An Infinity of Little Hours
Nancy Klein Maguire “An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order” [PublicAffairs, 2007]
“In 1960, five young men arrived at the imposing gates of Parkminster, the largest center of the most rigorous and ascetic monastic order in the Western world: the Carthusians.
This is the story of their five-year journey into a society virtually unchanged in its behavior and lifestyle since its foundation in 1084. An Infinity of Little Hours is a uniquely intimate portrait of the customs and practices of a monastic order almost entirely unknown until now. It is also a drama of the men’s struggle as they avoid the 1960s—the decade of hedonism, music, fashion, and amorality—and enter an entirely different era and a spiritual world of their own making. After five years each must face a choice: to make “solemn profession” and never leave Parkminster; or to turn his back on his life’s ambition to find God in solitude. A remarkable investigative work, the book combines first-hand testimony with unique source material to describe the Carthusian life. And in the final chapter, which recounts a reunion forty years after the events described elsewhere in the book, Nancy Klein Maguire reveals which of the five succeeded in their quest, and which did not.”
“Carthusians are contemplative monastics who live in community but spend most of their days alone in their private dwellings. With a lifestyle similar to that of their 11th-century French founder, they wear hair shirts, practice self-flagellation and eat just one meal a day from mid-September to Easter (though some monasteries reluctantly have begun allowing such luxuries as electricity, hot water and flush toilets). Maguire, a Renaissance scholar married to an ex-Carthusian, examines this living museum of a bygone age by following the lives of five young men who entered St. Hugh’s Charterhouse in England between July 1960 and March 1961. As they work, pray and live in solitude, they discover not only God but also themselves.
They do not, however, learn much about the rapid changes taking place beyond their walls, and the men who leave the monastery in 1965 find themselves in a strange new world. Through painstaking research including countless phone conversations, 5,000 pages of e-mails and a reunion of the five men in France, Maguire creates a personal, sympathetic and amazingly detailed description of an ancient order and its contemporary adherents, traveling “toward inner space within the confines of their solitary cells.”” “Publishers Weekly”
Robin Bruce Lockhart “Halfway To Heaven: The Hidden Life of the Carthusians” [Cistercian Studies, 1999]
“Founded 900 years ago by St. Bruno, the Carthusians are the most completely enclosed religious order in the Catholic Church.
Living alone and in silence in almost perpetual prayer, the monks are the spiritual heirs to the early Christians, the Desert Fathers. As the only order ‘never to have been reformed because never deformed’, the Carthusians have been described as ‘the most precious jewel in the Church’s crown’. There is a Carthusian motto: ‘To make saints, not to publicise them’. Indeed because they shut themselves away from the world and shun all publicity, little is known about these monks, even among other religious orders. In this updated edition of a classic book, which includes new material, Robin Bruce Lockhart remedies the gap in our knowledge–without destroying the mystery of the order. Halfway to Heaven is still the most comprehensive book ever written about the Carthusians. It is also an awesome source of inspiration in the art of contemplation and prayer.”
For the Carthusians, see further: