Camaldoli's Eastern Roots  

Posted by Joe Rawls in


The Camaldolese are a Roman Catholic monastic order founded by St Romuald (951-1025, more or less). A native of Ravenna, Italy, he began monastic life in a traditional Benedictine monastery in that city, but soon developed a hankering for the life of a hermit. He eventually founded several monasteries in Italy that combined cenobitic (community) life with eremitic (solitary) life. Monks could choose to live as cenobites or hermits (or alternate between the two lifestyles) but still remain within the same monastic community. After Romuald's death these foundations coalesced into the Camaldolese order, which in recent years has formally affiliated with the worldwide Benedictine federation.

The current issue of the online Orthodox theological journal Theandros has a good article by Joseph Leach exploring the eastern Christian roots of Romuald's monastic spirituality (Theandros is available in the sidebar under "Favorite Links" but for convenience the article can be found here).

Leach demonstrates convincingly that Romuald is a bridge figure between the Eastern and Western churches. This is summarized in Romuald's Brief Rule (reproduced in its entirety) and in Leach's conclusion, part of which is quoted below.

Brief Rule

Sit in your cell as in paradise.
Put the whole world behind you and forget it.
Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish.
The path you must follow is in the Psalms--never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of
your good will, you cannot accomplish what you want,
take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart
and to understand them with your mind.
And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up;
hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.
Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there
with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God,
like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

From Leach's Conclusion

In Romualdian prayer the monk sits alone, stripped of the supports of the world, empty of the delusions of the false self. With the Word being spoken to him through the Psalms, he waits alert and humble, with an attitude of reverent awe, trust, and total dependence on God. In this the Brief Rule occupies an interesting place in the spirituality of the western church....St Romuald was trying to encapsulate the wisdom of the desert tradition and to bring it to life in the western church. The Brief Rule shows that he did this in a pure form, without embellishment or accretion. As a consequence, the style of prayer and the mode of life described here seems to be more closely related to the traditions of the Eastern Church than to those of the West, and it is perhaps not unreasonable to describe St Romuald as an Eastern Father in the Western Church.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 26, 2008 at Sunday, October 26, 2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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