Christian and Monastic Friendship: St. Bruno Boniface
St. Bruno Boniface (whose feast is Febuary 12) is very important to us, to our Oblates and friends. We honor him as monk, Archbishop and martyr. And for a very special reason even beyond that: he penned the very first document that we have in our Camaldolese heritage: the “Life of the Five Brothers.” It is from that document that we have precious passages about St. Romuald. And that is particularly important because St. Bruno Boniface knew Romuald personally, and as our historian Fr. Lino Vigilluci writes, he “is the disciple who best assimilated the Holy Reformer’s teaching and experience, and became St. Romuald’s favorite disciple. We have also, of course, St. Peter “Damian’s valuable Life of Romuald, but St. Peter Damian never met St. Romuald, only his disciples, and wrote years after Romuald’s death.
St. Bruno’s “Life of the Five Brothers” gives us the full text of St. Romuald’s precious “Brief Rule” (we have it from no other source, and it is the only writing of St. Romuald that we have). Also there we have precious references to our “Threefold Good” of Community, Solitude and Mission.” This “program,” expressing our very charism, is central for every Camaldolese and Oblate.
It is mentioned only in The Life of the Five Brothers.
One key theme that emerges from Bruno’s writing is the central importance of Christian and monastic friendship. The theme of friendship was very important for the monastic middle ages, as witnessed in St. Aelred’s wonderful book “Spiritual Friendship” written over a century and a half after St. Bruno Boniface. (Here also, the Camaldolese precede the Cistercians!) As with St. Aelred, St. Bruno before him stressed that it is the intense love of Christ, who calls us no longer servants but friends, that bonds Christians and monks. So Bruno writes of Benedict:
“Burning for love for Jesus, like wood in the fire, the man of God
Benedict was motivated by one desire only: to attain eternal life
with the one pure love of God’s wisdom.”
And elsewhere Bruno quotes the Psalm in addressing his dear friend Benedict, “Whoever seeks the salvation of his soul, seeks in the name of Jesus.”
The love of Jesus, of God’s Wisdom overflowed into love of one’s fellow monks, in the modality of friendship love, regularly termed brotherly love. Thus the title of the work: “The Life of the Five Brothers.” And the central motive of writing the work, to make the sanctity of his dear brothers more widely known, leading hopefully to their canonization—as in fact it did. So the central purpose of his writing the book comes from Bruno’s fraternal love of his brothers.
St. Bruno was especially bonded to the monk Benedict (not the famous founder, but named for him), Bruno reports that during the free periods between prayer and work they dialogued, and Benedict would refer to him as “my brother, in the privilege of love.” (We took that phrase “the privilege of love” and used it as the title of our book of essays on Camaldolese Spirituality, “The Privilege of Love.” And it is a great privilege, though open to all who will be open to Christian love.
Later Bruno notes that Benedict’s custom was to address him lovingly as “my brother.” Bruno uses “brother” and “friend” interchangeably to denote a bond in Christ that is profound indeed. At one point, noting how Benedict could intuit what was happening with Bruno, noted the reason: “Benedict was like the other half of my soul.” That is a traditional Greek and Roman way to describe friendship, the friend il like the other half of one’s soul.
Benedict headed off first to the mission in the Slavic lands, and Bruno describes their departure very touchingly.
“We continued to bid each other farewell, embracing and
exchanging the holy kiss. As we walked and talked, in
the manner of friends who are seeing each other for the
last time, I kept telling him, Dearest brother…I beg you
for our common hope, Jesus Christ, Son of the Virgin, never
forget that I shall always be with you and you with me.
Bruno at the very end of his treatise sums up the brotherly, friendship love between Benedict and the other Italian monk, John:
“In love they were inseparable, in humility they walked, in
truth they lived. They lived well, and they finished their
lives even better, They have inherited “Alleluiah,”
and bequeathed to us “Kyrie Eleison. This is the gift of
God…it is the gift of Jesus Christ.”