16 May 2006

Meet the Carthusians.

From a review of An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order by Nancy Klein Maguire.
"In a world that is increasingly given to distraction and mindless noise—where televisions blare from storefronts and family restaurants, where pedestrians and subway riders alike are plugged into iPods and tuned out—silence is fast becoming the rare and too-often unappreciated treasure of our time.
In Europe, this season’s block-buster is the three-hour documentary Into Great Silence. Filmed at the Grand Chartreuse Carthusian Monastery near Grenoble, it contains no music beyond the solemn Gregorian Chant; it has no dialogue, only prayer, and it has been selling out theaters wherever it plays. And now (there are no accidents) the first great nonfiction book of 2006 takes us to St. Hugh’s (Parkminster) Charterhouse in West Sussex, England, where again we meet Carthusians—in a different way—in Nancy Klein Maguire’s An Infinity of Little Hours.
It is perhaps mere coincidence that these two wholly unconnected projects, focusing on this most austere, nearly unknown religious order, are being released almost simultaneously, and at a time when progressive religious orders are dying and more traditional orders are experiencing solid growth. Perhaps these thoughtful expositions of extreme renunciation are appealing in these rather extreme times. Or perhaps an era of rampant materialism is revealing more convincingly than any philosophy ever could this great paradox: The fullness of the world is emptiness, and the emptiness of a denuded life carries with it a great and surpassing fullness.

Cartusia nunquam reformata quia nunquam deformata—“Carthusians have never reformed because they have never deformed.” In An Infinity of Little Hours, we readers become displaced time-travelers. We move to 20th-century England (circa 1960) when five young men ring the bell of St. Hugh’s to try their vocations as Carthusians in this historic house. These young men—from Germany, Ireland, and the United States—are the last men to enter before the Second Vatican Council will bring changes even to this formerly unchanging place. They are the last men to embrace a life—and a world—specifically unreformed since the 11th century, where the Carthusians,who report directly to the pope, had resolutely remained. They step through the iron gateway and travel back almost 900 years, and we go with them, grateful to glimpse a world whose memory—upon the deaths of the last monks of that erawill be forever lost.
Parkminster has a website.
Here's the website for the film Into Great Silence.


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