Bruno’s Silence

On this crisp Fall day, we fittingly celebrate Saint Bruno (+1101), teacher, bishop, confidant of the Pope and founder of the Carthusians, the only Order in the Church never to have been reformed, since they never needed reforming. Of noble lineage, with a path open to a life of ease and privilege, Bruno chose the better way, early on dedicating himself to God, realizing the need for deep sanctity in the brutal 11th century, where force, violence and intrigue were too often the order of the day, as the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ gave way to the early ‘Middle Ages’, under the influence of the Church.

Behind the reforms that would restore order to society were those hidden consecrated souls, monks and nuns who prayed and worked, away from the tumult of the ‘world’, known only to God. It was these that Bruno longed to join, first trying his vocation with Robert, at Molesmes in southern France, whose group would grow into the Cistercians under Bernard at Clairvaux.

But Bruno and his companions desired even greater solitude and silence, eventually being given land nestled in the French Alps in the region of Chartreuse, after which their Order would be named. They began a life as hermits, focused on prayer, work, in silence, in community, a life for which they should be grateful, as Bruno writes in a letter to his brethren:

Therefore rejoice my dearest brothers, because you are so blessed and because of the bountiful hand of God’s grace upon you. Rejoice, because you have escaped the various dangers and shipwrecks of the stormy world. Rejoice, because you have reached the quiet and safe anchorage of a secret harbor.

The Carthusian life was recounted in a documentary a decade or so ago, Into Great Silence, and they also play a part in Robert Cardinal Sarah’s recent meditations silence in his book, aptly called the Power of Silence, which he wrote in the very Grand Chartreuse founded by Saint Bruno.

In the mysterious designs of providence, our saint was not to enjoy his monastic seclusion for long, called to Rome by one of his former pupils, Eudes of Chatillon, who had been chosen Pope as Urban II (+1099), to help with advice and counsel to govern the Church through a chaotic era, continuing and solidifying the recent reforms initiated by Gregory VII (+1085).

The Holy Father allowed his former teacher to live in a monastery near Rome, so he could be called upon, and it was there, after a full life, that Bruno died on this day in Calabria, Italy, far from his beloved monastery, two years after the Pope he had served, in 1101.

In accord with the hiddenness and humility written into their Rule, no Carthusian is permitted to be officially canonized, but in 1623 Pope Gregory XV placed Bruno’s name in the Roman calendar, where it still stands.

We should pray for the gift of silence, at least for the love of silence, away from the noise of the ‘world’, or what Cardinal Sarah called, as the subtitle of his book, the ‘dictatorship of noise’. Try that old proverbial walk in the woods and ponder the great Saint Bruno, whose only desire, as Saint Paul urges all Christians (Col 3:3), was to be hidden with Christ in God.

As the Carthusian motto has it: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis: The Cross stands while the world turns, the very Cross that will in the end redeem the world.

And in the end, through the maelstrom of this passing life, as Bruno and his Carthusians remind us, that’s all that really matters.