22 April: Saint Hugh of Grenoble

Saint Hugh (1053 - 1132), the saint we are celebrating today, could be considered the co-founder of the first Charterhouse. Actually, he was the bishop who received Saint Bruno and his six companions into his diocese, and it was he who granted them the Charterhouse desert ("Chartreuse" in French) to live a monastic life there. Below are eight of the twelve readings from last night's Matins (or Office of Readings). It is part of a biography of Saint Hugh of Grenoble authored by Guigo, who was the fifth prior of Chartreuse.

Hugh had entered the monastery already fervent, and he returned all the more so, when the same pope who had consecrated him, Gregory VII, bade him return to his bishopric. He had increased more in virtue through one year’s pursuit of the monastic life than many do from the labours of a lifetime. From that time on, vigilant circumspection was his only cloister, whereby he regulated both his senses and the thoughts of his heart; rectitude was his abbot, from whose requirements neither favourable nor unfavourable circumstances could ever avert him. For a religious community he was to have pious and upright associates, whom he wished never to be without, considering the words of the Psalm: With the holy you will be holy yourself, and blameless with the innocent man. In fact, the entire universal Church was to be his community, one which he embraced with so deep and sincere a love that neither its sufferings nor its joys could leave him unmoved. For, just as the Apostle says, Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is made to fall and I am not indignant? ; just so, Hugh always rejoiced at the good fortune of the Church, and was in anguish over its reverses.

As Hugh was thus conducting himself in the episcopate, scarcely three years after his return from the monastery, there came to him Master Bruno. He was a man renowned for piety and learning, the perfect refulgence of integrity and self-control, and the epitome of all that it means to have attained true maturity of spirit. With him were Master Landuino, who was to succeed him as Prior of the Chartreuse; Stephen of Bourg and Stephen of Die, canons of Saint Rufus who, in their desire for the solitary life, had obtained leave from their abbot to follow Master Bruno; also, a certain Hugh whom they referred to as their Chaplain, since he alone among them exercised the functions of the priesthood; finally, two laymen, Andrew and Guarin, who were to be known as Converse Brothers. They were looking for a site suitable for the eremitical life, but as yet they had not been successful; it was with this hope that they came to our saint, drawn at the same time by the redolence of his manner of life. Hugh received them and entertained them not only with joy, but with reverence as well, and then made their desires a reality. For, not alone with his help and advice, but in his very company as well, they were able to enter the desert of Chartreuse and make a foundation there. Hugh had, in fact, recently seen this same desert in a dream: seven stars were leading the way, and God himself was there building a habitation worthy of himself. It was now no less than seven men who presented themselves before him. Thus, he willingly seconded the plans not only of these men, but also of their successors, and he graciously assisted the inhabitants of the Chartreuse with his counsel and beneficence until death.

Although he was already truly ablaze with divine love, the flame of his virtue was fed by the example of, and contact with, these men, just as a burning torch gains from the placement of others around it. He frequented their company not as ruler or as bishop, but as a companion and most humble brother. As they dwelt two by two in the cell at that time, and Hugh showed himself so ready to render service, as far as possible, to all, his cell companion made a point of protesting (William, at that time Prior of Saint Lawrence, and later Abbot of Saint Theofrid, a man bound, like many others, by a strong devotion to Master Bruno). He said that Hugh arrogated to himself almost all the humble tasks within the cell, and that the bishop comported himself not even as an equal, but rather as a servant. He remarked wistfully that he could do nothing to return the service, even in those matters wherein it was the custom to take turns, since the bishop was always there before him.

Hugh applied himself with such devotion to the eremitical life that, at times, Master Bruno had to force him to leave, with the words, “Go to your sheep, and do your duty in their regard!” Furthermore, he was aflame with such a love for deep humility and poverty that he would have sold all his mounts to give the proceeds to the poor, and gone about preaching on foot. There was someone, however, whose counsels he followed as though they came from the mouth of his abbot, that is, Master Bruno, the man of profound heart. He would not allow it, fearing vainglory on Hugh's part, censure from the other bishops for singularity, or, which was also obvious enough, Hugh's inability to carry through his plan because of the difficulty of the terrain. It happened, nonetheless, that in his contempt for fleshly concerns and his notably zealous pursuit of the spiritual, Hugh overly indulged in vigils and fasts, reading, prayers and meditations, and the like, and fell grievously sick with an ailment of head and stomach. This was to cause him unbelievable inconvenience and pain, with its frequent and virulent attacks, for the entire forty years that remained of his life.

When would we ever finish recounting his admirable qualities, even if but briefly touching upon them? For divine grace had gathered into this one man such countless splendours of virtue, that they would have sufficed to make a great many men illustrious and noteworthy, had they been distributed one by one. If chastity is prized, who could be found purer than he? If it is truthfulness we seek, who was more circumspect in speech? In love of God, who more fervent? In love of neighbour, who more benevolent? Who was lower in his humility or more generous in his alms? Who more abundant in his gift of tears, more fervent in prayer, more sublime in contemplation? Who has been more stout- hearted in his endurance of tribulation? In his prudence more cautious? More strict in his justice or more balanced in his temperance? And yet, although he was so great a man as this, he himself never ceased to disparage himself as useless and unproductive, according to the dictum of the Gospel: When you have done everything, say 'We are unworthy servants.' He considered that just such a one now occupied the Episcopal seat, received its honours, and made use of its goods, having neither the merits nor the accomplishments of a bishop.

Taking careful note rather of the virtue that he lacked than of that which he possessed, he strongly desired to lay down, by all means, the episcopal burden. Indeed, as we emphasized at the beginning, this opinion of himself and the desire that flowed from it were with him from the moment of his elevation until death. Since, moreover, this conviction grew daily in strength, he finally sent messengers with a letter to this effect to Pope Honorius II. When these failed to obtain his request, and rather returned with a letter of encouragement that counselled perseverance, he himself undertook the journey to Rome, although illness and old age weighed upon him. For he was strengthened by the hope of obtaining repose for the future, and therefore pleaded with the pope to grant his old age its desired rest, and to provide the Church of Grenoble with a more suitable pastor in his place. Yet, despite all the pretexts he thought he could adduce based on his physical and moral condition, not even in person could he obtain what he wished: permission to attend only to God and his own spiritual needs. For the Holy See was convinced that, however feeble and ailing the bishop was, he would more greatly benefit the flock in his care by the example of his life and his personal authority, than could anyone else, no matter how vigorous and healthy. Thus, after obtaining some additional requests from the pope, as well as his esteem and consolation, he returned to France.

Although it had always been clear, from his words and deeds, that God dwelt in his blessed soul, it was most especially in his last illness that it was manifest to all who and what sort of man he was, with what pure affection he had reverenced the Lord, and how profound was the love whereby he had taken the defence of justice and truth in the course of his very long life. For, the unusual violence of his sickness caused his memory to become almost entirely lost or confused, at least in the area that stores the images of spatio-temporal events, that is common to good and evil alike, and indiscriminately serves the purposes of both. Yet, if this section was muddled or destroyed, on the deeper level that is characteristic of angels and saints alone, that is formed by the contours of justice and truth and the whole of liturgical cult, it was not only equal to previous performance, but showed itself the more intrepid and devout. So much was this the case, in fact, that he besought the divine mercy with the beating of his breast, with litanies and psalms, throughout the length of the day and night.

There is really nothing left to say; for these were his dispositions to the last. Throughout all, he never ceased to manifest a special love for his Carthusians and their unworthy prior, a fact I can only mention with tears, nor did he forget them in the midst of his final afflictions. Thus, in the year of our Lord 1132, in at least the eightieth year of his age and the fifty-second of his episcopate, at cock crow on the first of April, the Friday before Palm Sunday, Blessed Hugh, remarkable for reputation and works among all the bishops of his time, his house placed in order and stocked with every good, and with the Church and people committed to his care enjoying tranquillity and peace, made his way to the house of the Lord. He left a Carthusian behind as his successor, in accordance with what he had so long and greatly desired.

Source: Lectionary for Maitins - Year A* - 22 April - Readings 1-8 (Saint Hugh's Charterhouse 2021)
*There are three cycles of matins readings: A, B and C. Each house (Carthusian monastery) chooses which cycle to follow.

Images used (in the sequence in which they are shown in this post):
-St. Hugo welcomes Bruno and his companions. St. Hugo gives Chartreuse to the founders. Detail from Scenes from the life of St. Bruno and the Charterhouse Order. German school, c 1490-1500 Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Detail.
-Saint Hugo, Bishop of Grenoble (painting by Francisco de Zurbarán).
-The origins of the Order, engraving in the first edition of the Statutes by Amorbach, Basel, 1510.
-St. Bruno bids farewell to St. Hugo before his journey to Rome (Vicente Carducho - Museo Nacional del Prado).