The Death of Bruno

Saint Bruno dying

"S. Bruno reçoit le Saint Viatique des mains du B. Lanuin", illustration from: Vie de Saint Bruno, Fondateur de l'ordre des Chartreux, par un Chartreux de La Grande Chartreuse, Montreuil-sur-mer, 1898.

Death was about to affect Bruno's friendships and relationships. In less than two years he would experience the loss of three people with whom he had close ties. On July 29, 1099, Urban II died. Fourteen days after that Jerusalem was liberated, but Godfrey of Bouillon's messengers arrived from Rome too late to tell the Pope. Succeeding him on August 14, 1099, was Rainier, an elderly monk of Cluny and cardinal priest of the church of Saint Clement, who took the name of Paschal II. He was Bruno's friend, and he had great esteem for his foundation. In July of 1101 Paschal II confirmed the donations that Count Roger had made to the hermits of Calabria.

In September of 1100 Bruno received, like repeated blows, the news that Landuino was captured, then that he was set free, and finally that he died. Landuino's faithfulness to the lawful Pope must have filled him with joy and pride. But his death brought sorrow — Landuino, the companion during all those first hours, the faithful friend to whom he confided his trials and joys, the disciple to whom he could confidently entrust his foundation at Chartreuse at the emotional moment when he departed for Rome. If Landuino died far from his Father and far from his sons, was it not because of his faithfulness as a son in undertaking that long and dangerous journey for the sake of seeing him?

The time came on June 21, 1101, for Count Roger also to die, that successful fighter and notable administrator. The whole foundation of the house in Calabria was bound up with his name. He was Bruno's patron, a trifle too determined and almost too generous. His generosity, though, was sincere, coming from a genuine desire to ensure the presence of the hermits in Calabria for a long time to come.

But what could finally come of the hope Bruno expressed at the end of his letter to the brothers at Chartreuse: "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 do it, with the help of God". He surely had no illusion about that any longer. Now only the greatest desire remained, which, according to his own words, he had cherished for sixteen years: the desire to keep "a vigilant watch" in the solitude, his desire for God.

Nothing is known about the illness that brought on his death. There is only that round-robin letter that his sons at Calabria wrote at the beginning of the Necrology saying his death was very peaceful. During the preceding week, Bruno was eager to make his profession of faith, a common practice there at the time. The letter reads as follows:

Knowing that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father, [Bruno] called his brothers together, reviewed all the stages of his life since infancy, and recalled the special events of his lifetime. Then, in a profound, detailed discourse he expressed his faith in the Trinity, concluding with these words: "I believe also in the sacraments that the Church believes and holds in reverence, and particularly that the bread and wine which are consecrated on the altar are, after the Consecration, the true Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, his true Flesh and his real Blood, which we receive for the forgiveness of our sins and in the hope of eternal life." The following Sunday, the evening before the ninth of October in the year of our Lord 1101, his holy soul left his body.

No commentary can improve on that kind of simplicity.

For a long time the complete text of Bruno's profession of faith was lost. Dom Constantius of Rigetis found it in the archives of Saint Mary of La Torre. Unfortunately the manuscript was in very bad condition, nibbled on, with parts difficult to make out. Dom Constantius transcribed the text and sent it to the general of the Carthusian in 1522. Here is his translation, which appeared in the critical edition of Sources chrétiennes. It begins with a moving prologue by the brothers of Calabria:

"We have carefully preserved Master Bruno's profession of faith, which he pronounced in the presence of all his assembled brothers, when he felt the time was approaching for him to go the way of all flesh, because he had urgently requested us to be witnesses of his faith before God."

Here is his profession of faith:

1. I firmly believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Father unbegotten, the only begotten Son, the Holy Spirit proceeding from them both; and I believe that these three Persons are but one God.

2. I believe that the same Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. I believe that the Virgin was chaste before she bore her child, that she remained a virgin while she bore her child, and continued a virgin ever after. I believe that the same Son of God was conceived among men, a true man with no sin. I believe the same Son of God was captured by the hatred of some of the Jews who did not believe, was bound unjustly, covered with spittle, and scourged. I believe that he died, was buried, and descended into hell to free those of his who were held there. He descended for our redemption, he rose again, he ascended into heaven, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

3. I believe also in the sacraments that the Church believes and holds in reverence, and especially that what has been consecrated on the altar is the true Flesh and the true Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we receive for the forgiveness of our sins and in the hope of eternal salvation. I believe in the resurrection of the flesh and everlasting life.

4. I acknowledge and believe the holy and ineffable Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be but only one God, of only one substance, of only one nature, of only one majesty and power. We profess that the Father was neither begotten nor created but that he has begotten. The Father takes his origin from no one; of him the Son is born and the Holy Spirit proceeds. He is the source and origin of all Divinity. And the Father, ineffable by his very nature, from his own substance has begotten the Son ineffably; but he has begotten nothing except what he is himself: God has begotten God, light has begotten light, and it is from him that all Fatherhood in heaven and on earth proceeds. Amen.

Two comments should be made about this document. The first concerns the design of the profession of faith. A comparison of this text with the quotations from the letter of the brothers of Calabria, which was cited above, shows the former concludes with a statement about the sacraments, and this one with a statement about the Fatherhood of God and the Trinity. This difference would be of little importance if this last statement did not elsewhere reproduce, word for word, a passage of the Creed of the Eleventh Council of Toledo (November 7, 675). So, one wonders: Was this passage inserted into Bruno's profession of faith at a later date? Recent studies by historians of the Carthusian Order lead to a different conclusion. The foundation in Calabria was in an area where part of the population was of Greek origin. Through his goodness and sense of balance, Bruno succeeded in bringing Latin monks and Greek monks together to live in the same community — an achievement that was not easy to accomplish at that time. The presence of these two groups would explain the two trinitarian Creeds in his profession of faith. In the first, Bruno expressed his faith in the Trinity by avowing that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son; in the second, he added the beautiful Creed of the Council of Toledo, which, by emphasizing the Fatherhood of God, gave the Catholic Faith an expression more acceptable to the Greek spirit.

Now the second comment. Bruno's profession of faith is one of a great contemplative. It complements what the two letters (the one to Raoul le Verd and the one to the brothers of Chartreuse) revealed earlier about his original vocation. These seem to be the deepest fruits of his contemplation in the wilderness. In admiration and love his soul is established upon the pillars of the four great, profound mysteries of the Christian life: the mystery of the Fatherhood of God, the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of the Incarnation and the Passion, and the mystery of Mary, the ever Virgin Mother. To abide among them was his pleasure, his life, his joy. At the hour of his death, he spontaneously fixed his last gaze on these revealed treasures. His lips spoke of what he had lived. More than a profession of faith, his words are a profession of love. He wished to die in the Light that had enlightened his entire life.

Bruno died on October 6, 1101, a little more than seventy years old, seventeen years after he founded the hermitage at Chartreuse. Hardly had his death been announced when people from Calabria and Italy streamed to pay respects to his earthly remains. It is said that the Carthusians allowed his body to lie in state for three days before burying it.

When an important person died, it was customary to send a messenger to churches and monasteries where he was known to announce his death and request prayers and suffrages for the repose of his soul. This messenger generally carried long scrolls of parchment (Rotuli, hence the name Rolliger, Rotuliger) so that on it those who knew the deceased either directly or by reputation could write a eulogy and their promise to pray for him. After Bruno's death, the hermits of Calabria sent a scroll — delivered, no doubt, by a lay brother — to all the churches, abbeys, and convents where he was known. That messenger was the bearer of the round-robin letter that "announced Bruno's death and asked suffrages for his soul".

One hundred and seventy-eight of these Eulogies still exist. These documents make it possible to reconstruct the itinerary of the scroll, or at least determine where it stopped.

From Calabria it went toward the north of Italy. It went to Lucca in Tuscany, then to Plaisance. Then it turned west and reached the Alps at Suse. By which pass did it cross the Alps? It appeared again at Oulx in the Dauphiné. It arrived at Grenoble, and from Grenoble it went to Chartreuse. On the Scroll of the Dead the hermits of Chartreuse wrote these sad, heartfelt lines:

More than any others we, the brothers of Chartreuse, are afflicted and deprived of our consolation by the death of our beloved father, the renowned Bruno. How is it possible to put limits on what we will do for this holy soul, so dear to us? The good that we owe him will always outweigh anything we could do for him. Now and always we will pray for him as our only father and our master. As is proper for sons, we will not stop the Masses and the spiritual practices that we customarily offer for the dead.

Then the scroll came to the dependent priory of Chaise-Dieu called Cornillon, the major priory of the canons of Saint Ruf near Saint André, whose eulogy is particularly touching. Then to Lyons, Cluny, Cîteaux; to Molesmes, where the eulogy was written by the hand of Saint Robert; to Paris, to Chartres, and to Rheims, where five different eulogies were written for him; to Troyes, Laon, Rouen, Soissons, Arras, Orléans, Auxerre, Bayeux, Caen, etc. From France the scroll went to Belgium and through part of England. Did it travel by land or by sea? Why didn't it reach Cologne and its neighboring areas? The journey ended at Saint Mary's of Tropéa in Calabria. Two verses of the eulogy that was then written for Bruno indicate that the way the funeral scroll was unrolled and its present weight have frayed its neck and it cannot be transported any more:

Inde cutis colli teritur præ pondere rolli.
Rolligeri collum nequit ultra tollere rollum.

The result of these texts, which of course are partly literary, is an incontestable testimony. Bruno was presented as exceptional, the "light of the clergy", "interpreter of the Scriptures", "guide of saints", the "teacher of teachers". In the Eulogies there are still more entries. If the author of the eulogy (whether a group or an individual) knew Bruno, lived with him, or at least had some contact with him, then admiration, great as it might be, would give way to affection, to gratitude, to a kind of tenderness. The verses that the hermits of Calabria dedicated to him are a good summary of the different characteristics that form the impression of exceptional goodness that radiated from him. "Bruno deserves to be praised for many things, but especially for this: his life was always the same. That was typical of him. He always had a smile on his face, always had a prudent word. To the severity of a father he joined the tenderness of a mother. Great he was, but everyone found him gentle as a lamb. In truth, he was the Israelite praised in the Gospel". Later when he was editing the Constitutions, Lambert, the third "master of the wilderness" of Calabria, again recalled Bruno's goodness.

Is it not significant that the same trait that Bruno is said to have loved to contemplate and praise in God — O Bonitas! the goodness of God! — was the one for which his contemporaries remembered him? What a mystery is the hidden yet radiant course of a soul! By what secret, personal attractions the Lord guides each one of us toward his destiny! "Master Bruno, a man of understanding heart". Describing him in this way, doesn't Guigo express Bruno's entire vocation in a single word: a natural gift, to which was added his vocation and grace, the very essence of his existence? He loved, and, when love attained a certain depth, where could he better find satisfaction than in solitude, silence, and the total gift of himself in sacrifice — the total simplicity of being that remains the surest approach to the living God?

After his death Bruno, like the other hermits, was buried in the cemetery of Saint Mary's. In 1101 or 1122, his body was transferred from the cemetery to the church of the hermitage, to a vault that still existed, though empty, when the Carthusian returned in 1514. Toward 1194, when the hermitage was abandoned in favor of the cenobium at Saint Stephen, Bruno's body was transferred from the church of Saint Mary and placed under the sanctuary of the church of Saint Stephen. When around 1502 or 1508 the Cistercians were thinking of returning their monastery to the Carthusians, Abbot Dom Pandolfo of Sabins took up Bruno's relics and placed them in a nearby altar, which was behind and to the right of the high altar of Saint Stephen. When they returned on February 27, 1514, the Carthusians carried the relics to the sacristy, where they were officially authenticated on November 1, 1514. On the same day they were placed in a new reliquary and transferred to the same altar where they were before February 1514.

Meanwhile, by means of what the curia calls a verbal declaration, Pope Leo X had authorized the veneration of Saint Bruno. The Cardinal of Pavia, protector of the Carthusian Order who presided at the ceremony, describes the scene in a letter: "The holy Pope Leo X, saying that he had for a long time been hearing much about the glory and the holiness of the blessed confessor Bruno, judged it just and reasonable that he who had been adorned with such great gifts and such magnificent graces and who had received from the Almighty so docile a heart to carry out his precepts and keep the law of life and holiness, was venerated and honored in a manner worthy of him, now that he rejoices in divine glory for ever." This was authorized only for the Carthusians. It was by a bull of February 17, 1623, that Gregory XV extended the veneration of Saint Bruno to the entire Church. Bruno's destiny was finally established.



- 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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