Show someone an image of La Grande Chartreuse, the Carthusian monastery located in the remote region of France and surrounded on all sides by the impressive Alps, and you’ll almost immediately sense a reaction.
Perhaps it is curiosity or awe; perhaps fascination or fear; perhaps puzzlement at why someone would want to live within the walls of this remote place or follow its strict rules of solitude and silence. Whatever the elicited response, there is no doubt that the Carthusian Order evokes an almost universal wonder, even to the present day.
Founded by St. Bruno of Cologne in the Middle Ages, with its motherhouse still situated 4,000 feet above sea level, it is the only ancient order in the Church which has never been reformed and never needed reform.
The Carthusians don’t seem to serve an obvious purpose. They don’t preach, teach, or provide goods like other orders. In fact, their work may seem to do little worldly good. But perhaps this is the point—the way of the Carthusians is an intentional removal from the way of the world.
This removal from the world is best seen in the Carthusians’ silence. Besides times of communal prayer and occasional allotments for conversation, the Carthusians live in solitude and silence.
When St. Bruno felt the call of God to establish a deeply contemplative, secluded, and silent order, he was surprised by how attractive this order was to those out in the world. However, we may not be as surprised. The noise of our world can feel incredibly pervasive, filling up each moment of our existence, and it seems that we innately feel a desire for the contemplation and prayer that silence allows.
In his book The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise, Cardinal Robert Sarah writes:
“Silence is not an idea; it is the path that enables human beings to go to God. God is silence, and this divine silence dwells within a human being. By living with the silent God, and in Him, we ourselves become silent.”
This divine silence is not something reserved only for St. Bruno and the Carthusians. Rather, as Cardinal Sarah suggests, it is there for all of us, and the practice of prayerful silence will help us enter more deeply into communion with the God Who dwells in that silence.
Cardinal Sarah’s masterpiece, The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise, is the perfect invitation to the power and practice of silence. Available today at The Catholic Company!