Most American Catholics will perhaps be surprised to learn that Hermits living the austere life of 11th c. Camaldolese monk-hermits are today to be found in both California and Ohio (this last at Holy Family Hermitage in the Diocese of Steubenville). Though there is only one Christian spirituality, as the French theologian Louis Bouyer once noted, a contemplative eremetical spirituality has existed in the Church from the 3rd century to play a distinctive and prophetic role in assisting the Church to combat the corruptions of sinful societies. The Church has always cherished its monks and hermits as those who are free from the world and thus able in a particular way to contribute to its salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) notes the importance of the eremitic life:
"Without always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly, hermits 'devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance'. They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because He is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One".
This volume traces the specific vocation of the hermit to such Desert Fathers as St. Anthony of Egypt who lived as an ascetic after the period of great persecutions to withdraw into the desert. Thousands would join him to become solitaries seeking a life of greater perfection through observance of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Though St. Pachomius would moderate the austerity of the solitary life by having his monks live the cenobitical life in common, the eremetical life has never disappeared in the East or in the West which would see the monastic life flourish with St. Benedict, himself originally a hermit. "Monk" means literally "one alone with God", and the hermit is perhaps more entitled to that name than his fellows living the monastic life in common.
"Camaldolese Extraordinary" brings to the attention of English-speaking readers the remarkable life of Blessed Paul Giustiniani (1476-1528), who as a "second Romuald" led a reform of the Camaldolese order, culminating in the establishment of the Congregation of the Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona which enjoys Hermitages in Italy, Poland, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, and now in Bloomingdale, Ohio. The book traces the fascinating history of the Camaldolese monks and hermits from the days of their founder St. Romuald (950-c.1027 A.D.).
The Camaldolese constitute the older of that other ancient semi-eremetical order in the Western Church, the Carthusians, and it is a remarkable tribute to the persistence of the eremetical vocation in the Church that there should be contemporaries responding to the Spirit's call to embrace the life of Camaldolese monks in the American Secular City. They can do so either with the Camaldolese Benedictines in Ben Sur, CA, (who have both monasteries and hermitages) or with the Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corone in Bloomingdale, CA. (the latter having hermitages only and who follow the contemplative life according to the rich spiritual doctrine of Blessed Paul Giustiniani).
The major part of the book is made up of translations of two inspiring works by the renowned French Benedictine scholar Dom Jean Leclercq: "A Humanist Hermit: Blessed Paul Giustiniani" (1951) and "Alone With God: the Eremetical Life" (1961) which carries a beautiful Introduction by Thomas Merton who observed:
"Just as the Church of God can never be without martyrs, so too she can never be without solitaries, for the hermit, like the martyr, is the most eloquent witness of the Risen Christ... The true reason for the persistence of hermits even in ages which are most hostile to the solitary ideal is that the exigencies of Christian life demand that there be hermits. The Kingdom of God would be incomplete without them, for they are the men who seek God alone with the most absolute and undaunted and uncompromising singleness of heart".
"Camaldolese Extraordinary" is a mine of information concerning the life of a Venetian humanist with wide literary, philosophical, and theological culture and who left behind him voluminous writings of special interest to historians and scholars studying the spirituality of a master of the contemplative life. Blessed Paul Giustiniani was to undergo a remarkable spiritual conversion that led him to embrace the strict life of the Camaldolese hermit and to become one of the great reformers of monastic life in his time. Details of the manner in which the Camaldolese live their life are explained in this handsome volume which is enriched with key sections of Blessed Paul's own "Rule of the Eremetic Life", St. Romuald's "Brief Rule for Hermit Novices", and some beautiful illustrations.
It is to be hoped that Camaldolese writers will provide future translations from Blessed Paul's voluminous writings, such as his "Libellus for Reform of the Church" (he died at the age of 52, eleven years after Luther began his religious revolt in 1517). The "Libellus" was unfortunately ignored by Pope Leo X, but is said to presage views found in Vatican II. His "My Secret With Myself" is regarded as a spiritual masterpiece and surely deserves to be given modern readers. Well read in the Greek Fathers, Blessed Paul had expressed views for reconciling with the Chair of Peter the separated Eastern Churches which have such veneration for the monastic life. His views would be of special interest to modern ecumenists.
Two corrections are in order here:
- The Venetian pillage of Constantinople occurred in 1204, not 1205 as mistakenly mentioned on page 8.
- The expression "Ecclesia semper reformanda" noted on page 7 (and which led to abusive interpretations by the Protestant "reformers") is not that one actually found in the documents of Vatican II where one reads instead: "sancta simul et semper purificandi" (["the Church...] at once holy and always in need of purification") (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8).
This book is highly recommended for all those interested in Catholic spirituality and the eremetic life. For a copy ($35 postpaid) contact:
3375 County Rd. 36,
Bloomingdale, OH 43910-7903
Phone # (1-800-773-2645), or