Life of Saint Bruno: Part I

The following excerpted from André Ravier’s (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius Press


On a June morning in 1084, about the time of the feast of Saint John the Baptist, a small, serious-looking group of poorly clothed travelers left the Bishop’s house in Grenoble,(1) led by young Bishop Hugh. They headed north and took the road to Sappey. After passing the last houses of the town they entered the great forest, cleared the Palaquit Pass, and reached the Porte Pass at an altitude of 4,000 feet. From the pass they descended to the village of Saint-Pierrede-Chartreuse over a path that today’s road follows closely. But, shortly before they reached Saint-Pierre, they turned left into the Valley of Guiers-Mort. This very narrow valley grew narrower little by little until it was enclosed between two steep cliffs. Only the stream and the path found an exit to the west.

The “Gateway”, as this valley was called, was the sole entry from the south. A little beyond that, to the right, an oblong valley called the Wilderness of Chartreuse extended north-northeast about three miles. Its lowest point was 2,350 feet above sea level, and the highest was 3,450 feet. It was nearly enclosed on all sides by towering mountains which, at the Grand Som, reached an altitude of 6,000 feet. Except for the gateway of the valley, there was only one other way to enter. That was by La Ruchère Pass (4,250 feet) toward the northwest, though the village of La Ruchère itself was accessible only by the dangerous route of the Frou, over two poor paths that were long, difficult, and very risky: one coming from Saint-Laurent of the Wilderness in the west (today called Saint-Laurent-du-Pont), the other from Saint-Pierre-d’Entremont in the north. The latter went through the forest of Eparres, the home of wild animals, and up over the Bovinant Pass to an altitude of 5,000 feet. In this wilderness the travelers boldly summoned up their strength at the gateway of the valley and, since they were looking for the wildest place in this wild place, they climbed to the farthest point toward the north, where the wilderness terminated in a gorge that was enclosed by mountains so high that during most of the year the sun scarcely penetrated it. Amid the fallen rocks the strangely shaped trees still reached for the sky, so that at least their tops might gain the open air, light, and warmth. Then the little band stopped. They had arrived. Bishop Hugh told his companions they should build their huts here and make their dream of a hermitage a reality. Taking leave of his companions, he went back down to Grenoble with his personal escort.

Seven men stayed in the Wilderness: Master Bruno, the former chancellor and canon of the Church of Rheims; Master Landuino from Lucca in Tuscany, a renowned theologian; Stephen of Bourg and Stephen of Dié, both canons of Saint-Ruf; Hugh, “whom they called the chaplain because he was the only one of them who functioned as a priest”(2); and two “laymen”, Andrew and Guérin, who were lay brothers. These seven had decided to lead an eremitical life in common, and for some time they had been looking for a suitable place to carry out their project. Prompted by the Spirit and knowing surely how well forests in the Dauphiné were suitable for solitude, Bruno came to Hugh, bishop of Grenoble, to ask for shelter and advice. And Hugh, inspired by a wonderful dream, chose the Wilderness of Chartreuse for Bruno and his companions.

Human wisdom would say the selection was foolish. The harsh climate with heavy snowfalls; the poor soil that required so much labor to provide even meager nourishment for its inhabitants; the ruggedness of the terrain that made cultivation difficult in the forest; the inaccessibility of the place during a considerable part of the year, so that there was no hope of obtaining help quickly should there be an emergency or fire or illness. Everything was against establishing any sort of permanent dwelling for human beings in the Wilderness of Chartreuse, and especially in this northern end of it. Several times events demonstrated that these fears were well founded. On Saturday, January 30, 1132, an enormous avalanche fell upon all of the cells except one and killed six hermits and one novice. They were compelled to go back a mile and a half toward the south from the end of the Wilderness, where the Grande Chartreuse is located now.

Bruno was more than fifty years old. Several of his companions, notably Landuino, were no longer young. What secret desire impelled them to brave this solitude, whose severity Guigo, in his Customs (Consuetudines or Custumal) alludes to twice? What discovery, what pearl of great price could make them live “for a long time amid so much snow and such dreadful cold”?(3)

The mystery of vocation, by which God calls certain people to a purely contemplative life and all-embracing love; the mystery of hidden lives of self-effacement (as it is commonly regarded) with Christ who effaced himself; the mystery of the prayer of Christ in the wilderness during the nights of his public life and at Gethsemane, the prayer of Christ that continues in certain privileged souls at every period in the history of the Church; the mystery of being solitary while remaining present to the world, of silence and the light of the Gospel, simplicity, and the glory of God: this is the mystery we will try to discover in the soul of Bruno.

Saint Bruno’s Childhood

The six companions called him “Master Bruno”. It was not only because he was older or because he had once been their teacher at Rheims, but because they regarded him highly, and respected him. Over them he had a moral power, which radiated constantly from his whole character and could not be explained simply by their past. If they had come to the Wilderness of Chartreuse, if they had joined this bold project, it was because he led them, because they were drawn to follow him on account of the way he had clarified God’s call for them and inspired confidence in them. The goodness, the balance, the desire to seek God in absolute and total love that they saw in him captivated. And they were still captivated. He was the one who had formulated the project and carried it forward to its conclusion.

So, who was this man who had such an effect on his companions? Practically nothing is known of his beginnings. Only three facts are certain. He was born at Cologne — so he was a German — and his parents were not without nobility, or at least not without some good reputation in the city. Toward the middle of the sixteenth century, it was said that he belonged to the Hartenfaust family, even that he was descended from the “gens Æmilia”, but there seems to be no foundation for that claim. It was based merely on an oral tradition at Cologne. In a document of August 2, 1099, whose authenticity unfortunately is contested, Bruno is said to have refused an important donation from the Count of Sicily and Calabria. “He refused,” runs the text, “telling me he had left his father’s house and mine, where he had held the first place, for the purpose of being able to serve God with a soul completely unencumbered by the goods of earth.” The lack of authenticity in false documents is often camouflaged by some details that are true. Is that the case here?

What is the date of Bruno’s birth? We do not know that, but, calculating from the date of his death — which was October 6, 1101 — and from the events of his life, there is no great risk of error placing his birth between 1024 and 1031. The year 1030 best agrees with the events that mark his life.

Bruno lived the first years of his childhood in Cologne. No document dating from that period has come down to us.

Cologne! Ancient Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensis, which the Romans had founded between the Rhine and the Meuse, had been independent of county organization since the time of Otto the Great, who had placed his own brother Bruno (953–65) upon the archiepiscopal see. He had transferred the administration of justice to him and, to him and to the archbishops who would succeed him, the rights of a count. When Bruno, the future founder of the Carthusian, was born, the name of the archbishop was Peregrinatus. He was the one who crowned Henry III at Aachen in 1028 and thereby acquired for the archbishops of Cologne the right of crowning the emperor. When Bruno lived, there was a historical connection between Cologne and Rheims, which might be of some interest here. He found himself tragically involved in the grave disturbance Archbishop Manassès had stirred up at Rheims by his simoniacal election and by his conduct, while at about the same time the Church of Cologne was experiencing a similar situation. Archbishop Hidulf (1076–78) sided with Emperor Henry IV of Germany against Pope Gregory VII in the struggle of Investitures. Hidulf’s successors, Sigewin (1078–89) and Herimann III (1089–99), continued his policy. At least during the period from 1072 to 1082 Bruno surely maintained some communication with his people at Cologne. He would have been aware of what was going on in his hometown. If this conjecture is correct, the great trial of conscience, which prompted him to leave Rheims and join the resistance to Archbishop Manassès, would have come from the two churches that were the most dear to him.

But to return to Bruno’s childhood. Archbishop Bruno I, through his talent for organizing, made Cologne not only the first city of Germany but also one of importance in the world. This civic-minded man was also a spiritual man: he promoted the eremitical and the monastic life, built churches, and founded cathedral chapters, so that the city was called “holy Cologne” or “the Rome of Germany”. When Bruno, the future Carthusian, was a child, Cologne was still experiencing the intense spiritual life that Archbishop Bruno I had given it. It had no fewer than nine collegiate churches, four abbeys, and nineteen parish churches. At this time, the only schools where children could be introduced to classical studies were in monasteries and churches. To which of those schools was Bruno entrusted? That will never be known with certainty. But, since he was named a canon of the cathedral church of Saint Cunibert, we can with reason deduce that he had had a particular relationship with that church. Was he sent to that school because his family belonged to that parish?

One fact seems beyond any doubt. Even in his first studies Bruno gave evidence of striking intellectual gifts, because while still young (tenerum alumnum, as the canons of Rheims will later say) he was sent from Cologne to the famous cathedral school of Rheims. That is where he would live from then on. While he stayed at Paris, Tours, or Chartres, the story was the same. It was Rheims that especially left its mark on him, with the result that, though he was of German origin, people later called him Gallicus, the Frenchman.

The schools of Rheims, and especially the cathedral school that Bruno attended, had been renowned for several centuries. Gerbert, who was one day to become Pope Sylvester II, was their rector from 970 to about 990, and they had been enlightened by his talent. In the eleventh century Archbishop Guy of Chastillon gave a new impetus to learning. When Bruno came there to study, the schools of Rheims had attained some prominence, with students coming from Germany, from Italy — in fact, from all over Europe. Among all these young people it was the personality of Bruno that attracted the attention of the teachers.

At that time learning was encyclopedic, and the humanities were said to serve as a preparation for theology. After studying grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium), the student applied himself to arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy (the quadrivium). Only after that came theology, like the crown of all human learning. But if — as it often happened, and a notable example was Gerbert, who excelled in mathematics as well as theology — if one teacher were to go through the whole cycle of studies with the same students, he was allowed a certain freedom in the distribution of the studies. The method of teaching was the lectio — a lecture with a commentary from ancient writers who were authorities on the subject. Theology followed the same method, consisting principally of reading the Bible along with the master’s commentary, which was based on the Fathers of the Church.

Bruno’s studies went like that. Hérimann or Herman was then director of studies (l’écolâtre) at Rheims. He did not have the same breadth of talent as Gerbert, but he was known to be a theologian of great merit.

If we can believe the Eulogies (Titres Funèbres), it was in philosophy and theology that Bruno excelled. But extant letters written by him provide evidence that he was not ignorant of rhetoric. The Chronicle Magister, too, asserts that “Bruno . . . was firmly grounded in human letters as well as in divine learning.” If we can believe a tradition that seems trustworthy, it is from this period of studies that he wrote a short elegy entitled “On Scorning the World”, which would for the first time reveal his gift for reflection. This is written in elegant, balanced, and metrical couplets, in the manner of exercises in poetry that are practiced during the study of the humanities. But just now the thought is of more interest than the form. This elegy, for example:

The Lord created all mortals in the light, offering the supreme joys of heaven according to their merits.

Blessed is the one who without straying directs his soul toward those heights and is vigilant to preserve himself from all evil.

Blessed again is the one who repents after sinning and often weeps because of his fault.

Alas! People live as though death did not follow life, as if hell were only an unfounded fable, though burning embrace.

Mortals, have a care that you live, all of you, in such a way that you do not have to fear the lake of hell.

Bruno was about twenty years old and still a student of the cathedral school when an event occurred that had to make a profound spiritual impression upon him: Pope Leo IX came to Rheims and held a Council (Leo IX visited Cologne in the same year), arriving at Rheims on September 30, 1049. On October 1 he effected the transfer of the relics of Saint Remi, which Hincmar had caused to be taken to Epernay during the Norman invasions. Now they were returned to the famous abbey. On October 2 Leo IX consecrated the new church of the abbey of Saint Remi. Saint Remi! Bruno’s devotion for him is revealed in a letter to Raoul le Verd. When Bruno wrote this letter, he was in Calabria, nearing the end of his life. He had left France and the Chartreuse some ten years earlier. The letter to his friend concludes with these words: “Please send me The Life of Saint Remi, because it is impossible to find a copy where we are.”

On October 3, as soon as the festivities for Saint Remi were concluded, Leo IX opened the Council. Numerous archbishops, bishops, and abbots participated in it. They were particularly concerned with simony, which was then threatening the Church and urgently needed to be eliminated. Several bishops who were accused of having bought their bishoprics were summoned. The Pope and the Council deposed and excommunicated them. Then disciplinary decisions were made to put an end to that evil. Because he was participating in the ceremonies, Bruno was aware of the measures and decisions that the Council took, the presence of the Pope giving them authority and extraordinary solemnity.

So, at the beginning of his productive life, Bruno was confronted with the great problems of the Church. Profoundly religious and honest, formed by Holy Scripture and the great principles of the Faith, he was drawn to reflect on the situation of the Church, the needed reforms, and the direction his life had to take to reach its fullest worth and integrity. For the moment it seemed the Lord was inclining him to religious studies here at Rheims. There was nothing to indicate he was dreaming of a hermitage at that time. On the contrary, while he was pursuing sacred studies, he was deeply involved in the life of the diocese. The events of the next thirty years would plunge him into an emotional crisis in which what he had seen Leo IX and the Council accomplish would enlighten and direct the choices he would make.

Master Bruno

After completing his studies did Bruno spend a short time in Paris? Did he return to Cologne for a while? Did he receive sacred orders? Did he preach? and if so, where? So many uncertainties, and no reliable documents. There is only this indication in one of the Eulogies: “He gave many sermons throughout the area” (Multos faciebat sermones per regiones). It would not be prudent to draw any conclusions from that, though, because any cleric who had finished his studies with a degree from the school at Rheims could be called to preach to the people.

It would be enlightening for a historian to know when and in what circumstances Bruno was promoted to be a canon of the church of Saint Cunibert of Cologne. Unfortunately, we know only the bare fact, and it is Manassès, the simoniacal Archbishop of Rheims, who gives it to us in the Apology that he addressed to Hugh of Dié and the Council of Lyons in February 1080: “This Bruno does not belong to my clergy. He was neither born nor baptized in my diocese. He is a canon of Saint Cunibert at Cologne in the land of the Teutons.” We can only guess about the date and circumstances of his promotion. The first hypothesis is to connect it with the reorganization of the collegiate church of Saint Cunibert by Archbishop Herimann II of Cologne. This cathedral church had twenty-four canons. Did Herimann wish to honor Bruno’s family and to create a personal link with the church of Cologne for Bruno himself, whose gifts were already evident? According to this conjecture Bruno would have become a canon while still a young man. Or did he have to wait until the excellence of his teaching made him famous? Cologne would have wanted to contribute to the honor being given to one of its sons. That seems most likely. But another theory has often been put forward: that in 1077 or a little later, at the time of the conflict with Manassès, Bruno returned to Cologne. This does not seem likely. In addition to the fact that the documents seem to indicate he and the other canons who had opposed the simoniacal Archbishop were staying at Count Ebal of Roucy’s, how would he find shelter in Cologne, where the situation was even worse than at Rheims? In March of 1076, Emperor Henry IV had imposed upon Cologne an intruder named Hidulf, one whom the clergy as well as the people who were faithful to Gregory VII opposed to no avail. Given the present state of research, only this is certain: Bruno was a canon of Saint Cunibert.

If Bruno was born around 1030 (the year suggested above), there is still a problem. What did he do after finishing his studies until he was promoted to the post of director of studies (l’écolâtre) for the schools of Rheims? What was his life like? How did he use his time? The answer seems certain. In any city, and most of all at Rheims, such a responsible assignment as summus didascalus must have been entrusted to a professor who had demonstrated his abilities. If Bruno spent time at Paris or Cologne, his stays there were brief.

What is more, even before being named director of studies (or at least about the same time), Bruno was called to another dignity. He was promoted to be a canon of the cathedral of Rheims. It was no trifling honor to belong to that illustrious Chapter. “Bruno, a canon of the Church of Rheims, which was second to none in France” (Bruno, Ecclesiæ Remensis guæ nulli inter Gallicanas secunda est, canonicus), says the Chronicle Magister.

Bruno did not claim this honor for himself. Rheims was then a metropolitan see. Its Chapter, comprised of seventy two canons, was renowned and powerful. It was directed by the Rule that had been designed for the canons in 816 by the Council of Aachen at the suggestion of Emperor Louis the Pious. It was a moderate rule, midway between the regular life of monks and the freedom of clerics. Canons living under the Rule of Aachen remained secular, keeping their own possessions, having their own house, receiving income. Laws of fasting were precise but not burdensome. Some life in common was required, but it was neither absolute nor strict. In some Chapters this moderation could turn into mediocrity, but this does not seem to have happened at Rheims. Around 980 the Chapter of Rheims was singled out as an example of perfection “in chastity, learning, discipline, in correcting faults, and in performing good works” (in castitate, scientia, disciplina, in correptione et exhibitione bonorum operum). At the time of Bruno it deserved that praise. When Archbishop Gervais introduced Canons Regular in the two collegiate churches of his diocese (Saint Timothy in 1064, Saint Denys in 1067), they lived a stricter observance, especially as regards the common life and poverty. The Chapter of the cathedral did not adopt that reform. So, Bruno was a secular canon, never a Canon Regular.

In the course of the centuries the archbishops of Rheims and other benefactors had richly endowed the Chapter of their cathedral. Saint Rémi himself (died about 533) had first given the example — he bequeathed to the clergy of his cathedral (the office of canons did not exist then) considerable property, entire villages, churches, as well as estates with peasants attached to them. He meant to foster some common life among his clergy. Other archbishops followed Saint Remi’s example. Although the cathedral Chapter possessed many properties, some of them were in distant places, even south of the Loire and as far as Thuringia in Germany. Each bishop committed himself after his installation to respect the Chapter’s patrimony. Every year the income from the properties was divided among the canons. So Bruno, like the other members of the Chapter, must have received his share of the wealth. This income augmented his personal fortune, which, it seems, was not negligible. Two of the Eulogies from the cathedral of Rheims (52 and 53) relate that, at the time of his departure from Rheims, he had an abundance of resources and was divitiis potens.

If we can judge from what we know of the life of the canons of Rheims at the time, this is how Bruno, a canon of Rheims, lived. He lived outside the cathedral cloister, in a house that was his personal property; he received income that allowed him to have a comfortable and easy life; he had servants and could easily receive his friends, since the canons were not required to take all their meals at the common table. Their principal obligation was to participate regularly in the cathedral canons’ Office, and we can hardly believe that Bruno would fail to perform this duty faithfully. Did he visit the monks of neighboring abbeys? Saint-Thierry was only a few kilometers from the city, and Saint Remi was just at the gate. He certainly was acquainted with them and their way of life as his own plan for monastic life matured. When he left Rheims for Sèche-Fontaine he had great admiration and friendship for the black monks of Saint Benedict. He knew, though, that the Lord was not calling him to their way of life.

Outside the time for the canonical Hours, each member of the Chapter was free to organize his life as he pleased. But, if Bruno had been inclined to lengthy contemplation and to a home of solitude at that time, he would not have been able to accomplish the tasks the Archbishop entrusted to him. It was 1056, and he was director of studies for the schools of Rheims.

It would be useful to know the exact date when Herimann resigned his office as director of studies in Rheims, because Bruno succeeded him at once. That resignation apparently took place shortly after Gervais of Château-du-Loir was elevated to the See of Rheims in October of 1055, which, without much danger of error, can be placed at the end of 1055 or the beginning of 1056. Bruno’s promotion to the dignity of director of studies would then be during the year 1056.

It was a great honor for Bruno to be selected. Calling one so young to occupy a position so sensitive indicated that Herimann had discovered his exceptional talent for teaching, communication, and even administration. Bruno was only twenty-six or twenty-eight years old. Herimann would not have so resolutely settled upon a man of that age had he not been certain that, in proposing the nomination to Arch-bishop Gervais, he had the implicit consent of the professors and even of the students of the schools of Rheims. Besides, he, better than anyone else, knew the renown of these schools throughout the whole Christian world.

Rheims was then one of the most celebrated of the intellectual centers of Europe, and he was obliged to maintain its high reputation by the judicious recruitment of its teachers. Bruno had to have already succeeded in the secondary positions that had been entrusted to him before he was placed, regardless of his age, over all the schools of Rheims with the rank of summus didascalus.

The choice of Archbishop Gervais was a good one. For about twenty years Bruno had excelled among the teachers of Rheims to the point that one day he was invested by the legate of Pope Gregory VII, Hugh of Dié, with the distinguished title of “teacher of the Church of Rheims” (Remensis Ecclesiæ magistrum). His pupils gathered in the cathedral cloister, where the master used to teach. Several of them rose to become dignitaries in the Church. One was Eudes of Châtillon, who, like Bruno, was a canon of Rheims and then entered Cluny, became prior, was later created cardinal-archbishop of Ostia, and finally was chosen pope under the name of Urban II. There were also Rayner, who was to become bishop of Lucca; Robert, bishop of Langres; Lambert, abbot of Pouthières; Maynard, prior of Corméry; and Peter, abbot of the Canons Regular of Saint Jean-des-Vignes. Later, in the Eulogies, all of these figures acknowledged that the best part of their formation was due to Bruno. Here are some of their testimonials:

I, Rayner, one of the venerable Bruno’s old pupils, wish to offer my prayers to Almighty God that he will give the crown to this faithful man whom he endowed with such grace and piety. I shall preserve his memory in a special way because of my debt to him and my affection for him.

From the beginning of my religious vocation I, Lambert, abbot of Pouthières, was a pupil of Bruno, that remarkable teacher in the science of learning. I will never forget my good father, to whom I owe my formation.

Peter, abbot of Saint Jean-des-Vignes at Soissons, said:

Learning of the death of Bruno, your holy father, the master from whose lips I was taught the holy doctrine, I was saddened, but I also rejoice because he has found rest and now he lives with God, insofar as I can judge from the purity and perfection of his life, which I knew very well.

The testimonial of Maynard, prior of Cormery, is still more moving in that he was preparing to leave for Calabria when he learned of Bruno’s death. He wanted to see Bruno and “open his soul to him”. His desire reveals the depth of Bruno’s influence ever since those days in Rheims:

In the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 1102, on the calends of November, I received the scroll, and in it I read that the soul—blessed, I hope—of my dear teacher Bruno had finished his life of a pilgrim on this earth and entered the kingdom of heaven on the wings of his virtues, still persevering in true charity. Certainly I rejoice over the glorious end of such a man. But, since I was planning to come to him in the near future so that I might see him and listen to him, to confide the whole state of my soul to him, and consecrate myself to the Holy Trinity under his direction along with you, I am also perplexed about what to say upon receiving the news of his unexpected death and I have not been able to restrain my tears. I, Maynard, unworthy prior of numerous monks in this monastery of Corméry, came from the city of Rheims. I followed Master Bruno’s courses for several years, and, with the grace of God, I profited from them very much. I thank Master Bruno for my formation, and, because I cannot give him my testimonial in this life, I have now decided the least I can do is give it in behalf of his soul. This is why, along with all who loved him in Christ, I shall cherish his memory as long as I have breath.

To these wonderful testimonials of memory and loyalty, some actions and courtesies of his former students should be added as well, because without any spoken or written word they revealed the profound spiritual influence of Master Bruno. One of these is his nomination to the See of Rheims after the simoniac Archbishop Manassès was deposed and then the call to Rome that Bruno received from Pope Urban II. These important events will be related in their proper place.

Here are some testimonials, selected from the Eulogies, given by people who knew Bruno: “He surpassed his teachers and was their master.” “Incomparable in philosophy, a light in every branch of learning”. “This teacher had strength of heart and speech, so that he surpassed all other masters; all wisdom was found in him; I know what I am saying and all of France with me.” “An understanding master, a light and guide on the way that leads to the heights of wisdom”. “His instruction gave light to the world.” “The honor and the glory of our time”. Even taking into account the literary exaggerations that were customary in such testimonials, Bruno is presented as a man who undeniably put his mark upon Christianity during his time. The Eulogies stress the value of his doctrine, calling him “teacher of teachers”, “source of doctrine”, “profound source of philosophy”^ of the radiance of his spiritual thought, of his “wisdom”, “a pearl of wisdom”, “an example for good people”, “model of true justice, learning, and philosophy”; and of his knowledge of Holy Scripture, especially the Psalter, calling him “learned in the Psalms and excellent philosopher”; “he had knowledge of the Psalter and, as doctor, he taught many students”; “once the first teacher for the schools of the Church in Rheims, well versed in the Psalter and other branches of learning, he was long a pillar for the whole city.”

In addition to three primary and certainly genuine texts — namely, letter to Raoul le Verd, letter to the Community of Chartreuse, and the Profession of Faith (of which we shall speak below), there are two works that have come to us bearing Bruno’s name: Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul and Commentary on the Psalms. If they too are authentic, as they seem to be, they probably belong to the period of Bruno’s life when he was teaching. Both of them, especially the Commentary on the Psalms, might have been only notes from a course he gave as professor of theology. Is it too much to suggest that — even if he did not keep these notes and carry them with him when he left Rheims — he at least remembered what he taught by living it in Chartreuse as well as later in Calabria and no doubt never stopped improving his ideas and perfecting them for his own use and the use of his brothers, the hermits?

Is that only a theory? We are certain that, from the time he was a teacher at Rheims, in the eyes of his students Bruno excelled in the knowledge of sacred writings and especially the Psalter. We are no less certain that, both in Chartreuse and in Calabria, he rejoiced in the fact that his companions were “learned”, and he directed his hermits to study the Bible. Toward the end of his life he wrote these admirable words to the brothers at Chartreuse: “I rejoice that, although you do not know how to read, the finger of the all-powerful God engraves love on your heart, and knowledge of his holy law, as well.” By their obedience, humility, patience, “chaste love of the Lord”, and “genuine charity”, they had the wisdom to receive “the sweet and life-giving fruit of the divine Scriptures”. Nothing could convey better the extent to which Bruno drew his spirituality and the sanctification of his soul from his understanding of Scripture. No doubt this knowledge was more closely directed toward contemplation in Chartreuse and in Calabria, but could that not be a continuation, a prolongation, and a deepening of his teaching at Rheims?

This conclusion would resolve some of the difficulties that, after eight centuries of agreement, one or another critic has believed it necessary to raise about the genuineness of the two Commentaries. To bring up just one example: it is necessary to take into account the fact that Bruno had meditated, pondered the contents of these two texts over some fifty years, and here and there in his teaching he could have inserted an allusion with a very clear date like the one to Saint Nicholas in the Commentary on the Psalter, and that would not be the date of the entire Commentary. Dom Anselm Stoelen had undertaken a critical study of the two Commentaries, but unfortunately his death interrupted the work, and no one, as far as we know, has so far (1981) continued it. At worst—that is to say, even if an inquiry came to a conclusion against the genuineness of the twoCommentaries—the portrait of the soul as sketched above would not be much affected. Bruno would still be, in the words of one of the Eulogies: “a remarkable commentator on the Psalter, and a scholar” (In Psalterio et coeteris scientiis luculentissimus).

The Commentary on the Psalms is of doubtful interest for the modern reader, and it has in fact been questioned. In the eighteenth century the learned Maurist Dom Rivet said in his Literary History of France: “Whoever makes the effort to read this commentary with a modicum of attention will agree that it would be very difficult to find another of this genre that would be more substantial, more illuminating, more concise, and more clear.” But in The Sources of Carthusian Life he is more reserved: “The Commentary … on the Psalms is very dry. Its aridity makes it difficult to read. Besides, it is full of interpretations that are not palatable to our modern taste.” Perhaps it is wise to take a position midway between that praise and that reserve. It is true that no contemporary reader should look in the Commentary on the Psalms for literary pleasure or even an aid for devotion. But to one who has the determination to overlook this dryness, Bruno’s Commentary will stimulate contemplation and love for God. Here are some examples of that:

“Happy are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart” (Beati qui scrutantur testimonia ejus: in toto corde exquirunt eum). The ones who seek God by giving themselves with all their heart to contemplation are those who, having left all care for the things of this world behind them, aspire to God alone through contemplation, who seek him and with all their heart desire only him, who in love delve into the most intimate secrets of his divinity.

“And I will bless your name forever and ever” (Et benedicam nomini tuo in sæculum et in sæculum sæculi). I shall praise you in contemplating your name, which is “Lord”; I shall bless you with a blessing that will remain through the centuries; that is to say, I shall praise you by the praise of the contemplative life, which endures in this century and in the century to come, according to the word of the Gospel: “Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken away from her.” The active life, in contrast, endures only in this world.

“In my thoughts, a fire blazed forth” (In meditatione mea exardescet ignis). In my meditation, the love that I already had has begun, like a burning flame, to grow more and more.

There is no lack of solemn commentaries like these, which praise the contemplative life and its profound joy. Here are some more:

Exult in joy, you just, and to achieve it sing to God: that is, praise him in contemplation. Dedicate yourselves to the contemplative life, which consists in devoting yourselves to prayer and meditation on the divine mysteries, leaving behind all that belongs to earth.

“Shout joyfully to God” (Jubilate Deo). Praise God with inner spiritual joy, a joy that cannot be explained in speech or in writing: that is, praise him with an intense devotion.

Though some of the writings may date from his time at Chartreuse and at Calabria, Bruno’s attachment to the Psalter goes back to Rheims, where, among his students, he had the reputation of a specialist on the Psalms. Bruno’s predilection for the Psalter—if one may believe the prologue to the Commentary—rests on the fact that the Psalter is the book of divine praise par excellence. “The entire Psalter speaks about things above: that is to say, about the praises of God. The book has many things to say, . . . but the praises of God are everywhere…. It is with good reason that the Hebrews called this the book of hymns, that is, the book of the praises of God.” For Bruno, who had a special gift for praising God, the praise of God is Christ himself: the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ:

The title of Psalm 54, “For the choirmaster; with stringed instruments; a Maskil of David” (In finem, in carminibus, intellectus ipsi David), can be explained this way: This Psalm can be applied to David himself, that is, to Christ persevering in carminibus, that is, in praise. Christ praises God by his plans, by his words, and by his deeds. He does not stop praising even in his Passion, because it is particularly there that God must be praised in carminibus: he perseveres in praise until he reaches eternity; he continues in praise both in prosperity and in adversity, until God leads him to perfect and complete immortality.”

The Church has the responsibility and the commission to continue the praise of Christ here on earth, and she accomplishes that mission principally through contemplative souls. Commenting on Psalm 147, Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum, Bruno writes:

Church, praise the Lord, the Father; praise him as the Lord; praise, and you will truly be Jerusalem, that is, at peace; for the Lord this peace is high praise. So, praise the Lord as your God and your Creator; praise, and you will truly be Zion, that is, contemplating the things of heaven, and for God this contemplation is praise in which he takes great pleasure. I repeat, praise the Lord, your God.

The heart of this Commentary on the Psalms is Christ, the historical Christ, the mystical Christ, the Church. This has long been observed by those who have known Bruno’s book. In 1749 Dom Rivet wrote: “Throughout the book, Saint Bruno points to Jesus Christ and his members, Jesus Christ and his Church.”

If the critical works now in progress conclude that the Commentary on the Psalms is authentic, the outcome would be very interesting, though not essential, for our full understanding of Bruno’s soul. If these texts date from his time at Rheims, they indicate that Bruno, the professor of the schools, was already inclined toward contemplation, if not yet toward the contemplative life. If they are to be as-signed to the time at Chartreuse or at Calabria, they add to Bruno’s two letters a very important note about Christ and his Church. They clearly make the contemplative life part of the Church’s very existence and her activity.

Archbishop Gervais died on July 4, 1067, leaving a reputation for virtue. Manassès of Gournay succeeded him under the title of Manassès I. He was consecrated in October of 1068 or 1069. Even though he obtained the See of Rheims through simony and with the complicity of Philip I, the King of France, Manassès I administered his diocese in a manner that gave room for hope of a proper and peaceful administration. But his true character was soon revealed. Twenty-five years later the chronicler Guibert of Nogent wrote: “He was a noble man, but he had none of the moderation that should be characteristic of an honorable man; no, after his elevation he adopted the ostentations of kings and the brutality of barbarian princes…. He loved weapons, and he neglected his clergy. The following statement is reported about him: `Rheims would be a good See if one did not have to sing Mass there”. He was false and two-faced. To satisfy his appetite for riches without losing his episcopal See, he skillfully alternated between wise actions and charitable administration, and the most flagrant pillage. It was in connection with the succession of Hérimar, abbot of the renowned abbey of Saint Remi in December 1071, that difficulties came to light. Manassès at first prevented the monks from giving themselves a new abbot within the time allowed by the Rule; he was constantly looking for a quarrel with them, vexing them, and appropriating many of the rich abbey’s possessions. Proof of that comes from the monks, who, during the year 1072, complained to Pope Alexander II against the Archbishop. During the first months of 1073, Alexander II died. In April, Gregory VII succeeded him, and on June 30, 1073, he wrote Manassès a stern letter:

Beloved brother, if you had regard for your dignity, your obligations, and the holy prophets, if you had the love that behooves the Roman Church, you would surely not allow the prayers and warnings of the Holy See to be repeated so many times with no effect, especially since it was your errors that caused them to be issued. How many times did Our venerable predecessor, how many times did We our-selves beg you not to allow Us to hear so many complaints from so many brothers who were driven to despair! We learn from numerous reports that you are treating this venerable monastery more sternly every day. What a humiliation it is for Us that the intervention of the apostolic authority has not yet been able to secure peace and tranquillity for those who expected your paternal care. Nevertheless, We wish to attempt once more, with kindness, to bend your obstinacy, beseeching you, in the name of the holy apostles and Our own: if you wish to expect Our fraternal love in the future, repair everything so that We will hear no more complaints on your account. If you disregard both the authority of Saint Peter and — insignificant though it may be — Our friendship, We advise you with regret that you will provoke the severity and the rigor of the Apostolic See.”

Through this letter of the Pope there is a glimpse of the cynical game Manassès was playing: there were signs of obedience, promises of submission, and evasion and delay, under the guise of which, Machiavelli-like, he continued his behavior. Leaving Rome for Rheims, the messengers from the monks of Saint Rémi carried this letter addressed to Manassès, along with another from Gregory VII addressed to Hugh, abbot of Cluny. Hugh was commissioned by the Pope to deliver the pontifical reprimand to Manassès, and he was ordered to report to Rome how the affair proceeded.

Manassès had foreseen the coup and had prepared for it. Even before the Pope’s order reached him, he had placed an abbot of good reputation over the monks of Saint Rémi. He was William, then abbot of Saint Arnoul of Metz. In itself the choice was excellent. But, beginning in the summer of 1073, feeling himself powerless to restrain the new demands of Manassès, William asked Gregory VII to accept his resignation. Manassès, he wrote in his letter, was “a ferocious beast with sharp teeth”. The Pope temporized. At the beginning of 1074 William renewed his petition. This time he was allowed to take over the rule of his former abbey again. On March 14, Gregory VII ordered Manassès to proceed with the regular election of a new abbot. Henry, then abbot of Humblières, was elected, and he remained in charge until 1095. He was a powerless witness of the sorrowful events that marked the remainder of Manassès’ administration.

The Archbishop remained almost quiet until 1076. He even succeeded in regaining the confidence of Gregory VII. He gave official favor to monastic life in his diocese: when the monastery of Moiremont, founded by the canons of Rheims (October 21, 1074), was elevated to an abbey, he made a contribution; he participated in the foundation of the abbey of the canons of Saint Jean-des-Vignes (1076) ; and he made donations to various monasteries.

It was during this period that he named Bruno chancellor of his diocese after the death of Odalric. Should this choice be seen as a mark of personal esteem, or was it only a diplomatic gesture? To promote Bruno was to flatter the opinion of the public and especially of the university and to give a pledge of goodwill, so great was the esteem that everyone had for Bruno.

Three documents date this brief period during which Bruno held the office of chancellor. In October 1074, Odalric was still signing documents as chancellor; but a charter of the abbey of Saint Basil, dating from 1076, was signed by Bruno. In April 1078, however, the name of Godfrey replaced Bruno’s on the official documents of the archdiocese. So Bruno’s resignation can be placed in 1077. The fierce conflict that would ravage the diocese of Rheims for several years began in that year: on one side were Gregory VII, his legate in France Hugh of Dié, and several canons of the cathedral; on the other, Archbishop Manassès I, whose lies were at last uncovered.

At the beginning of this unhappy period, Bruno was about fifty years old. Though much history is uncertain, some features of his character stand out, while others remain in shadow.

Bruno, director of studies for Rheims, is seen first of all to be a person oriented toward sacred studies, then as a master and a perfect friend, and finally as a man whose moral authority is felt by everyone.

Even should the two Commentaries (the one on the Epistles of Saint Paul and the one on the Psalms) be found by historical criticism not to be his, Bruno did appear to his contemporaries as an eminent theologian and a specialist in the Psalms. The whole of the Eulogies attests that. But his attraction for the sacred sciences (which is clearly more than mere curiosity), notably for Saint Paul’s thought and the interpretation of the Psalms, often coincides with his orientation toward the most profound mysteries of salvation. Because of his love for the person of Jesus Christ, he concentrated his attention, the resources of his intelligence, and the effort of his research upon him who was so close and yet so incomprehensible. When the Carthusian Fathers of the twentieth century wanted to express their vocation in a short phrase for an inscription in the Museum of Corrérie, they borrowed this text from the Epistle to the Colossians: “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Vita vestra abscondita est cum Christo in Deo). The simple facts of history are enough: Bruno had decided to consecrate his life to the study and teaching of the Faith, and the things of God had captivated his heart and brought satisfaction to his life.

Not only a renowned scholar but also a master, in the fully human sense that Saint Augustine gives the word, Bruno was an excellent teacher. His learning was not only scholarship: Bruno exercised the spiritual influence that the Eulogies speak of only because his teaching had been inspired by a profound interest in man and had deeply touched the religious beliefs and the essential restlessness of his hearers. He made his pupils into disciples, often into friends. In the Eulogies regret is often mingled with warm emotion, beyond literary convention and catharsis. Bruno aroused more than admiration because he offered and enkindled friendship. The later years of his life will prove him better still, because the three in Adam’s little garden were friends that day they determined to turn their life completely over to God, three friends bound together by their desire for the things of eternity.

At the end of this long first part of his life Bruno appeared a man of undisputed moral honor and distinction. It was by no intrigue that the holy Bishop Gervais and Master Herimann had agreed to confer the charge of director of studies for Rheims upon a young man who was not yet thirty years old. During the twenty years that he held this office, Bruno must have acquired a reputation for undisputed integrity and authority, because Manassès I in his anxiety chose him to be chancellor for the purpose of convincing Gregory VII of his good intentions. Wasn’t Bruno’s early resignation from the office of chancellor another proof of his integrity? Bruno was a just man, in the biblical sense of the word. Like William, the abbot of Saint Arnoul, he quickly took the measure of the Archbishop and his corruption, and it seemed he could have peace only by removing himself from every risk of compromise and recovering his freedom to judge and, if necessary, to oppose.

In every society, but especially in a corrupt one, such devotion for the word of God, such love of noble friendship, such integrity destine a person to be, in a real sense, solitary. One who is guileless is always in some way alone. Bruno was already a “master”, not only in the sense that he mastered his teaching and deeply influenced his pupils but even more in the sense that he directed events as well as people. He was above them; he was greater than they; he looked upon them from his higher vantage point; he saw and judged them. The power of his personality is demonstrated in the momentous events that are about to buffet the Church of Rheims.


Life of Saint Bruno: Part II

The following excerpted from André Ravier's (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius...

Life of Saint Bruno: Part III

The following excerpted from André Ravier's (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius...

Life of Saint Bruno: Part IV

The following excerpted from André Ravier's (1905-1999) biography of Saint Bruno : Saint Bruno The Carthusian, written in 1981 and translated by Bruno Becker, O.S.B., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1995. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Ignatius...