11 December 2008

Diocesan Hermits and Lay Hermits, Once Again

[[ Are diocesan hermits lay hermits? I read recently that they were.]]

Hi, thanks for the question. I have answered it (at least indirectly) several times here, and will do so briefly again. Do check other posts on this matter (see the tags at the bottom of the post). Also, I hope that I can include a bit of new information which explains how confusion can arise. The short answer though is no, they are not.

The longer answer goes a little like this. By diocesan hermits I am referring to those who have been perpetually professed under Canon 603 and consecrated in that rite of profession. Consecration in such circumstances initiates one into or "raises one" to the consecrated state (again apologies, but this use of raises is the verb most often used; I prefer initiates one into, but this is something I am trying on for size and there may be a better term without the elitist conntations of "raised"). As the Church affirms in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the consecrated state is per se, neither clerical nor lay even though some members may ALSO be clerics. Now it is true that other and earlier church documents (especially from Vatican II) use a different schema: clerical or lay. Using THIS schema religious life is lay life because it is not clerical. However, since 1983 the schema we are using recognizes the consecrated state as neither lay nor clerical, and this means that all forms of consecrated life [religious, eremitical (Canon 603), consecrated virginity (Canon 604)] are not lay.

Eremitical life may therefore be lay or consecrated. That is, one may make private vows (or other commitments) and live one's eremitical life as a lay person, or one may make public vows and be subject to the ecclesial consecration associated with the consecrated state. There are positive and negative aspects to either arrangement, and despite huge overlaps in the life's nature ( a life of greater separation from the world, silence, solitude, prayer and penance), there are differences in witness, accountability, expectations, and charism. Diocesan hermits, however, are not laity or "lay hermits," but instances and representatives of the consecrated state of life. At the same time, diocesan hermits are not religious in the sense that they are not vowed within a community even if they come together to support one another in a Laura or Lavra. (Canonists call them religious however, and note that this word now applies to those without a link to a community or congregation. cf Handbook on Canons 573-746). Thus, it seems to me that it would be a mistake to call them lay hermits simply because they are not religious in the former sense (or clerics usually). I suspect that what you read was a statement by someone using the older or alternate schema instead of the one represented in the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law.

Hope this helps.