|The Madonna and Child with Ss Anne, Elizabeth, Augustine and Peter Damian, by Ercole Roberti, 1479-81. Executed for the church of Santa Maria in Porto outside Ravenna, now in the Brera Gallery in Milan.|
However, even the darkest days of the Church’s history are not without their Saints. As France gave the Church the abbey of Cluny, which was ruled by six Saints in a row over a 190 year period, to pave the way for reform, Italy saw a new flourishing of strict and reform-minded monastic orders in the 11th century, led by St Romuald, the founder of the Camaldoese Order, and St John Gualbert, the founder of the Vallombrosians. It was among these communities that Peter Damian was formed as a religious, and was called to serve as abbot of an important Camaldolese house at Fonte Avellana.
It is often darkest before the dawn; after the deposition of Benedict IX and the extremely brief (24 day) reign of Damasus II, the Papal throne was occupied by Leo IX (1049-54), an active and enthusiastic reformer, now canonized as a Saint. From this time, the reform party within the Church was very much in the ascendant, with St Peter Damian as one of its most powerful leaders and spokesmen. In 1057, Pope Stephen IX made him the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia, to which office it then belonged to crown the Pope, but he was later released from this position at his own request by Pope Alexander II. He continued to serve as a Papal legate and ambassador, and to write a great deal in exhortation to the clergy at all levels to a stricter and more disciplined life. Two particularly famous example of his severity are his rebuke to the canons of Besançon in France for sitting down during the Office (!), although he was willing to allow this during the lessons of Matins, and to the bishop of Florence for playing a game of chess.
|King Otto IV of Brandenburg indulges in frivolity. (From the Codex Manesse, 1305-13; public domain image from Wikipedia)|
It was addressed to a monk and hermit named Leo, who had written to St Peter to inquire whether he ought to say “The Lord be with you” and “Pray, lord, give the blessing” when saying the Divine Office alone in his cell. St Peter’s answer is argued at length and with great thoroughness, but what it really boils down to is “the liturgy is not about you.” Since it is the public prayer of the Church, which is made of many members and yet One in the Holy Spirit, the liturgy may rightly speak in the singular in choir (he cites Psalms such as “Incline to me Thy ear, o Lord” and “I will bless the Lord at all times”), and in the plural when celebrated by only one. He also notes, perhaps more persuasively, that a very large part of the Divine Office is said in the plural, invitatories such as “Come, let us worship the Lord”, hymns such as “Rising in the night let us all keep watch” etc.; so much, in fact, that to switch it to the singular in private prayer would mean to either omit most of it or mutilate it.
(footnote: It should be noted that the man who bought the Papacy from Benedict IX was his godfather, an archpriest named John Gratian, who did so for the worthiest of motives, namely, to get Benedict out of the way; as Pope he was called Gregory VI. Although he was deposed for this act of simony, he was held in such high regard that almost 30 years, later, when St Gregory VII was elected, certainly no laxist in matters of church discipline, he chose his Papal name in John Gratian’s honor.)