Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: Early Carthusian Writings (Gracewing)

The great Carthusian order was an order that escaped my attention for some time.  While I studied the Catholic faith during my conversion years, such orders as the Cistercians, Carmelites, Dominicans, and Franciscans were all fertile pastures for reading and spiritual wisdom.  But somehow, the Carthusian order remained hidden away from me.  However, after having viewed the stunning documentary on their life at the Grande Chartreuse, Into Great Silence, I became resolved to obtain some of the classic writings of their order.

Oddly enough, writings by the greats of the Carthusian order are few and far between.  St. Bruno himself (the founder of the order) seems to have written very little, and the works of the great theologian, Denis the Carthusian, are so expensive that they are automatically relegated to the libraries of specialists and academics it seems.

Thankfully, Gracewing publishers have offered up a nice little selection entitled Early Carthusian Writings, wherein one can get at least a taste of the hidden brilliance of this order's saints and writings.

Contained within it are three selections from St. Bruno himself, one of the greatest monastics of the entire Church, as well as two works by Guigo I and Guigo II, both priors of the Chartreuse in its early years.

To read the actual writings of St. Bruno is a treat, to be sure.  For such an exalted monastic saint, his writing is eminently approachable, almost soft and conversational.  Though the Carthusian order is one of the absolute strictest orders in the Church, austere in every way imaginable, St. Bruno writes of life in the order as sweet and serene, though physically harsh.  His words alone are worth the price of the book.

Following his writings, we are treated to the "Letter on the Solitary Life" by Guigo I, a miniature masterpiece.  In some respects, this tiny work comes off as a kind of apologetic for the life of solitude and contemplation.  It is yearning, heartfelt, and a wonderful ode to the contemplative life.

The final section is dominated by Guigo II's The Scale of the Cloister, a work that is similar in many respects to the work of St. John Climacus, and in my eyes, reminiscent of later Carmelite writings.  It is short, concise in its delivery, but rich in content.  For those who like contemplative spirituality, it will be a welcome addition.

The book itself is packaged nicely - though bereft of any kind of introduction or preface, the pages are bookended with two beautiful depictions, one of the death of St. Bruno and the other of an icon-like depiction of a Carthusian monk embracing Christ.

There is only one problem I have with this book at all and it is the font that the publisher selected for it.  Though the first letter on every page is lavish and ornate, the rest is printed in a kind of all-capitals celtic font that is really hard on the eyes to read.  Interestingly enough though, it has made me read the writings themselves at a slower pace - perhaps it was done on purpose for just such a reason?

Regardless, I heartily recommend this work, if only to get a glimpse into the spirituality of one of the greatest and yet often mysterious orders in the Church.  One can pick it up here for a decent price.


  1. Always like your book reviews. I thought to pass this link I found:

    We must be showing our age in wanting to have actual physical books. This one is now on my Amazon wishlist (well over 100+ books on that list right now - and about 100 sitting on the shelf waiting to be read... Currently reading "Bernadette Speaks" and "Three Ages of the Interior Life" :)))

  2. If anybody is interested in reading some of the essays (with my own commentary) from the Gracewing publication, "The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany" you can find it here:

    I highly recommend that book, and all of the Carthusian works published by Gracewing.