08 December 2014

Seeking in Solitude: New Monograph on Eremitical Life

There is a new book out focusing on selected forms of Roman Catholic eremitical life which are contributing to the development of eremitical life today. Among these Bernadette McNary-Zak treats Camaldolese, American Carthusian, Cistercian, and Diocesan or canon 603 eremitical life.

While Seeking in Solitude is essentially concerned with documenting important dimensions of the resurgence of the phenomenon of eremitical life since Vatican II and the Revised Code of Canon Law, it does an especially fine job of dealing with the ecclesial dynamic of the eremitical vocation generally and distinguishing eremitical solitude from mere isolation, as well as treating the triple good or triple advantage of the Camaldolese charism. From my own perspective the single significant limitation of the book is the choice of the Hermits of Bethlehem (Paterson) as a typical expression of c 603 life. At the very least it seems to me that McNary-Zak should have noted that this is actually an exceptional case; while lauras which do not rise to the level of religious communities are possible and are assuredly one way of protecting both solitude and communion, canon 603 is meant to protect, nurture, and govern solitary eremitical life; thus it is unfortunate that solitary diocesan hermits were not also treated in a way which balanced the picture given.

One of the later topics covered in the book which may be new to some is that of eremitical space and the conscious structuring of that sacred space which is so central to contemplative life. In this I think McNary-Zak's otherwise intriguing analysis could have benefited from references to urban hermits (whose creative contributions in this regard she, unfortunately, largely passes over in silence); even so this is an important discussion with far reaching implications for contemporary culture and spirituality for which readers will be grateful. Readers of this blog will also find much that is familiar in the book, especially with regard to the way in which the dialectic of freedom and ecclesial responsibility/expectations as well as the synthesis of the ancient and the contemporary are negotiated and faithfully embodied in the life of the Roman Catholic hermit today. I definitely recommend it.