The Fathers or Cloister monks, their vocation and their life
The following description of the life, of the stages and of the ideal of the Carthusian cloister or choir monk, or Carthusian father, is in fact a direct transcription of Book I of the Statutes of the Order, chapters 3 to 10. No paraphrase, no summary can replace the authority of these paragraphs, which are full of the knowledge and the wisdom accumulated through nine centuries of Carthusian practice.
1 The founding Fathers of our type of monastic life were followers of a star from the East, the example, namely, of those early Eastern monks, who, with the memory of the Blood shed by the Lord not long before still burning within them, thronged to the deserts to lead lives of solitude and poverty of spirit. Accordingly, the cloister monks who seek the same goal must do as they did; they must retire to deserts remote from men and to cells removed from the noise of the world, and even of the monastery itself; and they must hold themselves, in a particular way, alien from all worldly news.
2 The monk, who continues faithfully in his cell and lets himself be molded by it, will gradually find that his whole life tends to become one continual prayer. But he cannot attain to this repose except at the cost of stern battle; both by living austerely in fidelity to the law of the cross, and willingly accepting the tribulations by which God will try him as gold in the furnace. In this way, having been cleansed in the night of patience, and having been consoled and sustained by assiduous meditation of the Scriptures, and having been led by the Holy Spirit into the depths of his own soul, he is now ready, not only to serve God, but even to cleave to him in love.
3 A certain amount of manual work should also be done, not merely for an hours relaxation, but chiefly because this submission of the body to the common lot of mankind helps to conserve and nourish joy in spiritual things. Each monk, therefore, is given all the tools that he needs, to avoid his having to leave cell; since this is in no way permitted, except when the community is meeting in church or cloister, or on occasions laid down by rule. Nevertheless, in the measure that the way of life we have embraced is more austere, we are the more strictly bound to observe poverty in all we use; for we must imitate the poverty of Christ if we wish to share in his abundance.
4 Being united by love for the Lord, by prayer and by zeal for solitude, let the fathers show themselves to be true disciples of Christ, not merely in name but in deed; let them be zealous for mutual love, living in harmony, forbearing one another, and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, so that, together, they may with one voice glorify God.
5 Let the fathers keep in mind the close union in Christ that they have with the brothers, and remember that it is thanks to them that they are enabled to offer pure prayer to the Lord in the peace and solitude of their cells; let them remember, too, that their priesthood is for the service of the Church and, in particular, of those members close to them, namely the brothers in their community. Outdoing one another in showing honor let fathers and brothers live in love, which is the bond of perfection, and the foundation as well as the summit of any life dedicated to God.
6 To all his sons, both fathers and brothers, it is the Priors task to mirror the love of our heavenly Father, uniting them in Christ so as to form one family, and so that each of our Houses may really be what Guigues terms a Carthusian church.
7 All this finds its source and support in the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the efficacious sign of unity. It is also the center and high point of our life, as well as the spiritual food for our exodus in solitude, by which through Christ we return to the Father. Throughout the entire liturgical cycle, Christ prays, both for us as our Priest, and in us as our Head; hence it is that we may hear our voices in him and his voice in us.
The night Office is, in accordance with our ancient practice, fairly long, though never beyond the limits of discretion; in this way, the psalmody nourishes our interior devotion and enables us to give ourselves in addition, without fatigue or loss of interest, to secret prayer of the heart.
8 It is an old custom of ours -- in which we recognize a wonderful gift of Gods loving kindness -- that every cloister monk is called to the sacred ministry of the altar. In this we see the harmony, to which Paul VI bore witness, that exists between the sacerdotal and monastic consecration; for, after the example of Christ, the monk likewise becomes both a priest and a sacrifice whose fragrance is pleasing to God; and through this association in the Lords sacrifice, he shares in the unsearchable riches of his Heart.
9 Since our Order is totally dedicated to contemplation, it is our duty to maintain strictly our separation from the world; hence, we are excepted from all pastoral ministry -- no matter how urgent the need for active apostolate is -- so that we may fulfill our special role in the Mystical Body of Christ. Let Martha have her active ministry, very praiseworthy indeed, yet not without solicitude and agitation: nevertheless, let her bear with her sister, as she follows in the steps of Christ, in stillness knows that he is God, purifies her spirit, prays in the depths of her soul, seeks to hear what God may speak within her; and thus, tastes and sees -- in the slender measure possible, though but faintly in a dark mirror -- how good the Lord is; and also pours forth prayer both for Martha herself and for all who, like her, labor actively in the service of the Lord. In this Mary has not only a most just judge but also a very faithful advocate -- the Lord himself -- who deigned not alone to defend but even to praise her way of life, saying, "Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken from her;" with these words he excused her from involving herself in the solicitude and agitation of Martha, however pious and excellent they might be.
The Keeping of Cell and Silence
1 Our principal endeavor and goal is to devote ourselves to the silence and solitude of cell. This is holy ground, a place where, as a man with his friend, the Lord and his servant often speak together; there is the faithful soul frequently united with the Word of God; there is the bride made one with her spouse; there is earth joined to heaven, the divine to the human. The journey, however, is long, and the way dry and barren, that must be traveled to attain the fount of water, the land of promise.
2 Therefore the dweller in cell should be diligently and carefully on his guard against contriving or accepting occasions for going out, other than those normally prescribed; rather, let him consider the cell as as necessary for his salvation and life, as water for fish and the sheepfold for sheep. For if he gets into the habit of going out of cell frequently and for trivial reasons it will quickly become hateful to him; as Augustine expressed it, "For lovers of this world, there is no harder work than not working." On the other hand, the longer he lives in cell, the more gladly will he do so, as long as he occupies himself in it usefully and in an orderly manner, reading, writing, reciting psalms, praying, meditating, contemplating and working. Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages. In this way with Gods help, he will avoid the dangers that often lie in wait for the solitary; such as following too easy a path in cell and meriting to be numbered among the lukewarm.
3 The fruit that silence brings is known to him who has experienced it. In the early stages of our Carthusian life we may find silence a burden; however, if we are faithful, there will gradually be born within us of our silence itself something, that will draw us on to still greater silence. To attain this, our rule is not to speak to one another without the Presidents permission.
4 Love for our brothers should show itself firstly in respect for their solitude; should we have permission to speak about some matter, let us do so as briefly as possible.
9 Those who neither are, nor aspire to becoming, members of our Order are not to be allowed to stay in our cells.
10 Each year for eight days we devote ourselves with greater zeal to the quiet of cell and recollection. Fittingly, our custom is to do this on the anniversary of our Profession.
11 God has led us into solitude to speak to our heart. Let our heart then be a living altar from which there constantly ascends before God pure prayer, with which all our acts should be imbued.
Occupations in Cell
1 The cloister monks, bound by the divine law of work in the discharge of their duties, fly idleness, the enemy, the ancients tell us, of the soul. Humbly, therefore, and with alacrity they carry out all the tasks that a poor and solitary life demands, but in such a way that everything is ordered to that ministry of divine contemplation to which they are wholly dedicated. For, in addition to manual labor of different kinds, our quota of work comprises all the duties arising out of our state of life, particularly those related to the divine worship or to the study of theology.
2 First of all, lest we uselessly fritter away our religious life in cell, we should, at once with zeal and discretion, devote ourselves to studies fitting to us; and this, not from an itching desire for learning, nor from a wish to publish books, but because wisely ordered reading endows the mind with greater steadiness and provides a foundation for the contemplation of heavenly things. For they are mistaken, who think that they can easily attain to interior union with God, while having previously neglected the study of the Word of God, or later abandoned it altogether. Intent, then, on the rich substance of truth rather than the froth of words, let us scrutinize the divine mysteries with that desire to know which both springs from love and in turn inflames love.
3 By working with his hands the monk practices humility; he also brings his whole body under control so as better to attain stability of mind. Accordingly, manual labor is permitted at the established times (46.8). This work should be genuinely useful, for it is not fitting that we should spend precious time given to us for glorifying God on work that is superfluous or vain. From this period of time we do not exclude the usefulness of reading and prayer; indeed, we are exhorted to have constant recourse during work to short and, as it were, ejaculatory prayers. It sometimes happens also that the very weight of our work acts as a sort of anchor to the ebb and flow of our thought, thus enabling our heart to remain fixed on God without mental fatigue.
4 Work is a service that unites us to Christ who came not to be served but to serve. They are worthy of praise who themselves take care of the furniture, tools and other things they use in cell, so as to lessen the burden on the brothers, as far as they can. But all have the duty of keeping the cell tidy and clean.
5 The Prior can always impose on a father some task or service for the common good. This we accept willingly and with the joy of love; for on the day of our Profession we asked to be received as the most humble servant of all. When a cloister monk is entrusted with some task, it should always be such as can be done with liberty of spirit, and without anxiety concerning profit or meeting a deadline. For it is fitting that the solitary, whose attention is fixed not so much on the work itself as on the goal he is aiming at, should at all times be able to keep his heart watchful. However, that a monk may remain tranquil and healthy in solitude, it will often be advisable that he have a certain liberty in arranging his work.
6 As a normal thing, the fathers should not be asked to work outside their cells, especially not in the obedience of the brothers. If, however, it does happen that a group of the fathers are deputed to work together, they can speak among themselves of matters useful for the work, but they may not speak to passers-by.
7 Our activity, therefore, springs always from a source within us, after the manner of Christ, who at all times worked with the Father in such a way that the Father dwelt in him and himself did the works. In this way, we will follow Jesus in the hidden and humble life of Nazareth, either praying to the Father in secret, or obediently laboring in his presence.
The Observance of Enclosure
1 From ancient times it has been the mind of our Order that our absolute dedication to God be expressed and sustained by a great strictness of enclosure. How pressing the need must be before one goes out, can be sufficiently gauged from the fact that the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse never goes beyond the boundaries of the desert of Chartreuse. And since one and the same rule of life should be observed by all who profess it in a uniform and like manner, it follows that we, who have adopted the Carthusian ideal, whence we bear the name of Carthusians, do not readily admit exceptions. If, nevertheless, necessity compels us to go out, the permission of the Reverend Father must always be sought, except in a case of urgency and in the other cases provided for in the Statutes.
4 Rigorous observance of enclosure would, however, be merely pharisaical, were it not the outward expression of that purity of heart, to which alone is it promised to see God. To attain this, great abnegation is required, especially of the natural curiosity that men feel about human affairs. We should not allow our minds to wander through the world in search of news and gossip; on the contrary, our part is to remain hidden in the shelter of the Lords presence.
5 We should therefore avoid all secular books or periodicals that could disturb our interior silence. To introduce newspapers treating of politics into the cloister in any way would be particularly contrary to the spirit of our Order. Indeed, the Prior should exhort the monks to be very circumspect in the matter of secular reading; but, of course, this exhortation presupposes a mature mind that is master of itself, and knows how to embrace honestly all that follows from the best part that it has chosen -- the part of sitting at the Lords feet and listening to his words.
6 The heart, however, is not narrowed but enlarged by intimacy with God, so that it is able to embrace in him the hopes and difficulties of the world, and the great causes of the Church, of which it is fitting that monks should have some knowledge. Nevertheless our concern for the welfare of men, if it is true, should express itself, not by the satisfying of our curiosity, but by our remaining closely united to Christ. Let each one, therefore, listen to the Spirit within him, and determine what he can admit into his mind without harm to interior converse with God.
7 But if, by chance, we come to know something of events in the world, we must be careful not to pass it on to others; news of the world should rather be left where it is heard; it is for the Prior to tell his monks those things, especially concerning the Church and her needs, which they ought to know.
8 We are not to seek conversation with members of the Order or others who sometimes come to our House, unless there is a real need. For making or receiving visits without good cause is of no advantage to the monk who is firmly attached to solitude and silence, and thirsts for repose.
9 Since it is written, "Honor your father and your mother," we relax a little the rigor of our enclosure in order to receive the visit of our parents and other relations each year for two days, which may be separate or continuous. But apart from this, we avoid visits from friends and conversations with seculars, unless indeed, some inescapable necessity is imposed on us by the love of Christ: for we know that God is worthy to be offered this sacrifice, and that it will be of greater profit to men than our words.
14 In canonically established Houses of the Order, strict enclosure is observed according to the tradition of the Order. Women can not be admitted within the cloister. When we speak with women, we observe that modesty which befits us as monks.
15 Let the monks ever bear in mind that the chastity they professed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is to be valued as a gift of grace of surpassing worth. For it frees their hearts in a particular way, enabling them to cling more easily to God with undivided love, and in so doing to evoke that hidden nuptial union, established by God and to be fully revealed in the future world, by which the Church has Christ as her only Spouse. Striving, then, to be faithful to what they have promised, they should put their faith in the words of the Lord; and trusting in Gods help rather than presuming on their own strength, practice mortification and custody of the senses. Let them trust also in Mary, who by her humility and her virginity merited to become the Mother of God.
16 Here strong men can return into themselves as much as they wish, and abide there; here they can with eager earnestness cultivate the seeds of virtue, and with gladness eat of the fruits of paradise.
Here is acquired that eye, by whose serene gaze the Spouse is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen.
Here the solitary is occupied in busy leisure, and at rest in tranquil activity.
Here God rewards his athletes with the longed-for prize: peace that the world does not know, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Fasting and Abstinence
1 Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow in his steps; this we do by accepting the hardships and anxieties of this life, by embracing poverty with the freedom of Gods sons, and by renouncing our own will. Moreover, in accordance with monastic tradition it is for us also to follow Christ in his fast in the desert, treating the body hard and making it obey us, so that the mind may flame with longing for God.
2 The fathers keep abstinence once a week, normally on Friday. On that day they content themselves with bread and water. On certain days and at certain times of the year, they observe the fast of the Order, and take only one meal a day (cf. chap. 48).
3 We should practice mortification of the flesh not merely out of obedience to the Statutes, but primarily to be freed from the tendencies of our lower nature and enabled to follow the Lord more readily and cheerfully. But if, in a particular case, or with the passage of time, someone finds that any of the aforesaid observances is beyond his strength, and that he is hindered rather than helped in the following of Christ, let him in a filial spirit arrange some suitable measure of relaxation with the Prior, at least for a time. But, ever mindful of Christ who calls, let him see what he can do; and what he is unable to give to God by common observance, let him offer in some other way, denying himself and taking up his cross daily.
4 Novices, therefore, should be accustomed gradually to the fasts and abstinences of the Order, so that, under the guidance of the Novice-Master, they may prudently and safely tend towards the rigor of complete observance. He should teach them to be specially watchful not to make future fasting a pretext for over-indulgence at meals. So, let them learn to chasten by the spirit the misdeeds of the flesh, and to carry in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in their bodies.
5 In accordance with the practice introduced by our first Fathers and ever since observed with remarkable zeal, we exclude all eating and taking of meat from our way of life. This abstinence is to be observed as a distinguishing mark of the Order and as a sign of hermit austerity, in which, with Gods help, we intend to persevere.
8 No one is to indulge in penitential practices over and above those prescribed by the Statutes without the knowledge and approval of the Prior. But, if the Prior wishes someone to have some additional food or sleep or anything else whatsoever, or, on the contrary, if he wishes to impose something difficult and burdensome, we have no right to refuse, lest, in resisting him, we are found to be in reality resisting not him but God, whose place he holds in our regard. For though many and diverse are the things that we observe, we cannot hope that any of them will profit us without the blessing of obedience.
1 When aspirants, aflame with divine love and longing to leave the world and lay hold of eternal realities, come to us, let us receive them in the same spirit. It is therefore vitally necessary that novices should find in the House where they are to be trained an example of regular observance and piety, of silence and solitude, and likewise of fraternal love; if this example is lacking, there is little hope of them being able to persevere in our life.
2 However, candidates who come to us are to be examined carefully and prudently, in accordance with the warning of the Apostle John, "Test the spirits, to see whether they are of God." For it is indeed certain that the progress or deterioration of the Order, both in the quality and number of its members, chiefly depends on the good or bad reception and formation of novices. Priors, therefore, should cautiously inquire about their family, their past life, and their fitness of mind and body; on which matter it will be found helpful to consult experienced doctors, who are familiar with our way of life. Among the qualities, with which candidates for life in solitude should be particularly endowed, a sound and balanced judgement is of prime importance.
3 It is not our custom to receive novices before they have attained their twentieth year; further, of the applicants, only those are to be accepted who, in the judgement of the Prior and of the majority of the community, are sufficiently gifted with piety, maturity, and physical strength, to bear the burdens of the Order; they should, of course, have an aptitude for solitude, but also for life in common.
4 Great caution must be shown in the reception of persons somewhat advanced in age, as they may have difficulty in adapting to our observances and way of life. For this reason we do not wish anyone over forty five years of age to be received without the express permission of the General Chapter or the Reverend Father. This permission is also required for the admission to the novitiate of religious who are in vows in another Institute. If the religious is perpetually professed, the Reverend Father must have the consent of the General Council. For the admission of a candidate who has been under vows in another Institute, we are advised to consult the Reverend Father.
6 When someone comes to us wishing to become a cloister monk, he is first questioned in private as to his motive and intention in wanting this. And if he seems to be truly seeking God alone, he is examined on certain points that are then necessary to know: has he had a literary education sufficient for a monk destined for the priesthood? can he sing? is he under any canonical impediment? A postulant, moreover, cannot begin his novitiate unless he has a sufficient knowledge of Latin.
7 This having been done, the purpose of our life is put before the candidate, as also the glory that we hope will be given to God by our sharing in the work of redemption, and how good and joyous it is to leave all things and hold fast to Christ; but the hard and austere things are also presented before him, so that every aspect of the life that he wishes to embrace is, as far as possible, exposed to his view. If, in face of this, he remains unperturbed and readily promises, on account of the words of the Lord, to walk this difficult path, desiring to die with Christ and to live with Christ, then, as a last counsel, let him be advised to make peace, in the spirit of the Gospel, with all who have anything against him.
8 The postulancy lasts between three months and a year. On an appointed day the postulant is proposed to the community, which on a subsequent day will vote on his admission.
11 The novice is to entrust to the Prior all the money and other possessions he may perhaps have brought with him, so that not he but the Prior, or someone appointed by the Prior, may take care of them, as if on deposit; for the novice has now left all things to follow Christ. Moreover, we neither require nor request anything whatever from those who wish to enter our Order.
13 The novitiate lasts for two years; which period the Prior can prolong, but not beyond six months.
16 Let not the novice be worn down by the temptations which are wont to beset the followers of Christ in the desert; nor let him put his trust in his own strength, but in the Lord, who has called him and who will bring to perfection the work he has begun.
1 The formation of the novices is to be entrusted to a Novice-Master, who should be a monk outstanding for prudence, brotherly love and regular observance; endowed with the necessary maturity and experience of the Order; a notable cultivator of contemplative repose and cell. He should be one who radiates love of our vocation, has an understanding of the diversity of spirits, and is in open-minded sympathy with the needs of youth. Moreover, while whole-heartedly zealous for the spiritual perfection of his charges, he must take care that he knows how to excuse defects in others. *
3 Let the Novice-Master be careful and vigilant in the reception of novices and put quality before number. For to become a Carthusian in fact as well as in name the mere wish is not sufficient; in addition to love for solitude and for our life, a certain special aptitude of mind and body is required, from which the existence of a call from God can be known. The Novice-Master, to whom it belongs in the first place to examine and test the candidates, is to be attentive to these signs. Nor should he be ignorant of the fact that certain defects which at first may seem perhaps of little moment, after Profession more often grow and increase. True, to refuse someone or send him away is a matter of great importance and is not to be decided without mature reflection; on the other hand, to accept or to continue to keep a candidate, when it is manifest he lacks the necessary qualities, is false -- we almost said cruel -- compassion. Let the Novice-Master be extremely careful that the novice decides concerning his vocation with complete freedom, and let him not put the slightest pressure on him to make Profession.
4 At suitable times the Novice-Master will visit the novice and instruct him in the observances of the Order that a novice should know. He will take great care that the novice attentively studies our Statutes. It is also the Novice-Masters task to form the conduct of the novice, to direct him in his spiritual exercises, and to apply suitable remedies to his temptations. He will be solicitous that the love of his charges for Christ and the Church grows daily. Although, like our holy Father Bruno, he should have the tenderness of a mother, it is fitting that he should also show the vigor of a father, so that the training of the novices may be both monastic and virile. Above all, he should let the novices experience solitary life in cell and its austerity, and he should teach them to give spiritual help to one another in a spirit of genuine and simple love. *
5 To apply himself to study and manual work is indeed very helpful for the novice; however, it is not enough for a monk to be occupied in his cell and to persevere there in a commendable manner till death. Something more is required: a spirit of prayer. For if life with Christ and intimate union of the soul with God were lacking, faithfulness to ceremonies and regular observance would be of little profit, and our life could be justly compared to a body without a soul. Accordingly the Novice-Master is to have nothing more at heart than to inculcate this spirit of prayer, and develop it with discernment, so that the novices after Profession may draw daily more and more close to God and so attain the end of their vocation.
6 The Novice-Master is to endeavor always to return to the sources of all Christian life, to the teaching of monastic tradition, and to the original inspiration of our Order. He should fully explain the spirit of our holy Father Bruno, and uphold the authentic traditions, that have been observed from the beginning of the Order, and were collected principally by Guigues.
10 In the second year of their novitiate, the novices are to start their studies; these should be carefully ordered to a formation at once monastic and priestly according to the directives of the Program of Studies. Monks should not be advanced to the priesthood before they have attained to a human and spiritual maturity sufficient to enable them more fully to participate in this gift of God.
1 The monk, already by baptism dead to sin and consecrated to God, is by Profession still more totally dedicated to the Father and set free from the world, in order to be able to strive more directly towards perfect love; linked with the Lord in firm and stable pact, he shares in the mystery of the Churchs indissoluble union with Christ, and bears witness to the world of that new life won for us by Christs redemption. *
2 Towards the end of the second year of his novitiate, the novice, if he seems suitable, is to be presented to the community, who, some days later and after serious examination of the matter will vote on his admission (cf. 8.9). On his part, the novice is to bind himself only with perfect liberty and mature deliberation.
4 The first Profession is made for three years. At the end of that time, it is for the Prior, after the vote of the community (8.9), to admit the junior professed to spend two years with the solemn professed. In that case, the monk will renew his temporary Profession for two years. For one of these years, normally the second, he is to be free from scholastic studies, so that he may prepare himself with greater reflection for solemn vows.
6 Since the disciple, if he wishes to follow Christ, must renounce all things, including self, a monk about to make solemn Profession must part with everything he then possesses; and, if he wishes, he can at the same time dispose of property to which he has a claim. No member of the Order is to ask for anything at all from the possessions of a temporary professed, even with a view to some pious work or to making a charitable donation to anyone whatever; rather, he is to dispose of his property freely and as he pleases.
9 The future professed is himself to write the Profession formula in the vernacular, as follows: "I, Brother N., promise stability, obedience, and conversion of my life, before God, his saints, and the relics belonging to this hermitage, which was built in honor of God, the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist, in the presence of Dom N., Prior." In the case of a first temporary Profession after "promise" the words "for three years" are inserted, and when this Profession is extended, the period of the extension is indicated; in the case of a solemn Profession the word "perpetual" is added.
10 One should note that all our hermitages are dedicated in the first place to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, our principal heavenly patrons.
The certificate of every Profession, signed by the professed himself and the Prior that received his vows, and with the day and year noted on it, is to be kept in the archives of the House.
11 The one received knows himself by the Profession made to be so much a stranger to the things of the world that he has no power over anything at all, not even over his own self, without the permission of his Prior. For, as all who wish to live according to a rule must observe obedience with great zeal, we, in the measure that the way of life we have embraced is more exacting and more austere, must observe it the more ardently and carefully; lest if -- which God avert! -- obedience is lacking, such great labors may well go unrewarded. It is for this reason that Samuel says, "Obedience is better than any sacrifice, and to listen to God than the fat of rams."
13 Following the example of Jesus Christ, who came to do the will of his Father, and who taking the form of a servant, learned obedience through what he suffered, the monk subjects himself by Profession to the Prior, as Gods representative, and thus strives to attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.