From a Wilderness in Calabria (c. 1099)
By Saint Bruno of Cologne (c. 1030-1101), translated by a Carthusian
To my esteemed friend Raoul, dean of the cathedral Chapter at Rheims, I , Bruno, send my greetings, as all my heartfelt affection toward you bids me.
The loyalty you have shown during our long and mellowed friendship is all the more beautiful and remarkable in that it is only rarely found. For even though a great distance and many years lie between us, your kindly sentiments have always been with me. This is certainly clear enough from your wonderful letters, in which you have professed your friendship over and over again and from the many other indications you have given of it, including the favours you have so generously shown, both to me and to my brother Bernard on my account. For all this I give you my thanks, dear friend, not in a way which could ever be commensurate with what you deserve of me, but springing, at least, from the deepest source of sincere love.
I sent a messenger with a letter to you some time ago, one who had proved reliable on other occasions; but since he has not yet returned, I thought it best to send you one of the brethren. He can give you a fuller account of how things are here by word of mouth than I could ever do with pen and ink.
I assure you, first of all, that my health is good, thinking that the news will not be unwelcome to you. I wish that I could say the same for my soul. The external situation is as satisfactory as could be desired, but I stand as a beggar before the mercy of God, praying that he will heal all the infirmities of my soul and fulfil all my desires with his bounty.
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 assiduous watch for their Lord, so as to open to him at once when he knocks. I could never even begin to tell you how charming and pleasant it is. The temperatures are mild, the air is healthful; a broad plain, delightful to behold, stretches between the mountains along their entire length, bursting with fragrant meadows and flowery fields. One could hardly describe the impression made by the gently rolling hills on all sides, with their cool and shady glens tucked away, and such an abundance of refreshing springs, brooks and streams. Besides all this, there are verdant gardens and all sorts of fruit-bearing trees.
Yet why dwell on such things as these? The man of true insight has other delights, far more useful and attractive, because divine. It is true, though, that our rather feeble nature is renewed and finds new life in such perspectives, wearied by its spiritual pursuits and austere mode of life. It is like a bow, which soon wears out and runs the risk of becoming useless, if it is kept continually taut.
In any case, what benefits and divine exaltation the silence and solitude of the desert hold in store for those who love it, only those who have experienced it can know.
For here men of strong will can enter into themselves and remain there as much as they like, diligently cultivating the seeds of virtue and eating the fruits of paradise with joy.
Here they can acquire the eye that wounds the Bridegroom with love, by the limpidity of its gaze, and whose purity allows them to see God himself.
Here they can observe a busy leisure and rest in quiet activity.
Here also God crowns his athletes for their stern struggle with the hoped-for reward: a peace unknown to the world and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Such a way of life is exemplified by Rachel, who was preferred by Jacob for her beauty, even though she bore fewer children than Leah, with her less penetrating eyes. Contemplation, to be sure has fewer offspring than does action, and yet Joseph and Benjamin were the favourites of their father. This life is the best part chosen by Mary, never to be taken away from her. It is also that extraordinary beautiful Shunammite, the only one in Israel to take care of David and keep him warm in his old age. I could only wish, brother, that you too, had such an exclusive love for her, so that lost in her embrace, you burned with divine love. If only a love like this would take possession of you! Immediately, all the glory in the world would seem like so much dirt to you, whatever the smooth words and false attractions she offered to deceive you. Wealth and its concomitant anxieties you would cast off without a thought, as a burden to the freedom of the spirit. You would want no more of pleasure either, harmful as it is to both body and soul.
You know very well who it is that says to us: "He who loves the world, and the things of the world, such as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and ambition, does not have the love of the Father abiding in him"; also "Friendship with the world is enmity with God." What could be so evil and destructive then, so unfortunate, or so much the mark of a crazed and headstrong spirit, as to put yourself at odds with the one whose power you cannot resist and whose righteous vengeance you could never hope to escape? Surely we are not stronger than he! Surely you do not think he will leave unpunished in the end all the affronts and contempt he receives, merely because his patient solicitude now incites us to repentance! For what could be more perverted, more reckless and contrary to nature and right order, than to love the creature more than the Creator, what passes away more than what lasts forever, or to seek rather the goods of earth than those of heaven?
So, what do you think ought to be done, dear friend? What else, but to trust in the exhortation of God himself and to believe in the truth which cannot deceive? For he calls out to everyone, saying: "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." Is it not, after all, a most ridiculous and fruitless labour to be swollen with lust, continually to be tortured with anxiety and worry, fear and sorrow, for the objects of your passion? Is there any heavier burden than to have one's spirit thus cast down into the abyss from the sublime peak of its natural dignity -- the veritable quintessence of right order gone awry? Flee, my brother, from these unending miseries and disturbances. Leave the raging storms of this world for the secure and quiet harbour of the port.
For you know very well what wisdom in person has to say to us: "Whoever does not renounce all that he has, cannot be my disciple."
Who cannot perceive what a beautiful thing it is, how beneficial and how delightful besides, to remain in the school of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there to learn that divine philosophy which alone shows the way to true happiness?
So, you must consider the facts very honestly: if the love of God does not succeed in attracting you, nor considerations of self-interest spur you on in the face of such enormous rewards, at least dire necessity and the fear of chastisement ought to compel you to move in this direction. For you know the promise that binds you and to whom it was made. It is none other than the omnipotent and awesome one to whom you consecrated yourself as a pleasing and wholly acceptable offering. To him it is not permissible to lie, nor would it do any good, besides; for he does not let himself be mocked with impunity.
You remember, after all, the time you and I and Fulco the One-Eyed, were together in the little garden adjoining Adam's house, where I was staying at the time. We had been discussing for some while, as I recall, the false attractions and ephemeral riches of this present life and comparing them with the joys of eternal glory. As a result, we were inflamed with divine love and we promised, determined and vowed to abandon the fleeting shadows of this world at the earliest opportunity, and lay hold of the eternal by taking the monastic habit. We would indeed have done so forthwith; but Fulco went off to Rome and we postponed our resolution in the expectation of his return. He was delayed however and other things got in the way as well, so that in the end, fervour vanished and resolve grew cold.
So, what is left, dear friend, but to absolve yourself as quickly as possible from the obligations of such a debt? Otherwise, you run the risk of incurring the wrath of the All-Powerful for such serious and long-standing deception, not to mention the frightful torments that are its consequence. What potentate, after all, of this world would ever leave himself unavenged if he were cheated by any of his subjects of a promised gift, especially if he considered it to be of outstanding value? So, never mind me, simply listen to the psalmist, or rather to the Holy Spirit who declares: "Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them; let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared, who cuts off the spirit of princes, who is terrible to the kings of the earth." It is the voice of the Lord you hear -- the voice of your God, the one who is feared, who cuts off the spirit of princes, who is terrible to the kings of the earth! For what reason does the Spirit of God make such a point of this, if not to prod you into acquitting yourself of your vow? Why do you find it burdensome since it entails no sacrifice or reduction of your goods and heaps up benefits rather for yourself than for the one who receives what you pay?
Do not let the deceptive lure of riches hold you back, since they cannot remedy the real poverty of our soul; not let your position detain you, since you cannot occupy it without notable jeopardy to the spiritual life.
For it would be repugnant and wicked indeed, if I may say so, to convert to your own use the goods of another, since you are, in fact, their steward and not their proprietor. In addition, if you should become desirous of vaunting your wealth in empty show and keep a large retinue for this purpose, will it not be necessary, in some way, to snatch from one person what you bestow with great largesse on someone else? Your own resources, after all, would not suffice. Yet such a procedure would be neither generous nor to good effect, for nothing can be considered generous which is not at the same time just.
You must also be careful not to be allured away from the exigencies of divine love in your attention to the needs of the Archbishop. He has great confidence in your counsel and relies heavily upon it; but it is not always an easy matter to give advice that is both useful and just. It is rather divine love which proves itself the more useful, precisely to the extent that it is more in accord with right reason. For what could be beneficial and right, so fitting and connatural to human nature as to love the good? Yet what other good can compare with God? Indeed, what other good is there besides God? Whence it comes that the soul that has attained some degree of holiness and has experienced in some small measure the incomparable loveliness, beauty and splendour of this good, is set on fire with love and cries out: "My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when shall I enter and see the face of God?"
My sincere hope, brother, is that you will not spurn the counsel of a friend, nor turn a deaf ear to the words the Holy Spirit speaks. As my very close friend, I hope you will grant these desires of mine and put an end to my long vigil in your regard. Otherwise, I will continue to be tortured with solicitude, anxiety and fear for you. God forbid that you should die before acquitting yourself of your vow. For in that case, you would leave me pining away with unremitting sorrow, without ever any hope of consolation. My request, therefore, is that you will agree to go on pilgrimage to St. Nicholas and from there make your way to us. Thus you will be able to see the one who loves you as no one else, and we will be able to speak face to face about our religions life, and how things are going, and whatever else might be a matter of common interest. I trust in the Lord, that you will not regret any trouble involved in such a journey.
This letter is not as succinct as it ordinarily ought to be, but that is because I do not have the joy of your presence. As a result, I desired to prolong our conversation at least in writing, and thus have the pleasure of your company.
So, brother, stay in good health. Accept my ardent wish, that you will take my words very much to heart.
P.S. Would you send us the life of St. Remigius? It is impossible to obtain it here. Farewell.