c. 1030 – 1101
October 6 – Optional Memorial
Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of Calabria, Italy, and of Germany
Solitary confinement is not a punishment when it is voluntary and shared with God
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 pool of money and power from which he could 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 found the monastery of Citeaux which sparked the Cistercian Order, 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. He and six companions then 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 are at the Grande Chartreuse to this day, living the part isolated 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 Grand 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 negative word, a powerful form of speech, which God, as the Father of a large family, exercises often. 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 it was expressed in flesh and blood, not in mere language. Words are a form of action, but they can also limit meaning. God speaks most deeply in the action of creation, 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 also subtract from them. It has been said that even if a statue of Saint Bruno could open its mouth, our Saint would keep his vow and remain silent, for “When words are many, transgressions are not lacking” (Proverbs 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.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
BRUNO was born at Cologne, about 1030, of an illustrious family. He was endowed with rare natural gifts, which he cultivated with care at Paris. He became canon of Cologne, and then of Rheims, where he had the direction of theological studies. On the death of the bishop the see fell for a time into evil hands, and Bruno retired with a few friends into the country. There he resolved to forsake the world, and to live a life of retirement and penance. With six companions he applied to Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, who led them into a wild solitude called the Chartreuse. There they lived in poverty, self-denial, and silence, each apart in his own cell, meeting only for the worship of God, and employing themselves in copying books. From the name of the spot the Order of St. Bruno was called the Carthusian. Six years later, Urban II. called Bruno to Rome, that he might avail himself of his guidance. Bruno tried to live there as he had lived in the desert; but the echoes of the great city disturbed his solitude, and, after refusing high dignities, he wrung from the Pope permission to resume his monastic life in Calabria. There he lived, in humility and mortification and great peace, till his blessed death in 1101.
Reflection.— “O everlasting kingdom,” said St. Augustine; “kingdom of endless ages, whereon rests the untroubled light and the peace of God which passeth all understanding, where the souls of the Saints are in rest, and everlasting joy is on their heads, and sorrow and sighing have fled away! When shall I come and appear before God?”