1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carthusians

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CARTHUSIANS, an order of monks founded by St Bruno (q.v.). In 1084 Bruno and his six companions presented themselves before the bishop of Grenoble and explained to him their desire to lead an ascetical life in a solitary place. He pointed out to them a desolate spot named Chartreuse, on the mountains near Grenoble, rocky and precipitous, and snow-covered during a great portion of the year, and told them they might there carry out their design. They built themselves three huts and an oratory, and gave themselves up to a life of prayer and silence and extreme austerity. After a few years Bruno was summoned to Rome by Urban II., as an adviser in the government of the Church, c. 1090; but after a year or so he obtained permission to withdraw from Rome, and was able to found in the forests of Calabria near Squillace a second, and later on a third and a fourth monastery, on the same lines as the Chartreuse. On one of these south Italian foundations Bruno died in 1101. On leaving the Chartreuse he had appointed a successor as superior, and the institute steadily took more settled shape and further development. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, writing about forty years later, speaks thus of the mode of life of the earliest Carthusians:—

“Warned by the negligence and lukewarmness of many of the older monks, they adopted for themselves and for their followers greater precaution against the artifices of the Evil One. As remedy against pride and vain-glory they chose a dress more poor and contemptible than that of any other religious body; so that it is horrible to look on these garments, so short, scanty, coarse and dirty are they. In order to cut up avarice by the roots, they enclosed around their cells a certain quantity of land, more or less, according to the fertility of the district; and they would not accept a foot of land beyond that limit if you were to offer them the whole world. For the same motive they limit the quantity of their cattle, oxen, asses, sheep and goats. And in order that they might have no motive for augmenting their possessions, either of land or animals, they ordained that in every one of their monasteries there should be no more than twelve monks, with their prior the thirteenth, eighteen lay brothers and a few paid servants. To mortify the flesh they always wear hair shirts of the severest kind, and their fasting is wellnigh continuous. They always eat bread of unbolted meal, and take so much water with their wine that it has hardly any flavour of wine left. They never eat meat, whether in health or ill. They never buy fish, but they accept it if it is given to them for charity. They may eat cheese and eggs only on Sundays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays and Saturdays they eat cooked vegetables. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they take only bread and water. They eat once a day only, save during the octaves of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Epiphany and other solemnities. They live in separate little houses like the ancient monks of Egypt, and they occupy themselves continually with reading, prayer and the labour of their hands, especially the writing of books. They recite the prayers for minor canonical hours in their own dwellings, when warned by the bell of the church; but they all assemble in church for matins and vespers. On feast days they eat twice, and sing all the offices in the church, and eat in the refectory. They do not say mass save on festivals and Sundays. They boil the vegetables served out to them in their own dwellings, and never drink wine save with their food.” (Migne, Patrol. Lat. clxxxix. 943.)

In its broad outlines this description of primitive Carthusian life has remained true, even to the present day: the regulations as to food are not quite so stringent, and the habit is now an ordinary religious habit of white serge. It was not until 1170 that the Carthusians were formally constituted a separate religious order by papal act. Owing to its very nature, the institute never had any great expansion: at the middle of the 13th century there were some 50 Charterhouses; at the beginning of the 18th there were 170, 75 being in France.

There was no written rule before 1130, when Guigo, the fifth prior of the Grande Chartreuse, reduced to writing the body of customs that had been the basis of Carthusian life (Migne, Patrol. Lat. cliii. 631); enlargements and modifications of this code were made in 1259, 1367, 1509 and 1681: this last form of the statutes is the present Carthusian rule.

The life is very nearly eremitical: except on Sundays and feasts, the Carthusians meet only three times a day in the church—for the Midnight Office, for Mass and for Vespers; once a week, on Sundays (and feasts) they have their meal in the refectory, and once a week they have recreation together and a walk outside enclosure. All the rest of their time is passed in solitude in their hermitages, which are built quite separate from one another. Each hermitage is a house, containing living-room, bedroom and oratory, workshop and store-room, and has a small garden attached. The monks are supplied with such tools as they wish to employ in workshop and garden, and with such books as they need from the library. The Carthusian goes to bed every evening at 7 and is called about 11, when he says in his private oratory the Officium B. Mariae Virginis. Towards midnight all repair to the church for Matins and Lauds, which are celebrated with extraordinary solemnity and prolixity, so as to last from 2 to 3 hours, according to the office. They then return to bed until 5, when they again go to the church for the daily High Mass, still celebrated according to the phase of liturgical and ritual development of the 11th century. The private Masses are then said, and the monks betake themselves to work or study. At 10 in summer, 11 in winter, 12 on feast days, they have their dinner, alone except on Sundays and feasts; the dinner is supplied from the common kitchen through a small window. On many days of the year there is but one meal; meat is never eaten, even in sickness—this has always been an absolute rule among the Carthusians. In the afternoon they again assemble in the church for Vespers; the lesser portions of the canonical office, as well as the Office of the Blessed Virgin and the Office of the Dead, are said privately in the oratories.

This manner of life has been kept up almost without variation for eight centuries: among the Carthusians there have never been any of those revivals and reforms that are so striking a feature in the history of other orders—“never reformed, because never deformed.” The Carthusians have always lived thus wholly cut off from the outer world, each one in almost entire isolation. They introduced and have kept up in western Europe a life resembling that of the early Egyptian monks, as under St Anthony’s guidance monasticism passed from the utter individualism of the first hermits to the half eremitical, half cenobitical life of the Lauras (see Monasticism). Owing to certain resemblances in external matters to the Benedictine rule and practice, the Carthusians have sometimes been regarded as one of the offshoots from the Benedictines; but this view is not tenable, the whole Carthusian conception, idea and spirit being quite different from the Benedictine.

The superiors of the Charterhouses are priors, not abbots, and the prior of the Grande Chartreuse is the superior general of the order. A general chapter of the priors is held annually at the Grande Chartreuse. The Carthusians have always flourished most in France, but they had houses all over western Europe; some of the Italian Certose, as those at Pavia, Florence and Naples, are renowned for their wonderful beauty.

The first English Charterhouse was established in 1178 at Witham by Selwood Forest, and at the Dissolution there were nine, the most celebrated being those at Sheen in Surrey and at Smithfield in London (for list see Catholic Dictionary, art. “Carthusians”). The Carthusians were the only order that made any corporate resistance to the ecclesiastical policy of Henry VIII. The community of the London Charterhouse stood firm, and the prior and several of the monks were put to death in 1535 under circumstances of barbarous cruelty. In Mary’s reign a community was reassembled at Sheen, and on her death it emigrated, fifteen in number, to Flanders, and finally settled in Nieuport; it maintained itself as an English community for a considerable time, but gradually dwindled, and the last of the old English Carthusian stock died in 1831. There is now one Charterhouse in England established at Parkminster in Sussex in 1883; the community numbers 50 choir-monks, but it is almost wholly made up of foreigners, including many of those recently expelled from France.

At the French Revolution the monks were driven from the Grande Chartreuse, but they returned in 1816; they were again driven out under the Association Laws of 1901, and the community of the Grande Chartreuse is now settled in an old Certosa near Lucca. Of late years the community at the Grande Chartreuse had consisted of some 40 choir-monks and 20 lay brothers. Before the recent expulsions from France there were in all some 20 Charterhouses.

There have been since the middle of the 13th century a very few convents of Carthusian nuns, not more than ten; in recent times there have been but two or three, one situated a few miles from the Grande Chartreuse. The rule resembles that of the monks, but the isolation, solitude and silence are much less stringent. The habit of the Carthusians, both monks and nuns, is white.

A word may be added as to the famous liqueur, known as Chartreuse, made by the monks. At the Revolution the property of the Carthusians was confiscated, and on their restoration they recovered only the barren desert in which the monastery stood, and for it they had to pay rent. Thus they were for some years in want even of the needful means of subsistence. Then the liqueur was invented as a means of supplying the wants of the community; it became a great commercial success and produces a large yearly income. This income the monks have not spent on themselves, nor does it accumulate. The first charge is the maintenance of the Grande Chartreuse and the other Charterhouses, and out of it have been built and established the new monasteries of the order, as at Düsseldorf, Parkminster and elsewhere; but by far the largest portion has been spent on religious and charitable purposes in France and all over the world,—churches, schools, hospitals, almshouses, foreign missions. One thing is certain: the profits made no difference at all to the secluded and austere life of the monks of the Grande Chartreuse.

Authorities.—The most comprehensive historical work on the Carthusian order is B. Tromby, Storia del patriarca S. Brunone e del suo ordine (10 vols., 1773). References to other histories, old and new, will be found in Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1896), i. § 36; Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexicon (ed. 2), art. “Karthäuserorden”; Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie (ed. 3), art. “Karthäuser.” For the English Carthusians, see E. Margaret Thompson, Somerset Carthusians (1895), and Dom L. Hendriks, London Charterhouse (1889). The best study on St Bruno and the foundation of the order is Hermann Löbbel, “Der Stifter des Karthäuser-Ordens,” 1899 (vol. v. No. 1 of Kirchengeschichtliche Studien, Munster); and the best account of the actual life is by Algar Thorold (Dublin Review, April 1892), who spent some months in the noviciate at the Grande Chartreuse. A little tract (anonymous) translated from French, The Carthusians, 1902 (Orphans Press, Buckley Hall, Rochdale), gives precise information on the history, spirit and life of the Carthusians.  (E. C. B.)