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The Carthusian Order

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The name is derived from the French chartreuse through the Latin cartusia, of which the English "charterhouse" is a corruption.

We have two accounts of the manner of life of the first Carthusians, the earliest, written by Guibert, Abbot of Nogent, the second by Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny. The former runs as follows:

"The church stands upon a ridge ... thirteen monks dwell there, who have a sufficiently convenient cloister, in accordance with the cenobitic custom, but do not live together claustraliter like other monks. Each has his own cell round the cloister, and in these they work, sleep, and eat. On Sundays they receive the necessary bread and vegetables (for the week) which is their only kind of food and is cooked byy each one in his own cell; water for drinking and for other purposes is supplied by a conduit ... There are no gold or silver ornaments in their church, except a silver chalice. They do not go to the church as we do [Guibert was a Benedictine], but only for certain of them. They hear Mass, unless I am mistaken, on Sundays and solemnities. They hardly ever speak, and, if they want anything, ask for it by a sign. If they ever drink wine, it is so watered down as to be scarcely better than plain water. They wear a bair shirt next the skin, and their other garments are thin and scanty. They live under a prior, and the Bishop of Grenoble acts as their abbot and provisor ... Lower down the mountain there is a building containing over twenty most faithful lay brothers [laicos], who work for them ... Although they observe the utmost poverty, they are getting together a very rich library."

Peter the Venerable adds certain details, lays stress on the poorness of their garments, and mentions that they restricted their possessions both in land and cattle, and fixed their own number at thirteen monks, eighteen lay brothers, and a few servants. Of their diet he says:

"They always abstain from the eating of meat, whether in health or ill. They never buy fish, but accept them if given in charity. Cheese an eggs are allowed on Sundays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, they eat cooked vegetables, but on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they take only bread and water. They eat once a day only, save at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Epiphany, and on certain other festivals ... On feast days they go to the refectory, eat twice, and sing the whole office in the church."

Guibert wrote in 1104, Peter some twenty years later, so there was time for development, which may account for certain discrepancies between the two accounts. The "Customsi" of the Chartreuse were not committed to writing till 1127. Bruno had left the world in order to serve God in solitude, and without any intention of founding an order. In the earliest days the hermits had no rule, but all strove to live after Bruno's example and in accordance with the Evangelical counsels. When regular monastic buildings were erected and vocations began to increase, some sort of rule became a necessity.

St. Bruno wrote none, but the customs which he introduced, together with additions born of experience, were embodied in the "Consuetudines" written by Guigo, the fifth prior, in 1127. This was not a rule written with authority, but a record of the usages of the motherhouse of the order, compiled at the request of the priors of the charterhouses, and finally accepted by them as their code.

In the introduction the writer says that almost all the customs are contained "either in the epistles of the Blessed Jerome, or in the Rule of St. Benedict, or in other authorized writings." A later writer, Boso, the nineteenth prior of the Grande Chartreuse (d. 1313), says, "It is clear that the contents of the Statutes come either from St. Benediet's Rule, St. Jerome's Epistles, the 'Vitae Patrum' or the 'collationes' and other writings of Cassian and the Fathers."

The Rule of St. Benedict (the only monastic rule of those days) gave the norm of those duties which were performed in common, and supplied the arrangement of the Divine Office, the treatment of guests, the form of the vows. Many new departures were introduced to meet the needs of the solitude which is an essential of the Carthusian life; from the Fathers of the Desert came the laura-like arrangement of the building and the solitary life of the cells, while the statutes are probably also indebted to the Rule of Camaldoli (founded by St. Romuald in 1012), which was reduced to writing by the Blessed Rudolf in 1080.

The fundamental principle of Camaldoli and the Chartreuse is the same, namely, the combination of Western monasticism as embodied in St. Benedict's Rule with the eremitical life of the Egyptian solitaries. In both orders the superiors were to be priors, not abbots, and in all the earliest Carthusian houses there was, as at Camaldoli, a "lower house" for lay brothers who served the external needs of the contemplative monks at the "upper house."

The first hermits tended strongly to be purely eremitical, but the cenobitic development was hastened hour by the necessities of life find by the influence of neigbouring Benedictine houses, especially perhaps of Cluny. The union of the two systems was only gradually evolved under the pressure of circumstance.

Guigo's "Consuetudines" were first approved by Innocent II in 1133 and are still the basis of the modern statutes. In 1258 the general, Dom Riffier, issued a new edition, adding various ordinances passed by the general chapters since 1127; these are known as the "Statuta Antiqua."

The "Statuta Nova" with similar additions appeared in 1368. In 1509 the general chapter approved the "Tertia Cornpilatio," consisting of a collection of the ordinances of the chapters and a synopsis of the statutes.

The Carthusian Rule was printed for the first time by Johann Amorbach at Basle in 1510. This volume contains Guigo's "Consuetudines," the "Statuta Antiqua," the "Statuta Nova," and the "Tertia Compilatio." The "Nova Collectio Statutorum" was published in l581. This work, which had cost eleven years of preparatory labour, includes in one well-ordered series all the various legislation scattered throughout the cumbersome volume of 1510. A century later a second edition was printed at the Correrie or "lower house" of the Grande Chartreuse by order of Dom Innocent Le Masson, and this, after receiving certain corrections of slight importance, was finally confirmed by Innocent XI by the Bull "Injunctum nobis" of 1588. Tile fifth edition of the statutes is a verbal reprint of the second. The first part, or "Ordinarium," which is printed separately, is concerned with church ceremonial, the second treats of the government of the order and the observances and occupation of the religious, the third is concerned with the lay brothers and the nuns. Guigo's "Consuetudines" contains in substance the customs introduced by St. Bruno with certain additions and modifications.

The many formal changes and accretions which the original "Consuetudines" have undergone, have affected neither their substance nor their spirit, but, as Le Masson says, "have been like a change of clothing, which adds nothing and takes nothing from the substance of the body."

We must remember that the pictures given by Guibert and Peter the Venerable depict the Carthusian life at a stage of semi-development. The only mitigation of importance introduced since Guigo's day is the decrease of the fast on bread and water from thrice to once weekly.

Additional duties have been laid upon the monks in the shape of extra prayers, the singing of a daily conventual Mass, the lengthening of the night Office and of the Office for the Dead, and the withdrawal of the permission to take a midday siesta, while, instead of having, as formerly, seven or eight hours uninterrupted sleep, their rest is now broken by the long night vigils.

From its very nature the order grew slowly. In 1300 there were but 39 monasteries, but during the fourteenth century 113 were founded, extending as ftr as Silesia, Bobemia, and Hungary. During the Great Schism there were two generals, but both resigned on the election of Alexander V in 1409 and the order was once more united. During the fifteenth century, 44 charterhouses were founded and in 1521 there were in all 206, but during the sixteenth century 39 were destroyed b the Reformation and only l3 founded. In 1559 a foundation in Mexico was projected but fell through owing to the opposition of the King of Spain. Writing in 1607 Le Masson says, "We number about 2,500 choir monks and 1,300 lay brothers and donnés, giving an average of a dozen fathers and eight or nine lay brothers to each house". Between 1600 and 1667, 22 monasteries were founded, and then no more till the nineteenth century. The order entirely escaped the scourge of commendatory superiors. Joseph II suppressed 24 houses, and in 1784 the Spanish Government compelled its charterhouses to separate from the order.

The French charterhouses were less infected with Jansenism than most of the ancient orders. Owing to the energy of the general, Dom Antoine de Mongeffond, only thirty monks out of a total of over 1,000, and those mostly belonging to the Paris house, ultimately refused to sign the "Unigenitus". These fled to Utrecht. At the outbreak of the Revolution there were 122 charterhouses, which were nearly all suppressed, as the French armies swept over Europe. In 1816 the monks returned to the Grande Chartreuse. The Spanish houses were suppressed in 1835; the Port-Dietu in Switzerland, which had escaped the earlier storm, in 1847; the monasteries in Italy for a second time during the course of the Risorgimento; and the restored French houses as a consequence of the Association Laws of 1901.

In 1900 the monks possessed eleven monasteries in France and nine in other parts of Europe. The French houses are now empty and four new or restored houses have been opened in Spain and Italy. The following is a list of the charterhouses existing at the end of 1907. In Italy: Farneta, near Lucca, recently repurchased and occupied by the general and the conventus Cartusiae; Pisa; Florence, where the monks are merely custodians of a national monument; Trisulti, near Alatri; La Torre, in Calabria; Vedana, in the Diocese of Belluno; La Cervara, near Genoa, recently repurchased. The Procura of the order at Rome. In Spain: Monte Allegro, near Barcelona; Aula Dei, Peñaflor, near Saragossa; Miraflores, with its spelendid royal tombs; the liqueur is made at the Casa de los Cartujos, Tarragona. In England: Parkminster, in Sussex, is the largest charterliouse in the world, with thirty-six cells and 3,166 feet of cloister. It now contains the community of Notre-Dame de Près, Montreuil, as well as its own. In Switzerland: Val-Sainte in Canton Friburg. In Gerimany: Hain near Düsseldorf. In Austria Pletterjack, founded in 1403, abandoned 1595, and since rebuilt. In Belgium: the printing works belonging to Montreuil are now at Tournai. There are 300 solemnly professed monks, 35 junior professed, and 15 novices, making 350 choir monks, of whom about 20 are not yet priests; also about the same total of lay brothers, lay novices, and donnés. The badge of the order is a globe surronded by a cross and seven stars, with the motto "Stat crux, dum volvitur orbis".

The famous liqueur is a secret manufacture, invented by the monks in the nineteenth century, as a means of subsistence, to take the place of the broad acres lost in the Revolution. The large proceeds, after assisting to pay for the maintenance of the various charterhouses and the building of new ones, has been entirely devoted to various works of charity.

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Source:
The Catholic Encyclopedia
The Carthusian Order

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