"I am yours, you are Mine."
This biblical phrase, God's covenant -- agreement -- with each person, is the ancient motto of the Camaldolese order. It sums up their spirituality: abide in God in communion with one another in love, in fulfillment of Christ's commandment."Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your might; and your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:37-39) And "Love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13)
This is why the monastic life is called a model for Christians: all followers of Jesus Christ are to follow that commandment. Thus the saying that there is a little bit of monk in everybody. It sounds silly, but only until you understand what a monk really is.
The Camaldolese are a contemplative branch of the Order of Saint Benedict. As those who have already seen Dom Richard's excellent home page know, Benedict's cluster of monasteries based on his rule began in the sixth century A.D. There was a flourishing of monastic life from the wisdom of that Rule, but also trouble and debates regarding proper interpretation.
Such has almost always been the case with monastic orders, what with their involving humans. You get a bunch of people together with the best of intentions and eventually they have to argue about whose intentions are the best . . . and how to realize those intentions . . . .
A few hundred years did not fix these old troubles. So around about the eleventh century, a Benedictine named Romuald (I hope to put a picture of him up at some point) started a movement to get back to the old ideas of simplicity and prayer, solitude and austerity -- that means lowering your standard of living to the point where it is no longer all you think about -- and concentrating on God and fellow monastics -- that's monks and nuns. From the outset of the Romualdian reform up to the present there have always been both monks and nuns.
Actually what Romuald wanted to do was not tell other cenobites how to live, but to live as a hermit himself, and to offer his ministry of reforming monastic and hermit life. Unfortunately for him -- fortunately for the rest of us -- he was so good at it that prelates and nobles to whom he was subordinate kept bringing him back to take care of communities that were going astray. (See the link below for one of the more "noble" examples.)
And so a whole series of communities were founded or reformed, which in the early 12th century came to be recognized as the Camaldolese Congregation.
The Congregation has always included not only hermitages (in which each monk has his own little cottage and private garden) but also rural and urban monasteries (like the other Benedictine communities, in which all the monastics live under one roof).
But it is the range of forms of life which distinguishes the Camaldolese: from reclusion -- whether temporary or permanent (in which the hermit simply lives within the confines of his cottage and garden) -- to the regular hermitage life (a balance of solitude and community, with the daily divine office and Eucharist, etc., celebrated together) to also the rural and urban monasteries, where the life is much more communal.
This elasticity of forms characterizes early Christian and Eastern monasticism, which have always had a great influence on the Camaldolese form.
The idea stressed by Romuald and still very much in evidence nearly a thousand years later, whether in hermitage or monastery, is that in silence and personal prayer; in spiritual reading and in solitude; but also in liturgical prayer and community service, God is to be sought above all and in all.
In that abiding with God, God abides with us as Friend and Spouse. The Camaldolese way expected the highest of everyone but did not require them to get there right away. Take small steps, keep trying, and when you fail, go back and try again. And the goal is the Primacy of Love.
So now you see a little of what a monk is, and how the monk provides the model of how the Christian lives. And as in Romuald's rule, we can all only try to get there, and keep trying.
The mother house (founded by St. Romuald), including hermitage above and monastery below, is situated in the Tuscan mountains close to Arezzo. There are Camaldolese hermitages above Naples and Lake Garda, and monasteries up and down Italy. The most ancient is the urban monastery of St. Gregory the Great in the heart of Rome, just a block from the Coliseum. This monastery of the Pope who helped evangelize the English at the beginning of the seventh century came to the Camaldolese centuries ago and is a contemplative center in Rome.
The Camaldolese are also in Poland, France, India, Brazil, and Tanzania, as well as in the United States, where their first American hermitage was founded in 1958 -- the year I was born, so clearly they knew a good year when they saw one. Their mother house is in Big Sur (I'll put in a picture of this when I get it scanned), on 800 acres of wilderness, and looking onto the Pacific.
The American Camaldolese have an urban monastery in Berkeley, CA, which also serves as their house of studies. Located a bit above the city, surrounded by trees, it commands a view of the city and bay underneath. They also have a little rural monastery near New Boston, NH, in an 18th century building (refurbished against the challenging winters, lest anyone be hesitant).
Camaldolese nuns are located near Windsor, NY.
All these communities have retreat facilities for men and women and provide private silent, or directed, or occasionally preached, retreats. Retreats are one of the major ministries of the Camaldolese order.
The American Camaldolese have an active oblate community including members of the Episcopal Church and other denominations.
If you would like to know more, give me information or encouragement, or set me straight where my facts aren't, please e-mail me at lucascage (at) gmail (dot) com. Polite inquiries and comments will always get an answer.
My thanks to Fr. Robert, without whose enthusiastic help this page would not have been done; and without whom it would have been an exercise in mere research instead of respect and affection.
1. Hermits and other holy people
St. Peter Orseolo was doge of Venice until he met Romuald and was converted. He followed him into the eremetical life and remained in that life thereafter.
Sts. Benedict, John, Matthew, Isaac and Christian were disciples of Romuald. The last three were disciples by extension as they joined Benedict and John after the beginning of their missionary work in Poland away from the hermitage. All five were martyred.
St. Bruno Querfurt, also called Bruno Boniface, was a close friend of Romuald as well as follower. He wrote the first Romualdian document. He evangelized to the Russians and was thereby martyred.
Bls. Peter Dagnino, Peter, Benedict, Gisso and Teuzo were the five men with whom Romuald started his hermitage in Camaldoli and are therefore the original community from which the order takes its final name.
These names are taken from Lino Vigilucci's Camaldoli: A Journey into its History and Spirituality.
2. Saint Romuald's Brief Rule
Sit in your cell as in Paradise; put the whole world behind you and forget it; like a skilled angler on the lookout for a catch, keep a careful eye on your thoughts.
The path you must follow is in the Psalms -- don't leave it. If you've come with a novice's enthusiasm and can't accomplish everything you want, take every chance you can find to sing the psalms in your heart and to understand them with your head; if your mind wanders as you read, don't give up but hurry back and try again.
Above all, realize that you are in God's presence; hold your heart there in wonder as if before your sovereign.
Empty yourself completely; sit waiting, content with God's gift, like a little chick tasting and eating nothing but what its mother brings.
This along with the rule of St. Benedict is professed by every Camaldolese monk and nun.
- Jonathan C. Hunter-Kilmer
New Camaldoli Hermitage
Big Sur, CA 93920
P.O. Box 60
New Boston, NH 03070
1369 La Loma St.
Berkeley, CA 94709
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