The Contemplative Life in Bruno's Letters

Much more valuable and certain than all the testimonials from Bruno's friends are the two letters that he wrote during his years in Calabria recounting conditions as they were then, one to his friend Raoul le Verd, and the other to the brethren at Chartreuse. Both of them belong to his last years. The letter to Raoul le Verd was written between 1096 and 1101, and the other in 1099 or 1100. In each of them Bruno speaks freely and clearly. With Raoul he uses a more literary, polished style, showing some erudition; with his brethren at Chartreuse he speaks simply, using plain, warm language. Both of them show touching sincerity and openness, revealing the depth of his soul in a wonderful light that is distinct yet subdued, near the end of his life, at the conclusion of his experience in pure contemplation.

This study of Bruno's soul should include the profession of faith that he wanted to make before he died (more about that below). His emphasis and his expressions provide an earlier insight into his inner life.

First, the letter to Raoul le Verd. Raoul was one of the two friends Bruno met with in Adam's garden when they made the vow to leave the world and embrace monastic life. Years had passed since then. Bruno had fulfilled his vow; Raoul returned to Rheims and stayed there. When the provost Manassès became archbishop of Rheims in 1096, Raoul was named provost of the cathedral Chapter, but the friendship between Bruno and Raoul did not wane. Bruno tells us that Raoul wrote "warm letters, in which he tactfully reaffirms his friendship", "he lavishes his favors" to Bruno and Brother Bernard, he gives "still more testimonials" of "his affection". Bruno answered his letters. But from their correspondence nothing now exists except this important letter.

Bruno regarded God as the source of friendship. He was troubled about the spiritual future of his friend, because Raoul had made a clear, formal vow, and he did not fulfill it. He was not right with God. What would happen to him in eternity if he died in perjury? "If you should leave this life — may God preserve you! — before fulfilling the obligation of your vow, you will leave me destroyed by sadness and without hope for consolation." Then, very strongly, sometimes severely, but always tactfully, Bruno explained to Raoul the seriousness of his position. Before any commentary, the letter should be read here:(1)

1. Bruno, to the esteemed Lord Raoul, provost of the Chapter of Rheims: health in the spirit of true charity.
I am aware of your loyalty to our long and constant friendship, the more wonderful and excellent as it is found so rarely among men. Great distances and many years have separated us, but they have not diminished your affection for your friend. By your warm letters and your many kindnesses to me, and to Brother Bernard for my sake, you have reassured me of your friendship, and in many other ways besides. For your goodness, I send thanks. Though they are less than you deserve, they come from a love that is pure.

2. A long time ago I sent a messenger with some letters to you. He was faithful on other errands, but this time he has not come back. So I thought about sending one of our monks to explain my concerns in person, because I cannot do it adequately by letter.

3 . Now I want you to know — hoping it will not displease you — that I am in good health and things are going as well as I could wish. I pray God that it is the same for my soul. In my prayer I await the divine mercy to heal my inner weakness and grant the blessings I desire.

4. I am living in a wilderness in Calabria, sufficiently distant from any center of human population. I am with my religious brethren, some of whom are very learned. They persevere in their holy life, wafting for the return of the master, ready to open the door for him as soon as he knocks. How can I speak adequately about this solitude, its agreeable location, its healthful and temperate climate? It is in a wide, pleasant plain between the mountains, with verdant meadows and pasturelands adorned with flowers. How can I describe the appearance of the gently rolling hills all around, and the secret of the shaded valleys where so many rivers flow, the brooks, and the springs? There are watered gardens and many fruit trees of various kinds.

5. But why am I giving so much time to these pleasantries? For a wise man there are other attractions, which are still more pleasant and useful, being divine. Nevertheless, scenes like these are often a relaxation and a diversion for fragile spirits wearied by a strict rule and attention to spiritual things. If the bow is stretched for too long, it becomes slack and unfit for its purpose.

6. Only those who have experienced the solitude and silence of the wilderness can know what benefit and divine joy they bring to those who love them.

There strong men can be recollected as often as they wish, abide within themselves, carefully cultivate the seeds ofvirtue, and be nourished happily by the fruits of paradise.

There one can try to come to clear vision of the divine Spouse who has been wounded by love, to a pure vision that permits them to see God.

There they can dedicate themselves to leisure that is occupied and activity that is tranquil.

There, for their labor in the contest, God gives his athletes the reward they desire: a peace that the world does not know and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Remember lovely Rachel. Although she gave Jacob fewer offspring than Leah, he preferred her to the more fruitful one, whose vision was dim. The offspring of contemplation are more rare than the offspring of action; so it was that their father had more affection for Joseph and Benjamin than for their other brothers. Remember that better part, which Mary chose and which would not be taken away from her.

7. Remember the lovely Sunamitess, that virgin who was the only one in the land of Israel found worthy to attend to David and warm him when he was old. I should like for you, too, dear brother, to love God above all, so that warmed by his embrace you may be aflame with divine love. May this charity take root in your heart so that the glory of the world, that captivating and deceptive temptation, will soon seem abhorrent to you; that you will reject the riches whose cares are a burden to the soul; and that you will find those pleasures, so harmful to body as well as spirit, distasteful.

8. You should always be aware of the one who wrote these words: "If anyone loves the world and what is in the world — the concupiscence of the flesh, the covetousness of the eyes and pride — the love of the Father is not in him"; and these, too: "Whoever wishes to be a friend of this world becomes an enemy of God." Is there any greater sin, any worse folly and downfall of the spirit, anything more hurtful or unfortunate, than to wish to be at war against the one whose power cannot be resisted and whose just vengeance cannot be evaded? Are we stronger than he? If, for the moment, his patient goodness moves us to repentance, will he not at last punish the offenses of those who disregard him? What is more perverse, more contrary to reason, to justice, and to nature itself, than to prefer creature to Creator, to pursue perishable goods instead of eternal ones, those of earth rather than those of heaven?

9. My dear friend, what do you intend to do? What, if not to believe God's counsels, to believe Truth who cannot deceive? This is his counsel to you: "Come to me, you who are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you." Isn't it a burden both unprofitable and unproductive to be tormented by concupiscence, constantly under attack by the cares, anxieties, fears, and sorrows that are the result of those desires? What heavier burden is there than that which makes the soul descend from its sublime dignity down to the underworld, where all holiness is held in contempt? Then, my brother, flee all this agitation and misery, and go from the storm of this world to the cove where there is tranquil and certain rest.

10. You know what Wisdom herself says to us: "If you do not renounce all your possessions, you cannot be my disciple." Is there anyone who cannot see how beautiful and useful and pleasant it is to dwell in his school under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there to learn divine philosophy, which alone can confer true happiness?

11. So, it is important for you to consider your duty carefully. If the invitation from love does not suffice for you, if the glimpse of useful goods does not impel you, at least let necessity and the fear of punishment restrain you.

12. You know the promise you made and to whom you made it. He is all-powerful and terrible, that Lord to whom you consecrated yourself in a pleasing oblation. It is not permitted to lie to him, nor is it profitable, because he does not permit himself to be mocked with impunity.

13. You will remember that day when we were together — you, Fulco le Borgne, and I — in the little garden beside Adam's house, where I was staying. We talked for some time, I think, about the false attractions and the perishable riches of this world and about the joys of eternal glory. With fervent love for God we then promised, we vowed, we decided soon to leave the shadows of the world to go in search of the good that is everlasting and receive the monastic habit. We would have carried out our plan had Fulco not gone to Rome, but we put it off until he would return. He delayed, and other matters came up, his courage waned, and his enthusiasm cooled.

14. What else is there for you to do, my dear friend, but to acquit yourself of this pledge as soon as possible? Otherwise you will have been guilty of a lie all this time, and you will incur the wrath of the all-powerful One as well as the terrible sufferings to come. What sovereign would permit one of his subjects to deny him with impunity a service that had been promised, particularly a service he valued highly? Do not take my word for it, but believe the prophet and the Holy Spirit saying: "Make vows to the Lord, your God, and fulfill them; let all round about him bring gifts to the terrible Lord who checks the pride of princes, who is terrible to the kings of the earth" (Ps 76:12f ). Pay attention: this is the voice of the Lord, the voice of your God, the voice of the one who is terrible and who checks the pride of princes, the voice of the one who is terrible to other kings of the earth. Why does the Spirit of God teach that so strongly, if not to encourage you earnestly to do what you promised by your vow? Why is it hard for you to fulfill a vow that will not cause you to lose nor even diminish anything you have but will rather bring you great profit from the one to whom you owe it?

15. Do not allow yourself to be delayed by deceitful riches — they cannot relieve our poverty; nor by the dignity of the provost's office — it cannot be exercised without great peril to the soul. Permit me to say that it would be repugnant and unjust to appropriate for your own use the possessions of which you are merely the administrator, not the owner. If the desire for honor and glory inclines you to live in style — and you cannot afford those expenses on what you possess — do you not in one way or another deprive some people of what you give to others? That is not an act of beneficence or of generosity. No act is charitable if it is not just.

16. But I would like to discourage you from withdrawing from divine charity in favor of serving the Archbishop, who trusts your advice and depends upon it. It is not easy to give sound, beneficial advice all the time. Divine love, being more sound, is more beneficial. What is more sound and more beneficial, more innate, more in accord with human nature than to love the good? And what is as good as God? Still more, is there anything good besides God? So, the holy soul who has any comprehension of this good, of his incomparable brilliance, splendor, and beauty, burns with the flame of heavenly love and cries out: "I thirst for God, the living God. When will I come and see the face of God?" (Ps 42:3).

17. My brother, do not disregard this admonition from your friend. Do not turn a deaf ear to the words of the Holy Spirit. Rather, my dearest friend, satisfy my desire and my long waiting, so that my worry, anxiety, and fear for you will torment me no longer. If you should leave this life — may God preserve you! — before having fulfilled what you owe by your vow, you would leave me destroyed by sadness and without hope for consolation.

18. That is why I beg you to grant my wish: at least come on a devotional pilgrimage to Saint Nicholas, and from there to me. You will see the one who loves you more than anyone else, and together we will talk about our affairs, our religious observance, and what concerns the good of us both. I trust in the Lord that you will not regret having undertaken the difficulty of such an arduous journey.

19. I have exceeded the bounds of an ordinary letter because, being unable to enjoy having you here, I wanted to talk with you a little longer by writing this. I sincerely hope that you, my brother, will long remain in good health and remember my advice.
Please send me The Life of Saint Remi, because it is impossible to find a copy where we are.
Farewell.

There is the wonderful letter. It seems to have been intended primarily to persuade Raoul to fulfill his old vow as soon as possible. Commentators have not failed to recognize an unusual development in Bruno's argument. The reasoning proceeds symmetrically; it is, as it were, "wrapped up". First there is the motif of love (7); then an appeal to a higher interest (8, 9, 10); following that comes an appeal to fear (11, 12, 14); then another appeal to interest (beginning in 16) ; and finally again an appeal to love (16). But Bruno's letter goes beyond the affair of Raoul. It practically constitutes a short treatise on the solitary life, and that is the issue here: How did he understand the life of the wilderness, and especially how did he perceive it after having experienced it, now that he had lived it and he was living it still: "Only those who have experienced the solitude and silence of the wilderness can know what benefit and divine joy they bring to those who love them (6)."

The thread of this letter is the love of God: only the love of God explains and really justifies dedicating oneself to the contemplative life. And not the love of God as it is commonly lived, either, but fervent, burning love of God, an extraordinary love like that which the Holy Spirit himself once placed in the heart of the three friends when they were together in Adam's little garden: "with fervent love for God we promised, vowed" (13). Bruno several times repeated this expression in his letter, scarcely modifying it at all. Referring to "the lovely Sunamitess", a symbol of the beauty of God, he wrote: "So I should like for you, dear brother, to love him above all, so that, warmed by his embrace you may be aflame with divine love (divino caleres amore)." And at the conclusion of his letter, confiding to his friend his final hope, Bruno said: "And what is as good as God? Still more, is there anything good besides God? So, the holy soul who has any comprehension of this good, of his incomparable brilliance, splendor, and beauty, burns with the flame of heavenly love and cries out: 'I thirst for God, the living God. When will I come and see the face of God?' (Ps 42:3)". At the beginning of his eremitical vocation, at the heart of his contemplative experience, burns and flames that extraordinary love of God.

What is the love of God to which Bruno refers? He speaks of that love of God to which the Incarnation and redemption of Jesus Christ give us access, of that filial love that is a participation in the same love exchanged by the Divine Persons within the Trinity. The numerous references to the Holy Spirit, to his profound activity in the soul, are our guarantee of that love: "There, for their labor in the contest, God gives his athletes the reward they desire: a peace that the world does not know and joy in the Holy Spirit" (6). "Is there anyone who cannot see how beautiful and useful and pleasant it is to dwell in his school under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there to learn divine philosophy, which alone can confer true happiness?" (10). It is the Holy Spirit who spoke to the heart of Raoul the "terrible" words that should fill him with fear for not fulfilling his vow (14). "Do not turn a deaf ear to the words of the Holy Spirit" (17). Addressing these entreaties to his friend, Bruno intended only to be the interpreter of the Holy Spirit, who was urging Raoul from within.

The essential, fundamental quality of the contemplative, according to Saint Bruno, is living expectant and hopeful with eternity always in view. Bruno describes his companions in these words: "They constantly keep a holy watch, awaiting the return of the master, so they may open for him when he knocks." In general, the life of the wilderness does not leave the soul in this place of waiting and hoping. At the moment they made their vow God granted the three friends their desire: in the solitude and silence to "capture what is lasting" while they were still here in this world. "There valiant men can be recollected as much as they wish, develop their interior life, diligently cultivate the seeds of virtue, and happily produce the fruits of paradise." Striving and already possessing; desiring and already enjoying; struggling and already having the reward; in a desert that is already an orchard — this for Bruno is the call to pure contemplation. In a wonderful phrase he expresses this paradox of the contemplative state, this mystery of suffering and of joy that is the foundation of his existence: "There we try to acquire the clear vision that wounds our Divine Spouse with love and, clear and pure, allows us to see God. "His concise Latin phrase for this should be given: Hic oculus ille conquiritur, cujus sereno intuitu vulneratur sponsus amore, quo mundo et puro conspicitur Deus. Speaking of one who lives in the city of the angels, Saint Augustine said: Est, videt, amat: in ceternitate Dei viget, in veritate Dei lucet, in bonitate Dei gaudet (He is, he sees, he loves: the eternity of God is his life, the truth of God is his light, the goodness of God is his joy). That is the destiny of the contemplative but, while he is in this world, this life cannot be without effort, this truth not without obscurity, this joy not without sorrow.

Seréno intuitu: here this is translated by the words "clear vision". Actually, serenus means more. Along with the notion of clarity, of limpidity, there is also the notion of peace, calm, repose. Here we find a notion that is very dear to Bruno, the notion of quies, the quiet that is central to the Carthusian concept of contemplative life. This rest is the fruit of faith, hope, and love. It prepares the way for wisdom, balance, goodness, patience, spiritual virginity. Quietus is his favorite word to describe "the gate of the religious life", both in the letter to Raoul le Verd and in the letter to the brethren of Chartreuse. This "quiet" is not comfort, security, immobility, passivity. Rather, it is active, dynamic. It is the anticipation of the divine rest that contemplating God will give to the soul in eternity. The first generations of Carthusian were not deceived about that: in chapter XV of the Customs, Guigo prescribed that the prior give his monks "an example of rest, stability, and the other practices that affect their life".

At this point it is useful to observe that the contemplative life is a special vocation, particularly one lived in the ultimate purity that Bruno embraced. "The sons of contemplation are more rare than the sons of activity." One of the Eulogies recounts that a monk "who loved Bruno very much used to say that he alone of all his contemporaries had renounced the world". By the grace given to him personally and by the grace given him as founder he had the privilege to "capture what is lasting" in an outstanding degree. He really set himself, and those who wanted to follow him to that strictness of observance, at the border of two universes: the universe of God, his grace and his love, and the universe of this world, where everything, even the hierarchy and the clergy, are almost fatally spoiled by imperfection or sin. His vision cannot be comprehended except as God's call to perfect love; it is a vision that Bruno had the right to express in all its rigor, considering what he had seen, heard, and suffered at Rheims. It is a vision that he had the right, as a friend, confidant, and companion in the effort, to ask Raoul to consider. But it is a vision that cannot come to clergy or laymen whom God calls to remain "in the world but not of the world".

Nevertheless, when Bruno defined the beauties and the requirements of the purely contemplative life, he did a great service for all Christians, even those living "in the world". He presented the qualities and the effects of contemplative prayer on their own level. Even if it were only stammering to begin with, silence, recollection, simplicity, and purity would come to them as a result of their sincere love for God.

According to that pattern for contemplative life, to which his friend Raoul had vowed himself, as Bruno also had, that day in Adam's garden, he described what could be called the conditions for an absolute love for God.

It is a climate of spiritual energy and strength. "There strong men can be recollected as often as they wish, abide within themselves, carefully cultivate the seeds of virtue." Silence and solitude are at once conditions for contemplation and the fruits of contemplation. That spiritual strength leads the soul to be courageous in sacrificing "deceitful riches" and renouncing the honors and burdens of the world: this renunciation, generosity, and magnanimity in sacrifice, which astonish the world and sometimes the soul itself, are simply the effects of divine charity: "May this charity take root in your heart so that soon the glory of the world, that captivating and deceptive temptation, will seem abhorrent to you, and you will easily reject the riches whose cares are a burden to the soul, finding those pleasures, so harmful to body as well as spirit, distasteful." Precisely there lay the sin of Raoul, which exposed him to the wrath of God: he had been the object of a call to pure love, he possessed the grace to renounce all those things, and he procrastinated. "What is more perverse, more contrary to reason, to justice, and to nature itself, than to prefer creature to Creator, to pursue perishable goods instead of eternal ones, those of earth rather than those of heaven?" Detachment from riches and honors as well as poverty and humility are indispensable for the "strong men". Even the grace of a contemplative vocation includes a mysterious light that reveals not only that creatures are nothing and that God is everything but also the strength to be detached from them in order to be attached to God alone.

In Bruno's vision that strength of soul does not imply tension. There is truth in the image of the bow that cannot always be taut for fear it will either grow slack or break, a traditional figure in mystical literature. After writing lyrically about the beauties of Saint Mary of La Torre, Bruno continued: "Scenes like these are a relaxation and a diversion for fragile spirits wearied by a strict rule and attention to spiritual things. If the bow is stretched too long, it becomes slack and ill suited to its purpose." Bruno's balance was legendary. In the view of many it was, along with goodness, his "specialty". But let the word not be misunderstood. Balance, according to Bruno, is not the motionlessness of the scales or some kind of alternating of contraries that cancel each other. Rather, it is the harmonious combination of two positive qualities, two pure occupations, two opposite sentiments, both of which are pleasing to God. Strength, said Bruno, must be combined with gentleness, moderation, and humility. The spiritual combat that is the labor of contemplation becomes easier by simple, reverent contact with creation. Solitude must be both energy and rest. Bruno rejoiced that his hermits — at least some of them were "knowledgeable", "well instructed". He admired and supported libraries furnished with the best spiritual books. "There one can dedicate himself to leisure that is occupied and activity that is tranquil." These associations go beyond a play on words. They convey his ideal.

It is Bruno's taste for balance that gives the word beneficial its somewhat unusual meaning, but it is a meaning that recurs so frequently in his writing that it can be considered one of the key words of his thought. There is a very good example in his letter to Raoul le Verd: "It is not easy to give sound, beneficial advice all the time. Divine love, being more sound, is more beneficial. What is more sound and more beneficial, what more innate and more in accord with human nature, than to love the good?" With great insight the author of "Letters of the First Carthusian" observed: "A whole philosophy is there, or better, a whole theology. Bruno based a moral order, even the supernatural relation ship of man with God, upon the very nature of things. `Beneficial' is what allows nature to achieve the purpose that God has assigned to it, and this intrinsic purpose gives nature its fulfillment." To put this theological explanation in the terms of spiritual psychology, the meaning of beneficial is in harmony with balance, that balance that is a kind of alliance of the human with grace, creation, and redemption in a harmonious hierarchy of values. Thus, Bruno harmonizes solitude and friendship, learning and silence, strictness and affection, "athletic" competition and quiet.

He described the location and the climate of Calabria in lyrical, almost romantic terms: "How could I speak satisfactorily about this solitude, its agreeable location, its healthful and temperate climate?" etc. Of course, this "location", this "vast, pleasant plain", these "pasturelands adorned with flowers", etc., are agreeable: to him only because they are, in the first place, a solitude.

Some are surprised perhaps that, in this letter to Raoul, Bruno does not once speak explicitly about self-discipline, fasting, and sacrifices. Only the phrase "austere rule" evokes the sacrificial side of the eremitical life. In his view all of that must be subject to the spiritual enthusiasm, profound joy, and fullness of charity in a soul that grace stimulates to contemplate and imitate Jesus Christ in his death and Resurrection. One must be pleased by his request at the conclusion of this severe letter: "Please send me The Life of Saint Remi, because it is impossible to find a copy where we are." This hermit still remembers Rheims; this pure contemplative is moved by the memory of a past that he loved long ago. Like anyone else, he remains interested in a book that impressed him. In it he had no doubt discovered a source of true charity.

Fascinating as Bruno's letter to Raoul le Verd may be for understanding the conditions in which he and his band of hermits lived, there are also interesting references to the material circumstances of the hermitage in Calabria and even to Bruno's holiness. "Now I let you know — in the hope it will not displease you — that I am in good health [Bruno was approaching the age of seventy] and things are going as well as I could wish." He gave us an enthusiastic description of the location of Saint Mary of La Torre. Unfortunately, there was no equally descriptive one of Chartreuse. A comparison of the two surely would have been interesting.

Should an answer be given to an objection that might be made about this letter? Since it brings to mind Saint Jerome's famous epistle to the monk Heliodorus or the theme of Saint John Chrysostom's Expositio in Psalmo IX, some might think that the thoughts Bruno expressed here are more or less conventional phrases about solitude, contemplation, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. Concealed behind these words are the gift of a life, the fervor of an existence. Undoubtedly Bruno the letter writer was employing rhetorical devices then in fashion when he followed famous models like those. But the ancient art of writing is taking thoughts that are common to everyone and treating them in a personal way. And in his letter to Raoul le Verd Bruno surely succeeded in infusing everything he said with the fervor of his own love for God, his spiritual joy, and his friendship for Raoul. His words expressed his whole heart: he said exactly what he thought, felt, and lived. One example should be enough. More than forty times he took quotations from the Bible, explicit and implicit, to support his argument. Far from concealing or blurring his feelings, or making them everybody's or nobody's, they reveal the path he was taking, as well as the sacred texts that "sang" in his heart, and the mysteries toward which his own temperament and God's grace were directing him. No, the letter to Raoul le Verd is not an academic lesson. It discloses Bruno's soul.

Perhaps, if there were nothing besides this letter, there might be doubt about knowing all of Bruno's thoughts about the vocation to the contemplative life. Might he have been inclined to work out his plan and select only some of his thoughts to present them in a manner calculated to persuade his friend Raoul le Verd rather than to disclose his own deepest thoughts? In a word, was this for the public or just for one person? He did not know that his letters, like those of other celebrated people, were going to be read by any except those to whom they were addressed.

Still another letter of Bruno's has survived. This one is addressed to the brethren at Chartreuse. It is very important, and it agrees perfectly with the letter to Raoul le Verd. Furthermore, the circumstances in which it was written, carried, and delivered make it even more impressive. The first Carthusians regarded this letter as Bruno's last testament to his sons at Chartreuse as well as the finest testimony of the attachment of Chartreuse to him, a testimony sealed by the death of Landuino.

The occasion of this letter? Landuino, whom Bruno had named prior over the hermits at Chartreuse before leaving for Rome in 1090, came to visit him at Saint Mary of La Torre in 1099 or 1100. It is a long way from the Dauphiné to Calabria; at that time the journey could be dangerous — and unfortunately it proved to be so — because some countries had been ravaged by war and overrun by the troops of Emperor Henry IV and the antipope Guibert of Ravenna. So, why did he undertake the journey? The letter does not say why. Chartreuse was a zealous community, and it seems the influence Bruno said wandering monks were having on some lay brothers was limited, though not negligible. It is possible that Landuino went down to Calabria simply because he wanted to see Bruno again, whom all at Chartreuse considered to be their "only father" and their "superior", and to discuss with him the present conditions at Chartreuse and its future more deeply than he could by letter or messenger.

Bruno was growing old, and Landuino himself was feeling the effect of various infirmities. Both of them — and all the brethren at Chartreuse — would welcome one last meeting. But Landuino died, and Bruno lived for a long time.

Noticing the poor state of Landuino's health, Bruno first thought of keeping him there with him, at least for a while; but Landuino insisted on returning to Chartreuse, where his brethren were waiting for him and hoping for firsthand news from Bruno. He would not have had too much trouble persuading Bruno, who had not forgotten the events of his own departure in 1090.

Landuino was carrying a letter from Bruno for the community. But on his way through the north of Italy, he fell into the hands of supporters of the antipope who tried to force him to acknowledge Guibert as the lawful head of the Church; but no threat, promise, trick or act of violence could make him agree to that. Landuino affirmed his loyalty to Urban II, and they kept him prisoner for several months. On September 8, 1100, when Guibert died, Landuino was released; but, now very weak and unable to continue his journey, he took shelter in the nearby monastery of Saint Andrew "at the foot of Mount Sirapte", where, on September 14, 1100, seven days after he was given his freedom, he died. The letter that Bruno had written to his sons at Chartreuse reached them, however, delivered either by Landuino's traveling companions who escaped from the supporters of Guibert or by someone Landuino entrusted with it before he died. One can imagine the reverence with which the hermits of Chartreuse received that letter, which was precious to them for two reasons.

This is the text of it:

1. Brother Bruno, to his brethren in Christ, beloved more than anything in the world: greeting in the Lord.

Through our dear brother Landuino's account, so detailed and so consoling, I have learned of your uncompromising yet wise observance, so commendable and deserving of praise.

He spoke to me about your holy love, your untiring zeal for purity of heart and virtue. My spirit rejoices in the Lord. Yes, I rejoice, I give praise and thanks to the Lord, at the same time that I sigh with sorrow. I rejoice, yes — it is right that I should — to see you grow in virtue; but I am distressed and blush, being so sluggish and neglectful in the misery of my sins.

2. Rejoice, my dear brothers, over your blessed vocation and the generous gift of divine grace you have received. Rejoice over having escaped the turbulent waters of this world, where there are so many perils and shipwrecks. Rejoice over having reached the peaceful quiet of a sheltered cove. Many desire to arrive there; many even tried to attain it, but did not arrive. Many did not remain after experiencing it, because they had not received that grace from God.

Also, my brothers, take it as certain and proven: no one, after having enjoyed so desirable a good, can ever give it up without regrets, if he is serious about the salvation of his soul.

3. This I say about you, my beloved brothers: my soul glorifies the Lord, when I consider the wonders of his mercy toward you after hearing the report of your dear father, your Prior, who is filled with joy and pride because of you. I, too, rejoice because, even though you do not read, almighty God with his own finger has written love and the knowledge of his holy law in your hearts. By your works you show what you love and what you know. With all possible care and zeal you practice true obedience, which is doing the will of God, the key and the seal of all spiritual observance, and that could never be without great humility and outstanding patience accompanied by a chaste love for the Lord and true charity. It is clear that you are wisely reaping the sweet and refreshing fruits of the Divine Scriptures.

4. Therefore, my brothers, remain in the condition you are in, and flee as from a pestilence those deceitful laymen who seek to corrupt you, distributing their writings and whispering into your ear things that they neither understand nor love and which they contradict by their words and their acts. They are idle gyrovagues who disgrace every good religious and think they should be praised for defaming those who really deserve praise, while they despise rules and obedience.

5. I would like to keep brother Landuino with me because he is often seriously ill. But because he feels he cannot find health, or joy, or life, or any improvement without you, he disagrees with me. His tears and sighs for your sake have shown me what you are to him and how much he loves all of you in perfect charity. I do not want to force him to stay, because I do not want to hurt him, or you, who are so dear to me on account of the merit of your virtues. That, my brothers, is why I urge you, I humbly but energetically beg you to show by your deeds the charity that you nourish in your hearts for him who is your beloved Father and Prior and tactfully and attentively providing for him whatever his numerous infirmities require. Perhaps he will decline to accept your loving services, preferring to endanger his health and his life rather than mitigate in any way the strictness of exterior observance, which of course could not be permitted; but that will no doubt be because he who is first in the community would blush to find himself last in observance and because he would fear to be the one among you to become lax and lukewarm on account of weakness. In my opinion, there is no reason to fear that. So that you will not be deprived of this grace, I authorize you to take my place in this one matter: you have permission to oblige him, respectfully, to take everything you give him for his health.

6. As regards myself, know that what I desire most after God is to go to see you. And as soon as I can, I will, with the help of God. Farewell.

Those who enjoy paradoxes will note that the most interesting thing about this letter is what it does not say: that it was in fact written in 1099 or 1100 and that it was carried by Landuino, the prior of Chartreuse; that ten years after Bruno left Chartreuse, Landuino felt a need to talk to Bruno and undertook that long and perilous journey; that, when Landuino was leaving, Bruno felt a desire to write in his own hand to his sons at Chartreuse, adding to the news that Landuino would give them orally; that Landuino, while he was in captivity or dying, saved that letter and had it delivered to the community at Chartreuse. Those facts reveal more about the relations of Bruno with Landuino and the Chartreuse than any treatise could. In addition, there are the tone of the letter, the fervor of the friendship, the masculine tenderness of Bruno's words, as well as the authority of his advice and the orders he gave concerning Landuino's health.

Clearly Bruno, through the venerable person of Landuino, remained the "father", the founder, the master, the model. It is not likely that such a strong a bond between Bruno and his sons at Chartreuse could be sustained during their separation had they not been communicating either by letters or messengers or mutual friends who were traveling. Here is one example from December 1095, while the Pope was in France. After Bruno's departure, Hugh of Grenoble was even more attentive — if that were possible — to the development of the Chartreuse. He went down to Italy as far as Apulia, into the territory of Duke Roger, where illness kept him for two years. During all that time would he not have met Bruno, with whom he enjoyed such a great friendship? The letter to Raoul le Verd also reveals that Bruno often entrusted letters to messengers on their way to France. Would not some of those letters have been for the sons whom he calls here unice dilectis in Cristo (brothers beloved in Christ)? Finally, it is known that in the middle of the thirteenth century Chartreuse still possessed a volume that contained the Customs of Guigo, the Chronicle Magister, and a number of letters that "clearly show that [Landuino] acknowledged Bruno to be the head [prelatum] and super-prior [priorem majorem] of Chartreuse". Those letters, preserved with so much respect and veneration that someone was bold enough to add them to Guigo's Customs, must have been letters that Bruno had written from Calabria. That volume, unfortunately, has never been found. It must have disappeared during one of the first fires that ravaged the hermitage of Chartreuse and caused irreparable damage to the hermits' library.

This letter to the brethren at Chartreuse, more brief, more familiar, more spontaneous than the letter to Raoul le Verd, contains some minor items that should receive more attention. It is essentially a joyful letter praising and giving thanks to the Lord. Bruno is rejoicing, and he invites his brethren at Chartreuse to rejoice: "Gaudete". To express his joy he uses the Virgin's words in the Magnificat. To everyone he says: "My spirit rejoices in the Lord", and especially to the lay brothers, "My soul glorifies the Lord!"

Why was Bruno's heart so full of joy? Because, through the account Landuino gave him, he understood that God was spreading over Chartreuse "the lavish gift of divine grace", "the wonders of his mercy". The generosity that God was showing to his sons stirred their father's heart to still more joy considering that he "regret[s] and blush[es] to remain sluggish and neglectful in the misery of [his] sins".

How did Bruno know that God was working marvels in the souls of his sons? They were generously and zealously pursuing their vocation as hermits, as they had all together once determined to do. In a few words Bruno gives us the essence of his ideal. At the heart of this vocation, there is always that pure, total, "chaste love for the Lord", as he wrote in the letter to Raoul, that "true charity" (vera caritas) . That, according to Bruno, is the essential quality of the contemplative life.

How is this love manifested? There are elements here that did not appear in the letter to Raoul le Verd because that was not the place for them. Especially there is the striking expression that contains all of Bruno's spiritual balance: "I have learned of your uncompromising yet wise (rationabilis) observance that is so commendable and praiseworthy." The whole spirit of Bruno's rule is there, as well: the rules for observance must be "human", "reasonable", "possible". Perfection is not found in an abundance of observances, which many would find impossible, but in each and every one's taking the pains to practice carefully observances that are moderate. This it is that gives each community its vitality.

The soul of observance is obedience. Bruno congratulates his lay brothers, writing: "With all possible care and zeal you practice true obedience, which is doing the will of God, the key and the seal of all spiritual observance." That is certainly one of Master Bruno's most beautiful directives. He gives it at the end of his long experience of the contemplative life. Because of this single phrase endless thanks are due him from his first sons and from everyone.

Landuino gave him the opportunity to provide a marvelous example of what he understood observance and obedience to be. Brother Landuino "often is seriously ill". Bruno does not doubt that the charity the brethren at Chartreuse have for their "beloved father and Prior" will "tactfully and attentively provide whatever his numerous infirmities require". But he fears that Landuino will decline, preferring "to endanger his health and his life rather than mitigate in any way the strictness of exterior observance". That, in itself, would be unacceptable, but Bruno understands Landuino's conscience: "He who is first in the community would blush to find himself last in observance", and "he would fear to be the one among you to become more lax and lukewarm on account of weakness". What an insight into the spirit then prevailing among the hermits that Bruno could write such things to the community at Chartreuse! Obedience will regulate the difference between observance and charity. Bruno delegates his own authority to the community of Chartreuse in, he specifies, "this one matter" about Landuino. "You have permission to oblige him, respectfully, to take everything you give him for his health."

Could there be any testimony more personal or touching about the spirit that Bruno knew how to inspire in a group of hermits, as well as his goodness and his firm gentleness?

Another important insight about obedience is given in this letter to the brethren at Chartreuse. The letter, which is addressed to the whole community, contains one passage that pertains especially to the lay brothers. Bruno speaks of obedience, and in the context his concept of obedience stands out with special power and precision. The contemplative life, as Bruno envisages it, is nourished by the Holy Scriptures. But the lay brother does not study. He comes unrefined, unlettered, unable to read the sacred texts. The marvel of obedience is that it supplies for learning. It is learning, and, at the same time, it is love. It allows the least educated of the lay brothers to "reap the sweet and refreshing fruits of the Divine Scriptures", and it leads them directly to the contemplation that "cultured men" strive for by their study of holy books. "I, too, rejoice because, even though you do not read, almighty God with his own finger has written love and the knowledge of his holy law in your hearts. By your works you show what you love and what you know." This formula, so concise, so beautiful, deserves a long commentary.

As in his letter to Raoul le Verd, Bruno here emphasized the climate in which a contemplative life develops and is pursued with fervor. One phrase sums up his thought: "The security of a sheltered cove". "Rejoice over having escaped the turbulent waters of this world, where there are so many perils and shipwrecks. Rejoice that you have reached the peaceful quiet and security of a sheltered cove." A problem of perseverance and courage, no doubt: "Many desire to arrive there, many even try to attain it, but did not arrive." But it is a matter of grace and vocation: "Many, too, did not remain after experiencing it, because they had not received that grace from God." And here Bruno makes a statement that at first appears very daring in the absolute form he gives it, which rests upon his more than fifteen years of experience in the wilderness: "No one, after having enjoyed so desirable a good, can ever give it up without experiencing regrets if he is serious about the salvation of his soul."

There they are, similar in depth, different in expression and tonality, the two letters of Bruno that survive. One argues, tries to convince, and leads to a conclusion; the other expresses joy and paternal affection. Both reveal Bruno as wise and sensible, more concerned about works of generosity, about gentle and constant perseverance, than about ephemeral flights of fervor. In a marvelous harmony he brings together things that at first appear mutually exclusive or that at least would not be reconciled by themselves, such as effort and quiet, austerity and the joy of creation, uncompromising observance and fraternal mercy. All that, along with the enormous goodness that radiates from Bruno's en-tire personality, surrounds him with a quiet enthusiasm for this very special vocation, the vocation of the contemplative. This vocation is a call to love God with a love that is pure and "chaste" (castus amor), lived and savored in solitude, silence, and simplicity. It is an anticipation of seeing God face to face throughout eternity. It is a sample of the absolute peace that will be found in heaven. The spiritual sense that Bruno gives to the word is the complete opposite of self-centeredness:

"Rejoice that you have reached the ... security of a sheltered cove."


- Prologue ->
- I Bruno's Childhood ->
- II Master Bruno ->
- III Bruno Confronts Archbishop Manassès -_
- IV From the Garden of Adam's House to Sèche-Fontaine ->
- V The Solitude of Chartreuse ->
- VI Solitude in the Court of Pope Urban II ->
- VII Calabria: Return to Solitude -_
- VIII The Contemplative Life in Bruno's Letters ->
- IX Calabria and Chartreuse ->
- X The Death of Bruno ->
- Epilogue: Bruno after Bruno ->

 

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