On Thu, 19 Sep 1996, Thomas Izbicki wrote:
> Though the Carthusians might not have been "popular," I remember reading
> - very many years ago - the contention that their very austerity meant
> that they were not in need of reform at the end of the Middle Ages. How
> true is that contention? I believe that it was made in books which
> reflected confessional differences in the interpretation of the Reformation.
> tom izbicki
They were in fact quite popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, both with
aristocratic and royal patrons and with common folk. I cite some of the
evidence for this in my _Fifteenth-Century Carthusian Reform_ (1992), ch.
6 (with references to many others who have written on the topic) and in
an article in _Catholic Historical Review_ in January, 1995, dealing
specifically with the Cartusia nunquam reformata quoniam nunquam
deformata" claim and the Reformation context. I don't know of anyone who
seriously claimed that the Carthusians were corrupt and lax on the eve of
the Reformation; Luther repeatedly uses them as his example of corrupt
monasticism, but that is in fact an admission that they represented
monasticism well: rigorous regimen etc. For Luther, of course, this was
works righteousness and therefore worthy of condemnation, but I don't
think the claim that they were unfaithful to their vows was ever made to
stick in any general way. It might have been alleged in polemics, but
plenty of evidence indicates that in the popular mind, they were the
example of an order (along with the Bridgettines in most instances) that
had remain faithful to its rule.
This is not to say that particular houses did not have problems of lax
discipline. If one reads the decisions of the General Chapter, one sees
plenty of instances of problems needing correction, but that is precisely
my point: by and large, the order successfully policed itself. I don't
mean to imply some romantic notion of perfection, but I do mean to say
that they were widely recognized, by laity and other religious orders, as
having maintained good discipline. They frequently were employed by
Benedictine monastic reformers in the reform of Benedictine houses.
Geert Groote, Jean Gerson, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas More and a long list of
other leading religious figures of the late Middle Ages consulted them or
were attracted to them.
detail (but less accessible), see "`The Honeymoon Was Over':
Carthusians between Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie," in _Die Kartaeuser und
ihre Welt: Kontakte und gegenseitige Einfluesse_, Analecta Cartusiana, 62.1
(Salzburg, 1993), 66-99.