[[ Just some jottings, sometimes modified, expanded, deleted... ]]
Some preliminary thoughts:
(1) Almost no one in the Church or the world has any correct idea of who a hermit is, what a hermit does, and whether any of this is any good in our own times. Some think of a guru on top of a mountain peak, who says idiotic things to mountain climbers. Some think the vocation to be a burial of talents. Some think it is a vocation for losers, who are bereft of a good name, have nothing else to offer, and are only doing penance for their many and grevious sins and don’t have time to pray for anyone else, and that their prayers wouldn’t be good for anything anyway, because a hermit has to be, by definition, utterly selfish and self-absorbed, a beast. These are attitudes that the hermit happily puts up with, knowing all these opinions long before becoming a hermit. It’s part of hermit life. It reminds me of when I was a chaplain at Lourdes, France, in thanksgiving to our Lady for the work on Genesis that I successfully completed (see entry 1 of . I don’t know how many people in those two years assumed that I had been assigned there as a punishment for wrong-doing, or because I was a recovering alcoholic or some such thing. I don’t know why people wouldn’t think of it as a great honor to be our Lady’s chaplain, hearing a zillion confessions a day, with so many other activities in her honor! It is not necessary for non-hermits to understand hermits, but non-hermits coming to know what hermits are all about can be an occasion for them to grown in sanctity before God themselves. That’s the purpose of this page.
(2) Every hermit is as different one from the other as Saint Paul the Hermit is different from Saint Anthony of the Desert and as both of them are utterly different from the great Saint Jerome. All had terribly different rules of life and daily schedules to follow. The Holy Spririt of the Father and of Jesus moves where He wills and as He wills. It would be wrong-headed to make a comparison between one hermit and another, saying that only this one and not the other is a real hermit. For instance, one doesn’t have to be fed by ravens in order to be a true hermit!!! Circumstances change because of environment, health, and so on. The background of the individual becoming a hermit will say much about how our Lord has prepared him to be a hermit.
Outside of such Rules as that of Saint Benedict, Rules are usually very short documents expressing the essence of the charism, the spirit of the life given by our Lord within the heart of the Church. Saint Dominic’s Rule was, I think, just about a paragraph in length, insisting that the brothers be joyful.
The Rule for ecclesially recognized hermits has recently been provided by Holy Mother Church in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Blessed Pope John Paul II. It is an extremely wisely written canon, new in the history of the Church. While I remain a member in good standing with the Pontifical Right Congregation of the Fathers of Mercy (whose charism of mercy in the heart of the Church cannot exclude a priest offering himself for the sanctification of his fellow priests and bishops in the purgatory of this life and the next), the Rule of life to which I look is that which is provided in Canon Law:
The official Latin:
Can. 603 — § 1. Praeter vitae consecratae instituta, Ecclesia agnoscit vitam eremiticam seu anachoreticam, qua christifideles arctiore a mundo secessu, solitudinis silentio, assidua prece et paenitentia, suam in laudem Dei et mundi salutem vitam devovent.
§ 2. Eremita, uti Deo deditus in vita consecrata, iure agnoscitur si tria evangelica consiia, voto vel alio sacro ligamine firmata, publice profiteatur in manu Episcopi dioecesani et propriam vivendi rationem sub ductu eiusdem servet.
The Canon Law Society of America’s version:
Can. 603 §1. In addition to institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance.
§2. A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.
My own slavishly literal translation:
Can. 603 §1. Above institutes of Consecrated Life, the Church establishes [here, a legal, transferative sense] the eremitic or anchoritic life, which Christ’s faithful, by a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, assiduous prayer and penance, sacrifice one’s life in the praise of God and for the salvation of the world.
§2. A hermit is recognized in law as one given over to God in consecrated life if the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, are publically professed in the hands of the diocesan Bishop and he observes an appropriate rule of living under his guidance.
My own commentary on this ecclesially provided rule for hermits:
Commentary like this provides an insight into the understanding of this rule by this hermit, not unimportant I think…
§1. A DESCRIPTION OF THIS FORM OF CONSECRATED LIFE
Above institutes of consecrated life, the Church establishes the eremitic or anchoritic life… — With this phrase, the possibility of this form of consecrated life, as well as its dignity, is granted the benefit of ecclesial oversight. A multiplicity of these additional forms of consecrated life seems to be implied with the word “or” (seu), as in “eremitic or anchoritic,” at least in some received understandings of these words. Etymologically, the adjective eremitic speaks to uninhabited (deserted) regions, while the adjective anchoritic, differing only in perspective, speaks to a withdrawal from inhabited regions, thus, so to speak, making room. The second paragraph of the canon simply drops reference to anchoritic, speaking only of hermits, showing that the adjective anchoritic was used as a synonym in the mind of the legislator. While there are many institutes of consecrated life made up of what might be described by some as hermits or anchorites, this canon recognizes a vocation that is more exacting than that which is found in such institutes. Note that the Church establishes this form of life. It is a vocation from God, not from the would-be hermit. The Church recognizes this in an active sense, establishing such a life in the heart of the Church.
… which Christ’s faithful… — With this phrase, Canon Law describes the intimacy of the friendship between Christ and these particular members of Christ’s faithful.
… by a stricter withdrawal from the world … — The purpose of a stricter withdrawal from the world, accomplished in this case by a rather severe geographical and social distancing, is not to shun priestly apostolates – which a priest-hermit should otherwise be eager to accomplish – but rather to live in a union of charity with all members of the Mystical Body of Christ. The use of “stricter” (arctiore) offers a comparison and distinction from all institutes of consecrated life, especially those which having an eremitical or anchoritic character. This stricter withdrawal from the world has an analogy in Christ’s being lifted up from the earth so that, from the Cross, he might draw all to Himself. The hermit accompanies Christ right into…
… the silence of solitude … — What might appear to be the silence of solitude – because of the lack of a fairly constant interaction with others and the lack of entertainment – is, nevertheless, to be a symphony of listening to the Living Word eternally spoken by the Father, along with all the reverberations of the Word in all (would-be) members of the Mystical Body of Christ. This is not esoteric, not gnostic, but surely does free up the possibility of a certain agility of soul, in which spiritual perfection cannot but be occasioned by the needs of the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, whether of those in the purgatory of the next life, or the purgatory of this life (not excluding those who have been redeemed but need the grace of salvation). The silence of solitude carries the prayer “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”, reaching out across time and place so as to have all look upon Him whom they have pierced.
… and assiduous prayer … Being drawn by the Holy Spirit through, with and in Christ, unto our Heavenly Father, looking to Him Eucharistically, must be continuous (assiduous) “always” as Jesus says. Various aspects of this prayer, such as intercession, thanksgiving, praise and adoration, all interconnected one with the other, are simply more emphasized than others at various times. Friendship with Christ, accompanying Him in this aspect of His public ministry, spending the night in prayer, is essential to the life of a hermit.
… and penance. — Penance provides a source of humble thanksgiving, without which there is no eremitic life. Prudence in this matter is structured by health and spiritual direction. Of course, utter simplicity of life, with a rather rigorous schedule, are already forms of penance.
… sacrifice one’s life in the praise of God and for the salvation of the world … — The hermit devotes his life precisely because of and according to the particular way in which Christ has called them to be His faithful ones. The union in charity with the entirety of the Mystical Body of Christ, expressed with but one act of love for both the Head and the (would-be) members of that Body of Christ, is enshrined with this uniting of the praise of God and the salvation of the world as the purpose of this form of consecrated, devoted life. The pace of one’s evangelizing of the world is not slowed down or buried, but rather, in all simplicity, is invigorated and intensified.
§2. THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS FORM OF CONSECRATED LIFE IS ENACTED
A hermit is recognized in law as one given over to God in consecrated life if the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, are publically professed in the hands of the diocesan Bishop… — Since I have been consecrated as a religious with the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience since 25 March, 1989 (during the Easter Vigil) in a pontifical right institute of consecrated life (the Fathers of Mercy, with Perpetual Vows on Christmas!), I envision continuing consecrated life as a hermit with these same vows. Whereas such vows taken within institutes of consecrated life are made before any appropriate superior, it is noteworthy that this canon rules out even local ordinaries (such as abbots) other than the diocesan bishop himself. This points to the particular nature of this vocation, which is beneficial in a special way to the entire local church that is under the fatherly care of the same bishop. While the hermit is drawn by vocation to be given to God in these vows, it is the diocesan bishop who, in receiving the vows, does himself give the hermit to God, positing this administrative act as structured by the law, and doing so publicly. While such a situation will rightfully be taken seriously by the bishop – who now has a special interest in the welfare of the hermit – the law of the Church provides a means by which the bishop can just as rightfully hope in the benefits his own cura animarum will enjoy by way of the prayer and penance of the hermit. This involves his personal guidance in a particular program of living for the hermit.
… and he observes an appropriate rule of living under his guidance. — The trust the hermit must have in his bishop, and the trust the bishop must have in his hermit, with both looking to the Lord, is rather extraordinary. The particular ratio of living is, of course, already largely structured by the evangelical counsels (603 §2) along with the description of this form of consecrated life provided in 603, §1. The horarium kept in the hermitage, perhaps ad experimentum in the beginning, is not a difficult matter, especially if the hermit has been working with his spiritual director / confessor right along. While the C.I.C. speaks of such guidance taking place with lawfully delegated superiors for those in institutes of consecrated life, 603, §2, makes an exception for hermits, placing them directly under the diocesan bishop. In the end, it is not the hermit or the bishop who will bring about any success of such a life devoted to Christ and the Church, as this is wrought by Christ Himself, who is so good and so kind.
Thanks to S.K., who sent in what I saw on the internet many years ago (and didn’t like so much), a kind of guide book for the eremitical life. As I told S.K. previously, I had found it back in the day, and find it still to be a bit esoteric, written, it does seem, from the perspective of someone who is not a hermit, certainly not a man, but someone still wanting — on behalf of the universal Church — to jump all over this vocation from the Lord, a kind of definitive, yet, I think, crippling way to go about things. It does have some nice stuff, but still…