Camaldolese Spirituality

Main Chapel

Here is the hundred-word Latin text of this bright gem of eremitical spirituality, recorded about 1006 twenty years before Romuald ’ s death by Saint Bruno of Querfurt in his Life of the Five Brothers. It was as reported to him by one of those martyrs named John, who, like Bruno, knew Romuald well.

Et hanc brevem regulam a magistro Romualdo accepit, quam custodire in vita ipse multum sollicitus fuit:

1. Sede in cella quasi in paradiso;

2. proice post tergum de memoria totum mundum,

3. cautus ad cogitationes, quasi bonus piscator ad pisces.

4. Una via est in psalmis; hanc ne dimittas. Si non potes omnia, qui venisti fervore novicio, nunc in hoc, nunc in illo loco psallere in spiritu et intelligere mente stude, et cum ceperis vagare legendo, ne desistas, sed festina intelligendo emendare;

5. pone te ante omnia in presentia Dei cum timore et tremore, quasi qui stat in conspectu imperatoris;

6. destrue te totum,

7. et sede quasi pullus, contentus ad gratiam Dei, qui, nisi mater donet, nec sa­pit nec habet quod comedat.

And he received this brief rule from Master Romuald, which he was very careful to practice throughout his life:

1. Sit in the cell as in paradise;

2. cast all memory of the world behind you;

3. cautiously watching your thoughts, as a good fisher watches the fish.

4. In the Psalms there is one way. Do not abandon it. If you who have come with the fervor of a novice cannot understand everything, strive to recite with understanding of spirit and mind, now here, now there, and when you begin to wander while reading, do not stop, but hasten to correct yourself by concentrating.

5. Above all, place yourself in the presence of God with fear and trembling, like someone who stands in the sight of the emperor;

6. destroy yourself completely,

7. and sit like a chick, content with the grace of God, for unless its mother gives it something, it tastes nothing and has nothing to eat.

In summary, Saint Romuald ’ s seven-step Brief Rule for novice-hermits comprises a surprisingly rich set of exercises for training in contemplation which succinctly cover the following topics:

(1) posture, place, solitude, inner peace, and joy;

(2) detachment and liberation for concentration;

(3) self-observation and analysis for purity of mind and heart;

(4) attentively praying the Psalms as seeds of meditation;

(5) reverent, compunctious practice of the presence of God;

(6) intensive ascetical inner overcoming of faults;

(7) childlike humility and receptivity to grace.

If this summary strikes the reader as rather modern and up-to-date, there is a simple explanation: the basic process of the inner Christian reform as lived and transmitted by Anthony, Romuald, Francis, and Charles de Foucauld is a permanent fixture, like the death and resurrection of Christ, which does not change with passing trends in spirituality.

By radiantly living and teaching the powerful principles of his Brief Rule, Saint Romuald made a major contribution to the spiritual health of the Church in the West, because he renewed in it that essential element of its inner life: the contemplative, semi-eremitical small community. Today his sons are continuing to make that healing gift to the House and People of God.

Icon of Bl. Paul and St. Romuald

Icon of Bl. Paul and St. Romuald

Blessed Paul Giustiniani’s Doctrine on Prayer

Blessed Paul Giustiniani

We will now analyze Blessed Paul Giustiniani’s doctrine on prayer. The hermit’s principal ideal, aim, or task is continual prayer (Lk 18:1), that is, constant union with God. There is no fixed time for mental prayer in the eremitic life, unlike other religious institutes, because prayer is to be unceasing, a kind of spiritual equivalent to breathing. How can one enter into this prayer? Blessed Paul takes up again the doctrine (then attributed to Saint Bernard) of Guigo II the Carthusian. This commonly-accepted monastic approach to prayer, called lectio divina or divine reading , can be explained as a ladder (Guigo’s Scala Claustralium) of four rungs: (1) lectio (reading), (2) meditatio (meditation), (3) oratio (prayer), and (4) contemplatio (contemplation).

(1) Lectio, as the initial and fundamental element (Coronese Constitutions 31), gives the entire procedure of four steps its name analogically. This reading is called divine because its object is divine revelation, the Word of God heard in faith. One seeks this Word either in the Bible (also heard read in its entirety each year in the liturgy) or in some other devout book faithfully echoing Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

(2) Meditatio or meditation is a careful thinking over of what has been read and focuses on very definite dogmatic and moral considerations . One needs an appreciation of the basic standards of interpreting Scripture and of its various senses. Meditation can also legitimately pass beyond what has just been read to other points gleaned outside the time of private prayer.

(3) Oratio makes use of the truths and sentiments found by meditation in any of an infinite multitude of possible acts of affective prayer. Ejaculatory prayer formulas could be used at this stage, such as the invocation of the name of Jesus as practiced in the Eastern Church, which Eastern practice would reinforce in the body by the fingering of beads, bows, and the like. Even though prayer most narrowly defined means asking God for something, yet its wider and widest senses, namely the ascent of the mind to God and colloquy with God, are equally relevant and ought not be neglected. Blessed Paul says he prayed, in the first place, by confession of his misery and unworthiness; then by adoration, confession (of praise), thanksgiving, invocation, awaiting, and desire. These acts of prayer agree with the more compact typology of 1 Tim 2:1: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.

(4) Contemplatio or contemplation moves from the many acts of the previous step to a single act. Beginners may achieve this level seldom and but briefly. The starting point of contemplation will later be called the prayer of simplicity by Bishop Bossuet and subsequent theologians. In order to enter into this state, Giustiniani bids us to be empty for and towards God, vacare Deo (cf. the English cognates vacuum and vacation ), disencumbered of all attachment to creatures and expectant like the hungry chick of Saint Romuald’s Brief Rule. This is the adoring silence of apophatism, which eventually can give birth to annihilation, an ecstatic absorption in God, and Blessed Paul’s experience of these resembles that of other mystics. Saint John of the Cross tells us (AscentII 24:9): . . . God . . . is incomprehensible and above all, and therefore it befits us to go to God by the negation of all. And Aquinas (cited by Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge V:23) summarizes thus Pseudo-Dionysius’ interpretation of Ex 20:21: At the end of our knowledge, we know God precisely as unknown.

To ascend through these stages is to proceed from a solid grounding of the mind in truth to a more precious exercise of the will in hope and love, for character is in the will, not in the intellect (Archbishop Sheen, quoted in Reeves’biography, p.144). The effort this ascent requires must not be stinted, because, through the practice of the seven gifts, the divine movement of actual grace, which is the soul of prayer, comes to be received no longer violently, but connaturally.

The foregoing analysis will help us understand better Blessed Paul’s distinctive teaching on methodless prayer. The famous four grades elaborated by Guigo II, noted by both Blessed Paul and the redactors of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and just expounded do not constitute a method in the strict sense. They are, rather, moments in a movement of interiorization of the Word of God. And yet Giustiniani does admit of what Leclercq calls the method of prior asceticism , that is, of remote and proximate preparation for prayer. Remote preparation is living a holy life, which detaches the mind from worldly preoccupations and disposes it for that ascent to God which is, as we have seen, prayer’s broader definition. This remote preparation includes the practice of the virtues, liturgical worship, and discipline of the senses (the Camaldolese trinomium is solitude, silence, and fasting). Proximate preparation comprises the first two rungs of Guigo’s ladder, reading and meditation. Now beyond such somewhat methodical remote and proximate preparation, we must climb up to the third and even, if possible, to the fourth rung. At this point, Giustiniani’s counsel to eschew method comes fully into force, and with evident wisdom. Human planning and effort have served their purpose and run their course. They must now give place to the subtle groanings of the Spirit (Rom 8:26-27). His influence must be sought reverently and clung to tranquilly for as long as it lasts. If Blessed Paul requires a daily half hour of stillness in prayer, with a reverent and vigilant posture and in a sacred place, this is to assure that our own actions are not so unremitting as to block the Spirit’s initiatives. We should allow Him to lead us either to multiply acts of prayer, or to ascend to contemplation, or even to return to reading and meditation. And normally He will provide us with some word to hold fast patiently in our hearts (Lk 8:15), as Mary did (Lk 2:19, 51), to sustain what the Holy Fathers call the remembrance of God. The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom. . . . (Ps 36 (37):30; cf. Ps 1:2 and Jos 1:8).


To Rev. Fr Guido Innocenzo Gargano, Superior of the Monastery of San Gregorio al Celio

Today’s Feast of St Peter Damian offers me the pleasant opportunity to address a cordial greeting to all the members of the worthy Camaldolese Order, as well as to those who admire and are inspired by the figure and work of this great Gospel witness. He was one of the protagonists of Medieval Church history and undoubtedly the most prolific writer of the 11th century.

The 1,000th anniversary of his birth is an especially appropriate occasion to examine closely the aspects characterizing his multifacetted personality as scholar, hermit and man of the Church, but especially as a person in love with Christ.

In his life, St Peter Damian was proof of a successful synthesis of hermitic and pastoral activity. As a hermit, he embodied that Gospel radicalism and unreserved love for Christ, so well expressed in the Rule of St Benedict: “Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ”.

As a man of the Church, he worked with farsighted wisdom and when necessary also made hard and courageous decisions. The whole of his human and spiritual life was played out in the tension between his life as a hermit and his ecclesiastical duty.

St Peter Damian was above all a hermit, indeed, the last theoretician of the hermitic life in the Latin Church exactly at the time of the East-West schism. In his interesting work entitled The Life of Blessed Romuald, he left us one of the most significant fruits of the monastic experience of the undivided Church. For him, the hermitic life was a strong call to rally all Christians to the primacy of Christ and his lordship.

It is an invitation to discover Christ’s love for the Church, starting from his relationship with the Father; a love that the hermit must in turn nourish with, for and in Christ, in regard to the entire People of God. St Peter Damian felt the presence of the universal Church in the hermitic life so strongly that he wrote in his ecclesiological treatise entitled Dominus Vobiscum that the Church is at the same time one in all and all in each one of her members.

This great holy hermit was also an eminent man of the Church who made himself available to move from the hermitage to go wherever his presence might be required in order to mediate between contending parties, were they Churchmen, monks or simple faithful.

Although he was radically focused on the unum necessarium, he did not shirk the practical demands that love for the Church imposed upon him. He was impelled by his desire that the Ecclesial Community always show itself as a holy and immaculate Bride ready for her heavenly Bridegroom, and expressed with a lively ars oratoria his sincere and disinterested zeal for the Church’s holiness.

Yet, after each ecclesial mission he would return to the peace of the hermitage at Fonte Avellana and, free from all ambition, he even reached the point of definitively renouncing the dignity of Cardinal so as not to distance himself from his hermitic solitude, the cell of his hidden existence in Christ.

Lastly, St Peter Damien was the soul of the “Riforma gregoriana”, which marked the passage from the first to the second millennium and whose heart and driving force was St Gregory VII. It was, in fact, a matter of the application of institutional decisions of a theological,disciplinary and spiritual character which permitted a greater libertas Ecclesiae in the second millennium. They restored the breath of great theology with reference to the Fathers of the Church and in particular, to St Augustine, St Jerome and St Gregory the Great. With his pen and his words he addressed all: he asked his brother hermits for the courage of a radical self-giving to the Lord which would as closely as possible resemble martyrdom; he demanded of the Pope, Bishops and ecclesiastics a high level of evangelical detachment from honours and privileges in carrying out their ecclesial functions; he reminded priests of the highest ideal of their mission that they were to exercise by cultivating purity of morals and true personal poverty.

In an age marked by forms of particularism and uncertainties because it was bereft of a unifying principle, Peter Damien, aware of his own limitations — he liked to define himself as peccator monachus — passed on to his contemporaries the knowledge that only through a constant harmonious tension between the two fundamental poles of life — solitude and communion — can an effective Christian witness develop. Does not this teaching also apply to our times? I gladly express the hope that the celebration of the Millennium of his birth may not only contribute to rediscovering the timeliness and depth of his thought and action, but may also be an appropriate opportunity for a personal and communitarian spiritual renewal, starting constantly from Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8).

I assure a remembrance in prayer for you and for all the Camaldolese Monk Hermits to whom I send a special Apostolic Blessing, gladly extending it to all those who share their spirituality.

From the Vatican, 20 February 2007

© Copyright 2007 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana