1902 Encyclopedia > Carthusians


CARTHUSIANS, a religious order founded by St Bruno in the year 1084. (See BRUNO.) This saint, disgusted with the world, and especially with the conduct of Manasses, archbishop of Rheims, determined to live, in seme remote and retired spot, a life dedicated to contemplation and religion. With six companions he went to consult Hugh, bishop of Grenoble, who led them to a spot among the mountains, about ten or twelve miles from the town, called Chartreuse; and Bruno at once fixed upon this as the site of the establishment which he was minded to found. Very many mediaeval writers have exhausted the resources of language in describing the awful and terrible nature and aspect of this spot, shut in among naked and precipitous rocks, surrounded by sterile mountains, and for a large portion of the year buried in the snow ; and many modern writers have celebrated the romantic and picturesque fea-tures of the place. The obscure name was destined to become familiar in every country and language of Europe, and the monastery which Bruno founded there, soon after mankind had begun to recover from the alarm caused by the belief that the world would come to an end in the 1000th year after Christ, has been the parent of all the numerous " Chartreux," " Certose," and " Charterhouses," and " Carthusian " establishments throughout Europe.

Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, writing about fifty years later, speaks thus of the mode of life of the earliest Carthusians :—

"Warned by the negligence and lukewarmness of many of the older monks, they adopted for themselves and for their followers greater precaution against the artifices of the Evil One. As a remedy against pride and vain-glory they chose a dress more poor and contemptible than that of any other religious body ; so that it is horrible to look on these garments, so short, scanty, coarse, and dirty are they. In order to cut up avarice by the roots, they en-closed around their cells a certain quantity of land, more or less, according to the fertility of the district; and they would not accept a foot of land beyond that limit if you were to offer them the whole world. For the same motive they limit the quantity of their cattle, oxen, asses, sheep, and goats. And in order that they might have no motive for augmenting their possessions, either of land or animals, they ordained that in every one of their monasteries there should be no more than twelve monks, with their prior the thirteenth, eighteen lay brothers, and a few paid servants. To mortify the flesh they always wear hair shirts of the severest kind, and their fasting is well-nigh continuous. They always eat bread of unbolted meal, and take so much water with their wine that it has hardly any flavour of wine left. They never eat meat, whether in health or ill. They never buy fish, but they accept it if it is given to them for charity. They may eat cheese and eggs only on Sundays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Saturdays they eat cooked vegetables. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, they take only bread and water. They eat once a day only, save on the days of the octaves of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Epiphany, and one or two other solemnities. They live in separate little houses like the ancient monks of Egypt, and they occupy themselves continually with reading, prayer, and the labour of their hands, especially the writing of books. They recite the prayers for minor canonical hours in their own dwellings, when warned by the bell of the church ; but they all assemble in church for matins and vespers. On feast days they eat twice, and sing all the offices in the church, and eat in the refec-tory. They do not say mass save on festivals and Sundays. They boil the vegetables served out to them in their own dwellings, and never drink wine save with their food."

As might be supposed, the rigour of this rule has been much modified. The Carthusian dress of very thick white cloth is no longer by any means the poorest or dirtiest of monastic costumes. It consists of a cassock or frock and cloak of ample and comfortable length. But the practice of each monk living in his own separate dwelling has always characterized the Carthusians. They have never been Coenobites.

The Carthusians had no written rule till one was com-posed for them, about forty-five years after the foundation of the first house of the order at Chartreuse, by Guigo, their fifth prior. Some of the most special and character-istic points of it are as follows:—

It was not permitted to the members of the order to practise any greater or additional austerities than those prescribed, without special licence from the prior. They were rarely to use medicine, but to be bled live times a year, and shaved six times. They were forbidden to receive any charity from usurers or excommunicated persons. They declined to bury any stranger (save a monastic person who might have happened to die within their walls) within their pre-cincts, and refused to charge themselves with the saying of any anniversary or other masses for the dead,—the reason assigned for the refusal being, that " we have heard that the majority of priests are very ready to say masses, and to make splendid banquets when-ever any one goes to pay them for praying for the dead—all which destroys abstinence, and renders prayer venal, making it depend on the will of whoso gives dinners." If, says Guigo's rule, our succes-sors should find it impossible to maintain even this small number (thirteen) without being reduced to the odious necessity of begging, and wandering to beg, we advise them rather to reduce their number to as many as can be supported, than to expose themselves to such dangers. Under the seventh general ef the order, St Anthelm, the practice of holding general chapters was first introduced among the Carthusians ; these have always been held at the " Grande Chartreuse" near Grenoble, the parent establishment.

The earliest formal approbation of the Carthusian Order is attributed to Urban II. (ob. 1099). That pontiff, who had been a disciple of Bruno, when the latter was lectur-ing on theology at Rheims, had sent for Bruno to Borne a few years after his retirement to Chartreuse. The saint obeyed, taking all his monks with him. The latter shortly returned to Chartreuse, under Landuino, appointed by Bruno to be their second prior ; but Bruno himself refused to be made archbishop of Reggio, and finding the life of Rome insupportable to him, soon obtained the Pope's per-mission to accept a district of forest, in the diocese of Squillace in Calabria, given to him by Count Roger, where he founded the second house of his order. The rule and constitution of the order were frequently modified on subsequent occasions. The present rule is that which was fixed in 157S and was corrected by a congregation of cardinals, published in 1581, and reconfirmed by Innocent XI. in 1682. According to those new statutes, observes Moroni (or rather the learned writer of the article in his Dictionary), some of the practices as at present enjoined are more austere than in the ancient rule, since the choral service and the office used by Carthusians are peculiar to them, and are of excessive length, following in many respects the ceremonies and rites of the ancient church. By these statutes the use of linen is wholly prohibited to them. They wear next the skin a shirt of horse-hair, bound by a cord girdle, and outside this a cossack and mantle of serge; and they sleep on a paillasse, with woollen sheets. The portrait of a Carthusian monk may be seen in Bonanni's Catalogo, at chapter 108, and a similar figure forms the 10th plate of Capparroni's Raccolta degli Ordini reiigiosi, published at Rome in 1826.

It is a very common error to suppose that the Carthusians are a branch or off-shoot from the great Benedictine order. It is true that the formula of their " office" or choral service is nearly the same as that used by the different orders which belong to the great Benedictine family; but there is no relationship, of parentage or other, between the Carthusians and Benedictines. The superiors of Carthusian convents are called priors, and not abbots as is tie case with the Benedictine orders. Their general is the prior of the " Grande Chartreuse " near Grenoble, and resides always there, and not, as in the case of most other orders, at Rome. The order has a proctor-general (Pro-curatore Generate) who resides at Rome. Above all there is the radical difference in their mode of life,—the Bene-dictines being Coenobites, the Carthusians eremitical, living each in his own separate dwelling, erected within the wall, which forms the cloister (clausura), but not even contigu-ous the one to the other.

St Bruno and his early successors made no pretension to any exemption from the jurisdiction of the ordinary, nor sought for any privilege of the kind. On the contrary they in a special manner recognized the bishop of Grenoble, in whose diocese their first and parent establishment was situated, as the chief and abbot of their order. But the constant and unfailing tendency, which led all the regular bodies to aim at such exemptions, and to encroach in every manner ever more and more on the authority and proper domain of the bishops and secular clergy, induced the Carthusians within little more than an hundred years after their foundation to beg and to obtain from Pope Boniface IX. a bull, dated 6th of March 1391, granting them the exemption in question. It is remarkable, as indicating the strength of this tendency, that although the bull of Boniface is the first recognition whatever of any such exemption, the Pope says in the document in ques-tion, " A supplication has been presented in your name, setting forth, that although your order has been for a long time reputed exempt from the jurisdiction of the ordinary, and dependent immediately on the Holy See," (fee. It had evidently come to be considered as a matter of course that monks, merely as such, were not subject to the autho-rity of the bishop. The motive assigned for granting the exemption is that " certain persons seek by citing you to their tribunals to disturb you in the quietude and con-templation which are the object of your institute."

The order of the Carthusians has always been one of the most respectable of the monastic bodies. It has maintained to a greater degree than most of them the spirit and qualities which presided at its foundation. Nor has it ever needed, as so many of its fellow communities, to be reformed. And although the services which it has rendered to litera-ture cannot vie with those of the Benedictines, it has by no means been valueless to the world in this respect.

The order at one time possessed 172 monasteries, of which 75 were in France. It had also numerous establish ments in England (where, as is well known, the " Charter House" near Smithfield, in London, was its principal house), Italy, Germany, and Spain. Hugh, bishop of Lin-coln, canonized in 1220, was a Carthusian. The order,, however, has had fewer saints than almost any of the others ; so much so that the Carthusian Ferrari wrote a. treatise of inquiry into the causes of this fact. To which query an answer may be found in the 97 th of the Ecclesi-astical Letters of Father Sarnelli, who was vicar-general under Benedict XIII. (published in ten volumes at Venice in 1716), to the following effect:—

"For canonization not only exalted virtues but the working of miracles is required. Now miracles are rarely performed by these solitary recluses, because the result of their doing so would be to call numbers of persons together, who would necessarily destroy or greatly impede the quietude of the contemplative life which it is the object of their rule to ensure. So true is this, continues the vicar-general, that Saint Antonine has recorded in his ecclesiastical history (bk. xv. ch. 22, sec. 2), that a certain Carthusian having performed a quantity of miracles at his tomb, became thereby, in consequence of the crowds who were attracted thither, so great a nuisance that the prior was obliged to go to the grave of the sainted deceased, and there command him on his obedience to do no more-miracles,—an order which the dead saint thenceforward scrupulously obeyed."

Father Petrejo published, in 1609, a Biblioteca degli Scrittori dell' Ordine, which has been subsequently continued by otter hands. A copious account of the order may be found in Dugdale's Monasticon, and one yet more extended in the Chronicle of the Chartreuse by Dorian ; see also the Origines Carthusianorum, Cologne, 1609. A chronology of all the priors of the order was published at Rome in 1622. The device of the order consists of a globe surmounted by a cross, with the legend " Stat crux dam volvitur orbis." (T. à. T.)

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries