From a letter by our Father Saint Bruno to Radulphus
Transl. Thomas Merton
To my esteemed friend Radulphus, dean of the cathedral Chapter at Rheims, I, Bruno, send my greetings, as all my heartfelt affection toward you bids me.
I assure you, first of all, that my health is good, thinking that the news will not be unwelcome to you. I wish that I could say the same for my soul. The external situation is as satisfactory as could be desired, but I stand as a beggar before the mercy of God, praying that he will heal all the infirmities of my soul and fulfil all my desires with his bounty.
I am living in the wilderness of Calabria far removed from habitation. There are some brethren with me, some of whom are very well educated and they are keeping assiduous watch for their Lord, so as to open to him at once when he knocks. I could never even begin to tell you how charming and pleasant it is. The temperatures are mild, the air is healthful; a broad plain, delightful to behold, stretches between the mountains along their entire length, bursting with fragrant meadows and flowery fields. One could hardly describe the impression made by the gently rolling hills on all sides, with their cool and shady glens tucked away, and such an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams. Besides all this, there are verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit- bearing trees.
Yet why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine. It is true, though that our rather feeble nature is renewed and finds new life in such perspectives, wearied by its spiritual pursuits and austere mode of life. It is like a bow, which soon wears out and runs the risk of becoming useless, if it is kept continually taut.
In any case, what benefits and divine exultation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know.
For here men of strong will can enter into themselves and remain there as much as they like, diligently cultivating the seeds of virtue and eating the fruits of paradise with joy. Here they can acquire the eye that wounds the Bridegroom with love, by the limpidity of its gaze, and whose purity allows them to see God himself. Here they can observe a busy leisure and rest in quiet activity. Here also God crowns his athletes for their stern struggle with the hoped-for reward: a peace unknown to the world and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So, what do you think ought to be done, dear friend? What else, but to trust in the exhortation of God himself and to believe in the truth which cannot deceive? For he calls out to everyone, saying: Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Is it not, after all, a most ridiculous and fruitless labour to be swollen with lust, continually to be tortured with anxiety and worry, fear and sorrow, for the objects of your passion? Is there any heavier burden than to have one’s spirit thus cast down into the abyss from the sublime peak of its natural dignity – the veritable quintessence of right order gone awry? Flee, my brother, from these unending miseries and disturbances. Leave the raging storms of this world for the secure and quiet harbour of the port. For you know very well what wisdom in person has to say to us: Whoever does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my disciple. Who cannot perceive what a beautiful thing it is, how beneficial and how delightful besides, to remain in the school of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there to learn that divine philosophy which alone shows the way to true happiness?
You remember, after all, the time you and I and Fulk One-Eye, were together in the little garden adjoining Adam’s house, where I was staying at the time. We had been discussing for some while, as I recall, the false attractions and ephemeral riches of this present life and comparing them with the joys of eternal glory. As a result, we were inflamed with divine love and we promised, determined and vowed to abandon the fleeting shadows of this world at the earliest opportunity, and lay hold of the eternal by taking the monastic habit.
You must also be careful not to be allured away from the exigencies of divine love. Divine love proves itself the more useful, precisely to the extent that it is more in accord with right reason. For what could be beneficial and right, so fitting and connatural to human nature as to love the good? Yet what other good can compare with God? Indeed, what other good is there besides God? Whence it comes that the soul that has attained some degree of holiness and has experienced in some small measure the incomparable loveliness, beauty and splendour of this good, is set on fire with love and cries out: My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when shall I enter and see the face of God?
Letter written by our venerable Father Bruno in the hermitage of the Tower in Calabria, and he sent to his Carthusian sons
Transl. Thomas Merton; the Divine Office, vol. III, p. 318-319
To my brothers, whom I love in Christ above everything else, greetings from your brother Bruno.
Knowing from the frequent and welcome accounts of our blessed brother Landuino the unremitting rigour of your well-considered and truly praiseworthy way of life, and hearing of your holy love and unceasing zeal for what is perfect and good, my spirit rejoices in the Lord. Truly I rejoice and am led to praise and thank the Lord, and yet I sigh bitterly. I rejoice indeed, as is right, for the growth of the fruits of your virtues, but I lament and am ashamed that I lie inert and torpid in the filth of my sins.
Rejoice then, my dear brothers, for your blessed lot and for God’s abundant gift of grace to you. Rejoice that you have escaped the manifold perils and shipwrecks of this storm-tossed world. Rejoice that you have reached a safe and tranquil anchorage in that inner harbour which many desire to reach and many make efforts to reach yet never attain. Many too, after reaching the goal, have been excluded since it was not given them from above.
Therefore, my brothers, be certain and convinced that if anyone experiences this desirable good and then loses it, no matter how, he will never cease to regret it if he retains any regard or care for his soul’s salvation.
As for you, my beloved lay brothers: I say: My soul magnifies the Lord, for I see the greatness of his mercy to you according to the report of your loving prior and father, who boasts much about you and rejoices. We too rejoice since, though you are unlettered men, yet the mighty God writes on your hearts with his finger not only his love but a knowledge of his holy law. You show by your
actions what you love and what you know. For you practise with all care and zeal true obedience, which is the fulfilling of God’s commands, and the key and seal of the whole spiritual life; it is ever accompanied by great humility and outstanding patience, together with a pure love for the Lord and true charity. It is clear that you read wisely the sweet and life-giving fruit of divine scripture.
So, my brothers, abide in that which you have attained and avoid like the plague that baneful crowd of would-be monks, who in reality are as empty as can be, peddling their writings and speaking in hushed tones about things their neither cherish nor understand, but rather contradict by their words and actions. They are lazy and wander from place to place, slandering all those who are conscientious and dedicated, and imagining themselves worthy of praise if they blacken the name of those who really are. To them anything resembling discipline or obedience is loathsome.
As for our brother Landuino, I had intended to keep him here on account of his rather serious and recurrent illnesses; but he would have none of it, claiming that there could be nothing worthwhile for him, no health or joy nor zest for life, apart from you. With repeated sighs and a veritable gushing fountain of tears for you, he laid before me how much you mean to him, and the unadulterated affection he bears for you in the Lord. As a result, I have not wanted to force the issue, lest I cause grief either to him or to you, who are so dear to me for your maturity and excellence of spirit.
Wherefore, my brothers, I am very serious in my request, at once humble and insistent, that you manifest by your deeds the love you bear in your heart for your prior and beloved father, by kindly and attentively providing him with everything he needs for the various requirements of his health. He may be unwilling to go along with what your loving solicitude may dictate, preferring to jeopardise his life and health rather than be found lacking in some point of external observance. After all, this is normally inadmissible and he might blush to hold the first rank among you, and yet trail in these matters, fearing that you might become negligent or lukewarm on his account. Yet, I hardly think there is any danger of that; so, I hereby grant you the necessary authority to take my place in this particular, and respectfully compel him to accept whatever you accord him for his health.
As for me, brothers, I would have you know that the only desire I have, after God, is to come and see you. As soon as I can, God willing, I will do just that. Farewell.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
Jesus said to his disciples: Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning. And what follows.
From the Letter of Guigo on the solitary life
To the Reverend X, from Guigo, least among the servants of the cross who dwell in the Chartreuse. May we live and die for Christ.
One man will think another happy. I esteem him happy above all who does not strive to be lifted up with great honours in a palace, but who chooses to live humbly and poorly in the wilderness, who with thoughtful application loves to meditate in peace, who longs to sit alone in silence.
For to shine with honours, to be lifted up with dignities is in my judgement a way of little peace, subject to perils, burdened with cares, treacherous to many, and to none secure. It is happy in the beginning, perplexed in its development, wretched in its end. This way is flattering to the unworthy, disgraceful to the good, and generally deceptive to both. While it makes many wretched, it satisfies none, and makes no one happy.
But the poor and solitary life, austere in its beginning, easy in its progress, becomes, in its end, heavenly. It is constant in adversity, confident in hours of doubt, modest in those of good fortune. This way of life is characterized by sober fare, simple garments, reserved speech, and chaste manners. It has the highest ambition, because it is without ambition. Often wounded with sorrow at the thought of past sins, it avoids them in the present, and is ever watchful for the future. Resting on the hope of mercy, without trust in its own merit, it thirsts after heaven, is sick of earth, earnestly strives for right conduct, which it retains in constancy and holds firmly forever. It fasts with determined constancy in love of the cross, yet consents to eat for the body s need. In both it observes the greatest moderation, for when it dines it restrains greed and when it fasts it avoids vanity.
The solitary life is devoted to reading, but prefers religious books of recognised value where it is more intent upon the inner marrow of meaning than on the froth of words.
But you may praise or wonder more at this: that such a life perseveres in repose yet is never lazy. For it finds many things indeed to do, so that time is more often lacking to it than this or that occupation. It more often laments that its time has slipped away than that its business is tedious.
What else? A happy subject, to advise repose, but such an exhortation seeks out a mind that is its own master, concerned with its own good, disdaining to be caught up in the affairs of others, or of society. It so fights as a soldier of Christ in peace as to refuse double service as a soldier of God and a hireling of the world. Such a mind knows for sure it cannot here be glad with this world and then in the next reign with God.
Small matters are these renouncements, and their like, if you recall what drink he took at the gibbet, who calls you to kingship. Like it or not, you must follow the example of Christ in his poverty if you would have fellowship with him in his riches. If we suffer with him, says the Apostle, we shall also reign with him; if we die with him, we shall also live with him.
The Mediator himself replied to the two disciples who asked him if one of them might sit at his right hand and the other at his left: Can you drink the chalice which I am about to drink? Here he made it clear that it is by cups ofearthly bitterness that we come to the banquet of the patriarchs and to the nectar of heavenly celebrations.
Now, that you may fully understand the drift of all my argument, I appeal to your wise judgement in few words with what is at once the counsel and desire of my soul. Undertake our observance as a man of great and noble heart, for the sake of your eternal salvation. Become a recruit of Christ and stand guard in the camp of the heavenly army, watchful with your sword on your thigh against the terrors of the night.
Source: Readings for matins (Carthusian rite) – Year A: readings 1 to 8 – Year B: readings 9 to 12