- Camaldolese Extraordinary: The Life, Doctrine, and Rule of Blessed Paul Giustiniani
This volume presents in English translation for the first time Dom Jean Leclercq's 1951 biography of the Venetian nobleman Tommaso Giustiniani (1476-1528), who entered the eremitic Camaldolese order as fra Paolo in 1511. Alongside this work the Camaldolese of Monte Corona (founded by Giustiniani in 1523) have issued Dom Leclercq's meditation on the spiritual works of Giustiniani entitled Alone with God. The third and final major section of this book contains Giustiniani's rule of 1516, again published in English translation for the first time.
In his biography Leclercq describes Giustiniani's journey toward the ascetic life through the carnivals and carnal temptations of a Venetian adolescence via a Paduan education in which Giustiniani was soaked in stoic and neo-Platonic philosophy whilst also struggling to embrace fully the sacrifice made by Christ. Giustiniani perhaps never fully rejected human philosophy, but he urgently sought solitude first on the lagoon island of Murano, then in the Holy Land, and finally in the quasi-eremitic seclusion of the original Camaldolese house at Camaldoli, high in the beautiful Tuscan Appenines. However, even here Giustiniani and his companion Vincenzo Querini, a fellow Venetian patrician, were faced with disorderly hermits who preferred wandering the country to cultivating the contemplative life, and they were forced to confront the order's indefatigable general, who was resistant to the reforms proposed by these upstart "pharisees"—notably the separation of the eremitic and cenobitic houses. Giustiniani 's vision for the order is [End Page 543] set out in the Rule of the Eremitic Life (1516), which forms the third section of this volume, while section II provides Leclercq's extended meditation on Giustiniani's eremitic ideals, which were perhaps most fully realized during the final years of his life in the wild and remote Marches of Ancona.
Dom Leclercq's biographical essays are still the most succinct and readable introductions to Giustiniani's life available. Eugenio Massa's L'eremo, la Bibbia e il Medioevo in umanisti veneti del primo Cinquecento (Naples, 1992) offers the fruits of over three decades' attention to Giustiniani and his manuscripts, but this book often feels more like a collection of fragments than a coherent analysis, and many readers are probably put off by its forbidding technical apparatus. The clear narrative and extensive presentation of manuscript evidence in Leclercq's work highlight both the success and failure of the original French text and this new translation. On the one hand, it is gratifying to see Giustiniani's lyrical prose rendered in English with some style, and to read extracts from manuscripts which, until fairly recently, were inaccessible. However, Leclercq's original footnotes have been omitted or attenuated in the English translation making this book useless to anyone who wishes to find a particular passage in the original manuscript texts (now available for consultation at the Sacro Eremo Tuscolano, Monteporzio Catone, near Frascati). Giustiniani's handwriting can be extremely difficult to deciper, and so clearly referenced footnotes with a transcription of the original text would have made this volume invaluable. It is also disappointing to find that the translations of Giustiniani's works rely on the 1975 Italian version of Leclercq's book. A comparison of the original manuscripts with the versions presented there reveals many errors in transcription and translation.
It is unlikely that these shortcomings will deter the intended audience for this book, which is clearly non-academic. However, it is to be hoped that scholars will continue to devote their attention to Giustiniani, especially as many aspects of his life such as his involvement with Gian Pietro Carafa (later Pope Paul IV), still require illumination.