– Founder of Carthusian Order
Today’s saint was born in an unknown year. He left his native Cologne to study in Rheims, France, as a young man and was ordained a priest around 1055. Aware of Bruno’s obvious talents, the Bishop of Rheims demanded that the young priest remain in his diocese, where Bruno became the head of Rheims’ most illustrious school for almost two decades and then Chancellor of the diocese. Bruno’s trajectory was, at this point in his life, typical of talented, educated, and well-connected priests of his era. He was destined to become a good, scholarly, and politically aware medieval bishop, the kind whose graves fill the floors and stuff the side chapels of many Gothic cathedrals.
But a bad bishop altered the arc of Bruno’s trajectory. Bruno’s bishop-patron died and was succeeded by a corrupt aristocrat who had bought his office. This ecclesiastic had little concern for the Church except as a well of money and power from which he could freely drink. Revolt, sharp tensions, recriminations, and violence ensued. Everyone was damaged. Bruno withdrew from the scene, partly to avoid being named a bishop himself and partly to reevaluate what prize he was truly seeking in life.
Bruno and some companions then sought out a well-known hermit in Southern France who, a few years later, would go on to found the Monastery of Citeaux, the mother foundation of the Cistercian Order. Citeaux was the very same monastery which had such an influence on Bruno’s contemporary Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. But Bruno was not meant to be a Cistercian. Still searching, Bruno and six companions approached the Bishop of Grenoble, France, who was favorable to their plan and granted them a remote location in the French Alps called Chartreuse. It was 1085. Saint Bruno’s successors reside at the Grande Chartreuse to this day, living the part hermit, part community of prayer, part work, part study, all poor, and all silent existence of Carthusian monks that Bruno envisioned.
Though Bruno founded the Grande Chartreuse, he did not remain there for long. A former pupil of Bruno’s had become Pope, and he needed Bruno’s hand on the rudder to help him navigate the ship of the Church in the rough seas of medieval ecclesiastical politics. So, Bruno moved to Rome and lived in a cell amidst the crumbled arches and half walls of the Baths of Diocletian. His every intention of returning to the Grande Chartreuse was frustrated. The Pope compelled Bruno to remain in Italy in case his services were needed, even as the Pope and his court were on the run from determined enemies.
Resigned to his exile, and refusing an appointment as bishop in Southern Italy, in about 1094 Bruno and some followers spawned a mini-Chartreuse in Calabria, Italy, called La Torre, although this second foundation was later to be absorbed into the Cistercian Order. Bruno died there, living in silence as a monk. He was never formally canonized and left no rule for his Order, leaving that task to a successor.
Saint Bruno had a burning love for the Holy Eucharist and for the Virgin Mary. Silence was also his muse. God speaks beautifully through His creation, but one must “hear” God’s silence to understand Him. Silence is a powerful form of speech, a negative word which God, as the Father of a large family, often uses to communicate. The internal word is not less of a word because it remains unspoken. A word is an internal mental tool for organizing thought before it is a means of communication.
God’s own internal Word was so powerful that it became flesh and blood, a living Word more powerful than mere spoken language. Words are a form of action, but they can also limit meaning. God speaks most deeply in the action of creation, through His Son and in silence. As lovers know, a glance, a touch, a smile, a thought is sufficient. Words may add to these things, but they can also subtract from them. It has been said that even if a marble statue of Saint Bruno could stretch open its mouth, he would still keep his vow and remain silent, for “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prv 10:19).
Saint Bruno, your life of generous and active service to the Church was curtailed, and you chose the better portion, seeking God in silence, poverty, study, and prayer. Help all who are in the world to emulate your quiet dedication, focus, and endurance.
If there is always a certain uneasy questioning of the contemplative life, there is an even greater puzzlement about the extremely penitential combination of community and hermit life lived by the Carthusians. May we mirror Bruno’s quest for holiness and unity with God.
He is the Patron Saint of:
Calabria, Italy, and of Germany.