18 May 2008

More questions: Canonical Status, may a Bishop insist one make vows according to Canon 603?

I received a couple of related questions from someone confused by something they read from a non-canonical hermit online. Because I have already dealt with these issues generally (Canonical consecration vs non-canonical dedication) elsewhere in some depth, I am sharing the things that concerned the reader and answering them again, though I think in less depth; still, I apologize for any redundancy here. One question in particular, however, was completely new and somewhat disturbing in its implications, so readers will find this covers new ground. The questions were as follows:

[[I read in another hermit's blog that the church considers a hermit with private vows part of the consecrated state, and that the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly and simply says this. The blogger indicated there was no real distinction between private and public consecration. Because of this he also claimed that Canon 603 was optional and that he could make vows in the hands of his Bishop without it. Are these things true? I ask because you have written about differences in the past. Also, there was a reference to the person's Bishop insisting that the blogger make vows under canon 603, though he was resisting the idea and had told him he was clear he was called to remain other than a canon 603 hermit. Is it possible for a Bishop to do this?}}

Assuming you have quoted accurately, the first statement is not strictly true. While it is true a person may privately consecrate (or better, dedicate) themselves to God and thus live a life which is privately set apart for God as a hermit, they do not become part of the consecrated state in so doing; they remain in the lay state. That is, the Church does not "raise" the person (sorry, but as I have said before, that's the verb used most often) to the consecrated state as is done in perpetual public vows. As I have noted before, what both the Catechism of the Catholic Church states and the revised Code of Canon Law makes very clear is that admission to the consecrated state requires public profession of vows. However, the paragraph from the Catechism being referred to in your question is somewhat ambiguous because it is listed under the heading "the Consecrated Life." Still, the entire section begins by pointing out that admission to the consecrated state is by public vow (CCC 915b refers to admission by vow to a permanent state of life; cf Code of Canon Law below).

What I think the authors of the catechism also wished to indicate in the paragraphs your question referred to (probably CCC 920-921), is that a serious eremitical life dedicated to God as a specification of one's baptismal consecration, can be lived whether one enters the consecrated state or not. That is part of the reason for saying, "while not always making public profession of the evangelical counsels. . ." (Another reason, however, is that diocesan hermits MAY publicly make other than vows per se.) Any ambiguities are largely cleared up if one reads these paragraphs in context, and also if one reads the Code of Canon Law on the matter. That is especially true of Canon 603 sec 2 " A hermit is recognized in law as one dedicated to God if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop and observes his or her plan of life under his direction."

As far as your second question then, Canon 603 is not optional if one wishes to be canonically or publicly professed and consecrated as a hermit by the Church and become a member of the consecrated state of life. Neither is it one option among others if one is going therefore to publicly assume the rights and responsibilities of such a state or live the eremitical life in the name of the Church. If one makes private vows in the presence of a Bishop (which is NOT the same as doing so "in the hands" of one's Bishop) that is similar to making private vows in the presence of any other priest or one's spiritual director. What makes the vows PUBLIC is the fact that the Bishop legally/canonically admits the person to such profession, and accepts these vows as public in the name of the Church. In the rite of (religious) profession in such an instance he also affirms the hermit in this specific charism, chooses her for this consecration and, after receiving her vows prays the prayer of consecration over her, again all in the name of the Church. Because one makes such vows in his hands, he (and his successors and designees) become the hermit's legitimate superiors (or superiors in law). In this way a mutual relationship is set up in law between hermit and Bishop and this is indicated by the phrase "in his hands." The hermit acquires a new standing in law which is not done in private vows. All this pomp and ceremony is thus not merely a way of celebrating the same thing as private dedication and vows --- only just more elaborately. Instead it says that something different is happening here than happens when a private person (even a Bishop!) receives private vows or witnesses someone making a private dedication of self to God.

If one is a complete neophyte hermit, or contemplating becoming one, and is still considering how to live out one's baptismal consecration then in this very limited sense one can say canon 603 is an option (or, more accurately, a potential one since others must also discern such a vocation for canon 603 to actually come into play). Also, if one has lived as a non-canonical hermit for some period of time one might discern one is called to canonical consecration (or at least that one thinks one is, since again mutual discernment is involved in this); in such a case canon 603 remains an option which could be pursued. Perhaps this is what your blogger meant. But if he stated or implied that private vows and public vows are completely equal options, both functioning in precisely the same way in admitting to the consecrated state, then no, he was in error.

I suppose it is easy to make mistakes on these differences (especially given the ambiguity of the Catechism when taken out of context, and given the two distinct meanings of the term "consecrated life"). That is especially true if one ignores the glossary to the CCC (cf "consecrated life"), or the more specific Code of Canon Law on the necessary relation between public vows and the consecrated state. Your last question, however, refers to a much more serious and misleading matter which is not subject to linguistic ambiguity or confusion. Let me be clear: NO ONE IN THE CHURCH MAY INSIST THAT A PERSON MAKE VOWS under canon 603, or any other canon or set of canons. The idea that a Bishop would "insist" when, as you say, the individual claimed to not want or feel called to such profession or consecration is nonsensical, and of course, any vows made in such a case would be invalid (cc 573.2), not to mention a travesty. Vows are not thrust upon a person, nor can one be obliged in obedience to make vows. The entire idea misunderstands the theology of vocation and profession underlying them which requires the individual call be freely (not to mention clearly) heard, freely mediated by the Church, and freely accepted and embraced in a sense of certainty by ALL PARTIES INVOLVED that this is where and HOW God himself is calling the one concerned .

I admit to feeling pretty strongly about this matter because I occasionally hear stories from hermits who, despite being clear that they ARE CALLED TO THIS SPECIFIC CONSECRATION, are denied or postponed admission to Canon 603 profession simply because it is still relatively new, the diocese does not want responsibility for such an arrangement, or because they don't see the need for canonical profession or question the validity of the eremitical life more generally. (I am not referring to those not admitted because the diocese involved decides they are not actually called or have other substantive valid reasons.) Thus, to hear in light of this, that someone has suggested that their Bishop might INSIST they be professed under Canon 603 when they claim to have a different (e.g, a non-canonical eremitical) vocation and not want this for themselves is really problematical and disturbing. This is especially true when the charism of the diocesan hermit may differ in some ways from that of the non-canonical hermit. Were it true that someone was professed because their Bishop wanted it when they really did not, it would also be scandalous to those witnessing the vows. However, I don't believe for a moment any competent Bishop would do such a thing. Instead, (and again I am assuming the questioner has cited the person accurately), it would seem to me that whoever stated this has either misunderstood the situation vis a vis his Bishop, or, for some other subjective reason has seriously misspoken and mischaracterized the objective situation.

One final comment. As I have written here before, Hermits may clearly be non-canonical or canonical and whichever form of the life one is actually called to is meant to be a blessing to the church in its own way. One hopes anyone would be able to come to terms with the unique way God is calling him or her. Both forms of eremitism are significant vocations and should be esteemed. However, one does not do this by blurring the distinctions which do exist between the two. For instance, private consecration allows the non-canonical hermit to remain solidly amidst the laity and signals clearly how silence, solitude, prayer, and penance are important in the life of every person in the church. It also witnesses to the need for any adult to make more specific their own baptismal commitment and consecration. Public consecration as a diocesan hermit can and should witness in this way too (afterall, it is a public vocation despite its hiddenness), but it is also apt to speak more clearly to monastics and religious of these things, and call others to consider the consecrated state as a possible vocation. Both forms however, are characterized by greater separation from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and thus are similar gifts to the church.