|A 'Burning Bush' and 'Father' of Spiritual Wisdom
No one could have imagined that
a descendent of the Dukes of Onesti, lords of Ravenna and of the entire region, would have left the
gilded rooms of his stately home for the most absolute austerity, entering
history not only as one of the greatest reformers of the Benedictine Order
but also as Founder of the Congregation of Monk Hermits of Camaldoli known
as the Camaldolese, an Order that has given the Church two great
Pontiffs, Pius VII and Gregory XVI, as well as a whole array of blesseds
Yet from his youth, Romuald had been strongly attracted to the
consecrated life. Wealth and the comforts of the well-to-do sickened him.
Indeed, he had an unquenchable thirst for silence, austerity and
sacrifice, to the point that he came to choose an eremitical life not as a
wayside hermit, but with a duchy. The duel, well known to his
biographers, in which he was obliged to second his father, who killed his
adversary in this chivalrous conflict, was in all likelihood the radical
turning point in Romuald's life.
He was overwhelmed by the event. He felt that he was to blame and
entered a monastery near Ravenna to make reparation.
But this did not suffice. He was stirred by the longing for an even
more perfect and austere life than that of the Benedictines, and it was
this desire, as the famous St. Bruno of Querfurt noted, that gave birth to
his project of becoming a "father of spiritual hermits".
Romuald left the Benedictine monastery and moved close to Venice. Here
he became a master of solitude and a spiritual guide.
He then went to Spain with his teacher, Marinus, and the Doge of
Venice, Peter Orseolo [who abdicated because he also wished to enter a
monastery], not to live in a hermitage, however, but rather to dwell in an
isolated place. Romuald stayed there for about 10 years, until he
learned that his father, moved by grace, had retired to a Monastery at
Thus, he left Spain and joined his father, who was having great
difficulty in pursuing the monastic life.
The emperor Otto III appointed him abbot of the celebrated Benedictine
monastery of San Apollinare in Classe and then at Pereum near Ravenna, and asked him to introduce the
monastic reform to achieve an austere way of life.
One after another, new monasteries sprang up oriented to the
Benedictine Rule but completely immersed in austerity and solitude, until
the foundation of Camaldoli. the monastery that was to be the symbol of St. Romuald's reform and would give its name to the Camaldolese Order.
Camaldoli, a centre of outreach
A benefactor named Maldoli offered Romuald a piece of land in the
mountains new Arezzo There in the campo di (field of) Maldoli
the monastery came into being that was to become the motherhouse of the
future Camaldolese Order, which today has few but important monasteries
bound to St. Romuald.
Camaldolese monks wear a white habit—some called anchorites dwell
apart from the others—and live in total austerity; others, who also live
an austere form of life, gather at the celebration of the Eucharist and to
praise the Lord.
Camaldoli has become famous in recent decades because it accepted and
nurtured the leaven of the new Italian democracy and because noble spirits
of Italian Catholicism assembled within its walls on several occasions and
gave life to the celebrated Camaldolese Rule, which actually forms
the basis of the Italian Constitution.
Camaldoli has also been the venue of well-known ecumenical assemblies,
biblical and theological gatherings, and more recently, meetings for
reflection on the European Constitution.
Camaldoli has a special attraction for visitors on spiritual pilgrimage
and for those who seek a powerful experience of God in solitude and
Enraptured by the Lord
St. Peter Damian, to whom we are indebted for a Life of St. Romuald,
notes that the saint was enraptured by silence and enamoured of God:
"Contemplation of God enraptured him so forcefully that, almost blinded by
tears and burning with an indescribable fire of love for God, he would cry
out, 'Dear Jesus, peace of my heart, ineffable desire, sweetness and
gentleness of the angels and saints...'".
The son of Duke Sergius of Ravenna, immersed as he was in silence,
discovered that this ability to be still before the Lord opens the heart
and unites us with God, who speaks in silence and solitude.
Interestingly, St. Romuald loved Moses and identified himself with the
burning bush, to draw from it an incentive for his life and advice for the
brothers who accompanied him in the monastic life.
The theology of restlessness
Romuald spent his whole existence on the move, with lengthy periods in
solitude and silence. His journeys were not for military or cultural
reasons but were prompted solely by the desire to live in solitude, to
reform monasteries and communities and to restore to them their primitive
This is also the reason for the Camaldolese foundations and especially
for that spiritual restlessness which is not the product of uncertainty or
psychological instability but rather, of the desire to dedicate oneself to
Indeed, one can apply to Romuald, as that very fine observer and
biographer St. Peter Damian suggests, a theology of restlessness,
founded on the primacy of silence and prayer. At a time when monks were
giving up because of the length of the Office and the countless hours
dedicated to the choir, St. Romuald preferred solitude and silent prayer,
to the point that this biographer credits him with saying these
provocative words: "It is better to put one's heart into reciting a single
psalm than singing 100 psalms with the voice!".
Interiorization of the spiritual dimension, the primacy of solitude and
contemplation, slow penetration of the Word of God and calm meditation on
the Psalms are the pillars of Camaldolese spirituality, which St. Romuald
gives as the essential core of his Rule.
Hermit and cenobite
The contrast between cenobite and hermit, between monastic life and
eremitical life, converged in St. Romuald, and it found in him a synthesis
that was not contradictory but complementary. He did not reject monastic
life; nor did he negate the value of the cenobitical life as he deepened
and firmly rooted in the Church a new form of eremitical life whose top
priority was the silence of God and prayer to God as the way
to new citizenship in the Church.
There are not many monks today who live his legacy. However, in his
holy invitation to silence, prayer and inner solitude we can find the
ability to make ourselves, as the saying goes, "monks in the world",
enriching communities of contemplative spirits that give a sign of that
world, both distant and close, which is God's world.
St. Romuald's maxim, "Destroy yourself and live only in God", is
useful and salutary for all people of all times.