January 2006

Camaldolese Extraordinary: The Life, Doctrine, and Rule of Blessed Paul Giustiniani.  By Dom Jean Leclercq and Blessed Paul Giustiniani. Ercam Editions. 536 pages. $30.

When Blessed Paul Giustiniani wrote a new rule for the life of his hermits, there were only about 20, all Camaldolese, for whom solitude meant pronouncing vows, following a rule, and being subject to obedience. Other hermits of the time lived a much more individualized, undirected life.

Giustiniani had always loved solitude. Solitude suited well his private pursuit of learning, especially of humanist writers, as he grew into manhood in his native Venice, where his family was wealthy and prominent. When he became more fervent in religious studies and prayer, he sought a path by which to find God. He was his own best critic, realizing that "such a life is rather that of a gentleman philosopher than of a Christian and religious soul."

In 1510 he made a retreat at Camaldoli in the mountains near Arezzo, where St. Romuald had founded a hermitage in 1023. The following winter Giustiniani joined the hermitage. He would spend the rest of his life as a hermit and work to bring others to live a directed life of solitude.

His biography, published here in English for the first time, is especially interesting for its insight into Giustiniani's desire and search -- even his demand -- for solitude as the supreme path to God. He was a man who knew what he wanted, and when he realized that the abbot did not have the same commitment to the hermits under his monastic jurisdiction, he set himself to reforming Camaldoli.

Giustiniani adapted well to a life of solitude, prayer, study, and writing. Among his early writings was the Libellus, a bold, complete program for the reform of the Church, which he sent to Pope Leo X in 1513. It advocated revision of canon law, missionaries for the developing world, a vernacular Bible and liturgy, and dialogue with separated Christians.

Giustiniani's writings, which still exist in several Italian monasteries and at the Vatican, provide ample material for his biographer "to record the states of Blessed Paul's soul and to follow its development with precision and continuity."

Perhaps it is because of the diminution of rigorous solitude in Christian history that Blessed Paul (called "Blessed" by his followers) and even St. Romuald are not better known. Nonetheless, each in his own time, about 500 years apart, led a reform movement.

Giustiniani's life is fascinating in that it is the story of a soul as well as of a man who still did battle with the world -- in his case, primarily the monastic world, which did not value solitude as he did and which worked against him.

In his Soliloquies he writes: "I do not see how I can be called a hermit except that I dwell in a cell (which, however, does not at all conceal me) and I have a long beard. I am a hermit and a solitary in name only. In reality, I am a businessman, more troubled about many things than any Martha. They now not only speak but also write against me…. Since I have become superior, they arm themselves against me with clubs and swords. My cell is surrounded by a multitude of peasants, assembled here without provocation."

It is difficult to judge, despite the abundant history published in this volume, what kind of man Giustiniani was in his dealings with people. He comes across as domineering in his ways and, although reform requires certainty of purpose, he may have aggravated situations in some cases. The major dispute was his long-running one with the abbot of the monastery.

Blessed Paul eventually left Camaldoli to found a hermitage nearby at Monte Corona, called "the new Camaldoli." Today, the spiritual heirs of both St. Romuald and Blessed Paul are known as the Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona (who are the editors of this book). However, they do not inhabit Monte Corona (that is another story, one of political suppression by Napoleon, Garibaldi, and others).

A reader is of course interested to know where they are now and how they are doing today. We are not given numbers of hermits, but of hermitages, of which there are three in Italy, two in Poland, two in the U.S., and one each in Spain, Colombia, and Venezuela. Even as most people seek an active life, even in monasticism, hermits are still with us -- or, as they prefer, not with us. Most people know little about them, and so this book illuminates their path, in particular, that of one individual hermit who marked more clearly the way for others to follow.

- Rosemary Lunardini



Margaret Clitherow: Saint of York.  By John Rayne-Davis. Highgate Publications. 53 pages. $7.50.

An old 17th-century document states that St. Margaret Clitherow "was pressed to death by eight hundred pound weight for ye faith of Christ, which she bore with great constancy on ye 25 March, 1586. Her body after death being thrown in a place of contempt. She was ye first of her sex who suffered martyrdom in the reign of Queen Elizabeth in England."

In his short book, Rayne-Davis, a Catholic convert, tells us about the life and death of another convert, Margaret Clitherow, the devoted wife of a Protestant shopkeeper and the mother of two children, a generous hand to her less-fortunate Protestant and Catholic neighbors, and one who took priests into her home so that they could continue to celebrate Mass under a regime that made it a capital offense. She was under no illusions about what happened to priests and their helpers who were caught; public executions of the most grisly kind were regular events in the town.

Nevertheless, Margaret was not deterred from her efforts, even though the weight of a whole government was against her. She knew well that she would one day be discovered because it was not easy to hide such doings in a small town. She had already been in jail several times, serving 18 months on one of her stays. She learned to read there, The Imitation of Christ becoming one of her favorite books.

When the authorities finally raided her home, no one betrayed her. But pressure was put on a child whom she had taken in. The child told of the hidden places where vestments were found. Margaret ended up before the court.

Here is the account Rayne-Davis gives of the encounter between the 33-year-old mother and the judge: "He said that if she went to trial she had little to fear because the chief witness would be a little child. Margaret replied with spirit: 'I think you have no witness against me but children, which with an apple and a rod you may make to say what you will.' Clench [the judge] now used more determined tactics. 'It is plain that you had priests in your house by these vestments that were found.' Margaret pinned her colors to the mast and said: 'As for good Catholic priests I know no cause why I should refuse them as long as I live; they come only to do good to me and to others.' This brought fury from the bench: 'They are all traitors, rascals, and deceivers of the Queen's subjects.' Margaret replied with equal spirit: 'God forgive you. You would not say so if you knew them.' She went further: 'I know them to be virtuous men, sent by God to save our souls.' Clench then returned to the question of her trial: 'Will you put yourself to the country yea or no?' Margaret then uttered the words which almost certainly sealed her fate: 'I refer my case only to God and your consciences. Do what you think good.'… Clench was then forced to pronounce the dreadful sentence of peine forte et dure: 'You must return whence you came, and there in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back upon the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear and continue three days without meat or drink, except a little barley bread and puddle water, and the third day be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts and a sharp stone under your back.'" To this Margaret replied: "'If this judgment be according to your conscience, I pray God send you better judgment before him. I thank you heartily for this.'" And so went the contest between a young housewife and a government determined to wipe out the Mass in any way it could. St. Margaret Clitherow died, but did the government really win?

- Richard Geraghty



The Blessed Sacrament and the Mass.  By St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated, with Notes, by the Rev. F. O'Neill. Roman Catholic Books. 178 pages. $21.95.

The Baltimore Catechism. You learned it by heart yourself. Or did you hear secondhand how awful it was: rigorous, dry, unchanging, and unappealing to the imagination? It might have been all those, but it was also much more. The generations who memorized its legion of questions may well have been shortchanged on entertainment, but they gained a firm knowledge of the Church's teaching. Homeschooling families still use the Baltimore Catechism, as do the increasing number of independent Catholic day schools. It was, of course, based loosely on St. Thomas's Summa, but it used a simple "question-and-answer" format to explain the basics of the Faith. Each succeeding volume -- number one, two, three, and four -- provided greater depth and understanding. The Baltimore Catechism, in any case, was not supposed to bring us to the end of our religious education; rather, it was the beginning, a "first-rate" first step.

Here now is a logical next step, and one again based on the writings of the "Common Doctor." Fr. O'Neill's book is not itself a Catechism but rather an abridged translation that concentrates on two doctrines central to Catholicism, that of the Blessed Sacrament and that of the nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Like the Baltimore Catechism, it employs the question-and-answer format, this time adding objections and rebuttals, and follows the exact organization of the relevant sections of the Summa Theologiae (III: Q. 73-83). O'Neill's notes contribute a good deal, especially with respect to the precise definition of such words as "substance," "quality," and "accident."

If you are not going to read, any time soon, the thousands of pages of the Summa, or even the sections O'Neill explores, this distillation of Thomas's thought will give you an authentic taste of his great masterwork. More important still: It will enrich your understanding of the Church's "sacrament of love."

- Elizabeth C. Hanink





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