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Carthusians - Hugh. T1H1T1

(Text as at 19/08/2007 11:34:05)

Dear Hugh,

Thanks for the background. One of the things that impressed me about the Carthusians was their unwillingness to make easy proselytes. It would have been tempting, given their falling numbers and aging population, to encourage anyone vaguely suitable to have a go, but they were initially very discouraging, and rightly so. And then there’s the long obstacle course - again rightly so, on the assumption that this is a work of God.

I enjoyed reading the passages from Richard North’s book1. It was good to be reminded of people from nearly 30 years ago. The account is well-put and authentic. Fr. Bernard must have had very similar conversations with a series of enquirers. The Parkminster thing had been rather a closed chapter in my life, so I’d not kept up with the literature (of which there had been very little in any case), so thanks for the reference.

When I think about what I might write, I can’t imagine being able to come up with as much detail about the externals. I can still in my mind’s eye walk around my cell, the cloisters, the guesthouse, but the details are rather blurred. But I can say a bit more from the inside, though not with any authority. In particular, I can’t speak on behalf of the Carthusians. I want to give this a lot of thought before writing up my experiences, as I don’t want to write some trivial travelogue. I need to think through carefully just what I was doing.

Fr Bernard is one of the warmest and most well-integrated men I’ve ever met. I’m not sure I’d have given the place a second look were it not for him. The fact that he was bright and knowledgeable also helped. He was also very humble. We were talking about spiritual sloth and Fr Bernard used the term accidie. I’d come across the term (probably in Merton, as acidie), but never heard the word spoken before – so when Fr Bernard used the term, pronouncing it “acheedia”, I needed a quick double-take to work out what he was talking about. I then said, rather foolishly, that I knew the term, but I’d imagined it pronounced “acidy”. Instead of saying “stupid boy”, he said that for all he knew that might be the proper pronunciation.

Returning to the plot, I was looking for some sort of authenticity – monks who were monks because they were monks, not because they were teachers or musicians or something else. If a (rather odd) way of life isn’t really believed in by those who live it, why should you entertain it? I took the view, maybe wrongly, that the Benedictines and Cistercians failed this test, but that the Carthusians didn’t.

Not that they all did. The Fr Vicar had run away from home at 18 and joined the Carthusians directly, contrary to procedure (though with the usual probation). He rang me up after my “long retreat in cell”, to check I was going to turn up as a postulant. He said that I was “Fr Bernard’s blue-eyed boy”. What on earth put it into his head to say such a thing? Maybe he was trying to be encouraging, but I’m sure Fr Bernard would never have made such a stupid remark, or said anything other than displaying his usual enthusiasm. But it set hares running in my mind that soon made the whole endeavour unravel. I suppose I had a rather starry-eyed view of the place, when, after all, it was and had to be populated by human beings not saints. But I didn’t want to throw in my lot with a place that was happy to have someone like me. I’ve always been doubtful about joining any club that would have me as a member, and I didn’t join that one (but not wholly or principally for that reason).

I should probably have deleted the above paragraph. Sed quod scripsi scripsi.

Best wishes,

Theo (17th August 2007)

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Carthusians - Hugh. T1H1 Carthusians - The Long Retreat Why did I become a Christian?    

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