Skip to main content

Carthusian Spirituality

CARTHUSIAN SPIRITUALITY

That no specific school of Carthusian spirituality comparable to Ignatian or the French School (Pierre de Bérulle) exists has frequently been asserted. The first Carthusians sought simply to live apart solely for God. william of saint thierry's encomium to the early Carthusian hermits, the Golden Epistle to the Carthusians of Mont-Dieu, testifies to the degree to which they patterned themselves on the desert fathers, whose spirituality they knew through john cassian and jerome and the Latin translations of john climacus, the Rule of st. basil, and the lives and sayings of the desert fathers. At its most basic level Carthusian spirituality consists of the Greek and Latin patristic spiritual theology focused on the reformation of the image of God in man deformed by sin (see Ladner) and the reintegration of the passions disintegrated by sin, with discretio as it was for John Cassian and the early traditionthe governor of all the other spiritual virtues. Carthusian spirituality differed little in general

content from that of other monastic renewal movements of the eleventh and early twelfth century, including the camaldolese, cistercians, and grandmontines.

However, from the beginning the Carthusians set out to pursue this spirituality by making themselves utterly free for God (vacare Deo ) in solitude. Only after more than 50 years were they transformed into a religious order of eremitic-coenobitic monasteries. In the process they developed unique customs and structures to preserve their original purpose. Their liturgy was drawn pragmatically from the cathedral practices of five dioceses in the Dauphiné, especially Grenoble and Vienne, and from the liturgical practices of the canons regular of St. Ruf (see Devaux). The Carthusians sought liturgical simplicity in many ways, for instance, in the first centuries choosing readings only from three or four of the greatest of the Latin church fathers and, even in the late 20th century, limiting their music exclusively to unaccompanied Gregorian chant.

The Carthusians may be said to have developed a distinctive spirituality in the sense that their legislation aimed not so much at prescribing the content of spiritual theology as establishing the conditions under which a monk could singlemindedly free himself for God alone by sitting sedulously in his cell (a small cottage). They left the world in order to know it more truly by gaining distance from it and by reordering both knowledge and love of God and neighbor in a way someone distracted by mundane responsibilities and attractions could not. This in turn required them to establish a way of life that dealt pragmatically and realistically with the temptations to leave the cell and the obstacles to living joyously in it. As more communal functions were added to Carthusian practice (e.g., daily conventual Mass) over subsequent centuries, their aim was precisely that served by the limited communal elements at the founding: to make it possible to live as healthily in solitude as possible, to maintain the Carthusian purpose (propositum ). Manual labor (largely copying books during the medieval period) was not an end in itself but a crucial supporting structure for the sole purpose of the Carthusian life: to give oneself to God in prayer and contemplation and thereby to know and love the world better. The outline for the famous manual for contemplation of Guigo II (d. 1178), widely known for its four steps of lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio, came to him while engaged in manual labor.

Carthusians were prohibited from leaving the monastery to preach or do pastoral work, although from st. bruno onward, individual Carthusians such as St. Anthelm of Belley and st. hugh of lincoln were reluctantly convinced by ecclesiastical leaders to leave contemplative solitude and became exemplary bishops. From the first Carthusians did permit themselves to "preach with their hands" by writing and copying, as guigo i's Consuetudines explain (ch. 28). From the first two centuries of Carthusian life have survived several letters of spiritual counsel from the pen of St. Bruno (most of the other works attributed to him appear to have been written by non-Carthusians), the remarkable Meditationes of Guigo I, and the Scala Claustralium (Ladder of Monks) of Guigo II as referred to above. All of these reflect the simple cell-sitting life of prayer and reflection described above. Only with the later thirteenth century do we find specific manuals on contemplation and mystical union by hugh of balma and guigo du pont (d. 1297). Hugh's fundamental emphasis is on short aspirative "upsurges" into unknowing union, a major step in the affective Western assimilation of the Pseudo-Dionysian tradition. Hugh's work may have had some impact on the 14th-century cloud of unknowing in England and certainly influenced Spanish spirituality in the early modern era. The Carthusians also served as important transmitters of the mystical spirituality of jan ruysbroec both locally and internationally.

From the late 13th century onward a broadening stream of categories of spiritual writings may be found emanating from the charterhouses of France, Germany, the Low Countries, England, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Moravia, Bohemia, and Poland. They include the visions of Marguerite d'Oingt (d. 1310) and Beatrice d'Ornacieux (d. 1303/1309), Carthusian nuns in Provence; a very popular 14th-century life of Mary (and Jesus) written in German verse by Philip of Seitz (d. 134546), transmitted in the houses of the Teutonic Knights and taken up into world history chronicles by the 15th century; the "bestselling" compendium of patristic and medieval spiritual commentary on the life of Christ by ludolf of saxony; some of the best Latin hymns and poetry of the later Middle Ages, written by Conrad Haimburg of Gaming (d.1366) celebrating the lives of the saints and the Virgin Mary arranged according to the liturgical cycle; biblical commentaries, including a cycle of commentaries on Old Testament women by Johannes Brewer of Hagen (d.1475) at Erfurt; manuals for biblical exegesis; treatises on monastic life, monastic formation, and monastic leadership, above all discretio (e.g., in the writings of Heinrich Egher van Kalkar [d. 1308], Nikolaus Kempf of Gaming [d. 1497], Jakob Kunike of Paradies [d. 1465]); works on monastic and general church reform; the spiritual journals of dominic of prussia; and writings in many other areas. Juan de Padilla (d. 1520) wrote devotional poetry in early modern Spanish (Castilian) about the life of Christ.

Two authors in particular wrote encyclopedically on all these topics and more, including how to live a Christian life as, e.g., a city clerk, lawyer, grain merchant, or farmer: Denys of Ryckel (Denis the Carthusian) in the Netherlands and the aforementioned Johannes Brewer of Hagen at Erfurt. Stephen Maconi (d. 1424) and Bartolomeo [Serafini] de Ravenna (d. 1413) championed the canonization of catherine of siena; Cardinal Nicholas Albergati (d. 1443) combined Renaissance philology and classical literature with the Carthusian eremitical tradition. At Paris in the 16th century, Godfrey Tillmann (d.1561) published important editions of the Church fathers.

Two Carthusians of Trier, Dominic of Prussia and Adolf of Essen (d. 1439) developed the meditative Rosary devotion (popularized by Dominicans). Other Carthusians contributed to the emerging devotion to the Sacred Heart.

During the era of the Protestant Reformation, Carthusians at Cologne and Paris wrote spiritual and dogmatic works intended to counter Protestantism. Peter Blomevenna (d. 1536), Dietrich Loher (d. 1554), Laurentius Surius, Johann Justus lanspergius, Gerard Kalckbrenner (d. 1566), Nicholas van Essche (d. 1578), Richard Beaucousin (d. 1610) and others influenced (by their writings and by offering spiritual direction) and were in some instances influenced by the spirituality of e.g., peter canisius, Ignatius of Loyola, Benedict Canfield, and Pierre de Bérulle, and the Rhineland Beguine mystic Maria van Hout of Oisterwijk (d. 1547). The great 17th-century prior general of the order, Innocent Le Masson issued a post-Tridentine manual for the formation of Carthusians, the Disciplina Ordinis Cartusiensis. His Avis spirituels et meditations were republished by the Carthusians at Tournai in 1911.

Recovering from the external pressures of the late 18th-and early 19th-century turmoil in France, Spain, and Italy, in the 20th century some Carthusian spiritual writers became known outside the houses of the order, where the centuries-old patterns of novice formation and a life of steady cell-sitting continued. In the middle of the 20th century writings on spirituality by Augustin Guillerand, François de Sales Pollien, Jean-Baptiste Porion, Benoît Lambres (Benoît de Moustier), and Thomas Verner Moore appeared in French, English, and other languages. More recently a variety of writings by Cyril Pierce, André Poisson and others have appeared, usually anonymously, in French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Maurice LaPorte's research into the spirituality of the initial Carthusian movement circulated in six volumes within the order, with portions published in three volumes in the Sources Chrétiennes series. Basic descriptions of the life and spirituality of the Chartreuse by anonymous Carthusians (as well as one by the Cistercian Thomas merton) have been staples in French, English, and other European languages throughout the last two centuries.

Bibliography: g. van dijck et al., Nouvelle Bibliographie Cartusienne (2002), v. 1, sect. 12: "Spiritualité," bibliography. Un Chartreux [m. laporte], ed., Lettres des premiers chartreux, v. 1:S. Bruno, Guiges, S. Anthelme (Sources Chrétiennes 88; Paris 1962); v. 2: Les moines de Portes (Sources Chrétiennes 274; Paris 1980, reprinted 1999); Coutumes de Chartreuse, (Sources Chrétiennes 313; Paris 1984), contains a thorough discussion of the original spirituality of the Carthusians in its introduction. h. de balma, Théologie mystique, ed. f. ruello and j. barbet (Sources Chrétiennes 408409; Paris 199596). g. du pont, Traité sur la Contemplation, 2 v., ed. p. dupont (Analecta Cartusiana 72; Salzburg 1985). Carthusian Spirituality: The Writings of Hugh of Balma and Guigo de Ponte, trans. and ed. d. d. martin, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York 1997). m. d'oignt, Oeuvres, ed. by a. durafour, p. gardette, and p. dardilly (Paris 1965). n. kempf, Tractatus de Mystica Theologia, 2 v., ed. k. jellouschek, j. barbet, and f. ruello (Analecta Cartusiana 9; Salzburg 1973). g. kalckbrenner, Mélanges de Spiritualité, ed. a. devaux (Analecta Cartusiana 158; Salzburg 1999). Studies. a. devaux, Les origines du missel des Chartreux (Analecta Cartusiana 99.32; Salzburg 1995). b. rieder, Deus locum dabit: Studien zur Theologie des Kartäuserpriors Guigo I. (10831136) (Paderborn 1997). g. mursell, The Theology of the Carthusian Life in the Writings of St. Bruno and Guigo I (Analecta Cartusiana 127; Salzburg 1988). The Mystical Tradition and the Carthusians, v. 4 (Analecta Cartusiana 130.4; Salzburg, 1995), 5157, 1625. d. d. martin, Fifteenth-Century Carthusian Reform: The World of Nicholas Kempf (Studies in the History of Christian Thought 49; Leiden 1992). c.m. boutrais, Ancient Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Carthusian Monks of the XIVXVII Centuries (4th ed.; London 1953).

[d. d. martin]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Carthusian Spirituality." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Carthusian Spirituality." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carthusian-spirituality

"Carthusian Spirituality." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carthusian-spirituality

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.