ON BECOMING A CATHOLIC HERMIT.

Originally this was supposed to be a reply to Barry who works in active ministry in a catholic diocese in the USA, who thanked me for my blog (I am actually benumbed anyone reads them even more so for having received a message which is extremely rare, but then, as a hermit not much mail filters past my administrator Bro. Paolo)… So Barry asks “Do you have any recommendations for developing a program of life? What is most essential, to make a beginning?”  This is my reply to him which nevertheless I perceived (and Barry agrees) should be shared with all enquirers.  I’ve also had to put in some background, for those who are interest but not yet ready to make a formal request to their Bishop, it is therefore a somewhat loaded response, written and compiled very quickly, but wanting to ensure that you had the full facts available, there is also the possibility that I may repeat myself in the rush (I’m not at my best when rushing – as I like to think things through but I’m also afflicted by RA and “winter is coming”, so it tends to slow me down somewhat).  In the Diocese we use the term ‘Evergreen Document’, being that it is continually edited and updated online.  I am honour-bound to recognise Barry as being instrumental for this article and thank him for asking the question.  I take this opportunity to offer my prayers and blessings to Barry as he begins his walk into the Desert.  Benedicite.

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St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury Kent.

Originally this was supposed to be a reply to Barry who works in active ministry in a catholic diocese in the USA, who thanked me for my blog (I am actually benumbed anyone reads them even more so for having received a message which is extremely rare, but then, as a hermit not much mail filters past my administrator Bro. Paolo)… So Barry asks “Do you have any recommendations for developing a program of life? What is most essential, to make a beginning?”  This is my reply to him which nevertheless I perceived (and Barry agrees) should be shared with all enquirers.  I’ve also had to put in some background, for those who are interest but not yet ready to make a formal request to their Bishop, it is therefore a somewhat loaded response, written and compiled very quickly, but wanting to ensure that you had the full facts available, there is also the possibility that I may repeat myself in the rush (I’m not at my best when rushing – as I like to think things through but I’m also afflicted by RA and “winter is coming”, so it tends to slow me down somewhat).  In the Diocese we use the term ‘Evergreen Document’, being that it is continually edited and updated online.  I am honour-bound to recognise Barry as being instrumental for this article and thank him for asking the question.  I take this opportunity to offer my prayers and blessings to Barry as he begins his walk into the Desert.  Benedicite.

Fr. Ugo-Maria 
St. Mary’s Hermitage Nr. Canterbury 
On the Feast of  Saint Didacus de Alcalá o.f.m.

Franciscan Monk writingIn recent years the interest in the Eremitic life seems to have gathered momentum.  It must be said though that there seem to some misconceptions about this way of life which we hope to clarify to some extent.  My entering eremitic life seemed to me, to be a natural progression after having served as a secular parish priest for 15 years.  I was fortunate that my bishop John Jukes † o.f.m. conv., of blessed memory, guided and advised me whilst I attended my seminarian studies at the Franciscan International Study Centre University of Kent; To those who nurtured, encouraged and endorsed my vocation to the priesthood and later eremitic life thank you; it took 2 years before I had a workable rule of life set down on paper (I had decided upon an adapted version of the very first Carthusian Consuetudines (Rule) as a template.  It is after all a monumental step to take and one not to be taken light-heartedly.  

In the last few month I have received 6 enquiries from catholic people asking for advice or support in pursuing their own vocation to the eremitic life, I therefore decided to put this article together in the hope that it might guide them in the right direction.  I have also received enquiries from 2 people who are not catholic asking to “join” my hermitage, it is clear in their communications that they do not even have a basic understanding of christianity let alone the eremitic life and what it entails.  One of them stating, “I don’t believe in God, but…., I prefer to live alone as I don’t like people very much because of my ‘XYZ’. So I know I would be a great hermit, I’m practically one already!”  Another was a New Age solitudinarian gnostic medium prophet who wanted to join me in ‘fraternal communion’ which for me as a Roman Catholic would obviously not be possible.  As the Apostle Paul said, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge [gnosis]; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.  Grace be with you.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21).   I have my own views on Gnosticism which perhaps we will explore at some other time.

These men and women are called by God to this vocation to live in solitude, embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In the Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, Saint Pope John Paul II describes this form of consecrated life in this way:

Men and women hermits, belonging to ancient Orders or new Institutions, or being directly dependent on the bishop, bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by their inward and outward separation from the world.  By fasting and penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God (cf. Mt. 4:4).  Such a life “in the desert” is an invitation to their contemporaries and to the ecclesial community itself never to lose sight of the supreme vocation, which is to be always with the Lord (7).

Silence

HISTORICAL HERMITS

The word hermit comes from the Latin ĕrēmīta, the latinisation of the Greek ἐρημίτης (erēmitēs), “of the desert”, which in turn comes from ἔρημος (erēmos), signifying “desert”, “uninhabited”, hence “desert-dweller”; adjective: “eremitic”, also called anchorites, were men who fled the society of their fellow-men to dwell alone in retirement. Not all of them, however, sought so complete a solitude as to avoid absolutely any intercourse with their fellow-men. Some took a companion with them, generally a disciple; others remained close to inhabited places, from which they procured their food. This kind of religious life preceded the community life of the cenobites. Elias is considered the precursor of the hermits in the Old Testament. St. John the Baptist lived like them in the desert. Christ, too, led this kind of life when he retired into the mountains. But the eremitic life proper really begins only in the time of the persecutions. The first known example is that of St. Paul, whose biography was written by St. Jerome. He began about the year 250. There were others in Egypt; St. Athanasius, who speaks of them in his life of St. Anthony, does not mention their names. Nor were they the only ones. These first solitaries, few in number, selected this mode of living on their own initiative. It was St. Anthony who brought this kind of life into vogue at the beginning of the fourth century. After the persecutions the number of hermits increased greatly in Egypt, then in Palestine, then in the Sinaitic peninsula, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor. Cenobitic communities sprang up among them, but did not become so important as to extinguish the eremitic life. They continued to flourish in the Egyptian deserts, not to speak of other localities. Discussions arose in Egypt as to the respective merits of the cenobitic and the eremitic style of life. Which was the better? Cassian, who voices the common opinion, believed that the cenobitic life offered more advantages and less inconveniences than the eremitic life. The Syrian hermits, in addition to their solitude, were accustomed to subject themselves to great bodily austerities. Some passed years on the top of a pillar (stylites); others condemned themselves to remain standing, in open air (stationaries); others shut themselves up in a cell so that they could not come out (recluses).

Not all these hermits were models of piety. History points out many abuses among them; but, considering everything, they remain one of the noblest examples of heroic asceticism the world has ever seen. Very many of them were saints. Doctors of the Church, like St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, belonged to their number; and we might also mention Sts. Epiphanius, Ephraem, Hilarion, Nilus, Isidore of Pelusium. We have no rule giving an account of their mode of life, though we may form an idea of it from their biographies, which are to be found in Palladius, “Historia Lausiaca”, P.L., XXXIV, 901-1262; Rufinus, “Historia Monachorum”, P. L., XXI, 387-461; Cassian, “Collationes Patrum; De Institutis coenobitarum“, P. L., IV; Theodoret, “Historia religiosa”, P. G., LXXXII, 1279-1497; and also in the “Verba Seniorum”, P. L., LXXIV, 381-843, and the “Apophthegmata Patrum”, P. G., LXV, 71-442.

The eremitic life spread to the West in the fourth century, and flourished especially in the next two centuries, that is to say, till experience had shown by its results the advantages of the cenobitic organisation. St. Gregory the Great, in his “Dialogues”, gives an account of the best-known solitaries of central Italy (P. L., LXXVII, 149-430). St. Gregory of Tours does the same for a part of France (Vitae Patrum), P. L. LXXI, 1009-97). Oftentimes those who helped most to spread the cenobitic ideal were originally solitaries themselves, for instance, St. Severinus of Norica and St. Benedict of Nursia. Monasteries frequently, though by no means always, sprang from the cell of a hermit, who drew a band of disciples around him. From the beginning of the seventh century, we meet with instances of monks who at intervals led an eremitic life. As an example we may cite St. Columbanus, St. Riquier, and St. Germer. Some monasteries had isolated cells close by, where those religious who were judged capable of living in solitude might retire. Such was especially the case at the monastery of Cassiodorus, at Viviers in Calabria, and the Abbey of Fontenelles, in the Diocese of Rouen. Those who felt the want of solitude were advised to reside near an oratory or a monastic church. The councils and the monastic rules did not encourage those who were desirous of leading an eremitic life.

The widespread relaxation of monastic discipline drove St. Odo, the great apostle of reform in the sixth century, into the solitude of the forest. The religious fervour of the succeeding age produced many hermits. But to guard against the serious dangers of this kind of life, monastic institutes were founded that combined the advantages of solitude with the guidance of a superior and the protection of a rule. Thus, for example, we had the Carthusians and the Camaldolese at Vallombrosa and Monte Vergine. Nevertheless there still continued to be a large number of isolated hermits, and an attempt was made to form them into congregations having a fixed rule and a responsible superior. Italy especially was the home of these congregations at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Some drew up an entirely new rule for themselves; others adapted the Rule of St. Benedict to meet their wants; while others again preferred to base their rule on that of St. Augustine. Pope Alexander IV united the last into one order, under the name of the Hermits of St. Augustine (1256). Three congregations of hermits were called after St. Paul, one formed in 1250 in Hungary, another in Portugal, founded by Mendo Gomez de Simbria, who died in 1481, and the third in France, established by Guillaume Callier (1620); these last hermits were known also by the name of the Brothers of Death. Eugene IV formed into a congregation, to be called after St. Ambrose, the hermits who dwelt in a forest near Milan (1441). We may mention also the Brothers of the Apostle (1484), the Colorites (1530), the Hermits of Monte Senario (1593), and those of Monte Luco, who were in Italy; those of Mont-Voiron, whose constitutions were drawn up by St. Francis de Sales; those of St-Sever, in Normandy, founded by Guillaume, who had previously been a Camaldolese; those of St. John the Baptist, in Navarre, approved by Gregory XIII; the hermits of the same name, founded in France by Michel de Sainte-Sabine (1630); those of Mont-Valérien, near Paris (seventeenth century); those of Bavaria, established in the Diocese of Ratisbon (1769). The Venerable Joseph Cottolengo founded a congregation of hermits in Lombardy in the middle of the nineteenth century. Some Benedictine monasteries had hermitages depending on them. Thus we have the case of St. William of the Desert (1330) and the hermits of Our Lady of Montserrat, in Spain. The latter were well known from the sixteenth century, from their connexion with García de Cisneris. They disappeared in the eighteenth century. At this present time there is a Lavra of hermits on a mountain near Cordova.

We see, therefore, that the Church has always been anxious to form the hermits into communities. Nevertheless, many preferred their independence and their solitude. They were numerous in Italy, Spain, France, and Flanders in the seventeenth century. Benedict XIII and Urban VIII took measures to prevent the abuses likely to arise from too great independence. Since then the eremitic life has been gradually abandoned, and the attempts made to revive it in the last century have had no success as yet.

Eremitic men and women are called by God to this vocation to live in solitude, embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In the Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, Saint Pope John Paul II describes this form of consecrated life in this way:

§7.  Men and women hermits, belonging to ancient Orders or new Institutions, or being directly dependent on the bishop, bear witness to the passing nature of the present age by their inward and outward separation from the world.  By fasting and penance, they show that man does not live by bread alone but by the Word of God (cf. Matthew 4:4).  Such a life “in the desert” is an invitation to their contemporaries and to the ecclesial community itself never to lose sight of the supreme vocation, which is to be always with the Lord.

The information here is purely empirical in essence and applies to catholics exploring a possible eremitic vocation. I can only write of my unique experience within my Diocese in England, and from the official information available to me.  For each person the ‘cammino’ toward eremitic life will be different; this article is not as comprehensive or orderly as I would like it to be and I have therefore added links, texts, book and recommendations that will hopefully help you further in your vocational journey.  I may therefore in future edit and/or change this document to keep you up to date.

Before we get down to the ‘nitty-gritty’ I must state that your vocational journey will be  worthless if at it’s genesis you do not consult at least with your Parish Priest or Spiritual Director, and more importantly (and at the right time) your Diocesan Bishop without who’s support you will not progress.  It is also important to note that each Diocesan Bishop has his own views on eremitic life and there are in fact some Dioceses that do  not have nor accept hermits and at times are suspicious and discourage eremitic vocations.

The summons to eremitic life for some is often a subtle discernment, an augmented predilection towards asceticism, a yearning to know and speak with God for the rest of your earthly life.  By its very nature, the call to eremitic life is an isolated and personalised call from God, it is unique to the individual one could say that the call to serve is ‘custom made’ just for you. So just as the Prophet Jeremiah was foreordained for his call by God, so are we if the call is genuine.  Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”( Jeremiah 1:5). God had to call Bro. Carlo Carretto PFJ twice and nearly got married before he headed the call. Read my book about his vocational journey in “Letters from the Desert.”

The vocation to the eremitic life is an ancient one, recently revived and recognised within the Church as a way of living out consecrated life as a solitary, anchorite, recluse or hermit. These words describe the person that is called to live the essence of this life, that is, life lived in the strictest seclusion from the world. Stricter seclusion is the distinguishing nature of this vocation, which are supported by the hermit’s continued and assiduous prayer and penance.

So a hermit is…? “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.” – Canon 603

For the diocesan hermits, the process is long and involved because it is a vocation lived out according to a rule of life created by the hermits that are approved by the bishops. A hermit typically begins by living a life of solitude under the direction of his spiritual director.   The hermit then needs to begin to discern whether he is called to this way of life, and if so, whether he will live privately as a hermit or will seek canonical status.  Over the course of a few years, it is recommended that he write out a rule of life. This rule of life is something which must be worked out by lived experience and specify exactly how the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and a life of solitude and penance are to be observed by the individual hermit. No two rules are identical as the circumstances of each hermit differ. In addition, details must be ironed out pertaining to practical matters such as medical insurance, financial support of the hermit and repairs to the hermitage, fuel and utility bills to name but a few (you see the diocese is not in any way obligated to give you any sort of fiscal support and therefore hermits typically will have a source of income compatible with their eremitic vocation).  As an example in 2015 St. Mary’s hermitage was set on fire by an arsonist and completely burned to the ground, only the chimney stack remained albeit at a precarious angle (the police were never able to ascertain the Arsonists reason, he was not known to me and had no connection to me), thankfully I escaped with only minor secondary burns to the head and hands causing some visible scarring, and the hermitage animals were the first I rescued then my chalice and I could not go back. My white habit now charred and torn.  Everything else was lost.  Luckily I was insured, unfortunately, insurance companies being insurance companies they only paid out 70% of the insurance value.  As at writing in November 2018 I have still not recovered all the things that were damaged.  So consider eventualities, be prepared, have contingencies in place.  My first year was something like a “preppers” apocalypse readiness exercise.  Ok, so I initially over-reacted (I’m ex military – so have a tendency to be over prepared at times), yet whilst I calmed down, the food preservation/storage has become part of my way of living and especially sustains me throughout winter as I live in a very rural area which in winter can become inaccessible for several weeks.

After living their rule of life with the adjustments that come from lived experiences, the hermits who feel they are called to become a diocesan hermit may petition the bishop to become a canon 603 hermit by application in writing to the Bishop. There is, par for the course, a period of reciprocal discernment between the hermit and their bishop, that is ‘if’ the bishop is open to the vocation.  The bishop could decide to allow the hermit to initially only make a temporary profession (not less than 3 years), and may eventually admit them to final profession if it is apparent that the candidate has an authentic vocation to the eremitic life and has adapted “converted” his life or her life.

One of the greatest elations and freedoms is that each hermit interprets the call to eremitic life in different and unique ways – it is intrinsically a call to “solitary life in the mindful presence of God”, despite that, there are also hermits who live in small communities, so even solitude is not always guaranteed.

As you may already have found out that the most basic part, is that to a certain point “you have to work it out for yourself” I believe that this is part of your journey.  Do not allow this to detract you from your call.  I have no desire to put you off, I’m only attempting to instil a sense of realism. You will experience stumbles along the way, things might not always unfurl quite as expected.  These stumbles are necessary.  It will take time — how long? I cannot say — I think the popular image that many people have in their mind about hermits is perhaps unrealistic as evidenced by my brother Justin’s reaction when I told him.  I do advise being unidealistic, keep a sense of excitement, and God willing, with His help “all things are possible”.  (Matthew 19:26)

With the bishop’s permission, a Deacon or priest can also become hermits.  It is extremely rare for priest to receive this permission to live out this particular vocation, but it does happen and I have three priest friends, who like myself, became hermits. It is important for the priest to remember that the life of the hermit is contemplative and will not involve an external ministry (but it can happen and is once again dependant on the bishop and the needs of the diocese) because essentially it is very similar to the life of the cloistered contemplative religious. (Strict enclosure is not required of hermits, merely “stricter separation from the world”.)

Usually a hermit has lived in stricter separation from the world for a few years before approaching the bishop about becoming a diocesan hermit. Creating and then adapting a rule of life based on the individual hermit’s lived experience is an essential component of this process and can take years to develop. Because the bishop is the hermit’s superior, not all bishops are ready to take on the responsibility of having a diocesan hermit in his diocese. While there is no typical time frame for a hermit to finally arrive at profession, many bishops would probably call for a minimum of at least 3-5 years of discernment. Many hermits have waited much longer than that for profession.  I was a diocesan priest for 12 years before I entered eremitic life and it therefore shortened the time, my bishop had known me for 7 years and I had worked with him on Diocesan ministries.  I was also able to tap into all the sources available to all catholics through their dioceses.  It took 13 months from my letter of intent to the bishop to my permanent profession, but admit over the years, I had discussed my intent with Bishop John on several occasions.

I found The Vocation to the Eremitic Life, by Sr. Marlene Weisenbeck, of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration very helpful.  This is a very hard to find book and took me several months to secure a copy.

HERMITS IN CANON LAW

Canon 603 from the Revised Code of Canon Law 1983 addresses the eremitical life:

Canon 603:

§1. In addition to institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognises 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 recognised in the law as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction.

We can simplify this with a non-canonical definition “that a hermit is a man or woman who lives alone expressly for the glory of God, the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Some hermits are consecrated by the Church in accordance with Canon 603 above and live their vocation in the name of the Church; some hermits live out their calling without publicly professing their commitment in the hands of the diocesan bishop.”

THE THEOLOGICAL IDENTITY OF THE VOCATION:

From the text of the canon one may draw particular elements of the theological nature of this particular vocation to a consecrated life in the Church. It is:

    • a life devoted to the praise of God and the salvation of the world
    • a life dedicated through public profession of the evangelical counsels
    • a life of assiduous prayer
    • a life of penance
    • a life lived in the silence of solitude, more strictly withdrawn from the world.

A “Desert Spirituality” involves accepting the poverty of one’s own heart, allowing oneself to be led by Jesus through His Word and the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. It is a call to continuing conversion, a way of discovering the forgiving and healing love of the Father, and of entering more deeply into union with Him.

The teaching of St. Peter Damian is important for understanding the solitary communion of the hermit with the entire Church. The prayer of the hermit cannot be strictly solitary; while physically isolated, the hermit is fully present to the Church. Damian called the hermit a minor ecclesia, a Church in miniature, in communion with all of its members. The life is a radical choice of God and a life of radical solidarity with all of humanity.

THE JURIDIC IDENTITY OF THE VOCATION:

The canon isolates a very specific form of hermit vocation. It is:

    • an individual form of consecrated life
    • a life consecrated through public profession of the counsels received by the Diocesan Bishop – a life lived according to an approved eremitic Plan of Life, under the direction of the Diocesan

THE BISHOP.

The canon deliberately does not deal with members of religious congregations who receive permission from their superiors to live a solitary life, nor does it deal with communities aspiring to become religious institutes according to a traditional semi-eremitic Rule. Likewise, the canon does not deal with individuals who privately undertake a solitary way of life, but who do not seek this recognition by the Church.

There is no established Rite for receiving the vows (or other sacred bonds) of a hermit. A formula, using elements analogous to profession formulae for institutes of consecrated life, should be included in the Plan of Life. It seems reasonable that a hermit would profess temporary vows for a period of years, prior to making a perpetual profession.

A Lavra or Laura from the Greek Λαύρα; is a category of monastery consisting of a cluster of cells or caves for hermits, with a church and sometimes a refectory at the centre. A term frequently used within the Orthodox and other Eastern Christian traditions. The term is also used by some Roman Catholic communities such as the Order of Carmelites: Hermitical Communities. A Lavra (colony) of hermits can be approved under canon 603, as distinct from a religious  community. The Lavra follows the ancient tradition of Egypt and Palestine where the hermits live in separate solitary hermitages around a Chapel and Central House. The Greek term Lavra comes from the word ‘alley, avenue or path’ which connect the hermits’ cells with the Church, central building and other cells. In order to live their individual solitude, such hermits commonly gather only once each day for the celebration of Eucharist. Once a week they may gather for solemn First Vespers and on Sunday for Lauds, Eucharist, a meal and sharing or as with the Carthusians “Spatiamentum” where the monks take part in an extended walk lasting three or four hours. During the walk they talk freely and therefore allowing a type of fraternal sharing between the monks. The spatiamentum further provides physical space and exercise. The hermit life is lived by each person in an individual and solitary way, yet there is a communion, which builds among them.

THE PASTORAL CONSIDERATIONS:

1.  What is motivating the candidate toward an eremitic vocation of solitude and silence?

    • Love of God and desire to donate self completely to God?
    • Desire to live in the heart and mystery of the Church?
    • Desire to embrace the suffering of God’s people throughout the world in solitary prayer
    • Desire and readiness for detachment toward simplicity of life?
    • What discernment has already taken place?

2.  What is the level of psychological and spiritual maturity?

    • The age often suggested is 30+, but chronological age does not guarantee the maturity required for a solitary life.
    • The candidate should already have experience with spiritual direction, being open to the Spirit and to direction.
    • Has there been growth in relationship with God, in a deepening prayer life, and increasing call to the solitude of a desert spirituality?
    • What is the sacramental practice of the candidate?
    • Does the candidate demonstrate a capacity to imbibe the Word of God? Is there experience in the process of Lectio Divina? Is there some solid background for praying with the Scriptures?
    • Has there been experience in communal living?
    • Is there familiarity with classic authors on the solitary life?
    • Is there evidence of the “silent preaching” of Him to whom the hermit’s life is given? (CCC 921)

3. Is there readiness to begin articulation of a Rule of Life for the Bishop’s approval?

Although each will be proper to the individual, elements would include:

    • A personal understanding of the elements of a consecrated hermit life, reflecting the basic content of c. 603
    • An articulation of how poverty, chastity and obedience are understood and how they will be lived
    • The hermit’s view of his/her relationship with the Bishop, the Church and the world.
    • A daily rhythm of life including prayer (liturgical and personal), work and rest.
    • Provision for spiritual direction.
    • Protection of solitude and projected frequency and reasons for needing to leave the hermitage.

4. Has sufficient consideration been given to practical questions such as:

      • a suitable place to live which allows for silence and solitude, away from the noise and confusion of city life. A dwelling should be simple but have the basic necessities of life. The question of “urban hermits” remains debated. The location should be reasonably safe.
      • availability of sacramental life: daily Eucharistic liturgy, regular access to the sacrament of Reconciliation and to spiritual direction.
      • the hermit life is lived by each in an individual and solitary way, yet there is a communion, which builds among them.
      • the possibility of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the hermitage, or, availability of a Church or chapel to which the hermit could readily have access for Eucharistic adoration.
      • a means of financial support. Can work be done in the heritage? If the candidate is leaving the solitude of the hermitage in order to go out to work, he/she should be working toward a work situation where this would no longer be necessary.  Is the work contemplative? Are there donations, pensions or inheritances available to support? Are there benefactors? n.b.: Even if the hermit has adequate means of support, some form of physical work is an imperative toward balance in a life of solitary prayer.  To that extent they engage in some kind of manual work, crafts, computer work, writing, or other occupations compatible with the silence of the hermitage and their primary task which is prayer. The hermitage or hermit’s dwelling is the sacred place of communion with God where the hermit prays, works, studies and reflects, plays, rests, and lives in solitude.
      • provisions for health, building and content insurance. Can the hermit afford this? Is the bishop willing to include the hermit on the diocesan plan, in conformity with diocesan policies. The bishop has no financial responsibility toward the hermit, but may be prepared to contribute to some extent; personally I have found that this is quite dependant on the good will of the bishop but mainly upon diocesan finances. (I was lucky that I was working within the diocese at the time, the diocesan finances were financially sound, and the bishop being from a religious order fully supported me with regard to insurance).
      • a Last Will and Testament should be drawn up as well as a Living Will/Power of Attorney according to your country’s laws. A copy of these should be kept on file at the Diocesan offices.

RELATED CONTEMPORARY QUESTIONS:

1. Transfers to/from Religious Life. A religious in an institute which does not have a tradition allowing for eremitic life, is sometimes allowed by legitimate superiors to have a gradual experience of a more solitary life. If there is serious consideration of transferring to the life of a consecrated hermit, contact with the bishop should be begun. At first there might be permission of absence from the religious institute, then exclaustration and finally there would be an indult of departure, juridically separating the religious from the institute in order to profess vows as a hermit. In some cases, a process analogous to a transfer might be used, following canon 684 §5 which refers certain transfers to the Apostolic See. A hermit wishing to enter religious life would need to follow the usual norms for admission, while adaptations provided for in law might be used in the period of formation.

2. Aggregation to a Religious Order: Although a hermit, as envisioned by canon 603, you may have a spiritual affinity with a particular Order’s saints and spirituality, aggregation to the Order would not in keeping with the individual vocation of the hermit who depends on the diocesan bishop. Aggregation is a canonical structure providing for affiliation between two autonomous institutes.

3. Use of a habit. Although hermits, under canon 603, are not religious, it is not unusual for them to use a monastic type habit, according to circumstances.

Desert Spirituality” necessitates assuming the poverty within one’s own heart, allowing one to be led by Jesus through His Word and the gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is a vocation to one’s continuing conversion, a way of discovering the forgiving and healing love of the Father, and of entering more deeply into union with Him.

The teaching of St. Pietro Damiani is important for understanding the solitary communion of the hermit with the entire Church. The prayer of the hermit cannot be strictly solitary; while physically isolated, the hermit is fully present to the Church. Damiani called the hermit a minor ecclesia, the miniature church, in communion with universal church. The life is a fundamental choice of God and a life of rigorous unanimity with all of humanity.

The bishop will expect you to have written a “Rule of Life” for yourself before accepting your vows. Write this after prayer and contemplation.  Always allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. (John 16:13)

If you consider becoming a “canonical” hermit by “religious profession” of the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience ensure you are fully informed as to what this entails.  The evangelical counsels are ideals to live up to, and it is likely that at times we will fail to do so. We do not have to be perfect in our living of the evangelical counsels to make the step of trying to live them day by day, publicly or privately. All we are asked to do is to have an open heart to try and live them as best as we can, and God will do the rest.

I live a very simple, quiet (as far as possible for an academic), solitary life without drawing attention to myself. The invitation to live poor, chaste and obedient is not restricted to religious and clergy. All Jesus’ followers are invited to adopt these principles in whatever way is appropriate to them. The evangelical counsels are recommended for all the baptised. Both the 1983 Code of Canon Law (§207 n. 2) and the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church (§873) remind us that within both the clergy and the laity ‘There are members of the Christian faithful from both these groups who, through the profession of the evangelical counsels by means of vows or other sacred bonds recognised and sanctioned by the Church, are consecrated to God in their own special way and contribute to the salvific mission of the Church; although their state does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, it nevertheless belongs to its life and holiness.’ The Catechism states that those who profess the evangelical counsels publicly within a permanent state of life recognised by the Church live a consecrated life. So it can be said that, even though they are not religious, in making the profession proper to a Religious Order, they consecrate their lives to God as a deepening of their baptismal commitment.

THE PLAN OR RULE OF LIFE

Your Rule does not make you a hermit but it is the instrument by which the solitary journey may be taken.  A good and sustainable Rule needs to be crafted from your heart and must allow you to grow.  My own call to eremitic life was not my giving up being a diocesan priest for a new job as a hermit.  To me it was simply a natural progression because I had grown spiritually as a priest and had attained a deeper understanding of the contemplative state which began to flourish when I came into contact with the Camaldoli and Carthusians in Italy.  The Carthusians had a great influence for me, they through the Holy Spirit had touched my soul in a way that I could not ignore.  Therefore my Rule is grounded in the Carthusian Consuetudines and I used the original ancient version (obviously some adaptations were required).  The text was officially adopted by the Carthusians in 1128 a.d.

Because I am a priest, the fundamentals of a vowed life are not in my Rule because they are automatically assumed.  As a priest I had already made binding vows which cannot be dissolved “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.’” (Psalm 110:4).  The vows I had made at my ordination to the presbyterate were celibacy, obedience to the bishop and simplicity of lifestyle that is to say live a modest and simple life by abstaining from unnecessary extravagances. I eventually took this one step further and own nothing at all of my own but all I owned has been gifted to the hermitage as a trust which I can use and have all been bequeathed to the Carthusian Order upon my demise.

The rule I wrote is extremely lengthy, I would therefore like to direct you to an example of a diocesan hermit rule written in 2002 by a hermit nun at Emmanuel Hermitage in the United States from a redemptorist background which I hope would give you an idea.  I chose to share her rule because I found it comprehensive, without peculiarities and to me seems to be sound for her vocation which for an initial enquirer is more informative.

It must be your guide to daily living.  It must be of use, rather than cumbersome or elaborate.  Some hermits use a modified monastic rule, others like myself use a rule from a religious order to which they feel an association with.  Rules can short comprising of only a few paragraphs, look at St Francis’s Rule for hermits or St. Romuald’s Brief Rule and you will see how short they are.  Yet Canon Law does have certain requirements in the Rules for diocesan hermits.  Your rule should evince the nature and quality of your vocation within the diocese and it should guide and inspire an authentic eremitic life.

Be very cautious not to write something too rigid, whilst my Rule is very austere I know that it functions perfectly well as it has been tried and tested for nearly 900 years.  Remember when writing your Rule, that beside the religious obligations you will also have domestic obligations, and unless you have lay staff who assist you as in my case,  I have an administrative assistant and hermitage guardian, you will need to do your own shopping, maintenance, washing and cleaning.  This needs to be factored into your Horarium (My Horarium).  There is need for flexibility so that as unplanned situations arise you will be able to deal with them. I would suggest that you begin to create your Rule and Horarium when your first begin Hermitage, that way you will be able to tweak anything that conflicts or does not work.  Personally the only thing in my horarium that I do not comprise in any way or form are times of prayer and worship, whilst the other events are somewhat fluid, occasionally I will do some gardening instead or reading or studying.  Ensure you include: The Holy Eucharist, Self denial & penance, Study of Scripture and Prayer.  Your rule should cover all these elements:

    • Canon Law which is specific to the eremitic vocation.
    • A brief history and theology of eremitic life, its place in the church and its importance to the world specifically in this day and age.
    • A theology of the vows you intend to make, the form of words proposed for the vow and how these vows will be lived generally and specifically.
    • Provisions for: Study, ongoing formation, spiritual direction, retreats and desert days.
    • Any affiliations with monasteries, religious orders, the predominant spirituality.
    • The place and nature of hospitality (unless your charism is Carthusian in essence).
    • Your work, how often, what type and where.
    • Future provisions, earnings, finances, burial, insurance.
    • Prayer.
    • Any ministry that you will undertake, is it inside or outside of the hermitage.
    • The relationship with the parish, diocese including you participation in the parish and how this will be done.  Your relationship with the bishop and the place  (and person) of his representatives, diocesan delegates and the nature and frequency of this contact.
    • Your Horarium specifying how your day will unfold, rising, meals, prayer, lectio, work, ministry, recreation, chores, hours of rest and sleep (do remember that if you are ill with a chronic Illness (I have RA and Aspergers on the high end of the spectrum) it is advisable to mention this somewhere at the beginning of your Rule taking note that these will require flexibility in your horarium.  Do not be idealistic copying what another hermit is doing or is capable of, this is about you and what is possible and judicious for you. 

Nevertheless as I stated previously you will make errors (you are allowed to make errors) and that way you will be able to adjust accordingly, remember you have a spiritual director and diocesan clergy who can advise and help you.  Do not just cover the essentials of the Rule or Life, it must also inspire and guide you so that you can live it with integrity whilst being flexible where permitted.  

There may be some toing and froing before it is just right.  Once your bishop has approved the rule you will receive a “Bishop’s Declaration of Approval” and it becomes canonically binding on the hermit on the day they make their profession.  The document become to all appearances a public document representing the solitary eremitic life as the church understands and therefore validates it.  Remember that other may draw inspiration from your Rule in the future.

MISCONCEPTION ABOUT EREMITIC LIFE

The biggest misconception is that people seem to think that hermits are hater of mankind who are cynics, sceptics, churly, ill-bred, grouchy, grumpy and therefore hide away from everyone; yet our life is not like this at all because of our love for God, and not because we cannot get along with other people, or dislike people.

Eremitic life is a calling from God which encompasses our love for others. This is not to say that all hermits are friendly and outgoing – being friendly and outgoing are a matter of temperament – but it is to say that hermits in a healthy and Christian sense do not, indeed cannot, “dislike mankind” which is the very definition of misanthropy.

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY – HERMITS

    • Allchin, A.M. (ed.) “Solitude and Communion: Papers on the Hermit Life.” Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press, l977.
    • Domingo-Javier Andrés Gutiérrez “Proyecto de estatutos diocesanos para los ermitaños de la iglesia Particular” Comentario aplicativo al can. 603 del CIC
    • Bamberg, Anne. “Ermite reconnu par l’Eglise” Vie Consacrée 74/2 (mars-avril, 2002) 104-117.
    • Beyer, Jean. “Verso un nuovo Diritto degli Istituti di Vita Consacrata.” Milano: Ancora, l976.
    • Le Droit de la Vie Consacrée: Normes Communes. Paris: Tardy, l988, pp. 137-147.
    • Comité Canonique Français des Religieux. Vie Religieuse, Erémitisme, Consécration des Vierges, Communautés Nouvelles. Paris : Cerf, l993.
    • Comentario aplicativo al can. 603 del CIC.” CpR 65 (l986) 185-248.
    • Coutumes de Chartreuse de Guigues Ier Le Chartreux; Collection Sources chrétiennes – N° 313
    • Groves. Richard F. “Hermits and Consecrated Virgins” Current Issues. CLSA Proceedings 46 (l984) 141-48.
    • Hermits of Bethelem. “A Way of Desert Spirituality.” New York : Alba House, l998. (Plan of Life of the Hermits of Bethlehem, Pleasant Hill Rd., Box 315, Chester, New Jersey, 07930, USA.)
    • Ed. Italiano, Una Spiritualità del Deserto, Milano: San Paolo, 2000.
    • Holland, Sharon. “The Eremitical Life” Signum (16 January 1997) 22-29.
    • Le Clercq, J. “L’érémitisme aujourd’hui” Christus (April, l985).
    • Mac Donald, Helen L. “Hermits: The Juridical Implications of Canon 603.” Studia canonica 26 (l992) 163-189.
    • Russell, Kenneth C. “Must Hermits Work?” Review for Religious 59 (2000) 156-174. 
    • Russel, Kenneth C. “Being a Hermit: Where and How?” Review for Religious 60 (2001) 365-376.
    • Sastre Santos, E. “La Vida Eremitica diocesana forma de vida Consacrada, Variaciones sobre el can. 603.” Commentarium pro Religiosis, 68 (l987) 99-124 ; 245-67 ; 331-58 ; 69 (l988) 145-170 ; 307-312 ; 70 (l989) 89-189.
    • Sastre Santos, E. “Nota sobra las fuentes añadidas al Codigo del l983” Apollinaris 62 (l989) 541-557. 
    • Shaw, Gilbert. “The Christian Solitary”. Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press, l969.
    • A Monk “The Hermitage Within: Spirituality of the Desert” (trans. by Alan Neame; Cisterian Abbey, Sparta, Wisconsin)
    • Rinere, Joyce. “Treasures in Earthen Vessels: The Vows” (NY, Alba House, 1984)
    • Wagner, Elizabeth. “Eremitism in the Church.” Review for Religious 46 (l987) 582-89.
    • Wilms, Cecilia W. “Solitude and Union: a Select Bibliography on the Hermit Way of Life” Cistercian Studies Quarterly, 31 (l996) 431-457.

Author: dom.Ugo-Maria

Catholic Priest - Hermit of Carthusian Charism, following the early and stricter Coutumes de Chartreuse (Rule) written about 1121-1128 written by Guigues du Chastel the 5th prior and Father General of Grande Chartreuse. Served as a curate and priest in Ireland for a while then moving to Devon as Parish Priest. A spell as Prison Chaplain and then Chaplain to the Railways (SouthEastern). Then a few years as a Diocesan Administrator, Vicar Forane, Vicar General and called as a Bishop (which I turned down). In the past I served as an officer in HM Armed Forces, lectured at Oxford, and teacher at the Royal School for Deaf children in Margate (now closed), for a spell (13 months) run an NHS hospital where I quickly realised that if you have no medical background and tend to use spreadsheets to reach a decision then you should not be running a hospital. Now I serve as Prior to the Hermits of Saint Bruno at St. Mary's Hermitage near Canterbury in Kent. I write on the Eremitic way of life although sometimes I tend to broach other subjects of interest, and occasionally undertake translations for Bishop Alistair from English to Italian. My life as a contemplative is extremely fulfilling and busy and I no longer have a public ministry which I occasionally miss especially the out-reach ministry. I also enjoy gardening on the hermitage grounds and as most gardeners will know its a never ending task, albeit quite rewarding. The hermitage also has some other residents, there is the hermitage guardian who is a layman who lives in rooms at the front of our hermitage and acts as a barrier/intermediary with the outside world; there is Jules a 4 year old Staffordshire terrier, who seems to know the Monastic Horarium and occasionally acts as a prompt, Augustus the tom cat who is 1 year old now and spends most of his time in the fields surrounding us catching moles, mice and rabbits (not so keen on birds) or in my cell when it gets too hot outside (he occasionally assist in writing my articles - having adopted the habit of falling asleep at my desk, occasionally waking and hitting the keyboard with his paw), Buffy who is 25 years old and Terra, her daughter who is 24 years old, female cats that were with me when I was parish priest at St. John Bosco's in Barnstaple. The two hens Hildegard (von Bingen) and Rosaline (of Villeneuve) who provide the eggs that we need, and then there is Topo Gigio a mouse who lives in one of our outhouses who is not scared of cats or people, can be quite vocal if you upset him by encroaching although quite frankly is no bother at all which is why he has been left alone. We currently also have 6 sheep outside in the field (not ours) but they do keep the grass cut. We are fortunate to have several fruit trees, Apples, Plums, Cherries, Pears, and 2 fig plants which I brought back from Sicily, quite a few herbs: mint, St. John's-wort, basil, chives, garlic, oregano, lemon balm, sage, chamomile, bay, echinacea, coriander, feverfew, lavender, valerian, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, cilantro and others, there are also many flowers, too many to list. My interests are mediaeval church & monastic history, ancient liturgies, the Old Catholic Movement, Nicene and post Nicene Fathers, Desert Fathers and Mothers and Carthusian history. I also speak Italian and German, Latin, Catalan, Sicilian and French although am rusty with some.

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