The Carthusian Order is a purely contemplative monastic order that was founded in 1084 by St. Bruno (see bruno the carthusian, st.). The name Carthusian is derived from cartusia, the Latin word for the French chartreuse. The English word "charterhouse" is a corruption of this French term.
Origin. In 1084 Bruno and six companions, under the guidance of St. hugh of grenoble, arrived in the Chartreuse mountains, a section of the French Alps about 30 miles from Grenoble. The solitary and austere site, together with the severe climate, profoundly influenced the life and growth of the young community. When Urban II (1088–99) called Bruno to Rome in 1090, the new order passed through a severe crisis and the Carthusian foundation was temporarily abandoned. After a short time, the community reformed under Landuin the new
prior (d. 1100) and resumed its solitary life. At the papal court Bruno still longed for the solitary life, and after some months the pope permitted him to withdraw to Calabria in southern Italy, where he founded a second Carthusian monastery similar to the one in France. While returning from a visit to Bruno in Calabria, Landuin fell into the hands of the forces of the antipope Clement III (1084–1100) and perished in prison because of his allegiance to the true pope; he was thus the first of many Carthusian martyrs.
Rule. Since Bruno did not intend to found a new monastic order, he wrote no rule. The example of his life entirely "hidden in the Face of God" served, however, as the source of inspiration for all the succeeding generations of Carthusians. As the community of La Grande Chartreuse flourished and its reputation for austerity and sanctity became known, other groups of hermits desired to adopt the Carthusian way of life. It was for these new communities that Guigo, the fifth prior, at the request of Hugh of Grenoble, compiled in 1127 the Consuetudines (customs) according to which the Carthusians lived. This primitive legislation was supplemented by ordinances of the general chapters. On several occasions the ordinances were gathered together in a single edition, such as that of 1581, when the Nova Collectio was published. The latest revision (1924) brought the statutes into conformity with the Code of Canon Law and was approved in forma specifica by Pius XI in the apostolic constitution Umbratilem (July 8, 1924). In the wake of Vatican II, the statutes were revised as the Statuta Renovata (1971, 1973), and again, very slightly, to conform to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, approved by the General Chapter of 1987 as the Statuta ordinis Cartusiensis.
The supreme authority of the order is vested in the general chapter, which meets every two years at the Grande Chartreuse and is composed of the priors of all the monasteries and the professed members of the community of the Grande Chartreuse. The business of the chapter, however, is transacted by a definitory elected for each session. The prior of the Grande Chartreuse is elected by the community, but then has to be approved by the other priors and prioresses of the order. He is the minister general of the order. His authority is supreme between the sessions of the general chapter. Although each monastery is sui juris and its prior a major superior according to Canon Law, the government of the order is nonetheless highly centralized.
History. Under Guigo, the fifth prior (1109–36), seven more charterhouses were founded. In the following years still other groups of hermits requested copies of the Consuetudines in order to become affiliated to the sons of St. Bruno. In all, 38 charterhouses, including two for nuns, were opened during the 12th century and extended as far as Denmark. In 1178 the first charterhouse in England was opened at Witham in Somerset. As the result of a vow made after the murder of Thomas Becket, King Henry II invited the Carthusians to establish a foundation and promised them large grants of land in Selwood Forest. Henry, however, failed to provide for the people who were already living off the donated land, and the foundation almost ended in tragedy. The ability of Hugh, the prior of Witham, in dealing with Henry saved the foundation and the Carthusians became firmly established in England. Hugh later became the celebrated bishop of Lincoln and because of his firmness in defending the rights of the Church became known as "The Hammer of Kings" (see hugh of lincoln, st.).
In the beginning the new foundations remained under the jurisdiction of the local bishop; but as the order expanded, the need of a central governing body became evident and a general chapter of all the priors was held in 1140 at the Grande Chartreuse under the leadership of St. anthelm of chignin. The priors, released from the authority of their bishops, promised obedience to the general chapter. The exemption from episcopal jurisdiction was approved by Rome. The expansion of the order continued throughout the 13th century, when 34 monasteries were founded, including a brief experiment in Ireland between 1280 and 1321. The Carthusian foundation in Ireland has never been renewed.
Growth and Vicissitudes. The 14th century marked an extensive development of the order with 107 new foundations. Charterhouses were opened for the first time in Germany and Prussia. In the same century, however, the order also suffered severe reverses. In 1349, during the ravages of the Black Death, more than 400 Carthusians perished. In one house, Montrieux, all but the prior were victims of the plague. After the plague the order regained its vigor; in 1371 there were 150 monasteries spread throughout Europe. It is interesting that during these first four centuries of the order's history there were no less than 26 pontifical bulls exempting the Carthusians from the payment of all tithes because of their poverty. Toward the end of the century the western schism divided the order in two; the houses of Italy and Germany adhered to the pope of Rome, Urban VI, while the monasteries of Spain and France gave their allegiance to Clement VII at Avignon. The division gave rise to the election of two generals, both claiming the rights of the prior of the Grande Chartreuse. Although many attempts were made at unification during the schism, it was only after the election of Alexander V (1409) that a reunion was effected through the resignation of the two contending priors general. Despite the difficulties experienced throughout the Church in the 15th and early 16th centuries, the Carthusian Order continued to grow; 43 foundations were made in the 15th century, and an additional 13 in the 16th. By 1521 the order numbered 195 houses; never before or since have the Carthusians been so flourishing.
A serious decline set in during the Reformation, when 39 houses were suppressed and more than 50 Carthusians gave their lives for the faith. Notable among these martyrs were the 18 English monks who were tortured and killed in the period from 1535 to 1540 (see england, scotland, wales, martyrs of). Carthusian blood flowed also in Yugoslavia and Austria at the hands of the heretics and of the Turks; in Holland and France the Reformers destroyed charterhouses and massacred the monks. In 1562 the Grande Chartreuse itself was completely destroyed by the Huguenots. In spite of wars and persecutions, however, the Carthusians continued to attract numerous vocations; during one period of 13 years in the 16th century the book of profession at the Grande Chartreuse registered the vows of 115 novices. In the first half of the following century, 21 foundations were made, and these were the last new charterhouses to be founded before the French Revolution. Carthusians were once more put to death by the Huguenots in France and by the Turks in Yugoslavia.
17th and 18th Centuries. In 1676 the order numbered 173 charterhouses with 2,300 choir monks, 1,500 lay brothers, and 170 nuns. In that same year the Grande Chartreuse, destroyed by fire for the eighth time, was completely reconstructed by Innocent le masson, one of the most outstanding generals of the order (d. 1703). In addition to the traditional eremitical and conventual buildings, spacious pavilions were provided to receive the priors coming to the general chapter. The proponents of jansenism, prevalent during this period, tried to infiltrate into the order under the appearances of a higher spirituality. Because of the traditional simplicity of solitaries, the Jansenists expected no obstacle in spreading their doctrines. The vigorous action of Le Masson in banning Jansenist books from all charterhouses and in writing a dogmatic treatise on the questions under dispute did much to save the Carthusians from the contamination of this heresy. In 1710 the general chapter required all the monks to sign the formulary of Alexander VII (1656) and decreed that no one would be admitted to profession who had not done so. In only one of the seven Carthusian provinces of France was the submission incomplete. After a prolonged and patient procedure, 31 monks were excommunicated and separated from the order. They took refuge in Holland, where, with the exception of a few who repented and returned to the order, they remained until their deaths in the most miserable circumstances, both spiritual and material. These religious represented less than one percent of the entire order, which maintained a remarkable fidelity to orthodoxy.
The 18th century was characterized by a nationalist spirit according to which many of the Catholic rulers desired to exercise complete control over the Church within their realms. Upon the insistence of the royal power, the two Carthusian provinces of Spain were erected as an autonomous congregation by Pius VI in 1784. Shortly afterward the court of Naples published a decree uniting all the Neapolitan houses as a separate body. The Republic of Venice and Emperor Joseph II of Austria suppressed all the charterhouses in their states under the pretext of need of monastic property for public education. In Tuscany the grand duke closed the two houses in his territory. At the beginning of the French Revolution the general chapter had authority over only 126 houses, 75 of which were in France. The decrees of the revolutionary government confiscated all the French houses, and these were subsequently thoroughly pillaged by the army. During the bloody days of the revolution many Carthusians were imprisoned; some died in prison, and others were put to death or exiled. During the Napoleonic era all but five of the houses of the order were suppressed.
Recent History. The restoration of the former monarchies favored the religious orders. Without returning their property, King Louis XVIII of France permitted the monks to live at the Grande Chartreuse (1816). The order immediately attracted large numbers of postulants, who after their formation were sent to other charterhouses that were repurchased as the number of subjects increased. Gradually, monasteries were also reacquired in Italy and Savoy. While the Carthusians were experiencing a rebirth in France and in Italy, the revolution of 1834 in Portugal suppressed all the charterhouses in that kingdom. The following year the Spanish government dispersed the Carthusian congregation and seized its property. The houses of the order in Switzerland were likewise suppressed. In the last quarter of the 19th century, as the antireligious spirit subsided, the Grande Chartreuse repurchased monasteries in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and England, as well as in France. Several of these houses were for Carthusian nuns. At the end of the century the order, divided into three provinces, numbered about 700 monks and brothers, and 100 nuns.
Because of the anticlerical laws of the early 20th century, the Carthusians once more were exiled from France and ten charterhouses were confiscated. The community of the Grande Chartreuse, together with the prior general, was established at Farneta in Italy. The monks remained in exile until 1929, when the first French house, Montrieux, was reopened. It was only in 1940, during the confusion of the war, that they were able to reoccupy the Grande Chartreuse.
Carthusian Life. The Carthusian family is comprised of two types of monks—the fathers and the brothers—to which is added the female branch of the order, which is comprised of the nuns.
Monks. The choir monks, all of whom must become priests, are bound to the sung, canonical Office in choir. In addition, each monk says the Office of Our Lady in his cell. With the prior's permission, however, this Office can be replaced with another form of Marian devotion. The monk lives in a hermitage consisting of a covered walkway, private garden, and workshop on the ground floor; above is the cubiculum, or living room, where he prays, studies, eats, and sleeps. Here he passes the greater part of his life. The cells, entirely separated from one another, open on the main cloister, which connects with the church and other conventual buildings. Toward midnight, the monk rises to go to the church to sing Matins and Lauds, after which he returns to his cell for a second period of sleep of about three hours. In early morning he leaves his cell for conventual Mass and then says his solitary Mass (which can be celebrated later in the day with the agreement of the prior); he leaves once again in the late afternoon for Vespers. The remainder of the day, spent in solitude, is given to the recitation of the Office, contemplative prayer, spiritual reading, study, and manual labor. In winter one meal is taken at noon, and a collation of bread and beverage is taken in the evening; in summer there are two meals. There is no breakfast, and meat is never allowed, even in cases of sickness. A fast on bread and water is kept once a week (normally on Friday). Within the monastery silence is strictly observed. Once a week the monks take a hike of three or four hours in the surrounding countryside, during which they converse freely in a spirit of fraternal charity. Besides the walk, a recreation permitting monks to speak casually with each other takes place each Sunday, and, for those who so desire, also at each liturgical feast of the rank of Solemnity.
Lay Brothers. Brothers were among St. Bruno's first companions and have always formed an integral part of the Carthusian family. They are religious contemplatives like the choir monks but are called to a solitude less exacting, and enjoy a well-balanced life in which prayer and spiritual reading alternate with periods of work. They attend the night office of the fathers and can participate in the chant of the Psalms and the reading of the lessons. Otherwise they have the option of reciting their own office made up of "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys" or of simply praying in silence. They can also serve at conventual Mass as either lector or acolyte. Their day begins with a time of prayer or spiritual reading, which is then followed by the Mass. Each brother has his own simple cell where he says his Office, reads, sleeps, and takes his meals, except on Sundays and certain feasts when meals are taken in the refectory. Devoted to the service of the fathers, who by their rule may not leave their cells to work, the brothers care for the material needs of the monastery. When possible they work alone; when obliged to work with others, they observe silence so far as practicable. Thus, whether in their cells or at work, they live as solitary contemplatives. They benefit, moreover, from the atmosphere of peace and tranquility created by the more secluded life of the choir monks.
Nuns. Female religious have been affiliated to the order since the 12th century. They follow a rule similar to the fathers, but their life was traditionally less solitary. In the post-Vatican II era, the life of Carthusian nuns more closely resembles that of the monks. After profession of solemn vows they receive the consecration of virgins and possess the unique privilege of the ancient blessing of deaconesses. Lay sisters lead a life of humble service similar to the brothers and like them aspire to a life of contemplative union with God. In the wake of Vatican II, the nuns received for the first time a set of statutes distinct from those of the monks (1973, 1991). Since 1973 the prioresses have assembled in a general chapter, meeting in conjunction with the general chapter of the order. In recent years a greater degree of solitude has been permitted the nuns.
Current Status. Vocations to Carthusian solitude are relatively rare. In 2001 the order had five houses in Spain, four in France, two in Italy, and one each in Slovenia, Germany, Switzerland, England, the United States, and Brazil. A new foundation has been emerging in Argentina since 1997. There were five houses of nuns (two in France, two in Italy, and one in Spain). The Carthusian emblem is a globe surmounted by a cross and seven stars with the motto "While the world changes, the cross stands firm."
Bibliography: A three-volume general history of the order is being compiled by an international team of scholars led by j. hogg, d. le blÉvec and others, to be published by Éditions Honoré Champion (2002ff). g. van dijk et al., Nouvelle Bibliographie Cartusienne (forthcoming 2002). The Evolution of the Carthusian Statutes from the Consuetudines Guigonis to the Tertia Compilatio, Documents (Analecta Cartusiana 99.1–20; Salzburg 1989–1993). b. tromby, Storia critico-cronologica diplomatica del patriarca S. Brunone e del suo ordine cartusiano, 10 v. (Naples 1773–79). c. le couteulx, Annales ordinis cartusiensis (1084–1429), 8 v. (Montreuil 1887–91). j. l. hogg and p. dinzelbacher, ed., Kulturgeschichte der christlichen Orden (Stuttgart 1997), 274–296. a. p. f. lefebvre, St. Bruno et l'ordre des Chartreux, 2 v. (Paris 1883). c. m. boutrais, La Grande Chartreuse (Grenoble 1881; rev. 1964), Eng., The History of the Great Chartreuse, tr. e. hassid (London 1934). t. merton, The Silent Life (New York 1957). e. m. thompson, The Carthusian Order in England (New York 1930). adam, chaplain of st. hugh, Magna vita Sancti Hugonis: The Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln, ed. d. l. douie and h. farmer, 2 v. (London 1961–62), Latin and Eng. Un Chartreux [M. Laporte of the Grande Chartreuse], Coutumes de Chartreuse (Sources Chretiennes 313; Paris 1984). The Chartae of the Carthusian General Chapter (Analecta Cartusiana 100; Salzburg 1982–). m. zadnikar and a. wienand, Die Kartäuser: Orden der Schweigenden Mönche (Cologne 1983). b. bligny and g. chaix, eds., "La Naissance des chartreuses," Actes du VI e Colloque Internaitonal d'Histoire et de Spiritualité Cartusiennes, Grenoble, 12–15 Septembre 1984 (Grenoble 1986). a. girard and d. le blÉvec, eds., "Les Chartreux et l'art: XIVe–XVIIIe siècles," Actes du X e Colloque International d'Histoire et de Spiritualité Cartusiennes (Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, 15–18 Septembre 1988; Paris 1989). j. hogg, "Everyday Life in the Charterhouse in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," in Klösterliche Sachkultur des Spätmittelalters, Internationaler Kongress Krems an der Donau 18. bis 21. September 1978, in the series Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Mittelalterliche Realienkunde österreichs 3 (Vienna 1980), 113–46. h. rÜthing, "'Die Wächter Israels'—ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Visitationen im Kartäuserorden," in Die Kartäuser: Der Orden der schweigenden Mönche, ed. m. zadnikar with a. wienand (Cologne 1983), 169–83; Der Kartäuser Heinrich Egher van Kalkar, 1328–1408 (Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte 18/Studien zur Germania Sacra 8; Göttingen 1967). g. chaix, Réforme et Contre-Reform Catholique: Recherches sur la Chartreuse de Cologne au XVI e siècle, 3 v., (Analecta Cartusiana, 80; Salzburg 1981). d. mertens, Iacobus Carthusiensis: Untersuchungen zur Rezeption der Werke des Kartäusers Jakob von Paradies (Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte 50 /Studien zur Germania Sacra 13; Göttingen 1976). d. d. martin, Fifteenth-Century Carthusian Reform: The World of Nicholas Kempf (Studies in the History of Christian Thought 49; Leiden 1992).
[a monk of the grande chartreuse/
g. van dijck]
Revd Dr William M. Marshall
W. Papworth (1852)
Car·thu·sian / kärˈ[unvoicedth](y)oōzhən/ • n. a monk or nun of an austere contemplative order founded by St. Bruno in 1084.• adj. of or relating to this order.