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 Press
Bruno confronts Archbishop Manassès
In 1075 the spiritual power of the Pope and the temporal power of the princes began the long struggle that is known in history as the struggle of investitures.
Since his election in March of 1074, Gregory VII had energetically continued the Church reform that his predecessor had initiated. In 1075 he renewed Alexander’s decrees and strengthened them, condemning the investiture of bishops by temporal princes. In France the legate commissioned to enforce the papal decree was an inflexible, merciless man called Hugh of Dié. His task was thankless, but he under-took it vigorously. It has been written that he was “the most despised man of the eleventh century”, and he was called “the Church’s hatchet man” in France. At the Pope’s command Hugh had to call a series of regional councils that bishops who were suspected of simony were required to attend, and those who were found guilty were dismissed from their office and replaced with trustworthy bishops. The first of those councils was held in 1075 at Anse, near Lyons. The battle was begun in the name of the Pope against the dreadful scourge of simony, and everyone took a stand on the papal reform.
The Council of Clermont was held during the summer of 1076. The Provost of the Chapter of Rheims, who like his Archbishop was called Manassès, came of his own accord to Hugh of Dié and admitted that he had bought his office at the beginning of 1075 after the death of the provost Odalric. He humbly asked to be forgiven.
It was on the occasion of that meeting, no doubt, that the Provost Manassès acquainted Hugh of Dié with the extraordinary situation in which Archbishop Manassès had, through corruption and violence, involved the diocese of Rheims: the depreciation of possessions of the Church, arbitrary exactions from clergy and monks, traffic in offices and benefices, excommunication threatened against any who opposed him. The higher authority had to intervene.
Why? Was it because of that complaint and to circumvent the Archbishop’s anger? During the last months of 1076 several important individuals went into voluntary exile from Rheims, risking the loss of their positions and their possessions. Ebal count of Roucy-sur-l’Aisne, offered them a place of refuge. The names of some of these complainants are known: there were the Provost Manassès, Bruno, Raoul le Verd, and Fulco le Borgne. And these were surely not the only ones.
The tension between the Archbishop and the exiles soon reached a critical point. When Gregory VII was informed of the situation, he decided to intervene, which he did with prudence and moderation. On March 25, 1077, he directed the Bishop of Paris to examine the dossier of several who had, apparently, been unjustly threatened with excommunication by Manassès, still regarding him as the lawful shepherd of the Church of Rheims. On May 12 of the same year he again chose him to sit beside Hugh, the abbot of Cluny, at the head of the Council that was about to take place at Langres.
All at once the situation was completely reversed. The plans for Langres were canceled. The Council would be held at Autun on September 10, 1077. Instead of presiding there as judge, Bishop Manassès would be summoned and accused. He refused to appear. But those in exile at Roucy, including the Provost Manassès and Bruno, came, and they accused their Archbishop of having obtained the See of Rheims by simony and, despite the formal prohibition of the Pope, of having consecrated the Bishop of Senlis, who had received his See through lay investiture at the hands of the King of France. Bishop Manassès was suspended from his position by the Fathers of the Council, “because, though summoned to the Council to give an account of himself, he did not come” (quid vocatus ad Concilium ut se purgaret, non venit).
Manassès responded immediately with severe reprisals against the clerics of Rheims who had gone to Autun. “As the canons of Rheims were returning after making their accusations against him at the Council,” writes Hugh of Flavigny in his Chronicle, “the Archbishop ambushed them, sacked their houses, sold what they had to live on, and confiscated their possessions.”
Regardless of the suspension threatened by the fathers of the Council of Autun, the dispute between Bishop Manassès and the canons was not resolved. What followed indicates that the Chapter of Rheims and the legate, Hugh of Dié, must have felt it urgent to inform Gregory VII. If Marlow’s History of the Church of Rheims can be believed, the Chapter would have sent Bruno himself (and perhaps Manassès) to Rome so they could tell the Pope personally about the excesses of the Archbishop. Be that as it may, an account by Hugh of Dié relates (some authors say it was through two letters) the part played by the Provost and by Bruno in the resistance to the Bishop. The delegate to Gregory VII wrote:
To Your Holiness we recommend our friend in Christ, Manassès, who resigned his office of provost of the Church of Rheims during the Council of Clermont. Though he had obtained his position unlawfully, he is a sincere defender of the Catholic Faith. We also recommend Bruno, a teacher with integrity in the Church of Rheims. Both of them deserve to be confirmed for divine service by your authority, because they have been judged worthy of suffering persecution for the name of Jesus. Please use them as your counsellors and cooperators for the cause of God in France.
This is an authentic and important testimonial to the high regard that the legate and everyone else at Rheims (except the simoniac Archbishop) had for Bruno. For Hugh of Dié to bestow so formal an encomium upon someone, saying, “His life is irreproachable” or calling him “master of all integrity in the Church of Rheims”, there must have been no shadow on his conduct. Bruno’s faith, virtue, and honor were beyond suspicion. He stood above this troubled period for the Church of Rheims like one without guile, who had not compromised at all.
As a matter of fact, Gregory VII did not confirm the judgment of the Council of Autun immediately. He soon wrote that the Roman Church was accustomed to act with “a measure of discretion rather than the rigor of law”. The Pope recognized his legate’s tendency to be severe. Had he not perhaps judged too quickly, extinguishing the wick instead of encouraging it to flame again? He decided to examine the case of Manassès himself, as well as the six other bishops who had been condemned by Hugh of Dié. To do that he called them to Rome and invited them to explain. Count Ebal of Roucy, and Ponce, one of the canons of Rheims, came with them to tell Gregory VII just what had happened at Rheims. At Rome the discussion was difficult. The principal argument that Manassès dared to propose in his own defense was that to condemn him would be to risk creating a schism within the kingdom! Finally Manassès flared up at his accusers. Upon an oath “on the body of Saint Peter”, he obtained pardon from Gregory VII. On March 9, 1078, Gregory VII addressed the following letter to the legate:
Because it is the custom of the Roman Church, at the head of which God has placed Us in spite Our unworthiness, to tolerate certain actions and to let some pass in silence, We have decided to use moderation rather than demand the strictness of the law, and We have very carefully reexamined the cases of the bishops of France who were suspended or condemned by our legate, Hugh of Dié. Although Manassès, the Archbishop of Rheims, has been accused on several counts, and although he refused to appear at the Council to which Hugh of Dié had summoned him, it seems to Us that the sentence against him was not in conformity with the compassion and gentleness customary in the Roman Church. For this reason We restored him to the duties of his office after he took this oath on the body of Saint Peter: “I, Manassès, declare that it was not out of pride that I did not appear at the Council of Autun, to which the Bishop of Dié had summoned me. If I were called by a messenger or a letter from the Holy See, I would not use any pretext or deceit to escape. I would come and loyally submit to the decision and judgment of the Church. If it pleases Pope Gregory or his successor that I give an account before his legate, I shall obey with the same humility. I shall not use the treasures, the resources, or the possessions of the Church of Rheims, which are entrusted to my care, except for the honor of that church, and I shall not dispose of them in any way that I could be accused of failing injustice.” So, Manassès was enfolded in a judgment of leniency and mercy, which closed the inquiry and the case of the bishops.
This gentleness was not what the legate, Hugh of Dié, wanted from the Pope. Would it not destroy his authority? He wrote to the Pope with some bitterness to let him know of his disagreement:
May Your Holiness grant that no longer will anyone insult us and dishonor us. Those that we suspended, deposed, or even condemned, who were guilty of simony or anything else, freely have recourse to Rome, and there, where they should meet with strict justice, they find the mercy they desire. Those who previously did not dare to sin even in trifling things, begin to indulge in more profitable dealings, tyrannizing over the churches they are in charge of. Believe me, most holy Father, Your Holiness’ useless servant.
No doubt the legate’s complaint went beyond the case of the Archbishop of Rheims, but it did include him. Returning to his diocese, Manassès played the penitent to extend and consolidate his victory. He attempted to be reconciled with the Provost, with Bruno, and with the other canons who had taken refuge with Count Ebal and, in good time and in proper form, to obtain a papal condemnation against the Count. To free his hands for further intrigues, he even asked the Pope to make him subject no longer to the jurisdiction of Hugh of Dié any longer but only to the authority of the Pope or legates who come from Rome. Then with shameless wheedling he wrote at length to Gregory VII. He repeatedly proclaimed his fidelity and homage; he accused, he argued, he invoked the privileges granted to his predecessors; and finally he came to the exiles and their protector:
As regards Count Ebal, who attempted to accuse me in your presence, appealed to you, and affirmed his fidelity to you with hypocritical words, you were able to recognize which side was showing you sincerity and fidelity: mine, where I am prepared to obey God and you in everything, or the side of the Count of Ebal, who in your presence attacked the Church of Saint Peter and in our presence persecutes the Church of Rheims through the Provost Manassès and his partisans, who gathered at his chateau. This Manassès has received the assurance of forgiveness, which you ordered us to grant him if he returned to the Church, his mother; but, paralyzed in the knowledge of his sins, he chooses neither to return to us nor to yield to the peace of the Church. On the contrary, he does not cease, nor do his followers, to revile my church and myself by derogatory language, since he may not inflict physical blows. Further, without speaking of Count Ebal, who, I trust, will not escape your just and apostolic sentence, I urgently beseech your Holiness to order Manassès to return home and attack his church no longer; or better, frighten him and his supporters and his cooperators with a stern, apostolic sentence. Be so kind as to write to those who have received them and tell them to give them asylum against the rights of the Church no longer under pain of similar sentence.
It was a deceitful tactic. The phrase “without speaking of Count Ebal” insinuates that the sentence of condemnation has passed from himself. Putting that first, in the place of Manassès, who was not without reproach; saying nothing about Bruno, whom, the Archbishop well knew, the Pope considered a virtuous and honorable man — all that was clever, too clever. The Pope did not permit himself to be taken by surprise again. He outmaneuvered every trap. On August 22, 1078, he sent a reply to Manassès’ letter. In his excellent reply the Pontiff again attempted to avoid an open break with the Archbishop and to design an honorable withdrawal for him if he should agree to be sincere and trustworthy. He reassured him of his loyalty and guaranteed him his rights as bishop and metropolitan. But Manassès will give up every exemption: he will not place himself above the law, and he will recognize the authority of the papal legates even if they do not come from Rome, specifically the authority of Hugh of Dié with whom, in an effort to avoid any excessive strictness, he associated the Abbot of Cluny, who was known for his moderate judgments. The Provost Manassès too will be subjected to a just and precise investigation by the two legates: “Regarding the Provost Manassès who, you say, never ceases to annoy you by his words since he cannot do it by his acts, and against whom you have made any other accusations you please, We are sending you Our instructions for Our dear brothers the Bishop of Dié and the Abbot of Cluny, so that they will try to conduct a diligent inquiry into these affairs, to examine them carefully, and to judge them in all truth and justice in conformity with canon law.”
For the Pope, these were not idle words. On that very day he sent his instructions to Hugh of Dié and Hugh of Cluny. They were measured words. Gregory VII’s wisdom and his perfect knowledge of each of his collaborators shine through them. He directed the legates to “strive to reconcile the provost Manassès, whom the Archbishop complained of, the one who had fled to Count Ebal and, aided by him, has not ceased to disturb the Archbishop and his church. He should desist from disturbing the church and persecuting the Bishop. If he is stubborn and does not wish to obey, do with him what seems right to you.” To the Provost these instructions seemed to be harsh, and they were. They reveal the seriousness of the conflict that set the Archbishop and the exiled canons against each another. But the Pope added a little clause that showed that he was well informed about the matter and wondered whether the Provost’s resistance might not be justified: “Unless you find out that he has just cause for what he is doing”. Everything should be done in accordance with law and justice. In charity, the legates will place all their energy at the service of law and justice. In this painful conflict charity must prevail.
Regarding the other demands of the Archbishop, assist him as is proper, if he obeys you, and with the authority of the apostles defend the church which has been placed in his care. As regards himself, We have been informed by the letters you have written to Us that he is seeking delays and deceit. We have told him by letter exactly what We are writing to you today. My dear brothers, act with strength and wisdom, and do everything with charity. May the oppressed find you prudent defenders, and may their oppressors see your love of justice. May the all-powerful God pour his Spirit into your hearts!”
We do not know for sure what happened at the end of 1078 and during the first months of 1079. The fact is that, at midsummer of that year, the legate Hugh of Dié, in agreement with the Abbot of Cluny, judged it expedient to convoke a Council at Trent and summon Archbishop Manassès to it. He came, along with an escort of numerous supporters, intending that their show of numbers would surely bring pressure upon the Council. Did he do this to prevent the Council from deliberating or making free judgments? At the last moment the legate canceled the Council.
Gregory VII decided to intervene and subject the Arch-bishop’s conduct to a new scrutiny. He wrote this order to Hugh of Dié:
Since you were unable to convoke a Council in the place that was planned, We judge it advisable now that you find a suitable location to hold a synod and carefully examine the case of the Archbishop of Rheims. If trustworthy accusers and witnesses are found who can prove canonically the charges against him, We desire that you carry out without delay the sentence that justice will determine. On the other hand, if such witnesses cannot be found, now that this Archbishop’s reputation for scandal has spread not only throughout France but also almost all of Italy, let him bring, if he can, six bishops of unblemished character. If they find him innocent, he will be exonerated and permitted to live at peace in his church with his prerogatives.
To put this case in perspective, the conflict in which the provost Manassès, Bruno, and the canons of Rheims were involved was not an internal dispute in a single diocese, a mere “sacristy argument”. The importance of Rheims in France and the pompous excesses of the Archbishop took the affair beyond the diocese of Rheims. The scandal touched all of France and most of Italy. For that reason Gregory VII imposed this unusual procedure upon his legates. If the wit-nesses for the prosecution failed to make the accusation clear and undeniable, the Archbishop would not for that reason be found innocent; it would be for him to prove positively that his conduct and his intentions were honorable. Six bishops “of unblemished character” must personally attest to the morality of his conduct and his fitness to remain at the head of the Church of Rheims. This policy was a strong challenge to Manassès and his intrigues.
Following the Pope’s orders, Hugh of Dié convoked a new council. Lyons was chosen to be the place for it. The date was set for the first days of February 1080. Manassès again appealed to the Pope over the head of the legate, invoking an ancient privilege of the Church of Rheims according to which the Archbishop was responsible only to the Holy See. Gregory VII responded on January 5, 1080, refusing him the right to challenge the jurisdiction of his legate, Hugh of Dié, who would be assisted by the Bishop of Albano, Cardinal Peter Ignée, and Hugh of Cluny. Gregory wrote:
We are astonished that so wise a man as you finds so many excuses to remain isolated and hold on to your church in the face of such disgraceful accusations and allow public opinion to judge you, when you should be interested in removing suspicions like these and freeing your church from them. If you do not go to the Council of Lyons, if you do not obey the Roman Church, which has put up with you for a long time, We shall in no way change the decision of the Bishop of Dié; rather, We shall confirm it by Our apostolic authority.
The threat was clear. Giving up his hope to deceive Gregory VII, Manassès tried to bribe Hugh, the abbot of Cluny. He sent secret messengers to offer him 300 ounces of pure gold as well as gifts for his friends. He promised still greater gifts if he would be permitted to vindicate himself. The Abbot of Cluny was unmoved by these offers.
At the beginning of February 1080, the Council assembled at Lyons as planned. Regardless of the Pope’s threat, Manassès did not come in person. He sent an Apology in which, without refuting the accusations brought against him, he attacked the procedures and the conditions imposed upon him. He took up an argument that he had already used with Gregory VII: going to Lyons would place him in real danger; how could he find six bishops to testify on his behalf? how could he find them in the twenty days that remained? and who would be the judge of the character of the six bishops? We should cite two passages of this prideful Apology that refer to Bruno:
You tell me first to come to the Council and respond to my accusers, Provost Manassès and his companions. But I say to you that I have come to an agreement with Manassès with regard to all of his followers except for two, one of whom is Bruno. But this Bruno does not belong to my church. He was not born there, nor was he baptized there. He is a canon of Saint Cunibert in Cologne, in the land of the Teutons. Having absolutely no knowledge of his life and background, I do not value his presence here very much. Besides, I have bestowed many benefits upon him since he came to live here, and in return I have received from him only malicious and undeserved treatment. As regards the other one, Ponce, he lied in my presence before the Roman Council, and that is why I do not wish nor should I be required to respond to either one of them in an ecclesiastical court.
A little farther on, the Archbishop returns to his topic:
As I have said, I would not accept any accusation made by the provost Manassès and his companions — unless, at the Council, they return to their error — because they have been reconciled with me, except for Bruno and Ponce, as I said, and to them I do not wish nor should I be required to respond for the reason I have already stated. If some of them with whom I have made peace through the mediation of the provost Manassès should come to the Council in contempt of that peace and should wish to say something against me, their testimony would not be admissible because, at the time of the agreement, they were not familiar to me either as friends or canons, and so they could not offer testimony about my life.
These texts are very important. They prove that the provost Manassès had yielded to the pressure and the of-fers of the Archbishop, and that Bruno and Ponce had not agreed to follow him and capitulate. If by itself their refusal may be ambiguous (was it from obstinacy, or was it from clarity of vision and disinterestedness?), the events to follow will remove the ambiguity and justify the position taken by Bruno and Ponce. Another item equally important is that Bruno did not appear in the foreground until after the Provost’s reconciliation with the Archbishop; until then it was the Provost who was at the head of the group of exiles, so that, having won him back to his side, the Archbishop considered that the resistance (“his accusers”) no longer existed. In this diatribe the Archbishop apologized to Bruno without wanting to, even before he actually offered an apology. This shows us one of Bruno’s attributes that we will find throughout the course of his life: an admirable strength of character to pursue, to the end and come what may, whatever he believed to be the will of God for him, and no difficulty, no threat, no promise, no desertion could succeed in deflecting him from something he had undertaken, once he judged in conscience that the undertaking was the will of God.
The Apology could not save Archbishop Manassès. The Fathers of the Council deposed him from the episcopacy. In March of 1080, Hugh of Dié went to Rome to tell Gregory VII what had happened. On April 17, 1080, the Pope wrote to Manassès to let him know that during the spring synod at Rome he had confirmed the verdict of Lyons. Even in this extremity, however, the Pope, “moved by mercy that is, I might say, excessive” (nimia, ut ita dixerim, misericordia ductus), offered him a chance to repair his reputation, if not his situation. Manassès could ask “by Saint Michael” for six bishops in whom the Pope had confidence (those of Soissons, Laon, Cambrai, Châlons-sur-Marne, and two others) to testify in his behalf. To this generous gesture Gregory VII attached only a few conditions that were very reasonable. The Archbishop will restore to them all the possessions he had taken “from Manassès, from Bruno, and from the other canons who, in speaking [against him], seemed to have no other purpose than to secure justice”; he will not oppose the return of those who have suffered exile so long for the sake of justice, and he will permit them to serve God in the Church of Rheims with security; and before the feast of the Ascension the following year he will vacate the Church of Rheims and withdraw willingly to Cluny or to Chaise-Dieu, there to live in seclusion at his own expense with one cleric and two laymen after swearing before the legate that he will take nothing that belongs to Rheims except what is necessary for his livelihood and that of his companions. If he refuses to obey, Gregory VII definitively confirmed the verdict of the Council and left him no hope of any future appeal.
Instead of taking advantage of this generous offer of the Pope, Manassès continued his duplicity and tried to remain at the head of the Church of Rheims in spite of everything. On December 27, 1080, his patience and kindness exhausted, Gregory VII wrote four letters that brought this deplorable conflict to a conclusion. He deposed Manassès once and for all, this time with no hope of reinstatement. He directed the clergy and the people of Rheims to resist the Archbishop, to expel him, and, with the legate’s consent, to proceed with new elections. The Pope asked Count Ebal to stand by those who resisted Manassès and to support the new archbishop who would be elected. The Pope released the suffragan bishops of Rheims from all obedience to the excommunicated metropolitan and charged them with electing an archbishop worthy of the See of Rheims. Finally, he wrote a paternal and decisive letter to the King of France, Philip I:
Saint Peter directs you and Gregory entreats you to give no further protection to Manassès, who has been definitively deposed for crimes that are not unknown to you, to withdraw your friendship from him, and no longer permit his presence in your court. By breaking with the enemies of the Church you will show that you love the Lord and, following these apostolic directives, that you sincerely desire to obtain the good graces of Saint Peter. By the apostolic authority with which We are invested, We forbid any obstacle to be placed in the way of the regular election of a new archbishop, which the clergy and people must hold. We request that you oppose anyone who would wish to place any obstacle and to give your protection to the one who will be chosen by the clergy and the people…. [The Pope dared to add:] This is an opportunity for you to show it was not in vain that We have been patient with the faults of your youth and hoped for your conversion.
More interested in his pleasures than in the religion of his kingdom, Philip I took no action against Manassès. The Archbishop remained a while longer in the See of Rheims. But his scandals and plunderings finally caused the people to rise up against him and drive him out of Rheims. According to Guibert of Nogent, Manassès found refuge with the excommunicated Emperor of Germany, Henry IV, attaching himself to one of the greatest enemies of the Church and the papacy. No more was heard of him.
With the departure of Manassès the exiles could return to Rheims. They were welcomed enthusiastically by the clergy and the people. Bruno especially received public honor: events had brought him to their attention. Although he did not take back his chair, or his title of director of studies, or the office of chancellor, the whole Church of Rheims favored him when the election of a new archbishop came up. One of the Eulogies describes the people’s opinions of Bruno in this regard:
Bruno had the approval of the city. He was the consolation and the pride of the people. Everything was in his favor, and we preferred him to anyone else. Our choice was right, because Bruno was a good man; but, although he was expert in every branch of learning, eloquent, and very wealthy, he disdained everything for the sake of Christ, undertook to follow Christ alone, and went to the wilderness with several followers.
So, at the age of fifty, Bruno saw a wonderful future before him. The foremost episcopal See of France, the diocese that was called “the crown of the kingdom”, was offered to him. Everything pointed to Bruno for this high office: his perfect integrity, his learning, his clarity of vision in delicate situations, his courage in trials, his faithfulness to the Holy See, his deep spirituality, his cultured sense of friendship, his detachment from riches, and his charity. Gregory VII and his legate, Hugh of Dié, had been able to appreciate his integrity during this period of simony, and they had publicly expressed the esteem in which they held him.
Who could oppose the election of this man whom everyone favored not only for the good of the Church of Rheims but for the good of the Church of France? Who? In reality, no one. Except God, who had already made his call to a more perfect life heard in Bruno’s heart. It was not just in the Church of Rheims, nor even in the Church of France only, but it was at the very heart of the Church that Bruno would give his testimony of pure love for God.
From the Garden of Adam’s House to Sèche-Fontaine
Writing some twenty years later to his friend Raoul le Verd, who was provost of the Chapter at Rheims between 1096 and 1110, Bruno gives us a special insight into his vocation:
You remember that day when we were together — you, Fulco le Borgne [the one-eyed], and I — in the little garden beside Adam’s house, where I was staying. We talked for some time, I think, about the false attractions and the perishable riches of this world and about the joys of eternal glory. With fervent love for God we then promised, we vowed, we decided soon to leave the fleeting shadows of the world to go in search of the good that is everlasting and receive the monastic habit. We would have carried out our plan promptly had Fulco not gone to Rome, but we put it off until he would return. He delayed, other reasons came up, his courage cooled, and his enthusiasm waned.
This account is the more wonderful because reliable documents about the life of Saint Bruno are rare. Here is an undeniable testimonial about one of the most important moments that determined the direction of Bruno’s life. We shall often return to this disclosure for the purpose of appreciating what is in it, and, in a more general way, to the letter to Raoul le Verd as well. But what it does not say should also be noticed.
In the first place, Bruno says nothing to suggest when that conversation occurred. “The little garden beside Adam’s house” surely refers to the area where the canons of Rheims had their houses. The conversation would then have taken place either before the canons went into exile at Count Ebal’s or after their return. It is not likely that it was before, or what would have prevented Bruno from carrying out his plan then? Neither is there anything to confirm the hypothesis that it came after the exile. The text includes a little phrase that is both significant and mysterious. At the time of their meeting, Bruno was “a guest” at Adam’s house (ubi tunc hospitabar). As a guest he was somewhat settled and not just paying a visit. Adam was not present at the meeting, and Bruno was free to receive his two friends, of whom one, Fulco, could be Adam’s own brother.l All of this seems to indicate that the conversation did not occur at Rheims, but someplace where Bruno had been received as a guest for some reason we do not know — perhaps a rest, a trip, or exile.
It is therefore unwise to set a date too precisely for this important spiritual discussion between Bruno, Raoul le Verd, and Fulco le Borgne. The only thing to be said for certain is that the circumstances were such that, had it not been for Fulco’s trip to Rome, the three friends would have forsaken the world soon after their meeting at Adam’s house (in vicino).
This uncertainty about the date, though it does not weaken the intrinsic value of the document in the least, nevertheless presents some difficulties for any biographer who would like to see in that decision an opportunity to understand the psychology of Bruno, perceive his motives, and record, so to speak, the effect of grace within him. The conversation of the three friends, and particularly of Bruno speaking about “the false attractions and the perishable riches of this world and the joys of eternal glory”, about “the fleeting shadows of the world” and “the good that is everlasting”, as well as their promise, their vow, and their decision — this is not all of equal importance for us. What he meant by those words depends upon when he spoke them: whether the three friends were still peacefully enjoying their wealth and their canonical livelihoods at Rheims or were in exile and deprived of their offices and their possessions or had at last regained all their honors and resources after the fall of Bishop Manassès. About Bruno himself the question will be even more specific: Was he then chancellor and director of studies for Rheims, or was he then — along with the Provost and some of the canons, or with Ponce only and not the Provost — still with the deceiving Archbishop; or was he at the point of being chosen archbishop of Rheims ? The answer to these questions (if one can be given) will require an interpretation of the conversation in Adam’s little garden, as well as the history of grace in Bruno’s soul.
Unfortunately there is only the text of the letter, and to assign a date to the conversation is not possible.
“With fervent love for God we then promised, we vowed, we decided soon to leave”: a threefold vocation so suddenly proposed that it seems to preclude — at least for Bruno, whose balance, wisdom, and gravity are so well known — his having made such an important decision, and confirming it with a vow, without first weighing it and allowing it to mature before God. Either that or he and his two friends must have experienced a truly extraordinary moment of grace — which, of course, is not impossible. But, had that happened, his narration would probably have given some hint of it.
The conversation that Bruno related is a climax in the story of his vocation, one of those important and significant moments, one of those powerful times that make it possible to study the interior landscape of a soul and follow its various pathways.
For Bruno and his two companions this was a moment of “fervent love for God” (divino amore ferventes) when they committed themselves to leave everything “to search for the good that is everlasting”. But Bruno would not have responded to this fervor had not divine grace already prepared him for it. It would be surprising if the meeting in Adam’s garden took place before the group of “resistance” canons went into exile at Count Ebal’s; but even so, the date could not reasonably be placed after 1076. At this period everything in the life of Bruno indicated and confirmed his orientation toward seeking God alone. Faced several times with serious choices in his life, he had resolutely chosen God without compromise: he had dedicated his youthful and adult years to studying and then teaching the holy books, he entered the clergy, and he became a canon of the cathedral of Rheims. While there he had demonstrated the virtues that are known through the Eulogies, because many of them were contributed by persons or groups who knew Bruno only before he left for Sèche-Fontaine, and from them it is possible to draw a sketch in which — allowing for hagiographic exaggeration — his face appears authentic and strong.
There is a contrast in his personality. Bruno was renowned as a “teacher”, but he was also a very good man, prudent, simple, and honorable. The “master” has been described above. Nearly all of the Eulogies sing his praises. The phrase “teacher of teachers” appears several times. He is the glory of teachers (decus magistrorum). Sometimes the praise is very bold: “He is the wise Psalmist and the clearest of philosophers” (doctus psalmista, clarissimus atque sophista) ; if one speaks of Bruno, Plato’s glory vanishes; “not only did he surpass all the doctors, but he produced excellent doctors, never lesser ones; he was the doctor among the doctors and not merely among the lesser clergy” (faciebat summos doctores, non instituendo minores; doctor doctorum fuit, non clericulorum) . Some expressions are almost impossible to translate, like Lumen et ordo viæ ducentis ad alta sophiæ, and exemplar quo que veri. This notion of “verity” appears frequently: Bruno was the norma veri dogmatis, so that with him one felt doctrinally secure, in true dogma. His word touched hearts rather than spirits. He was the “splendor of discourse” (splendor sermonis) and therefore “the light of religion” (lux religionis). “Through him so many persons became wise”, says one of the authors of the Eulogies, “that my spirit fails and my pen is silent.” The character of Bruno is in contrast with so much knowledge, so much success, so much renown.
First of all, his extraordinary goodness. In the poems dedicated to his memory, the word is like a refrain. “Good” (bonus) is almost an epithet for him: “Bruno, called the good”. Friendship is a joy for him: “He loves to be loved” (se cupiebat amatum). We have already referred to Maynard de Corméry’s wonderful testimonial to his fidelity.
To goodness he joined prudence. Prudens and prudentia are words that give a true picture of Bruno: prudence in his speech, coming through his words as remarkable understanding (floruit in mundo vir prudens ore profundo); prudence in his counsels and in his conduct, which created a kind of elevated moral climate around him (informatio morum, decus et prudentia mundi, integritas morum). Prudence conferred upon him a place of honor in the city of Rheims (major in urbe).
All of this was combined with unusual simplicity (vir simplex, simplex ut agnus), as it appears many times in the Eulogies, a simplicity expressed by his manner of life, and particularly at the moment he was leaving Rheims when he showed his detachment (calcator opum), so that he was remembered by those who knew him as a man who disdained riches and honor. Here again admiration created untranslatable poetic expressions (pauper Bruno factus iter, quorum fuit ante magister).
Another characteristic that seems to have struck those who observed Bruno while he was living at Rheims and at Count Ebal’s was his “probity”, a word that in Latin has a broad, rich meaning. He is a man of remarkable principle (vir egregiæ probitatis). Never was Bruno found lacking in principle, and this confers upon him a reputation for integrity, uprightness, balance, fidelity, honesty, which no ordeal, not even the conflict with Manassès, could overwhelm: “No misfortune troubled the equanimity of his spirit, and he was never unhappy.” Truly, he was “God’s just man”.
Nothing could upset this balance between his fame as teacher and his moral life. It must have had its source in his faith, a living faith that filled him with love for God (puræ pietatis amator), with piety in the original sense of the word (Ipse Pius, simplex, plenus Deitatis amore, impiger et mundus fuit, Omni dignus amore). He was a master in his time; he was the man of God, because he was attached not to the things of the world but to the One who made the world (Exit ex mundo Vir, mundi spretor, ad illum qui mundum fecit). All this admiration can be summed up in a word: he was the honor of the clergy (Totius deri decus).
To repeat, in these Eulogies allowance must be made for the literary genre and for poetic exaggeration. But a rereading of the 178 Eulogies compels awareness of the tonality and especially dominant notes, particularly since among the Eulogies the most touching, the most moving are precisely those that express what they wish to say not in poetic form but in simple prose.
These Eulogies are evidence that Bruno was a spiritual light for his students. It was not just his learning or his profound thought that attracted the young people of the schools of Rheims to gather around his chair and bound him in friendship with so many of his contemporaries. It was his life, his person. From him they received “knowledge that turns into love”.
In a phrase, very simple but rich and significant when one knows the bluntness of Hugh of Dié, the legate expresses what might be called Bruno’s charism or particular grace: Dominum Brunonem … in Omni honestate magistrum, which can be translated: “Master Bruno is master in all that gives honor” or “Master Bruno is master in everything that causes men to esteem a man.”
These qualities of Bruno, which had been revealed earlier by his conduct while Gervais was bishop, evidently stood out in greater relief (by contrast, so to speak) after Manassès occupied the See of Rheims. Bruno in omni honestate magistrum stood in still greater contrast to that prelate, a simoniac and a deceiver, since the other Manassès, the provost of the canons, was not innocent of simony himself and had been publicly accused of it. Bruno could not be unaware of the situation in which he found himself, even – in spite of himself — mixed up in. He must have suffered profoundly not only because of his love of poverty, charity, justice, and integrity but also because of his love for the Church. To the moral poverty of Manassès I, the corruption of the gospel spirit in an archbishop who was responsible for one of the most important churches of France, the virtuous, incorruptible Bruno could react only by resisting or by withdrawing into a more virtuous life. First he chose to fight; but when everything was virtually the same after the fight, his experience of human mediocrity prompted him to try to find the purity of Christian life in solitude and with some chosen friends. In the Church of the eleventh century the most conscientious souls were attracted to some form of solitude.
The need to flee from Rheims to the lands of Count Ebal, the new boldness of Archbishop Manassès, the subterfuges by which Manassès succeeded in delaying the blow that threatened him, all the intrigues — these had to confirm Bruno in his plans. The more serious the situation became, the more he felt obliged to fight, while at the same time he was being drawn to solitude. This division within him reached a climax about the end of 1079, when the provost Manassès agreed to be reconciled with the Archbishop, taking with him all of the canons in exile except Bruno and Ponce, as the Apologia tells us. To stay with Ponce in exile, resisting the Archbishop, who was again giving the appearance of reconciliation with Rome and of victory over everyone who opposed him. What a case of conscience that was! But Bruno was too clearminded to fall into the Archbishop’s trap, too honorable to accept anything that would make him seem to agree or even to compromise. He refused. At the risk of losing once and for all his property, his friends, his students, his church, and perhaps the esteem of the Pope, he refused. It was a radical choice, an absolute choice, one that had to weigh heavily upon Bruno’s heart. To dare by himself to confront a prelate who had just vindicated himself in Rome before the Pope, a prelate who extended his offer of reconciliation with seeming sincerity — that was proof of an exceptional love of truth, justice, and honor. Here was a man who already knew how to be content possessing only God. For him solitude was not exile: solitude was living totally in faith and love. “Her deserts he shall make like Eden, her wasteland like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of song.”
Given Bruno’s attractive personality, refusing the See of Rheims may have been more difficult than breaking with the victorious Archbishop. But his conscience had to face the choice in a different form. He had struggled for justice and truth. Once Manassès was driven from Rheims, that struggle was over for him. Now that circumstances were favorable, he had to fulfill the vow he had made in Adam’s little garden and go away into a new solitude, into monastic solitude, into the solitude of the wilderness.
History has no record of how he left Rheims. Some biographers say that, because he escaped the episcopacy, he had to “flee” the city secretly. Others, whose statement unfortunately seems to have no foundation, say he distributed all his property among the poor before he left and took his leave of the clergy and the people of Rheims in a magnificent sermon. “He commented upon the maxim he had adopted: `In my spirit I have had eternal years, I have taken flight, and I have lived in the solitude.’ He spoke with so much force, so much eloquence and so much authority, and the impression he made was so appealing and profound, that some of his hearers were ready to follow him. History mentions, among others, Peter of Béthune and Lambert of Bourgogne, who took the place of Fulco and Raoul le Verd.”
What is certain is that in refusing the archiepiscopal See of Rheims, which had been offered to him, and in choosing solitude and “the things of eternity” instead, Bruno was fully aware of his motive. He had experience of what he was leaving behind. What an experience! There is no doubt that the disturbing crisis in Rheims was the background for the seemingly severe words he addressed to Raoul le Verd: “Do not allow yourself to be delayed by deceitful riches — they cannot relieve our poverty; nor by the dignity of the provost’s office — it cannot be exercised without great peril to the soul. Permit me to say that it would be repugnant and unjust to appropriate for your own use the possessions of which you are merely the administrator, not the owner. If the desire for honor and glory inclines you to live in style — and you cannot afford those expenses on what you possess —do you not in one way or another deprive some people of what you give to others?” The whole story of the episcopacy of Manassès can be heard in this advice. In a certain sense, in fact, it is the story of a great part of the Church during this period.
What were Bruno’s intentions when he made the vow with his two companions in Adam’s little garden, and later when he left Rheims? What kind of life had he decided to take up? Did he already have a clear plan? For an answer to this question there are only the words of the letter to Raoul le Verd, which he wrote more than ten years after he moved to the Chartreuse: Disposuimus … fugitiva sæculi relinquere et æterna captare, necnon monachicum habitum recipere. If we remember that this last phrase simply means “to embrace the monastic life” without specifying whether it would be the cenobitic or the eremitic form, the letter to Raoul le Verd provides only two points of the plan of Bruno and his companions: they intended to “flee the passing things of the world and to possess the eternal”, that is, they intended to leave every secular occupation and relationship so they could dedicate themselves to God’s life of grace.
Of course, it would be good to know whether, after leaving Rheims and especially after the conversation in Adam’s garden, Bruno had specified which kind of life he would follow in the Chartreuse. That knowledge would shed light upon the “Sèche-Fontaine period” during his journey to the Chartreuse (more about that below), but just so much is known and no more. Documents from Sèche-Fontaine will clarify his plan. One thing is certain: Bruno would not choose a form of monastic life that would leave him in contact with the “passing things of the world” or one whose obligations would keep him from “possessing the eternal”. The very simplicity of these two expressions reveals a determined desire for the absolute, which eliminates from his plan anything that would compromise the purity of the monastic life.
At a date that cannot be given precisely, but somewhere between 1081 and 1083, Bruno left Rheims with two companions, Peter and Lambert. They went straight south in the direction of Troyes. Some 150 kilometers [93 miles] from Rheims, 40 kilometers southeast of Troyes, was the abbey of Molesmes, which had existed since the end of 1075, and whose abbot, Robert, was renowned for his wisdom and holiness. Robert had gathered around him some hermits who were living in the forest of Collan, close to Tonnerre, and formed them in the Benedictine life. The abbey was poor. In 1083 the Lord-Bishop of Langres had to launch an appeal to his vassals to save Molesmes from poverty. That poverty fostered the fervor of the monks. When Bruno, Peter, and Lambert arrived there, a property called Sèche-Fontaine had recently been donated to the abbey of Molesmes but had not yet been used. It was located eight kilometers from Molesmes, far enough that its occupants could feel separate from the Benedictines of Molesmes, yet close enough that relations with the abbey and especially with its holy Abbot were easy. The forest of Fiel, which surrounded Sèche-Fontaine, was very suitable for the eremitical life. Individual hermits or groups of hermits had already found shelter in several places. By an agreement with Robert, Bruno and his companions settled at Sèche-Fontaine. There they followed the eremitical life (heremitice vixerant), says one of the two documents of Molesmes that relate the beginnings of Sèche-Fontaine.
How long did this phase of Bruno’s life last? Three years at the most, one year at least, depending upon the date of his departure from Rheims. In either case, it was long enough for other followers to join them, long enough also for their spiritual and temporal relationship with the abbey of Molesmes to influence their manner of life.
So wonderfully led by Robert, the abbey of Molesmes grew. It attracted the hermits who had settled nearby in the forests and influenced them to live together, and it established priories in the vicinity to provide a dwelling for its many candidates. It was inevitable that a day would come when, because of its growth, Molesmes would present the hermits of Sèche-Fontaine with the choice between a cenobitic life attached to the abbey and the eremitic life. The choice was not long in coming, and the hermits, together with the candidates who had joined them, were divided about the decision they should take. Peter and Lambert chose Molesmes. They stayed on the property at Sèche-Fontaine, where they built a church on the model of a Benedictine priory. The church was solemnly dedicated by the Bishop of Langres in 1086 along with other buildings of the community. It was a free decision, wise, taken under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, like others of that time. Transferring from the life of a hermit to that of a cenobite, as well as going in the opposite direction, was not unusual.
But Bruno cherished a different ideal of religious life: the Spirit of God was sending him into solitude. He chose the way of the hermit, and so he, together with some companions, left Sèche-Fontaine and went in search of a place that would be suitable for his plan. The division took place with loyalty and charity. Robert and Bruno continued to have great esteem for each other. When Bruno died in Calabria, the scroll went to Molesmes, and Molesmes wrote a warm tribute for the former hermit of Sèche-Fontaine. In the Eulogy that they dedicated to him (no. 40), the black monks called Bruno “our very good friend” (familiarissimus roster). Perhaps the hand of Robert himself can be detected in that superlative. Actually Robert, who had left Molesmes in 1098 and established Citeaux, returned to Molesmes in 1099, where he must have remained until he died in 1110 or 1111. He was there when Bruno died in 1101 so he could add Molesmes’ testimonial of great friendship to the funeral scroll.
By moving from Sèche-Fontaine, Bruno further clarified his vocation. As a monk he was not meant for the cenobitic life. He wanted solitude, to be “alone with the Alone” (Mónos sun Mónô), solitude with God. That is the call he had been hearing from the Holy Spirit.
He made his way south again and traveled more than 300 kilometers [186 miles] to Grenoble and the Alps. The reason for his choice is not known. The only suggestion that might be likely is that Bishop Hugh of Grenoble and Bruno knew of each other and held each other in high regard, though they had never met. Hugh had been beside the Pope’s legate Hugh of Dié at the Council of Lyons at the beginning of 1080 when Archbishop Manassès of Rheims was brought to trial and deposed, and Bruno’s name must have been spoken frequently in the presence of the young Bishop of Grenoble. Then, too, attentively following everything that the legate Hugh of Dié was doing, Bruno heard about Hugh of Grenoble and about the young bishop’s courageous struggle to reform his diocese according to the views of Gregory VII and his legate. With his usual brevity, Guigo gives us the reason that induced Bruno to seek a hermitage in the forests of the Dauphiné: “Attracted by the gentle example of the saintly life of the holy Bishop Hugh of Grenoble, Bruno and his companions went to be near him” (suavi sanctæ conversationis ejus odore trahente [ad virum sanctum Hugonem] venerunt [Bruno et socii ejus]).
Toward the beginning of June 1084, Bruno and his six companions arrived at Grenoble. A wonderful and mysterious adventure was beginning for them.
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...
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...