Upon God’s Holy Hills – Saint Bruno of Cologne, by Father Cyril Charles Martindale, S.J.

detail of the painting 'St Bruno' by Gaspar de Crayer, c.1655; York Art Gallery, York, North Yorkshire, EnglandCirca 1030-1101

In writing of the first Egyptian hermits, the conceit that they “ground” at the Christian “grammar” proved of service. To a modern ear at least theirs was not yet that song which the world aches to hear, however much their scattered outcry may have been unified and sweetened by heavenlier hearing into that “one clear chord” which strikes “the ear of God.” Nor, perhaps, are we quite alert to catch the music of that austere chant which rises from Carthusian cloisters. Their own inhabitants have confessed that it is hard enough to achieve its perfect harmony and rhythm.

“Thou hast been clinging,” wrote Guigo, the fifth Carthusian Prior, about 1130, “to one syllable of a great song, and art troubled when that wisest Singer proceeds in His singing. For the syllable which alone thou wast loving is withdrawn from thee, and others succeed in order. He does not sing to thee alone, nor to thy will, but to His. These syllables which succeed are distasteful to thee, because thou clingest to that one with which thou wast ill in love.”

Something of Saint Bruno’s hymn is to be listened for, not alone by his disciples, but by all whose ears are not too deafened by those noises from which he fled into the forests and the snows; and possibly the harsh outcry of the Egyptian deserts, and the grave music from the Alps, and, afterwards, the splendour of a Spaniard’s love-songs, winged in all but perfect poetry for God, may combine to express for us something which our hearts, too, may echo.


“There is something else here, and there always will be something else – something that the atheists will for ever slur over; they will always be talking of something else.” – Dostoevsky

When the hermit and monastic spirit poured from East into West, receptacles were best fashioned for it by Saint Benedict; and the Benedictine monasteries, gradually reinforced by the great cathedral schools, safeguarded and handed on the treasures of Greece and Rome, mingling with them the Christian belief and law, so that a triple culture made its way through what was to become a united Europe, and. in fact, created it. But culture has been proved again and again, to be useless if a spirit within it be lacking; and in the chaotic eighth and ninth centuries the monasteries themselves and the Episcopate degenerated, and came so low as to make hope for any future seem chimerical. But the immortal spirit within the Church leaps always forth into creative action, and reform and initiative witness to its working. It is no part of my intention to relate these, nor to describe that renaissance of monasticism, in particular, which is supremely associated with the names of Cluny, nor, again, with Citeaux and the development of the Cistercian Order in the hands of a Saint Stephen Harding or Saint Bernard. In any case Cluny and Citeaux were alike, and never pretended to be other than, Benedictine. But the spirit of the hermits, more strictly so called, had never quite died out. Its great renewal in Italy, at any rate, came through Saint Romuald of Ravenna, who founded the Camaldolese and other hermit communities.

He was born about 950, of noble blood, but in a terrible period, when even the good had to be of a half-savage virtue. His father had killed a rival, and Romuald entered a monastery for forty days’ expiatory penance. His endeavours to reform the monks whom he joined ended in a plot to murder him. After a few years he fled, and joined a Venetian hermit, Marinus, as a disciple. Together they would go for walks, singing psalms by twenties and thirties under the trees. Romuald could not read, and Marinus used to hit him over the head with a stick when he went wrong. Romuald ended by becoming deaf in his left ear, which Marinus hit, and asked to be struck henceforward on the right. With an Abbot from a monastery near Chalons-sur-Marne, and a Duke who had decided to escape retribution for his crimes by becoming a monk, the two hermits crossed into France, and there for a while lived in true Egyptian style. But hearing that his father had also become a monk, and was regretting it, Romuald was for returning to Italy. The neighbours, who prized their hermit, determined to kill him, so as to have his corpse, at least, for territorial protection. He pretended to be mad, shaved, and ate: they let him go. He walked to Ravenna, seized his father, tied his feet to a beam, and flogged him into a new conversion. The old man died soon afterwards; and Romuald now established himself in a Ferrara swamp, whence he emerged half poisoned, swollen, and perfectly bald, and “as green as a newt.” After this he travelled from place to place, trying to found communities of hermits, and finally established himself on Mount Sytrio in Umbria, where he created a group of solitaries, which all but proved permanent. When he knew he was to die, he had himself carried to a cell he had prepared, and, having turned out the two brothers who had assisted him, let himself die, “alone with the Alone.”

I have outlined the history of this Saint, which was written by the even fiercer-souled Saint Peter Damian, and is well eclipsed by that of the Mail-clad Dominic, Peter’s disciple, in order that the tremendous chasm between two interpretations of an ideal, bridged by Saint Bruno, may be the better gauged. His work, however, was less influential than Saint Bruno’s. Saint Bruno was born about 1030 in Cologne, possibly of that noble family of Hartefaust whose descendants profited, till not unrecently, by certain Carthusian privileges granted to them as, so to say, “Founder’s Kin.” He was quite young when he left for France, already the source of those mingled influences, intellectual and also moral – that is, “knightly” – which were for forming the European “Middle Age.” To Paris he never went, though possibly he listened to Berengar at Tours, and anyhow established himself at Rheims, where the cathedral school, already some two centuries in being, had risen to earlier and more splendid fame than Paris, and was then flourishing under the rule of Heriman. Bruno reached that level of success which the age could understand and praise; he on his side took on its colour so completely that there is little enough in his writings to distinguish them from anybody else’s. He returned to Cologne about 1055, and was, I think undoubtedly, ordained priest. He was appointed a Canon at Saint Cunibert’s, where most probably he had had his early schooling, and in 1056 was summoned back to Rheims to teach what he had learnt where he had learnt it. This gives, I suppose, the surest indication of his intellectual standing, for Rheims was by no means likely to put up with a second-best. He was Heriman’s right hand, till that scholar became a monk in 1057. Bruno succeeded him, and for twenty years ruled not only Rheims, but all the educational institutes of the diocese. His success was remarkable, and so were his pupils. It will be seen they did not forget him; and Rome itself was to summon to its councils the professor whom Urban II had learnt to value when, as Odo of Castiglione, he had sat under him at Rheims.

In 1075 he was transferred to a totally new sphere of action. He was made Chancellor of the Church of Rheims. The task was doubly distasteful. To uproot oneself from a professor’s chair and to enter upon practical and financial businesses must anyhow be difficult enough. Besides, he was under an Archbishop, Manasses I, who was a man of simony, violence, and barbaric pomps, and had openly rejoiced to become Archbishop, “since now he need no longer sing Mass.” Hildebrand himself had striven energetically with him. At the Council of Clermont, 1076, Bruno already brought up evidence against him; he reappeared at that of Autun, 1077, and Manasses was suspended. Manasses took a ferocious revenge, and then appealed to Rome. The records here are confessedly confused. At least, it is probable that Bruno did not return to Rheims, while in 1080 Manasses was finally driven out by a combined revolt of laity and clergy. Bruno meanwhile had revisited Cologne, and in 1080 or 1081 took now once more at Rheims the steps which so reset his life’s direction as to make him the Saint we know of.

There was enough, doubtless, in this broken and harassed career of professorate and chancellorship to incline a man to pessimism and despair of the world he lived in. Had he been a cynic, he might have half rejoiced when the clergy of Rheims who were for electing him for their new Bishop found themselves overruled by Henry IV, from whom Helinand of Laon bought the archbishopric for a heavy sum. Or again, an ambitious man, seeing a prize thus snatched from him, might have retired in disgust and petulance from the world’s huge cheat. But Bruno was to have plenty of chances later on, in Urban’s Court, to win a glittering and influential place. In reality, well before the climax of this quarrel, he had used the scandal of Manasses as an occasion for beginning to realize that ideal of solitude and contemplation he had long ago conceived. Already in 1077 he and his friends Raoul le Vert and Fulco the One-Eyed, Canons of Rheims, had vowed to renounce the world. Here, too, it had been a garden which was the place of their ecstasy, and, rising from the beauty of that green loveliness amid the huddled houses, like Augustine and his mother once at Ostia, they beheld the immortal glories which lie behind earth’s shadow-play. Not until this year, however, 1080, could the dream, never dissipated, be fulfilled.

Perhaps there can be nothing more impressive than the spectacle of that inner, personal life by which a man is living. All men have it. Beneath the plate-armour of bluff, behind which even the most frivolous-seeming hide from their own eyes and the world’s, what loneliness, what melancholies, what disgusts! And in the futile and degraded, the hopelessly unsuccessful in morals, in human intercourse, in lovableness, what secret efforts and hopes, what tentative affections! And in the hard and brilliant, what self-distrusts, what giddiness, as abysses yawn suddenly at their feet! Shall we say that in proportion as we get really close to the world’s non-descripts, its weaklings, we are approaching a vision of encouragement, even awe? And as we near the soul of the successful, the popular, and the four-square monarch of a man, we are preparing for ourselves an all but heartbreak of anxious pity?

But what puts us on our knees is the sight of a strong interior life within, and alien to, a strong outside activity; when, in a Bruno, successful as professor, and hard fighter in the world of men, affairs, and money, is revealed a soul aloof from all these things, wanting, all the while, something quite different – in tone, not with the crabbed dialectic of the classroom, nor with the fretful noises of courts and councils, but with the mountains, the woods, and the frozen stars of winter. This, not, as I said, through weakness, but through a width and depth of vision and a force of will, unable, quite, to submit to all these tyrannies. Is humility here? Is patience? That, for now, I do not ask. There is at least transcendence: there is something great, perhaps repellent. A gay book has been written with for hero a Don Juan of our days, and its title calls him, with evident relief, “One of Ourselves,” and delights to fancy that all men, after all, are pretty bad, and companions need never be hard to find, and we may all join kindred hands, be we but honest, in light loves and laughter. But it isn’t so. Some men are great, and don’t ask for that companionship; to none of that belongs, it well may be, the inner life of any man. It is that but few, like Bruno, not only do not shut their eyes to it, but liberate it, nurture it, and develop it to heroism.

Bruno did not easily find what he wanted. Like all these great initiators, he began by going deliberately to school, and put himself under Saint Robert at Molesme, and for a while was a monk there. But even Robert was to find it necessary to separate from that centre of diluted inspiration later on, and to found the Cistercians. Bruno went first, not unaccompanied, and remained for a while in the forests of Seche-Fontaine. He remained in affectionate union with Saint Robert; but, as ever, his paramount personality acted as magnet, and disciples not wholly to his liking began to gather round him, some from Molesme itself. Meanwhile the saintly Bishop of Grenoble, Hugh of Chateauneuf, had seen in a dream a church built to God’s glory in the Alps, and seven stars that lit the way to it; so, when Bruno with his six companions appeared before him, the Bishop found his dream to be a symbol, and welcomed him with awe, and offered them a dwelling at Chartreuse, an Alpine eyrie some four miles from Grenoble. There, among all but eternal snows, Bruno was by him established in 1084. In this terrible solitude Bruno achieved, for a while, his aim. He never meant to found an Order: he composed no rule. He had left city for town, town for forest, and forest for more inaccessible mountain, in search of solitude where he might “make his soul,” serve God, copy the Cross, and obtain that clear vision which the “multitude of business,” he had found, obscures. It is strange to see how slowly great Founders achieve their work, and after what modifications of ideal. Francis of Sales wanted to do a work almost like Vincent de Paul’s, yet his Visitation nuns are cloistered; Ignatius of Loyola but gradually, perhaps never, foresaw what his Jesuits were to be; Bruno assuredly had no notion of creating an Order which should be halfway between that of Camaldoli and the Benedictine, and should restore, almost accurately, the ideals of Saint Pachomius, and create a kind of new standard in Europe.

On this Alpine platform, more than three thousand feet above sea-level, the hermits built tiny cells, where at first they lived two by two. But that life of silence and solitude lends itself to no description of any startling interest. When you have said that the early Carthusians had no Rule, and but gradually formed “customs,” not formulated until Guigo, the fifth Prior; that they increased their isolation from each other by forming separate cells; that they met, not often, for singing Office, but prayed in solitude; that they ate but very little, went thinly clad in that most bitter cold, and studied much – the first Carthusians were all of them scholars, and their library became famous – you have said all that is substantial in their life.

This life Bruno and his friends pursued with much content and general goodwill for some six years. Then that call of obedience, to which all these idealists had schooled themselves to listen, broke in upon their silence. Urban II, who, as Odo of Castiglione, had been a disciple of Bruno’s at Rheims, regarded himself as heir of Gregory VII in all that related to reform. That this man of sagacity and determination resolved almost irnmediately after his elevation to the Papacy (1088) to summon Bruno to his assistance speaks more for Bruno’s personality, as revealed even during his professorial years, than even the call to the Chancellorship. Urban’s enemies were powerful enough; there was an anti-Pope, Guibert of Ravenna, and he had the Emperor for him. To this fiercer than any previous conflict Bruno went in 1090, followed at once by most, if not all, of his Community, panic-stricken at the idea of life without his visible example. The empty Chartreuse was entrusted to the Abbot of Chaise Dieu, though Bruno’s friend Landwin was made Prior of such monks as for a while stayed there. It was still protected by the affectionate care of Saint Hugh of Grenoble, who had become almost one of the Carthusians himself, so did he love their dwelling.

Even were there satisfactory records about the share which Bruno took in the Pope’s reforms, it would be undesirable to relate them here; for this is a sketch, not of the politics of his age, but of the hidden and contemplative ideal his life enshrines. Synods and councils crowded one upon another; disturbance, agitation, flights, would have driven a lesser man, in love with loneliness, to despair. Evicted from Rome, the Pope took Bruno with him to Calabria; at once the clergy of Reggio vote for him to succeed their dead Archbishop Arnulph. Urban and Duke Roger of Apulia favour the plan. Bruno escapes it by causing Rangier, another of his Rheims pupils, and now a Benedictine near Salerno, to be elected. The Saint implores the Pope to suffer him to return to solitude. The Pope grants half his prayer. He may re-establish his hermit life, but accessibly, near the Papal Court, ready for summons. Urban offered him the Church of Saint Cyriacus, in the Diocletian Baths at Rome, for refuge; Rome would not do: Roger, Great Count of Sicily and Calabria, and uncle of the Duke of Apulia, was for giving him his castle: castles would not serve. At last a place was found on the Duke’s estate, La Torre, in Calabria, a spot different in every way, save loneliness, from the Chartreuse of the Dauphine. In its radiant fields, round which the mountains put a crown of beauty, Bruno and his monks built themselves rough huts of wood, and in 1091 was inaugurated the Italian Carthusia. The role played by Hugh of Grenoble was repeated by Count Roger, and to both alike the title of “Founder” of the destined Order might well be given. Bruno was grateful to his benefactor, and visited him often; it was he who baptized, in 1097, his son Roger, afterwards King of Sicily. Count Roger himself, like Hugh, loved to spend leisure days with the monks, and built himself a lodge near their enclosure.

Undoubtedly Pope Urban, without realizing it, had been responsible for much by bringing Bruno to Italy. To start with, he had prevented the quite possible dying-out of the Carthusians in their cold Alps. Bruno never meant, as I said, to found an Order, nor expected to have survivors there. On the soil of Italy, however, not only did the little band of hermits survive, but it grew and had to divide into new groups. After La Torre, Our Lady’s hermitage, came the foundation of San Stefano, about a mile distant. In founding it, Bruno was perhaps directly influenced by the example of the Camaldolese hermits; for he meant it as a home for the weaker monks, the air of La Torre, though mild compared to that of the Alps, being still too sharp for some Italian constitutions. Herein, again, Urban had worked for wider than he knew. It was not nothing for Bruno to find in Italy a double current of eremitical ideal, that of Saint Romuald and his Camaldolese in the North, and the thinner yet sufficiently strong impetus given by the Greek hermit, Saint Nilus, in the South. In fact, another cloister, that of San Giacomo, given in 1099 by Count Roger to Saint Bruno, had actually been inhabited by Greek monks. Roger gave it to Bruno in thank-offering. He was, in 1098, besieging Capua, and a plot had actually been made to betray him into his enemies’ hands, when a dream about Saint Bruno warned him of his danger. He escaped, and, falling ill soon afterwards, was visited by Bruno, and made him this gift, as well as the lives of the traitors, for whom the Saint had interceded. It may be said, frankly, that the friendship of the two men is singularly beautiful, and Roger’s letters worthy of his character. He died on July 21, 1101. Urban had died in 1099, and Bruno’s world was emptying of his life’s associates. One joy, however, had been his. In the early autumn of 1100, Landwin, Prior of the reconstituted Chartreuse, visited him, and told him of the good estate of that house. Bruno sent back by him an admirable letter of encouragement and affection, which we would be glad to quote, if only to show his serenity of ideal, his firmness of thought, and his warmth of heart. Landwin was captured on his way home by Wybert, the anti-Pope, who imprisoned him, and so he died, praying for his enemy, who had himself died, however, one week earlier. The letter was carried back by Landwin’s companions to Grenoble.

Bruno himself was by now sick to death. The story of that death is the simplest. He gathered his brothers round him, thanked them, begged their pardon for his faults, and made a profession of faith, emphasizing in particular the Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and of the Real Eucharistic Presence, in regard, doubtless, of the heresies of Roscellin and Berengar which had vexed his period and his thoughts, and he affirmed the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. “I believe,” he concluded, “in the Resurrection of the Body, and in Eternal Life”; he received the Viaticum, and so died, October 6, 1101.

Whole districts flocked to the poor cloister where Bruno had dwelt lonely, and throughout Europe rolligers carried, and collected, the praise of him who had lived so silent.


The Carthusian Ideal

The Carthusian life, itself something of a hymn, half grand, half naive, like those old compositions of Saint Ambrose, recalls to mind two poems upon itself, by Matthew Arnold and Robert Louis Stevenson. Each poet seeks to rise superior to what he sees, even while it frankly awes him; yet each, when we probe to his innermost mood, is frankly melancholic, and this because each is in real truth pagan.

Of course, the melancholy is not merely within, but very much on the surface of the – after all – most respectable Matthew Arnold. In each (though very briefly, yet poignantly in Stevenson) is a keen appreciation of the natural beauties of the Grande Chartreuse and its environment: Arnold, despite himself, is still romantic. In Arnold, more culpably than it would have been in Stevenson, who always owned up most frankly when he didn’t understand what he saw, but did see straight, are careless lapses of observation. He imagines he can watch the monks “passing the Host from hand to hand.” And he certainly didn’t examine their library. He considers his faith, in opposition to theirs, “purged by vigorous teachers, who had seized his youth”; he had been taught to gaze on the high “white star of Truth,” as not Carthusians are; he contemplates them as some Greek might a runic stone, thinking the while of his own gods: “for both were faiths, and both are gone.” He is

Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world derides –
I come to shed them at their side.

To keep himself in countenance, he has to regard the Carthusians too as ghosts, unmanned men, half realities flitting between sheer nothingness and full-blooded life; they are, like himself, survivals – he, “last of the race of them who grieve”; they, last “of the people who believe.”

He has to set them beside himself, looking regretfully out at the life of action – he, spoilt for it by his corroding agnosticism, which yet is unable to find satisfaction in any hard and gay materialism; they, because they can’t help themselves either; they have grown into the shadows: their “bent was taken long ago”; Action and Pleasure call them “too late”; they beg not to be disturbed, but to be left in reverie, shade, and desert peace.

Well, we must allow that Matthew Arnold had to be melancholy, but really we can’t have him suggesting Carthusians are. It is perfectly true that ex-soldiers, ex-judges, excourtiers, ex-roués, are to be found in plenty within those cloisters; it is true, too, that they would say, looking back upon their old lives, that all that was, in a sense, “the vanity” which the ancient writer called it; but they wouldn’t allow that they had, by old experience or new self-oblation, lost anything. The gaiety of novitiates is proverbial, and the stricter the gayer; but that is emphatically not due to irresponsibility alone or even chiefly; a weight has indeed been removed, but that leaves a man freer and stronger to march, and gives him reasonable hopes of attaining. Really it is time that the old myth of cloisters filled with disillusioned men and jilted girls were given up. Postulants don’t go there out of pique, or to hide, or to pine, or to look backwards generally; but in the certainty of finding the positive, the substantial, and the stimulating. Nor are they packed with cheated boys, “cooked vocations,” anaemic and ignorant lads destined afterwards to look wistfully across grilles at banners and bugles, pomps and pleasures, too little appreciated to cause more than the mildest stirring of their atrophied instincts. Carthusians do not, 1 dare say, laugh much, but I know they can smile, and very humorously; and I fear they would be outright tempted to chaff the plaintive poet who came to beg permission to mingle his tears with theirs; the poet, lamenting that he had been forced to abandon much, and had got nothing in return; deploring even the high sacrifice and sorrows of others – a Byron’s, a Shelley’s, a Senancour’s, since no one was a bit the better for their effort and their pains. Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis. Sacrifice and sorrow are indeed, the Carthusians’ motto would confess, a world- abiding law; but they are quite sure that they possess a life, so expansive and transcendant and unitive that there is no room for repining. The Cross stretches arms wide to embrace the universe; the agnostic frets and dwindles within the circle of himself. Stevenson, temperamentally very different from Matthew Arnold, yet sees the monks from somewhat the same angle. Frankly they are skulkers. He, with all the spirit of life pulsating in his brain, passes too “out of the sun,” out of reach of lute and fife, rumour of world at large, and homelier realm of “confidences low and dear.” There, at “Our Lady of the Snows,” he finds the “unfraternal brothers,” “aloof, unhelpful and unkind, the prisoners of the iron mind” –

Poor passionate men, still clothed afresh
With agonizing folds of flesh;
Whom the clear eyes solicit still
To some bold output of the will.

Fancy and Memory conspire to call them, and him, “to heroic death,” or to “uncertain fresh delight.” To the “uproar and the press,” to “human business,” to laughter, honour, fight and failure and new fight, he summons them from their “prudent turret and redoubt.” God, spying from Heaven’s top “the noble wars” of mankind, shall like enough “pass their corner by” –

For still the Lord is Lord of might,
In deeds, in deeds, He takes delight.

The plough, spear, ship, city; the streets, the fields; the climber, the songster; the unfrowning “Caryatides” who by their “daily virtues,” weak enough, no doubt, yet “under-prop” high Heaven; trade, marriage, motherhood; the sowers of gladness – these He will approve.

But ye! O ye who linger still
Here in your fortress on the hill
With placid face, with tranquil breath,
The unsought volunteers of death,
Our cheerful General on high
With careless looks may pass you by.

I may be allowed to acknowledge my immense admiration for Stevenson. By experience I know how all of him stimulates, from his astonishing style to his inner breadth of mind; from his sheer story-telling power to his subtle penetration of motive and registration of emotion; his breeziness, his reverence, his tenderness, and his remorseless irony; his humanness and his triumph over weakness of body and of instinct; for whose pages are at once clearer-sighted and cleaner than are his? Not Dickens’s, often maudlin; not Scott’s, clumsy often; not, surely, Thackeray’s. Yet the author of Jekyll and Hyde, of the New Arabian Nights and of The Dynamiter, knew most certainly what fear meant, and what corruption, and was not ignorantly victor. How was it, then, that he missed, all through, that spiritual element which would have given a fourth dimension to the world he loved so? Which would have shattered his horizons, and put meaning alike into fight and future? Was his adoration of strength, of doing things, of sheer conflict almost for its own sake, at any rate without seeing its “why,” due in part to the superb vitality and appetite of his soul, housed in a body incapable of responding? The weak in body are constantly on their knees before any great strength; and when the body is relatively quelled by valiant soul, that psychic discipline, the relentless cult of that “chill virtue,” cheerfulness, again and again will but intensify the mirage, redouble the illusion, and add enormous power to the attraction of sheer material force. A singular consequence, but undoubtedly to be recognized, not rarely. The pagan may conquer weakness, but he can’t manage it. Only Christ knew what to do with the maimed and the halt; only Catholic priests, the war has proved anew, can cope with the sinner and the dying. Not but what this grimly smiling fighter had his moments of sick horror. He never expected quite to succeed at all; had he succeeded at all? Memory brought back, to the consumptive in Samoa, that “bonnie boat,” speeding, like a bird on wing, over the sea to Skye; he sailed it once: was it really he? “All that was good, all that was fair, all that was me, is gone.” And the present could be deadly, too. So much tenacity, despite the stark truth, to the “half of a broken hope,” has scarcely ever been seen as that which he reveals in his “Lord, if this were enough.” He sees human nature stripped and filthy; and has to be mauled even to the earth, and rise again to fight “for the shade of a word,” trusting that somehow the right must be right. The world isn’t by any manner of means a good fight, all of it! At the root of his mind, Stevenson is sad. Are we harsh in calling this great man a pagan? Not if we do not think contemptuously of pagans! Not if we honour and admire the “perfect pagan” as the flower of God’s natural creation. But what is lost if we believe in super-nature too? We reverence Stevenson’s immense self-discipline. Why should not he do homage to those who were his brothers in ascesis, fellow-athletes, happier than he, not because they experienced less of temptation, but because they had a vision of the reason of temptation, of the goal of effort, and a humble consciousness of help? Why, the very student has to cut himself off one sort of life in order to become an expert in mind-things: he makes a bad practical politician; and the professional athlete is rarely an artist. Perhaps departmentalism is a pity, but some specialists there needs must be; and medicine is careful not to confuse its role with surgery’s; and we pay astonished homage to science when it is modest enough to keep off ground that is philosophy’s. Were, then, the Carthusians no more on the spiritual plane than Stevenson on the psychic, we dare not quarrel with them, unless we indeed proclaim the dogma that there is no spiritual plane and no one must try to be an expert there: then indeed the Charterhouse must raise its cry for liberty. No; even setting aside the profoundest aspect of their life, the essential value of prayer, the supreme rights of contemplation, and the expiatory value of Christ-uniting penance, I would say that for sheer discipline of thought, for width and height of view, and for true serenity – after all, Stevenson’s was a torturing cheerfulness – the Carthusians move far loftier than the man who not alone respects the “daily virtues,” but, to justify his worship of them, declares there are no others.

But, briefly, on this critic’s chosen terrain, I would say that Saint Bruno’s monks proved downright more useful to our history than ever they could have been as professors, lawyers, barons, and Bishops. I believe that the truths they stood for, and that order of value among truths which their heroic life emphasized as nothing else could do, saved Europe better than did the careful and discreet librarian, the honest, tentative physician, the prudent churchman, and the domesticated knight, assuming that there were any. Suppose they had all been Bishops like Hugh of Grenoble, and Popes like Urban II? But they drew their spiritual energy, they felt, in preponderant measure, precisely from the example and the prayers of Bruno. Saint Louis, later, felt the stronger to do justice because he was a tertiary of Saint Francis; the wisest, now, of our most active workers rely wholeheartedly on the prayers of children and of nuns. Nor let it be said that nowadays, at least, Carthusians are out of place. Principle and order have fled from our unlucky land. We turned them out three centuries ago. Of squandered emotion we have plenty, though the years of the “decadents” have passed. Of tumultuous thinking we have a sufficiency, and of restless energy how very much! Even among Catholics the passion for external energy, to which they had so long been disaccustomed, is widely noticeable, and admirable, too, provided the multitude of the business does not eclipse the vision, but is chastened and made orderly and put into perspective thereby.

“How glad I am” – if I may venture to quote what was said by one to whom I had named the three Saints of whom I have here written – “that you are saying something about people who never did anything.” Well . . . there are deeds and deeds. At least this much is true; not in just any deeds God “takes delight,” but in motived deeds – in the deeds that an intention may be; in much that the sick writer scorned as mere inertia; and most certainly He will overlook half of that to which the exile peered wistfully back, and could not see to be but wasted output.

A strength goes forth, and has gone forth for nearly a thousand years, from those Alpine cells, which denies roundly the whole premises of our well-loved writer’s poem.

The Carthusians are not, then, what these two poets imagine them to be. Is there not, however, a real affinity of mood between them and the later Stoics of the Roman Empire, with whom at any rate their literary self-expression seems to mark close sympathy? Stoicism loved to see the world as a complete expression of that ultimate force which was justly to be called God; it was His uttered word, and all lesser forms were its syllables, or even its lonely letters. That tremendous Word spoke the full harmonious praise of that God whom it made visible, and he who would praise God properly must be in harmony with it, and not with its dislocated parts. Hence, not only obedience to its laws, but love of them, was a wise man’s privilege: love, too, not of the whole only, but of each tiny and tinier point of it – of slaves, of the rich, of the mean folk round about him. All were, or might be, citizens in God’s great city. Self-subordination; renouncement of all pride, all fighting for one’s own hand; serenity in pleasure and in pain; flight from distraction and temptation when you could not conquer it; discipline of the will, until it coincide wholly with the current of Divine Necessity which guides us; Will governed by thought, each in submission to the Universal Law, that is what issued into the best – and, at times, most joyful – in a Seneca, a Marcus Aurelius, or an Epictetus. Such, then, was the ideal.

Guigo, the fifth Prior of the Carthusians, left behind him, not his “Customs” only, but some Meditations. From these I take a few sentences, none of which you would be surprised to capture upon Stoic lips.

He begins by riveting your mind to the thought of sheer Truth. “Without form or comeliness, and fastened to a cross, Truth is to be worshipped.”

(Truth must be told, not to hurt or please, but for its own sake.)

You would not tell a man the truth unless you thought it unpalatable? Perversity! But you do worse when, to please a man, you speak a truth which delights as much as lies and flattery would. Through this stripped Truth lies Peace. Peace found in temporal things is as fragile as they are: seek angels’ peace, not brutes’. So, if you ask for peace, seek truth; and the beginning of that search is war on falsity. For this nothing is more serviceable than self-blame and self-contempt. “Whoever does this for thee is thy helper.” “When anything good is said of thee, it is but a rumour as concerning which thou knowest better.”

Yet this self-discipline is but the emancipation from self-torture. It is entanglement in perishable things which is the cause of all our tears and fears. “Easy is the way to God, since it goes by laying down burdens. Thou dost unburden thyself in proportion as thou dost deny thyself.” In this is no false hatred of creation. “All matters which are called adverse are so only to those who love the creature rather than the Creator.” Yet so rigorously universal must ordered love be that u whoever wishes another to show special love toward him (i.e., at the expense of his neighbour or of God) is a robber, and an offender against all. … So far as in thee lies, thou hast destroyed all men, for thou hast put thyself between them and God, so that, gazing on thee and ignoring God, they might admire and praise thee alone.” “In hope thou mayest cherish the unripened grain; thus, love those who are not yet good. Be such toward all as the Truth has shown itself to be toward thee. Just as it hath sustained and loved thee for thy betterment, so do thou sustain and love men in order to better them. Who loves all will be saved without doubt; but who is loved by men will not because of that be saved.”

“The poverty of thine 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 gaping after the 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.”

Nearly all of this, and its source, were it not for the strong infusion of Saint Augustine – and this affects it only here and there – reminds one almost disconcertingly of the “religionized” Stoicism of the Roman Empire. Now, first and foremost this bears witness to the extraordinary vitality of civilizing ideas, as “canalized” by the monasteries and schools. After all, that crowning phase of Stoicism came at the end of a civilization. It was scarcely astonishing, as a result of a philosophy including so much good from the outset, tested by centuries of experience, and “emotionalized” by recurrent imperial persecution. But that after chaotic centuries, after the degradation of so much that made the “body” of the Christian religion, at the head of a new era, unparalleled, perhaps, in creative impetus and spiritual triumph, these ideas should be found as strong, more pure, and so similarly stated, is a perfect revelation of the work of the Christian spirit, and is a tremendous encouragement. In particular, it designates a permanent debt civilization owes to France. She alone, in the early Middle Ages, disseminated ideas. What followed was largely the disciplining of Teuton emotions by French thought. We have been taught to think poorly, if at all, of what was going on between those old cathedral schools and in the cloisters. But a life was going on, capable of sudden self-manifestation as lofty and powerful as the best which had preceded it. (“The best”; I speak quite roughly: yet I believe that in a true human sense that Stoicism was at least as useful as, say, that far more mystical and dangerous phenomenon, Neo-Platonism; and as for Aristotle, Aquinas was very soon to reinstate by equalling and even transcending him).

Yet, in spite of all similarities, a difference of principle leads to a gulf between the serenity of the Stoic and the Carthusian peace. Each was enabled to take a universal view: to be well above the tyranny and war of immediate circumstance; each caught a tremendous harmony in what to so many is but silence. But, for the Stoics, this did indeed issue directly into the Stoic pride; the self-sufficient man was their ideal; he was “cosmo-centric,” yet essentially “auto-centric”; his very toleration, his gentleness, his sympathy, was more than half contempt. In his journey towards this ideal, his self-knowledge tended inevitably to melancholy. “I see what I should be; I see what I fain would be; probably I can’t be that, any more than my fellowmen can be what they should be. At best I can submit to the world-force: willy-nilly I must, in the end, reach the goal to which it sweeps; meanwhile, this world is a sorry place, and I but a poor creature. Best that I should draw my skirts together, lest they be sullied and then soil that relatively wise and noble self I have so painfully emancipated.”

In the Carthusian monk is a humility of mind not found in those Emperors, statesmen, and professors. Christ took up human nature, “not despising it”; while human perfectibility was not, the monk well knew, in himself or in his fellows; his “sufficiency was of God”; on Him he concentrated, well certain that should he move towards that Centre, his brother, and this ungoverned, undirected society as a whole, must, involved by his strong tendency, move thither likewise. Not isolation, nor yet personal supremacy, was his ideal; but a gathering of himself and his world towards their God.

And we are carried back to what is almost a platitude, yet no more so, perhaps, than all essential truths. The Stoic idea of God was not that of the Christian. When those philosophers wrote most beautifully about God’s Fatherhood, of God as a Pilot, as Friend, as Lover of His world, they knew quite well that they were but “condescending,” using a language not only metaphorical, still less fully “analogical,” as we would say, but positively dangerous and apt to mislead. Of the ultimate force in things, that which is in – or is? – the world, which by absolute intrinsic necessity draws it to its end, they knew nothing save that it was inevitable. The human will, chained like a dog beneath a cart, might struggle and strain, but none the less must go whither the Driver drove. It can only lessen the pain of that journey; and who the Driver was, and what his goal, not the Stoic might tell you. In the Carthusian mind the Christian idea of God was total master: and for full personal revelation, he had Christ; and for method – well, once more, before his eyes he held the Cross, steady above the whirl of life, unshaken by crash of systems or by death.

The Stoic, because he thought more than the Cynic, reached a sweeter and more universal freedom; but than either did the Carthusian attain to a more positive, more active, more optimistic, more expansive and established peace. And active peace is, I dare say, some sort of description of true Heaven.

In singling out, thus, certain aspects of the Carthusian ideal, I have not, of course, for any moment imagined I was giving an adequate account of this mode of life, or its history, or of the monastic ideal in general. The Theology of the ascetic life is quite firm-knit, and rooted in the authentic revelation of Christ and in words of His hard to be, save willfully, misconstrued. I have hoped to disengage three elements, mainly: First, the personal function and even the strong lovable personality of Saint Bruno, and its importance as a down-right civilizing factor in European history. Second, the tremendous discipline of thought which he reinstated, which was assisted and led up to by his way of life – for nothing can be more perverse than to regard his, or allied, ways of life as primary, and claiming, as an end in themselves, subordination of thought and will. Finally, that all this current within Christianity sets, not towards annihilation, but construction; not renunciation, save temporary and of the less, but attainment of the more in every lasting way; is not pessimistic, but hopeful; not selfish, but social; not separatist, but knitting into one the soul, the world, and God.