10 March 2015

Canon 603 and Some Misconceptions

[[Sister Laurel, what does it mean to call canon 603 a "proviso"? Here is the passage [from something I read online] that has me confused, [[What is cited in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and in the proviso of CL603, and by virtue and fact of the specific vows required of each state of life in the Church, should suffice to explain why consecrated Catholic hermits (and also the consecrated virgins and widows) are part of the Consecrated Life of the Church--although they can have originally derived from the Hierarchy or the Laity.  Likewise, consecrated Catholic hermits (virgins, widows, religious brothers and sisters) are not representative nor part of the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as in Holy Orders of priests and bishops.]] I am also confused by the following [also from something I read online] [[The Catholic aspiring to the consecrated state of life as an eremite, must then fulfill the requirements in profession of vows and live in accordance with the cited specifics in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of the institutes of the consecrated life of the Church.And, if the aspiring hermit requests and a bishop agrees, then to fulfill the additional provisions of Canon Law 603.]]

I can understand why you are confused. There are several problems with the first passage cited. First Canon 603 is not a "proviso". It is not a conditional statement or stipulation attached to an agreement. It is a norm which, by itself alone, provides for and defines a form of consecrated life lived in law and in the name of the Church. I don't know why anyone would refer to c 603 in this way unless 1) she does not understand the word proviso, or 2) she is trying to make of c 603 a conditional option added to a larger binding contract or set of statutes which then may or may not be used by a diocese at their discretion. In such a case she is simply mistaken in this. Granted, canon 603 is a Canon in the larger code of canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps it could bear the name "provision" since it provides for a singular form of consecrated life (though this fails to capture the normative nature of a canon) however, it does not have a conditional or provisional character. So, I understand and share your confusion with such a characterization. I think the poster's mistaken meaning is made clear in problem # 6 below.

The second problem is the division of the People of God into Lay and Hierarchy. The proper terms are lay and clerics or laity and clergy or even lay persons and ordained. Though the entire Church is hierarchical we tend to refer to the hierarchy of the Church as Bishops and higher. When we refer to the consecrated state of life or "consecrated life" which can be drawn from either laity or clergy the Church is very careful to point out that this does not constitute part of the hierarchical structure of the Church; this is important because once not so long ago our Mass prayers referred to priests, religious, and laity as though there were three castes and religious were part of the hierarchical structure of the Church. This contributed to the highly problematical notion that lay life was an "entry level" vocation and religious (or consecrated) life was a 'higher' vocation with priests being even higher.

Today we note that the term lay has two distinct senses, 1) a hierarchical one in which laity includes all baptized who are not clerics (this also implies all religious and consecrated persons who are likewise not also clerics), and 2) a vocational one in which those in the lay state are contrasted with both religious (those publicly professed), consecrated persons (those in the consecrated state of life), and the clergy (the ordained). So, for instance, vocationally speaking I am a religious and member of the consecrated rather than the lay state of life. Hierarchically speaking, however, I am a lay person. My pastor, for instance, is also a religious and member of the consecrated state of life vocationally speaking. Hierarchically speaking, however, he is a cleric or priest. Lay hermits (those with private vows or even without them) are lay in both the vocational and hierarchical senses of the term. This is why in sec 873ff the CCC notes, "The term "laity" is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church."

The third problem is that the Catholic Church does not presently have consecrated widows who belong to the consecrated state of life or the "consecrated life" in the Church. While this vocation existed in the ancient Church and Pope John Paul II wrote about it hoping it would be included in canon law to be made part of Church life once again as a public and ecclesial vocation, and while some Bishops have accepted the dedication of widows and are required to be open to "new forms of consecrated life" (c 605 requires this), Canon 605 also states that any new form of consecrated life must be ratified by the Vatican (the Pope). In the case of a vocation to consecrated widowhood this has not been done. It therefore does not represent a form of consecrated life in the Church today though there are significant hopes that one day this will change.

The fourth problem is with the reference to Catholic Hermits or other members of the Consecrated state not being representative of nor part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as are priests and Bishops. This sentence is confusing because it can be read two ways: 1) Consecrated Life is not representative of the hierarchy or 2) Consecrated Life is not representative of the Church nor is it part of the hierarchy. While the consecrated state of life does not constitute part of the hierarchical structure of the Church, those in the consecrated state are certainly representative of the Church herself. They are specifically commissioned to live out the various forms of consecrated life in a representative way in the name of the Church. Thus they are Catholic religious or Catholic hermits. Lay persons live the lay state similarly which is why they may call themselves Catholics or Catholic laity. The lay state is entrusted to them when they are consecrated in baptism and they are commissioned through the Sacraments of initiation to live it well. This means every member of the Church is representative of the Church in some way --- though I agree, they are not all of the hierarchy. Some are representative of the clerical state (Catholic priests and deacons). Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and Pope represent the hierarchy proper while all are part of the Laos tou Theou. Unfortunately, it sounds like the poster you cited could be arguing a form of clericalism which says only clergy represent the Church!


The fifth problem comes in your second citation and has already been written about in a previous post here. The term "institute" refers to a religious community or congregation of some sort, not to a legal norm, requirement, principle, or statute. Consecrated life has three basic forms, community life (both ministerial and contemplative in a variety of institutes), solitary eremitical life (c 603), and consecrated virginity lived in the world (c 604).

The sixth problem is related to problem #1 above. As noted above, Canon 603 is not a set of "additional requirements" appended to these other supposed "institutes" and requirements. It is the ONLY way in which a person can become a solitary member of the consecrated eremitical state of life and thus live that life in the name of the Church. If one wants to become a consecrated hermit without joining a congregation it MUST be through this canon. There is NO OTHER way. Neither oneself nor one's diocese can choose another option (say, private vows) nor treat this canon as optional or "provisional" and still allow one to enter the solitary consecrated eremitical state. This is what makes canon 603 so very unique; it extends the category "religious" and thus, the possibility of public vows and consecration to a person without any link to an institute of consecrated life. (cf Handbook on Canons 573-746, p. 55 on c 603.2)

The seventh problem is also related to treating Canon 603 as a set of "additional requirements" but more specifically suggesting these are added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other requirements or "institutes" of the Catholic Church. While the CCC is an important compendium of the teaching and life of the Church designed to give every Catholic a basic sense of what the Church believes and teaches as well as how her members live this faith, in regard to the consecrated eremitical life it is more descriptive than prescriptive. For hermits belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life what is prescriptive of their life (what prescribes how they are to live while extending commensurate rights and marking their ecclesial obligations) is law, namely, canon law and the Institute's own proper law (her constitutions, statutes and Rule).

For the solitary hermit consecrated under canon 603 what is prescriptive of her life is similar: Canon law (especially c 603 but other canons as well), and her approved Rule (given a formal Bishop's declaration of approval). The Rule, which the hermit writes herself, serves as the c 603 hermit's own "proper law" while Canon 603 in particular especially represents universal law in her life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes dimensions of such lives but is not binding in the same way universal and proper law are. In fact, some parts of the CCC (like paragraphs 920-921) must be read in light of the Code of Canon Law (as well as the Catechism's own glossary), not the other way around! To put the Catechism in a more primary place and add c 603 as a "proviso" or an additional, conditional requirement, for instance, is to completely misunderstand the nature of the CCC, its relation to Canon Law in these matters, and especially then, the vocation to solitary consecrated eremitical life and the role of c 603 in that life.

Thanks again for your questions. They were excellent. For the time being I am going to distance myself from the continuing list of misconceptions being posted on the blog you have cited. Not only is it Lent, but I have some other writing, another project, and one other question to complete which means I won't be able to get back to you again for several days in case you have further questions; (it may be Saturday or later before I can do this). Besides, this matter of the distinction between lay hermits and hermits consecrated under canon 603 really has been explained here many times in one way and another, several times quite recently, and I am feeling a tiring and kind of sad futility in trying to clarify or even occasionally correct what may, at least for some persons who blog about this, really be a willful distortion and refusal to hear.

You see, it is one thing when a single critical  and canonically obscure or complex word is misunderstood here and there or when there is legitimate and honest disagreement between knowledgeable people; it is another when entire texts are wrested from their ecclesial context and twisted in a thoroughgoing way to conform to an entrenched delusional system. Your own question made me aware that perhaps the situation I was addressing was more the latter than the former so I am grateful you posed it for that reason too. The first kind of situation can and should be dealt with through discussion; both persons come away ahead then. The second cannot. While I feel strongly that canon 603 needs to be better understood, and more strongly that folks not be misled, it is that second kind of situation from which I need to distance myself.

Meanwhile, your own questions and those of any reader here are something I am happy to continue responding to --- though from now on it may be without the passages they cite. Thus, I encourage you to please feel free to check older posts under the appropriate labels if questions remain or are raised in the meantime.