27 May 2014

Catholic Hermits vs Episcopal Solitaries: the Same Thing?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, are the Catholic Hermit and the Episcopal Solitary the same things?]]

What a terrific question!  Until recently I have thought they were because the couple of Episcopal solitaries I know use the term hermit in an interchangeable way to indicate the similarity of our lives. More, they live in the same kind of situations most diocesan hermits do with a focus on the silence of solitude, prayer, penance, etc. However, I am not really certain that the two things are identical, partly because I don't know the canon which governs the life, and partly because, despite similarities, the word "solitary" and the word "hermit" are different in some ways.

You see, the term hermit means a "desert dweller" and while this implies (or in canon 603 explicitly requires) a solitary life, it also implies much more besides. It is not enough to simply live alone and do as one pleases. That is why canon 603 spells out the requirements of this way of life in terms of stricter withdrawal, assiduous prayer and penance, the silence of solitude, the evangelical counsels, Rule, supervision of Bishop, etc. Neither does canon 603 govern the life of a religious who simply doesn't live in or belong to a religious community but may also live a ministerial or apostolic life. Such a religious might be a "solitary religious" but she would be no hermit. Perhaps it is the case in the Episcopal church that solitary refers more to "solitary religious" and means a religious without a religious congregation than it does to one living "the silence of solitude." I really don't know and until recently had not even considered this might be the case.

One thing this underscores for me is the wisdom of canon 603 and the importance of the non-negotiable elements which qualify and define the solitary life it calls for. Similarly the choice of "the silence of solitude" as the central and (I would argue) charismatic element of the canon rather than simply "silence and solitude" or even just "solitude" becomes much clearer as I consider your question. In any case, again, I don't know the answer to your question and will try to find out for you.

Postscript: I was reading the Rule of Rev Susan Creighton yesterday and discovered that she was professed in the early 2000's as a solitary (anchorite) in the Episcopal Church under a canon (Canon 14) which does indeed cover "exceptional cases" and so, religious or priests who are not part of a community. Thus, she was professed under a canon which does NOT specifically describe an eremitical life. Instead the canon is much more general and allows a Bishop to profess someone who really does not fit the usual canonical categories. While Rev Creighton's life closely resembles that of a canon 603 hermit in the Roman Catholic Church (in fact, I believe she has used canon 603 as a guide for her own life in some ways), and while some Episcopal Bishops may require that those they profess also embrace such a desert life, there seems to be no specific canon defining the solitary eremitical life as such within the Episcopal Church. In other words, this canon is used for solitary religious or consecrated persons, but not necessarily for desert dwellers. It is not normative of eremitical life in the same way canon 603 is.