Wednesday, November 15, 2017

O Bonitas! The Carthusian Order


O Bonitas!

O Beata Solitudo!  O Sola Beatitudo!

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~A History of the Somerset Carthusians, 1895
The foundations of the Carthusian Order were laid in the year 1084. St. Bruno and six friends (one priest among them) were the first Carthusians who bound themselves to perpetual silence. The Carthusian monk was originally known as “the Poor of Christ,” and his favorite occupation was/is the copying of books and manuscripts. The first constitutions (Customs of the Grande Chartreuse) were written down 44 years after the founding of the Order.

Silence is to be broken only in the case of the sudden illness of a brother, or of fire, or of any other unexpected danger, and even then only few words are to be used. They eat neither butcher’s meat, poultry, nor game. Their diet consists of fish, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, bread, pastry, fruit, vegetables. They drink water, but never take tea, coffee, or chocolate because such things were unknown to St. Bruno.

St. Bruno and his spiritual descendants did but literally carry out the command “Watch and pray.” And these faithful watchmen were put to the test in England (under Henry VIII); not even the evil pens of Cromwell’s infamous agents of destruction could write a single bad word against their character, though many indeed were the complaints against their conscientious steadfastness. Sebastian Brant said what was as true of the English as of the foreign Charterhouses: Degener nunquam fuit ordo visus Cartusianus. (“The Carthusian Order was never seen degenerate”).
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The Carthusian holiness was scarcely attainable, the stern loneliness of the Carthusian rule hardly endurable … but from king and subject the Order met with reverence. But it may be asked, what was there in the Carthusians to cause [King] Edward I, the chief feature in whose character was not religious devotion, as well as [King] Henry II, to appeal to their prayers, especially when engaging in an arduous venture?

The answer lies in the frequently quoted sentence of St. Bernard, Otiosum non est vacare Deo, sed negotium negotiorum omnium (to be occupied with God is not idleness, but the business of all businesses) for no other monks so fully carried out the sentiment therein expressed. The slightest acquaintance with mediaeval literature suffices to make manifest the extremely personal worship of those times. The Blessed Trinity was indeed a living reality to men then; the language of their devotional writings, deeply reverential as was the spirit that animated it, was as familiar as if addressed to a well-beloved friend, whom, separated from them by some ordinary circumstance, they would see again. In those days, there was an extraordinary earnestness in all that men thought and did, so that they could easily appreciate and reverence the ardent devotion of the Carthusian, who spent himself in an exclusive service to that adored and Divine Friend. The Carthusian life had nothing, humanly speaking, to show for it; but to the believer in prayer it was not waste of time, being indeed one long form of prayer.

But in many cases the adoption of St. Bruno’s habit was an act of love. It was more; it was a supreme act of love, fulfilling an ideal of self-surrender so awful that it is little wonder if the Order, though winning an acknowledgment of its holiness, could win no place in the heart of the nation. The saints while on earth may be beloved; the saints in heaven are only approached through the awe and mystery of heaven, and these monks, it would seem, were already half-way to the far-off country.

Martyrdom is a high sacrifice; but it is a question whether to give up all that makes life worth having be not a higher, for it is a sacrifice of longer agony, a living death. In common with the monks of other Rules, the Carthusian, in taking the irrevocable vows, literally left house, and brethren and sisters, and father and mother (and even, it is to be feared, wife and children occasionally), and lands for Christ’s sake. Yet he [the Carthusian] gave more than they, for to them the chance was still open to distinguish themselves as preachers, and as teachers through the medium of books, and to gain through the medium of their intellectual gifts a power in the world of letters at least; but even this privilege and solace of the ascetic life he [the Carthusian] laid down on the altar of his solitude; preaching was forbidden to the son of St. Bruno, and learning must be for him strictly a means to the spiritual perfection of himself and his brother recluses.

It was in the spirit of the Magdalene, who poured out the precious ointment on the person of her Lord instead of spending the price of it on the poor, that the Carthusians made, without regard to the possible good they might do for their fellow-men, a free-will offering of themselves for the service of God, the supremely Beloved alone. The purpose that they fulfilled was to inculcate a lesson on the world; their mode of teaching it contained exaggerations; but since man ever perceives most clearly what is presented to him in an exaggerated light, exaggeration may have been useful, especially when the tumults of much war and the perpetual din of arms in the strife of might against right so often led him to forget to listen to the voice of righteousness. 

The lesson that they set forth was that God has the first claim above all human beings to the highest love, and that to give that love rightly must entail sacrifice—no new lesson indeed, but that which beyond all other Orders they realized.
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“Sæculi sordes fugit et prophanat
Et suam vitam, nihil ista curat,
Dulce nil Christo sine, nil amœnam .
Cartusiano.
Veste procedit cito nuptuali,
Obviam sponso manibus intentes,
Lampades gestans, oleo decoras,
Cartusianus.”

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He flees the impurities of the secular world,
and does violence to his own life:
he takes no care for this; nothing is sweet without Christ,
nothing pleasant to the Carthusian.

In the wedding-garment the Carthusian quickly
goes forth to meet the Bridegroom,
with outstretched hands bearing
the lamps properly fed with oil.
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**Women, indeed, are utterly refused to be admitted on any pretext within their bounds, knowing that, as instanced in Holy Writ, no wise man, prophet, or judge, not Samson, David, nor Solomon, not even the very first man formed by God, could resist the attraction of a wily woman.
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~The Antiquary, July 1884 (The Rules of the Carthusian Order)
No monastic Order has stamped its individuality on its buildings so completely as the Carthusian. In the case of the foundations of other Orders, it may be difficult, not unfrequently impossible, to determine from the existing remains to which of the various monastic bodies the building belongs. In spite of marked differences of plan and arrangement, on which there will be an opportunity of speaking hereafter, it is not always possible to distinguish a Benedictine foundation from a Cistercian, or Cistercian from a Cluniac, or any of these from a house of the Austin Canons. But a Carthusian house is unmistakable. It never can be taken for anything but what it is.

All the other chief monastic Orders were by principle cœnobitic - the common life was the rule; privacy was not in any way contemplated. … The exact opposite of this form of religious life was that of the hermit, or solitary, occupying his single cell, apart from other human habitations, cultivating his own small patch of ground alone and unassisted, often with his separate small chapel or oratory for his daily devotions.
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The Carthusian system was a union of these two; the cœnobitic or common life, and the solitary life: the life of the hermit and that of the member of a religious community. St. Bruno's ideal was a combination of the virtues of each mode of life, with an avoidance of the evils which experience had proved each was liable to. He desired, by his rule, to unite the strict austerity of the solitary with the mutual charities of the member of a brotherhood. The severity of his rule (in the words of Archbishop Trench) exceeded that of all which had gone before, while it hardly left room for any that should come after to exceed it.

This object [of the founder] was, first, the eternal salvation of their [monks’] souls, and then the benefit of the world by the books, to the copying of which, by the rule of their founder, they were commanded to devote the chief part of their time, each new copy of a holy book being, in the words of their Consuetudinarium, a new herald of the truth, so that the scribes became preachers with their hands.

The Carthusian Order never became popular in England. The severe discipline its rule enjoined of absolute silence and isolation with meagre diet and insufficient clothing of the coarsest texture, even though modified as it was with us, was as alien from the English character as it was unsuited to the English climate. Founded by St. Bruno, in 1084, the Carthusian rule was first introduced into England by Henry II, in 1181, at Witham, in Somersetshire, of which house the justly famous St. Hugh, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, was the third prior, and the virtual founder. But not even his powerful influence could succeed in popularizing the Order. It was planted as an exotic in a few isolated spots, but it never naturalized itself on English soil.
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Of the nine English Carthusian houses, Mount Grace is the only one which exhibits the arrangements characteristic of the Order. Nearly all the others have entirely perished, not even their ruins remaining. Witham preserves its "Ecclesia Minor," but all the other buildings are gone.

If a brother happened not to be a scribe, which was a very unusual case, he was to be allowed to have with him the implements of his art or trade whatever it might be. They might borrow two books at the same time from the book cupboard, and were to take the utmost care that they were not discoloured with smoke or dust or any other filth.

The object of giving so many different articles to each individual, which, the Consuetudinarium remarks, might provoke a smile, was to take away all excuse for a brother leaving his cell, which he was never permitted to do except to go to the church, or to the cloister for confession.
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~The Founding of the Carthusian Order, 1905
This [Carthusian] Order has formed a glorious exception in the Church, and never needed a reformer nor a reformation; it is today as fervent as when its holy founder died. The life of the Carthusian monk is one of great solitude and is mostly spent in his cell. At least once a week, they are obliged to fast on bread and water. Under no circumstances are they ever allowed to eat meat, and they fast from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross until Easter.

The cemetery is usually a small square in the great cloister garth. There the fathers and brothers lie side by side. No useless coffin confines their bones, but they lie each in his habit as he lived; taking their rest in death in the dress with which they were clothed when they sought rest in life in the rule which the piety of St. Bruno provided for them more than eight centuries ago.
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Even after death the same rule of seclusion was carried out, for no stranger, whether a religious or not, was to be buried in the cemetery of their convent, unless his own people were unable or neglected to give him burial. The graves of the monks themselves, except in the case of the generals of the Order, were and are marked only by wooden crosses without inscriptions, as if to impress all the more on the living the insignificance of all mortal parts of the human person.

[I]f the Carthusian became master of nothing else, his training must have made him completely master of himself so far as controlling his personal desires and impulses went, for there could not be a more thorough system of self-annihilation, leading to a perfect obedience to rule, personified by the prior and chapter of his convent. No military discipline, not even the famous Jesuit system, could call forth a stricter obedience than was demanded of and shown by the disciples of St. Bruno.
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~History of Religious Orders, 1898
In 1378, the Carthusians felt the effects of the Western Schism by being divided into two parts: one recognized Clement VII and the other Urban VI (the lawful Pope) – union was reestablished at the ascension of Alexander V as Pope. At the time of the dissolution of monasteries in England, the Carthusians distinguished themselves (among all the clergy) in refusing to take oath of supremacy and several of them were horribly martyred for doing so.

In this Order, unlike in many other Orders, the rule, instead of becoming more mitigated, rather increased in severity every time it was compiled: the Office became longer, vigils became more austere, and silence grew more exact. Out of the spirit of penance, they constantly wear a hair-shirt. These men are hidden to the world; their very names are unknown, but the all-seeing eye of Him Who one day will reward penetrates the hidden recesses of their cells, and beholds the virtues of which the world knows nothing, and which it hardly appreciates.
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[A] young Frenchman [Protestant] seemed to think it the height of folly and fanaticism that men should adopt such a life, and thus bury themselves alive. And, undoubtedly, this, at first sight, appears true, when we consider matters from a mere human standpoint, but looking at them in the light of eternity, before which time fades into insignificance, the conduct of these monks is the highest wisdom. The world may laugh and scorn, but, let us remember, that he who laughs last, laughs best.
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~An Ecclesiastical History Ancient and Modern
It was a long time before the tender sex could be engaged to submit to the “savage” rules of this [Carthusian] institution, nor had the Carthusian Order ever reason to boast of a multitude of female members. It was too forbidding to captivate a sex which is of a frame too delicate to support the severities of a rigorous self-denial. Several writers have even gone so far as to maintain that there was not in this Order a single convent of nuns. This is erroneous as there have been several convents of Carthusian virgins, though many have not survived to our times.

Certain it is that the rigorous discipline of the Carthusians is quite inconsistent with the delicacy and tenderness of the female sex, and, therefore, in the few female convents of this Order that still subsist the austerity of the discipline has been diminished, as well as from necessity as from humanity and wisdom; it was more particularly found necessary to abrogate those severe injunctions of silence and solitude that are so little adapted to the known character and genius of the female sex.
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The female branch is less severe and the nuns take their meals in common. The Carthusian nuns have preserved the ancient custom of the consecration of virgins (invested with stole, maniple on the right arm, and black veil) – always celebrated by the Bishop. These are worn on the day of their consecration, on their 50th anniversary, and they are buried with them. The nuns are never allowed to speak to seculars, not even to their relatives, except with the face covered by a veil, and in the presence of one or two religious of the community.
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