvento, e Bruno, attraverso le sue lettere accorate e spezzate incoraggiava, ammoniva ed esortava i suoi amati fratelli dalla sua cella negli ex bagni di Diocleziano. (Più tardi arrivò fino alla Calabria, ma quello era quanto Papa Urbano era disposto a lasciargli andare.)

I certosini erano e si occupano di una cosa: l’imminente ritorno di Gesù Cristo e l’essere pronti ad accoglierLo quando verrà. Questo non è un evento escatologico molto distante e lontano per il monaco certosino, ma piuttosto una sorta di “Io sto qui proprio alla porta e busso”. Si aspettano completamente che Gesù arrivi ADESSO.

È anche un ordine bizzarro. Il loro silenzio si estende alla scrittura e non ci sono quasi scrittori certosini di cui parlare, il che è strano per un ordine che si faceva strada copiando manoscritti. Inoltre, la loro umiltà proibisce la canonizzazione formale dei loro membri, così mentre i monaci certosini vivono vite di santità esigente, pochissimi sono in realtà “santi”. (Lo stesso San Bruno fu incarnato dalla Chiesa circa 500 anni dopo la sua morte 6 ottobre 1101 e fu canonizzato nel 17 Febbraio 1623 da Papa Gregorio XV.) Nonostante bevano solo latte, acqua e un vino molto diluito, i certosini sono famosi per il loro liquore, “Chartreuse” (di che essi stessi non assorbono, ma ironicamente producono per sostenere il loro stile di vita ascetico). E mentre la Grande Certosa ha sopravvissuta a ogni sorta di disastro naturale (soprattutto valanghe), il governo Francese stesso ha sfrattato i monaci nel 1901, solo per riportarli appena in tempo per l’invasione Tedesca del 1940! La certosa stessa era utilizzata come ospedale delle forze alleate, diventando esattamente l’opposto di ciò che San Bruno aveva voluto che fosse: un luogo di pura contemplazione.

Infine, il capolavoro è un documentario epico di quasi tre ore: Il Grande Silenzio del 2005 è la migliore intuizione della vita quotidiana certosina (e una spinta per le vocazioni) o il massimo esaurimento (ci sono voluti i produttori 18 anni prima di ottenere il permesso di filmare all’interno di La Grande Chartreuse). Quindi, dopo quasi 1000 anni di segretezza totale, chiunque può ora vedere all’interno della Casa Madre fondata da San Bruno stesso.

Tuttavia, i Certosini sopravvivono. Che altro si può dire di un Ordine le cui caratteristiche salienti sono il silenzio e la solitudine, e che attendono la seconda venuta del Signore nella penitenza orante? San Bruno può essere orgoglioso della sua realizzazione, ma non sarebbe mai stato accusato di orgoglio.

La Vergine Maria, madre e modello dei certosini Sotto la tua protezione troviamo rifugio, santa madre di Dio: non disprezzare le suppliche di noi che siamo nella prova, e liberaci da ogni pericolo, o Vergine gloriosa e benedetta. (Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix, Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus, Sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

Per trovare di più sull’Ordine Certosino visita il loro sito ufficiale a: