Saint Bruno

October 6: Saint Bruno, Priest—Optional Memorial

Patron Saint of possessed people
Equivalent canonization by Pope Leo X in 1514
Liturgical Color: White

To my brothers whom I love in Christ above all else, greetings from your brother, Bruno.
Now that I have heard from our dear brother Landwin a detailed and moving account of how firm you are in your resolve to follow a path of life so commendable and in accord with right reason and have learned of your ardent love and unflagging zeal for all that pertains to moral rectitude and the fullness of Christian maturity, my spirit rejoices in the Lord. I truly exult and am swept away by my impulse to praise and thanksgiving; yet at the same time I bitterly lament. I rejoice, as is only right, over the ripening fruits of your virtues; but I blush and bemoan my own condition, since I wallow so listless and inactive in the filth of my sins… ~Saint Bruno, letter to his brothers

Saint Bruno is believed to have been born into the wealthy and influential Hardebüst family in the city of Cologne, in modern-day Germany. His family’s status would have ensured him a good education and a successful career. As a teenager, he was sent to the prestigious Cathedral School of Rheims, in the Kingdom of France, about 200 miles from his hometown. After completing his studies, he returned to Cologne where he was made a canon at Saint Cunibert Church. It is most likely at that time that he was ordained a priest. In 1056, when Canon Bruno was about twenty-six years old, he was called back to Rheims by the bishop, given a canonry at the Cathedral, taught at the School of Rheims, and was later made rector of the school. These distinctions speak to his character, holiness, and intelligence. Canon Bruno spent the next twenty-plus years in this capacity, after which time he was made chancellor of the Archdiocese of Rheims.

While he was chancellor, a corrupt and worldly man named Manassès of Gournay was made Archbishop of Rheims. The honest canons firmly opposed the archbishop’s ways, and Canon Bruno led the way. The archbishop was deposed by a local council, but he appealed to the pope and became violent toward his opposition. Around this time, Bruno left Rheims, probably for Rome, until the matter was resolved. Finally in 1080, the pope deposed the archbishop, and there was a cry from the clergy and laity to appoint Bruno as the next archbishop. Bruno, however, had other plans. He resigned from his prestigious positions in Rheims and set out to answer God’s call to a new life.

Bruno is believed to have first traveled about 100 miles south to Molesme where he met with a monk and future founder of the Cistercian order, Saint Robert. After a short stay, he decided to travel farther south with six companions to found a new order under the authority of Bishop Hugh of Châteauneuf, Bishop of Grenoble. Bishop Hugh welcomed Bruno and his companions and told them about a dream he had in which he saw God build a house in the desert for His glory with seven stars showing the way. The bishop believed the seven men were the stars in his dream, so he enthusiastically supported their new mission. With the bishop’s support, Bruno and his companions traveled into the mountain country called Chartreuse, where they built hermitages and embraced a radical life of prayer, study, and manual labor. Peter the Venerable, an abbot of Cluny, later described their early life this way: “There, they continue to dwell in silence, reading, praying, and also undertaking manual work, especially in the copying of books. Within their cells, at the signal given by the church bell, they perform part of the canonical prayer. For Vespers and Matins, they all gather in church. On certain days of celebration they depart from this pace of life…They then have two meals, they sing in church all the regular hours and all, without exception, take their meal in the refectory.”

Bruno enjoyed about six years of solitude in Chartreuse when, in 1090, he was called to Rome by the pope. Pope Urban II, who was elected pope in 1088, found himself in serious conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor and Antipope Clement III. Pope Urban was Bruno’s former student and called on him to become a counselor to assist with the chaos. Bruno obediently went to the aid of Pope Urban, serving him quietly and personally within the Lateran Palace in Rome. Shortly after his arrival, however, the Holy Roman Emperor took Rome by force, and Bruno and Pope Urban had to flee.

Around the year 1091, Pope Urban wanted to make Bruno the Archbishop of Reggio, but Bruno once again opposed the idea, and the pope chose another. After pleading to return to his hermitage in Chartreuse, the pope agreed to allow him to found a new hermitage in Italy so he was closer and could be called upon if needed. He and some companions settled in the wilderness of Calabria where they built a hermitage named Sainte-Marie-de-la-Tour. Of this new life, Bruno wrote in a letter, “I am living in the wilderness of Calabria far removed from habitation. There are some brethren with me, some of whom are very well educated and they are keeping an assiduous watch for their Lord, so as to open to him at once when he knocks.” Bruno died in this hermitage a decade later.

Though Bruno never formally wrote a rule for his newly founded order, he did leave them a way of life. Twenty-six years after his death, statutes were written down that guided their monastic-hermitical vocation. Bruno was quickly considered a saint, but in keeping with their hidden vocation, the order never formally petitioned the pope to canonize him. Over the next five hundred years, the Carthusians grew to 198 monasteries with about 5,600 members. In 1514, during a general chapter of the order, a request was made to Pope Leo X to confirm Bruno’s merits and authorize a liturgical feast for the order. The pope approved and granted an equipollent (equivalent) canonization, which required no lengthy process, but was done solely on the pope’s authority. In 1623, that Carthusian feast was extended to the entire Church and placed on the Roman Calendar.

It is often said that the Carthusian Order is the only order that has never needed to be reformed. The hermit-monks have stayed true to their statutes from the beginning, and remain so today. They live the most radical form of religious life in the Church. They accept no visitors, exist in absolute solitude together, live contemplative lives, embrace penances, intercede for the Church and world, and seek perfect union with God.

“Our principal endeavor and our vocation is to devote ourselves to the silence and solitude of the cell. It is holy ground, the place where God and his servant frequently converse, as between friends. There, the faithful soul is often united to the Word of God, the bride with her Spouse, earth is joined to heaven and the human to the divine” (Statutes 4.1). Furthermore, they live solitude in community: “The grace of the Holy Spirit gathers solitaries together to form a communion in love, as an image of the Church, which is one, though spread throughout the world” (Statutes 21.1). They gather several times a day in their chapel for communal prayer, in addition to long periods of private prayer in their hermitages. Though the monks refrain from talking during the week, they go for a two-hour walk on Sunday during which they freely converse. Though separated from the world, their lives are dedicated to ongoing prayer for the Church and world, and they give a silent witness to the world of that which is most important: union with God.

As we honor Saint Bruno today, we also call to mind the radical life of solitude and prayer that he and so many Carthusians have lived after him. Allow their witness to call you to a life of deeper prayer and solitude. Ponder the ways that the busyness of life and the anxieties of the world need to be purged from your life. Consider spending more time alone, in prayer, detached from all that distracts you. Many hermits have discovered the infinite joy of union with God in prayer and solitude. Once this union is discovered, it sheds light on the foolishness of a worldly life and the shallowness it presents. Allow Saint Bruno to speak to you by the witness of his life so that you will be among those who discover what he discovered.

Saint Bruno, you were drawn into a life of radical solitude and prayer, and you responded with incredible generosity. In that solitude, you met your divine Savior and entered into intimate communion with Him. Please pray for me, that I will daily enter into the solitude of prayer where I can be alone with God, shedding my attachments to the passing things of this world. May I discover what you discovered and live more fully in union with Christ. Saint Bruno, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Further Reading:


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