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Carthusian Life

First Initiation into Carthusian Life

If you have been a regular here for a while, or poked around this site a bit, you will know of my love for Carthusians.

We have started discussion on this site about the issue of sourcing Christian spirituality from the monastic more than the domestic. I think that is an important discussion, one that I want to continue. But Just on this post I want to offer a filter, a lens, which I realise I use implicitly as I read monastic treasures.

I have a good collection of Carthusian writings, and when I began collecting them they were not so readily available. Now, as you can see by my link at the start, you can get them from Amazon (One text is even only available for Kindle! Carthusians do not put their name to their books, so you can search for them by “Carthusian”). My original copy of this book was run off and stapled at St Hugh’s Charterhouse, Parkminster, UK. In this later, properly-published version there are a few pages added at the end with some practical details for those begin to try the life in the Carthusian monastery. This particular book is simply guide written to help someone during his first months in the Charterhouse.

The lens

1) Some things in Carthusian (and other monastic) literature can be directly applied and used in our own daily, domestic, outside-monastic-walls, life.

An example from this book (page 81):

The gestures which we make during the Liturgy are the prayers of our bodies. Like everything else in the Liturgy, they should be beautiful and evocative of the sublime mystery of God. They can be very helpful both in developing and expressing profound attitudes of humility, adoration, etc.

Let us therefore acquire the habit of making them with respect, attention and an awareness of their deeper meaning. A gesture made in a slovenly way is like a word badly pronounced – it loses its meaning.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa has the principle that actions and gestures are done in silence …… and only after that are words said – if any.

Realising that we are enfleshed I can really learn to make my actions and gestures physical language. It is not limited to monks.

What is the deepest truth for monks is the deepest truth for all Christians.

2) Some things in Carthusian (and other monastic) literature can be translated and used in our own daily, domestic, outside-monastic-walls, life.

A Carthusian takes a vow of stability. Stability can be translated to commitment in marriage, in a denomination, in a community, work… Even Carthusians translate stability into their context (more to the order than say a Cistercian’s stability to the particular monastery).

3) Some things in Carthusian (and other monastic) literature is inappropriate to apply to our own daily, domestic, outside-monastic-walls, life.

An example? In a busy family life, where one works in an important job requiring significant concentration, it would be inappropriate to daily rise at midnight and pray for 2-3 hours.

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12 thoughts on “Carthusian Life”

  1. While the exterior circumstances of our lives may vary and certainly influence what we can do, there is a sense in which we are all called to be monks – to be alone with God. Single, married, lay, ordained, with or without children, in solitude or community we each need to cultivate an interiorized monasticism. Bosco, I fully agree that we need to source our lives from the monastic wisdom and appreciate your work with that.

  2. Gillian Trewinnard

    Thank you that was helpful; to realise that the wisdom of those living a monastic life can be applied to one’s own everyday life as well as to the practice of liturgy and worship. I would like to read more and will check out those Carthusian resources. Of course, I will probably need to stay up until at least midnight to be clear of all the domestic tasks and in order to have some peace and quiet around here in which to read. cheerio, Gillian

  3. I occasionally have days (for example when the children are being particularly noisy, or I’m particularly sensitive to the noise) where I’m very tempted to run away and find a monastic community to join. Preferably one that takes a vow of silence. So far I have resisted that temptation, and I’m challenging myself to learn to pray within the busyness of family life instead.

    1. Take encouragement from two things (even while your temptation is understandable): I doubt that you could find a monk (nun) who finds monastic community life easy (I can even point you to a couple of Carthusian books that clarify that concretely), and, sorry, as far as I know, the vow of silence stuff is total myth (that’s “myth” used in the “not true” sense, rather than the “deeply true” sense of other recent discussions) – certainly there’s no such Christian monastery. You might have to change faith also. Blessings. 🙂

  4. Some good thoughts here, Bosco, as per usual, and I quite agree with you (and St Francis de Sales who talks in the same way about married life and the Carthusians) about the Night Office – but unlike a completely diurnal medieval farmer or lay brother, I am up late. I wonder whether moving the (Roman) Office of Readings from Matins to a negotiable space during the day in the 60s failed to take account of how much midnight oil we now burn. Is it time to re-establish Vigils, esp for people on sick calls, working late, an antidote to junk telly and web-surfing?

    1. Thanks, Nick. Combining the last couple of days, someone once claimed that the spirituality of Don Bosco explicitly tried to bring the spirituality of Carthusians out of the cloister. But when I tried to pursue this never responded. I wonder if your allusion to the writings of St Francis de Sales is the starting point for that claim, and would be interested if you could point more clearly to this.

      Traditionally, if not breaking one’s sleep, as Carthusians and some others do (or have done), Vigils is celebrated by waking early. I did once, online, come across a newer religious order that celebrated Vigils by not going to sleep early. As far as I know a new development. I cannot remember the order or the site, but I thought at the time, that it was a model that could be used more widely.


  5. It’s in the Office of Readings for St Francis de S, but I’m not at home so I can’t check the reference(not the vol of the Breviary at work!)…

  6. I got the quotation a bit wrong I’m afraid, but here it is.
    St Francis de Sales (24th Jan) “Introduction to the Devout Life” Part 1 ch 3:
    “The practice of devotion must differ for the gentleman and the artisan, the servant and the prince, for widow, young girl or wife. Further it must be adapted to their particular strength, circumstances and duties. Is the solitary life of the Carthusian suited to a bishop? Should those who are married practise the poverty of a Capuchin? […] Yet this foolish mistake is often made. True devotion never causes harm, but rather perfects everything we do; a devotion which conflicts with anyone’s state of life is undoubtedly false.”

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