From the Garden of Adam's House to Sèche-Fontaine
Writing some twenty years later to his friend Raoul le Verd, who was provost of the Chapter at Rheims between 1096 and 1110, Bruno gives us a special insight into his vocation:
This account is the more wonderful because reliable documents about the life of Saint Bruno are rare. Here is an undeniable testimonial about one of the most important moments that determined the direction of Bruno's life. We shall often return to this disclosure for the purpose of appreciating what is in it, and, in a more general way, to the letter to Raoul le Verd as well. But what it does not say should also be noticed.
In the first place, Bruno says nothing to suggest when that conversation occurred. "The little garden beside Adam's house" surely refers to the area where the canons of Rheims had their houses. The conversation would then have taken place either before the canons went into exile at Count Ebal's or after their return. It is not likely that it was before, or what would have prevented Bruno from carrying out his plan then? Neither is there anything to confirm the hypothesis that it came after the exile. The text includes a little phrase that is both significant and mysterious. At the time of their meeting, Bruno was "a guest" at Adam's house (ubi tunc hospitabar). As a guest he was somewhat settled and not just paying a visit. Adam was not present at the meeting, and Bruno was free to receive his two friends, of whom one, Fulco, could be Adam's own brother.l All of this seems to indicate that the conversation did not occur at Rheims, but someplace where Bruno had been received as a guest for some reason we do not know perhaps a rest, a trip, or exile.
It is therefore unwise to set a date too precisely for this important spiritual discussion between Bruno, Raoul le Verd, and Fulco le Borgne. The only thing to be said for certain is that the circumstances were such that, had it not been for Fulco's trip to Rome, the three friends would have forsaken the world soon after their meeting at Adam's house (in vicino).
This uncertainty about the date, though it does not weaken the intrinsic value of the document in the least, nevertheless presents some difficulties for any biographer who would like to see in that decision an opportunity to understand the psychology of Bruno, perceive his motives, and record, so to speak, the effect of grace within him. The conversation of the three friends, and particularly of Bruno speaking about "the false attractions and the perishable riches of this world and the joys of eternal glory", about "the fleeting shadows of the world" and "the good that is everlasting", as well as their promise, their vow, and their decision this is not all of equal importance for us. What he meant by those words depends upon when he spoke them: whether the three friends were still peacefully enjoying their wealth and their canonical livelihoods at Rheims or were in exile and deprived of their offices and their possessions or had at last regained all their honors and resources after the fall of Bishop Manassès. About Bruno himself the question will be even more specific: Was he then chancellor and director of studies for Rheims, or was he then along with the Provost and some of the canons, or with Ponce only and not the Provost still with the deceiving Archbishop; or was he at the point of being chosen archbishop of Rheims ? The answer to these questions (if one can be given) will require an interpretation of the conversation in Adam's little garden, as well as the history of grace in Bruno's soul.
Unfortunately there is only the text of the letter, and to assign a date to the conversation is not possible.
"With fervent love for God we then promised, we vowed, we decided soon to leave": a threefold vocation so suddenly proposed that it seems to preclude at least for Bruno, whose balance, wisdom, and gravity are so well known his having made such an important decision, and confirming it with a vow, without first weighing it and allowing it to mature before God. Either that or he and his two friends must have experienced a truly extraordinary moment of grace which, of course, is not impossible. But, had that happened, his narration would probably have given some hint of it.
The conversation that Bruno related is a climax in the story of his vocation, one of those important and significant moments, one of those powerful times that make it possible to study the interior landscape of a soul and follow its various pathways.
For Bruno and his two companions this was a moment of "fervent love for God" (divino amore ferventes) when they committed themselves to leave everything "to search for the good that is everlasting". But Bruno would not have responded to this fervor had not divine grace already prepared him for it. It would be surprising if the meeting in Adam's garden took place before the group of "resistance" canons went into exile at Count Ebal's; but even so, the date could not reasonably be placed after 1076. At this period everything in the life of Bruno indicated and confirmed his orientation toward seeking God alone. Faced several times with serious choices in his life, he had resolutely chosen God without compromise: he had dedicated his youthful and adult years to studying and then teaching the holy books, he entered the clergy, and he became a canon of the cathedral of Rheims. While there he had demonstrated the virtues that are known through the Eulogies, because many of them were contributed by persons or groups who knew Bruno only before he left for Sèche-Fontaine, and from them it is possible to draw a sketch in which allowing for hagiographic exaggeration his face appears authentic and strong.
There is a contrast in his personality. Bruno was renowned as a "teacher", but he was also a very good man, prudent, simple, and honorable. The "master" has been described above. Nearly all of the Eulogies sing his praises. The phrase "teacher of teachers" appears several times. He is the glory of teachers (decus magistrorum). Sometimes the praise is very bold: "He is the wise Psalmist and the clearest of philosophers" (doctus psalmista, clarissimus atque sophista) ; if one speaks of Bruno, Plato's glory vanishes; "not only did he surpass all the doctors, but he produced excellent doctors, never lesser ones; he was the doctor among the doctors and not merely among the lesser clergy" (faciebat summos doctores, non instituendo minores; doctor doctorum fuit, non clericulorum) . Some expressions are almost impossible to translate, like Lumen et ordo viæ ducentis ad alta sophiæ, and exemplar quo que veri. This notion of "verity" appears frequently: Bruno was the norma veri dogmatis, so that with him one felt doctrinally secure, in true dogma. His word touched hearts rather than spirits. He was the "splendor of discourse" (splendor sermonis) and therefore "the light of religion" (lux religionis). "Through him so many persons became wise", says one of the authors of the Eulogies, "that my spirit fails and my pen is silent." The character of Bruno is in contrast with so much knowledge, so much success, so much renown.
First of all, his extraordinary goodness. In the poems dedicated to his memory, the word is like a refrain. "Good" (bonus) is almost an epithet for him: "Bruno, called the good". Friendship is a joy for him: "He loves to be loved" (se cupiebat amatum). We have already referred to Maynard de Corméry's wonderful testimonial to his fidelity.
To goodness he joined prudence. Prudens and prudentia are words that give a true picture of Bruno: prudence in his speech, coming through his words as remarkable understanding (floruit in mundo vir prudens ore profundo); prudence in his counsels and in his conduct, which created a kind of elevated moral climate around him (informatio morum, decus et prudentia mundi, integritas morum). Prudence conferred upon him a place of honor in the city of Rheims (major in urbe).
All of this was combined with unusual simplicity (vir simplex, simplex ut agnus), as it appears many times in the Eulogies, a simplicity expressed by his manner of life, and particularly at the moment he was leaving Rheims when he showed his detachment (calcator opum), so that he was remembered by those who knew him as a man who disdained riches and honor. Here again admiration created untranslatable poetic expressions (pauper Bruno factus iter, quorum fuit ante magister).
Another characteristic that seems to have struck those who observed Bruno while he was living at Rheims and at Count Ebal's was his "probity", a word that in Latin has a broad, rich meaning. He is a man of remarkable principle (vir egregiæ probitatis). Never was Bruno found lacking in principle, and this confers upon him a reputation for integrity, uprightness, balance, fidelity, honesty, which no ordeal, not even the conflict with Manassès, could overwhelm: "No misfortune troubled the equanimity of his spirit, and he was never unhappy." Truly, he was "God's just man".
Nothing could upset this balance between his fame as teacher and his moral life. It must have had its source in his faith, a living faith that filled him with love for God (puræ pietatis amator), with piety in the original sense of the word (Ipse Pius, simplex, plenus Deitatis amore, impiger et mundus fuit, Omni dignus amore). He was a master in his time; he was the man of God, because he was attached not to the things of the world but to the One who made the world (Exit ex mundo Vir, mundi spretor, ad illum qui mundum fecit). All this admiration can be summed up in a word: he was the honor of the clergy (Totius deri decus).
To repeat, in these Eulogies allowance must be made for the literary genre and for poetic exaggeration. But a rereading of the 178 Eulogies compels awareness of the tonality and especially dominant notes, particularly since among the Eulogies the most touching, the most moving are precisely those that express what they wish to say not in poetic form but in simple prose.
These Eulogies are evidence that Bruno was a spiritual light for his students. It was not just his learning or his profound thought that attracted the young people of the schools of Rheims to gather around his chair and bound him in friendship with so many of his contemporaries. It was his life, his person. From him they received "knowledge that turns into love".
In a phrase, very simple but rich and significant when one knows the bluntness of Hugh of Dié, the legate expresses what might be called Bruno's charism or particular grace: Dominum Brunonem ... in Omni honestate magistrum, which can be translated: "Master Bruno is master in all that gives honor" or "Master Bruno is master in everything that causes men to esteem a man."
These qualities of Bruno, which had been revealed earlier by his conduct while Gervais was bishop, evidently stood out in greater relief (by contrast, so to speak) after Manassès occupied the See of Rheims. Bruno in omni honestate magistrum stood in still greater contrast to that prelate, a simoniac and a deceiver, since the other Manassès, the provost of the canons, was not innocent of simony himself and had been publicly accused of it. Bruno could not be unaware of the situation in which he found himself, even - in spite of himself mixed up in. He must have suffered profoundly not only because of his love of poverty, charity, justice, and integrity but also because of his love for the Church. To the moral poverty of Manassès I, the corruption of the gospel spirit in an archbishop who was responsible for one of the most important churches of France, the virtuous, incorruptible Bruno could react only by resisting or by withdrawing into a more virtuous life. First he chose to fight; but when everything was virtually the same after the fight, his experience of human mediocrity prompted him to try to find the purity of Christian life in solitude and with some chosen friends. In the Church of the eleventh century the most conscientious souls were attracted to some form of solitude.
The need to flee from Rheims to the lands of Count Ebal, the new boldness of Archbishop Manassès, the subterfuges by which Manassès succeeded in delaying the blow that threatened him, all the intrigues these had to confirm Bruno in his plans. The more serious the situation became, the more he felt obliged to fight, while at the same time he was being drawn to solitude. This division within him reached a climax about the end of 1079, when the provost Manassès agreed to be reconciled with the Archbishop, taking with him all of the canons in exile except Bruno and Ponce, as the Apologia tells us. To stay with Ponce in exile, resisting the Archbishop, who was again giving the appearance of reconciliation with Rome and of victory over everyone who opposed him. What a case of conscience that was! But Bruno was too clearminded to fall into the Archbishop's trap, too honorable to accept anything that would make him seem to agree or even to compromise. He refused. At the risk of losing once and for all his property, his friends, his students, his church, and perhaps the esteem of the Pope, he refused. It was a radical choice, an absolute choice, one that had to weigh heavily upon Bruno's heart. To dare by himself to confront a prelate who had just vindicated himself in Rome before the Pope, a prelate who extended his offer of reconciliation with seeming sincerity that was proof of an exceptional love of truth, justice, and honor. Here was a man who already knew how to be content possessing only God. For him solitude was not exile: solitude was living totally in faith and love. "Her deserts he shall make like Eden, her wasteland like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of song."
Given Bruno's attractive personality, refusing the See of Rheims may have been more difficult than breaking with the victorious Archbishop. But his conscience had to face the choice in a different form. He had struggled for justice and truth. Once Manassès was driven from Rheims, that struggle was over for him. Now that circumstances were favorable, he had to fulfill the vow he had made in Adam's little garden and go away into a new solitude, into monastic solitude, into the solitude of the wilderness.
History has no record of how he left Rheims. Some biographers say that, because he escaped the episcopacy, he had to "flee" the city secretly. Others, whose statement unfortunately seems to have no foundation, say he distributed all his property among the poor before he left and took his leave of the clergy and the people of Rheims in a magnificent sermon. "He commented upon the maxim he had adopted: `In my spirit I have had eternal years, I have taken flight, and I have lived in the solitude.' He spoke with so much force, so much eloquence and so much authority, and the impression he made was so appealing and profound, that some of his hearers were ready to follow him. History mentions, among others, Peter of Béthune and Lambert of Bourgogne, who took the place of Fulco and Raoul le Verd."
What is certain is that in refusing the archiepiscopal See of Rheims, which had been offered to him, and in choosing solitude and "the things of eternity" instead, Bruno was fully aware of his motive. He had experience of what he was leaving behind. What an experience! There is no doubt that the disturbing crisis in Rheims was the background for the seemingly severe words he addressed to Raoul le Verd: "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?" The whole story of the episcopacy of Manassès can be heard in this advice. In a certain sense, in fact, it is the story of a great part of the Church during this period.
What were Bruno's intentions when he made the vow with his two companions in Adam's little garden, and later when he left Rheims? What kind of life had he decided to take up? Did he already have a clear plan? For an answer to this question there are only the words of the letter to Raoul le Verd, which he wrote more than ten years after he moved to the Chartreuse: Disposuimus ... fugitiva sæculi relinquere et æterna captare, necnon monachicum habitum recipere. If we remember that this last phrase simply means "to embrace the monastic life" without specifying whether it would be the cenobitic or the eremitic form, the letter to Raoul le Verd provides only two points of the plan of Bruno and his companions: they intended to "flee the passing things of the world and to possess the eternal", that is, they intended to leave every secular occupation and relationship so they could dedicate themselves to God's life of grace.
Of course, it would be good to know whether, after leaving Rheims and especially after the conversation in Adam's garden, Bruno had specified which kind of life he would follow in the Chartreuse. That knowledge would shed light upon the "Sèche-Fontaine period" during his journey to the Chartreuse (more about that below), but just so much is known and no more. Documents from Sèche-Fontaine will clarify his plan. One thing is certain: Bruno would not choose a form of monastic life that would leave him in contact with the "passing things of the world" or one whose obligations would keep him from "possessing the eternal". The very simplicity of these two expressions reveals a determined desire for the absolute, which eliminates from his plan anything that would compromise the purity of the monastic life.
At a date that cannot be given precisely, but somewhere between 1081 and 1083, Bruno left Rheims with two companions, Peter and Lambert. They went straight south in the direction of Troyes. Some 150 kilometers [93 miles] from Rheims, 40 kilometers southeast of Troyes, was the abbey of Molesmes, which had existed since the end of 1075, and whose abbot, Robert, was renowned for his wisdom and holiness. Robert had gathered around him some hermits who were living in the forest of Collan, close to Tonnerre, and formed them in the Benedictine life. The abbey was poor. In 1083 the Lord-Bishop of Langres had to launch an appeal to his vassals to save Molesmes from poverty. That poverty fostered the fervor of the monks. When Bruno, Peter, and Lambert arrived there, a property called Sèche-Fontaine had recently been donated to the abbey of Molesmes but had not yet been used. It was located eight kilometers from Molesmes, far enough that its occupants could feel separate from the Benedictines of Molesmes, yet close enough that relations with the abbey and especially with its holy Abbot were easy. The forest of Fiel, which surrounded Sèche-Fontaine, was very suitable for the eremitical life. Individual hermits or groups of hermits had already found shelter in several places. By an agreement with Robert, Bruno and his companions settled at Sèche-Fontaine. There they followed the eremitical life (heremitice vixerant), says one of the two documents of Molesmes that relate the beginnings of Sèche-Fontaine.
How long did this phase of Bruno's life last? Three years at the most, one year at least, depending upon the date of his departure from Rheims. In either case, it was long enough for other followers to join them, long enough also for their spiritual and temporal relationship with the abbey of Molesmes to influence their manner of life.
So wonderfully led by Robert, the abbey of Molesmes grew. It attracted the hermits who had settled nearby in the forests and influenced them to live together, and it established priories in the vicinity to provide a dwelling for its many candidates. It was inevitable that a day would come when, because of its growth, Molesmes would present the hermits of Sèche-Fontaine with the choice between a cenobitic life attached to the abbey and the eremitic life. The choice was not long in coming, and the hermits, together with the candidates who had joined them, were divided about the decision they should take. Peter and Lambert chose Molesmes. They stayed on the property at Sèche-Fontaine, where they built a church on the model of a Benedictine priory. The church was solemnly dedicated by the Bishop of Langres in 1086 along with other buildings of the community. It was a free decision, wise, taken under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, like others of that time. Transferring from the life of a hermit to that of a cenobite, as well as going in the opposite direction, was not unusual.
But Bruno cherished a different ideal of religious life: the Spirit of God was sending him into solitude. He chose the way of the hermit, and so he, together with some companions, left Sèche-Fontaine and went in search of a place that would be suitable for his plan. The division took place with loyalty and charity. Robert and Bruno continued to have great esteem for each other. When Bruno died in Calabria, the scroll went to Molesmes, and Molesmes wrote a warm tribute for the former hermit of Sèche-Fontaine. In the Eulogy that they dedicated to him (no. 40), the black monks called Bruno "our very good friend" (familiarissimus roster). Perhaps the hand of Robert himself can be detected in that superlative. Actually Robert, who had left Molesmes in 1098 and established Citeaux, returned to Molesmes in 1099, where he must have remained until he died in 1110 or 1111. He was there when Bruno died in 1101 so he could add Molesmes' testimonial of great friendship to the funeral scroll.
By moving from Sèche-Fontaine, Bruno further clarified his vocation. As a monk he was not meant for the cenobitic life. He wanted solitude, to be "alone with the Alone" (Mónos sun Mónô), solitude with God. That is the call he had been hearing from the Holy Spirit.
He made his way south again and traveled more than 300 kilometers [186 miles] to Grenoble and the Alps. The reason for his choice is not known. The only suggestion that might be likely is that Bishop Hugh of Grenoble and Bruno knew of each other and held each other in high regard, though they had never met. Hugh had been beside the Pope's legate Hugh of Dié at the Council of Lyons at the beginning of 1080 when Archbishop Manassès of Rheims was brought to trial and deposed, and Bruno's name must have been spoken frequently in the presence of the young Bishop of Grenoble. Then, too, attentively following everything that the legate Hugh of Dié was doing, Bruno heard about Hugh of Grenoble and about the young bishop's courageous struggle to reform his diocese according to the views of Gregory VII and his legate. With his usual brevity, Guigo gives us the reason that induced Bruno to seek a hermitage in the forests of the Dauphiné: "Attracted by the gentle example of the saintly life of the holy Bishop Hugh of Grenoble, Bruno and his companions went to be near him" (suavi sanctæ conversationis ejus odore trahente [ad virum sanctum Hugonem] venerunt [Bruno et socii ejus]).
Toward the beginning of June 1084, Bruno and his six companions arrived at Grenoble. A wonderful and mysterious adventure was beginning for them.