In the Liturgica Horarum there are ten hymns by Prudentius, nine by St. Peter Damian, and eight by St. Ambrose (Gabriel Diaz Patri in The Genius of the Roman Rite p. 80), which makes the 11th Century Camoldolese one of the major traditional contributors to the hymnody of the reformed office. To the extent that the Liturgy of the Hours represents a lessening of the burden of the Office on the clergy St. Peter Damian would have little sympathy with the project. He was not one to lessen burdens but rather to increase them. Hellen Waddell writes that like Calvin Peter could be called “The Accusative Case” (The Wandering Scholars p. 94). St. Peter was oppressed by "the terror of Judgement… the flames of the last day seemed to be already kindled against a world of sinners…He lived in a world of phantasms, where the natural order did not exist, where the devil went forth as a raging lion, and the wickedness of men was ripe for judgment” (Raby) Of course it is the quality of his poetry which earned Peter a place in Liturgica Horarum, not his invective. But how do we get this strange combination of elegant charm and opprobrium? A hideous childhood and a first rate education! In From Judgment to Passion Rachel Fulton (like Miss Waddell another Presbyterian medievalist) explains:
“The certainty of doom and the need to answer for one's sinfulness hung over Peter from the very moment of his birth, or so at least he (apparently) recalled in later life in conversations with his close friend, devoted disciple and fellow hermit John of Lodi . This is Peter's story as John tells it in the Vita that he wrote of his saintly master soon after his death. At his birth, one of Peter's brothers had berated his mother, "For shame! Look, there are already so many of us that the house is scarcely able to hold us, and see, how badly matched are the crowd of heirs and the straitened inheritance!" This outburst so enraged Peter's mother that, "inflamed by a fit of feminine malice" (possibly a post-partum depression, possibly a determined attempt at infanticide), she refused to feed the infant and, wringing her hands, declared herself unfit to live. Thus disinherited from the maternal breast that was then his only possession, the baby was on the verge of wasting away with hunger and cold, when one of the serving women (ironically, given Peter’s later career, the wife of a priest) intervened and rebuking his mother for risking her soul with the sin of infanticide, coaxed her into caring for him by nursing the baby herself. Thereafter, Peter's mother, restored to her maternal self, cared for the child lovingly, until her own death and that of his father left Peter at the mercy of his siblings.
Orphaned almost as soon as he was weaned, Peter was grudgingly raised by one his brothers (apparently the same one who had been so angered by his birth) and that brother's wife, who fed him with slops, clothed him with rags, kicked him and beat him, and eventually turned him out as a swineherd to live with the pigs. Peter’s foster parents likewise seem to have raised him with the story of his unfortunate birth, thus reinforcing the sense of unworthiness and debt with which he would remember his childhood, He was rescued from this life of involuntary austerity at age twelve when he was placed in the care of another of his brothers, who lavished upon him such affection "that it seemed to exceed a father's”. This brother provided generously for his education in the best schools of the day, thus launching Peter on a promising secular career as a master of rhetoric. owing to the excellence of his teaching, Peter soon attracted many students and earned from their fees an abundance of money. And yet he could not, it seems, shake the conviction that he was unworthy of the life of elegance and comfort that he now enjoyed, nor the certainty that judgment was near.”
It should go without saying that Dr. Fulton did not intend that any of this should reduce the sanctity of St. Peter Damian to childhood trauma. It is just another example of the Holy Spirit’s action: gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit.