02 July 2009

'An Eastern Father in the Western Church'—St Romuald of Ravenna

Today, 19 June, we celebrate the memory of St Romuald of Ravenna († 1027). At the behest of St John (Maximovitch), the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad determined, ‘Revering the memory of the Saints who have pleased God, and finding in the places of our Diaspora missionaries and ascetics of antiquity whose names were not known to us, we glory the Lord, wondrous in His Saints, and venerate those who have pleased Him, extolling their sufferings and ascetic labors and calling upon them to be our intercessors and intermediaries with God’ (Hieromonks Seraphim [Rose] and Herman [Podmoshensky], Blessed John the Wonderworker: A Preliminary Account of the Life and Miracles of Archbishop John [Maximovitch], comp. and ed. St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998], p. 102). Thus it seems fitting that, having done my part to honour St John himself with a small post, I not neglect one of the glorious Saints of the West who is also commemorated today, and indeed, a Saint who has rightly been called ‘An Eastern Father in the Western Church’ (Joseph H.J. Leach, here).

In Thomas Merton’s words, St Romuald’s particular inspiration was ‘simply to apply the Rule of St Benedict to the eremitical life’, and the resulting foundations have ‘retained more of the aspect of an ancient [Eastern] “laura” than we would find in any Charterhouse’ (‘A Renaissance Hermit: Bl Paul Guistiniani’, Disputed Questions [NY: Mento-Omega, 1965], p. 132). Unfortunately, the formal order which Peter Damian created out of St Romuald’s ‘lavras’ is nowhere near as well known, even in the West, as the other order to which Merton alludes—the Carthusians. In the East, however, St Romuald and his lavras seem to be almost entirely unknown.

For this reason, I think it best simply to post the Catholic Encyclopedia’s account of St Romuald in its entirety, just to make him better known (one can also read a longer account from Butler’s Lives of Saints here and here). Keep in mind that the ‘St Peter Damian’ referred to died in communion with and was canonised by the Post-Schism West, and cannot therefore properly be considered an Orthodox Saint:

Born at Ravenna, probably about 950; died at Val-di-Castro, 19 June, 1027. St Peter Damian, his first biographer, and almost all the Camaldolese writers assert that St Romuald’s age at his death was one hundred and twenty, and that therefore he was born about 907. This is disputed by most modern writers. Such a date not only results in a series of improbabilities with regard to events in the saint’s life, but is also irreconcilable with known dates, and probably was determined from some mistaken inference by St Peter Damian. In his youth Romuald indulged in the usual thoughtless and even vicious life of the tenth-century noble, yet felt greatly drawn to the eremetical life. At the age of twenty, struck with horror because his father had killed an enemy in a duel, he fled to the Abbey of San Apollinare-in-Classe and after some hesitation entered religion. San Apollinare had recently been reformed by St Maieul of Cluny, but still was not strict enough in its observance to satisfy Romuald. His injudicious correction of the less zealous aroused such enmity against him that he applied for, and was readily granted, permission to retire to Venice, where he placed himself under the direction of a hermit named Marinus and lived a life of extraordinary severity. About 978, Pietro Orseolo I, Doge of Venice, who had obtained his office by acquiescence in the murder of his predecessor, began to suffer remorse for his crime. On the advice of Guarinus, Abbot of San Miguel-de-Cuxa, in Catalonia, and of Marinus and Romuald, he abandoned his office and relations, and fled to Cuxa, where he took the habit of St Benedict, while Romuald and Marinus erected a hermitage close to the monastery. For five years the saint lived a life of great austerity, gathering round him a band of disciples. Then, hearing that his father, Sergius, who had become a monk, was tormented with doubts as to his vocation, he returned in haste to Italy, subjected Sergius to severe discipline, and so resolved his doubts. For the next thirty years St Romuald seems to have wandered about Italy, founding many monasteries and hermitages. For some time he made Pereum his favourite resting place. In 1005 he went to Val-di- Castro for about two years, and left it, prophesying that he would return to die there alone and unaided. Again he wandered about Italy; then attempted to go to Hungary, but was prevented by persistent illness. In 1012 he appeared at Vallombrosa, whence he moved into the Diocese of Arezzo. Here, according to the legend, a certain Maldolus, who had seen a vision of monks in white garments ascending into Heaven, gave him some land, afterwards known as the Campus Maldoli, or Camaldoli. St Romuald built on this land five cells for hermits, which, with the monastery at Fontebuono, built two years later, became the famous mother-house of the Camaldolese Order. In 1013 he retired to Monte-Sitria. In 1021 he went to Bifolco. Five years later he returned to Val-di-Castro where he died, as he had prophesied, alone in his cell. Many miracles were wrought at his tomb, over which an altar was allowed to be erected in 1032. In 1466 his body was found still incorrupt; it was translated to Fabriano in 1481. In 1595 Clement VIII fixed his feast on 7 Feb., the day of the translation of his relics, and extended its celebration to the whole Church. He is represented in art pointing to a ladder on which are monks ascending to Heaven.

Fr Andrew Louth has briefly mentioned St Romuald in his study, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071 (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2007), where he says of St Romuald’s monastic foundation at Camaldoli:

This monastery marked the beginnings of the eremitical life in the West. Very much on the pattern of the Palestinian lavras of the fifth century—or what Athanasios the Athonite had established fifty or so years earlier on Mount Athos—he combined a coenobitic monastery with provision for hermits in the mountainous crags higher up in the ravine behind the monastery. The monastery became a place of training for the eremitical life. Benedict had explicitly provided for such a pattern of monasticism, comprising a coenobitic monastery with provision for hermits who had proved themselves in the common life, but at Camaldoli there was a much greater focus on the eremitical life than Benedict had envisaged. (p. 277)

I shall have to post more on St Romuald later. For now it suffices to lay out a basic account of his life and a brief mention of the sort of monasticism he established. Look for the next post, where I intend to discuss his so-called ‘Brief Rule’ and his appearance in the Divine Comedy!


Zac said...

Can I just say that I love your blog? You continue to outdo yourself on these great posts-- I think you deserve payment for it! Please let me know if ever there is a blogger/new-media award you need help getting.

Joyous feastday!

aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you very much, sir! My wife thinks I should get paid too. Actually, there WAS a blogger/new-media award a month or two ago which I failed to win in two different categories. Maybe I just don't appeal to a broad enough audience? :-)

Monk Symeon Najmanje said...

You wrote (above): "Keep in mind that the ‘St Peter Damian’ referred to died in communion with and was canonised by the Post-Schism West, and cannot therefore properly be considered an Orthodox Saint".

Do you believe Orthodoxy was lost in the West in 1054 like the turning off a lamp? Certainly, Orthodoxy stubbornly persisted "in places" until the Gregorian Reforms of Pope Gregory VII (enthroned 1072). Therefore, with discernment we might reconsider those as Peter Damian for inclusion to the Orthodox Calendar. Peter Damian reposed --maybe not so coincidentally-- 1072. Blessed Peter Damion pray to God for us!

Father Symeon

Aaron Taylor said...

Dear Fr Symeon,

Thank you for your comment. The answer is that I definitely agree with you that Orthodoxy was not 'lost in the West in 1054 like the turning off a lamp'. I fully acknowledge the possibility of Peter Damian's sanctity, and indeed, it would please me to venerate him as such. My comment was merely intended to acknowledge my hesitancy about such things. As Orthodox Christians, the veneration of saints is something that is traditionally established by a decision of a local Orthodox Church. Without such a decision, I'm afraid there's no authorisation for an official recognition of Peter Damian. That doesn't mean that he's not a saint, or that a person couldn't have a private devotion to him or something like that. Indeed, I'd be more than happy to see the Orthodox Church consider him for inclusion in the calendar!

In Christ,
Fr Deacon Aaron