07 June 2014

Followup on the Paradox of Canon 603

[[Sister Laurel, are you saying in your post on the paradox of canon 603 [Paradox of Canon 603that lay or non-canonical hermits should  have the same kinds of structure built into their own lives as canonical hermits? I don't mean they should exist in law (de jure) but that they should have people who fill roles similar to those your Bishop and delegate fill for you?]]

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. I don't know anyone, especially those trying to live contemplative lives in the depths of both their own heart and God's own heart who can do this without the checks and balances provided by relationships like those with a spiritual director, pastor, friends, and church more generally. It becomes even more important for those proposing to go off on their own in relative isolation from others. As Dom Jean LeClercq (20C.) notes in Chapter III of Alone With God, [[There must be a vocation. To recognize it, we must know what it is not. The illusion of false vocations is by no means unreal.]] Nor are these less unreal in our own century!

Even with authentic and carefully discerned and formed vocations one piece of wisdom the Church has shown for centuries in her approach to actual recluses is that they are only allowed within certain established Orders or Congregations --- and those with a healthy and long eremitical history. The vocation is encouraged in these congregations, as are other forms of greater solitude which do not rise to the level of actual reclusion, but those allowed to become recluses are "vetted" for spiritual as well as psychological health and maturity. The actual call to reclusion is mutually discerned with the leadership of these congregations according to guidelines established in their own proper law. In the Camadolese constitutions part of the section on reclusion reads:

By the unity of faith and charity, the recluse remains in community with his fellow monks and with all: "The Church is at the same time one in all and all in each; simple in plurality by the unity of faith, multiple by the bond of charity and the variety of gifts; because from the One come all" (St Peter Damian's letter #28 sometimes called "Dominus Vobiscum", section 11) . . .The prior is to prudently ascertain whether the monk who requests this permission has the necessary human, psychological, and spiritual maturity. 

The experience of reclusion shall be granted at first for determined, brief periods of time; however, the reclusion can be suspended when the recluse or the prior finds there are legitimate motives for doing so. The prior shall show fatherly concern for the recluse by assisting him with frequent personal visits and guaranteeing him the necessary quiet. For his part, the recluse must know he remains always united to the father of the community by obedience. Constitutions and Declarations of the Camaldolese Congregation of the Order of Saint Benedict pp 25-26

In the history of eremitical life Paul Giustiniani (Camaldolese) once determined that because the Church had changed her own praxis regarding reception of the Sacraments and participation in ecclesial life solitary eremitical life could no longer be considered legitimate. Dom Jean LeClercq cites Giustiniani: [[The second kind of hermits are those who, after probation in the cenobitic life, after pronouncing the three principal vows and being professed under an approved Rule [note well the structure and formation required here], leave the monastery and withdraw to live all alone in solitude. . .Such a life. . . is more perfect than the cenobitic but also much more perilous. It permits no companionship but requires that each be self-suficient. Therefore it is no longer permitted in our day. The Church now orders us to hear Mass often, to make our confession, and to receive Communion. None of those can be done alone.]] LeClercq, Alone With God, "Forms of Hermit Life"

Instead Giustiniani called for the establishment of lauras of hermits, colonies of hermits whose individual hermitages were linked by paths (hence the name lauras) whereby the dangers of solitary eremitical life could be avoided and the benefits of community (including Rule, superiors, vows, liturgy, etc) could be shared. Centuries before, the Camaldolese founder, St Romuald, traveled around the countryside where, according to the sound of some accounts, he found "hermits" behind every bush or in every cave mostly doing their own thing without benefit of Rule, vows, or superior (mentor, director, etc). He was appalled by what he found, not only because of laxness or its similarly unhealthy counterpart in penitential rigor, but because of the individualism and eccentricity which was so very prevalent in such instances and many others. One of the primary efforts Romuald made was to bring hermits together or at the very least to establish them under the Rule of Benedict according to the example of his own life --- something which will have far-reaching consequences in the regulation of their lives.

You see there are two distinct dangers to the eremitical life prevalent throughout this history and the whole history of eremitism itself. The first is that eremitical life will be swallowed up in community life. This is largely what happened as cenobitism replaced the life of the desert Fathers and Mothers. Later cenobitism came to distrust the impulse to eremitical solitude. The second is that eremitical life will merely become an instance of individual pique, whim, distortion or delusion that separates itself off from the vision and life of the church in any sense at all, etc.

We see this in hermits who reject the necessary ecclesial dimension of this vocation and buy into a "do-your-own-thing" kind of "spirituality" --- whether they do so as progressives, conservatives, or eccentrics more generally. SS. Romuald, Peter Damian, Paul Giustiniani all dealt with both of these dangers and so has the church throughout her history in statutes established more and less locally by dioceses throughout the centuries to clarify and protect the vision of eremitical life she perceives as a gift from the Holy Spirit.. In the contemporary Western Church canon 603 is the contemporary solution to this problem codified in universal law --- at least insofar as people determine to live, whether de jure or de facto according to the church's own vision of what eremitical life means and entails.

It seems to me that those who do not seek to become canonical hermits, to whatever extent they desire to live eremitical life within the Church as true daughters and sons of the Church, will structure their lives according to the single norm for eremitical life that exists in universal law. While they may not have legitimate superiors they will have spiritual directors and pastors to help them journey safely and profoundly into the depth of their own hearts and the heart of God. They will have a few trusted friends who will confront, console, and challenge them with the truth they see in their lives. They will participate in and make integral to their lives the Church's own Sacramental and liturgical life. They will have some sort of Rule as well as an understanding of and commitment to the elements of canon 603 that pertains to all eremitical life in the Church.

Especially they will avoid the individualism so decried by the Camaldolese founders and reformers mentioned here and honor the fact that an authentic vocation to solitude depends on community even as it is cautious not to be swallowed up in it. Similarly they will acknowledge and honor the flip side of that coin, namely, that community requires solitude and the Church needs those living a solitary life. Hermits cannot be healthy or authentic without the Church nor will the Church be healthy without hermits. This too is an implication of the passage cited from St Peter Damian's letter, Dominus Vobiscum above. Paul Giustiniani says the same thing; it is cited in LeClercg's essay on "The Hermit's Vocation: Role in the Church" in Alone With God.