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Military Orders

Guigues of La Grand Chartreuse

Letter to Hugh de Payns, Master of the Temple

Translation and notes by Helen J. Nicholson

Ed. note: the following original translation was provided to ORB by Dr. Helen Nicholson, who teaches at the University of Wales-Cardiff College.

Letter of Guigues, Prior of La Grande Chartreuse, to Hugh de Payns, master of the Temple. Translated H. Nicholson

Everything in brackets [] has been added by the translator.

[Date: shortly after Hugh's return to the Holy Land from Western Europe in 1129.]

1. To our dearest and most revered lords and friends in Christ, Hugh, prior of the holy knighthood, and all who are ruled by his counsel; their servants and friends the brothers of Chartreuse, wish them a complete victory, spiritual and physical, over the enemies of the Christian religion, and peace through Christ our Lord.

2. Since we were unable to enjoy the most agreeable conversation which your presence would have allowed us while you were on your journey to France or returning, it seemed to us that we could at least talk with you a little in a letter. We have no idea how to encourage you, dear friend, in physical battles and combats, but we desire at least to advise you for spiritual battles, in which we are concerned on a daily basis, although we are no better equipped to urge you to this sort of battle either. (1) On the other hand, we are wasting our time attacking exterior enemies if we have not first overcome our interior enemies; and it is shameful and unworthy to wish to subdue the forces of other people to our power, if we have not first subdued our own bodies. For who will bear our wish to extend our domination over extensive lands, while we suffer ignominious servitude to vices in a tiny area of turf, that is, our own bodies? Therefore, my dearest friends, let us acquire control over ourselves first, so that we may attack our external enemies in security; let us purge our minds from vice first, and then we may purge lands of barbarians.

3. "Therefore, let us no longer allow sin to rule in our mortal bodies, to make us obey its desires, nor yield the parts of our bodies to sin as instruments of wickedness, but let us yield ourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and yield the parts of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness" [Romans 6:12-13]. And if the body desires to stand indomitably against the spirit, may the spirit desire to stand invincibly against the body; "For these two," says the apostle [Paul], "are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would" [Galatians 5:17]. For we would like, if it were possible, to be completely free from bodily desires; (2) but although in this life, which is all made up of various temptations, it is not possible to be completely free, it is still possible for us not to be slaves to desire. However, because our strength is not sufficient for this, let us be comforted in the Lord and in the power of His strength, and we should put on the armour of God, so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil [see Ephesians 6:11]. "For our battle is not against human foes," this passage continues, "but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this present darkness, against spiritual powers of evil in the heavens" [Ephesians 6:12], that is, against the vices and the evil spirits which instigate them. For if--as David asks--they were not dominating us, then we would be without blemish, and cleansed from the greatest faults.

4. Therefore, let us stand firm, having girded our loins with truth, and shod our feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace, in everything taking up the shield of faith with which we may extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; on our heads the helmet of salvation, and with our right hand supplied with the sword of the spirit [Ephesians 6:13-17]. (3) Let us race, but not in uncertainty; let us fight, but not as if we were beating the air; but let us chastise our bodies, and subject them to servitude, because it is the best-ordered state for a human--who is the animal made in the image of God--when the body serves the spirit, and the spirit is subject to its Creator.

5. In this battle a person will be tougher, and will have more glorious triumphs and throw down numerous enemies--under the direction and protection of God--the more this person strives to be more humble in everything. For the more someone wishes to be proud, the more they become weaker and less able to do anything. "For God resists the proud" [James 4:6]. Therefore there is no need to seek a fighter from somewhere else to defeat them, for the all-powerful warrior God resists them. David said: "The Lord guards the little ones," and having experienced this himself, he added: "I was brought down low, and He liberated me" [Psalm 116:6]. Let us use this example, if we wish to use a similar remedy. Let us do what he did, if we desire what he received. Let us bring ourselves down low, so that we may be liberated from everything evil.

6. Again, the apostle [Paul] said of the Lord Jesus Christ, "He humiliated Himself, making Himself obedient even as far as death, death on a cross." And this was not in vain. For he goes on: "For this reason God raised Him up on high, and gave to Him a name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven, on earth and beneath the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" [Philippians 2:8-11]. We may also take a very significant example from this, if we are burning to win the prize. Let us do what He did, so that we may follow where He has gone before. Let us follow the road of great humility, so that we may reach the glory of God the Father. "For everyone who exalts themselves will be brought low, and whoever lowers themselves will be exalted" [Luke 14:11], as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave witness, God who lives and reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit through all ages. Amen.

7. May the all-powerful mercy and most merciful all-power of God make you always fight fortunately and triumph gloriously, both in spiritual and in physical battles. Dearest and most outstanding and most renowned brothers, we wish you good health, and remember us in the holy places which you guard, in your prayers. We are sending this letter by two different messengers, so that no obstacle--God forbid--should prevent it from reaching you, and we ask that you have it read to all the brothers.


(1) Guigues is being modest. The Carthusian order was regarded as one of the most spiritually-minded religious orders in western Europe at this time, and the brothers were well educated in religious doctrine.

(2) Guigues is referring to desires for ordinary physical needs such as hunger, thirst, sleep, warmth and clothing, as well as non-essentials such as wealth.

(3) Guigues is deliberately using St Paul's military analogies here to make his point clear, as he hopes these will appeal to the brothers of a military order.

Translated from Lettres des Premiers Chartreux 1: S. Bruno, Guigues, S. Anthelme, ed. by 'a Carthusian', Sources chrétiennes 88 (Paris, 1962), no. 2, pp. 154-161.

Copyright (C) 1998, Helen J. Nicholson. All rights reserved.. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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