Solitude in the Court of Pope Urban II
Pope Gregory VII died on May 25, 1085. After all his work and struggles, the Church he left was in a sorrowful, distressing state. Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, had unlawfully installed Guibert, the deposed archbishop of Ravenna, upon the throne of Saint Peter as Clement III. Guibert employed the military power of the empire against the lawful Pope. Before he died, Gregory VII had assembled the cardinals and some bishops who remained faithful to him, and he entreated them to choose as his successor a man with the character and virtue to continue the necessary internal reform of the Church and to resist the pressures of the antipope. He even suggested three names to them: Didier, abbot of Monte Cassino; Odo, bishop of Ostia; and Hugh, archbishop of Lyons.
Didier, abbot of Monte Cassino, was elected on May 24, 1086. For a year he refused the tiara. Finally, on May 9, 1087, he was consecrated with the name of Victor III. But on September 16, 1087, Victor III died at Monte Cassino, where the advances of Henry IV and Guibert had compelled him to take refuge.
Because of the trouble stirred up by the partisans of the antipope, the Sacred College assembled at Terracina in Campania and chose a successor to Victor III on March 12, 1088. This was Eudes (or Odo, or Otto) of Châtillon-sur-Marne in Champagne, who was a member of the Lageri family. Eudes took the name of Urban II. Urban, who was born around 1040, had studied at Rheims, and he had intended to remain there. In 1064 he had been named archdeacon of the Church of Rheims and before long a canon of the cathedral. Between 1073 and 1077 he had left Rheims to enter Cluny. So, Eudes had spent some twenty years at Rheims, first as a student of master Bruno, then as his confrère in the cathedral chapter before, like him, consecrating himself to God in the monastic life. Their meeting and their relationship will have very important consequences for Bruno's future and that of Chartreuse.
From the time of his election Urban II determined to surround himself with trustworthy men, whose perfect fidelity to the Church and to the work undertaken by Gregory VII he knew, and to involve them in the government of the Church. The first one he invited to come to see him was Hugh, the abbot of Cluny. His letter is impressive, and no official document better shows us the state of the Church than this disclosure of Urban II to his father in the monastic life. This is what he wrote:
Hugh of Cluny responded to the summons of his son. Urban did not uproot him from his monastic responsibilities, but he soon took the monk John from Monte Cassino and made him cardinal-bishop of Tuscany and chancellor of holy Church. During his pontificate he called fifteen monks to the purple and authority of cardinals. In 1096 there were Albert, monk of Saint Savin of Plaisance; and Milo, monk of Saint Aubin of Angers, and others. In these choices, however, Urban II seems to have followed a rule of prudence: not usually to take from religious orders the abbot, the head, the one who encouraged them in zeal and the Rule. So when, by a letter from Capua dated August 1, 1089, he summoned Anselm, abbot of Bec, he asked him to bring along "a religious of your abbey, if there is one who can be useful to the sovereign Pontiff". He added that a student from Rome who had become a monk of Bec should be sent back to Rome "before Lent next year". Anselm himself returned to Bec. That attitude may partly explain Urban II's later relationship with Bruno. One day Bruno learned in an unexpected way that he too had been summoned to Rome by the Pope, not just to be there for a time but to live there. In its concise style the Chronicle Magister relates the event clearly: "Master Bruno, ... having left the world, founded the wilderness of Chartreuse and governed it for six years. On the formal order (cogente) of Pope Urban, whose master he had been, he came to the Roman Curia as an aide to the Pope, to be a spiritual light for him and his counsellor in the affairs of the Church."
When and how did Urban AI's order reach Bruno? To set a date for that there are only two points of reference from the Chronicle Magister: Bruno stayed "in Chartreuse for six years", and he died "about eleven years after he left Chartreuse". Even with these two facts, the missing date remains unclear, but "six years after Bruno arrived at Chartreuse" and "eleven years before he died" would be somewhere between the last months of 1089 and the first months of 1090.
Of course, historians try to be exact, and so they would prefer the one that coincides with events that are certain. Urban II had several times called important people to him so he could receive their advice. In May of 1089, Renaud du Bellay, archbishop of Rheims, left for Rome at the Pope's invitation. He had been named to the See of Rheims after Bruno refused it. Now he stayed with the Pope for some time. He participated in the Council of Melfi in 1089, and on December 25 of the same year he received important privileges from the Pope in the form of the pallium, the primacy of the ecclesiastical province of lower Belgium, and confirmation for the See of Rheims with the right to consecrate the kings of France. After Christmas Renaud returned to his diocese. Would he have been the one commissioned to give Bruno the order to go to Rome? He must have discussed Bruno with Urban II. Between these two men, who had talked about the condition of the Church of France, the reforms to be introduced, and especially the holy and courageous men to be found and placed at the disposition of the lawful Pope, how could the name of Bruno have failed to come up, as well as the foundation of Chartreuse, and the important spiritual position of the hermitage? Both of them had studied under Bruno and still had vivid memories of what had happened at Rheims. The Pope and the Bishop carefully weighed this important decision, because to take Bruno away from that spiritual experience might be to condemn the promising new enterprise to death. Finally the Pope decided to take the risk. But rather than send his order through an anonymous messenger, he would have preferred to entrust it, in respect for his old teacher, to a mutual friend, who was also taking up (the Pope had confirmed it by his privilege of December 25) one of the highest ecclesiastical positions in the kingdom.
If this theory is granted, the events would have gone something like this. Renaud left Rome after Christmas and took Urban II's secret order to Bruno. This wintertime journey, across some regions filled with partisans of the antipope Guibert, would have had to take around four weeks. About the end of January 1090, Renaud would have arrived at Grenoble and given Bruno the order to leave for Rome. The concurrence of events makes this not merely a theory, but one that is likely, at least.
The unembellished phrases from the Chronicle Magister might make Bruno's departure seem easy. In fact, though, if Bruno's obedience to Urban II was complete and unconditional from the moment his order came, the news must have caused great confusion for the hermits among whom he lived. How could they imagine the wilderness of Chartreuse without the presence of the one who was the soul of it? They decided to end their experience and disband. At that time there were many hermitages; sometimes hermits left their solitude and returned to their former way of life, or the group joined some neighboring abbey. Bruno tried in vain to prevent that act of desperation. But they made their decision. They separated.
That this dispersion occurred is demonstrated by a letter of Urban II and by the legal deed of Seguin (of whom more below). It is also certain that there was some urgency to abandon the Chartreuse.
There was need to hurry because, since his companions had decided not to continue the Chartreuse experience without him, Bruno had to make arrangements about the property before he left. In agreement with Bishop Hugh of Grenoble, in whose jurisdiction lay the lands of Chartreuse, it was decided to return the area to the abbey of Chaise-Dieu, in the person of its abbot, Seguin. Seguin was one of the donors the only ecclesiastical one in the document of 1086. It was normal for monastic property to revert to a monastery. Besides, the priory of Mont Cornillon, located at the entry to the mountains of Chartreuse, was a dependency of Chaise-Dieu, so this priory would be the obvious one to receive the property of the hermitage. Bruno drew up the act of donation. Renaud had to return to Chaise-Dieu, some twenty miles north of Puy. He wanted to ask that famous, devout abbey to send some monks to the abbey of Saint Nicaise at Rheims, because it was in need of reform. Hugh of Grenoble accompanied Renaud to preside personally over the committee that ratified the gift of the Chartreuse, which Bruno made over to Seguin. Bruno may have traveled with them, as well as William, abbot of Saint-Chaffre.
This moment of Bruno's life is perhaps the one that best displays his spiritual greatness. For him it meant giving up that for which he had given up everything and receiving again everything he had renounced for it. The solitude of Chartreuse, which he had acquired at the cost of so much persistence, patience, and renunciation and in which he had finally found the deepest inspiration for his soul namely, the pure love of God, this spiritual experience that seemed in every way to be favored by God and producing wonderful fruits of holiness all this, upon a command of the Pope, suddenly came to nothing. Now he had to go to the Roman court, where he again found, worse than before, all the cares, all the dangers, all that intrigue that he had escaped when he left Rheims. If only his friends, his companions, had agreed to continue the experience or at least to try to continue. But no. If he went, they would go. This, too, was part of his sacrifice. Even in their brave effort to be detached from the world, that the little group had kept their affection for him too warm was for Bruno surely an occasion of humiliation rather than consolation. Now more than sixty years old, he was faced with totally giving up his original plan, for which he had struggled so much. The hermitage of Chartreuse that "child" of his love for God, that reality that he had conceived, formed, built, and organized to offer to God as a sacrifice of praise was destroyed by a command of the Church, a command of one of his old students who had become Pope.
In the lives of many saints, especially in the lives of saints who have created something for the glory of God, an hour comes when God requires them, in an act of obedience or faith (essentially they are the same), to sacrifice their work. A poignant hour, a sorrowful one, but it is the supreme hour in which the soul, if it consents, is compelled to strive for the summit in faith, hope, and charity. Nothing remains for it except God, to be apprehended in his transcendence, in his absolute independence, to be loved simply because he is God. One such sacrifice was that of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, the son of the Promise, with his own hands. The comparison is accurate. At the moment of obedience, Bruno must have been aware that he had created something great for God, a kind of life that held real promise for the reform of the Church, and that his departure from Chartreuse would bring it to an end.
But then the companions who had gone their ways began to think better of it. Reflecting on Bruno's counsel, they began to doubt the wisdom of their decision. They got in touch with each other and then had a meeting with Bruno, who might have been waiting in the neighborhood of Chartreuse until Hugh of Grenoble came back to Chaise-Dieu, or he might have accompanied him there to visit Seguin. Bruno and his sons then reconsidered the situation. He gave the same advice, counseling them to stay at Chartreuse and continue their spiritual experience together. He would be loyal to them from Rome and help them with his advice and friendship. And then, who could know? Perhaps some day circumstances would change again, and he could return.
They reversed their decision. Accepting Bruno's advice, the community came together again, and he named Landuino their new prior. But there was one serious problem: the hermits no longer had possession of the Chartreuse. They had to regain that before they could resume their life, because they needed it to assure their subsistence and independence. So Bruno asked Seguin to give them the lands again. This was a step that caused him some humiliation. Even though his own stability was beyond question, their coming back could be an indication to people who did not understand their internal life very well that there was some instability among the hermits as well as real uncertainty about the future of the foundation.
According to the above hypothesis Bruno left for Rome in February of 1090, accompanied no doubt by his friend William, abbot of the monastery of Saint-Chaffre, who was also going to Rome on abbey business. During the trip he was worrying about serious problems. Would the group persevere, now that they had come together again through his desire and encouragement? Would Landuino rise to his position as prior? Would Chaise-Dieu accept the request to return the property? Uncertainty about his own future was no less painful, though he had already decided to ask Urban II for permission to return to Chartreuse, or at least to solitude, as soon as he could. He had also decided that, whatever his future would be, he would create a solitude for himself in his new life and live in the papal court as much like a hermit as he could. But what if the Pope insisted on making him a bishop or even a cardinal, as he had already done for others? While the Church was having such prob-lems, would he have the right to abandon her? In short, he was leaving something precious but fragile behind him, and before him the horizon was completely unclear. After six years of peace, silence, and friendship in Chartreuse, these uncertainties must have weighed heavily on Bruno's heart.
He would have reached Rome in March of 1090. That must have been the time, if he traveled with William of Saint-Chaffre, because the privilege that William came to ask for was granted on April 1, 1090. Then, too, there is the curious coincidence that a broad privilege confirming all the rights and privileges of the Church of Grenoble bears the same date. Were Bruno and William ambassadors for Hugh of Grenoble in this?
So then, in the spring of 1090 Bruno arrived at the Roman court. Before following him into the new events, a word about the request addressed to Seguin concerning the recovery of the property at Chartreuse. Things seem to have gone less rapidly than Bruno had hoped. Did Seguin, and perhaps even Hugh of Grenoble, not want to spend time drawing up a new legal deed to transfer the property of Chartreuse? Bruno thought it prudent to have Urban II intervene in the matter. One day unfortunately the date is not known, but it was between March and April of 1090 the Pope wrote this letter to Seguin:
Urban II's letter went beyond the scope of a simple transfer of the right of ownership. It constituted the first papal approval of Chartreuse, and it affirmed one point that Bruno thought essential to his plan: the hermits' complete independence of any patronage whatever, whether from a bishop, an abbey, or a prince.
What did Seguin do? A passage from the Chronicle Laudemus, a document issued by the Carthusian Order, testifies to his prompt and careful obedience. "Having received the directive from Rome, Abbot Seguin willingly and joyfully obeys. To Master Landuino and his companions, he surrenders all his rights and all his authority over the property of Chartreuse."
The original deed of restoration is still preserved in the archives of Isère. It is dated September 15, 1090. Here is the original text:
It was necessary to quote Urban II's letter and Seguin's deed because the typical official or legal forms seem to indicate a certain uneasiness. In other words, perhaps his friends judged Bruno's grant of the property of Chartreuse at the time the brothers left as too hasty, too radical, even perhaps somewhat imprudent. And Seguin apparently temporized which wasn't necessarily the bad humor of a frustrated landowner, but simply the patience of an administrator in returning what had so recently been given to him. To justify his intervention, Urban II mentioned that he had summoned Bruno and assumed some responsibility for the deed of relinquishment with an apology for the haste. Twice Seguin stressed that Bruno's gift to him was perfectly proper, as if he wanted to make allowance for the future, in case the hermitage would again cease to exist some day. And did one of the monks of the Chapter come to reclaim that recent act of relinquishment? The whole scenario exhibited uncertainty and hesitation. Apparently Seguin was acceding less to Bruno's request than to Urban's formal directive and, while obeying, prepared for the future: if their master did not come back some day, wouldn't this group of hermits either cease to exist or ask, like so many others, to be affiliated with the powerful neighboring abbey?
In September 1090, therefore, the hermitage of Chartreuse was restored to its original condition. Bruno was far away, but he was not absent. Within ten years the Chartreuse would be a testimony to the fervor and unity of his sons, the faithfulness of Landuino, and the power of Bruno's own invisible presence.
What happened to Bruno during the several weeks he had been in Rome? He found Urban engaged in a very confusing and very precarious political situation. The Pope had made his solemn entry into Rome on June 30, 1089, but in the spring of 1090 the partisans of the German Emperor Henry IV and the antipope Guibert had taken the offensive against Rome, and toward the end of July 1090, Urban II was again obliged to leave the city. Where could he find refuge? The lawful Pope had only two faithful supporters in Italy. In Tuscany there was the courageous Countess Mathilda, who was, wrote Guigo, "in appearance a woman, with the soul of a man"; also in the southern part of the peninsula were the Norman princes, who had carved out a realm for themselves there. The Pope decided to go south. There he remained for three years. In September 1090, Bruno was in the south of Italy along with the Roman court, in that territory ruled by the Norman princes.
What were his thoughts? The Chronicle Magister gives us valuable information about that in a few words as usual, too few:
The Chronicle Laudemus says that he departed "shortly after he arrived".
Bruno seems to have made a loyal effort to resign himself to the rhythm of life in the papal court. It is true that circumstances were hardly favorable for him to return there. The difficulties of diplomacy during that time, the war, the schism, the intrigue that was a world in which Bruno could not fit. Besides, deep in his heart remained the desire for solitude and tranquillity, all the more fervent as the situation there was so inconsistent with it. Could anyone who for six years had tasted the peace of the Chartreuse, the prayer, the friendship, the heavenly familiarity of the hermitage have become accustomed to the commotion of the Roman court in exile during that autunm of 1090?
Bruno explained his distress to Urban II and asked to be allowed to leave the court again and return to his wilderness.
But, as it happened, Urban II had a delicate post to fill. It was the archbishopric of Reggio. According to the policy of Urban II and the Norman princes, this See and several others in the peninsula were gradually being given to Latin bishops instead of Greek ones, for the purpose of diminishing the influence of the Greeks in Italy. William, a Latin, was put in the place of Basil, the Greek archimandrite who formerly occupied the See of Reggio. But Basil was still living, and he always hoped to recover his position. Then William died. The succession proved to be very delicate, because Basil enjoyed the confidence of the Emperor of Constantinople, Alexius I Comnenus, with whom at this very time Urban II was seeking a rapprochement. In 1090 the See was still unoccupied. If Urban wanted to place a Latin bishop in the See of Reggio, he had to choose a man whose personality was such that Basil could not be offended. Wasn't Bruno just such a man? He had proven his ability, in difficult matters, to combine firmness and prudence, and zeal for the truth with moderation. Besides, his reputation had long since become known throughout the Church. For him one could step aside without being humiliated.
Urban II decided to have Bruno appointed to the See of Reggio. The exact date is known. Rayner, the Benedictine monk of La Cava, who was finally named archbishop of Reggio, signed a confirmation certificate in 1091, so Bruno's nomination to the archbishopric of Reggio and his refusal must have occurred between the summer of 1090 (when he arrived at the papal court) and November of 1091. This haste is not surprising. Several times Urban II nominated bishops and even cardinals very rapidly, men he had personally summoned to be with him to serve the Holy See. He speeded up the election process by announcing his selection publicly. The electors hardly knew the candidate, but they had confidence in the Pope's choice. This was clearly what happened with Bruno: he was elected "at the will of the Pope" (ipso Papa volente), when the Pope formally made his choice known.
The law gave the elect the right to refuse the See that was designated for him. Bruno exercised that right firmly. For the man we know he was, this must have been a serious crisis of conscience. His faith and loyalty to the Church inclined him to serve Urban II and to be responsible for the position in which the Pope thought he would be useful. But to become archbishop of Reggio would be to involve himself permanently in the "commotion", "the style of life", and everything that was profoundly distasteful to him and conflicted with his craving for solitude and interior tranquillity, which he well knew, after six years in the Chartreuse, to be his true vocation. As bishop, and soon no doubt as cardinal, he would accompany the Pope in his travels, take part in all the business and the great assizes of the Church and be closely involved in papal diplomacy. All that, and no hope of ever finding a hermitage again. What a moment in Bruno's life! There must have been frank and familiar conversations between him and Urban II when Bruno revealed his soul, his desires, his attractions, and his vocation to the man whose mission and grace it was to direct his life. Though Urban could have let his appointment stand and confirmed it by imposing it upon Bruno under pain of ecclesiastical censures, he finally recognized his old master's special vocation to an unusual calling. Rayner was appointed to the See of Reggio.
That decision brought honor to Urban II and to Bruno. Both of them gave way before that mysterious, clear, genuine, irrepressible reality called a vocation from God to Bruno for having the courage to go against the Pope's wish, to Urban II for giving up the services of a man whom he judged so suitable to be a helper and counsellor in his problems. The Pope's decision to free Bruno seems to partake of divine inspiration, higher than any human wisdom, higher even than the holiest friendship. Urban II, of course, had been a monk; he was even formed in the school of Saint Benedict and instructed in that mysticism that makes the soul attentive to the mystery of God and endows it with the Church's understanding of a consecrated life entirely dedicated to the adoration and the praise of God in union with Christ, who died and rose to live again. In Bruno he found that vocation pure, perfect, insistent, yearning for the absolute. From all that he could see, God was there, imposing his own designs and calling. Could this former student of Saint Benedict have failed to understand that for the good of the Church it was more important that Bruno be a hermit, undertaking and achieving his work as a contemplative, than for him to be archbishop of Reggio and a dignitary in the papal court? A few months earlier Bruno sacrificed his vocation as a hermit to the Pope's summons; today, Urban II sacrificed his summons to a higher one, and through that sacrifice the Church authenticated the supreme value of the purely contemplative life for its work of Redemption. This was one of the high points in the life of Urban and the life of Bruno.
Here a question comes up to which history, at the present stage of research, cannot give a positive answer. Since Urban II authorized Bruno to follow the way of pure contemplation, why did he not simply authorize him to return to Chartreuse? Why did he point him to a new foundation in Calabria? Surely Bruno would have wanted to go back to Chartreuse. He never had any plan to found a religious Order; the hermitage of Chartreuse was enough for him, where conditions of geography and climate, and his plans as well, limited the number of candidates to a few; and he wanted to take his place humbly and simply in the place where for six years he had enjoyed the solitude and peace of the wilderness. Everything was calling him back to his sons at Chartreuse. He loved them, and he knew they loved him, and he thought about how happy they would be when they heard he was returning. Besides, didn't they need him? Though he corresponded with them and firmly intended to stay in touch with them, not even the most diligent correspondence could ever be equal to his being there and living with them. But his desire to return to Chartreuse conflicted with Urban II's formal decision: he had to stay in Italy.
Some mystical reasons were ascribed to the Pope earlier when he accepted Bruno's refusal of the See of Reggio. Perhaps now, at the moment he felt the weight of the Church upon him, threatened as it was from the inside by schism and from the outside by war, Urban II would have been glad to have Bruno's hermitage near him a high place for praying and imploring God's protection, a high place of wisdom, of recollection, and advice, to which he would have ready access. Yielding to Bruno's vocation as a hermit, Urban II could nevertheless make that vocation an attraction in his thorny diplomacy with the Norman princes, who were not the most agreeable friends. As recently as 1083, while they were supporting Gregory VII, they sacked Rome. For them to do another about-face would not be surprising. Settling Bruno in Calabria would be an honor for them, assisting in their strategy for Latinization, and it would bind them more closely to the Holy See. All this is theorizing. Only one thing is certain: Bruno did not resume his life as a hermit with some companions at Chartreuse, but in Calabria.
That fact had considerable importance for Bruno's eremitical experience. First of all, Chartreuse itself was going to show itself so permeated with Bruno's spirit that the monks could carry out his ideals in their lives with fervor, even though he was absent. Besides, in Calabria Bruno was going to show that his experience at Chartreuse, favored as it had been by conditions and circumstances, was not restricted to that location and could be repeated elsewhere with even a small number of men who, prompted by his spirit, embraced the hermitage unreservedly. To repeat, nothing was farther from Bruno's thought than founding a religious Order; but, during the remainder of his life, there would be two hermitages, both of which in very different circumstances would accomplish his own unique plan. They would not be joined by any legal bond, but they would burn with the same flame. When did Bruno settle in Calabria? Some say 1090, others 1091 or 1092, and some as late as 1095. The last date hardly seems likely, because there is no reason, after the matter of the archbishopric of Reggio was resolved, that Urban II would have forced Bruno to remain in the papal court. However, it is likely that Bruno needed some time to select the exact place for his new hermitage, to settle some questions related to the new foundation, poor as it was, and gather some men with whom he would form his small community. A reasonable date for the beginning of the new hermitage would be the end of 1091 or the first months of 1092. There is no way to know exactly how much time passed between Bruno's departure from the papal court and that beginning, but he seems to have been present in the court of Urban II for about one year.