“Trinitarian Features of the Carthusian Statutes, of St. Bruno, and of Monastic Consecration”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer
Among the remembrances recorded on the funeral scroll of St Bruno, one of my favorites is that of Maynard, prior of Cormery, and former student of Master Bruno. He rejoices over the saintly man but this is mixed with sadness and some personal turmoil and perplexity since, as he says, “I was planning to come to him in the near future so that I might see him and listen to him, to confide the whole state of my soul to him, and consecrate myself to the Holy Trinity under his direction” (#176). This is marvelous, for I think it provides precious insight into our Holy Father Saint Bruno. This acquaintance, evidently no mere beginner in the spiritual life since he was prior of his own monastery, is now perplexed because he was desperately counting on seeing his former Master to open his soul to him and be guided by him in consecrating himself to the Holy Trinity. It is rather peculiar, actually, that Maynard expressed his aspirations to be guided by Bruno in terms of a consecration to the Trinity. What did he see in his former teacher? What kinds of things did Bruno do and say about the Trinity during those years of this man’s formation that made him sure it was Bruno he had to see to consecrate himself more perfectly to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? And what captivates my imagination even more is this, What kind of things would Master Bruno have said if this meeting had come to be? What advice and direction would he have given to him about consecrating oneself to the Blessed Trinity? And more to the point, let us ask him straightaway, “St Bruno, our holy Father, what can we do to consecrate ourselves more completely to the Holy Trinity?”
At first, it seemed to me, we could only guess and imagine would Bruno’s answer would be. But at some point it struck me, We actually do know what Bruno’s answer is. His answer is in the way of life he handed down to us! We do not merely get to meet with Bruno for a session of spiritual direction like Maynard so desired, rather we have a whole, graced-filled way of life and charism from Bruno, precisely ordered towards a complete consecration of ourselves to the Holy Trinity. This form of life is carried forward by our Statutes and bears the mark of Master Bruno’s inspiration, for it is very much a Trinity-focused rule of life. To explore this, I will consider and develop a little the following eight aspects of the Carthusian form of life and their Trinitarian context as expressed (and suggested) by the Statutes: the monastic call, the spiritual journey, the Liturgy, prayer in general, solitude in cell, the community, profession, and the vow of obedience. All these elements and more come together in a balanced, integral, total, and loving consecration to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Since I doubt you want just a list of texts, I take some liberty in my application of these texts to our theme, and my treatment is necessarily selective and partial.)
First, the monastic call. After beginning with a Trinitarian greeting taken from 2 Cor 13:13, the Statutes immediately place our life in a Trinitarian context. As the Triune God is the beginning and end of all, so it is with our Carthusian life. It is from God whom we receive the initial call and it is to God and his glory that the whole life tends as the goal or end. “To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love” (1.1). This refers initially to Master Bruno and his six companions but can also be said of all the men God continues to call as spiritual sons of Bruno. Furthermore, this monastic call should not be seen just as coming initially and getting you to profession. Rather as a call from the eternal God, it is an ongoing call, echoing in one’s soul throughout life and drawing him to ever greater intimacy (cf The Call of Silent Love). The ever greater consecration to the Trinity is an ongoing progress and depends on God continuing “to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love.” The heart of consecration is precisely here, in this union of intimate love. I find it fitting that the paragraph refers not only to the interior “guidance of the Holy Spirit” but to Christ as “the Father’s Word” (and in fact the Statutes repeatedly refer to the Son as the “Word”). For along with the interior movement of the Spirit in our subjectivity, much of our life is taken up with the more objective Word, in chanting the psalms, proclaiming the Scriptures, and lectio divina. The manner we grow in this consecration involves the objective Word so we come in actual truth to the interior union of intimate love (cf 5.2).
Second, the spiritual journey. From the entrance into the monastery to the consummation at death and beyond, our life’s journey as sketched by the Statutes remains marked by the Trinity. In the larger Tradition, the work of sanctification is attributed especially to the Holy Spirit. The Statutes echo this, for here too the Spirit appears as the interior Master and Soul of our souls. The monk being molded by life in cell, with all its ups and downs, in the midst of it all, is being shaped within spiritually. “In this way, having been cleansed in the night of patience, and having been consoled and sustained by assiduous meditation of the Scriptures, and having been led by the Holy Spirit into the depths of his own soul, he is now ready, not only to serve God, but even to cleave to him in love” (3.2).
This formation of the Spirit is ordered, moreover, to shaping the monk into the image of Christ—the monk whose soul should “be like a tranquil lake, whose waters well up from the purest sources of the spirit and…like a clear mirror reflect one image only, that of Christ” (13.15). Although our unflagging efforts are required, effort alone will not achieve this conformity and belonging to Christ. To truly be consecrated, i.e. set apart for God, the monk needs to “have been taken possession of by Christ, to spend himself totally for him…[so] that the soul is inflamed to an ever more perfect sacrifice of self” (13.14). This draws the monk into Christ’s own saving work on the Cross, which he accomplished “above all by pouring forth prayer to the Father, and by offering himself to him in sacrifice…[and] we strive to follow Christ in this, the inmost heart of his saving task” (34.4). This is where our life’s spiritual journey, our “striving to follow Christ” is to tend: being formed by the Spirit and sharing in Christ’s Paschal Mystery, we tend toward a complete self-offering to the Father so we may be set apart and belong completely to the Blessed Trinity.
Third, all this finds a special support and completion in the sacred Liturgy. “For when we accomplish the Liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, we have access to the Father through his Son, the Word Incarnate who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thus we achieve communion with the Most Holy Trinity” (41.1). Indeed here we see a distinctive mark of Bruno’s initial inspiration and “the particular grace of our first Fathers”: it is the more direct joining together of the eremitical vocation with the divine Office and Mass (21.2). This surely must be a central feature and decisive factor in the way Bruno would have us consecrate ourselves to the Holy Trinity. The Liturgy is where the Trinity most powerfully, consistently, and profoundly accomplishes the work of our salvation and our communion with Father, Son, and Spirit. Moreover, the regularity of the Liturgy allows us to receive grace and also unite every aspect of our daily life to that of the Triune life. Add to this, how each year we cycle through “the entire mystery of Christ” (47.1) and, as a result, the totality of our life is brought into communion with the totality of the mystery of Christ, so that through the “deeper aspirations of the Spirit” (41.3) and “through Christ, we return to the Father” (3.7).
Fourth, prayer in general. The Statutes are clear that what happens in the set times of the official Liturgy is simply a more explicit expression of our prayer in general. Our whole life of continual prayer, however faltering this remaining “ever awake to the presence of God” may be, makes of one’s whole life a Liturgy, whatever various activities it may involve, for “the diversity is by no means source of division, since it is always the same Lord [Jesus] who exercises his priesthood in us, praying to the Father in the one Spirit” (21.15). The monk is a liturgical being, set apart more exclusively for worship and the things of God.
Fifth, solitude in cell. Our solitude in cell is also placed by the Statutes in a context of communion, and ultimately Triune communion. What happens in the communal Liturgy is carried over into solitude and silence. “For the solitude of the cell is the place where a soul, enamored of silence, and forgetful of human cares, becomes a sharer in the fullness of the mystery by which Christ crucified, rising from the dead, returns to the bosom of the Father” (41.4). Though fraternal communion is most “consummated in Christ” in “the Eucharist,” the Statutes still uphold “the unity of the Carthusian family” even in our separate cells (21.4). An analogy is made to the universal Church. “For, the grace of the Holy Spirit gathers solitaries together to form a communion in love, in the likeness of the Church; which remains one, though spread throughout the world” (21.1). If I understand this correctly, the last phrase is saying that just as the Church remains one “though spread throughout the world,” so too does the Carthusian church of monks remain one in a special way, though spread out in their cells in solitude. And this unity is of course nurtured by love: “The solitary life, in the cell or the obediences, enkindles and nurtures in our hearts the fire of divine love, which is the bond of perfection, and makes us members of one body” (22.1). To highlight the Trinitarian language: Even in solitude we are still one in the communion of the Holy Spirit (21.1), as members of Christ’s Body (22.1), and we could add, as one Carthusian family united under the Prior, “the common father of all in the monastery” (23.8), whose task it is “to mirror the love of our heavenly Father” (3.6). We are solitaries in communion with one another as an image of the Trinity’s own communion. Moreover, this spiritual unity expresses itself even on a more visible, material level in our solitude in cell. We all have the same basic habit, the same basic activities we engage in, the same basic type of dwellings we live in, the same purpose and rule of life, and “at the sound of the bell, all pray at the same time, so that the whole monastery becomes a single act of praise to the glory of God” (21.7).
Sixth, community life. What is true even in solitude becomes more explicit and visible in the community’s activities together. In this regard, the Statutes extol the public Liturgy as “the noblest form of community life, since it establishes the deepest and most intimate communion among us. When we join in it each day, we have but one heart and one soul, as we present ourselves before God” (22.2). This high ideal of “having but one heart and one soul” cannot be attained naturally but can be had among us only in the communion of the Holy Spirit, as members of the one Body of Christ, and under the loving gaze of our heavenly Father. Hence the preeminent place of the Liturgy. However, this communion clearly extends outside the times of public Liturgy. The monks are at all times “to be true disciples of Christ…zealous for mutual love, living in harmony, forbearing one another, and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, so that, together, they may with one voice glorify God” (3.4). The lofty ideal of being of one mind, heart, and soul should find expression even in the leisure of common recreation: “At recreation, let us remember St. Paul’s exhortation: rejoice, be of one mind, have peace, so that the God of peace and love may abide within us” (22.9). We could add: so that the Triune God of love may abide within our communion of love (based on what we have already seen elsewhere in the Statutes).
Another dimension comes out in what the Statutes say about our conversations on the walks. “Should a difference of opinion arise, let us know how to listen and to see the matter from the other’s point of view so that in all things, the bond of mutual love will grow ever stronger” (22.13). It is interesting that “mutual love” is not only not weakened but can even “grow ever stronger” in this difference of opinion. Being of one mind, heart, and soul need not mean there are no differences. This unity in difference, of course, should not be surprising since the Trinity’s very own perfect communion is also a unity in difference and difference in unity. In fact for the community, the diversity can be mutually enriching. Diverse and mutually enriching gifts, talents, perspectives, opinions, and personalities have an important place in this communion of love. The Statutes even foresee a legitimate range of “diversity of spirits” (9.1) under the one Carthusian charism. All these various aspects of diversity, it seems the Statutes are suggesting, help us mirror the Triune communion and enter more deeply into that communion.
In other words, our encounters and communion with our neighbor, the other we can see, forms and enlarges our hearts and souls for communion with the Triune Others we cannot see (cf 33.4 and 1 Jn 4:20). When the veil of this life is torn and we (hopefully) see God face-to-face, it will come to light just how awfully different from us is this infinite Other, indeed the reality will blaze as a blinding light in all its glory. So perhaps the differences in our neighbor, which we bump up against, day in and day out and even can rub us raw, are meant to prepare our hearts for abiding in love with the utterly greater difference of God, the divine Other. Hence the Statutes speak of “lovingly welcoming our brothers with whom we live, and making a real effort to understand with heart and mind their characters and temperaments, however different from our own” (33.4). The differences in the “other” of our neighbor prepare us for the difference of the divine “Other,” especially since, from all eternity and for all eternity, the Trinity involves Otherness. What may feel like a bumping up and rubbing against is actually nothing but breaking out of the cocoon of our limited ego, with new wings ready to fly in more spacious skies, both created and divine. In love, this otherness is actually a source of joy. Perhaps here, in love of the brethren, we come again to another key factor that made Maynard perceive, in his teacher Bruno, a master of Trinitarian spirituality. Bruno’s letters surely witness to the warmth of affection for his brothers—a love that draws others into the embrace of the Trinity. Maynard himself probably experienced this love, years earlier in his teacher. What else could have draw him so strongly to want to seek out his Master again and under his direction enter more deeply into Triune love?
Seventh, profession. The Statutes follow the rest of the monastic tradition in describing profession as a radical living out of Baptism. “The monk, already by baptism dead to sin and consecrated to God, is by Profession still more totally dedicated to the Father…to strive more directly towards perfect love” (10.1). The Trinitarian consecration which was begun at Baptism is to be brought to greater perfection in religious consecration. This links the monk, in the Spirit, to the Lord Jesus in his kenotic obedience and so implicitly places profession in the context of ‘kenotic’ Trinitarian self-giving. “Following the example of Jesus Christ, who came to do the will of his Father, and who taking the form of a servant, learned obedience through what he suffered, the monk subjects himself by Profession to the Prior, as God’s representative, and thus strives to attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (10.13, cf Phi 2:6-11). Participating in Christ’s own self-emptying obedience to the Father, the monk’s obedience to the Prior, draws him ever more deeply into Trinitarian self-giving.
In his monastic vow, along with obedience, the monk also promises stability and conversion of life (10.9). In stability he is placed in a communion of persons, i.e. “incorporated into a family chosen for him by God” (30.1), and in his firm perseverance in our life, he draws unshakably near to the eternal Triune God whose very being is dynamic life and yet also “in whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration” (30.8). Conversion of life strives for all this anew each day and, thankfully, in our own faltering self-giving, we can continue to rely on God’s constant and faithful gift of self, especially as seen in Confession, for “in the Sacrament of Penance, God, the Father of mercies, through the Paschal Mystery of his Son, reconciles us in the Spirit with himself, with the Church and with ourselves.” As a result, “that conversion of heart which is the basic aim of the monk becomes rooted in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ” (62.1), and so also in the mystery of the self-giving Triune God.
Eighth, the vow of obedience. Here we will just remark on obedience to the Statutes since we have already touched on obedience to Superiors above and will return to it in question 3. Bruno and his companions, and their successors, “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit…gradually evolved a special form of hermit life, which was handed on to succeeding generations, not by the written word, but by example” (1.1). What has been handed-on, from person to person, is primarily a way of life, a charism of the Holy Spirit, a channel of grace, a living tradition, and a collective wisdom learned from experience. The Statutes fit into this and ensure us of a certain objectivity in living out this path of the Spirit. The letter is not opposed to the spirit, for the Spirit has also inspired the writing down of this Rule through the ages and beginning with Guigues, “to whom the Holy Spirit entrusted the compilation of the first laws of our Order” (2.1). As we need the Word and Spirit, so we need both the word and spirit of the Statutes. (The fullness of what is handed on, as described above, shows why we need not limit ourselves just to the earliest Customs in discerning Bruno’s mark on the Statutes. It is similar to how the earliest Christians believed just as much in the Trinity, though the Creeds developed richer articulations only over time.)
The Trinitarian dimension of obedience to the Statues comes out especially in the enlivening of the written Rule by the Spirit. “It is not, indeed, enough to obey the commands of our superiors and observe faithfully the letter of the Statutes, unless, led by the Spirit, we savor the things of the Spirit” (33.2). Our Rule as “the form and the sacrament of holiness” must do more than just instruct our minds; “it is the Spirit who gives life, and he does not allow us to rest content with the mere letter; for to this alone do these Statutes tend, that, guided by the Gospel, we may walk in the way of God and learn the breadth of love” (35.1). The Spirit inspires us interiorly and leads us exteriorly through the Statutes and our Superiors. Through these means, the Spirit conforms us to Christ in our return to the Father, so that enlivened by the Spirit and guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we may walk in the way of God the Father and learn the breadth of Triune love. Overall, we have noted the Trinitarian features of the monastic call, the spiritual journey, the Liturgy, prayer in general, solitude in cell, the community, profession, and the vow of obedience to superiors and to the Statutes themselves. In this holistic manner, the Statutes help to communicate to us a living form of Christian existence, a charism of the Holy Spirit, a way to the Father, and a means of grace unto our consecration to the Most Holy Trinity. What we have received through Bruno is so much more than what Maynard could have learned from speaking with him.
We began by pondering Maynard’s ardent desire to speak with Bruno about consecrating himself more completely to the Trinity. We wondered, in turn, what St Bruno might have to say about this to us. For the 900th anniversary of the Order, Reverend Father Andre Poisson raised a similar question more generally and spoke of the role in our lives of our Holy Father St Bruno, “who has nothing whatsoever else to tell us than his own existence in the wilderness, in the midst of silence and nocturnal vigils, the clear glance which strikes with love the well-beloved Himself,” the same Bruno who is “the channel by which there reaches us the incomparable grace of our vocation…the man through whom there reaches us today a divine influence.” We have seen how we have a Spirit-filled icon of this existence in the words of the Statutes. We have seen moreover how this Rule is bathed in the same Trinitarian light which also suffused the features of this master of a Trinitarian spirituality, St Bruno. May he continue to be a channel of grace and divine influence for us his sons so that our whole life may be consecrated and indeed consummated “to the greater glory of the Blessed Trinity, One and Undivided” (30.1-.2).