08 July 2015

Replying to Objections and Misunderstandings

[[Hi Sister, does a Catholic (c 603) Hermit require a legitimate superior? One blogger writes that there is no mention of the hermit having a superior nor requirement to adopt a personal Rule of Life, no such thing as a lay hermit, no requirement for any kind of stability, and that the term dedication is never used to describe a Catholic Hermit's profession of the evangelical counsels. Can you respond to these assertions? I have included the post below.]]

Thanks for your email. Yes, I saw the post (or posts) several months ago. I have written about all of these assertions in one way and another here so it did not seem necessary to respond, but since you ask, and since the post is actually being read perhaps I do need to cite and respond to the assertions in a more direct way. Maybe all these points need to be present in a single post I can simply link people to in the future. (While I do welcome all questions and will continue to do so, that would be a relief from having to write the same stuff yet again!)  In any case, let me be clear that, as far as I am aware, none of these points is a matter of interpretation on which reasonable folks may differ. The assertions made by the poster cited seem to me to be rooted in misunderstanding or actual ignorance of language and usage many of us, myself included, take for granted. Probably we ought not do that. In any case, I have broken up the post you have supplied and answered each point below. I sincerely hope this is helpful.

[[There is no mention of the hermit having a "Superior" in either The Catechism of the Catholic Church or in Canon Law 603. The latter does state that the hermit who publicly professes the three evangelical counsels into the hands of the diocesan bishop, is to live his or her proper program of living under the diocesan bishop's direction. Thus, the hermit's director is by [church] law to be his or her bishop.]]

When a canon says that one makes their public profession in the hands of another (for instance, the local ordinary or diocesan Bishop) they are identifying that person as the legitimate superior of the one making their profession. As noted in other posts, the act of making one's profession in the hands of another harks back to feudal times when folks made acts of fealty in the hands of their political and legitimate superiors. Today there is a clear sense of intimacy about this act because it establishes a legal or legitimate relationship (and a moral one as well) in which the two people entrust themselves to this relationship -- though in very different ways -- so that a God-given vocation can flourish.

The meaning of this act was immeasurably enriched and made clearer to me when I first met with Archbishop Vigneron on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. At the end of that meeting he extended his hands and I rested mine in his while we both prayed for the process of discernment we were embarking on together. Later, when I made my vows in his hands while resting them on the book of Gospels, I recalled that first meeting and time with others where prayer was linked to resting my hands in theirs. It was especially poignant because of this. These relationships have been life giving to me and a source of the mediation of my vocation.

The bottom line here is that the actual words "legitimate superior" are not necessary. The concept is clearly present throughout. Canon 603 refers to public profession, to being recognized in law and to making one's profession in the hands of the local Bishop under whose direction the hermit will live her life. All of these imply or explicitly refer to the reality of legitimate superiors. Direction, for instance, does not mean spiritual direction (as in the work of a spiritual director per se --- even if that person is the bishop!) but rather is the general term for the exercise of authority by a legitimate superior. Meanwhile, the obedience owed one's legitimate superior differs in character from the general obedience one owes one's spiritual director, Scripture, one's pastor, et al. and this is clearly referred to via the presence of references to canon law and a personal Rule, Plan, or Program of Life.

As I wrote a while back, if one wonders if a hermit is legitimate (canonical), that is, if she is canonically commissioned to live her life in the name of the Church then ask her who her legitimate superior is. That works for any religious one is doubtful of as well. In a solitary hermit's case this will ALWAYS be the local diocesan bishop.

[[Rule of Life: Again, adopting an individual rule of life is not stipulated per se in the institutes of the Catholic Church or CL603 per the consecrated eremitic life. However, history and tradition of eremites who successfully and heroically lived a holy hermit life, as well as prudence and wisdom, suggest that determining and being true to a rule of life is a positive inclusion.]] and also [[ Can. 603 §1. In addition to the institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal from the world, the silence of solitude, and assiduous prayer and penance.]]

The phrase "institutes of the Catholic Church" as some sort of law or statutes is not recognized usage. In any case, Canon 603 does not read "the institutes". Instead it says, "besides institutes of consecrated life canon law also recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life" and by this it means, "Besides congregations, Orders, and communities of consecrated life canon law (the Church) also recognizes solitary consecrated eremitical life" and does so specifically in this canon. This portion of the canon outlines c 603 as the single recognized way to public profession for hermits who are not part of institutes of consecrated life. Regarding the assertion that a Rule is not an explicit requirement of canon 603, the canon also reads, "and observes his or her plan of life (vivendi rationem) in (the Bishop's) hands." The plan of life is ordinarily written out and approved by the Bishop. (The approval is formalized in a Bishop's decree of approval.) Sometimes it is called a Rule or "regula" or even Rule or Program of Life but what is really clear is that the canon specifies such a Rule or Plan.

[["Lay hermit": There is no such term or category as "lay hermit" in Church Law, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Church Tradition, or Church History. Hermits [eremitics] are specified under the category of "The Consecrated Life," specifically 920-921, in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the 20th century, they are also specified in Canon Law 603. (The hermit vocation, by virtue of the required inclusion and profession of the three Evangelical Counsels [celibacy, poverty, obedience] and by specified program of life, preclude a hermit from being a lay person. ]]

There is no need for such a term in most discussions in canon law, etc. The reality is understood and, for instance, may be said to be referred to in canon 603.1. (603.1 refers to hermits generally and may thus also speak to lay persons who live as hermits. Canon 603.2 refers specifically to those recognized in law and who are consecrated hermits and together with 603.1 is a governing canon of their lives.) Paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism may, despite their awkward location, also refer to both lay and consecrated hermits or they may in fact refer only to those who are consecrated.  In any case, whether the term lay hermit itself is ever used (and it IS used cf the reference to Fr Mark Miles' Dissertation below in the paragraph beginning, "As I have written here . ."), the reality is clearly present in canon law. Here, without citing every canon specifically, is why I say so.

Vows may be private or public. Except for the consecration of virgins living in the world only when a baptized person makes public vows and is consecrated by God through the mediation of the Church in a public juridical act does that person enter the consecrated state of life. Those hermits making private vows remain lay persons if they were already lay persons and ordained if already ordained but they do not enter the consecrated state. The term "lay hermit" simply means a person in the lay state who is living as a hermit. It is distinguished from "consecrated hermit", "diocesan hermit", consecrated religious, and professed religious because all of these imply public profession and consecration through which one enters and takes on the legal and moral obligations of the consecrated state. Since anyone may make private vows or write a Rule or program of life and live it there is nothing in these per se which preclude one from being both lay and a hermit. The majority of hermits have, in fact always been lay (or non-canonical).

As I have written many times here the unique thing about canon 603 is that for the very first time in universal law the solitary eremitical vocation is recognized in law as a "state of perfection"  and those consecrated in this way are recognized as religious in the RCC.  In other words, there were no solitary consecrated hermits prior to canon 603. Nor are there solitary consecrated hermits in the Western Church apart from canon 603. Canon 603 was created for the very purpose of admitting solitary hermits to consecration. Today the term lay hermit is used to distinguish those (non-clerical) solitary hermits who have not been admitted to the consecrated state under canon 603. I am reminded of Thomas Matus, OSB Cam's account of the life of Nazerena. He notes and Father Mark Miles emphasizes the importance of the following: [[On 2nd February Nazarena entered the Camaldolese Benedictine Monastery of St Anthony on the Aventine  . . The important fact is that eventually Nazarena obtained an interview with the Cardinal Secretary of State who authorized her to live as a lay anchoress in the same Camaldolese Monastery. . .]] Canon 603: Diocesan Hermits in the Light of Eremitical Tradition. Miles, Mark Gerard, Rome 2003.

Remember that vocationally speaking the Church recognizes three states of life: lay (especially the married state of life), consecrated, and ordained. (Hierarchically speaking there are only two, lay and ordained.) A hermit may be a member of any of these states of life.  Whether one is lay or ordained, initiation into the consecrated state (except in the single case of consecrated virginity) requires public profession and consecration. To say that private vows preclude a person from being a lay person is to misunderstand the nature and necessity of public profession in the initiation of one into the consecrated state. Unfortunately, it also denies that private vows of the evangelical counsels are even possible for those in the lay state. Moreover it says that the Church has two routes to living in the consecrated state of life, one which is canonical and under the direct supervision of legitimate authority and one which is not. Of course, this is hardly the way the Church works with regard to the gift of consecrated life.

[["Stability" (remaining in one locale): This is not required but may be what the hermit's earthly superior requests of the hermit. Some religious orders, whose members live as hermits, include "stability" in their professed three evangelical counsels.]]

Canon 603 does in fact require a form of stability of the diocesan hermit precisely because she lives her life under the supervision of the local Bishop and he is her superior in law. She must remain within the diocese where she has been professed unless another Bishop agrees to accept her as a diocesan hermit and allows her to make (or live her) vows in his hands. Since her own Bishop is relinquishing jurisdiction, he must also agree to the move and will confirm that the hermit is professed under canon 603 and in good standing in the diocese. In any case, though it may be transferred through a kind of excardination and incardination similar to the transfer of diocesan priests or somewhat analogous to the transfer of stability of monks and nuns moving to new monasteries, etc., stability is definitely required of the diocesan hermit. This is part of the legal relationships which obtain with public profession and consecration. Moreover, we can assume this means they are the will of God because they are an important way of protecting and nurturing this vocation for the benefit of the entire Church.

[["Dedication": There is no such term used to describe a Catholic hermit's profession of the three evangelical counsels [poverty, celibacy, obedience] and one who lives in accordance with the stipulations per Consecrated Life of the Church: The Eremitic Life, in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. [The term "dedication" is often used currently by Protestant Evangelicals and those of other denominations who do not practice infant Baptism; such as: make a "dedication" of their children to God or to live a godly life.]]]

Canon 603 reads as follows: [[A hermit is recognized as dedicated to God in the consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond. . .]] One's public dedication to God is marked by one's profession of the evangelical counsels via vow or other sacred bond. In other words one's profession represents a dedication to God. Vatican II consistently used the term "dedication" or similar terms meaning the giving of self to refer to the human dimension in public profession. The Divine element or dimension was referred to as "consecrare," since only God may sanctify, set apart as sacred, or consecrate. I admit that in light of all this it is hard for me to understand how one can contend there is no such term as "dedication" [or to dedicate] used to describe a hermit's profession of vows. On the other hand the distinction between dedicare and consecrare is profoundly Scriptural so it does not surprise me that some Protestants honor it in referring to the dedication of their children to God prior to sacramental baptism. Evenso, the attempt to deny this is part of the normative language of the Roman Catholic Church in speaking of public professions or of canon 603 itself is simply wrong.


One of the problems with the usage in the blog you have referenced and another possible source of misunderstanding is that the author uses the term Catholic Hermit to refer to any person who is Catholic and living as a hermit. I (and the Church herself) use the term Catholic Hermit to refer to any person who has embraced and been authoritatively admitted to a specifically ecclesial vocation which is lived in the name of the Church. To repeat myself (cf other articles on cc 216 and 300) there are canons which specify one cannot apply the term Catholic to an enterprise or role unless proper authority permits it. For instance, not every theologian who is a Catholic can call herself a Catholic Theologian (and her theology may indeed be profoundly Catholic nonetheless). Only those exercising this role with a specific mandatum may do so. Sometimes the mandatum is withdrawn and the person, though profoundly Catholic, is no longer allowed to consider or refer to themselves as a Catholic Theologian.

Not every religious institute may do so either, nor may every Catholic who is a hermit. A Catholic Religious Institute lives religious life in the name of the Church and is specifically authorized to do so. So too with a Catholic Hermit. Whenever one sees " a Catholic x or y", whether this is a person, an institute, radio station, or role it means (or should mean) this reality is and does what it does in the name of the Church. It means there has been a specific commissioning by appropriate authority to act in the name of the Church. The Catholic hermit lives the eremitical life in the name of the Church because the Church, in professing and consecrating her publicly has commissioned her to do so.

[[Married hermits: Both parties need to agree to their marriage rights being dissolved and with the choice to enter consecrated life and to choose celibacy. This may occur if they are older and the high calling and purpose of the married state of life is fulfilled so that the required Evangelical Counsels (poverty, obedience, celibacy) of the consecrated state of life could be met.]]

Marriage rights are not simply dissolved. Remember that Marriage is a Sacrament in which two persons become one flesh. The reason the Church does not allow divorce is because she understands that this bond is created by God and cannot be dissolved by man. Though it involves these, it is much more than the establishment of certain rights and obligations. If it is determined that no true sacramental bond was created then the marriage can be annulled, that is declared null or empty. An Annulment does not dissolve marriage bonds; it establishes publicly that no true (sacramental) marriage ever occurred. Neither does civil divorce end the sacramental bond; instead it puts an end to the civil rights and obligations associated with such a bond. This is why an annulment must also be sought after a civil divorce.

By the way, I should point out that every Christian is called to live some form of the evangelical counsels. Married persons are not called to religious poverty or religious obedience, but they are certainly called to a profound stewardship of this world's goods and a simplicity of life that is edifying; they are also called to an obedience to the Word and will of God which is profoundly challenging and world-changing. Private vows may include or specify the evangelical counsels but for married persons these will not include obedience to a legitimate superior or the relinquishing of one's own will. Neither will they include a commitment to poverty which is inappropriate for the effective raising of  and care for children. Finally, again, lay hermits (hermits in the lay state) may or may not make private vows. They make sense if care is taken, but they are not required nor, again, do they initiate one into another state of life.

The idea that two older people may have "fulfilled the purpose of their marriage" --- which apparently refers to having and raising children is completely preposterous since one purpose of marriage is to bring one another to God and the commitment is one unto death. Having and raising children so they too may know God is likewise a significant purpose of marriage but not the whole of the matter. No person who is validly married can be admitted to public profession or to the consecrated state of life. This is because one must be free of all such bonds to take on the life bonds of other state of life. Similarly, one in the consecrated state of life cannot attempt marriage. Nor can one in the ordained state. If one makes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience while married they must be private vows. (I am not suggesting such vows are prudent or not, only that they must be private.) Such vows do not initiate (or attempt to initiate) one into a new state of life nor do they dissolve one's marriage, for instance --- which is another assertion the poster you cited has made in these posts.

Addendum: The Church as such has kept the requirements for hermits simple. It is diocesan Bishops who have added provisions for public profession of diocesan hermits.

While the Church as such has done a remarkable job of recognizing the freedom of the hermit and kept legal requirements to a minimum, the Revised Code of Canon Law and c 603 is universal law, not merely diocesan. Canon 603 and the recognition of and provision for canonical hermits in the consecrated state is binding within the entire Western (Latin) Church. It is true that each diocesan bishop is called upon to implement this canon as seems best to him while maintaining the character of canon 603 life outlined therein, however, he does so in service (and obedience) to universal law. It is also true that we tend to call c 603 hermits "diocesan hermits" but this is done to indicate 1) who the hermit's legitimate superior is, and 2) the specific stability attached to her commitment. It is akin to recognizing a Religious Institute as one of diocesan right. This designation does NOT mean the hermit is not recognized by universal law within the entire Church.

I hope this is helpful.