MONASTIC LIFE AT NEW CAMALDOLI
New Camaldoli Hermitage is a community of Roman Catholic monks whose life is dedicated to contemplation and prayer. We are a worshiping community, celebrating with our friends and guests the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Eucharist. Our monastic fellowship extends beyond the walls of this hermitage and embraces a large and inclusive community of oblates, persons of different walks of life who live the grace of their baptism in spiritual communion with the monks. This page offers a brief history of the monastic men and women whose life and teachings have inspired the Camaldolese Benedictines to this day.
THE THREEFOLD GOOD OF MONASTIC LIFE
“…a threefold advantage: the community life, which is what novices want; golden solitude, for those who are mature and thirst for the living God; and witnessing to the good news of Christ, for those who long to be freed from this life in order to be with him.”
(From “The Life of the Five Brothers” by St. Bruno-Boniface of Querfurt)
SAINTS BENEDICT AND ROMUALD
At the end of the fifth century, St. Benedict began living in solitude in the hills outside Rome. He founded his first monastic community nearby, at Subiaco. Later he preached the Gospel to the peasants near Monte Cassino, not far from Naples, and transformed their temples into a monastery. There he also bonded with the nuns guided by his sister Scholastica. During the following centuries, in the midst of social and ecclesiastical decline, the sons and daughters of Benedict witnessed to the Gospel faith and the grace of communities centered on worship, contemplation, study, and manual labor, according to the Rule he had given them, fruit of his wisdom and discretion.
In 972, St. Romuald embraced monastic life under the Rule of Benedict at the abbey of Classe near Ravenna. After his monastic vows, he experienced solitude under the guidance of a wandering hermit near Venice and later at the abbey of Cuixá in the eastern Pyrenees, today part of France. Returning to Italy in 988, Romuald initiated or reformed communities of hermits, monks, and nuns. In the year 1000, he sent some of his disciples to preach the gospel in Poland, and Romuald himself accompanied others to Hungary: all this he did as a “martyr of love.” He was also father to communities of monastic women, who observed his contemplative practice and the Benedictine rule.
Camaldoli, in the Tuscan Apennines, was Romuald’s last community. At the Holy Hermitage, the monks lived in their individual cells, but they also observed the common life, worshiping daily in the church and breaking bread in the dining hall. They were a contemplative community that, through the exercise of hospitality and spiritual counseling at the Monastery in the valley below, reached out to pilgrims and the people in nearby villages.
THE MONASTIC CONGREGATION OF CAMALDOLI
After 1027, the year of St. Romuald’s passing, other existing monasteries and hermitages united with Camaldoli in order to return to the authentic sources of Benedict’s rule. The first community founded by the monks of Camaldoli was St. Mary of the Angels at the gates of Florence: an urban monastery, strictly enclosed but engaged in the pre-Renaissance development of the city’s culture and spirituality. It soon became a center of artistic, literary, and musical training deeply rooted in the monastic liturgy. The monks practiced and taught the copying and illustration of manuscripts, painting and weaving, and the translation of the Greek Fathers for the daily Office of Readings.
In the places where Master Romuald had lived, monks and nuns followed his teachings in contemplative service to the local people and their pastors. But as history unfolded, the provincial character of the Camaldolese presence limited its growth. Then in 1899, four monks at the Holy Hermitage responded to the invitation of a bishop in Brazil and founded, in Rio Grande do Sul, a vibrant community that adapted its life to the realities of a new land. In 1926, the Holy See, concerned with the eagerness of the monks to live in new ways the heritage of Benedict and Romuald, ordered the Camaldolese to turn over their monastery to a congregation of active missionaries and return to Italy.
The memory of the Brazil experiment was not lost but was handed on to a new generation of novices. The Camaldolese monks and nuns gradually became convinced that our future lay in new communities: in the United States, Africa, Brazil, and India. New Camaldoli Hermitage and its daughter house in Berkeley, Incarnation Monastery, are among the fruits of our choice to carry the spirit of Benedict and Romuald into the 21st century and adapt it to other cultures. We are grateful to share common cause in the new inculturation of monastic life with other congregations of the Benedictine Confederation.
Today, the Camaldolese Congregation of the Order of Saint Benedict, together with the Union of Monasteries of the Camaldolese Nuns, is a relatively small but vital monastic family, with communities open to dialogue on many different levels. First, we receive as guests, retreatants, and oblates those who experience a call to rethink their faith in the context of a world undergoing rapid change and facing enormous crises: alteration of climate and the environment by human activity; financial inequalities throughout the world; and endless conflicts based on religious and ethnic differences. Above all, as Christians, we monastics and oblates are deeply committed to the hope that these crises will be resolved as we join with persons of good will, acknowledging and fostering the work of the Holy Spirit in all peoples and cultures.
THE CAMALDOLESE IN CALIFORNIA
The superior of the Camaldolese mother-house came to the United States in 1957, to explore the possibilities for a foundation. The following year he sent two monks from Camaldoli, who discovered an ideal place for a hermitage overlooking the Big Sur coast. A generous benefactor facilitated the purchase of the land, and others donated resources and labor during the eight years when the present cells, church, and common buildings were erected. The young men who professed monastic vows in these pioneering years (four of whom were present for the fiftieth anniversary of our founding) cherish the memories of both the joys and difficulties of bringing the many centuries of Benedictine and Camaldolese spirituality into the post-modern context of California and Big Sur.
From the start, New Camaldoli was a hospitable hermitage. Our geographical isolation became an open space that enabled priests, women religious, and lay people to integrate contemplation and liturgy into their active ministries. Our retreat facilities are an ecumenical gathering place: other Christians, persons of all faiths, and countless seekers for truth and human integrity have been drawn to the natural beauties of the place and the warm simplicity of the monastic church.
Since 1979, our community has been present in the urban, multicultural context of Berkeley, with monks from New Camaldoli and our mother-house in Italy forming Incarnation Monastery, just north of the University of California campus and the Graduate Theological Union.
The monks of New Camaldoli also take part in the Four Winds Council with other spiritually-aware communities nearby: Esalen Institute, Window to the West Native American Community, and Tassajara Zen Monastery. We meet four times a year.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q. What is the “Liturgy of the Hours”?
A. It is a community prayer, with songs and readings, at specified times during the day and night, according to the Rule of St. Benedict. In addition to the Mass, the principal “hours” or “offices” we celebrate are Vespers, Vigils, and Lauds; a book for each celebration is available for our guests, so that they can sing and recite along with us.
Q. Are the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours your only prayer?
A. No — we also practice lectio divina, an ancient way of reading the Bible or another expression of faith. We encounter God’s word in the text, and it leads us through and beyond the written words into meditation, wordless prayer, and contemplation.
Q. Aren’t meditation and wordless prayer dangerous?
A. Catholic tradition teaches that the act of faith does not stop at words or concepts, but aims directly at the reality of God. The Church prescribes a period of daily meditation for us and for all religious.
Q. Are you priests?
A. Some of us are ordained priests, to serve the community and guests, but we are all monks.
Q. Why do you live in Big Sur?
A. Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places on earth; we live and welcome guests here, so that we and they may know God in this beauty and share the same knowledge with others.
Q. Do you think there is a future for your way of life?
A. Since 1958, amazing changes have come into the Catholic Church, and the Camaldolese are ready to evolve and grow with the living Church. We, both monks and oblates, believe that the Holy Spirit is moving among us and will help us draw forth from our rich heritage new forms of contemplative life, in open dialogue with all humanity.