The Congregation of Monk Hermits of Camaldoli (ErCam or OSBCam, Official Catholic Directory #0230 [ErCam], #0200 [OSBCam]), commonly known as the Camaldolese, is an offshoot of the Benedictine order (see benedictines). The spirit and purpose of the order are predominantly contemplative. St. romuald, while remaining a Benedictine monk, imparted a unique spirit to his followers and to the many monasteries that he reformed, so that from the very beginning they began to form a separate family or institution. Romuald, however, never intended to found an eremitic order separate from the Benedictine monastic order, and the Camaldolese always pronounced their profession according to the rule of St. Benedict.
Internal Development. Romuald's activity, begun in Italy in the early years of the 11th century, was a part of the reform movement of the 11th and 12th centuries that sought to restore the more ancient monastic tradition, according to which Benedict had formulated his rule. Monasticism, since the Carolingian era, had become overladen with formalism. The movement found different forms of expression, but most of them had a more or less pronounced tendency toward primitive eremitism, that is, greater penitential austerity, more separation from the world, and greater freedom to converse with God. Following the teaching and example of Romuald, the Camaldolese added to the Benedictine rule special regulations or customs. These were later compiled by (St.) peter damian at fonte avellana, and especially by (Bl.) Rudolf (d. 1089) at camaldoli about 1080.
Romuald organized the eremitic life by reuniting the anchorite with the monastery. In this he kept in mind the traditions of the Fathers and, in particular, the Palestinian lauras of SS. euthymius and sabas. His monastic institution was based on the following ideas. The monastery and the hermitage form one unit and complement each other. Unity is composed of three elements: rule, under a single superior; members, forming a single family; and goal, which is the ascent by degrees toward the highest summits of perfection and contemplation. Beginners reside in the monastery; the proficient and the more perfect, in the hermitage. The function of the monastery in this scheme is to prepare the monk for the solitary life. All must aspire to this, but the superior alone is to determine the suitability of the monk and the length of the preparation. He must exhort and, at the proper moment, summon the candidate to the hermitage. One may not enter the solitary life without the abbot's approval. The monastery also serves the purposes of administration, reception of guests, care of the sick and the aged, and instruction of novices. In the hermitage, the monk devotes himself solely to contemplation. Romuald summed up the rule for hermits in three things: fasting, silence, and solitude. Manual labor is encouraged to a limited degree, in conformity with the contemplative ideal.
The superior, whether abbot or prior, is the father of both hermits and cenobites (those living together in the monastery). The cenobitic family must venerate its hermit brothers, but the latter are warned against pride. In the Camaldolese tradition, the hermitage and the monastery thus take on a special character. The monastery loses some of its inflexible cenobitism, which, in Romauld's day particularly, did not allow the monk freedom to converse alone with God; the hermitage, in turn, is no longer the dangerous desert of the anchorites, but a laura where, along with the advantages of solitude, the hermits enjoy brotherly help and, above all, the blessing of obedience that preserves them from illusions and makes every good work valid. Finally, when the hermit monk has attained the highest degree of perfection, he may aspire to the apostolate of preaching the Gospel, where he may hope to offer to Christ the supreme homage of martyrdom.
This ideal union of hermitage and monastery did not prove to be possible everywhere. At times Romuald founded hermitages and monasteries that were independent of one another. In such a case, the hermits were recruited from any monastery or even directly from the laity, if such candidates were sufficiently mature for the solitary life. Peter Damian also used this procedure at Fonte Avellana.
External Development. Camaldolese monasticism developed around the two principal centers in Italy, Camaldoli and Fonte Avellana. Many monasteries—some were new foundations, while others were existing monasteries that became identified with the new movement—adopted the Camaldolese rule and customs. The juridic ties between the dependent houses and the principal monasteries varied greatly, so that many monasteries were practically autonomous. The two principal centers were themselves juridically independent of one another until united by papal decree during the 16th century reform. Fonte Avellana, although it had flourished under the leadership of Peter Damian and his successors, later underwent a change in its eremitical character. Many of its monks were called to fill bishoprics in the Marches of Ancona and in Umbria. In 1325 it was converted into an abbey; the hermitage thus ceased to exist. Thereafter, the abuse of the commenda, whereby the abbey became the benefice of a secular cleric, hastened the decline of the monastery until Pius V, in 1569, reconstituted Fonte Avellana, and its dependent monasteries, by subjecting them to Camaldoli.
Throughout the history of the Camaldolese order, Camaldoli itself remained the chief center of vitality. Fortified by many privileges, both papal and imperial, it extended its influence over hundreds of monasteries, especially in the period between the 11th and the 13th centuries. The form of government within the order developed slowly and suffered from numerous conflicts. The chief source of difficulty lay in the very nature of Camaldolese monasticism, that is, in the tension between the twofold objective of the order, cenobitic and eremitic. The general chapter was introduced into the government of the order in the 13th century; the first chapter met at Padua in 1239. As with the other religious orders, the Camaldolese suffered from the unfavorable circumstances of the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 15th century, several reform efforts, initiated both inside and outside the order, were undertaken. One such effort, promoted by Eugene IV, was earnestly advanced by (Bl.) Ambrose Traversari, the noted Camaldolese humanist who was elected superior general in 1431.
Effective reform was not realized, however, until the following century, when the Congregation of Camaldoli and San Michele di Murano (Venice) was formed. The leaders in this movement were the then superior general, Pietro Delfino, superior from 1480 until his death in 1525, (Bl.) Paolo giustiniani, and Pietro Querini (1479–1514). Giustiniani, whose ideas were more radical than those of his confreres, led a further reform movement that came to be known as the Congregation of Monte Corona (Umbria). Under the impetus of these movements the order of Camaldoli experienced a new vitality, but the tension between the cenobitic and eremitic ideals remained. In the 17th century the cenobites separated themselves from the hermits, forming an independent group (1616). Further divisions resulted from the formation of congregations in Piedmont and in France, but both of these disappeared during the French Revolution. Finally, on July 2, 1935, the Holy See reunited the cenobites with the hermits at Camaldoli, thus reconstituting the ancient order of Romuald.
The Camaldolese have enjoyed a reputation for holiness. Their recognized saints and blesseds, however, are generally persons who became known by reason of some activity outside the hermitage, such as, SS. Peter, Archbishop of Pisa (d. 1120); John, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia (d. 1134); and bogumil of gniezno. Among many blesseds, two are remembered as martyrs: Daniel of Ungrispach (d. 1411) and Angelo of Mussiaccio (d. 1485). The Camaldolese have made notable contributions to various fields of learning and of the arts. A tradition of scholarship was begun by Jerome of Prague (Johannes Silvanus, d. 1440) and the above-mentioned Ambrose Traversari. From an earlier period, however, the names of guido of arezzo, the musician, and gratian, the author of the Decretum, are remembered. The prior general Pietro Delfino was an outstanding humanist, and the monastery in Florence, Santa Maria degli Angeli (1294), became the meeting place for the great Florentine humanists of the 15th century. Nicolò Malermi (d. 1481) published in 1471 the first complete translation of the Bible in Italian. Fra Mauro (d. c. 1459) was a cosmographer of note. The historian, Giovanni mittarelli, published the Annales Camaldulenses (9 v. 1755–73). The order of Camaldoli gave to the Church many bishops, several cardinals, and one pope, Gregory XVI.
In the United States the Camaldolese began, in 1958, a foundation called New Camaldoli at Big Sur, Calif. The Congregation of Monte Corona established (1959) a hermitage at McConnelsville, Ohio.
Bibliography: g. b. mittarelli and a. costadoni, Annales camaldulenses, 9 v. (Venice 1755–73). a. giabbani, L'eremo, vita e spiritualità eremitica nel monachismo Camaldolese primitive (Brescia 1945). a. pagnani, Storia dei Benedettini Camaldolesi (Sassoferrato 1949). w. franke, Romuald von Camaldoli und seine Reformtätigkeit zum Zeit Ottos III (Berlin 1913). m. bede, The Hermits of New Camaldoli (Big Sur, Calif. 1958). p. bossi and a. ceratti, Eremi camaldolesi in Italia: luoghi, architettura, spiritualità (Milano 1993). g. vedovato, Camaldoli e la sua congregazione dalle origini al 1184: storia e documentazione (Cesena 1994). l. vigilucci, Camaldoli: A Journey into Its History & Spirituality (Trabuco Canyon, Calif., 1995). c. caby, De l'érémitisme rural au monachisme urbain: les camaldules en Italie à la fin du Moyen Âge (Rome 1999). p.-d. belisle, The Privilege of Love: Camaldolese Benedictine Spirituality (Collegeville, Minn. 2002).