17 September 2015

More Questions on Terminology: Lay vs Secular Hermits, etc.

[[Hi Sister, I haven't heard before of a secular hermit but what was really confusing in the following was the distinction between secular and lay hermits. Can you help me here? [[There are two spiritual states involved in an authentic hermit life. One is the Secular state which is anyone walking down the street doing their thing, and the other is the Consecrated state, in which the Church officially recognizes with an individual that he or she is definitely sacred by God's action. These hermits enter into an official relationship with God and the Church by a dedicatory ceremony after lengthy examination of their life and spirituality according to the Law of Canon 603 in the Church's Canon Law. I will not go into what that entails as there is ample material and readily available to read.. . .I should draw a further distinction between the Secular spiritual state and the Lay spiritual state. The difference is in the expression of Vows or promises by a Secular person for the dedication and direction of their lives, by God. Such persons may even decide it is beneficial to draw up a Rule which is a written declaration by the individual of how he or she will live their lives and direct them toward their spiritual goal and ideals.]]  Lay Hermit Intercessor. (Emphasis added)

Let me first say that, whether I wholly agree with some of the points (or posts) on this blog or not, I generally recommend it as an example of an important urban lay eremitical vocation. The author is living a simple, and it seems to me, truly eremitical life as a lay person and we need more folks following Mr. Miller's example. Not least this is because the Church is likely to have a number of genuine eremitical vocations among the retired, chronically ill, and elderly. Pastors need to be open to encouraging such vocations. If you have a chance, please take a look at the photography Michael does. Some, especially some of birds and waterfowl, is truly stunning.

I would argue that, in the post you cited, the distinction between lay hermits and secular hermits is not valid (and is not used) for at least two reasons. First, if a hermit is not consecrated or ordained they are in the lay state and this is true whether they make private vows and/or write a Rule or not.  Secular is not one of the three states of life recognized in the Church. It is a context in relation to which one lives in either the consecrated, ordained, or lay states. Secondly then, today we use secular less in contrast with religious as we do to refer to the context or locus of ministry in one's life and the way in which that life is conditioned by the evangelical counsels. Saeculum refers to the everyday space -time world of relationships and labor. The conditioning reality that modifies or defines one's relationship to this everyday world is the (public) profession of the evangelical counsels.

Most lay persons are called to secular vocations, meaning they are called to work in the various structures of this world, participate in building the economy, create and nurture families, and exercise real influence and power in this world in all the legitimate ways that happens. Especially they are called to live the evangelical counsels but not in the way a religious defines these. When used in this way every hermit, whether in the lay, ordained, or consecrated states, and whether they have a Rule and vows or not, are called to something other than a secular life. This is what makes their vocations "desert" vocations.  If one is trying to distinguish themselves from being a lay hermit by calling themselves a secular hermit because they have private vows and a Rule, the attempt is equally invalid. There is, in this sense, no such thing as a secular hermit.

Remember that the original distinction between religious and secular or lay stemmed from the fact that religious, are, to some extent formally distanced from or live a modified or qualified relation to this world, this saeculum; this is so because their vows change the way they relate in terms of economics (poverty), family and relationships (celibate chastity), and power (obedience). While everyone is called to live the evangelical counsels, not everyone is called to live religious poverty, celibate chastity, or religious obedience (with legitimate superiors, etc). Moreover, one form of consecrated life is radically and paradoxically secular and that is Consecrated Virgins living in the World. These women are given to God in the things of the spirit and the things of the world in a particularly challenging and contemporary vocation. These women are in the consecrated state but are called to live that consecration in a radical form of eschatological secularity. This is certainly a place where contrasting "secular state" with "consecrated state" simply doesn't work. Today then, we mainly speak of three states of life: lay, consecrated, or ordained and then qualify them in terms of their relation to the saeculum.

By the way, I am not convinced it is accurate to speak of the consecrated "spiritual" state of life either (though of course it is the result of the action of the Holy Spirit on these persons and their lives). The consecrated state of life (just as is true in the lay or ordained states) encompasses the whole of a person's self and life and is a legal state as well. In any case, I have never seen the Church refer to the consecrated or lay "spiritual" states and don't expect to see this usage adopted by theologians, etc precisely because these states involve the whole person, body, soul, and spirit. Recalling the comments  just made regarding consecrated virgins living in the world, here is another place using the phrase "spiritual" state, as in "secular spiritual state" is particularly misleading.  Again, it is not merely a "spiritual state" but involves the whole of the person and her life.

Personally, though I understand what Mr. Miller means, I would also be careful of using the term "official", as in "these persons enter into an official relationship with the Church". Every baptized person has an "official relationship" with the Church. That is, no one is an "unofficial Catholic!" Every baptized person is a consecrated and commissioned member of the Body of Christ we call Church. The person in the consecrated state of life, on the other hand, accepts a new set of legitimate relationships and legal rights and obligations which bind them beyond their baptismal relationships, rights, obligations, and expectations. They exist in a differently graced state of life with new covenants and commissioning, canonical vows, legitimate superiors, and so forth. It would probably be better to say that, generally speaking, those in the consecrated state of life have a canonical relationship with the Church which differs from those in the lay state. This difference is enough to justify speaking of canonical and non-canonical hermits, for instance, just as we speak of lay and consecrated hermits.

Finally, I would be very cautious in speaking of the Church recognizing the consecrated person or individuals as sacred. It is true that strictly speaking the Church sees individuals called to the consecrated state of life as "sacred persons" and their vocations as divine or sacred vocations, but this does not necessarily imply personal sanctity. (This is why Thomas Aquinas took such care in his discussion of the distinction between objective and subjective superiority.) Especially, this usage can seem to or actually denigrate the profound and foundational consecration and re-creation associated with baptism.  After all, with the Sacraments of Initiation every baptized person becomes a new creation, a person made holy (authentically human) by virtue of the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. Generally speaking, many religious today, eschew the phrase "sacred person" because if they are sacred persons, then this seems to mean that those who are not in the consecrated state of life are not sacred. I tend to speak instead of "differently graced" or of being "differently bound in law and differently commissioned" or something similar. Certainly, none of this is without problems, overlaps, obscurities, and potential conflicts between VII and older ways of thinking and speaking. The Church is still finding her way here precisely because what was done at Vatican II attempted to do justice to the nature and dignity of lay life, but in some ways Vatican II created loose ends and these remain more or less unresolved theologically.


The bottom line here is the Church recognizes three states of life: lay, consecrated, and ordained. In each of these we can find those who live their lives in the midst of the saeculum with no public vows to qualify their relationship to the realms of relationships, power, and money. There are secular (diocesan) and religious priests, consecrated virgins who are religious (nuns in solemn vows) and those who are called to live an eschatological secularity under c 604. Religious men and women have public vows which qualify their relationships to the realms of money, power, and relationships even if their ministry has them immersed in the saeculum. Hermits, by their very nature, are the exception here. Whether lay or consecrated and thus either privately vowed (or not) or publicly professed, hermits are, by definition, withdrawn from the world and cannot be considered "secular". We especially do not use the term secular hermit to distinguish between a lay hermit (a hermit in the lay state) with private vows and Rule and one without. As noted, in some ways this supposed distinction sounds like a way to argue one is no longer a lay person because one has made private vows. Private vows or no vows at all, such hermits are lay hermits. Again, the Church recognizes three states of life and secular is not one of these.

Related Question:

[[Sister Laurel, would you agree or disagree that the important distinction in hermits is between those who are privately professed and those who are publicly professed?]]

I agree that this can be seen as the most basic distinction, but it is also the case that one needs to be using the words "private" and "public" in the way the Church herself uses these. Similarly, one needs to be using the term "professed" as the Church does.

Namely, public vows are those which, 1) are associated with public rights and obligations beyond those that come with baptism, 2) with the exceptions ** mentioned below, are the necessary way one is established in a new and stable state of life, namely, the consecrated and/or religious state, 3) are necessarily associated with religious life and are essential for one claiming to be a professed religious, 4) are associated with vocations lived in the name of the Church (one becomes a Catholic Religious, Catholic hermit, etc.), and 5) involve canonical relationships (legitimate superiors, an approved Rule and the legal and moral obligation to live one's Rule, etc.) which are meant to ensure the integrity of the vocation itself and one's vocational response. If one speaks of public vows ALL of these things are necessarily implied.

(**The exceptions referred to above are consecrated virginity and c 603: CV's make no vows but do make a significant commitment; c 603 hermits may use a form of commitment using "other sacred bonds". Both involve God's consecration of the person mediated through the ministry of the Church. It is in this way these persons enter the consecrated state.)

Meanwhile, private vows are those which 1) are not associated with public or canonical rights and obligations beyond baptism or whatever state the person is already in, 2) do not initiate or establish one in a new and stable state of life, 3) are not religious vows which, by definition, are public, 4) are not associated with public vocations lived in the name of the Church (one does not become a Catholic Hermit with private vows), and 5) are not associated with the establishment of canonical relationships meant to ensure the integrity of one's vocational response. (That is, they do not involve legitimate superiors, or legal obligations to live one's Rule, but they do involve the moral obligation to live one's Rule or Plan of Life.) If one identifies oneself as privately vowed ALL of these limitations or exclusions are necessarily implied.

So, in summary, yes, one can certainly assert that the one distinction that "matters" for a hermit is that between public and private vows so long as one is not trying to reduce or even trivialize the meaning of these terms to their more common senses of known and unknown to others or informal and formalized. In other words, if one asserts this is the only distinction that matters then one needs to explain why they are such significant terms in the life of the Church. Most of my efforts in speaking about this in the past has involved  "unpacking" the way the Church uses these terms to speak of non-canonical and canonical eremitical vocations and the significant but differing commitments and obligations associated with these.

Finally, it is important to note again that the term profession is used only with public vows and consecration, that is with vows which initiate one into a new canonical state of life with new rights and obligations. Otherwise one speaks of (making) private vows, or private dedication, but not private profession. That is a distinction your own question obscures --- though it is also, understandably, a very common error in usage.