12 April 2015

On the Designation "Diocesan Hermit"

[[Hi Sister Laurel,  does the term "diocesan eremitic" have an official meaning or is it used for any hermit living in a diocese? From your writing I have gotten the impression that it has a special meaning but I asked a Catholic friend and she hadn't heard the term.]]

Hi there! Yes the term "diocesan hermit" has a very specific meaning in the Church. It refers to publicly professed hermits who make his or her profession under c 603 in the hands of the local (diocesan) Bishop. A couple of things are the result of such an arrangement. First, the local Bishop becomes the hermit's legitimate superior. Secondly, the hermit thus embraces a kind of stability of place which relates to her life in the diocese itself. If she desires to remain a canon 603 hermit but finds it necessary to move to another diocese, she must find a Bishop who is willing to take responsibility for her as legitimate superior. Not all Bishops at this point in time are willing to accept such obligations. Her current Bishop must also "approve" the move. (While he will include a statement that the hermit is in fact a consecrated hermit under c 603 who is in good standing, this is probably less a matter of genuine approval and a little more like "signing off" on the matter; after all, he is relinquishing jurisdiction while that is being assumed by another Bishop.)

It is especially important, I think, that this not be seen as a bit of legalism or some meaningless (or worse yet, oppressive)  hoops the hermit has to jump through, but instead, a way of protecting the vocation and the relationships which are essential to it. Thus, this requirement witnesses to these essential relationships and says something crucial about the ecclesial nature of the c 603 vocation itself. Every authentic Christian life and vocation are rooted in relationships, first with God in Christ through the mediation of his Church and then to all others. and all have associated rights and obligations. The eremitical vocation, which is uniquely subject to the temptation of individualism and uniquely called to witness to a dialogical solitude which opposes individualism, also requires the structure of law with the ecclesial rights and obligations established in law if it is to serve as it is meant to do. Saint Benedict wrote quite critically about "gyrovagues" --- monks who moved from place to place without real stability. These 6C "individualists" were anathema to monastic life. In our own day this specific requirement helps prevent the same kind of individualism in hermits.

I suppose the closest thing to this with which your friend might be familiar is the diocesan priest who is incardinated into a diocese. Diocesan priests may move to another diocese but the Bishop there must be willing to incardinate them into this new diocese. In fact a diocesan hermit moving from the jurisdiction of one Bishop to another may well be said to be "excardinated" from one diocese and "incardinated" into another. The literal meaning of excardinate is to "unhinge", 'unplug", or, in other words, to "set free" from the jurisdiction of one Bishop. To incardinate, then is to bring under the legitimate jurisdiction of a Bishop. Moreover, similar to a diocesan priest who cannot simply wander from place to place and function as a priest because he is "interdicted" or prevented from exercising his priesthood unless and until another Bishop incardinates him, a Canon 603 Hermit cannot simply wander from place to place and be considered a diocesan hermit.

One major difference, however, is that a diocesan hermit is usually perpetually professed and consecrated when they seek to move; diocesan priests are neither professed nor consecrated. In such a case, were the hermit simply to up and move to another diocese without providing for excardination and new incardination, she is liable to the dispensation of her vows because of a significant material change in the conditions of those vows. (Personally, I find it incomprehensible that a diocesan hermit would behave in such a way so a diocese needing to take such steps also seems unlikely to me; I am really merely pointing out a similarity between the diocesan stability of priests and of c 603 hermits.) Lay hermits residing in dioceses are not diocesan hermits (or "diocesan eremitics"). They have no legitimate superior, nor have they embraced the canonical rights and obligations of the consecrated solitary eremitical life within a specific diocese. Lay hermits are entirely free to pick up and move without permission of either their current or their new bishop just as any lay Catholic may do.