A Carthusian

Cutting loose

Neither fear nor love of self can turn the soul to God; they may sometimes change the aspect or influence the actions of a man, but they will never change his heart.  Even the slave sometimes does God’s work, but because he does not do it willingly he proves that his heart is still hard.  And the hireling too will sometimes od God’s work, but because he only does it for reward, it is clear that he is only attracted by his greed.  Where there is self-seeking, there to is self-esteem; where there is self-esteem, there too is private interest; and where private interest makes a corner for itself there rust and filth will collect.  Let fear itself be the law of a slave, by it he is bound; let greed be for the hireling his law, by it he also is confined when by it he is led off and enticed away.  Neither of these two laws is unspotted, neither can turn the soul to God; only charity can do this, because she alone can make a soul disinterested.  –St Bernard of Clairvaux in a letter to Guigo I, 5th Prior of La Grande Chartreuse

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Biographer of St Bruno

He (Guigo, the fifth Prior of the Carthusians) begins by riveting your mind to the thought of sheer Truth. “Without form or comeliness, and fastened to a cross, Truth is to be worshiped.”

“The poverty of thine own inner vision of God, blind as thou art, for He is ever there, makes thee willing to go out of doors from thine own hearth, refusing to linger within thyself, as being in the dark. So thou hast nothing to do but go out gaping after external forms of bodies and the opinions of men. May God be merciful to thee, that the feet of thy mind may find no resting-place, so that somehow, O soul, thou mayest, like the dove, return unto the Ark”

–‘Upon God’s Holy Hills: I. the Guides of St Anthony of Egypt, St Bruno of Cologne, St John of the Cross’ C.C. Martindale

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Penetrating deeper

We must never install ourselves in anything whatever, except in God alone.  Love requires it and spiritual poverty must go that far.  Acts of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love reach God as he is in himself, and not just as partially refracted in the concepts of faith.  Yet this is only true if one surrenders to their dynamism of love that plunges into the unknown depths of the Mystery and leaps up toward the One who remains hidden behind the wall.  The life of prayer involves an endless transcending, a refusal to settle down, a thirst for the infinite, which shatter, one after the other, the pious and reassuring idols that we tirelessly construct, one after the other.  That is the desert.  –‘The Wound of Love’ A. Carthusian Miscellany

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Expression of something

All that is good (religious life): it is the fruit of his faith, his prayer, the fulfillment of the promise, the divine blessing, it is ‘Issac’ (a willing sacrifice through blind faith). He (the monk) has to use the human resources that God provides for him; to neglect to do so would often be the presumption that ‘tempts God’. But the sort of security that means afford him, the light and warmth they bring, could also turn them into screens against a light and warmth infinitely more subtle, beyond man’s grasp. Against a lack of support infinitely stronger than the little righteousness according to man’s measure that he painstakingly seeks to build, and behind which he runs the risk of settling down, sheltered against the far more exacting demands of this God who knows no measure. One is so at home among things, ideas, rules, and ceremonies; there, one is master! One pays the tithe of adoration to God, but one takes good care that the doors which might allow Go himself to enter are kept securely closed.

But the years go by, and before the monk’s eyes the horizon constantly recedes…..the monk is humble free from illusion. The sand of life which he holds in his hand is flowing rapidly through his fingers; he has difficulty in seeing beyond the limits of human horizons; he knows his poverty, his human frailty, his human heart. He is unsure if he still really believes in what he is unable to see. Ritual and ceremonial have little to say to him; the repetition of acts, to which no interior spontaneity corresponds, tends to produce a certain alienation of his personality. The well-organized structures of his life hedge him in like prison bars where all seems sterile and dead. His contact with his brethren is purely external, as that of a passer-by; he feels isolated, a stranger.

This means that God is taking Issac back and the monk must surrender freely what appears from a human point of view to be the indispensable means of the realization of the promise, of the Kingdom of God—that which seemed to be the Kingdom—and this he must do without hesitation, without abandoning the quest of the Absolute, of the love that now seems to be falling to pieces and illusion. He must hold fast in faith and hope to the Word of God and the promise of Christ, to the power of the Spirit of God alone. That is the courage proper to faith: the courage to believe that one receives—and to receive in fact already—all, absolutely all, from the sheer bounty of God’s love. –‘The Wound’s of Love’ A. Carthusian Miscellany


Stanley Roseman, a respected American artist capturing the monastic life.

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As I (Jesus) have done to you

‘My commandment is that you should love one another as I have loved you.’  Jesus himself teaches us the secret. Just as he is welcomed by the Father so are we to be welcomed by him; and as he welcomes us, so are we to welcome….Note that this is not some sort of rule, exterior to our (Carthusian) lives, that Jesus might have imposed on us as a discipline.  These directives, outlined so simply, are truly the substance of our lives as children of God.  When I give my brother all rights to be welcomed within me, I am not according him a luxury; I am simply trying to live in truth as the child of God I am; that is to be as welcoming as I possibly can, because that will make me ready to be welcomed in turn by God himself.

The other side f the exchange of divine life that we (Carthusians) are to practice among us is the permanent inclination to allow ourselves to be welcomed by our brothers.  It is so easy, in fact, to refuse myself to my brother, under the pretext of discretion or respect of others, whereas he is prepared to welcome me, or may even feel a profound need of doing so.  Let us remember, for example, the strong words addressed by Jesus to Simon Peter: ‘If I do not wash your feet, you can have no part with me.’  That means: if you are not able to accept my being at your disposition, at your service, welcoming you fully and completely into my heart, what have we in common?  Could we not often ask the same question among ourselves?  –‘The Wound of Love’ A. Carthusian

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Proper retreat

…accept the poverty of the forty days (by Jesus) spent in the wilderness. Let us try to approach them in a spirit of humility, not so as to enrich our feelings or increase our store of images, but to accept the truth of the word of God as it is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

We are told almost nothing of what happened during Jesus’ long retreat, as he was led by the spirit of God. Yet, at the same time, we are told by that same spirit: draw from this source the living water which you need to become faithful dwellers in the desert. We must not allow ourselves to be frightened by the spiritual desert which the Holy Spirit thus calls us, for a desert is indeed what it is. Going into the desert is not simply a matter of giving up frequent human contact; it also means adopting an attitude in which the inner dialog is less and less concerned with new and attractive ideas but rather tends to concentrate on one person. Our abiding in the desert is justified for only one reason: we are there for Jesus.

Many of us realize that we have a natural attraction for solitude and aptitudes for a life with little human contact, drawn as we try by silence and a certain restfulness of our entire being. These natural attributes are very real; we need not disown them, and, in certain cases, there might even be the possibility of developing them in such a way that a sufficiently stable and harmonious solitary life could be built on them alone. But such a balance would know nothing of Jesus and would give rise to the suspicion that these words of our Lord might apply: ‘He who is not with me is against me’. (Matthew 12:30)  –‘The Wound of Love’ A. Carthusian

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Practice, fortitude, and grace

“Seek in reading and you will find in meditating; knock in mental prayer and it will be opened to you by contemplation.” —Guigo the Carthusian

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